Jerry Roberts

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Jerry Roberts
Capt. Jerry Roberts at Bletchley Park 1941-45.jpg
Capt. Jerry Roberts MBE photographed at Bletchley Park where he worked from 1941–45. He was a linguist and leading codebreaker on the Cryptanalysis of the Lorenz cipher.
Born (1920-11-18)18 November 1920
Wembley, London, England, UK
Died 25 March 2014(2014-03-25) (aged 93)
Hampshire, England, UK
Nationality British
Education University College London 1939-1941 in German and French
Occupation Business owner. Wartime codebreaker and linguist on the Tunny cipher system

Captain Raymond C. "Jerry" Roberts, MBE (18 November 1920 – 25 March 2014) was a British wartime codebreaker and businessman. During the Second World War, Roberts was worked at the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) at Bletchley Park from 1941-45. He was a leading codebreaker and linguist, who worked on the Tunny cipher system — Hitler's most top-level code.[1]

Roberts was born in Wembley, London. His father Herbert, had trained as a pharmacist, but worked for Lloyds Bank head office in the City for the rest of his 40-year career (since coming to London from Wales in 1915). His mother Leticia was a pianist and an organist who played in the local chapel. He was educated at Latymer Upper School, Hammersmith in London 1933-39 and University College London 1939-41. He gained a degree in German and French.

War service[edit]

Early in the Second World War, his tutor at University College London, Prof. Leonard Willoughby, who had worked during the First World War in Room 40 the main cipher-breaking unit of that time,[2] recommended the twenty-year-old Jerry as a German linguist to the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park where he was interviewed and accepted by Colonel John Tiltman as a codebreaker and linguist.[citation needed]

Roberts was one of the four founder members of the Testery in October 1941. After a few months of breaking of a Double Playfair cipher system used by the German Military Police, the team was tasked with breaking the German High Command’s most top-level code Tunny, after Bill Tutte had successfully diagnosed the logic of the Tunny system in spring 1942.[citation needed]

Captain Roberts was one of the three original senior linguist-cryptanalysts working on the daily breaking of Tunny. The other two were Major Denis Oswald and Captain Peter Ericsson. Ralph Tester was the head of the unit (a linguist but not codebreaker). Roberts was one of the three shift-leaders in the Testery (total staff 118 by 1945),[3] and worked there until 1945 War’s end.

By the end of the war, the Testery had grown to 9 cryptanalysts, a team of 24 ATS, a total staff of 118, organised in three shifts working round the clock. Messages broken by hand amounted to 1.5 million pieces within 1st year of its foundation. After the Testery had been breaking Tunny for a year by hand, the Newmanry became active in July 1943. The Newmanry developed and used machine methods to help speed up one stage — breaking of the chi-wheels but the psi-wheels and motor-wheels were still broken by hand in the Testery. From mid-1943 onwards, the Testery is credited with breaking over 90% of Tunny traffic.

Tunny was Adolf Hitler’s most secret code system and had 12 wheels against well-known 3 wheel Enigma. Tunny was only declassified in 2002 compared with Enigma in the 1970s. Tunny carried only the highest grade of intelligence; messages signed only by a handful of top generals and fieldmarshals, included Adolf Hitler himself. Used between Army HQ in Berlin and the generals and fieldmarshals in the field. Many were signed by Field Marshals; von Rundstedt, Rommel, Keitel, Jodl etc. – as well as a number of messages signed by the Führer himself.

Tens of thousands of Tunny messages were intercepted by the British and broken at Bletchley Park by Captain Roberts and his fellow code-breakers in the Testery. These messages contained much vital insight into top-level German thinking and planning. Tunny provided vital information that changed the course of the war in Europe and saved tens of millions of lives at critical junctures — such as the Battle of Kursk in the Soviet Union, and D-Day. General Dwight Eisenhower (later the U.S President 1953-61) said after the war "Bletchley decrypts shortened the war by at least 2 years".[citation needed] Tunny decrypts made major contributions to winning the war. Much of this was down to the work of Bill Tutte and the Testery breaking Tunny messages.

Enigma decrypts helped Britain not to lose the war in 1941. Tunny decrypts helped shorten the European war by at least 2 years.[citation needed]


After the war, Roberts was a member of the War Crimes Investigation Unit. Thereafter he pursued a new career in market research for 50 years, forming his own market research companies in the 1970s (one for the UK, one for the rest of Europe) until they were sold to GfK NOP (National Opinion Polls) in 1993 and continued working as a consultant to NOP assisting with multi-country studies until he was nearly eighty. He spoke fluent German, French and Spanish and used his skill in languages in his work.

