Dead pigeon sparks WW2 cipher mystery…

A grateful tip of the hat to Zodiac Killer Cipher Meister Dave Oranchak, for passing me a lovely little story in the Daily Mail (and now many other newspapers) about a plucky Second World War carrier pigeon found dead in a Surrey chimney. So far so mundane (there were 250,000 in the Royal Pigeon Service, and many failed to reach home): but what sets this particular one well apart was that it was carrying an enciphered message.

My transcription of the message looks like this (where there’s ambiguity, I’ve included the possibilities in square brackets, though I’d recommend sticking with the first of each set):-

AOAKN HVPKD FNFJ[W/U] YIDDC
RQXSR DJHFP GOVFN MIAPX
PABUZ WYYNP CMPNW HJRZH .
NLXKG MEMKK ONOIB A[K/R/H]EEQ
UAOTA . RBQRH DJOFM TPZEH
LKXGH RGGHT JRZCQ FNKTQ .
KLDTS GQIR[U/W] AOAKN 27 1525/6.

The first and last group (both “AOAKN”) almost certainly denote a key reference, a feature common to many cipher systems. The “27 1525/6″ bit is probably not part of the code but a military reference of some sort – I’d predict day of current month (27th) & time of day (3.25pm). It also seems vaguely possible that the dots delimit sentences, but they could just as easily be bits of dirt. icon wink Dead pigeon sparks WW2 cipher mystery... According to Geoff here, SOE started the war with poem codes (see Leo Marks’ “Between Silk And Cyanide”) moved to various double transposition systems after 1942 (Marks joined SOE in 1942), before moving to one time pads in 1943 (see Marks’ Appendix Two): so if it can be proved to be something like a Playfair cipher (as Geoff suspects from a number of repeated bigrams), a tentative date would seem to be 1942.

As for me, I’m rather taken by the poem cipher system (most famous of which was Violette Szabo’s poem: “The life that I have / Is all that I have / And the life that I have / Is yours“), which p.11 of Marks describes as:-

“An agent had to choose five words at random from his poem and give each letter of these words a number. He then used these numbers to jumble and juxtapose his clear text. To let his Home Station know which five words he had chosen, he inserted an indicator-group at the start of his message.”

Hence my guess is that “AOAKN” are the initial letters of the five words in the SOE agent’s poem which (in the early part of the war) was often by Shakespeare or even Edgar Allan Poe (though probably not “The Raven”, as no word in the first section begins with ‘K’, bah!). Furthermore, “HVPKD” could well be a nonsense five letter set (as this was one of the tricks SOE told its agents to use to improve security on what was otherwise a fairly brittle code). (Incidentally, my favourite bit of “Between Silk & Cyanide” is Chapter 20 “The Findings of the Court”, where Marks finally gets to meet his hero John Tiltman). All the same (as you’ve probably guessed), the single message was have here may well be far too small a sample to break with confidence, without some kind of historical deus ex machina to help us out. That, or a really good guess at a poem (but hopefully not the one about Charles De Gaulle). icon smile Dead pigeon sparks WW2 cipher mystery...

Anyway, back to our plucky-dead-Surrey-chimney pigeon. Below the cipher section, the transmission sheet notes that two copies were sent at “1522″ (presumably the time of day again), and there are also two markings:
* NURP 40 TW 194
* NURP 37 DK 76
It turns out that these are the reference numbers of the two pigeons (the dead one is the first one). Remember that thirty two pigeons were awarded the Dickin Medal (the animal version of the Victoria Cross) in WW2, so this was a serious business! Kenley Lass (NURP.36.JH.190) was one of the 32, as was Dutch Coast (NURP.41.A.2164), Commando (NURP.38.EGU.242), Royal Blue (NURP.40.GVIS.453), and Mary (NURP.40.WCE.249). Moreover, “NURP” stands for the “National Union of Racing Pigeons”, so these were all NURP-affiliated pigeons, as was the dead pigeon itself.

Interestingly, Royal Blue was a blue cock pigeon, owned by King George VI at his Royal Pigeon Lofts at Sandringham: hence “GVIS” was short for “George VI Sandringham”, while the “40″ means that the pigeon was entered into the database in 1940. Hence “NURP 40 TW 194″ could not have been sent before 1940, because 1940 was when its little pigeon-y war began. Also: TW would have been the reference for the pigeon’s club (perhaps Twickenham?) or individual owner. Doubtless someone at The Racing Pigeon Magazine has already worked this out, so perhaps they’re holding it back to announce at the Racing Pigeon Show in Telford on 24th November 2012, who knows? icon smile Dead pigeon sparks WW2 cipher mystery...

