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Bletchley Park Facing Financial Ruin 234

Posted by kdawson
from the save-turing's-hut dept.
biscuitfever11 writes "Bletchley Park, the home of Station X, Britain's secret code-breaking base during World War II, is barely scraping by financially, as shown in these images compiled by ZDNet this week. The site has undergone major redevelopment as an act of remembrance for the Allied efforts to break the German Enigma code, but now its future is clouded — among others, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation turned them down for financial assistance (since it doesn't have to do with the Internet). Its director estimates that Bletchley Park's funds will be exhausted in three years. Hungry land developers are circling. This is an insightful look at what's happened to Bletchley Park these days and the pain it's going through."
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Bletchley Park Facing Financial Ruin

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  • by jotok (728554) on Friday May 16, 2008 @08:17AM (#23432116)
    Enigma was broken by a Polish cryptographer named Marian Rejewski [wikipedia.org]. The Poles knew they were going to be overrun by the Germans and disclosed their work to the French and British.

    Bletchley Park is where they automated the process of intercepting, decrypting, translating, and analyzing Axis communications. I can't think of any large-scale SIGINT operation that preceded Bletchley, and it was certainly vital to the war effort, but credit where it's due, etc.
  • by RattFink (93631) on Friday May 16, 2008 @08:24AM (#23432190) Journal

    These aren't starving kids in Africa, for crying out loud. It's just a museum.
    How this is bashing? A person who it known to donate a lot of money to computing museums doesn't bail this one out. It says more about the urgency of the situation then some sort of Gates bash.
  • by maxume (22995) on Friday May 16, 2008 @08:25AM (#23432200)
    Great article on the history of Enigma:

    http://www.nsa.gov/publications/publi00016.cfm [nsa.gov]
  • If you read TFA (Score:5, Informative)

    by $RANDOMLUSER (804576) on Friday May 16, 2008 @08:32AM (#23432292)
    Make sure you go through the pictures as well, each one has a long and interesting caption.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 16, 2008 @08:40AM (#23432358)
    The developers being referred to in the article are from before WW2, not a current issue !

  • by N Monkey (313423) on Friday May 16, 2008 @08:41AM (#23432372)

    Enigma was broken by a Polish cryptographer named Marian Rejewski [wikipedia.org].
    IIRC, enigma was initially broken as you say, but that technique relied on the German army's flawed protocol of sending two encrypted copies of the same 3 letters (that formed the session key) at the start of each transmission. They soon realised that this was a security weakness and so Bletchley park had to develop new techniques. The German navy used a much tougher system again.

  • This is truly sad (Score:5, Informative)

    by Joshua W Ferguson (1165439) on Friday May 16, 2008 @08:47AM (#23432440)

    The work that the code breakers at Bletchley park did prevented a lot of Ally deaths. When the Germans instituted using the 4-wheel enigma it was impossible to tell what the U-boats were doing out in the Atlantic Ocean. Because of this, supply boats going to the U.K. were being sunk at a high rate, unable to avoid the U-boats, eventually the Brits could have been forced out of the battle (no war supplies == no war). Near the end of 1942 however, some documented daily settings on the new 4-wheel enigma were pulled off of a sunken U-boat in the Mediterranean [codesandciphers.org.uk] allowing german naval deciphers to be broken. Through the man-power, knowledge, and tools available at Bletchley, they could decipher and relay german naval messages (at least in the Atlantic) to high command often within hours of obtaining them. After this, supply ships in the Atlantic were nearly invisible to German U-boats. The monthly settings booklets still had to be retrieved to continue this, but through missions and sometimes luck most of them were captured

    That's the WWII side of the story (or at least a very small part of it).

    The importance to /. is probably that this war was the first time machines were used to cipher messages, and thus machines had to do the deciphering. To break the regular ground enigma's daily settings scientists at Bletchley designed and manufactured the Colossus(es) [wikipedia.org]. If you ever see this thing run, especially the interior mechanisms, you'll know this was a great unknown leap towards multi-purpose computing machinery. Unfortunately because of U.K. laws, the work and knowledge of those at Bletchley couldn't be released until sometime in the 80's (I think)

  • Re:Upstairs boarder (Score:3, Informative)

    by hcdejong (561314) <hobbes&xmsnet,nl> on Friday May 16, 2008 @08:48AM (#23432456)
    They're already doing that. Some of the estate has been sold off. Parts of the main building (the old mansion) can be hired for conferences etc. if I remember correctly.
    There's no hubris there, at least none that I could detect when I visited the place a few years ago.
  • by failedlogic (627314) on Friday May 16, 2008 @09:08AM (#23432758)
    Now perhaps I'm over-associating the Bletchley work. But I'd have to think, that at the very least, this is a "Good Cause" to support. But I believe a museum designation is long-overdue for Bletchley - or a Heritage building which must be preserved. A statue of some of the fine men and women who worked there might draw people's attention to their efforts. I think its because the people at Bletchley weren't soldiers that they haven't garnered public attention or praise which is why Bletchley remains in the condition its in. Its a sad reality when the artsy fartsies are the first one to always get new museums or funding for museums. And indeed, they're the ones who fight for buildings to be preserved for Historic reasons. Where are they in this case? These would have been the last people to pickup a rifle in WWII.

    Members of the public probably don't know or understand (e.g. lack of knowledge of the military) the contributions at Bletchley. I'm not one to usually fight for heritage properties or a museum. But for goodness sake, the worked they did helped destroy countless U-boats (my Canadian grandfather worked on shipping lines crossing the Atlantic risking his neck each time he crossed and so many perished because of the U-Boats), helped gather countless intel on German operations, helped confirm the D-Day operation date and continued to spy on the Germans (just to make sure they weren't up to anything) after WWII. It saved the lives of countless Army, Air and Navy men and women of all nationalities that served in WWII on the European front. And, indirectly, because of this work, it helped put a stop to the Concentration Camps.

