A thief outfoxed a former British spy center by walking off with a rare Enigma machine used by the Nazis to send coded messages during World War II, police said Sunday.
The device, which is similar to a typewriter, is one of only three in the world. It was lifted Saturday during an open house at the once-top-secret Bletchley Park estate where the Germans' code was broken.
Police said the machine, which uses revolving drums to encrypt messages, was worth several thousand dollars, although its historical value is impossible to estimate.
"This is a devastating theft," said Christine Large, the director of the Bletchley Park Trust. "Very many people are deeply upset, and we are just hoping for its safe return."
Historians believe that the success of code-busters at Bletchley Park north of London in unscrambling a code the Germans believed was unbreakable hastened the Allied victory by several years.
At its peak, the center employed thousands: mathematicians, linguists and crossword puzzle experts who handled millions of German military messages every year.
The code-busters included Alan Turing, whose groundbreaking work is seen as paving the way for the modern computer.
Bletchley Park's work was so secret that its existence was not revealed until the late 1960s.