Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 144,346 pages of information and 230,176 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Colossus

From Graces Guide

Jump to: navigation, search

Colossus was the name of a series of computers developed for British code breakers in 1943-1945 to help in the cryptanalysis of the Lorenz cipher. Colossus used thermionic valves (vacuum tubes) and thyratrons to perform Boolean and counting operations. Colossus is thus regarded as the world's first programmable, electronic, digital computer, although it was programmed by plugs and switches and not by a stored program.

Colossus was designed by the engineer Tommy Flowers to solve a problem posed by mathematician Max Newman at the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) at Bletchley Park. Alan Turing's use of probability in cryptanalysis contributed to its design. It has sometimes been erroneously stated that Turing designed Colossus to aid the cryptanalysis of the Enigma. Turing's machine that helped decode Enigma was the electromechanical Bombe, not Colossus.

The prototype, Colossus Mark 1, was shown to be working in December 1943 and was operational at Bletchley Park on 5 February 1944.

Colossus contained 1,500 electronic valves.

An improved Colossus Mark 2 that used shift registers to quintuple the processing speed, first worked on 1 June 1944, just in time for the Normandy Landings on D-Day.

Ten Colossi were in use by the end of the war and an eleventh was being commissioned. Bletchley Park's use of these machines allowed the Allies to obtain a vast amount of high-level military intelligence from teleprinter messages between the German High Command (OKW) and their army commands throughout occupied Europe.

Soon after the end of the war Alan Turing and Max Newman both embarked on separate projects to create a "Universal Turing machine" in hardware. Racks of electronic components from the dismantled Colossi were shipped from Bletchley Park to Newman’s Computing Machine Laboratory at Manchester.

The destruction of almost all of the Colossus hardware and blueprints, as part of the effort to maintain project secrecy that was kept up into the 1970s, deprived most of those involved with Colossus of credit for their pioneering advancements in electronic digital computing during their lifetimes. A functioning replica of a Colossus computer was completed in 2007 and is on display at The National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park

See Also

Loading...

Sources of Information