Colossus

Aged unknown

Colossus was the name of a series of computers developed by British codebreakers in 1943-1945 to help in the cryptanalysis of the Lorenz cipher. Colossus used thermionic valves (vacuum tubes) and thyratrons to perform Boolean and counting operations. Colossus is thus regarded as the world's first programmable, electronic, digital computer, although it was programmed by plugs and switches and not by a stored program. Colossus was designed by research telephone engineer Tommy Flowers to solve a problem posed by mathematician Max Newman at the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) at Bletchley Park. Alan Turing's use of probability in cryptanalysis contributed to its design. It has sometimes been erroneously stated that Turing designed Colossus to aid the cryptanalysis of the Enigma. Turing's machine that helped decode Enigma was the electromechanical Bombe, not Colossus. The prototype, Colossus Mark 1, was shown to be working in December 1943 and was operational at Bletchley Park on 5 February 1944. An improved Colossus Mark 2 that used shift registers to quintuple the processing speed, first worked on 1 June 1944, just in time for the Normandy Landings on D-Day. Ten Colossi were in use by the end of the war and an eleventh was being commissioned. Bletchley Park's use of these machines allowed the Allies to obtain a vast amount of high-level military intelligence from radiotelegraphy messages between the German High Command (OKW) and their army commands throughout occupied Europe. The destruction of the Colossus hardware and blueprints, as part of the effort to maintain a project secrecy that was kept up into the 1970s, deprived most of those involved with Colossus, of credit for their pioneering advancements in electronic digital computing during their lifetimes. A functioning replica of a Colossus computer was completed in 2007 and is on display at The National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park.

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Commemorated on 1 plaque

Photo of Alan Turing, Gordon Welchman, Tommy Flowers, The Bombe, and 3 other
Elliott Brown on Flickr

IEEE Milestone in Electrical Engineering and Computing Code-breaking at Bletchley Park during World War II, 1939-45. On this site during the 1939-45 World War, 12,000 men and women broke the German Lorenz and Enigma ciphers, as well as Japanese and Italian codes and ciphers. They used innovative mathematical analysis and were assisted by two computing machines developed here by teams led by Alan Turing: the electro-mathematical Bombe developed with Gordon Welchman, and the electronic Colossus designed by Tommy Flowers. These achievements greatly shortened the war, thereby saving countless lives.

Bletchley Park House, Bletchley Park, Bletchley, United Kingdom where it designed