One of the biggest secrets of WWII was the secret of Enigma – an electro-mechanical rotor cipher machine used by the Germans to code military messages. Decrypting Enigma meant knowing the enemy’s plans. One can easily imagine the value of this knowledge during war times. Enigma’s decryption was a Polish gift to Great Britain. There is also a Scottish link in this mysterious story of one of the most precious gifts from the Poles to the allied cause.
It is often told that decryption of German messages lead to the Allied victory during the battle of Britain, and to reducing the war’s length by two years. Winston Churchill went even further. He told King George VI after World War II that the war was won because of how the Allies were able to break the German codes.
It is also often said that it was the British who unveiled the secret of Enigma. This is actually untrue. For many years this tale was repeated in British propaganda and media, so much so that it became an ‘engineered fact’. What, then, are the historical facts that have been kept from the Brits for so many years?
On 25 July 1939, in Warsaw, the Poles initiated French and British military intelligence representatives into their Enigma-decryption techniques and equipment, including Zygalski sheets and the cryptologic bomb, and promised each delegation a Polish-reconstructed Enigma (It was called Lacida – this name contains the Scottish link, described below). Without these gifts of techniques and technology from Polish military intelligence, decryption of German Enigma messages during World War II at Bletchley Park would not have been possible, as it was based on using mathematical theory and the perfecting of methods, tools and devices — all invented and developed beginning in 1932 by Rejewski, Różycki and Zygalski.
From 1938 onwards, additional complexity was repeatedly added to the Enigma machines, making decryption more difficult and necessitating larger numbers of equipment and personnel—more than the Poles could readily produce. The Polish breakthrough represented a vital basis for the later British continuation and effort. During the war, British cryptologists decrypted a vast number of messages enciphered on Enigma. The intelligence gleaned from this source, codenamed “Ultra” by the British, was a substantial aid to the Allied war effort.” (1)
Now it’s easy to see: the final result was achieved by teamwork between a number of countries. Breaking the code itself was a Polish achievement.
So what is the Scottish connection in this story? The name of the Polish copy of Enigma – Lacida, is a riddle made of the names of three people involved in the project: Langer, Ciężki, Danilewicz. Lt. Col. Karol Gwido Langer was the chief of the Polish General Staff’s Cipher Bureau and the leader of the three geniuses: Rejewski, Rożycki and Zyglaski.
Langer had been liberated by the Allies from German captivity after the war moved to Britain. He was working and then retired in Kinross, in Scotland, where the the Polish Army Signals camp was located. He died there in 1948 and was buried in a cemetery at Wellshill in Perth (2). His grave was marked by the standard Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone (3). In 2010 his remains were exhumed, following a request by his daughter and moved to Cieszyn in Poland where he received a full military funeral provided by the Polish army.
Tragically, Langer, a key to the Allied victory, lived his last years in Scotland unnoticed and unrecognised. His presence in Kinross should have been seen as a valuable addition to the pantheon of great scientists associated with Scotland. Today even his grave is no longer there. In the Wellshill cemetery where Langer was first buried, the obelisk in memorial to the Polish soldiers and their contribution to the allied case stands proud . The words engraved on the memorial say: Eternal Glory to the Polish Soldiers who died in 1939-1945 for our freedom and yours’. It should always remind us about the great WWII here Lt. Col. Karol Gwido Langer that was buried near by.
There is another secret about Langer’s last years of life and his sudden death in this story… but let’s leave that one to the treasure hunters…
Words: Jarek Gąsiorek
Eternal Glory to the Polish Soldiers who died in 1939-1945 for Our Freedom and Yours
Polish Forces in Defence of British Isles 1939-1945 essay The Polish Army as part of Defence Forces of Scotland 1940-1945 Zbigniew Wawer and Andrzej Suchcitz ISBN 0-95432-170-7
(1) Enigma Machine