Today is the 13th anniversary of the death of Tommy Flowers MBE.
Until I watched a documentary on Bletchley Park the other night I had never heard of him nor his colleague Bill Tutte (a mathematical genius by all accounts) who helped to decrypt the Nazis secret communication (rather like a Telex) device known as ‘Tunny’ (Lorenz on-line teleprinter cipher) which was more important to the senior ranks of the Nazi regime than the notorious Enigma machine which everyone including Hollywood seems to know about. The Officials Secrets Act had hidden the genius of these two men for over half a century.
With the recent death of Steve Jobs and the Apple Mac and Apple being heavily discussed by the world media I think it’s important to record that it would now appear that the son of a bricklayer born in Poplar, who became a mechanical engineer at Royal Arsenal, Woolwich then moving to the Post Office should be accredited as the INVENTOR of the first real computer during the Second World War.
The Colossus as it was named evolved from the success of decoding the Enigma machine. In February 1943 Tommy Flowers proposed an electronic decoding system, a complex machine using over 1,800 valves (vacuum tubes) – note: previously the biggest decoder had only used 150 valves – funded just like Jobs from his own resources, this Colossus was the most powerful electronic device of its day and later versions were used by British Intelligence during the Cold War right up until 1960.
How neither Tutte nor Flowers received any substantive acknowledgement from the British government during their lifetimes for their achievements is quite incomprehensible. A study by British Intelligence at Bletchley had calculated that Colossus’ ability to decrypt German communications could well have taken 2 years off the war and saved at least 10 million lives possibly much more.
Makes one think that a few Nobel Peace Prizes could well have gone to different recipients but for the Official Secrets Act.