World War Two code breaking HQ
Like many country manors and estates in Britain during World War Two, the Government commandeered Bletchley Park for war business. Government organisations intercepted encoded information from the airwaves; it was then passed onto the Bletchley Park boffins to untangle.
It started small and turned into a factory of confidential data to be processed and acted upon, or not. Bletchley tells the story of the women and men who played a vital role in the defeat of Nazi Germany. The beginnings of the modern world started here too with the construction of Colossus the first large-scale digital computer which sped up the deciphering process.
Bletchley Park's tour is ideal for any person interested in computer technology and the history of World War Two. Our Bletchley Park and Blenheim Palace day tour from London is perfect for Churchill and World War Two history buffs.
A brief history of Bletchley Park
Outbreak of war
In 1938 the Government moved the Government Code and Cypher School (GC and CS) to Bletchley Park, then a quiet rural spot. The Bletchley site is almost equal distance from Oxford and Cambridge, where the flow of personnel would mainly originate. Bletchley also has good access to London.
The British military and Government recognised that the next world war would involve an aerial bombardment. Your enemies could destroy entire cities. Knowing their detailed plans in advance was essential for the survival of the nation. During the summer of 1939 wooden huts were built to house the armies of people that would analyse data.
Factory of data
Bletchley became a production line of information, a regimented process with defined stages. German armed forces changed Enigma settings daily. Therefore there was a need for a factory-like procedure to be able to break codes efficiently. The first codes were broke in early 1940, and Bletchley introduced a 24-hour shift system, to not waste a minute of the day.
As the war became more complex and theatres of the conflict opened up across Europe, Bletchley expanded to deal with the vast array of information. In the early summer of 1940 codebreakers took six days to break the new Enigma key settings allowing British Intelligence access to every German military plan. The site was now an efficient information gathering machine of over ten thousand people, mostly women who served in the Royal Navy, known as 'Wrens'.
The major successes included; the knowledge of U-boat locations, the early notification of the bombing of British cities, the details of 'Fortress Europe' helping the planning of the D-Day invasion and the breaking of Japanese codes that contributed to victory in the Pacific.
After World War Two the organisation changed its name from GC and CS to Government Communications Headquarters or GCHO. Various training centres used the Bletchley site until it became a British Telecom (BT) centre. When BT moved out, the area was in danger of being demolished. Still, a group of historians saved Bletchley for posterity, and in 2014 the Duchess of Cambridge officially opened the attraction after a complete restoration.
Alan Turing (1912-1954)
Alan Turing is probably the best know character from Bletchley due to the movie 'The Imitation Game'. Turing was a mathematician, cryptanalyst, logician and a developer of computer science. During the 1930s' Turing developed the 'Turing' machine, regarded by many as the forerunner of modern computers. He is the father of computer science and artificial intelligence.
Turing has been unknown to the outside world because most of his work was completed under the official secrets act jurisdiction. At Bletchley, Alan was responsible for tackling German naval codes. He devised methods to increase the decryption speed. He made improvements to a machine known as the 'Bombe' which speeds up the identification of Enigma rota settings. The rapid information gathering was crucial in enabling the allies to have enough time to act upon intelligence.
Battle for the Atlantic
The battle for the Atlantic was in Turing's hands, or should I say mind. By April 1943 the intelligence gathered at Bletchley under Turing's leadership enabled Britain to go on the offensive and sink many German U-Boats. It got to a tipping point whereby the Allies knew the convoys bringing supplies to Britain could, for the most part, sail unmolested by the U-Boat threat.
After his war work, Turing designed the Automatic Computing Engine, one of the first computers to store instructions for a 'program'. He continued to help develop computers at Manchester University and wrote several important papers on chemical reactions.
Sad ending for a national hero
In 1952, Turing was unfortunately prosecuted for gross indecency, under the Labouchere Amendment. The Government used the law to charge gay males with gross indecency; the act was repealed in 1965. Turing accepted chemical castration, enabling him to continue his work and avoid prison. Alan Turing died in 1954 as a result of cyanide poisoning. The investigation into his death recorded a verdict of suicide. Since then Turing's supporters have noted that the evidence suggests accidental poisoning.
The British Government have publicly apologised for 'the appalling way he was treated.' Alan Turing has been granted a posthumous pardon.
D-Day exhibit and more
Tells the story of the codebreakers role in Operation Overlord. You can see an excellent short film and a small exhibit. The museum section has the largest collection of Enigma Machines and tells personal stories of the codebreakers and life at Bletchley. The actual mansion was largely a place of relaxation and served as the Head Quarters of the site, a reception area and where the top brass had their offices. The main hall was used as a social club, a 'codebreakers' pub of sorts.
Explore the blocks
Each 'Block' you encounter details the story of what went on. Learn what was housed there, such as the 'Colossus computer' and hear the tales of people that worked there. The development of Colossus, the world's first programmable digital computer, was a giant leap forward. Ten staff operated Colossus computers to hasten the decoding of Lorenz machine messages used by the German high command. The Lorenz Machines were far more complex than the Enigma Machines used by the military. Breaking Lorenz allowed the intelligence service to peer into the mind the Nazi leadership and even Hitler himself.
There is an excellent team of staff at Bletchley, ready to answer your questions. We will provide a World Ward Two specialist driver-guide if required for your day tour to Bletchley Park.
Touring and accommodation
We can provide a day tour to Bletchley Park from London; this day trip can be combined with a visit to Blenheim Palace. If you wish to stay in the Cotswolds region, we can include Bletchley on a day trip. Here is a link to a choice of the Best Hotels in the Cotswolds.
As visiting Bletchley Park is an easy day tour from London, you can stay in London or make Bletchley a stop on a tour of England.
If this is your first time to England, we would recommend a custom version of our Town and Country Tour; it covers the famous places and allows you to utilise your private driver-guide by getting-off-the-beaten-path. Our Classic tour of Ireland is a good place to start for the first trip to Ireland, and we suggest the Classic tour of Scotland for your first trip to the bonny Highlands.
Bletchley Park the intelligence factory
Explore the beginning of the digital world
- VIP tours available
- Specialist guides available
- Visit the National Museum of Computing
- D-Day exhibit
- See the codebreakers 'huts'
A1 Condition Enigma Machine
The Mansion House Offices
Turing's Personal Items
Naval Enigma Machine
Memorial Wall at Bletchley
Paying Homage to Alan Turing
Fighting Malware Exhibit
Original Enigma Machine
Decode Messages at Bletchley
Commander Denniston's Office
The 'Bombe' rotas
1940s Bike Rack
Alan Turing statue from slate
Enigma Encoding Machine
The Main House
Alan Turing Computer Scientist
Help us make your trip exceptional
Our UK, EU and US office-based staff will listen to what you want to see and experience.
Whether you are a honeymoon couple, a family or a corporate incentive group, our team’s collective resources will be brought together to build the experience that’s right for you.
We will require your arrival and departure dates, details of your personal preferences and places that you would like to visit as well as the events you would like to experience.
We will then prepare a draft itinerary and send it to you by email for your approval. Once agreed, we will send you a Booking Confirmation with Personalised Itinerary and Information Pack via email.