The name Tommy Flowers probably means very little to just about everyone which is a shame because without Tommy Flowers it is more than likely I would not be here writing this blog.
The genius of Tommy Flowers was obvious from a young age and he eventually earned a degree in electrical engineering from the University of London. The very concept of electrical engineering was relatively novel in the 1920’s but Tommy Flowers knew it was the future.
Tommy later gained experience working on telephone exchanges and by 1939 became convinced that a completely electronic system was possible. At the very same time, Europe was descending into the chaos of war which would soon drag the rest of the world and Tommy Flowers into it.
Alan Turing, another technological hero, was working for the British government breaking German codes. He developed the world’s first algorithms and was literally years ahead of the competition. Eventually Turing heard about Tommy Flowers and asked him for help.
The reason he asked him for help was because the latest code breaking methods being used at the time required large amounts of data input which by hand would be completely impractical. However if an electronic machine could be made which could break codes by inputting large quantities of data then any German code could be broken.
The key for Flowers was valves, lots of them. To put things into context, at the time the most complicated electronic device used about 150 valves. Flowers proposed that his machine which he names ‘Colossus’ would use 1800 valves. Sadly the British government and the Ministry of Defence were yet to be convinced and rather than offering their help told him to make do on his own.
Undeterred Tommy poured every ounce of energy, every second of concentration and every penny he had into his ‘Colossus’. After eleven months, Flowers and his devoted team built ‘Colossus’. The world’s first computer was born and immediately set about breaking German codes. Later the ‘Colossus Mark 2’ was built which used 2400 valves. Without this first computer we wouldn’t be able to build websites or even android and iPhone apps. Can you imagine a world without these?
German intelligence became British intelligence immediately. The Allies now had a massive advantage over the Germans and with their new intelligence were able to dominate the war at sea, the war at air and the war on ground. The D-day landings, which marked the beginning of the end for Hitler, used vital information gathered by ‘Colossus’.
The Supreme Commander of the Allied forces, Dwight D Eisenhower went for a meeting at Bletchley Park, the home of ‘Colossus’ and the code breakers, on the 1st of June 1944. There he was handed a decryption made by ‘Colossus’ which showed that Hitler did not want additional troops to be sent to Normandy. Eisenhower turned to his staff and said “We go tomorrow.”
Without the work carried out by Tommy Smith and the code breakers at Bletchley Park it is quite possible that the outcome of World War 2 would have been different. Tommy Flowers is my technological hero because he built the first computer which broke the German codes which won us the war and brought freedom to Europe and the world.