U-110 and the Enigma machine
Today, May 9, marks the anniversary of the capture of the U-110 and its Enigma machine.
German submarines, Unterseeboot or U-boats, were the bane of the North Atlantic during World War II. A U-boat had been responsible for the sinking of the Lusitania during World War I.
U-110 was commissioned November 21, 1940, under Kptlt. Fritz-Julius Lemp, the only commanding officer she would ever know. The boat sank three ships for a total of 10,149 tons, and damaged two more, but what she is most known for happened May 9, 1941.
Along with U-201, the U-110 was attacking an Allied convoy. Lemp spent too long confirming his kill through the periscope, and HMS Aubretia, a convoy escort, spotted it, dropping depth charges. Those first charges were unsuccessful, but the HMS Bulldog and HMS Broadway joined in. Lemp was forced to surface, and the Bulldog set a course to ram the wounded sub. At the last moment, the Bulldog realized a capture might be possible, and tried to shift course, but still managed to clip it. Lemp called Abandon Ship, thinking the secrets would sink with the boat, but while in the water, he realized the boat was not sinking! He attempted to swim back, but was supposedly shot by a British sailor.
This capture was one of the most important of the war, as inside one sailor found an odd looking typewriter. They had found the Enigma machine and several code books. All the sailors were sworn to secrecy, and the Germans were unaware that the Enigma machine and its code books were captured for some time. Finally, after years of code-breaking and attempted capture attempts, the Allies were able to understand secret U-boat transmissions.
As a bonus tidbit, Ian Fleming, later the author of the James Bond series, actually helped plan some Enigma capture operations.
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