    Why the hell are they not getting the due respect and attention that they so rightly desire? This is a disgrace. Were I British, I would be fighting for the preservation of this building. I'm not sure that as a Canadian, my words will count for much.
  • by l-ascorbic (200822) on Friday May 16, 2008 @09:09AM (#23432776)
    While its funding is not great, English Heritage protects hundreds of historic buildings and other heritage sites. They're a government-funded quango, attached to the DCMS. There are equivalents in Wales and Scotland.
  • From page 6:

    Milton Keynes Council declared the site a conservation area in February 1992 and the landowners â" the government's land agency and BT â" withdrew all planning applications. Seven years later, former Bletchley Park Trust director Christine Large landed a deal with certain developers to secure the future of Bletchley Park in the hands of the Trust.

    But some developers remain far from dissuaded, recently winning the right to build houses even closer to the wartime facilities. One of the site's exhibition facilities now rests just 10 yards from 21st-century residential properties.

    With giant concrete mixers towering over the edge of the Trust's land, Greenish said he feels the remaining green space between Bletchley Park and surrounding surburbia may be lost, though he plans to fight the advance tooth and nail.

    Jonah HEX
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 16, 2008 @09:33AM (#23433222)
    To donate to the Bletchley Park Trust, please contact the Trust's director, Simon Greenish, or his personal assistant, Sue May, on +44 (0)1908 640404.
  • by BrettJB (64947) on Friday May 16, 2008 @09:35AM (#23433264)
    Slow down there, tiger! FTFA:

    The Bletchley Park Trust receives no external funding. It has been deemed ineligible for funding by the National Lottery, and turned down by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation because the Microsoft founder will only fund internet-based technology projects.
    The submitted was merely paraphrasing what was in the article, not necessarily having a "go" at Uncle Bill. I actually appreciated the bit of clarification (I was curious as to why one would think a foundation that seems more concerned with disease and poverty would want to save what amounts to a museum...)
  • Re:windows (Score:3, Informative)

    by simong (32944) on Friday May 16, 2008 @09:57AM (#23433682) Homepage
    There is one. [telenet.be] It looks a lot prettier now than the original version I saw in the mid 90s, but the principles are the same.
  • by piotru (124109) on Friday May 16, 2008 @10:07AM (#23433866) Homepage Journal
    -First, Rejewski and coworkers from Biuro Szyfrow in Poland had shown that Enigma IS breakable. Before nobody bothered attacking the problem.
    -Second, the Polish have for the first time ever applied mathematics to decrypting.
    -Third, they have developed "Bomba", the first ever decrypting machine (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bomba_(cryptography))

    For more details, read Simon Singh's "The Code Book"
  • Advertising (Score:2, Informative)

    by owtsbetterthennowt (1188657) on Friday May 16, 2008 @10:12AM (#23433964)
    They might try advertising to increase the number of visitors. I live less then 30 miles from the site and have never once seen any promotional material relating to it.
  • Re:The real problem (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 16, 2008 @10:39AM (#23434514)
    Heck, I /left/ central London for a short train ride out to Bletchley (which is just across the street from the train station...take a RIGHT, learned the hard way). I read about Bletchely on here just before a trip over that way for work.

    It's nice to get out of the cramped city for an afternoon to walk around the old farm the Park sits on. The wife enjoyed it because of all the historical value. Hopefully they'll get the national computing museum running soon to draw more visitors.

    The volunteers that lead the tours are great and the place has more than a day's worth of cool stuff to peruse. Head on out if you get a chance. Really hope the place doesn't go under, but the pictures make it look more well-kept than it actually is. More renovation is needed.

    The most interesting thing during the tour: It's estimated that the work done at Bletchley Park shortened the length of the war by 18 months. If the war had run ~18 months longer, the target of the bomb would have been Berlin instead of Hiroshima/Nagasaki.
  • by digitig (1056110) on Friday May 16, 2008 @10:54AM (#23434788)
    The site is a lot more than the mansion (which isn't very grand by British standards). The mansion has quite extensive grounds, which are covered by ugly, squat WWII brick buildings -- I did my apprenticeship in one of them, D-Block (I don't know whether all the aircraft navigational aids that we were trained on are still on the field at the back of the estate). At that time it was on the edge of a sleepy little market town, but the planners had decreed that it become part of the new city of Milton Keynes, filling in a rural gap in Britain's axial belt, a conurbation running from London up through Birmingham and The Potteries up to Manchester and Liverpool. That means it's now an expanse of private parkland in the middle of a city, a few minutes walk from Bletchley Station. I bet it gets stung badly for rates (local taxes), and the land would be worth a fortune. The museum happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I think the smart move would be to move the museum into the mansion and sell off the rest of the land -- maybe keep the lake in front of the mansion and a bit of the green, to justify the name "park". That should raise enough to keep them going for quite a while, and keep some of the historic site.
  • by Animats (122034) on Friday May 16, 2008 @11:17AM (#23435162) Homepage

    I've been to Bletchley Park. The problem is that they have only a few things worth exhibiting, like the rebuilt bombe, the rebuilt Colossus, and some real crypto machines from WWII. One big gallery in a major museum could house the collection. But the place is a sizable estate. The famous "huts" aren't much to look at, and some of them are only concrete pads today. The manor house is in decent shape but an architectural mishmash not really worthy of preservation.

    They also have a model railroad, a model boat club, an auto collection, a lake with swans, a collection of Churchill-was-here memorabilia, and, inevitably, a gift shop, like too many other English estates open to visitors.

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