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T-52 Geheimschreiber
Teleprinter cipher machine (STURGEON)

T-52, also known as Schlüsselfernschreibmaschine (SFM) T52 1 and T52 Geheimschreiber, 2 was an online rotor-based cipher machine for 5-bit teleprinter signals (telex), developed around 1930 by Siemens & Halske in Berlin (Germany). During World War II it was one of the main cipher machines of Nazi Germany, alongside Enigma, Lorenz SZ-40/42 and T-43. After the war, the machine was reused in several countries, including France and The Netherlands. Its traffic was known in Germany as Sägefisch (sawfish), and by the Bletchley Park codebreakers as Sturgeon.

The machine is built around a Siemens T-36 teleprinter, of which the keyboard and the paper strip printer are visible in the image on the right. Towards the rear is a large removable cipher unit with 10 irregularly stepping cipher rotors, each of which has a different number of segments.

The T-52 is mounted on a large and heavy die-cast chassis, which is fitted onto a wooden base plate. For transport, the complete assembly could be placed in a wooden transit case with large metal grips at the sides. The total weight, inluding the transit case, is well over 100 kg.

During WWII, the T-52 was one of the main cipher machines of the Third Reich. It was used for battalion-level traffic and was mainly operated over land lines. Only the traffic that was send by radio could be intercepted. It was occasionally broken by Swedish codebreakers, and later also by the codebreakers of Bletchley Park (BP), but only when messages had been received in depth. 3

The intelligence derived from the broken messages was not considered vital, as BP was already able to read the tactical messages encrypted on the Enigma, and also the high-grade traffic of the German High Command which was encrypted with the Lorenz SZ-40/42. The rest was surplus. As initial version (T-52a) was not very secure, several improved models were released over time. The final versions (T-52d and T-52e) were so good that they were virtually unbreakable. After the war, these models were recovered from surplus supplies and were reused by several countries.

  1. Schlüsselfernschreibmaschine = Key Teletypewriter.
  2. Geheimschreiber = Secret Writer.
  3. Two or more messages that have been encrypted with the same key.

T-52 Geheimschreiber
Close-up of the 10 cipher wheels
Another view of the cipher wheels
T-52 printer
Close-up of the T-52 printer
T-52 print wheel
Paper holder
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T-52 Geheimschreiber
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Close-up of the 10 cipher wheels
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Another view of the cipher wheels
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T-52 printer
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Close-up of the T-52 printer
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T-52 print wheel
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Paper holder

Although there are many different versions of the Geheimschreiber, we'll use the T-52d to show the position of the various parts and controls, as it is the most sophisticated and secure version of the machine. In the image below, the T-52d is shown from the front right. At the heart of the machine is a Siemens T-36 teleprinter (Fernschreiber) with its keyboard sticking out at the front.

The 10 cipher wheels are clearly visible in the image above. The cipher mechanism is a complete unit that is mounted on the chassis to the rear of the teleprinter. Rather than printing onto sheets of paper, the T-52 produces its output on a paper-strip, which is fed from a holder at the right into the printer that is located just above the keyboard, leaving the machine on the left.

During WWII, the German war machine heavily relied on cipher machines for secure communication, both over land lines and radio. Apart from a number of hand cipher methods, they mainly used three (later four) cipher machines for the bulk of their secure messages:

  • Enigma
    The enigma machine was used at the lowest level of the command chain. Between 20,000 and 30,000 machines were built and used by several parts of the German Army and related organisations. Due to the sheer size of the German war theatre, the majority of enigma messages was sent over radio.

  • T-52 Geheimschreiber
    The Geheimschreiber made it possible to encrypt a teleprinter line (telex). Although it was possible to use such links over radio, the majority of T-52 messages was sent over land lines. As a result, such messages were difficult to intercept. It was cryptographically more secure than the Lorenz SZ-40.

  • Lorenz SZ-40/42
    Like the Geheimschreiber, the Lorenz Schlüssel Zusatz (SZ) was used for the protection of telex signals. It was a stand-alone wheel-based unit that was connected between the teleprinter and the line. The Germans used it at the highest level. The Lorenz machine was used over land lines as well as over radio. It was broken by Bletchley Park by means of the Colossus computer.

  • Siemens T-43
    This was a one-time pad machine (OTP) that was introduced relatively late in the war. It was used only on a few networks. Bletchley Park probably called this machine Trasher. Machines like the T-43 are often called 'Mixers'.
  • T-52a
    This was the first version of the T-52. It was based on the T-36 teletype and was only built in small quantities from 1932-1934. It appeared to cause radio interference. It was later modified with a filter and was then called T-52a/b.

