If you personally used a Fialka when they were in service, I would like to ask you some questions about how the machine was used. If you would contact me, I would be most appreciative.
The Russian Fialka (which means "violet" in Russian) is a military encryption machine used during the Cold War. It was used to send classified information between Russia and various other countries, such as Poland, East Germany, and Czechoslovakia.Early versions of the Fialka were introduced as early as 1965, and it was used as late as the early 1990s. That is a tremendous run for a piece of encryption hardware! As these machines were removed from service, they were to be destroyed. I'm grateful that a few have escaped destruction and have found their way into museums and private collections. This machine is too remarkable to be forgotten.
There are two Fialka models. The first is called M-125-xx, and the second is called M-125-3xx. The unit displayed here is an M-125-3MP2. There are also slight variations based on the country in which the unit was to be deployed.
Externally, the Fialka looks something like a large electric typewriter. It has a full keyboard with various letters and a space-bar. When it's on, the Fialka also sounds a bit like an IBM Selectric typewriter. But that's where the similarities end. There is no place to insert a piece of paper and no "Return" key or other formatting tools. Instead, it accepts 10mm or 17.5mm paper tape from an external spool on which it can print messages. It can even punch holes in the paper to represent the encoded message. An operator can then send this punched paper tape to the recipient, who can in turn feed the tape into another Fialka which will automatically read and decrypt the message very quickly.
The Fialka is similar in some ways to the German Enigma and the Swiss NEMA machine. These machines all operate with electromechanical rotors which move ("step") as the operator types the message to be encrypted or decrypted. The Enigma machine used either three or four rotors (based on the model), the NEMA used five rotors, and the Fialka used 10. But the Fialka has a number of other advantages over the these other machines besides having more rotors.
The Fialka also offers a paper-holder which can help operators who have to encrypt long or complex messages. In this picture, the holder is retracted and snapped to the top of the unit for shipment. It would appear that the creators felt that the cryptographicsecurity of the Fialka was sufficient to allow for longer messages than were allowed on the Enigma.
This Fialka unit has support for both the Cyrillic alphabet as well as the Latin alphabet. It also has punctuation marks and numbers which is a major improvement over the Enigma and NEMA. If you look at the right side of the machine, you'll see a red and a blue button. The blue button starts the process of reading in punched paper tape, and the red button stops that process. Just below them on the front of the machine is the paper reading mechanism. A small snap at the top of that mechanism causes the cover to pop open, exposing the read head. An operator would insert the start of the encoded message, and close the cover. Assuming everything was set up correctly, the operator would only need to push the blue button, and the machine would read in the ciphertext, and character by character it would decrypt the message and print the cleartext on the internal printer.
The button protruding from the left-front of the device clears then character counter when pressed.
On the left-side of the unit is a slide-out drawer which houses a punch card reader. This card and card reader served the same purpose as the Enigma's Steckerbrett. The operator would place the daily key set up punch card into the reader, and the resulting effect is that certain keys would be swapped, increasing the cryptographic security of the message. The operator would only need to insert the card at the start of the work day. Compare that level of effort with the process of using patch panels on the Enigma's Steckerboard. In addition to being simpler to enable the day's setting, it's likely that mistakes in key setup would also be greatly reduced.
It's interesting to note that the Fialka rotors step much more often than the Enigma rotors do. Even more interesting is the fact that a Fialka rotor will step in the opposite direction of its neighbors! These improvements make it much harder to break the Fialka cipher.
To further strengthen the cipher the designers introduced adjustable rotors in 1978 which could be modified in the field. For example, the core wiring mechanism for one rotor could be swapped with another.
The Fialka and power supply are quite heavy, together weighing over 50lbs (23kg). This is a very sturdy piece of equipment and must have been quite difficult to move around. M-209 were designed with field-use in mind even under difficult conditions. The back of the cover has metal skids which become the bottom of the machine when the unit is held by the carrying strap.I would imagine that it would be better suited for an office environment than field work. Other devices like the
The Enigma and NEMA both were used inside their carrying cases. An operator would unhook the front latch and open the cover, which was hinged on the back. Both of these other cases could be opened half-way, which made it easier to see the light-bulbs in the daylight. However, the cover to the Fialka comes off completely. Four snaps hold the cover in place for shipping, and when unhooked the cover comes off straight up.
Inside the cover, you'll find a number of important components:
Some (perhaps all?) Fialka machines also shipped with a canvas pouch filled with a set of tools. These are extremely rare. Presumably most were destroyed.
Here we see the inside of the lid, with the spare rotors in the upper-left corner, the chad box below it, and the paper tape spool (upside down) to the right. If you enlarge the picture, you will also see the hand crank in the upper-right corner.
Here the paper spool has been unsnapped and lifted. The test reflectors are also more visible in the upper-right corner. The paper spool can dispense either standard teletype paper (17.5mm) or smaller punch tape, as is used in the M-209 (10mm). There are two rubber rollers, one for each of these paper sizes, to guide the paper tape to the Fialka.
They really did seem to think of everything!
The Fialka has several superior features to the Enigma. One of these features is that it sends its output to paper tape rather than simply lighting up light bulbs. That means a single operator can easily encrypt or decrypt a message simply by typing the clear-text or the cipher-text in front of him.Enigma was best used by two people: one who would press the keys, and the other who would write down the letters that lit up. Touch typing is not really possible on the Enigma because of the long distance each key must travel to complete the operation, and because it takes time to see which buld is illuminated in order to transcribe it. Touch typing is much more likely on the Fialka. Another improvement is that operators have the option of not only outputting printed characters, but they can also opt to have the output punched on the tape. This image shows an example of some text which hs been encrypted, with the output both printed and punched out. Note that the punched holes punch right through the paper tape, making it hard to read.
Not only can the Fialka punch holes, but it can read punched paper tape as well. Resetting the rotors to their original position, and running the tape through the tape reader will prints the original cleartext message.This is an amazing feature, and surely would have reduced the transmission error rate in addition to reducing the time to decrypt a message. However, for those cases where it was important to send the transmission over the air, or over wire, I wonder if there was a device which could read this punched paper tape and transmit something like Morse Code to a recipient.
Copyright © 1998-2010 Bob Lord.