X, Y & Z by Dermot Turing – Review
By Karl Hornsey
Fortunately these days, much is known about the heroics carried out at Bletchley Park during the Second World War, and how the breaking of the Enigma codes helped the Allies to a victory that would otherwise have taken much longer to achieve. As those involved gradually ended their silence on the subject, the whole fascinating matter has thrown up some pretty unlikely heroes and arguably the most well-known of these is Alan Turing, recently named as the greatest icon of the 20th century in the BBC series. Therefore it seems only fitting that one of the foremost writers on all things Enigma is his nephew, Dermot Turing, who had already written two books about his father’s extraordinary life before his latest work – X, Y & Z: The Real Story of How Enigma Was Broken.
This time, he focuses his attention not on Alan Turing and his incredible band of compatriots at Bletchley Park, but on how a motley band of allies from the Polish, French and British camps ultimately managed to work together to crack the Enigma codes, despite the occupation of both Poland and France by the Nazis. This is a story that demands to be told, and Turing has produced a fine work that manages to illuminate the brilliance and importance of those involved in tales of derring-do, despite many of them not being overly trusting of each other in a time of rampant insecurity and suspicion all round.
Having visited Bletchley a few years ago and taken a keen interest in the subject ever since, I was aware that somehow the Poles had started the whole process of cracking Enigma before their country was invaded, and that somewhere along the line, that crucial fact had been largely overlooked. Thankfully X, Y & Z puts that wrong to right. While the work of those at Bletchley was quite remarkable, without the efforts of the Poles in the first place, the whole operation of breaking Enigma may never have got off the ground.
The ‘X, Y & Z’ of the title refers to the code name for the co-operation between France, Britain and Poland, with countless people in the tale risking their lives in Nazi-occupied Europe to make sure the Allies had the best chance of breaking Enigma and claiming air, land and sea supremacy over the enemy. Throw in some remarkable tales of spymasters going about their business in their own unique ways, and Turing has managed to bring the whole saga to life quite brilliantly.
This isn’t an easy read by any means given the complexity at times of the subject matter, but Turing uses a light touch where necessary to accentuate the eccentricities of some of the characters involved. While never denigrating the seriousness of the subject matter, this highlighting of some of the truly absurd situations people found themselves in, makes the book easier to comprehend, as well as letting the reader never forget the human cost of the actions at hand. For anyone with either a passing interest in all things Enigma or those wanting a much more detailed take on a story that hadn’t previously been told, I would heartily recommend Turing’s X, Y & Z, and look forward to his future contributions to the body of work on the subject.
‘X Y & Z: The Real Story of How Enigma Was Broken’ by Dermot Turing is published by The History Press