OT Thief Lifts Nazi Code Machine From UK Spy Centre

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LONDON (Reuters) - A thief out-foxed a former British spy center by walking off with a rare Enigma machine used by the Nazis to send coded messages during World War Two, police said on Sunday.

The typewriter-like device, one of only three in the world, was lifted during an open day on Saturday at the once top-secret Bletchley Park estate where the code was broken.

``At some point during yesterday afternoon, the machine was stolen from a display cabinet,'' a police spokesman said.

``There does appear to be quite a large market for World War Two memorabilia and if you are a collector then an Enigma machine -- and they're very rare in this country -- would be something you would want in your collection.''

Police said the machine, which used revolving drums to encrypt messages, was worth several thousand pounds (dollars) but its historical value is impossible to estimate.

``This is a devastating theft,'' Bletchley Park Trust director Christine Large said. ``Very many people are deeply upset and we are just hoping for its safe return.''

Historians believe the success of the cryptographers at Bletchley Park north of London -- code-named ``Station X'' during the war -- in breaking a code that the Germans believed was unbreakable hastened the Allied victory by several years.

At its peak, the center employed thousands of people -- an eclectic mix of mathematicians, linguists and crossword experts who handled millions of German military messages every year.

The code-busters included Alan Turing, a mathematician whose groundbreaking work is seen as having paved the way for the modern computer.

Bletchley Park's work was so secret that its existence was not revealed until the late 1960s, more than two decades after the war ended.

The center was scheduled for demolition but interest in the wartime exploits related by former staff during a reunion in 1991 helped lead to its restoration.

-- viewer (justp@ssing.by), April 02, 2000

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