  • T-52b
    The T-52b was a slighly improved version of the T-52a in wich a filter against radio interference was added. As the machine is otherwise identical to the T-52a, the two versions are generally identified as T-52a/b. The T-52b was built from 1934-1942.

  • T-52c (Cäsar)
    The T-52c was developed in 1941. It had a simpler setting of the message key, but had the nasty side-effect that the number of possible alphabets was reduced dramatically. The T-52c had a switch to make it backwards compatible with the T-52a/b. The T-52c had the same cipher period as the T-52a/b and is sometimes called: the Cäsarmaschine.

  • T-52ca
    This was an improved version of the T-52c in which the number of alphabets was increased again by fixing a flaw.

  • T-52d (Dora)
    This is a serious improvement of the earlier T-52a/b. It features irregular wheel stepping of the cipher wheels and a so-called Klartextfunction (KTF). The T-52d was developed in 1942/43.

  • T-52e (Emil)
    The same improvements that converted the T-52a/b into the T-52d, were also applied to the T-52c. This resulted in the T-52e.

  • T-52f
    This version of the T-52 was developed but never taken into production. In May 1945 the design was ready but by then the war had ended [4].
Due to the nature of the various models and the later modifications, the T-52 can be divided into four distinct functional groups:

  1. T-52a, T52b (T-52a/b)
  2. T-52c, T52ca
  3. T-52d
  4. T-52e
How it works
The operation of the T-52 is not easily explained. It is a very complex machine and there are significant differences between the various models. The basic principles are best explained by first looking at the initial design and then introducing the improvements.

The T-52a was the first of the Siemens T-52 machines to see the light of day. It had limited cipher security, mainly because it exhibited regular stepping of the cipher wheels.

The T-52c was an attempt to improve security of the rather insecure T-52a/b. A large box with 5 levers, used for setting the message key, was added to the left of the keyboard. However, the wheel combining logic, that was meant to improve security, did exactly the opposite: it weakened the cryptographic strength of the machine, as it reduced the total number of alphabets.

The image on the right shows the extremely rare T-52c variant. The 5-lever unit for setting the message key is clearly visible at the front left. Also note the compatibility switch at the front right. It allows the machine to be used in combination with the older T-52a/b models.

According to the serial number plate, it is a 50 baud version that was built in 1944. This is rather strange as at this time most machines had been replaced by the improved d and e models.

Siemens T-52c
T-52c front view
The 5 levers of the message key setting mechanism
T-52a/b or T-52c selection
The 10 cipher wheels
Large lever on the left
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Siemens T-52c
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T-52c front view
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The 5 levers of the message key setting mechanism
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T-52a/b or T-52c selection
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The 10 cipher wheels
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Large lever on the left
8 / 8
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The T-52d was a well-designed machine. It was in fact a T-52a/b with much improved cipher security. Its cryptographic strength was considerably better than the Lorenz SZ-40. Consequently, it was never broken by Swedish cryptanalists. It was however broken by Bletchley Park, but only if they had messages in depth. If the T-52d had been used from the beginning, and its operators had been better instructed, it seems unlikely that the machine would ever have been broken.

The image on the right shows the interior of a T-52d machine, after the black protective cover has been removed. At the right hand side of the machine, just behind the paper tape holder, the plugboard is clearly visible. This plugboard was normally protected by a lockable hood.   

Breaking the T-52
Although the T-52 provided extremely good security for its days, it was nevertheless broken during WWII. The first to break Siemens T-52a/b traffic, was a group of Swedish cryptanalists led by Professor Arne Beurling in June 1940. The Swedish were lucky in that, after the occupation of Norway and Denmark, the Germans started using land lines for their communication.

The lines ran through Sweden and as early as May 1940, the Swedes tapped these lines and intercepted all T-52 traffic to and from Oslo. The machine was broken with hand methods, based on a set of messages in depth, that were intercepted on 25 and 27 May 1940 [2].

Once the messages were broken and the key was known, the bulk of information was deciphered on a T-52 emulator built by Vigo Waldemar Lindstein of the Ericsson company. After the war, Lindstein worked for Hagelin for several years as head of the Engineering division, until he started Transvertex. He developed the HC-9 cipher machine and was CEO of Transvertex until the company was taken over by Ericsson in 1969.
Professor Arne Beurling. Source unknown.

