Bainsford’s Alex recalls helping to crack the Enigma

War veteran Alex Cordiner.
War veteran Alex Cordiner.

There’s a wise old sailor from Bainsford who has a few stories to tell.

One of them is a 70-year-old tale of how he played his part of the downfall of the evil Nazi regime during World War II - helping to capture their secret Enigma code books.

D Day veteran Alex Cordiner was 24 when he served on HMS Petard during a dangerous raid on a stricken German U-boat on October 30, 1942, to acquire the vital codes. Two of his colleagues lost their lives on the fateful night when the Nazi vessel sank.

The U-559 submarine was forced to surface following attacks by depth charges on the Port Said to Haifa route in the Nile Delta.

The operation is part of the Bletchley Park legend which saw intelligence officers use the books to crack the Enigma machine codes to decipher secret Nazi naval communications, as well as a more advanced four-rotor Enigma machine.

It was a major find for the Petard as the Germans had previously been using three-rotor Enigmas. Breaking the codes, historians say, gave the Allies a key advantage, shortening the war by two years and saving countless lives.

Mr Cordiner, now 94, who was one of the Petard’s chefs, told The Falkirk Herald: “I joined the Navy in my late teens and thoroughly enjoyed my time. I loved the sea so that was the place to be.

“There was a lot going that night and one of the NAAFI canteen assistants Tommy Brown, who I knew quite well, actually jumped into the water to help and swim across to the submarine.

“When we got the code books we were all pleased but there wasn’t a big victorious mood or anything.

“Two people died that night and that was always something that was on our minds when we patrolled the seas looking for the Germans. Was it going to be us next?

“Despite that we had our good times as well. It wasn’t all doom and gloom, but we were certainly all glad when the war was over.”

Mr Cordiner, originally from Camelon, had to show his bravery several times as he served throughout the war’s duration.

He took part in D-Day and in landings on the beaches of Salerno and Anzio, Italy and North Africa and loaded shells for the ship’s guns when they came under attack at sea.

For his service Mr Cordiner was decorated with several medals including the Africa, Italy, France, Germany, Burma and General stars as well as the Defence and Victory medals.

After leaving the Navy he met and married wife Kate and went back to his trade as a moulder, working for BP later in his career.

The Royal Navy said the retrieval of the German naval code books was ‘significant’.

An MoD spokeswoman said: “The significance of the action within the context of the wider Battle of the Atlantic was the retrieval of certain code books.

“Following the capture of U 110 in 1941, Allied experts had begun decrypting German Naval Enigma Code with some confidence. However, in February 1942 a new four-rotor code was introduced.

“The computer “bombes” in use at Bletchley Park could decode four rotor Enigma, but it might take several weeks, whilst the Germans changed their code every 
day.

“The signal books from U 559 enabled the cryptanalysts to start breaking the German Naval code with some regularity once more, leading to further decryption discoveries and greater confidence.”