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Dark History

The Tragic Tale of Alan Turing, the Man Who Defeated the Nazis

Alan Turing is a tragic personality. His works is marred by what the British government did to him
Alan Turing is a tragic personality. His works is marred by what the British government did to him
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As 1941 dawned, Europe lay besieged under the dark shadow of conflict. With relentless ambition, Germany carved through nations, leaving trails of devastation in its wake. The world, teetering on the brink of despair, watched as Britain stood alone, a solitary beacon against a seemingly insurmountable enemy. The United States was reluctant to join the war, as millions had already died, and Germany was patiently waiting for Britain to negotiate peace.

In this hour of dire need, the war’s outcome hinged on the battlefield and a battle of wits and codes. The Germans, cloaked in the impenetrable veil of the Enigma code, seemed invincible, their communications a labyrinth of secrets beyond the reach of the Allies.

Amidst this bleak landscape, where hope dwindled with each passing day, emerged a name destined to alter the very tide of war: Alan Turing. A figure shrouded more in intellect than notoriety, Turing was the key to unlocking the enigma that had baffled the brightest minds.

Turing’s genius would forge the weapons of intellect and innovation in the clandestine corridors of Bletchley Park, where the war’s silent battle raged. Here, the course of history would be quietly, yet irrevocably, altered.

Alan Turing, the Man Who Saved the World

Turing’s formative years unfolded amidst the serene landscapes of southern England, shaping a mind destined for extraordinary feats. His academic pilgrimage led him to the revered halls of King’s College, Cambridge. Turing plunged into the depths of mathematics in this bastion of learning, adorned with time-honored spires and an aura of scholarly pursuit.

Within these ivy-clad walls, he first dared to question the limits of human comprehension, unveiling a seminal proof that revealed the inherent constraints of computational power in solving certain mathematical riddles.

The brilliance of Turing’s intellect only intensified as he crossed the Atlantic, securing his Ph.D. from the prestigious Department of Mathematics at Princeton University. Yet, as he honed his academic prowess, the world outside was being consumed by the inferno of the Second World War, a conflict that would soon call upon Turing’s unique abilities in an entirely different domain — the realm of cryptanalysis.

Turing’s genius would find its most critical application at Bletchley Park, the clandestine epicenter of Britain’s cryptographic endeavors. Turing emerged as the mastermind of victory in this secretive sanctuary, echoing with hushed conversations and the rhythmic hum of machinery. He crafted innovative techniques to decipher the enigmatic codes of enemy transmissions.

A portrait of Alan Turing during the second world war

A portrait of Alan Turing during the second world war

His contributions, including enhancements to the Polish bomba strategy, were instrumental in disentangling the intricate web of German ciphers, playing a decisive role in key conflicts, notably the Battle of the Atlantic.

Despite his monumental achievements, Turing’s brilliance was overshadowed by the societal prejudices of his time. Prosecuted for his homosexuality, an intrinsic aspect of his identity, he confronted a society unprepared to embrace his true self. His life, a mosaic of triumphs and tribulations, was tragically abbreviated under enigmatic circumstances, leaving a legacy tinged with mystery and sorrow.

In the years that followed, recognition and remorse would slowly materialize. Turing received posthumous honors, including a royal pardon and a distinguished presence on the Bank of England’s £50 note, along with a law named in his honor, seeking to amend past injustices.

Today, Turing’s enduring legacy, immortalized in stone and narrative, continues to captivate and inspire, a testament to a mind that reshaped the world and a spirit that endured despite adversity.

The Naval Enigma is Cracked

In a bold move characteristic of his innovative spirit, Alan Turing chose to confront the daunting challenge of the German naval Enigma. His motivation was simple yet profound: “because no one else was doing anything about it, and I could have it to myself.”

In December 1939, Turing’s intellect pierced through the complexities of the naval indicator system, a puzzle more intricate than those employed by other military branches.

During this same period, Turing’s mind birthed the concept of Banburismus, a revolutionary sequential statistical method later known in the field as sequential analysis by Abraham Wald. Though initially shrouded in uncertainty in Turing’s mind, this technique proved key in deciphering the naval Enigma.

