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  • Darshan Pareek

UK intelligence agency reveals never-before-seen images of World War II computer

Courtesy: GCHQ

Britain's spy agency GCHQ has released rare and yet-unseen pictures of Colossus, world's first digital computer, that helped the allied forces intercept and analyse Nazi communication, and eventually, win it the Second World War.

The UK's Government Communications Headquarters released the pictures on the 80th anniversary of Colossus on Thursday.

GCHQ is the United Kingdom's intelligence and security organisation responsible for monitoring and analysing communications.

In 1944, during World War II, the Allies wanted to trick the Germans about where they would attack. They used a secret codebreaking machine called Colossus to understand German messages.

With the help of Colossus, the Allies tricked the Germans into believing a decoy plan, and when it worked, went ahead with the real plan - the D-Day invasion.

Courtesy: GCHQ

On June 6, 1944, the allied forces surprised the Germans by landing on the beaches of Normandy in France. The event turned the war in favour of the Allies, who eventually won the war quickly after.

Colossus, standing at two metres tall with switches, plugs, and wires, used 2,500 valves to process information at unprecedented speeds. It significantly shortened the time to decode messages from weeks to hours. Despite its vital contribution, Colossus remained a secret until the early 2000s.

Anne Keast-Butler, Director GCHQ, said, "Technological innovation has always been at the centre of our work here at GCHQ, and Colossus is a perfect example of how our staff keep us at the forefront of new technology – even when we can’t talk about it."

She added, "The creativity, ingenuity and dedication shown by Tommy Flowers and his team to keep the country safe were as crucial to GCHQ then as today. I’m thrilled to be celebrating the 80th anniversary of this computer and honouring those who worked on it."

Courtesy: GCHQ

Developed by Tommy Flowers and operational until the early 1960s, the Colossus was kept in secrecy by the engineers and codebreakers involved in its development -- unlike the more widely recognised Bombe Machine, which decrypted the Enigma cipher.

After World War II, eight out of the ten Colossus machines were destroyed, and Tommy Flowers, the mind behind Colossus, was instructed to surrender all documentation related to its construction to GCHQ.

The decision was influenced in part by the machine's remarkable effectiveness.

The first Colossus was delivered to Bletchley Park in 1944, and by the war's end, there were 10 machines in operation.

In 1946, the unit was renamed the Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ, based in Cheltenham, focusing on global eavesdropping to safeguard British security.

Bletchley Park CEO Ian Standen said, "The development of the Colossus machine was a huge advancement in Bletchley Park’s codebreaking efforts helping the Allies break one of the most complex ciphers of WWII.

He added, "Thanks not just to Colossus, but the pioneering post-war computing work of codebreakers like Alan Turing, Max Newman, Donald Michie, and Jack Good, Bletchley Park is considered a birthplace of modern computing."


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