WWS Technology Wiki

Tommy Flowers, by[]

Tommy Flowers

Thomas Harold Flowers was born on December 22, 1905 in London England. After graduating with a degree in engineering, Tommy joined the General Post Office (GPO), which was responsible for the telecommunications of the day.

During the Second World War, researchers at Bletchley Park (the head for code breaking in the UK) were at a standstill. Tunny, a German teleprinter code was transmitted onto the machine Lorenz. Lorenz was used to send messages directly from Hitler to his generals, and scientists in the UK could not crack them. They knew that to decipher the codes by hand would take a millennium, so they created Heath Robinson. Robinson did alright, but it was not very reliable, and was extremely slow. A man named Alan Turing had heard of Tommy through his work on other code breakers, and he enlisted his help. Tommy took one look at Robinson and declared a radical change was going to need to be made. Robinson functioned with two punctured tapes that ran synchronized, but synchronization was hard to . Tommy proposed replacing one of the tapes with valves. His idea was met with skepticism and doubts, because there had been problems with valves in the past.

Tommy assured the people at Bletchly Park that as long as the valves were not switched off and on constantly, the machine would run like any other. They agreed to let him try out his plan, but were struck down with another major obstacle. The earliest Tommy foresaw his creation coming to life would be in a year. However, this was too long, for the British feared that by then the Germans would have won the war, and the information gained would

be useless.

Colossus, completed in December of 1943

Undaunted, and completely sure of himself, Tommy set about working on his invention anyway. Working all day and all night, his team built the first machine in ten months. It was the size of a small room and weighed a ton, so it was named Colossus. Colossus was presented to the board at Bletchley Park on December 8, 1943. It was made mostly of standard telephone exchange parts, and contained 1,500 valves. While Robinson spit out 1,000 characters a second, Colossus could do 5,000. Not waiting to bask in glory, Tommy set about creating the Mark II, which was completed the following June, and was five times faster than Colossus. It contained 2,500 valves.

Mark II played a very important role in the victory of D-Day, four days after it was put into place. Mark II allowed the Allies complete orders of the German plans, and allowed them to see how the Germans were reacting to the Allies’ diversion tactics. By 1945, ten Colossus’ were operational.

Tommy’s invention was kept secret for many years, under the Official Secrets Act, which was put into place after the war ended. It was not until the 1970s when the US passed the Freedom of Information Bill, that Tommy's

Bletchly Park, where Thomas Flowers worked on Colossus

invention of the world's first programmable electronic computer (see CPU) was displayed to the world. Thomas Flowers invention has not only allowed me to be typing this essay on a computer right now, (see Steve Jobs ) but his computers played an extremely large role in the victory for the Allies. Without Colossus, we might have never won the war, and Earth would be a very different place today.

For more reading: see Motherboard.


DebenDave. Tommy Flowers.


Bletchley Park: National Codes Center. Thomas Flowers, MBE (1905-1998). Bletchly Park Tour.


BBC News. h2g2. Tommy Flowers. 8 April. 2003.