Posted by: annmucc | January 13, 2009

Bletchley Park, Codes, and WWII

You are probably thinking: WHAT do these things have to do with you and London?

I lot I tell you! Today the UCL German Department made them relevant to me and London. Why?

A talk was organised today by the UCL German Department, bringing an alumnus of it back to speak to students and staff of UCL. Who was it? Captain Jerry Roberts. And who’s THAT then?

Captain Jerry Roberts graduated in German from UCL, and straight out of uni was appointed to a codebreaking team at Bletchley Park. His main job, together with two others, was to try an break Tunny, a cipher used by the Germans. Everyone has probably heard about Enigma by now. So what is Tunny? This was a highly important cipher used by the Germans for communication between their top levels, unlike Enigma, which was more commonly used, and as Captain Roberts said, you could even buy an Enigma machine commercially. Hitler had had this machine created especially for the purpose, and he even personally sent some messages himself using it, at least one of which Captain Roberts himself deciphered. In Captain Roberts words, Enigma saved us the war, while Tunny made it end at least two years earlier. Being able to deciphered these codes was essential, as they allowed the Allies to know what the Axis forces were planning, and what their thoughts were. 

So why have we all heard of Enigma, but not of Tunny, if Tunny was so much more important? Well, Tunny was only recently declassified, due to its importance, unlike Enigma, which was declassified in the 1970s. Thus, only recently have the general public got to know about it, and people like Captain Jerry Roberts been able to speak about it.

It was a true honour for me to listen to him talk and describe how they broke the code and what understanding the code meant for the war effort. It was especially an honour hearing him in a classroom, with limited amounts of people. He should be giving another talk for the media around March I believe at UCL, but he asked to do this for the German department, as thanks and a show of gratitude for the education he got from there. 

I must say I am very glad to have read about it and just upped and went to it. It was an inspiring talk about what our studies can bring us to, and to see him so humble and carefully describing to us his experiences, and answering our questions was very enlightening.

Thank you Captain Roberts. Not just for today, but for your work at Bletchley Park to you and to the others in the team, who are often not thought about. If it weren’t for you, life as we know it may not be there!


Bletchley Park

Bletchley Park


  1. That sounds very cool. Wish I’d been there.

  2. @ MCA: You would have liked it, I am sure. Even though the guy spoke slowly, and sometimes lost a bit the track of what he was saying, you could really see how proud he was of that work and realised its importance, and could put that across

  3. It was a fabulous talk, many thanks for blogging about it 🙂 I will send a link to Jerry.

    If you are interested in helping to save Bletchley Park please see my blog:

  4. […] Park, Codes, and WWII: Part II By annmucc A few days ago I blogged about the event I went to where Captain Jerry Roberts came to UCL to talk about his work at […]

  5. @ Sue Black: Thank you for visiting my blog! It was indeed a fabulous talk. Next is visiting Bletchley Park sometime…hopefully soon!

  6. […] this time a much mroe formal one (I had gone to another of his talks before…read about it here). I had received the notice about it while in Cambridge, and immediately signed up for it for me […]

  7. […] Captain Jerry Roberts, Bletchley Park and Lectures By annmucc Remember the two lectures I’ve been to by Captain Jerry Roberts? (if not check here and here). […]

  8. I watched the video of Jerry Roberts’ recent presentation at UCL. It was a very inspirational talk, and I highly recommend it to everyone.

    Thanks, Ann, for helping to spread the word about this crucial piece of history and about this venerable cryptanalyst.

  9. […] meaning to visit Bletchley park for quite a while now, ever since I heard Captain Jerry Roberts speak at UCL. I finally managed to get there on […]

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