Amateur radio, History and Significance, Shortwave

The Enigma Event — Radio with a History!


I am fascinated by the history of radio and its significance to events in the world, particularly as it relates to WWII. I confess to being somewhat envious of those teens who were called into active civilian duty as Radio Monitors. Some time back I heard an actual Public Service message as it had been broadcast during the war years recruiting boys 12 years and up for monitoring service. (An excellent Internet streaming broadcast is the UK 1940s Radio Station – they play music and programs of the era, as well as actual speeches and Public Service messages, and even occasional commercials(!) just as they were broadcast at the time.)

There were over 1500 licensed hams (adults) in England who were part of a program to listen for German transmissions and report whatever they heard to local government officials. America had a similar network of folks monitoring the airwaves, somewhat less organized, but there nevertheless. On a related note “Sky Watchers” were part of the Ground Observer Corps (GCO), enlisting monitors 12 years old and up and sponsored by the Air Force to watch for German and Japanese aircraft. In the 1950s the GCO continued until automated systems took their place in the late 1950s. GOC volunteers were encouraged to continue their service in the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES).

Official listening stations were active by the FCC, the FBI, and of course more secret government organizations. In England Bletchley Park was the operations center for counterintelligence communications, and this is where the Lorenz Cipher and the Enigma code were famously broken. (An interesting sidelight to this history is the invaluable contribution of the Polish cryptologists who had broken the original Enigma code long before the start of WWII, even giving the French and the British a working Enigma machine in 1939.)

The importance of these two codes being broken cannot be underestimated in terms of the Allied success in the war as well as shortening the war by a significant amount. Fortunately German cryptologists believed the Enigma code too complex to break, and therefore assumed the Allies would not devote much effort to breaking the code. It was actually operator mistakes/poor practices which allowed the Lorenz Cipher to be broken, and similar mistakes by Enigma operators which gave the Allies the ability to reverse-engineer the machines and the codes.

enigma award definitivo

In celebration of the Enigma efforts during WWII, the Enigma Event, which starts on September 12th and culminates on the 25th of September as part of the  European Researchers’ Night events, will take place across Europe. During this event Italian amateur radio operators will transmit using two special event call signs during the two-week event, culminating with actual encrypted messages on the 25th using actual Enigma machines or computer (virtual) Enigma machines. Full details can be found following the link above. Just make sure to click on the British flag icon at the top left of their pages if the text comes up in Italian.

There will no doubt be many operators participating in this event, and as I get more information I will post it here. Thanks to and Thomas Witherspoon for posting about this event.

These type of special events are a lot of fun, and they serve to remind us of the strategic importance radio has played, and still plays, in the history of the world. I will post my results after the event, and I hope you will let me know of your participation as well!  73! Robert

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