According to The Times, the wartime machine was spotted by German divers working for the environmental group World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) to locate “ghost nets” left behind by trawlers. The team had been surveying the waters from a motorized catamaran when their sonar system picked up an unusual signal Gelting Bay, near the German Baltic coast and Danish border.
Gelting Bay is a curve of the coastline of the Baltic Sea on the northeastern coast of the German region of Anglia at the exit to the Flensburg Fjord near the town of Gelting.
While the team initially thought they had picked up a typewriter entangled in a net on the seabed of the bay, underwater archaeologist Florian Huber quickly realized the historical significance of the discovery, reports Reuters.
“I’ve made many exciting and strange discoveries in the past 20 years. But I never dreamt that we would one day find one of the legendary Enigma machines,” Huber said.
The machine, which looks like a typewriter, featured a keyboard and wheels which scrambled messages. "Although several hundred thousand machines were produced, only a few hundred are known to exist," Reuters noted. "They sell at auction for tens of thousands of euros."
The Nazi military used the Enigma devices to send and receive secret messages during World War II; however, British cryptographers cracked the code the machines used, providing the Allies a crucial edge in the naval struggle to control the Atlantic Ocean.
A British team led by Alan Turing at Bletchley Park code-breaking center is credited with cracking the Enigma machine's code, shortening the war and saving many thousands of lives, according to Reuters.
The device the divers found is believed to have been thrown into the water in the days leading up to Nazi Germany’s surrender in May 1945, when dozens of submarines were scuttled in Gelting Bay so that they would not fall into Allied hands.
Crews of about 50 submarines followed the order to sink their ships in the bay, and destroying encryption devices was part of the order, notes Reuters.
"We suspect our Enigma went overboard in the course of this event," said Huber, who works for the Kiel-based company Submaris, which leads underwater research missions.
Overall, the Germans sank more than 200 of their own submarines in the North and Baltic Seas at the close of World War II.
The recovered Enigma machine will be given to the archaeology museum in Schleswig, according to Reuters.