Henryk Zygalski, a mathematician, an outstanding cryptologist, a member of a small team  of Polish specialists who in the early 1930s violated the principle of the German cipher machine called ‘Enigma’ (Greek: ainigma, riddle, mystery; Latin: secret mystery; German: Änigma). Marian Rejewski and Jerzy Różycki also belonged to the team of cryptologists.

It was a portable mechanical device in the shape of a suitcase, containing a keyboard
(as in a typewriter), a system of encryption drums with 26 letters on the periphery, and a rotary mechanism. The machine enabled both very fast encryption and reading of content. In addition, an electronic switch with 26 pairs of sockets was installed in the device, which introduced additional connections between the reels, thus increasing the number of ciphers to the user’s choice (4 x 1026 combinations), which increased as the system was modified and improved.

The whole operated on an electromechanical basis using the so-called shift ciphers. Henryk Zygalski was born on July 15, 1908 in Poznań to the family of Michał and Stanisława née Kielisz. Parents ran a tailoring workshop at 22 Mielżyńskiego Street. Henryk attended St. Junior High School od St. Maria Magdalena (there were classes of the reformed teaching course). He passed his final exams in 1926. It took place as usual in May, written exams on May 4-6, and oral exams on 14 and 15 of that month. The chairman of the examination board was director Dezydery Ostrowski, and it was composed of: priest Julian Janicki, Dr. Mieczysław Michałkiewicz (Polish), Kazimierz Pertek (Latin), Jan Odroń (Greek), Aleksander Tarnawski (history), and Józef Huss (mathematics and physics). The latter subjects belonged to Zygalski’s favorite fields. In the years 1926-1931, he studied, like his colleagues from the cryptologists team, mathematics at the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences of Poznań University of Life Sciences. One of his masters was prof. Zdzisław Krygowski, a co-organizer together with the Department of the Second Main Staff of the Polish Army of a cryptology course (which was completed by eminent mathematicians at the University of Poznań). Zygalski participated in a cryptology course as a 3rd year student. During his studies, he also attended Krygowski’s lectures on higher algebra and mathematical analysis. He passed the final exam on December 7, 1931 with a very good result. He created the method of sheets, perforated templates, which when applied, allowed to mechanically find the current combinations of “Enigma”. He was also the creator of the so-called cryptological bomb, devices for searching for cipher variants. After the evacuation of the center in Pyry, in early September 1939, Zygalski and his colleagues worked in decryption centers in France (“Bruno” near Paris and “Cadix” near Nimes). In 1943, through Spain, where he was imprisoned, he managed to get to Great Britain, where he took up service in the Polish Armed Forces, was assigned
to the Communications Battalion of the Commander-in-Chief, worked at the Polish Radio and Declaration Center in Boxmoor in the suburbs of London. After the war, he was a lecturer at the London Technical School and the University of Surrey. Married to Bertha Blofield, he was childless. He died on August 30, 1978 in London. The ashes were buried in Greenwood Father Commons Cemetery.


Existing since 1919 and constantly improved, the invention initiated the development of a new generation of devices. ‘Enigma’ was gradually introduced in all weapons at the Reichswehr’s disposal (armed forces of the Weimar Republic). First in the navy (already in 1926).  Soon, Polish radio monitoring services first noticed the use of the new code in land forces  (July 15, 1928). German aviation introduced ‘Enigma’ on August 1, 1935, and political institutions and special services (SS, RSHA, etc.) in September 1937, the police a little later. From October 1935 until the end of World War II, three parts of the German armed forces used a uniform type of encryption machine. The total number of ‘Enigma’ machines produced for the German armed forces by the end of the war was tens of thousands. Over 20,000 were supplied to the air force alone.

The effects of using the new encryption method by Germany began to be felt very quickly. Initially, Polish radio broadcasting could not cope with the great challenge of ‘Enigma’. All known and hitherto used cryptanalysis methods did not give a positive result and soon the work was discontinued. The matter became very urgent. In addition, it required new methods of operation and reorganization of intelligence services. Existing in its structure (Division II of the Main Staff of the Polish Army) Radio Relief Department was headed by Major Franciszek Pokorny, then – in connection with the reorganization of the Department – on January 15, 1930, Major (later Lieutenant Colonel) Gwido Langer took over his duties. The new boss – like his predecessor – came from Galicia and formerly served in the Austro-Hungarian army. Educated there, he knew perfectly well both German and the local information encryption systems. In the middle of 1931, the Cipher Bureau was established by combining the Radio and Intelligence Credentials paper. Lieutenant Colonel Langer managed the unit until the end of the September 1939 campaign. The Cipher Bureau had four papers: BS 1 – own codes; BS 2 – radio intelligence east; BS 3 – Russian ciphers, and the most important in the 30s BS 4 – dealing with radio broadcasting and German ciphers (it was managed by a Wielkopolan, Capt. Maksymilian Ciężki). In addition, seven radio listening stations (Warsaw, Lida, Równe, Kołomyja, Starogard, Poznań and Krzesławice near Kraków) operated within the organizational structure of the Cipher Bureau.

