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Seizing the Enigma (Paperback)

The Race to Break the German U-Boat Codes, 1933-1945

Maritime Military > Frontline Books > Frontline: WWII WWII

By David Kahn
Frontline Books
Pages: 400
Illustrations: Black and white plate section
ISBN: 9781526711458
Published: 12th April 2017
Last Released: 16th August 2023



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For almost four desperate years, from 1939 to the middle of 1943, the British and, in time, American navies fought a savage, losing battle against German U-boat wolf-packs. The Allies might never have turned the tide without an intelligence coup. The race to break the German U-boat codes is one of the greatest untold stories of the Second World War. Kahn expertly brings this tale to life in this updated edition of his classic book.

Soon after war broke out, Hitler’s U-boats began to sever Allied lifelines. In the grey wasteland of the North Atlantic, submarines prowled; at night, the sky lit up with the flames of torpedoed and sinking merchant ships and tankers.

To meet the growing crisis, ingenious amateurs joined the nucleus of dedicated professionals at Bletchley Park. As the Battle of the Atlantic raged, they raced to unlock the continually changing German naval codes. Their mission: to read the U-boat messages of Hitler’s cipher device, the Enigma.

Critical to their success was a series of raids at sea. U-110, captured intact in the mid-Atlantic, yielded an example of the Enigma machine itself – as well as a trove of secret documents. The weather ship Lauenburg, seized near the Arctic ice pack, provided code-settings for an entire month. In the Mediterranean, two sailors rescued a German weather cipher than enabled the team at Bletchley to solve the Enigma after a year-long blackout.

This is a remarkable book full of fascinating information about lesser known aspects of a critical part of the Battle of the Atlantic. Highly recommended.

The Northern Mariner, October 2017– reviewed by Michael Young of Nepean, Ontario

Since its original publication in 1961, Seizing the Enigma has remained a very easy to read and well researched account of Enigma and the art of codebreaking. For those interested in this fascinating subject I would highly recommend it.

Marine News

As featured in

Hounslow, Heston & Whitton Chronicle

This is a revised edition of the outstanding and most complete account of cryptography and the Enigma machine. There have been claims that the work of code breakers shortened the war by two
years, but it can be argued that it first avoided defeat and then made victory possible – Most Highly Recommended.

Read the full review here.


About David Kahn

DAVID KAHN holds a PhD in history from Oxford University and is the author of the Codebreakers and Hitler’s Spies. He has written many articles on codes and intelligence, from the Historical Journal to the New York Times. A former editor of Newsday, he lives in New York and is one of the world’s leading historians of cryptography.

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