Because of the relevance of its story to Chatham Radios’ key role in World War II, the Marconi-RCA Wireless Museum has created a special exhibit about the Enigma Cipher Machine. The Enigma was used by the German military in WWII to encrypt its radio communications and prevent the Allies from eavesdropping on them.
During the war, the U. S. Navy stationed 300 sailors and WAVES at the Chatham wireless receiving station, called “Station C” by the Navy. Visitors to the museum will be greeted by a photo essay, “Enigma in the Battle of the Atlantic”, outlining the dire situation facing the Allied navies early in WWII, and the crucial role that Enigma machines played. The photo essay uses photos, video and text to tell the story of the Enigma and the breaking of its complex code.
The exhibit will help visitors understand one of Station C’s important roles: copying encrypted code sent between U-boats at sea and the Kriegsmarine headquarters, then forwarding the message traffic by teletype to Washington, D.C. There, the messages could be decrypted - and acted upon - because the Allies had broken the Enigma code.
One of the great stories of WWII was the breaking of the Enigma code - which many had previously believed was impossible - at Bletchley Park in England. The exhibit shows how Station C’s role and the great success at Bletchley Park intersected. This may be especially interesting to visitors because of the recent movie The Imitation Game, a fictionalized telling of how the Enigma code was broken.
Kids and adults alike are intrigued by secret codes. The exhibit includes opportunities to learn in depth how the Enigma machine actually works by creating and decoding messages using a pair of electronic replicas of the Enigma, which are interactive and functionally identical to the real thing. While the original Enigmas were entirely electromechanical, each replica is implemented using modern electronics and microcomputers. Accompanying instructions describe how to use the replica Enigma. Visitors can experience using an Enigma by setting all the parameters needed to ready the replica for use. Then, one or two people can encode a message, and one or two others can simultaneously attempt to decode it. A guide will be on hand to explain and assist if needed. Families or small groups can fully experience how the Enigma encryption / transmission / decryption process worked in practice.