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Swiss NEMA Cipher Machine




The Swiss NEMA cipher machine is an extraordinary piece of both military and mechanical engineering history. Known as the Neue Machine, or "New Machine", the NEMA was developed by Zellweger AG in Uster, Switzerland during World War II to replace the German-engineered "Enigma K" after the Swiss realized that both the Allies and the Germans were able to break the Swiss traffic. One of the few rare models intended as a war machine, the present piece is an exceptionally well-preserved example of this extraordinary machine.


Visually similar to the Enigma, the NEMA used a 10-wheel mechanism: five “stepping” or “drive” wheels, four coding wheels (rotors) and one reflector wheel that is movable during encryption. The use of the reflector allowed designers to effectively replace the plug board found on the Enigma. The reflector and coding wheels are the only wheels that are electrically wired, while the stepping wheels feature mechanical cams that control the stepping of the coding and reflector wheels. The addition of the movable reflector and stepping wheels allowed the NEMA codes to be more “irregular” and therefore, harder to break.


Developed between 1941 and 1943 by a team of Swiss mathematics professors led by Captain Arthur Alder at the University of Bern, the first prototype was completed in 1944. After modifications in 1945, the final versions were created by Zellweger AG and released for service in 1947. Though too late to be utilized during World War II, the NEMA became widely used by the Swiss Army and the Diplomatic Service during the Cold War era.


Only 640 of these machines are believed to have been created by Zellweger AG. This particular model was one of the rare war machines that were kept in reserve storage to be used in the event of war. Though the exact number of war machines made remains classified, these models are extraordinarily rare. The case features the following label:<em>Nur bei Kriegsmobilmachung abgeben! Ne délivrer qu'en cas de mobilisation de guerre! Da consegn. solo in caso di mobilitazione di guerra !</em>, meaning "Issue only in case of war mobilization" in three languages.


The NEMA also machine bears its original plaques and markings. Marked with the serial number "TD 465"


Circa 1946


Discover more in M.S. Rau Antiques’ selection of rare and important Cipher Machines



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