Scuba Divers Find 'Old Typewriter' Trapped in Baltic Ghost Nets

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A diver photographed with the Enigma machine discovery (Photo: Christian Howe/Submaris)

A team of German scuba divers discovered an Enigma machine – the encryption device used by the Nazi military during the Second World War – while clearing ghost nets from the Geltinger Bay area of the Baltic Sea, located on Germany's north-eastern coast.

Enigma machines use a series of rotors and electrical connections to encode messages composed on a typewriter-like keyboard, and can only be decoded if the recipient uses the same combination of rotors and connections. They were developed towards the end of the First World War and were adopted by a number of nations for commercial and military use during the 1920s. The design was improved by the Nazis and used to conduct operations against allied forces using communications widely thought to be indecipherable at the time.

The successful cracking of the Enigma codes by a British team led Alan Turing at Bletchley Park – building on the work of Polish mathematicians – is thought by many to have turned the tide of the Second World War in the Allied Nations' favour, and has been depicted in a number of notable films and TV productions, including the 2014 film The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley.

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A three-rotor Enigma machine on display at Bletchley Park (Photo: Lenscap Photography/Shutterstock)

The discovery of the Enigma machine was made by a team from Submaris, a group of scientific divers based in Kiel, Germany, who carry out a range of projects for universities, government agencies, media and environmental organisations. The Enigma machine was found during an operation to clear lost and abandoned fishing nets from the bay.

'We were [working] on behalf of the WWF to locate and recover ghost nets when our dive colleague Michael Sswat showed up and reported about a net and an ′′old typewriter′′ trapped in it,' wrote lead diver Dr Florian Huber. 'A few days later, we returned, were able to recover the find and discovered on board what we found there: an ENIGMA from World War II. A day we won't forget so quickly.'

It is thought that the machine was discarded during a mass scuttling operation by the German navy in May 1945, when at least 50 submarines were deliberately sunk by their crews. As this model has three encoding rotors and not the four typically found on Enigma machines used by U-boats, it is believed to have been thrown overboard from a Nazi surface vessel rather than a submarine, according to Dr Jann Witt, a historian from the German Naval Association.

The Enigma machine has been transferred to the Museum of Archeology in Schleswig-Holstein, where it will spend the next year being painstakingly restored after spending 75 years at the bottom of the sea.


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