In 1943, the Germans discovered the weaknesses of the T-52a/b and c, and were informed that their ciphers were being read by the Swedes. They then introduced the T-52d, which featured irregular stepping of the cipher wheels. It appeared to be too much for Beurling and his team.

Bletchley Park
The British cryptanalists at Bletchley Park (BP) were less fortunate than their Swedish collegues, mainly because the T-52 was primarily used over land lines, to which the British, unlike the Swedes, had no access. Over time however, the T-52 also occasionally appeared on radio links.

The first break by BP came in mid-1942. In the summer of 1942, the Germans started using the T-52 on the radio link between Sicily (Italy) and Libya, and later between Aegean and Sicily. As the operators were sending multiple messages in depth (i.e. with the same initial settings) BP cryptanalyst Michael Crum 1 managed to achieve a break and reconstruct the machine [4].

BP called all German teleprinter traffic 'FISH'. Whilst the Lorenz SZ-40 traffic was codenamed 'TUNNY', the intercepted messages from the T-52 Geheimschreiber were called 'STURGEON'.

Over time, all T-52 models encountered by BP, were eventually broken, including the much improved T-52d, but only if they had received messages in depth. In practice, BP found that most messages that were sent over T-52 links, were also sent via Enigma or Lorenz SZ-40. As they were better equipped to break these two, the value of broken T-52 messages was limited.

  1. After the war, Michael Crum worked for GCHQ and was involved in the development of the SAVILLE cryptographic algorithm. SAVILLE became known as an NSA Type 1 algorithm.

Post-war use
The story of the T-52 does not finish at the end of WWII. Instead a large number of machines found their way into the armies and security services of a number of countries. The machine is known to have been used by the French Foreign Office and by the Dutch Navy. The East-Germans intended to use the machine, but it is uncertain whether they actually did. Even the British Navy considered using the machine, but turned it down for unknown reasons after a series of tests [4].

The French were by far the largest post-war user of the T-52. Approximately 380 machines survived the war, of which 280 were left behind in Germany. Although these machines had to be destroyed, they were 'just' dismantled and the various parts ended up on the surplus market around 1948. Electro-mechanical firm Willy Reichert in Trier (Germany) bought large amounts of the surplus stock and re-assembled a substantial quantity of T-52d and T-52e machines. More than 235 re-assembled machines were subsequently sold to the French Foreign Office between 1949 and 1953. Some of these machines appeared on the surplus market years later.

The Dutch Navy started using the T-52d during the 1950s. It is currently unknown how long and for what purpose they were used, but it is most likely that they were used on teleprinter lines between The Netherlands and the Dutch East-Indies (Indonesia). It is also unclear at present who supplied the machines to the Dutch. It is entirely possible that they too were supplied by Reichert, but they may also belong to the 100 machines that were not left behind in Germany after WWII.

T-52 Simulator
A good simulation of a T-52d has been produced by the Crypto Simulation Group (CSG). The simulator runs under Windows and is available from Frode Weierud's website.

On 23 March 2000, the CSG even managed to interface the simulator to a real T-52d machine, after which the compatibility of the simulator was confirmed. For this they used the RS-232 port of the PC and a simple relay-based telex interface. The simulator is suitable for Windows.

 Download T-52d Simulator (off-site)

The following names were used to identify the T-52 and/or its traffic:

  • Ttyp52
  • T-52
  • G-Schreiber
  • Geheimschreiber
  • SFM
  • Schlüsselfernschreibmaschine
  • Sägefisch 1
  • Sturgeon 2
  1. Sägefisch (sawfish) was the German name for the T52 traffic.
  2. Sturgeon was the British name for the T52 traffic.

  • DE615016 - 18 July 1930
    First patent related to the T-52, filed by Siemens und Halske in Berlin-Siemensstadt. It lists August Jipp and Ehrhard Roßberg as the inventors. It was filed on 18 July 1930 and published on 29 May 1935.

  • US1912983 - 16 June 1931
    The same patent was also filed in the US, where the device was called 'Scret Telegraph System'. The patent was filed on 16 June 1931 and was published on 6 June 1933. It lists August Jipp, Ehrhard Roßberg and Eberhard Hettler as the inventors.

  • DE591974 - 11 October 1930
    This patent is similar to DE615015. It was filed later but has a lower file number. The patent was approved 2 years before DE615015.

