Original wartime photographs of an
Enigma machine in operation are extremely rare
because at the time it was strickly forbidden to make photographs of the
Army-version of the machine. Nevertheless,
there were some people who didn't know the rules, or who tried to bend them.
Below are several example of wartime or pre-war pictures of an Enigma
machine in action. If you look carefully on auction sites such as eBay,
you may be able to find some good quality originals, but beware of fakes,
as some people appear to be selling re-enactment pictures instead.
The image below was taken in 1938, shortly before WWII, during a training
session of radio and Enigma operators (Funker). The image is part of a series
of four photographs, taken by Franz Oswald Wladimir Graf zu Münster, who
himself was trained as a radio operator at the time. Using a Leica camera
that he got from his friend Günther Leitz (Leica Werke) for his 18th birthday,
he took a series of interesting high-quality images of his involuntary service
in the German Army.
Copyright notice -
Please note that this image can not be reproduced freely as it is
subject to copyright. For this reason it is watermarked and no hi-res
version is available. The photograph is reproduced here with kind permission
from Gesine zu Münster — daughter of the photographer — who holds the
In the image we see an Enigma machine, placed on a table, with some message
forms and other paperwork to its left. Behind the machine is the cipher clerk
who is entering a message, while two officers are watching
over him. Note that a fourth person, probably a radio operator, is just
visible through the window of the communications van behind the people in
The photograph below shows an Enigma machine in operation, and was
probably taken inside a radio van during WWII. The image was
scanned from an extremely small 27 x 38 mm original and was processed
digitally in order to improve its quality and remove dust and scratches.
At the bottom centre is an Enigma I with its lid open.
Inside the lid is a message sheet, attached to a clip at the
top. The man behind the machine is wearing a dirty overall,
which suggests that the image was taken during the war. Behind the
Enigma operator is the radio operator, who is wearing headphones.
On the table behind him is the morse key. In the background are several
German radio sets. At the far right is a third person, who appears to be
writing a message.
The image below shows how a message was despatched in the field.
The photo was either taken during WWII or during a training session shortly
before the war, and shows several soldiers with helmets (Stahlhelm)
in full uniform. The operator is encrypting a message
on an Enigma I. The image was scanned from a small
52 x 52 mm original that had seriously faded and degraded over the years.
It was digitally enhanced, cleaned and processed in order to improve
To the left of the operator is a soldier who is using a military
field telephone, whilst a despatch rider is taking down the encrypted
message at his right. The despatch rider can be recognized by the
leather message wallet he is carrying at his waist belt,
just below his right hand. At the far right is another soldier who
is currently trying to start a power generator. At the front right
are three steel helmets with rifles. At the right, behind the men,
is a communications vehicle with antennas at the roof top.
At the far left is a soldier with a radio set lying on the ground.
The image below was taken in 1940
during the Westfeldzug (Western Campaign), when Germans troops were marching
through The Netherlands, Belgium and France. It clearly shows an Enigma machine
being used in the field. it is placed on a table with the operator sitting
behind it and an officer at his side. Behind them is the communications vehicle.
According to the compiler of the album, Leutenant Heinz Jünger, the photograph
was taken in France and shows the Motorisierte Luftnachrichten-Abteilung (H) 7
(Motorised Air Intelligence Section).
To the left of the Enigma is a field phone with an operator writing
down the message as it is being decoded with the Enigma.
In the foreground is a soldier on a chair and at the right (behind the pole)
is another one standing. If you look carefully, you can even see a 7th
person inside the van.
The people in the photograph all seem to be very relaxed and are not
wearing helmets, suggesting
that the picture was taken either very early in the war or far away
from the battle field.
The image below shows General Heinz Guderian standing at the side of
the road in the back of a military truck, watching over his radio operator
and cipher clerk whilst dictating a message. The photograph was taken
by Erich Borchert in May or June 1940, during a campaign in France.
The image was part of a series of at least three similar wartime
press or propaganda photographs.
Note that this image has an interesting feature that is also present in
the rest of the series (see the thumbnails below).
Despite the fact that it was strickly forbidden
to photograph the wartime Army Enigma machine, it is visible in the
foreground. The Steckerbrett (plugboard) however, has been obscured
by a white sheet of paper. This was probably done to
hide its existence. The three men at the front are all involved in
creating and sending an Enigma message.
- Franz Oswald Wladimir Graf zu Münster, Image of radio operators during training session
1938. Copyright Gesine zu Münster. Retrieved June 2013. 1
- Erich Borchert, Bild 101I-769-0229-10A, 11A and 12A
May -June 1940. Copyright Bundesarchiv (German National Archives).
Retrieved June 2013. 2
Photograph reproduced here with kind permission. Available for purchase.
Photograph via Wikipedia.