Colossus was the world’s first electronic digital programmable computer. It was designed and built by a team led by Tommy Flowers at Bletchley Park, UK, and was used to help decipher encrypted messages between Hitler and his generals during World War II.
Ten Colossus computers were in use by the end of the war. The intelligence gained is generally acknowledged as having shortened the war by two years and to have saved countless thousands of lives.
Colossus remained highly classified after the war, and Winston Churchill specifically ordered the destruction of most of the Colossus machines into “pieces no bigger than a man’s hand.” It was erased from the history of computing, and Flowers and his associates were denied the recognition they were due.
A fully functional replica of a Colossus Mark 2 was constructed about five years ago by a team led by the late Tony Sale. You can see it now at the National Museum of Computing. It is a fascinating and inspiring exhibition, and well worth a visit.
The National Museum of Computing is now creating a completely new gallery for its most famous exhibit. You can play a part in helping to build the new gallery by sponsoring a valve on a virtual Colossus. You can get your name in lights and help a good cause!