Last Tuesday a 93 year old man going by the name of Jerry passed away. Jerry, or to give him his full title, Captain Raymond C ‘Jerry’ Roberts MBE’s death was covered in the papers, and in the broadcast news, tucked away on the inside pages of the printed press, or 20 minutes into a bulletin on the TV news, it perhaps wasn’t covered to the level that someone with Jerry’s achievements deserved, as Jerry was a code breaker, a Bletchley Park code breaker, a code breaker during World War II.
The men and woman that worked at Bletchley Park are credited with shortening the war, arguably saving lives and certainly helping the Allied forces defeat Nazi Germany. Jerry was not part of Alan Turing’s team in Hut 8, Jerry’s section was known as The Testery, a group of talented code breakers and German linguists. A code known by the British as Tunny and to the Germans as Vernam was created by a range of German cipher machines called Lorenz, which had 12 encryption wheels each with a different number of cams (Enigma only had 3 wheels). The cipher, a symmetrical stream cipher, used a keystream made from a random data stream of the same length as the plain text it was encrypting. The messages broadcast via Wireless Telegraphy where intercepted by the British Signal Intelligence sites known as the Y stations at Knockholt in Sevenoaks Kent, and Denmark Hill in London where then passed on to the team at Bletchley Park. The logic of the cipher was cracked by a member of The Testry, Bill Tutte in the spring of 1942, soon after in his role as a senior code breaker Jerry along with his colleagues set about deciphering the messages encrypted in its code.
What made this code of particular importance however was that it was used almost exclusively by the German High Command. Messages from Germany’s top generals and even Adolf Hitler himself where intercepted and deciphered, providing the Allied war effort with vital intelligence. It was thanks to Jerry’s team that the Allies knew that the Germans had bought the carefully planned ruse to convince them that the D-Day landings would be in Calais and not Normandy.
Initially the team deciphered the messages by hand, then the team started using machines developed by a section of Bletchley Park tasked with developing machines to assist with the decoding of intercepted enemy messages, led by a man called Max Newman the section was called Newmanry. The Testery gained access to various Robinson code breaking machines, electro-mechanical machines that used vacuum tube valves to assist with its logic, the Robinson was the predecessor to another machine developed at Newmanry; the Colossus. Designed by engineer Tommy Flower and seen as the world’s first programmable electronic digital computer, The Colossus greatly improved the capacity of the code breakers, through the use of Colossus, The Testery where able to decipher messages faster and more efficiently than ever before, thus contributing to the shortening of the war.
In 1945 Jerry left Bletchley Park, he joined the War Crimes Investigation Unit, before embarking on a career in market research that lasted 50 years. He campaigned for recognition for the work done at Bletchley Park by people like himself, Tommy Flowers, Bill Tutte, Max Newman and Alan Turning, in 2013 he was made an MBE for his work during the war, he saw the commendation as not only a recognition for himself, but for all the men and woman that helped decipher the German codes at Bletchley Park, but in particular his section: The Testry.