  • DE666436 - 13 September 1930
    The is the patent for the additional security added to the T-52d, the so-called KTF (Klartextfunction, Clear Text Function). It was filed on 13 September 1930 and was published on 29 September 1938. Eberhard Roßberg is listed as the inventor.
  1. Der Geheimzusatz der Siemens-Fernschreibmaschine T. typ. 52 1,3
    Preliminary description of Siemens T-52 (German).
    Oberkommando der Kriegsmarine. M.Dv.Nr.35. Berlin, 1937.

  2. Geräteübersicht, Geheimfernschreiber T-52d 3
    Overview of T52-related devices, including Anschlußgerat G (German).
    II. Geräteübersicht 1942. pp. 77-93.

  3. Die Siemens-Schlüsselfernschreibmaschine SFM T-52d (T. typ. 52d)
    M.Dv.Nr.35 IV. D. (Luft) T.g. Kdos.9105d. Berlin, March 1944.

  4. T-52e, circuit diagrams
    High-quality copies of the full T-52e circuit diagrams. 2
    Siemens & Halske. Berlin 1943/44.

  5. Fernschreib-Anschlussgerät G, circuit diagram
    Siemens & Halske. Berlin, 20 February 1940.

  6. The Siemens and Halske T52e Cipher Machine
    Detailed description with hand-made drawings (English).
    Unknown author. December 1984.

  7. Merkblatt Fernschreib-Anschlußgerät
    D 764/5. 16 August 1939. Reprinted 1942.

  8. Das Fernschreib-Anschlußgerät 3
    Circuit diagrams (German).
    D 7115/2. 1 February 1943.
  1. This document is stamped by the German Kriegsmarine (Kommando der Marine an der Nordsee),
    and has an inlay of 12 January 1944, with stamps of the Dutch Navy.
  2. These documents contain the signature of Willi Reichert and were kindly supplied by Wolfgang Mache. Included is a copy of the circuit diagram of the T-36 teletypewriter, dated 1 September 1932.
  3. Document kindly provided by Günter Hütter [6].

Key lists
  1. Wehrmacht-Fernschreibgrundschlüssel SFM T-52 d/e, Reichsschlüssel Nr. 3 1
    Basic keys for the T-52 d/e. National Key Number 3 (German).
    S/N: 00739. Geheime Kommandosache. Date unknown.

  2. d/e Wehrmachtfernschreib-Spruchschlüssel SFM T52d/e — Norwegen Nr. 4
    S/N 104 or 841. Date unknown. Crypto Museum Collection #303640.

  3. Norwegen Ersatz - Wehrmachtfernschreib-Ersatz Spruchschlüssel 1945/I SFM T52d/e 1
    Replacement keys for the T-52d/e in Norway 1945 Q1 (German).
    S/N: 163 Geheim. Norway, 1st edition, 1 January - 31 March 1945.

  4. Ersatz - Wehrmachtfernschreib-Ersatz Spruchschlüssel 1945/1 SFM T52d/e 1
    Replacement keys for the T-52d/e in Norway 1945 Q1 (German).
    S/N: 1501 Geheim. 1st edition, 1 January - 31 March 1945.

  5. d/e Wehrmachtfernschreib-Spruchschlüssel SFM T52d/e March 1945 1
    Replacement keys for the T-52d/e in Norway 1945 Q1 (German).
    S/N: 1476 Geheim. 1st edition,March 1945.
  1. Document kindly provided by Günter Hütter [6].

  1. Foundation for German Communication and Related Technologies
    T-52d featured on this page courtesy Arthur Bauer.

  2. Bengt Beckman, Codebreakers,
    Arne Beurling and the Swedish Crypto Program During WWII.
    2002, ISBN 0-8218-2889-4.
    Original Swedish Title: Svenska Kryptobedrifter. 1996, ISBN 91-0-056229-7.

  3. CG McKay and Bengt Beckman, Swedish signal intelligence 1900-1945
    2003. ISBN 0-7146-5211-5 (hard cover).

  4. Frode Weierud, BP's Sturegeon, The FISH That Laid No Eggs
    The Rutherford Journal, Volume 1, 2005-2006. PDF version, p. 29.

  5. Wolfgang Mache, Der Siemens-Geheimschreiber,
    Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Telekommunikation,
    1992: 60 Jahre Schlüsselfernschreibmaschine
    Archiv für deutsche Postgeschichte Heft 2, 1992, pp. 85-94.
     English translation 1

  6. Günter Hütter, T-52 documentation (listed above)
    Austria, 2008-2021.
  1. Published in NCVA Cryptolog, Corvallis, Oregon, Winter 1990.

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