Alan Turing’s Nazi code-cracker named top engineering feat

British codebreaking machine that changed course of World War II beats Concorde and Rolls-Royce engine to top engineering prize.

A code-breaking machine developed at Bletchley Park to crack the Enigma code has topped a poll of engineering achievements.

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Members of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers voted ‘The Bombe’- a code-breaking machine developed by the Allies during the Second World War – their favourite recipient of the Engineering Heritage Award from the last three decades.

The award was set up in 1984 to “promote artefacts, sites or landmarks of significant engineering importance – past and present”. To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the award, the organisation’s 105,000 members were asked to name their favourite of the 99 previous winners.

The Bombe came first with 19% of the vote, pipping Concorde into second place with 17% share. Developed by Alan Turning and Gordon Welchman and built by the British Tabulating Machine Company, 210 Bombes cracked 5,000 messages a day during World War II.

John Wood, chairman of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers’ Heritage Committee, stressed the crucial role the machine played in the Allies victory. “Estimates suggest that they could have helped cut the war by as much as two years – saving countless lives,” he said.

“These machines, which each weighed about a ton, illustrate the genius of Alan Turing and Gordon Welchman, but also the vision and ingenuity of the engineer Harold Keen who made these concepts a reality,” he said.

After the war, all versions of The Bombe were dismantled. In 2007 enthusiasts including Mike Hillyard (see photo above) built a full-functioning replica which is on display at the Bletchley Park museum.

With the Anglo-French supersonic passenger plane taking second place, the engineers voted the Rolls-Royce RB211 engine third with 11%, the Mallard locomotive fourth with 10% and Crossness Engine House & James Watt Beam Engine fifth with 6% of the vote.

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