A rare three-rotor German Enigma enciphering machine, 1944,
Lot 58
A rare three-rotor German Enigma enciphering machine,
Sold for £57,500 (US$ 96,589) inc. premium
Lot Details
A rare three-rotor German Enigma enciphering machine, 1944,
by Heimsoeth & Rinke, Serial No. 19088, complete with original I, III and V rotors with Bakelite thumbwheels and matching serial numbers, makers plate stamped A 19088/jla/44, standard QWERTZ keyboard with keys with white lettering on black background, battery switch, vacant battery box, complete set of bulbs, ebonite plug board, set of three plug board cables, set of instructions applied to the lid interior together with spare bulb rack, in oak carrying case with hinged lid and fall front with locking mechanism, the case when closed 6 by 11 by 13in (15 by 28 by 33cm)


  • "The Enigma Machine" almost sounds as if there was one type of machine that was in use for the entirety of World War II - this is not the case. The Enigma machine family was very vast and as the war progressed more and more complex methods and additions were made to the Enigma to make it ever more difficult for the code breakers at Bletchley Park.

    It is unknown exactly how many enigma machines were made. During the war, many Enigma machines were destroyed in the fear of them falling into enemy hands and documents pertaining to their manufacture were burned or in many cases simply lost.

    We do know however that there were at least five mainstream variants in use by the German military as well as two different versions used by the Swiss and by the Japanese.

    The first machines to be used in a military capacity only had a fixed set of three wheels. This later changed to a set of five wheals so that they could be interchanged to dramatically increase the number of permutations available. The army (Heer) continued to use three rotor machines with a pool of five rotors to choose from; the navy (Kriegsmarine) used four rotor machines using a pool of eight rotors; the SS, the air force (Luftwaffe) and the logistic divisions of the German army also used slightly different practices so that if one element was broken the others could still be used. All of the machines could use the interchangeable wheels from any enigma, so to find a matching set of wheels with the same serial number as the Enigma is quite rare.

    Perhaps one of the more decisive changes to the Enigma was the addition of a plugboard or Steckerbrett. It would switch the letters before they entered the rotors which meant that e.g. if you pressed A, P would be transmitted and then mixed up again in the rotors - a total of thirteen cables could be inserted to switch thirteen pairs of letters.
    Only by setting a receiving enigma to the exact same settings of the sending enigma would you be able to decipher the message, down to the individual number of rotors used, the wheel alignments and the plugboard placements.

    This particular machine is unusual in the fact that it has Bakelite thumb wheels instead of the more widely used metal thumb wheels due to the diminishing availability of metal and other resources for the Wehrmacht towards the end of the war.
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