Ontario museum honours professor who cracked secret Nazi code
Published Sunday, April 24, 2016 7:34PM EDT
Last Updated Monday, April 25, 2016 9:13AM EDT
William Tutte broke a Nazi code that was said to be unbreakable, and in the process may have hastened the end of the Second World War, saving millions of lives.
But much like the Lorenz cipher that he sought to unlock, his contributions to the war effort remained secret for a long time.
Only in the last couple of decades has the Brit-turned-Canadian's remarkable story emerged, and Tutte has begun to receive recognition.
On Sunday, Tutte, who died in 2002, was one of eight people inducted into the Waterloo Region Museum's Hall of Fame in Kitchener, Ont. Tutte was a long-time professor at the University of Waterloo and lived in the village of West Montrose, Ont.
Tutte's remarkable achievements begin in 1941, when he was invited to join Britain's famed Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park. Britain's efforts to foil Hitler's plans through codebreaking at the school were recently placed in the spotlight due to the critically-acclaimed film "The Imitation Game" about cryptanalyst Alan Turing.
At Bletchley Park, Tutte was assigned the task of cracking the Lorenz cipher, which was used by the Germans to transmit their most sensitive and highly strategic information.
He and his colleagues eventually managed to reverse engineer the Lorenz code machine in 1942 without ever seeing it.
The achievement helped cryptanalysts at Bletchley Park to decode thousands of Lorenz messages in the final three years of the war.
This allowed the British to intercept indispensable Nazi communications, such as a transmission in the lead-up to the Allied invasion of Normandy that showed the Germans were expecting an attack at a different location.
Tutte and his colleagues' exploits remained largely a secret since they were bound by the Official Secrets Act of Britain. It wasn't until the late 1990s that his story came to light.
Tutte was named an officer of the Order of Canada in October 2001, a few months before he died at the age of 84.
In 2012, British Prime Minister David Cameron also acknowledged the debt owed to Tutte for his role in ending the war.
"We should never forget how lucky we were to have men like professor Tutte in our darkest hour and the extent to which their work not only helped protect Britain itself but (saved) countless lives," said Cameron in a letter to his family.
On Sunday, Tutte was recognized for being a humble and brilliant mathematician.
"He never told anybody about his work for 50 years," Warren Stauch, a member of the Waterloo Region Hall of Fame's board of governors, told CTV Kitchener.
Dan Younger, who worked with Tutte as a graduate student at the University of Waterloo in the early 1960s, said the professor often had trouble talking about his achievements.
"Part of that was because of the fact that he had hid his this for so long," said Younger.
"And at first, he found it difficult to remember even what happened, because of the active repressing."
Following the war, Tutte moved to tiny hamlet of West Montrose and accepted a faculty position at the University Toronto.
In 1962, he moved to the University of Waterloo, which had just been established five years prior.
There, he spent the rest of his academic career, and he is credited with helping transform the school's faculty of mathematics. Tutte was a leading mathematician in the field of combinatorics, and many said his presence at the school helped attract top researchers.
"His big achievements were the achievements during the Second World War," said Chris Godsil, chair of the department of combinatorics at the University of Waterloo.
"Everything else pales in comparison to that, but in the sort of stuff we do, he was the founding father."
Tutte's display at the Waterloo Region Museum will be open until 2017.
With a report from CTV Kitchener's Nadia Matos