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Obituary: Mavis Batey
From: InfoSec News <alerts () infosecnews org>
Date: Mon, 25 Nov 2013 07:16:08 +0000 (UTC)


24 November 2013

Mavis Batey was a garden historian and conservationist, but unknown to many until recently, was also one of the leading female Bletchley Park codebreakers whose skills in decoding the German Enigma ciphers proved decisive at various points of the war. On the outbreak of war she broke off her German studies to enlist as a nurse, but was told she would be more use as a linguist. She had hoped to be a Mata Hari-esque spy, seducing Prussian officers, but, she said, "I don’t think either my legs or my German were good enough, because they sent me to the Government Code & Cipher School."

Batey was the last of the Bletchley "break-in" experts – codebreakers who cracked new codes and ciphers. She unravelled the Enigma ciphers that led to victory in the Battle of Cape Matapan in 1941, the Navy’s first fleet action since Trafalgar, and played a key role in breaking the astonishingly complex Abwehr (German secret service) Enigma. Without this, the Double Cross deception plan which ensured the success of D-Day could not have gone ahead.

Born in Dulwich, south-east London, in 1921, Mavis Lilian Lever was the daughter of a postal worker and a seamstress. The family holidayed annually in Bournemouth, but on passing "O" Level German, she persuaded her parents to take her to the Rhineland, which was to spark her interest in the country. She was reading German romanticism at University College London when war broke out. Recruited to the government agency, she worked briefly in London checking the personal columns of The Times for coded messages. Having shown promise, she was sent to Bletchley Park to work with Alfred "Dilly" Knox, whose research unit led the way in breaking Enigma. When she arrived, he greeted her with the words, "Hello, we’re breaking machines. Have you got a pencil? Here, have a go." After his initial success with Enigma, Knox, the archetypal British eccentric, was working on new, and as yet uncracked, variants.

Batey began working on the updated Italian Naval Enigma machine, checking all new traffic and even the wheels, cogs and wiring to see how it was constructed. She reconstructed the wiring from the machine to discover a major machine flaw that helped her team break even more coded messages. "You had to work it all out yourself from scratch," she recalled, "but gained the ability to think laterally." In March 1941 she deciphered a message, "Today’s the day minus three," which told them that the Italian Navy was up to something.


Dean Bushmiller teaches a great 5-Day CISM in Albany NY Dec. 2 – 6.
Call 327-937-9786 for details.

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