10 most Frequently Asked Questions

After 30 years of speaking to groups ten questions (more or less) have won my “Most Frequently Asked Questions” award. Audiences vary and the details of questions do too, but these seem to be universal topics of interest. All these questions were on the level and have actually been asked, some with regularity.

1. What do you remember about the war? (trick question but often asked)

The answer is obvious to me but when I point it out I’m often embarrassed–some folks don’t believe me! Answer: I wasn’t born until after the war.

2. Why did the work come to Dayton?

Answers are several: Several national labs were in the running for being the lead in electronic research around 1941, but in the end, the Desch/Mumma machines were fastest and most accurate. NCR had a large factory and resources to manufacture the final designs.

3. Did this really remain secret? Didn’t anyone ever talk? If so, how did you find out?

The project in Dayton remained unknown except to a small handful of veterans until the early 1990s. No American leaked the secret. After my father’s death, I found out through slowly following the clues dropped over years.

4. Did your mother know?

I don’t have the answer to this one. She never mentioned anything about the project except for anecdotes about the people with whom they associated–the WAVES, the NCR staff, the Naval officers. She mentioned picnics, softball games, parties.

5. If it was so important, how come I never heard about it?

That answer may be self-explanatory — it remained “need to know” for 50 years. Perhaps the questioner just wasn’t on the short list.

6. What did the machines do? Why were they called Bombes? Were they computers?

The answer to this is multi-faceted and can be further explained elsewhere in this site. And although the Bombes had elements of a computer as defined now they were not early computers.

7. How many were made? Where were they shipped? Are there any left and if so, where are they now?

The answer to this is on the By the Numbers page and the Navy Cryptanalytic Bombe page.

8. How did the American code breaking machine compare to the British? Why don’t they acknowledge our contribution?. How did the American code breaking machine compare to the British? Why don’t they acknowledge our contribution?

The performance statistics of the US Bombe are listed here. For instance, it completed a 4-wheel run in 20 minutes. At the same time, a friend, John Harper of Bletchley Park is working on his own comparison of the British and American bombes. I cannot address some of the rivalry surrounding the Bombe partnership.

9. What recognition did the Navy veterans, Joe Desch or the NCR team receive?

Joe Desch received the Presidential Medal for Merit from President Truman in 1947. Many of the veterans received commendations when they left the service but not all. The need for secrecy complicated any kind of public recognition.

10. What difference did this work make? What were the results?

I began to address this during a Osher Institute class I taught at UD, winter 2019. It proved so complex (Atlantic theatre, Pacific theater, use by Navy and the Army) I am working on an entire section devoted to the topic. I am not comfortable estimating by how much it shortened the war or how many lives the Bombes saved. My intuition is that many more lives were saved, directly or indirectly, than can be estimated.

  • You are here >

    Home > In Brief > 10 most Frequently Asked Questions
  • Sources

    This site has material from many sources. Some are use by permission. Before using, ASK. More specific information here.
  • Dayton Codebreakers DVDs

    To inquire about a DVD of the Dayton Codebreakers documentary, contact me at this link
  • Inside You’ll Find…

    WHO worked during the war? Find the Personnel section. Also, Joseph R. Desch
    WHAT were their goals? By the Numbers. Also, The US Bombe
    WHY? History of the Bombe Project A contemporary account of the reasons and the plans for their project for the Director of Naval Communications, 1944.
    WHERE was the project: In Dayton, it was in Building 26. In Washington, it was housed at the Naval Communications Annex