Yet according to the New York Times, though, pigeon NURP 40 TW 194′s remains were first found in 1982 but – according to Colin Hill, Bletchley Park’s go-to-guy for pigeon history – the mystery here is that neither pigeon’s reference number appears in any pigeon archive listing. Dnn dnn daaaaah!

Other useful information: the message was addressed to “X02″ (the code for Bomber Command) and the sender was apparently “W Stott Sjt”, i.e. Sergeant W. Stott, where the fact that Sergeant was written “Sjt” rather than “Sgt” may possibly imply that he was in the RAF (opinions differ on this). A quick database search yielded two good candidates: “Sergeant William Gordon Stott” (1232159 in RAF’s Volunteer Reserve 13 Squadron, died in 1942, buried in Beja War Cemetery, Tunisia) and “Sergeant William Leslie Stott” (508080 in the RAF, died in 1945 aged 35, buried in Chester’s Overleigh Cemetery).

I also found out the history of 13 Squadron:
* 1939 – Odiham, Hants
* October 1939 – Mons-en-Chausseé (mainly photographic reconaissance)
* May 1940 – Douai (bombing frontline troop positions)
* June 1940 – Hooton Park, Cheshire (anti-submarine patrols, Lincolnshire & Irish Sea)
* July 1941 – Odiham, Hants (dropping smoke screens to cover paratrooper drops & gliders)
* November 1942 – Blida, Algeria (bombing airfields and troop groupings)
* [???] 1943 – Protville II, Tunisia (shipping protection)
* October 1943 – Sidi Ahmed, then Sidi Amor
* December 1943 – Kabrit, Egypt
* September 1945 – Hassani
* April 1946 – squadron was disbanded.

The nice thing that has historians ooh-ing and aah-ing is that the kind of red Bakelite canister containing the message was apparently only used by SOE, the Special Operations Executive where Marks worked. Note that even though Stott’s name doesn’t appear on the list of SOE agents on the Internet, that doesn’t really mean a lot, as it is woefully incomplete.

So… what does it say? To me, the likeliest story seems to be that it was sent by an SOE agent in Douai in early 1940, using a pair of pigeons brought there by 13 Squadron, and using just the kind of poem code Leo Marks fought hard to get rid of. Yet I can’t help wondering whether the comment left by “MrEdTheTalkingHorse” on the Daily Telegraph’s webpage is correct, and that “Perhaps it was helping von Stauffenberg plot a coo.”

PS: if you don’t believe any of this, here’s a nice picture of a RAF guy with a pigeon. Aaah.

PPS: a pigeon sketch I found online (but can’t now find a link to, sorry)
Tim Brooke-Taylor: Look, a carrier pigeon with a message tied to its leg!
John Cleese: What does it say?
TBT: It says .. “this is the leg of a carrier pigeon”.
JC: Turn it over, I think there’s something written on the back!
TBT: So there is! It says .. “this is the back of a carrier pigeon”.
JC: Is that it?
TBT: No, wait, there’s a PS!
JC: What does it say?
TBT: Pssss.

PPPS: …and of course the story has been Slashdotted already. Yes, “Drink more ovaltine” gets yet another airing by a plucky flamebaiter there. Hats off to Slashdotters!

Update: for more recent Cipher Mysteries updates to this story, there is a “ring of truth” post and a dead pigeon timeline post, with highish-resolution images of the enciphered message.

67 Comments

  1. avatar Schz November 3, 2012 12:56 am

    Given the attention the internet has shown towards this puzzle, would it be possible for you to write up a brief protocol on how to attempt to ID the poem in question? I suspect a lot of eyes may have a decent chance of finding some good contenders.

  2. avatar George November 3, 2012 3:58 am

    Just FYI, the two W/U ambiguities that you mention in the cipher are unambiguous U’s. The group of letters in the 2nd column, 3rd row, and 3rd column, 3rd row have very clear W’s in them. There are also other U’s in the cipher, which match with the two U’s. It’s fairly safe to assume this person had consistent handwriting.

  3. avatar Diane O’Donovan November 3, 2012 11:59 am

    not invisible through email, evidently.

    http://www.voynichimagery.wordpress.com/

  4. avatar nickpelling November 3, 2012 1:10 pm

    Diane: email & web hosting are laws unto themselves, it would seem. Oh well!

    http://www.nickpelling.com/

  5. avatar nickpelling November 3, 2012 1:12 pm

    George: OK, thanks – all I had to go on were the images on the Daily Mail site and the (rather older & less clear) ones on the NYTimes site. So may I ask which scan or photo of the cipher you are looking at?

