The Algae Expert Who Helped Win World War II

Samuel Reason | April 22nd, 2018

One would have thought that the Ministry Of Defense would have known the difference between a cryptogamist and a cryptogramist. Back in World War II, they showed us that they definitely did not, which is why they accidentally recruited scientist Geoffrey Tandy to work at Bletchley Park for the Code Breakers.

Tandy was a cryptogamist which is an expert in algae: all nonflowering plant life. He was an expert in things like seaweeds, mosses, and ferns. He worked at a museum during 1926 to 1939 and his specialty was about algae. The MoD, however, thought he was a cryptogramist which is someone who can break algorithms and decipher secret coded messages. You see at the time they were desperately trying to crack the Germans messages and speed up the victory.

So in 1939 he was enlisted as a volunteer and sent to the center of signals intelligence during the war. The goal? To break the German Naval Enigma machine. Tandy did his best to get up to speed with the skills needed to crack the code, but he was no computer scientist like Alan Turing. Yet despite the mistake, he played a crucial part in cracking the Enigma cipher and help defeat the German.

In 1941 a German U-boat was sunk and many items were recovered by the allied forces: among them were German handbooks, charts, and bigram tables. The bigram tables were used by German officers to read the scrambled messages. The paper was so wet and unreadable that it was feared they were beyond recoverable. Tandy came to the rescue with his many years of museum work. He knew exactly what was needed to dry the paper perfectly and safely because he had spent years drying algae onto herbarium sheets.

A quick call to his old museum to get the supplies needed and Tandy was able to save the day. Bringing to life the secrets held in the wet paper and giving the codebreakers all the clues they needed to crack the cryptic codes. As a result, an algae scientist helped win the war because cracking the enigma code is considered to be one of the events that played a crucial part in ending World War II.

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