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Freefall: Chapter 34

Miriam Zakon

Once in Bletchley Park, Colonel Cohn explains to Moe that the codebreaking work being done here is helping to win the war

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

I f Colonel Cohn expected wild enthusiasm and breathless interest as he introduced the work of Station X to Moe, he was to be disappointed.

“Breaking codes will win the war? I don’t understand, sir.” Moe’s tone, though respectful, held a carefully controlled but unmistakably dismissive note.

The colonel looked at his new aide with a mixture of impatience and understanding. “Moe, eight months ago, when I was posted to England, my wife insisted on coming with me. Do you know why?” Moe had to grin. “Harry said she was going to keep you safe from the Blitz.”

Colonel Cohn returned the smile. “That’s partially true. But the real danger that my wife, bless her, insisted on sharing with me was not in London — though that was bad enough — it was in the sea. Traveling the North Atlantic was a tremendously dangerous undertaking, with Nazi U-boats sinking literally hundreds of thousands of tons of shipping every month.

“We traveled in convoys for protection, and the enemy followed in wolf packs that would surround the ships and torpedo them. Food for the British population, military equipment, arms — everything England needed to win the war — was winding up on the ocean floor. We were losing the battle of the North Atlantic, Moe, and if we lost that battle, England would lose the war.”

Now it was the colonel’s turn to look out the window, his eyes, it seemed to Moe, seeing not a glowing emerald lawn but the somber, gray waves of the Atlantic Ocean.

“Do you know why I felt safe sending my wife and those two orphans back to New York, Moe? Because since the geniuses here broke the supposedly unbreakable Enigma code of the German Navy, the Allied forces know where the wolf packs are lurking — and the convoys can avoid them. Allied losses have gone down by over 50 percent in the past months, and they’ve been decreasing even more with every passing day. And that’s why I can send my wife into the Atlantic with a calm heart.”

The colonel looked squarely at Moe. “The RAF flyers, the sailors facing torpedoes, even the paratroopers you were so anxious to join — they’re brave men, heroes. But Moe, if we want to stop this endless butchery, the ones who are going to do it are the eccentric, sometimes even mad, geniuses here in this mansion.”

Moe looked around at the small room. There were two wooden desks, one almost obscured by papers, the other — he presumed it would belong to him — standing pristine, empty, expectant. Outside, all was peaceful, lovely. From the hallways came the sound of murmuring, well-bred English voices. So this was his war?

No espionage. No secret papers to be smuggled to waiting partisans. No guns or grenades or leading his squad courageously through enemy artillery.

You signed the papers. You agreed to the posting. Time to be a good soldier, First Lieutenant Freed. Moe forced a smile. “Okay, sir, so tell me — how can I help win the war?”

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