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Ultra

Ultra, short for ultra-secret, was an Allied intelligence system that, in tapping the very highest-level communications among the German armed forces, as well as (after 1941) those of the Japanese armed forces, contributed to the Allied victory in World War II.

The Ultra project was mainly involved with breaking the German's Enigma codes. These codes were generated by an electric device and considered to be unbreakable. The German Army, Navy, and diplomats all used Enigma machines, but the codes were different and each needed to be broken separately. There are several conflicting stories of how the Allies got hold of the physical Engima machines - see Enigma for these stories.

The group working on the breaking the code were an eclectic mix of crossword enthusiasts, mathematicians, and early computer scientists. The most noted participant was Alan Turing, one of the fathers of modern computing. The group worked at Bletchley Park in utter secrecy. They were quickly successful. By 1943 the incoming signals from the German war machine (more than 2,000 daily at the war's height) were of the highest level, even from Adolf Hitler himself. Such information enabled the Allies to build up an accurate picture of enemy plans and orders of battle, forming the basis of war plans both strategic and tactical.

The Allies were desperate to conceal from the Axis command that they had broken Enigma. This was to the extent that although they had intercepted and knew of the whereabouts of U-boats lying in wait in mid-Atlantic, often convoys were allowed to sail into their midst for fear of alerting the Axis to their knowledge.

Ultra was used to sink many of the supply ships travelling to North Africa, but every time it was used, it had to be arranged that alternate means of discovery were provided, so scout planes would often be sent on unnecessary and dangerous missions to ensure they were seen by the Germans.

Usable Ultra intercepts of signals came too late to be of great help during the Battle of Britain. It was not until the construction of electromechanical Bombes[?] and Colossus that useful and timely intelligence was gained. Interception of signals between Adolf Hitler and General GŁnther von Kluge[?] led to the destruction of a large part of the German forces in Normandy in 1944 after the Allied landing. In the Pacific the Japanese obtained an Enigma machine as early as 1937, although whether they were given it by their German allies, or bought a commercial version which, except for the plugboard and the actual rotor wirings, was essentially the German military machine, is disputed. The widely used Japanese machine called "Purple" was actually unrelated to Engima, but it was also cracked by the U.S. Signal Intelligence Service[?].

For 29 years after the war the existence of Ultra remained an official British secret. The ban was not lifted until 1974, the year that a key participant in the Ultra project, Frederick William Winterbotham[?], published The Ultra Secret[?]. Wintherbotham's book is very interesting, but is in error on many points. He worked on the operation to distribute Ultra to end consumers and, based on the evidence of his book, did not understand much about cryptography. Peter Calvocorressi's book is better written and more responsible. He was involved in Bletchley Park's intelligence analysis of decrypted traffic, working between the codebreakers and the distribution operation.

A version of this story is told in the novel Enigma by Robert Harris[?], ISBN 0804115486. See also S. Budiansky's Battle of Wits for a responsible account including much recently declassified information about WWII cryptography.

Today the Enigma transcripts are still extremely valuable as they provide the best surviving account of the Nazi war effort.


For Depeche Mode's CD "Ultra", go over here[?]
Ultra is the abbreviation for the Unrelated Live Transplant Regulatory Authority [1] (http://www.doh.gov.uk/ultra.htm)



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