News & Opinion | December 9, 2016 9:00 am

This Thing Cost the Germans World War II, and Someone Just Paid $500k for It

WTF is it?

Because the interwebs are crammed full of crazy things, and sometimes the purpose of those things is not immediately discernible, we present WTF Is It?

WTF is it?
The Enigma M4, a cypher machine used by the German Kriegsmarine during World War II. You may recognize it from the 2014 movie, The Imitation Game (if not, definitely watch that movie).

So what’s it do?
Enigma was a randomized coding machine that scrambled the communications between Nazi high command and officers in the field so that the Allies couldn’t spy on them.

Who makes it?
Technically it was made by the Nazi army, but it’s no longer made because, well, the Nazis are no más. This particular one was made for Admiral Doneitz’s Kriegsmarine submarine in 1943.

Is it in any way useful?
Not anymore. But when it was in use, it made spying on the Nazis nigh impossible, at least until Alan Turing led a group of scientists in creating the world’s first computer to crack it and ultimately win the War. These days, your smartphone is about 1,000x more sophisticated.

Would it actually fit on my desk?
Yeah, provided you have a large desk. In fact, it’d look pretty rad on a large, stately table or desk.

Can I buy one?
Maybe, if you have very deep pockets. Of the 1,600 Enigmas made by the Germans, only 120 remain, with the vast majority of them in government storage facilities. This one just sold at an auction at Bonhams for $463,500.

Should I buy one?
Do you collect war memorabilia, own a museum and/or have a need to employ a really outdated format of coded messaging? Go for it.