In World War 2 the Germans used more than a dozen different cipher machines. A few more were developped but not used in practice. This article gives an overview.

You certainly know the Enigma. But did you know that the Germans used or at least designed a dozen more cipher machines in World War 2? I have never seen a comprehensive list, so I tried to assemble one myself. It is given in the following. If you know a German cipher machine from World War 2 not on the list, please let me know.


1. Enigma


The Enigma is by far the most popular cipher machine in history. It was used by the Germans in World War 2. About 30,000 copies were built. As is well known, the British could break considerable parts of the German Enigma traffic in their codebreaking facilities in Bletchley Park.


2. Siemens & Halske T52 (Geheimschreiber)


The T52 (Geheimschreiber) was used to encrypt telexes. An early version of it was broken by Swedish mathematician Arne Beurling.


3. SZ 40/42 (Lorenz machine)


The Lorenz machine was another cipher machine used for encrypting telexes. British encryption experts in Bletchley Park broke it with their codebreaking machine Colossus.


4. Siemens & Halske T43


The T43 was one of the first cipher machines based on the One Time Pad concept. It was used to encrypt telexes. Only few copies were built, none of them is known to have survived.


5. SG-41 (Hitler mill)


The Schlüsselgerät 41 was the successor of the Enigma. It was unbreakable at that time, but it took the Germans too long to develop and deploy it. Only a few hundred copies were used in practice.


6. SG-39


The Schlüsselgerät 39 was never mass-produced (see here for details). It was meant as the successor of the Enigma, but finally the German cryptologists preferred the SG-41 for this purpose. Like the Enigma, the SG 39 is a rotor cipher machine, but it had more rotors and an irregular rotor movement. It was probably unbreakable at that time.


7. Kryha Standard


The Kryha Standard is a design from the 1920s. It proved to be quite unsecure. It therefore didn’t play a major role in World War 2, neither in Germany nor in any other country. However, the German secret service used a few Kryhas in South America.


8. Kryha Liliput


The Kryha Liliput has the size of a pocket watch. It is compatible with the Kryha Standard.


9. Hell Geheimschreiber

The Hellschreiber was a predecessor of the fax machine. There was also a cipher machine especially designed for encrypting Hellschreiber traffic. It was referred to as “Hell Geheimschreiber”. Not much is known about it. No pictures are known to exist.


10. Menzer plate


The Menzer plate was a simple cipher machine based on three notched wheels invented by German cryptologist Fritz Menzer. It was used as a field cipher for secret agents.


11. Schlüsselkasten


The Schlüsselkasten (cipher box) was designed as a cheap and portable Enigma alternative. It was abandoned in the planning stage.


12. Heimsoeth & Rinke Cylinder

Heimsoeth-Zylinder (3)

The National Cryptologic Museum owns a cipher cylinder produced by Heimsoeth & Rinke in Berlin (that’s the company that also produced the Enigma). Nothing is known about this device.



A few more German cipher machines are mentioned in the literature:

  • According to Michael Pröse’s PHD thesis, there were plans for a machine called “the small device” (“das kleine Gerät”). It was meant as a portable device for tactical encryption. It was probably never built.
  • Aforementioned cryptologist Fritz Menzer also designed a cipher wheel. I don’t know if this device was a simple disk or something more complex. It might even be identical with the Heimsoeth & Rinke cylinder.
  • Another device mentioned by Pröse is the “Schlüsselscheibe” (key disk). Not much is known about it.
  • I have heard rumours that the army led by German general Erwin Rommel used voice encryption nachines in their tanks. I have no information about these devices.

If this list is complete, the Germans used or developed about 16 cipher machines in World War 2. There is still much room for further research. If you have information about this topic not included in this post, please let me know.

Further reading: A fascinating report of Enigma’s contemporary witness, Max Rüegger

Kommentare (13)

  1. #1 Klaus Schmeh
    2. Oktober 2016

    Bart Wenmeckers via Facebook:

    Nice reference list. Thanks for posting

  2. #2 Piper
    3. Oktober 2016

    The honor of breaking Enigma for the first time goes to Poland, mainly to Marian Rejewski.

    And a typo i’ve found:
    “traffic in there codebreaking facilities”
    should be “in their” 🙂

  3. #3 Jerry McCarthy
    3. Oktober 2016

    It might be worth noting that Enigma denotes a quite large family of different machines.
    shows a family tree.

  4. #4 Jerry McCarthy
    3. Oktober 2016

    T52 and SZ40/42 are also known as “Sturgeon” and “Tunny” respectively.

  5. #5 Klaus Schmeh
    3. Oktober 2016

    Mark Romo via Facebook:

    That’s a great collection. It’s incredible that they had a pocket watch-size cipher machine (Kryha Liliput).

  6. #6 Max Baertl
    3. Oktober 2016

    Mit der “Chiffrierscheibe” könnten die Chiffrierscheiben die von der Abwehr an ihre Agente ausgegeben wurden gemeint sein. Ein Bild einer solchen Scheibe ist unter dem Link: zu sehen.

  7. #7 Klaus Schmeh
    3. Oktober 2016

    @Max Baertl: Sehr interessant. Ich kannte weder diese Chiffrierscheibe noch diese Quelle. Es wäre interessant zu wissen, wie diese Scheibe funktionierte.

  8. #8 Max Baertl
    3. Oktober 2016

    Laut dem Buch “Agent Tate: True Wartime Story of Harry Williamson” wurde die innere Scheibe so lange gedreht, bis der Anfangsbuchstabe des Agentendecknamen unter der Zahl am äusseren Rand steht die dem jeweiligen Datum entspricht. Wenn der 26. eines Monates überschritten wurde, wurde vom Datum 10 abgezogen, so wurde Beispielsweise am 27. die Scheibe auf 17. eingestellt. Die Ziffern 0 – 9 auf der Inneren Scheibe werden im zu verschlüsselnden Text durch die darüber stehenden Buchstaben ersetzt. Es handelt sich bei der Scheibe also um eine Monoslphabetische Substitution mit 26 verschiedenen Schlüsseln.

  9. #9 Klaus Schmeh
    3. Oktober 2016

    @Max Baertl: Danke für die Info. Besonders sicher war das Verfahren also nicht.

  10. #10 Thomas
    4. Oktober 2016

    If the Africa corps really had such devices in their tanks, it might be they used the technique which is discribed in the Target Intelligence Committee´s memorandum about German speech encryption research:

  11. #11 Thomas
    4. Oktober 2016

    Another TICOM report provides information about the “Schlüsselscheibe”: (see section 22.)

  12. #13 Klaus Schmeh
    5. Oktober 2016

    @Thomas: Thanks, very interesting. This document also contains information about the SG39 and the T43.