A Turing Colleague from Bletchley Park Gets New Recognition

(15-10-10) Welchman Exhibit PhotoA wartime colleague of Alan Turing is getting new recognition for his important codebreaking work. A recently opened exhibit at Bletchley Park recognizes the vital contributions of Gordon Welchman. He’s also the subject of a recent BBC documentary. The Bletchley Park exhibition was inspired by Joel Greenberg’s biography, Gordon Welchman: Bletchley Park’s Architect of Ultra Intelligence.

Like Turing, Welchman was a Cambridge mathematician when he was recruited to join the British codebreaking effort before the outbreak of war. Welchman made an important improvement to Turing’s 1939 Bombe design. The Turing-Welchman Bombe was an electromechanical device that aimed to discover the daily settings of the Enigma machines used by German military forces for its coded communications. The Register reports that, “Welchman adapted Turing’s Bombe designs to create the workable machine for decrypting German military messages through a de(15-10-10) Gordon Welchman Picturevice known as the ‘diagonal board’. He also established and headed Hut Six, which decrypted more than one million German messages over the course of the war.”

His wartime colleagues described Welchman as inventive and inspiring. One colleague reportedly said he was, “one of the most original minds I have ever known.”

A statement from Bletchley Park announcing the exhibit’s opening says, “After the war ended Welchman continued to be a major influence on the modern world, emigrating to America where he brought the computer age to air traffic control, developed digital computers and taught one of the first ever computing courses. His work prefigured cloud computing.”

The Register reports “In 1982, Welchman – in his book, The Hut Six Story – published more details of the traffic analysis the Bletchley-based codebreakers had committed. The details…led to…GCHQ describing him as ‘a disastrous example to others’, and Greenberg suggested the agency was particularly sensitive to the revelations of its traffic analysis programme.”

Welchman died 30 years ago at age 79. His granddaughter Jennifer attended the exhibition’s opening in late September. She said, “I’m thrilled to see my grandfather’s work recognized here at Bletchley Park, the scene of his proudest achievements.”

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