The Mansion at Bletchley Park. Though this is the most photogenic building (and oft-used when Bletchley Park is discussed), not much actual code-breaking work went on there.
Also, the weather was rainy and miserable when I was there, giving a far more accurate representation of what it's normally like than the sunny pictures you'll see elsewhere on the Web (it is Britain, after all).
As soon as you enter the grounds (and pay your £15 entrance fee), you're thrown right into it. Here you can see the infamous Enigma cipher machine.
It's a box of many, many wires and gears. While seemingly low-tech these days, it was remarkably cutting edge for its day.
This is one of the rotors from an Enigma, with its inner wires exposed.
One you're out of the ticket building (which, next to the main entrance, is actually a little bit away from the Mansion), you begin a cleverly-designed guided tour. You're given a heavily-protected iPod touch, which has a video explanation for each area, plus additional videos, interviews, and photos which add to the experience. It worked really well.
Though a high-pressure environment, everyone at Bletchley during WWII was encouraged to relax as much as possible. Boating in the summer, ice skating in the winter, and so on.
I am unaware if these are special cipher ducks.
Cipherducks should be a movie.
One of the lovely rooms inside the Mansion. Before the huts were built to accommodate the ever-growing staff, this room housed German and Italian Navy code/cipher breakers. Later it was home to a typing pool.
After the huts were built, this room was reclaimed and turned into something of a quiet relaxation room, and occational movie theater.
I thought this was a neat touch. The ballroom you saw in the previous slide was an addition long before the war. Here you can see one of the original exterior windows. A movie projector was set up roughly where I'm standing, and projected through a hole where the window was, to be viewed in the ballroom.
This is one of the original Packard Sixes that was converted for use as Special Communication Units, including wireless receivers and transmitters, batteries, and a charger.
The back of the Mansion. There used to be a wireless receiver at the top of the tower (center, distant), but they realized this would make the building conspicuous, so they removed it early on in the war.
I tried to decode what special significance the truck's lettering held, but failed.
One of the original buildings where some of the early code breaking was done. Alan Turing worked here before moving to the huts.
A memorial to the Polish mathematicians who figured out how the military Enigma machine worked...without having ever seen one.
This unassuming building housed the original Bombe machines, Turing's electro-mechanical computers that helped decipher the Enigma ciphers.
As soon as the war ended, the Bombe machines were disassembled into their constituent parts and wires. Nothing that would leave any trace of what they were for.
Though decades later, a rebuild project was started...and completed.
These were big, loud, smelly machines, that needed constant maintence and adjusting. All the work was done by "Wrens," or the Women's Royal Naval Service.
In a great addition, the mock-up Bombes have puzzles so you can try your hand at a highly simplfied setup procedure.
From Hut 11 you get to walk through Huts 3 and 6. They've set the rooms up to appear roughly as they did during WWII, including blackout shades that do wonders for ambiance, and do make photography a challenge.
The museum did an excellent job maintaining a WWII atmosphere. In most rooms, actors voices are heard, reading period letters and diaries.
Then there's the clever use of video projection, seen here. Actors in period clothes, adding a bit of life to the scenes.
Not wanting to ruin the mood with some anachronistic 21st century A/V gear, the projectors in most rooms are hidden, often in otherwise normal-looking filing cabinets.
Except here, in the Watch room, where there's an entirely original Panasonic LCD projector. Amazing how ahead of the times they were at Bletchley Park.
Though there were many people visiting while I was there, it was still hard to imagine how much louder, and busier, these halls would have been at the peak of the war.
Though the Bombe machines (and their successors) helped a tremendous amount, much of the code/cipher breaking was still done by people, with pencils and paper. Here you can see one of the crossword-puzzle-lookalikes that many used.
As the codebreaking effort expanded, the Bletchley Park team realized they needed something more permanent and substantial than cheap wooden huts.
This is Block A, where Alan Turing set up shop to tackle the Naval Enigma (which was harder to crack than the Army or Air Force, which BP had been reading for years).
Block B showcases not just code breaking, but what life was like in Britain during the war, plus displays about spies and the different machines used to encrypt and decrypt messages.
A cool statue of the legendary Alan Turing. If you don't know who he is, his story is fascinating (and tragic).
Each group of three (stacked vertically) functions as it's own Enigma machine. The top rotor spins rapidly, and at each full rotation, the rotor below clicks one letter over, when that one finishes its rotation, the one below it clicks over one letter. This goes through every permutation of the starting position of the encoding Enigma possible, in about 12.5 minutes.
This is only part of the whole process of reading enciphered transmissions, but the Bombes sped up the process significantly.
Looks like a big computer, doesn't it?
In fact, the Bombes were only a few short steps removed (figuratively, and later literally) from the first electronic computer, the Colossus.
Remember the mock-up from Hut 11? Yeah, I wasn't kidding when I said it was simplified.
Every hour or so, there's a wonderful and in-depth demonstration on how the Bombe works.
Since it would be decades before anyone who worked at Bletchley Park could talk about it, the British Government built a memorial to their service, estimated to have taken more than two years off the length of the war.
Check out more, and get info about taking a visit yourself, at the Bletchley Park website. It's just a hour outside London by train, and well worth the visit.