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Enigma B
Improved printing Enigma

Enigma B was a so-called Schreibende Enigma (Printing Enigma), which means that it prints its output directly onto paper. The machine was developed in 1924 as the successor to the Enigma A (1923). Unlike the Enigma A, which featured a rotating print head, it featured Typenhebel (type bars). Rotating print heads had proven to be unreliable at high speeds and type bars were already used widely in common typewriters. In 1926 an improved version of the Enigma B was released.

The Enigma B was first developed in 1924 and was a nicely finished machine. The image on the right shows the Enigma B as seen from the top. It features a rather large keyboard with the standard alphabet (A-Z), numbers (0-9) and punctuation marks (comma, slash, plus, etc.).

The machine is mounted on top of a tick metal base which contains the electro-mechanical parts that cause a letter to be printed on the paper. The typebars and the carriage were probably 'borrowed' from a standard typewriter.

At the bottom is a wide (black) spacebar. To the left of the space bar is the numbers shift, which needed to be pressed before entering numbers or punctuation marks. Pressing this key, automatically inserts a space in the text.

To the right of the space bar is the letter-key that had to be pressed before entering letters again. When pressed, it also produced a space.
Top view of Enigma B. Photo courtesy FRA [1].

The coding wheels had only 26 contacts, so only the letters A-Z were included in the coded message. A clever system for switching between alphabets was used, such as the one described in patent DE425566 of 28 February 1924. In the patent, inventor Paul Bernstein describes a system to use the letters 'J' and 'Q' for switching to numbers and vice versa. In the output, the 'J' is replaced by an 'I' and the 'Q' is replaced by a 'K', so that the text is still comprehensible.

The machine looks like a standard typewriter with a large extention on the right. The current message key can be set with a series of knobs on the right side of the machine. The current settings, consisting of 4 letters and 5 numbers, can be read from a window at the front of the large extension. The actual coding parts are mostly hidden behind the machine's front cover.

The two photographs on this page came with a description of the machine in 1926 and were found in the archives of the FRA in Sweden [1]. The image at the top has been published before, but the one on the right is rather unique as it shows the Enigma B from a different angle, with the front cover removed, revealing the actual coding wheels. Click the image for a closer look.

The Enigma B was very heavy and was therefore generally mounted on a sturdy table or a metal supporting frame, such as the one shown here.

Both above images are courtesy FRA Sweden [1].
Typical Enigma B mounted on supporting table. Photo courtesy FRA [1].

Enigma B was first developed in 1924 and faced many production and reliability problems [2]. Two years later, in 1926, an improved version was introduced. The differences between the two variants are currently unknown, but it is likely that their physical appearance was largely identical. It is not known how many Enigma B machines were produced, but given its rather high price (approx. RM 8000) we assume that only a modest quantity was ever produced. In 1929, the Enigma B was succeeded by the Enigma H; the last of the printing Enigma machines.

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Help required
At present, no further information about the Enigma B is available. If you have any information that is not already on this page, please contact us. We would also like to know whether any Enigma B models have survived, so that they can be researched further.

  1. Försvarets Radioanstalt (FRA), Photographs of Enigma B
    Swedish National Defence Radio Establishment.

  2. Frode Weierud, Forthcoming Enigma History publication
    Personal correspondence. Release date currently unknown.
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Crypto Museum. Created: Sunday 13 September 2009. Last changed: Friday, 23 February 2018 - 22:21 CET.
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