John Elgar-Whinney – Presentation on Encryption Machines

What a great evening the club members had on the 26th of November, which was not only well attended by regulars but thoroughly enjoyed by everyone present as John once again gave an excellent presentation to the audience.

John made a point of saying that his talks work best by providing a preamble of his coveted displayed radios and equipment which is then followed up by a hands-on Q&A at the front of the room, allowing members to engage with the equipment in their own time. I feel that this system works particularly well and had most of us around the tables for the best part of the evening with John patiently responding to the many questions being asked about the slew of machines on display which included three encryption machines; two Enigma variants and another Hagelin-derived model known as the M209.

John explains the workings of the Hagelin-derlved M209. A remote indicator for the Nema can be seen just in front of John’s left hand.

John explains the workings of the Hagelin-derlved M209. A remote indicator for the Nema can be seen just in front of John’s left hand.

It is hard to say what the general consensus was regarding ‘favourites’. I can safely say that my favourite was the Nema, shown with its cover aloft in the picture above. The Nema (a wheel-based cipher machine) was developed by Zellweger AG in Uster Switzerland during WWII and was a substantial improvement over the original which was essentially a quantum leap forward over the original Enigma. This machine uses rate bars which were adjusted by hand to change the cipher meaning that the replacement of rotors was not necessary as per the original Enigma resulting in a great deal of time being saved when sending messages. The Nema was a 10 rotor machine and shown here, complete with the remote indication unit connected to the Nema by a thick cable, with one wire present in the cable for each letter present on the Nema’s keyboard. The remote indicator was also a substantial improvement over the original Enigma, allowing the sending of messages to be sped up significantly. It is also interesting to note that the Nema was capable of running off both 110/240v mains as well as via a 4v external supply and was well equipped for failing parts, having many of them stored away in the lid section which contained an assortment of spares including 16 spare lamps, extra wheels (E&F for the wartime machine), the mains cable and everything else required to run the machine effectively all in one neat package.

There are infact three variants of the Nema machine, one for training students, one for use in war time and one for use by the Swiss foreign office and all three are incompatible with one another! The variations between the three models were made by the stepping configuration, wheels used (two extra wheels, E&F, were used for the wartime Nema machine and kept within the lid), and the stepping wheels themselves differed between each of the three variants.

john-elgar-whinney-dec2014-6By comparison the slower sending Scandinavian Hagelin machine pictured left, used a printer which tapped out the encrypted message onto paper tape which was then passed to the operator to send by Morse. (Note the security locking key just in front of the keyboard on the lid and the ratchet lever to the right which printed the current letter and mechanically advanced the machine ready for the next one.)

The last of the three Hagelin-derived machines was the lunchbox sized M209 (pictured below) which uses interrupter/retardation bars on its 6 rotors. The small 6lb machine was used in the field by American forces, and made in great numbers with around 140,000 of them being produced in all. Its encrypted messages were, like the Scandinavian machine above, output onto tape. It came as no surprise to most of us that John’s wonderful collection even went as far as having the many spares and accessories for all of the radios as well. In the case of the pint-sized M209 the original field kit was present which included the original ink bottles, tweezers and other assorted items to maintain its use in the field. The M209 is a 6 rotor machine, designed with high portability in mind and compared to the other two machines which were ‘base station’ units by all accounts.

The M209, a small portable encryption machine used by the US. forces.

The M209, a small portable encryption machine used by the US. forces.

Moving on from the superb encryption machines, John presented two model B2/M transmitters which were manufactured by the Germans as an improvement to the British B2, and can be looked upon as a German ‘knock-off’ of the real thing. The B2/M was produced for the French secret service in the 1950’s and as you can see from the pictures, are complete with their original tank coils enabling the operator to quickly switch frequencies. The coil location can be clearly seen at top left hand side of the transmitter as per the B2/M pictured below. These “briefcase” radios of course gave the keeper the appearance of a traveller or tourist making their true purpose hidden from the gaze of passers-by. The two variants of the B2/M were a standard leather brief-case equipped model, shown below, and a ‘Para’ version designed to be dropped in two watertight canisters from the skies. It was actually quite small for its day and had around 20w output available on HF (Morse only) while being powered via AC mains. It was also possible to run the radio via an external 6v DC source.

The enclosed coils are mounted on small bases which are labelled as below, allowing use on a selection of HF frequencies which are, L1-A: 3.0 – 4.0 MHz, L1-B: 3.75 – 5.25 MHz, L2-A: 4.5 – 6.25 MHz, L2-B: 5.5 – 7.5 MHz, L3-A: 6.5 – 9.0 MHz, L3-B: 7.0 – 10.0 MHz, L4-A: 9.0 – 13.0 MHz and enabling use up to L4-B: 12.0 – 16.0 MHz.

One of several German-made B2/M transmitters from John’s fine collection. Note the original coils and accessories.

One of several German-made B2/M transmitters from John’s fine collection. Note the original coils and accessories.

John also brought along an R3 receiver and RS20M transmitter and displayed them along with the encryption machines and B2/M’s, both were in close to mint condition complete with their cables and spares, and were for their time relatively small no doubt to aid the transportation and use of them in the field.

John’s presentations are always looked forward to by the club members and this one was no exception with an extremely good turnout and enjoyable evening had by all.

Since then I have been in touch with John who I am delighted to say, has kindly invited me to his home to view his collection so that I may write something special for you in the New Year.

Wishing you all the very best for Christmas and the New Year.

73 de Steve, 2E0GHX.

 

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