German M4 Enigma machine makes $435,000

A rare German naval M4 four-rotor Enigma machine has sold for $435,000.

The lot led Sotheby’s History of Science and Technology sale in New York on December 12.

The M4 is most commonly associated with the German U-boat fleet.

Enigma machine

The Allies broke the Enigma code in 1942

It features an extra rotor, enabling a further level of encryption.

Sotheby’s explained: “Multiple M4 Enigmas were deployed with each U-boat and support ship, and the majority of these were lost when their boats were sunk in combat or scuttled by their crew at the end of the war.

“Furthermore, German Enigma operators were under strict orders not to allow the enemy to capture any Enigmas; this meant that many Enigmas were stripped of their rotors and destroyed, with many thrown into lakes or oceans to hide any remaining parts.”

Thanks to computer scientist Alan Turing, the Allies managed to break the Enigma code by 1941 - although it was kept a secret until many years later.

The intelligence gleaned dramatically shortened the war.

Elsewhere in the sale, the Nobel Prize virologist Frederick C Robbins received in 1954 for his groundbreaking research on polio made $200,000.

Robbins, along with Thomas Weller and John Enders, found a way of cultivating the virus in the lab. It led directly to the development of the vaccine in the mid-1950s.

Author Doris Lessing’s Nobel Prize is heading to auction later today.

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