After 75 years under the waves of the Baltic Sea, it looks kind of like a rusty lasagna, or a deep-fried typewriter. A rare Enigma cipher machine, used by the Nazis during World War II, has been retrieved from its watery home by German divers searching for discarded fishing nets. It’s been donated to the Archaeological Museum Schloss Gottorf in Germany.
Underwater archaeologist Florian Huber at first thought the group had found a typewriter, he told Reuters. It’s believed that the crews of 50 German U-boats scuttled their ships and destroyed their Enigma machines in May 1945, shortly before the country’s surrender.
“We suspect our Enigma went overboard in the course of this event,” Huber told Reuters.
As shown in the CNET video above, Enigma machines were used by the German military to encrypt communications. Typing on the machine illuminates an alternate letter, which is then used in its place in the coded message. There are 26 settings that determine which letter lights up when the machine is used. A plugboard adds extra security by swapping letters with any letter the operator chooses.
The divers were working on behalf of the conservation group World Wide Fund for Nature, or WWF (known as the World Wildlife Fund in the US and Canada) to retrieve abandoned fishing nets that posed dangers to marine life. The WWF and the museum didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.