Bletchley Park was home to the code breakers of World War II, and was the secret hub where servicemen and women used the Engima machine, Bombe and Collossus to crack coded messages, giving us vital information on German and Japanese battle plans and targets. Now it’s a fascinating place to explore – Susie Kearley rounds up its must-see secrets.
1.The Road to Bletchley Park
Before Bletchley Park were the WWI code breakers. Espionage was rife by 1914, and The Road to Bletchley Park exhibition explores how Britain sabotaged Germany’s communications, sent them hoax information and kept intelligence operations top-secret.
2. The National Radio Centre
Wireless technology was very important for sending encrypted messages during WWII. The National Radio Centre demystifies radio technologies, lets you inside an operations room and explores the future of radio waves in medicine and digital technologies.
3. Block B Code Breaking Museum
The Bombe machines were so secret, they were all dismantled after the war and blueprints were destroyed. Enthusiasts still managed to build a replica though, so today you can watch live demonstrations and see the Enigma machines.
4. The Life and Works of Alan Turing Gallery
At the heart of the code breakers’ success was Alan Turing, a mathematical genius who developed the Bombe with his colleague, Gordon Welchman. Explore the life and achievements of Turing, who died of cyanide poisoning in 1954.
5. The Mansion
Learn the secrets of Bletchley Park Mansion, where rooms appear as they were during WWII. The Library is a preserved as it was when used as a wartime Naval Intelligence Office and you can explore the Ballroom, transformed into a film set for The Imitation Game in 2013.
6. Code breaking Huts 3 and 6
Huts 3 and 6 were among the most secret areas of Bletchley Park and it was here that crucial code breaking activities took place. You’re whisked back to 28 February 1941 – the day a crucial enemy cipher was broken.
7. Crack codes yourself in Hut 8
See Alan Turin’s office, learn how the code breakers decrypted German messages and test your own code breaking skills. The exhibition on heroic pigeons will change your perspective on these birds, who saved thousands of lives delivering messages during the war.
8. The Bombe and its WRNS operators in Hut 11
Eight hour shifts provided round-the-clock coverage on the Bombe machines, with long periods of standing and manual work. Noisy and exhausting, the staff of the Womens Royal Navy Service (WRNS) called it the ‘Hell Hole’. Hear stories from women who worked there.
9. Bletchley Park: Rescued and Restored Hut 12
Explore this treasure trove of secret wartime artefacts. There’s a ‘time capsule’ left in Hut 11A, notes found stuffed into the roof of Hut 6, and used Banbury sheets, designed by Turing to help identify Enigma settings.
This independent museum with a separate entrance fee is worth seeking out as it houses the Colossus, designed to break the German Lorenz codes. See the collection of early computers, 1960s-2000s timelines, games, and histories of air traffic control and the internet.
All images by Susie Kearley