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Spanish discover cache of 26 Enigma machines

Franco's 'secret weapon' tracked to army HQ

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Spanish newspaper El País last week tracked down 26 examples of Franco's "secret weapon" against Republican forces in the country's civil war - a cache of perfectly-preserved Enigma machines hidden for years in a "gloomy office" in the army's main headquarters in Madrid.

Nationalist forces led by Franco acquired their first ten Enigma machines from Germany in 1936. While Hitler "had already decided to offer Franco his full support" in the Spanish civil war, this didn't actually extend to the full-fat military versions of Enigma, and his Iberian ally had to make do with the "vastly inferior" commercial "D" model.

The German High Command was apparently concerned that careless Spaniards might let the Republicans get their hands on an Enigma. Indeed, even Germany's Condor Legion - dispatched to Spain to aid the Nationalist cause - also reportedly used commercial Enigmas in the field.

Nonetheless, the Republicans were never able to decipher Enigma communications between Franco and his top brass, and the machines' success led to further acquisitions. Commander Antonio Sarmiento, charged with training operators in Franco's Salamanca headquarters, enthusiastically reported in 1936: “To give some idea of the level of security these machines offer, it's suffice to say that the number of possible combinations is an astounding 1,252,962,387,456.”

The total number of machines eventually bought by Spain is unknown, although estimates vary from 30 to 50. They were not withdrawn from service until the early 1950s, which offers the rather agreeable possibility that the British were able to read the Spanish dictatorship's military communications while Franco remained blissfully unaware that his Nazi sponsors' device had been laid bare by Bletchley Park years before. ®

Bootnote

El Reg is, of course, supporting Bletchley Park and the National Museum of Computing with our splendid Enigma t-shirt. Get it before Cash'n'Carrion's free shipping offer ends on 31 October.

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