He introduced a novel metric, the ‘ban,’ to quantify the weight of evidence, a concept that would later become integral in the cryptanalysis of the Lorenz cipher. Banburismus, with its ability to eliminate certain rotor sequences, significantly expedited the process of testing settings on the bombes.

Alan Turing, next to his machine

Alan Turing, next to his machine

Turing’s journey then took him across the Atlantic to the United States in November 1942, where he collaborated with American naval cryptanalysts on Enigma and bombe construction in Washington, D.C. He also made a notable visit to their Computing Machine Laboratory in Dayton, Ohio. However, Turing’s reception of the American bombe design was lukewarm.

He internally critiqued the ambitious plan to produce 336 Bombes and the methodology of their tests, which, in his view, lacked the sophistication of techniques such as Banburismus.

This trip also saw Turing contributing to the efforts at Bell Labs, working on developing secure speech devices. Upon his return to Bletchley Park in March 1943, Turing found the dynamics of Hut 8 transformed. Hugh Alexander had officially taken over as head of the section, a role he had been effectively fulfilling for some time, given Turing’s focus away from daily managerial tasks.

Turing then embraced the role of a general consultant for cryptanalysis, applying his extraordinary mind across a broader spectrum of cryptographic challenges at Bletchley Park.

The Fall of Alan Turing

In January 1952, at the age of 39, Alan Turing’s life took a turn that would profoundly affect his personal and professional trajectory. He began a relationship with Arnold Murray, a 19-year-old unemployed man, whom he met under the unassuming lights of Manchester’s Oxford Road near the Regal Cinema.

Their acquaintance, which started with an invitation to lunch, would soon lead to unforeseen consequences.

The turning point came on 23 January when Turing’s house was burgled. Turing learned from Murray that he was acquainted with the burglar, leading Turing to report the incident to the police. However, during the investigation, Turing openly admitted to a sexual relationship with Murray.

At that time in the United Kingdom, homosexual acts were criminal offenses. As a result, both Turing and Murray found themselves charged with “gross indecency” under the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885.

The initial legal proceedings, which took place on 27 February, saw Turing’s solicitor opting not to contest the allegations. The case progressed to the Sessions House in Knutsford, where Turing, following advice from his brother and solicitor, entered a guilty plea.

The subsequent trial, Regina v. Turing and Murray, commenced on 31 March 1952, ending with Turing’s conviction.

Faced with the grim choice between imprisonment and probation conditional upon hormonal treatment, Turing chose the latter. He underwent a year-long regimen of stilboestrol (now known as diethylstilbestrol or DES), a synthetic estrogen, which had significant physical effects, including impotence and the development of breast tissue.

Turing’s prophetic words, “No doubt I shall emerge from it all a different man,” tragically came to fruition. Murray, on the other hand, received a conditional discharge.

The repercussions of Turing’s conviction were immediate and severe. He lost his security clearance and was barred from continuing his cryptographic consultancy with the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ).

An enigma machine which the Germans used during the second world war

An enigma machine which the Germans used during the second world war

This was particularly poignant in the wake of the defection of Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean, which had heightened the paranoia around security risks, especially concerning individuals known to be homosexual.

Despite being barred from entering the United States post-conviction, Turing could travel to other European countries. In the summer of 1952, he visited Norway and met several men, including Kjell Carlson. However, plans for Carlson to visit Turing in the UK were thwarted by the authorities who intercepted and deported Carlson upon his arrival.

During this period, Turing also began consulting a psychiatrist, Dr. Franz Greenbaum, with whom he developed a close and supportive relationship, extending to Greenbaum’s family. This chapter in Turing’s life, marked by personal struggles and societal prejudice, starkly contrasts his earlier triumphs, casting a shadow over the final years of a life that had once held so much promise.

The Death of Alan Turing

On the 8th of June 1954, a veil of tragedy descended upon 43 Adlington Road, Wilmslow, where Alan Turing’s housekeeper discovered him lifeless. The post-mortem, conducted that very evening revealed the grim reality: Turing had passed away the day before, at the age of 41, with the cause of death determined to be cyanide poisoning.

A half-eaten apple lay by his bedside.

The following day, Turing’s brother John, after identifying the body, heeded the advice of Dr. Greenbaum to accept the inquest’s conclusion, given the slim likelihood of proving the death accidental.

