'Enigma' machine used to send coded messages during WWII on display in Saskatoon

Recovered from a German submarine, a Second World War message-encryption machine known as an "Enigma" has landed in Saskatoon at the Diefenbaker Canada Centre at the University of Saskatchewan.

The Enigma machine is a cipher device developed to protect military communications. It was invented by Dutchman Hugo Koch in 1919 and was mainly used for business purposes.

According to the exhibit titled Cipher-Decipher, the Enigma machine was adapted by the Germans and used to transmit secret messages during the war.

“As you put your message in it, the machine randomly spits out a string of letters. So to be able to then put the random string of letters back into the enigma machine to spit out the message you had to have the proper settings,” curator and exhibit manager Heather Fraser said.

“They would change the setting every day so the corresponding letters would change, which is why it was so hard for the Allies to decode the messages if they didn’t have the proper settings.”

The rotors in the Enigma make the cipher strong, Fraser said. Internal wiring connects contact points on one side of the rotor to contacts on the other side. The electrical signal enters the rotor as one letter and leaves as another.

The exhibit features interactive activities so people can see how the Enigma works without touching it.

Ashley Boehm brought her two children to the exhibit. She said it’s incredible to see the Enigma intact.

“It’s incredible to think about how far we’ve come with technology with our phones, but to look at this and see the technology they already had during the war and what it could do, it’s a super cool exhibit and we enjoyed our time here,” Boehm said.

The exhibit from Ingenium, a museum in Ottawa, will be on display in Saskatoon until Sept. 11. Tours can be booked online.