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15 October 2014
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Bletchley Park Story of a code breaker

by A7431347

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Contributed by 
A7431347
People in story: 
Bob Biggs
Location of story: 
Bletchley Park Station X
Background to story: 
Civilian Force
Article ID: 
A5236283
Contributed on: 
21 August 2005

This story was submitted to the Peoples War site by a volunteer from Broadstairs on behalf of Bob Biggs and has been added to the site with his permission. He fully understands the terms and conditions

Bob Biggs was a codebreaker at Bletchley Park This is his story relating to his time breaking codes on the Balkan Section. Please read the post script at the end of the story

I was transferred to the Balkan section and took up duties with the Yugoslav area code breakers. There were no big units in this area and as a consequence there were few Enigma machines . There was one with the 1st Prinz Eugene Division which we had identified , there was another with 1 Panzer division and another one with HQ occupying forces. The codes and ciphers were different; they were made through a lettered square grid, 26 x 26 and was like a word search puzzle square but of course it was not as easy as that. When I arrived they were already working on a captured grid square. These were changed once a month without distribution difficulties. But the main problems on a new grid was the fact that whilst you had to discover what letters were in the square you then had to decide where the starting point was and in what direction the encoded message was moved from square to square. Above, below, across or otherwise. It had the same weakness of an Enigma machine in that it had no numbers, which had to be spelled out; so that by putting through a patterned message as previously done we were able to break into and read most of the messages produced.

There were two main groups of resistance fighters ; one lot was known as 'chekniks' who were collaborating with the enemy causing atrocities and massacres and fighting against the other group who were Tito partisans who were doing very well by harassing and sabotaging the occupying forces. Churchill decided to support the Tito and his followers and supplies and ammunition and equipment were dropped by air. Churchill also knew that their activities in harassing the occupying forces would be reported back and we were able to intercept these messages and that we were able to decode and read and know what was going on and to know how it was affecting the enemy forces.

Secrets from Albania suggested that they were not efficient and certainly not on the alert. As a result of the intelligence gained from these messages and passed on to our head quarters in Italy it was decided to prepare and mount a seaborne attack by British forces across the Adriatic Sea which took them by surprise and they began to retreat across the borders into Montenegro and up through Bosnia . They were harassed by the Tito partisans and other units of the occupying forces in those areas began to retreat as well. From messages intercepted another weakness was found in the region of the Bay of Kotour which is south of Dubrovnic. As a result of this intelligence a combined services British force was mounted and also sent from Italy to attack this area. The town of Pedregrad was completely destroyed because this was an enemy base. It may be of interest to know that the new town rebuilt since the war is now known as Titograd. This attack created what can only be described as a domino effect and the occupying forces who had begun to retreat northward into Bosnia Hertzogovenia and were harassed by Tito partisans who had a base near Mostar. This was important because the occupying forces began to move from Macedonia into Serbia where there was no such separate state as Kosovo at that time.

They pursued northward and crossed the border into Hungary. The other forces that were moving through Bosnia moved forward into Croatia into Slovenia and crossed the border into Austria. The 1st Prinz Eugene division and 1 Panzer division who were held on the border were also withdrawn because the second front had opened on 'D' day with the attack on the Normandy beaches and they were required to reinforce the German army who were facing attacks in this area. During the short time I spent in the Yugoslav section we examined some messages that were being sent out from a transmitter in Northern Slovenia near a town called Radevalicia. These were patterned messages as previously described and when decoded presented us with a puzzle because they started off by saying; arrivals so many; departures so many held so many processed and disposals so many. When consulting with our colleagues in the Polish section we discovered they were receiving similar message patterns and it was discovered that these were coming from concentration and death camps in their area. The difference between their messages and ours was that their figures were in the thousands whereas our figures were in the tens and hundreds. This made us realise that it was not a death camp like theirs but it was a concentration camp and that they were reporting their activities back to their head quarters. We assumed that they were possibly interrogating and torturing their prisoners but we felt certain that they were killing people with firing squads. Intelligence from this interception was passed to the officers of the S.O.E. known as The Special Operations Executive and sometimes Special Operations Europe . I was given to understand that they decided to send out a task force of about 12 men who were to be dropped by parachute in the region of Radevalicia and to link up with partisan forces to form a strong force that would be capable of attacking this concentration camp. They did this and took the guards by surprise released all the prisoners some of which joined the partisan forces and others were escorted to safe houses in the mountainous area of that region. After the withdrawal of the enemy occupying forces the messages dried up and I was told that I would be transferred to the Japanese section. I was a bit disappointed because I was hoping to remain in the European of war and preferably on the western front that were dealing with attacks on the Normandy Beaches.

Post Script:

My wife and I were celebrating our silver wedding anniversary and decided we would take a holiday in the Alps. We looked into the brochures and found an ideal spot in the Yugoslav Alps at a place called Bled. A day after we arrived there I noticed a mini bus service that was doing an hourly service to a place called Begunji that rang a bell in my mind from when I was working on the Yugoslav codes and ciphers. The next morning we took the bus and passed through the town of Raddvalice which was another name I remembered. We arrived at Begunji and walked up the main street of this little market town. On the left hand side was large building which was obviously a hospital and convalescent home. On the gate leading into some gardens was the sign ‘M*’ which I believed ment museum .We went further up the lane and saw the castle which I had remembered from my days in Bletchley . It was a ruined castle, not like you would see here, more an ancient ruin ,but a modern ruin which had been bombed and I assumed that that was because the inmates had been interrogated and tortured. We returned to the museum which we though might be full of local art and we walked inside and much to my surprise the cell blocks were still there and in each cell block were the exhibits of German uniforms and regalia, instruments of torture, whips, fire arms and many other exhibits. To the rear was the execution yard where the firing squads killed prisoners and the three posts where the prisoners were tied before being shot by rifles and the posts were pitted with rifle bullets . Further to the rear was a wall which was splattered with machine gun fire,. My wife turned to me and said," I don't know why you have come here it is a horrible place." Little did she realise what I knew and what I was thinking Yes, this is the concentration camp I knew about and here is the evidence, my work had helped to free and stop the killing. Unfortunately I could not tell her anything because I was still bound by an oath of silence under the official secrets act. And my only regret is that my dear wife died before I was able to tell her anything .But I do know she was very proud of me although she did not understand why I received such rapid promotion during my war time service at spy station X.

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