The management of the Radio Research Department quickly understood that cryptologists who have so far tried to solve the ‘Enigma’ cipher, specialized in traditional ciphers, will not be able to perform the new task. It was necessary to involve young employees with appropriate theoretical preparation, moreover, not burdened with routine, who would be able to find innovative ways to break the code.The idea of ​​Major Pokorny and Capt. Ciężki consisted, among others, in the use of decryptive methods of mathematical analysis and the latest achievements of theoretical mathematics in the field of probability theory and combinatorics. Therefore, it became necessary to include representatives of the scientific community in the work on breaking the code. Poznań
was chosen. Here, in the existing since 1919 still young university mathematician, prof. Zdzisław Krygowski. Like many of his colleagues – co-founders of the University of Poznań – he came from the Lviv environment. Before joining Poznań, he was associated with the Lviv Polytechnic (in 1913 and 1915, he was the dean, and in the academic year 1917/1918 the rector of the university). With the creation of the University of Poznań, he took over the Department of Mathematics, later transformed into the Institute of Mathematics at the Faculty of Philosophy (from 1925 Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences).
He organized and directed the Mathematical Seminary to retire (1938). In his lectures, which were very popular among students, he emphasized the importance of using mathematical theories to solve practical problems. Professor Krygowski accepted the proposal to take joint actions with the Second Department of the General Staff.

The choice of Poznań was also caused by the fact that the capital of Greater Poland had an adequate social climate and intellectual background. The students of Poznań University of Life Sciences, recruiting mostly from Greater Poland and Pomerania, belonged to the generation which, in the partitioning times, finished German schools. German mentality was not foreign to young Poles. The awareness of the constant threat from outside the western border, revisionist plans dissatisfied with the decisions of Versailles Germans, was also widespread here. At the Poznań university, however, the direction of Western and German studies was rapidly developing. Scholars who worked here over the years became the leading authorities creating Polish Western thought.At the University of Poznań, therefore, it was decided to organize a special cryptology course at the turn of 1928/1929. Professor Krygowski chose a group of about twenty from among his last two years’ students. In addition to outstanding mathematical skills, they had to be fluent in German, be loyal citizens of the Polish state and have quite difficult to define, but necessary in the work, features of a good cryptologist, among others such as intuition, meticulousness, patience, systematic etc. The course program included the basics of cryptology and mathematical analysis departments that were applicable in this field of knowledge (including permutations, probability theory, etc.). Specialized classes and lectures were conducted by prof. Krygowskiego, commuting for this purpose from Warsaw: Major F. Pokorny, Capt. M. Ciężki and inż. Antoni Palluth. The latter was, together with the brothers Danilewicz, Ludomir and Stanisław Leonard (all three graduates of the Warsaw University of Technology) a co-founder and co-owner of the AVA Radio Engineering Factory, established in 1928, performing orders of the Radio Research Department in the production of radio engineering equipment. Antoni Palluth, a native of Pobiedziska near Poznań, a graduate of St. Mary Magdalene Junior High School, became a lecturer in secret military cryptology courses at the end of 1928.

The cryptology course took place outside the normal course of university classes, twice a week – in the evenings. Classes were conducted in the rooms of the two-story building of the City Headquarters at St. Martin Street (Collegium Historicum), near the imperial Castle, whose ground floor and underground was occupied by the University. The assumption of the training was to select the most talented listeners who volunteered to continue later their work in a secret military intelligence center. In 1929, the course selected a smaller group of young mathematicians who were involved in the Poznań branch of the Cipher Bureau II Department (the City Headquarters building). Ultimately, they were: Marian Rejewski, Henryk Zygalski and Jerzy Rózycki. This team formed the so-called testing ground for graduates of the cryptology course employed here. The facility had an experimental and training character. At the end of 1929, systematic work began on the solution of the German ‘Enigma’ system. Radio telegrams with intercepted ciphers were delivered from Warsaw by a special courier or from a listening station in Poznań. Mathematicians worked in a cycle of 12 hours a week at any time of their choice. After several months, the results of the work turned out to be very promising. It was decided to continue them at the Warsaw intelligence headquarters. On September 1, 1932, the Poznań branch of the Cipher Bureau was closed, and the three most talented cryptologists moved to the capital. From then on, they worked in the Cipher Bureau of the General Staff, located in the now non-existent building at Saski Square (Marshal Piłsudski).

Meanwhile, since 1932, cooperation between Polish and French intelligence has tightened. Her French supporter was Capt. Gustave Bertrand, officer of the 2nd Department (Intelligence) of the general staff, a specialist in radio intelligence matters. From 1930 he was the head of Section D, dealing with matters of science, technology and decryption. In October 1931, French military intelligence began receiving documents from German Cipher Bureau (Schiffrierstelle) regarding German ciphers, including ‘Enigma’ cipher. This informant was Hans Thilo Schmidt (alias Asche). During 19 meetings with representatives of the French intelligence he provided the ‘Enigma’ instruction manual, encryption instructions, tables containing cipher keys for 1932 and 1933 as well as encrypted text and the same open text, as well as a number of other, less important documents regarding ‘Enigma’. In 1934, Asche was entrusted with other official duties. He left the Cipher Bureau, and his further information regarding ‘Enigma’ became impossible.