The Secrecy of the Colossus


The Colossus, as we reported yesterday, was the world’s first electronic, digital computer, used in the Second World War for deciphering codes between Hitler and his generals and is currently celebrating its 70th anniversary.

In 1943, John Cane was 19 years old and working as a post office engineer, before being headhunted for his skills with a soldering iron and a toolkit. It turned out that he had been earmarked for a very special project as one of a small group of other engineers, to help create the Colossus. He was told that nobody was allowed to know about the project, and it was not to mentioned outside of the work place as it was a matter of utmost importance during the war that information not be shared, lest it fall into the wrong hands. As the Colossus was being built, it was moved to Bletchley Park where the men continued to work on it.

Ten Colossus machines were built, but Cane and the other engineers knew nothing about them except that they were used for cracking codes. Only the technical mathematicians understood the technicalities of the machines. Cane has kept his involvement in the project secret for decades, but has only recently started to tell of his involvement, now that news of the Colossus is coming to light.

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