A mystery Brit has shelled out nearly 90,000 GBP for a Nazi decoding device nicknamed the ‘Hitler Mill’ which replaced the famous Enigma machine.
The Hermann Historica auction house in the German city of Munich sold the unique machine, which was nicknamed the ‘Hitler Mill’ because of the crankshaft soldiers had to turn to operate it, for 98,000 EUR (86,222 GBP).
The new owner of the ‘Schluesselgeraet 41’ or ‘SG-41’ (‘Cipher machine 41’) as it is officially known is a British collector whose name has not been shared due to privacy reasons.
Some 500 Hitler mills were manufactured by the Nazis during WW II, but as most were destroyed at the end of the war and only a handful are said to have survived, the auctioned device was described as “a real gem” by the auction house.
A Hermann Historica spokeswoman said: “In recent years, no examples of this ultra-rare machine in a good condition have surfaced on the market.”
The fact that the Nazis started to develop and construct the SG-41 in the first place can be put down to British mathematician Alan Turing and his team at Bletchley Park where the British Government’s “Code and Cypher School” was based and the codes of its famous predecessor the Enigma were cracked.
A Hermann Historica spokeswoman said: “Those in the know are one step ahead, but victory comes to those who know more at an early stage. Working on this assumption, the British secret service had assembled the country’s most outstanding analysts at Bletchley Park, people from a wide range of professions, to collaborate on decrypting the enemy’s coding machines.
“While the leaders of the Wehrmacht, apart from a few warning voices, were reassured by the fact that the legendary Enigma cypher machine was said to be unbreakable, the British cryptanalysts, led by Alan Turing, had already deciphered its underlying principle in spring 1940 and were able to transform encrypted messages into plain text at the flick of a switch from 1941.”
As the Germans feared later during the war that their Enigma machine might have been cracked by the British, they started to develop the Hitler Mill as their new deciphering machine at the Wanderer Werke factory in Chemnitz.
The auction house spokeswoman said: “Unlike the Enigma, which used lamps for the letters, it worked with two reels of paper. The encryption process involved turning the drum 360 degrees with the attached crankshaft. This rotated six cypher wheels, rather than the previous three, of differing sizes, in a highly irregular motion, sometimes even backwards.
“Moreover, the position of one wheel affected the movement of the others. The recipient had to set the wheels in the identical starting position before entering the encrypted text. The plain text and the encrypted message were printed in parallel on two strips of paper.”
English experts failed to decipher the new Hitler Mill, but as the Germans only managed to manufacture and put into service around 500, it did not manage to turn the tide for their forces.
According to the Hermann Historica auction house, World War II “would have lasted much longer if the Germans had deployed the SG-41 earlier”.
The spokeswoman said: “Accordingly, the allies described the cypher machine with deference as a “remarkable machine”.
“How many more years World War II would have lasted had this new encryption technique been deployed earlier is still widely debated today, although the outcome was probably inevitable.”
The auctioned Hitler Mill, which bears the identification number ‘Schl. Ger. 41 / 000352 cxo 44’ and even has a swastika and eagle inscription, is not the only Nazi decoding machine to hit the news in recent months.
The Deutsches Museum (German Museum) in Munich recently received a Hitler Mill after it was found by treasure hunters Max Schoeps and Volker Schranner with their metal detector in May 2017 in a forest near Aying, a town in the German state of Bavaria.
The museum’s Hitler Mill was in a much worse state than the perfect-condition device which has now been auctioned to the British collector by the auction house, as it was soiled having been discarded in the forest at the end of World War II.