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World War II Colossus Rises from the Rubble

World War II Colossus Rises from the Rubble

20-Dec-2017      It's not quite as challenging as the proposal to resurrect the mammoth by cloning it from the wealth of frozen meat recovered from Arctic ice, but computer enthusiasts in Britain have brought the legendary Colossus back from the dead.
     One of the first ever programmable computers, the Colossus was credited with breaking Germany's Lorenz code in World War II, enabling the Allies to defeat the Axis powers and end the war about 18 months earlier. It was a far cry from today's miniature circuitry: it occupied an entire room and was studded with valves that glowed red hot while it worked, reading characters from intercepted messages off reels of paper tape, at a rate of 5,000 per second.
     Ten versions of the Colossus were built but by 1960, in order to keep the machine's existence secret, all had been dismantled and all drawings of the machine were burnt.
     In recent years, however, Britain and Germany conducted a much friendlier war. A team of techs in Great Brittain spent ten years rebuilding the machine, working with the late Tommy Flowers, the engineer who built the first Colossus. When they got done, it was testing against messages sent by radio amateurs in German using the Lorenz SZ43, the same encryptor used by the German high command. To make things more interesting, the same encrypted messages were sent to modern computers.
     Alas, this is not a story about the big computer that could. Colossus was still up to cracking the code, but it was modern technology that got it done faster.