• A rare Lorenz teleprinter, which Hitler used to send coded messages to his generals. (The National Museum of Computing)Source: The National Museum of Computing
The rare military-issue machine was gathering dust in a shed in England.
Alyssa Braithwaite

30 May 2016 - 12:48 PM  UPDATED 30 May 2016 - 12:50 PM

An extremely rare WWII coding machine, used to send top secret messages between Hitler and his generals, has been found discarded in a shed in Essex and sold on eBay for just £9.50 ($19.37).

Volunteers from England's National Museum of Computing (NMC) came across the listing for a "telegram machine" on the online marketplace, and recognised it as the teleprinter component of the Lorenz cipher machine - Hitler's "unbreakable" cipher machine.

John Wetter, who volunteers at the museum, travelled to Southend in Essex to investigate the machine, and found the keyboard in its original case, covered in rubbish on the floor of a shed.

The machine had swastika detailing and a special key for the runic Waffen-SS insignia.

"We said, 'Thank you very much, how much was it again?' She said '£9.50', so we said 'Here's a £10 note - keep the change!'" Wetter told the BBC.

The military-issue teleprinter, which resembles a typewriter, would have been used to enter messages in German, which were then encrypted by a linked cipher machine using 12 individual wheels with multiple settings on each, to make up the code.

The discovery means the museum's attempts to restore Hitler's complete encoding device to working order are one step closer to reality.

After finding the teleprinter component, and receiving a long-term loan of the Lorenz SZ42 cipher machine from the Norwegian Armed Forces Museum in Oslo, the NMC is now asking people to search for the final missing part - the motor.

"It looks like an electric motor in black casing with two shafts on each side, which drive the gears of the Lorenz machine," said Wetter, who is urging people to search their sheds and attics for the device.

The NMC is already following up several leads from members of the public.

Tougher than Enigma

The breaking of the top-secret Lorenz messages of German High Command is credited with shortening the war and saving countless lives.

Much more complex than Enigma, the Lorenz machine was used for strategic communications.

The Lorenz cipher was broken by mathematician Bill Tutte, who worked out the architecture of the machine without ever having seen one.

It lead to the creation of the Colossus, the world's first programmable computer, invented by Tommy Flowers to work out the wheel positions on the Lorenz encryption machine.

This reduced the time taken to decrypt messages from weeks to hours - a speed which effectively undermined the German military machine.

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