April 16

This Day in History

World War II

Apr 16, 1897:

Frederick William Winterbotham, one of Britain's top code breakers, is born

Winterbotham, a British secret service official who would play a decisive role in the World War II Ultra code-breaking project, is born on this day in 1897.

A graduate of Oxford and trained in law, Winterbotham had been a pilot with the Royal Flying Corps in World War II before joining the British secret service (MI-6) in 1929 as chief of air intelligence. In 1938, Winterbotham and MI-6 colleagues learned of a German encrypting device called Enigma. By 1940, British experts broke Enigma's code, enabling MI-6 to intercept top secret and highly sensitive messages (even from Hitler himself) transmitted to and between German armed forces. Winterbotham was given the responsibility of distributing the German data, code-named Ultra, to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, among others. This data proved invaluable to the Allies as a strategic tool in anticipating and undermining Axis military operations, from the Battle of Britain to Normandy.

Winterbotham was made a Commander of the British Empire in 1943 and was awarded the Legion of Merit in 1945. He died in Blandford, Dorset, in 1990.

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