Cipher Machines and Cryptology

1 Mar

Here’s a trip down memory lane for some of you, particularly those of you who served in the RFA back in the day.  No doubt you will remember the KL-7 crypto machine.  What a beast that was…

If you’d like to revisit the KL-7 you’ll find an excellent simulator on the Cipher Machines and Cryptology website build by Dirk Rijmenants, here:  He’s made the simulator as true to life as possible, complete with the sound of the machine’s motor-generator and the hearty clunking noise of the rotors turning with each key press.  The only thing the simulator doesn’t do that the real machine often did is to stop working in the middle of a long decrypt due to dirty contacts under the keyboard!

There’s a lot more fascinating stuff on the site if you’re interested in the history, technical and operational aspects of cryptology, including a section on the Enigma machine (an excellent simulator is available for that, too) and several other mechanical and hand-cipher systems.


3 Replies to “Cipher Machines and Cryptology

  1. As far as I can remember the water was for the task force. As you say, ships need water and I don’t know how the RN dealt with this other than chartering a chemical tanker (very clean coated tanks.)
    I went and had a look at the Fort Toronto’s radio room, which had plenty of space for the naval stuff all piled on what was basically the work bench at the far end. She had the full fit for the MOD charter whereas we were just on a spot charter to top her up, so no extra fittings … (war was over at that point anyway.)
    There’s a pix of us going alongside her on this site gallery.

  2. Hi Bob, and sorry it’s been months since I last logged in, so I missed your reply to my original post.

    Yes the KL7 was used on the Merchant ships engaged (STUFT) in the Falkland Islands Task Force. That would have been almost the last, if not the last, operational use of the machine before it was officially retired. Imagine the racket in the radio room, with a mechanical teleprinter rattling away one one side and the KL7 clunking on the other!

    Loading water? For the Task Force, or to supply the islands?

    That reminds me of another thing the Royal Navy didn’t know about Merchant ships… the fact that we had evaporators and could make as much fresh water as we needed. Once that was discovered, we ran our evaporator 24/7 and every RAS included a transfer of fresh water. On a couple of occasions we had warships alongside and supplied them direct rather than via an RFA.

    We were equally surprised to discover that the Navy didn’t have this capability themselves, either on warships or on RFAs. It seems fairly fundamental, doesn’t it. I wonder if they do now.

  3. Thanks for that link. Very interesting, downloaded the KL-7 on got it working on Windows 11 using compatibility settings. I seem to remember seeing one on the Fort Toronto (but I will stand corrected on that, it was a long time ago) in the Falklands, CP Ships Class 3 chemical tanker being used as a water carrier. We were there on sister ship Fort Rouge just after the war ended topping her up with more water. Good from our point of view as we were a week in Rio loading water. 🙂

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