The inquest, swiftly conducted, ruled Turing’s death a suicide. His remains were cremated at Woking Crematorium on June 12, with only three attendees. His ashes were scattered in the crematorium’s gardens, mirroring the final resting place of his father.

Turing’s mother, who was vacationing in Italy at the time of his death, returned home post-inquest, steadfast in her disbelief of the suicide verdict.

Biographers Andrew Hodges and David Leavitt have pondered Turing’s death, noting his fondness for the Walt Disney film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, particularly the scene where the Wicked Queen poisons an apple. They speculated that Turing might have been re-enacting this scene.

Philosopher Jack Copeland, scrutinizing the coroner’s verdict, proposed an alternative theory: accidental cyanide inhalation from a gold electroplating apparatus in Turing’s home, which utilized potassium cyanide. The autopsy, Copeland noted, aligned more closely with inhalation rather than ingestion as the cause of death.

Turing, known to eat apples before bed habitually, often leaving them half-eaten, had displayed no apparent signs of despondency before his death. He had even planned tasks for his return to work after the holiday. Turing’s mother considered the possibility of accidental death due to careless storage of laboratory chemicals.

Hodges suggested that Turing might have intentionally left the circumstances of his death ambiguous to spare his mother the pain of knowing it was a suicide.

An intriguing aspect of Turing’s final days involves his belief in fortune-telling. As a young man, a fortune-teller had predicted his genius. In mid-May 1954, shortly before his death, Turing decided to visit a fortune-teller in Blackpool while on a day trip with the Greenbaum family.

The experience, as recalled by the Greenbaums’ daughter Barbara, left Turing visibly shaken and profoundly disturbed, marking a stark contrast to his previously cheerful demeanor. This incident, occurring so close to his death, has led to speculation about its impact on Turing’s state of mind.

Trying to Do the Right Thing

In a significant gesture towards righting historical wrongs, August 2009 saw British programmer John Graham-Cumming initiate a petition demanding that the British government formally apologize for the prosecution of Alan Turing on grounds of his homosexuality.

Garnering widespread support, the petition successfully amassed over 30,000 signatures, a testament to Turing’s enduring legacy and the public’s recognition of the injustice he faced.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown stated on 10 September 2009, responding to this collective call for justice. Brown offered a profound apology in this historic acknowledgment, describing Turing’s treatment as “appalling.”

This gesture marked a pivotal moment, symbolizing a long-overdue recognition of Turing’s contributions and the unfairness of the societal norms that had led to his prosecution.

Decades later, on 19 July 2023, in the wake of an apology extended to LGBT veterans by the UK Government, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace proposed a fitting tribute to Turing’s memory. He suggested the installation of a permanent statue of Turing on the fourth plinth of Trafalgar Square.

Bletchley Park, where the codebreakers worked day and night

Bletchley Park, where the codebreakers worked day and night

Wallace eloquently described Turing as “probably the greatest war hero, in my book, of the Second World War,” lauding his pivotal role in shortening the war, saving thousands of lives, and contributing to the defeat of the Nazis. He also poignantly reflected on Turing’s tragic story as a mirror of the societal attitudes of the time.

This proposal for a statue in one of London’s most iconic public spaces signifies a powerful acknowledgment of Turing’s heroism and the transformation in societal understanding and acceptance since his time.

As the chapters of history continue to turn, the story of Alan Turing stands as a beacon of brilliance and resilience in the face of adversity. Once overshadowed by injustice, Turing’s legacy now shines in the collective memory of a society that has learned to embrace diversity and honor genius in all its forms.

RIP Alan Turing.

Next, read about the Granny Ripper! Then, about Isidor and Ida Strauss, the Couple Who Gave Up their Lifeboat Seats on the Titanic

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Written By

Abin Tom Sebastian, also known as Mr. Morbid in the community, is an avid fan of the paranormal and the dark history of the world. He believes that sharing these stories and histories are essential for the future generations. For god forbid, we have seen that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. zoritoler imol

    November 24, 2023 at 6:46 am

    Good day! This post could not be written any better! Reading this post reminds me of my old room mate! He always kept talking about this. I will forward this article to him. Pretty sure he will have a good read. Many thanks for sharing!

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