Digital cultures of technology and knowledge
Object (hi)stories of historical cipher devices
Early, elegant typewriters, mythical devices of World War II, 1970s espionage equipment and copy-proof welded black boxes: The cryptographic collection at the Deutsches Museum contains many rare und unknown objects. Our aim is to explore the backgrounds and origins of these devices, which will be on display in our new permanent exhibition Image Script Codes.
- Digital cultures of technology and knowledge
Dr. Carola Dahlke
KuratorinAbteilung Informatik und Kryptologie
Tracking the inventor
The toolmaker and later cryptologist Fritz Menzer headed the encryption department of the Wehrmacht High Command. Numerous inventions were made by him, such as the cryptographically extremely secure cipher box and the SG-41 cipher device, but were too late in production for the war. Some interesting details about this largely unknown inventor could already be taken from TICOM documents, German archives and from personal interviews with relatives.
(TICOM = the Target Intelligence Committee (U.S.A. and U.K.), conducted interviews and investigations with prisoners of war immediately after the end of the war and recorded them in TICOM documents; since 2011, most of them have been released by the NSA as so-called ‟declassified documents”. )
Tracking the algorithm
Although the basic operation of the Schlüsselgerät 41 is known, it has up until now not been possible to understand every detail and simulate the encryption algorithm due to a lack of design drawings or intact devices. For this reason, as part of the 3D Cipher study of the Deutsches Museum, CT scan data will be produced of both our devices and of a fully functional device of a private collector, in order to finally fully understand the algorithm.
The auxiliary devices of OKW/Chi
Between 1942 and 1945, the Wehrmacht’s cipher section designed mechanical and electro-mechanical devices to break intercepted encrypted messages. Most probably all equipment was destroyed at the end of the war. Only dredged-up remnants of one type of equipment could be recovered by German divers. In order to learn more about the construction and operation of these cryptanalytic devices, this study is evaluating archival documents
[Translate to English:] Datierung der Maschine
Thus this machine remained imprecisely documented and was estimated by the curator at the time to be constructed in 1876 – a date that did not seem to be consistent. Meanwhile, research conducted in Denmark by various institutions, archives and experts revealed that our cryptograph was probably made around 1890 at Professor E. Jünger’s “Mechanical Etablissement” in Copenhagen, a highly respected company with which Köhl had a good working relationship.