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Lecture: Captain Jerry Roberts on codebreaking, Hitler and the dawn of the Computer Age

Publication date: Mar 9, 2009 4:47:31 PM

Event date: 11 March 2009, 6pm

Location: Lecture Theatre 1, Cruciform Building, UCL, Gower Street, London WC1

Captain Jerry Roberts, the sole survivor of the original ‘Testery’ group of cryptographers which deciphered messages from German High Command and Hitler himself during WWII, will be giving a rare public lecture at UCL on March 11th.

After studying in UCL's German Department from 1939-41, Jerry Roberts became one of three founding members of the Testery – a section which was headed by Major Ralph Tester at Bletchley Park, the British codebreaking station during WWII. Captain Roberts was a senior member of the élite team assigned to unscramble messages enciphered on the Lorenz SZ40/42 machines - new 12-wheel code-making machines designed especially to encrypt high-level communications between German Army H.Q. and the top generals in the field on all fronts, including a number of messages signed by Hitler himself. Nicknamed ‘Tunny’, it was a much more complex machine than the better-known, 3-wheeled Enigma machines.

Tunny was the Germans’ top-level cipher system and its workings were only declassified in 2000. By contrast, the more famous Enigma Code was declassified in the 1970s. Tunny was used to send instructions between the German Army HQ in Berlin, German High Command and the various German Army Groups. Access to Tunny gave British Intelligence vital insight into top-level German thinking and provided a vital contribution to the Allied war effort. General Eisenhower estimated that, “the decrypts from Bletchley Park shortened the War by at least 2 years”.

During his time at Bletchley Park, Captain Roberts came into contact with several notable characters including Alan Turing, Bill Tutte (today considered the father of modern computer science) and Tommy Flowers (who designed and built ‘Colossus’, the earliest electronic computer). Colossus is now considered by many to be the forerunner of every modern computer, laptop, and ipod.


From 1945-1947, Captain Roberts continued to use his fluent German and French in the War Crimes Investigation Unit, and spent the next two years driving around the British Zone of Germany and France interviewing witnesses, victims and the accused in various war cases.

This event presents an opportunity to hear a first-hand account of the events which helped shape twentieth century Europe, and hear about the individuals who ushered in the dawn of the computer age.

- Ends -

Notes for Editors


1. Members of the media wishing to attend the lecture, obtain pictures of Capt. Jerry Roberts or arrange an interview, please call the UCL Press Office on +44 (0) 20 7679 9739 or email r.metcalfe@ucl.ac.uk

2. A map showing the location of the Cruciform Building on Gower Street, London, can be found here: http://tinyurl.com/bczjza

About UCL:

Founded in 1826, UCL was the first English university established after Oxford and Cambridge, the first to admit students regardless of race, class, religion or gender, and the first to provide systematic teaching of law, architecture and medicine. UCL is the seventh-ranked university in the 2008 THES-QS World University Rankings, and the third-ranked UK university in the 2008 league table of the top 500 world universities produced by the Shanghai Jiao Tong University. UCL alumni include Marie Stopes, Jonathan Dimbleby, Lord Woolf, Alexander Graham Bell, and members of the band Coldplay. UCL currently has over 12,000 undergraduate and 8,000 postgraduate students. Its annual income is over £600 million.