  • 1945–47 — After the war, Roberts was a member of the War Crimes Investigation Unit. There he employed his fluency in the German and French languages while working in the British Zone, interviewing witness, victims and various war cases, taking legal statements from them for use in court.
  • 1948–54 — Started in market research in London working for Market Information Services (MIS), a leading market research firm.
  • 1954–59 — In Caracas, Venezuela, Roberts was invited to set up the first general research company in South America (where he learned to speak fluent Spanish) and developed the company DATOS.
  • 1960 — Roberts spent the year in New York, as a manager representing a major international advertising agency (CPV).
  • 1961–69 — He returned to London as board director of M.I.S.
  • 1970–93 — Roberts set up his own companies: Roberts Research Ltd and Euroresearch Ltd, and applied his language skills to pioneering multi-country market research studies across Europe for leading UK and multinational companies. Roberts carried out market research for a wide range of leading UK and international clients in the fields of product marketing, public opinion and media research. His clients included British Gas, Reebok trainers, DuPont Teflon, Lycra, American Airlines, Chrysler cars, Holiday Inn hotels and many others. In 1993, NOP (National Opinion Poll) bought both of his companies.

In retirement[edit]

Roberts met Mei, an artist and book illustrator, in London in 1990; they married shortly afterwards. He was the last survivor of the nine cryptanalysts who worked on Tunny. For the last six years, he campaigned for proper recognition for Bletchley Park's 4Ts — for his colleagues in the Testery, and especially for its three "Heroes": Alan Turing who broke the naval Enigma, Bill Tutte who broke the Tunny system to help shorten the war, and Tommy Flowers who designed and built the Colossus, the world's first electronic, digital, programmable computer — to vastly speed up one stage (chi-wheel) of the breaking of Tunny traffic. However, the majority (the rest of 5 stages) of the work was performed by hand in the Testery by codebreakers and support staff.[citation needed]

Roberts was honoured several times for his historic achievements. In July 2011, he was presented to Queen Elizabeth II in July 2011 at Bletchley Park.[4] In October 2011, Roberts was featured in a BBC Timewatch Special titled Code-Breakers: Bletchley Park's Lost Heroes, first broadcast on BBC Two on 25 October 2011. In 2013, he received an MBE New Years Honours List and awarded a UCL Honorary Fellowship. The same year, he was also honoured with an investiture stamp, which is available through Bletchley Park Post Office.[5]

With characteristic modesty, he accepted all of these accolades as acknowledgment not of his own accomplishments, but of the work of his team-mates at Bletchley Park, most of whom died unrecognised, before Tunny was declassified.[6]

List of senior executives and codebreakers on Tunny in the Testery[edit]

  • Ralph Tester, linguist and head of Testery (not a codebreaker)
  • Jerry Roberts, shift-leader, linguist and senior codebreaker
  • Peter Ericsson, shift-leader, linguist and senior codebreaker
  • Victor Masters, shift-leader (not a codebreaker)
  • Denis Oswald, linguist and senior codebreaker
  • Peter Hilton, codebreaker and mathematician
  • Peter Benenson, codebreaker
  • Peter Edgerley, codebreaker
  • John Christie, codebreaker
  • Jack Thompson, codebreaker
  • Roy Jenkins, codebreaker (later moved on to wheel setter)
  • Tom Colvill, general manager

By the end of the war, the Testery had grown to nine cryptanalysts, a team of 24 ATS, a total staff of 118, organised in three shifts working round the clock.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Last Bletchley Park codebreaker Jerry Roberts dies, aged 93". BBC News. BBC. 26 March 2014. Retrieved 26 March 2014. 
  2. ^ Swales, Martin, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: Willoughby, Leonard Ashley (1885–1977), German scholar 
  3. ^ Roberts 2006, p. 250
  4. ^ "Captain Jerry Roberts: Former Bletchley Park Codebreaker from 1941-45". 2011. Archived from the original on 24 March 2013. Retrieved 2 April 2012. 
  5. ^ "Jerry Roberts Investiture". Bletchley Park Post Office. Retrieved 31 March 2013. 
  6. ^ "Tribute to Captain Jerry Roberts MBE". UCL News. 27 March 2014. Retrieved 4 February 2015. 

Roberts was interviewed by the BBC Tom Hepworth for the news on TV and radio on 11 April 2013, for his Investiture stamps issued by Bletchley. Herewith the BBC website for this event.