We heard you liked Enigmas…

Archäologisches Landesamt Schleswig-Holstein, the archives of Germany’s most northern state, this week announced that a further six German Enigma machines have been discovered and retrieved from the shallow depths of the Geltinger Bucht/Gelting Bay, a coastal offshoot of the Baltic.

The half-dozen cipher machines were found by Christian Hüttner of Kiel-based Submaris, a diving company, while looking for a lost prop. Hüttner famously found a single Enigma late last year in Flensburg Firth, working on behalf of the World Wide Fund for Nature, which caused a bit of a media stir.

The machines, some of which seemed to have been smashed before being dumped, likely stem from the famous Regenbogen-Befehl, the “Rainbow Order” issued by Dönitz in early May 1945 to deep-six his treasured U-boat fleet.

On the night of 4/5 May 1945, a flotilla of 47 U-boats was sunk in Gelting Bay just 72 hours or so before VE Day, where these machines were found.

On 4 May 1945, the crews of the doomed Geltinger Bay boats cleared their vessels and distributed provisions and materials in the villages in the area, a windfall in war-torn Germany. Like the plains Indians and the buffalo, all the parts were used. For instance, the local women sewed so-called “Dönitz dresses” from the checked sheets and blankets used on the submariners’ bunks. All but one of the 47 boats scuttled in the bay were raised by 1953 and scrapped at Flensburg. Photo: Kirchspielarchiv Steinberg via NDR.de

While numbers vary widely from scholars, partly over the question of if inoperable, damaged, or incomplete boats should be counted, the most conservative estimates are that the Kreigsmarine scuttled no less than 184 U-boats of all stripes in compliance with the order, mostly in North German ports. 

This makes the recent find the largest haul of Enigmas since 28 early three-rotor commercial machines were discovered in an attic of the Spanish Army headquarters in Madrid in 2008. Those were part of a 50-unit supply passed on to Franco during the Spanish Civil War to help coordinate his Nationalist units with German and Italian legions sent in to aid him in his fight against the Soviet-backed Republicans.

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