25 October, 2005

The Eight-Rotor Printing Enigma

The German military versions of the Enigma are well-known because of the historical significance of their decipherment during World War II. However, there are some other lesser-known commercial versions of Enigma, and a remarkable example of one of these is on display in a museum in Budapest (first picture, courtesy Eric Tischer). While the standard German military model had 3 rotors, and even the high-security M4 machine used on U-boat networks had 4 rotors, this rare early Enigma model had no less than 8 rotors.

A paper by Louis Kruh and Cipher Deavours ("The Commercial Enigma: Beginnings of Machine Cryptography," Cryptologia, 26(1), pp. 1–16, 2002) includes a copy of a flier for this machine, titled "The Printing Enigma". This machine, which dates from the 1920s, is distinct from two other large and bulky early commercial Enigma variants (models A and B)

According to the flyer, the machine weighed about 50kg, and measured 65cm by 45cm by 35cm (length, width and height). It printed "the plaintext in original form with letters, numbers, punctuation, word divisions". I presume it did this using a figure shift mechanism, rather than having rotors with a large number of contacts, as that the rotors seem to be labelled A-Z. The machine also printed the ciphertext into rows of 50 and groups of 5 letters. There's not much information on it cryptographically, other than the somewhat obscure claims that it had "17,576 periods / each period is 15,777,450 symbols" and that "any one of the 227,304,461,200 can be input in half a minute".

If anyone has any more information about this machine, I would love to hear about it. I'd also be interested to know the translations of the words on the large keys, which seem to be labelled "Ziffernu Zechen Zwischenraum" and "Buchstaben Zwischenraum".


Blogger Dirk Rijmenants said...

Wow! I have seen that picture before, but although it looked like a Enigma type machine, I did not believed it was a real Enigma. So Lou Kruh has a paper on it? I will follow the info that comes on the surface of this machine...hm another great sim candidat.

PS: Dou you know if it was actually put in production?

grtz, Dirk

6:09 pm  
Blogger Dirk Rijmenants said...


You reffer to Lou's cryptologia paper, but the flyer talks about the Enigma A, which was a 4 rotor machine. On the drawing, it's not clear if you see 4 rotors with 4 other 'things', or 8 rotors?!? It doesn't seem to match the description, neither looks like the bug on the photograph. Very mysterious thing. I can't find out which museum it is located in. Gonna try finding out more....

7:36 pm  
Blogger Matt Crypto said...

The Kruh and Deavours paper doesn't state that the machine in the flier is Enigma A (the layout is very unhelpful in that paper). The flier is in Figures 1 and 2. The paper does reference Enigma A in Figures 3 and 4, and Enigma B in Figure 5. The A and B machines look quite different from this model, as well as having different number of rotors.

9:13 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Matt,
You ask about the meaning of "Ziffernu Zechen Zwischenraum" and "Buchstaben Zwischenraum". Actually it is written: "Ziffern u. Zeichen Zwischenraum" and "Buchstaben Zwischenraum" which means "Numbers and Sign Space" and "Letter Space". It seems that the way the machine was built they wanted to differentiate between entering a space when in Numbers/Sign mode and Letter mode. This might have something to do with the printing.
The machine is not an Enigma A but rather a machine they called "Die Schreibende Enigma-Chiffriermaschine" which in 1929 was sold for 8000 RM (Reichsmark).
It is possible this machine also had a letter designation but so far we don't know what it is.
It is indeed a beautiful machine.

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