An Italian Cipher Machine


A Very Rare Find

Found at the National Cypher Museum 

At the outbreak of WWII in 1939, Nazi Germany’s Enigma encryption machine stood as the state-of-the-art method for sending and receiving secret messages. It wasn’t until 1940 that English mathematician Alan Turing, and the team at Bletchley Park, cracked the daily changes Berlin made to its cypher system and helped the Allied powers win the war.

While the Enigma stands out as the most famous of encryption machines, Italy, set out to develop a high-end machine to rival its war partner, Germany. In 1939 Italy’s government secretly tasked a little-known photogrammetric equipment company, Ortica Meccanica Italiana (OMI), to build a device capable of rivalling its more famous cousin.

Founded in 1926, OMI’s tools were used to create precision topographical maps and surveys using stereoscopic aerial photography. The technical expertise made OMI a natural fit for the job.

The result was OMI’s first cypher machine known as the Cryptograph Alpha. OMI built cypher devices throughout WWII, and into the 1960s, including the OMI Cryptograph, the OMI Cryptograph-CR and the OMI Cryptograph-CR MkII.

While many of these devices managed to survive passing through the hands of various collectors and museums, examples of the second iteration, the OMI Cryptograph machines, were widely believed to have been destroyed long ago. Until now.

Digging through its vast collection of warehoused artefacts, the US National Cryptologic Museum (NCM), curators found an OMI Cryptograph machine in its collection. NCM Collections Manager Spencer Allenbaugh recently discovered the OMI Cryptograph in a dusty crate and immediately knew he had found a treasure […].

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Originally introduced around 1954, the OMI Cryptograph operated similarly to the German Enigma, with five moving cypher wheels to encipher/decipher messages, but, unlike the military Enigmas, it also had a built-in printer that produced its output directly onto a paper strip.

This model was operational until the late 1950s when the OMI Cryptograph-CR succeeded it. Visitors to the NCM can look forward to viewing this treasure when renovations are completed and the museum reopens in the Spring of 2022.

(Source: NSA | SWLing Post | via Andrea Borgnino | NCA | Photo: NCM) (NSA)