    http://www.nickpelling.com/

  6. avatar nickpelling November 3, 2012 1:13 pm

    Schz: good suggestion! I’ll re-read the first part of Between Silk & Cyanide and try to post what Leo Marks would have said. :-)

    http://www.nickpelling.com/

  7. avatar steve November 3, 2012 1:45 pm

    from the very consistent handwriting i would stick with this below version – also the dots are at the same distances, which highly suggests they are not dirt. the remaining ambiguity is too badly scanned, looking at the original would help – point, stroke, etc of the writing. 27 1525/6 would suggest day, time of transmission and running message number, e.g. 27th, 15h25, 6th message of that day. most people in radio etc. do hand out a message number “automatically”. also below, the time of the message was 15h22, which means it went from “someone wants to send a message” to “we encoded it (?) and sent it” within 3 minutes.
    the origin in the part is also highlighted, as if it means something. 3 minutes in regular radio comms in a hierarchically organized system is VERY fast. the person who encoded it may have been a single field agent, but it may also have been encoded on order by another person, e.g. by his liaison. dont assume sender, encoder and pigeon handler to be the same person.
    then there is the lib 1025 entry over the transmission block which was handwritten by another person, which i cannot make sense of, but looks more like structured handling of a “radio crew”. so we are possibly looking for a unit with stot beeing either the sender or encrypter, not necessarily the pigeon handler. sender may have been an executive officer or someone different also stationed in the area.

    AOAKN HVPKD FNFJU YIDDC
    RQXSR DJHFP GOVFN MIAPX
    PABUZ WYYNP CMPNW HJRZH .
    NLXKG MEMKK ONOIB A[K/R/H]EEQ
    UAOTA . RBQRH DJOFM TPZEH
    LKXGH RGGHT JRZCQ FNKTQ .
    KLDTS GQIRU AOAKN 27 1525/6.

    source of the scan used

  8. avatar Moshe Rubin November 4, 2012 6:03 am

    I believe the number “27″ found at the end is a check count (“parity check”) of the number of 5-letter code groups transmitted. This was a common first-level communications check that all the code groups sent were successfully received.

  9. avatar nickpelling November 4, 2012 12:08 pm

    Moshe: could well be, yup. I’ll be posting a little more later (spoiler: it’s probably not a poem code). :-)

    http://www.nickpelling.com/

  10. avatar Eddie November 5, 2012 2:50 am

    Were they advanced enough back then to use an algorithm capable of pseudo-random output?

    http://mattermedia.com

  11. avatar nickpelling November 5, 2012 8:17 am

    Eddie: they were certainly able to (and indeed did) generate one-time pads, though not programmatically (I believe). Leo Marks’ book ably describes how he campaigned for SOE to stop using poem codes and move to one-time pads, which SOE did in 1943. Though as I recall, many SOE messages sent nearer D-Day were formatted to resemble poem codes, basically to waste the German cryptanalysts’ time. :-)

    http://www.nickpelling.com/

  12. avatar Dave November 6, 2012 6:21 pm

    On the American side, there was an SSGT Wade Stott, Jr. who was in the 718th Field Artillery Battalion, A Battery of the 63rd Infantry. They were involved in the Battle between Jagst and Kocher rivers, April 4-12, 1945, which received air support from XII TAC.

  13. avatar Rich SantaColoma November 6, 2012 6:37 pm

    Great story! As for a “one time pad” cipher, I understand if this was used, it will be indecipherable. But I also wonder… were a set of one time pads ever kept somewhere safe? Or were all destroyed, as the satellite ones were, of course, after use?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DPAYZsDVyGc

  14. avatar Diane November 11, 2012 8:30 am

    Nick
    I daresay you’ll get a pingback anyway, but just to say I’ve mentioned you in today’s post. If there’s anything in it which you’d prefer not to be there, do let me know,won’t you?
    http://voynichimagery.wordpress.com/2012/11/11/the-infuriating-mr-pelling-and-old-coptic/

  15. avatar nickpelling November 11, 2012 8:45 am

    Diane: if it’s any consolation, my twofold plan for 2013 is (a) post more often than 2012, and (b) be more infuriating than ever. :-)

    http://www.nickpelling.com/

  16. avatar Diane November 11, 2012 10:37 am

    Post more often – excellent.

    I thought the ’40′ in the Novgorod codex might intrigue you. Or had you looked at that already, too? (emoticon = infuriated)

  17. avatar Diane November 12, 2012 10:20 pm

    Post mentioned below withdrawn – maker of one picture granted permission, but rights were not theirs, it seems.

  18. avatar Diane O’Donovan November 18, 2012 4:23 am

    Unbelievable. The fairly mundane post mentioning you has had more hits in the past week than is fair or reasonable, Nick.

    So even though there’s nothing to it which couldn’t be googled – I think I have all the necessary permissions (cross fingers) – so it’s up again.

    Unbelievable ..
    (exits, muttering, stage left).

  19. avatar Keoghly November 23, 2012 11:25 am

    The 27 is a checksum – confirms there are 27 blocks of code.

  20. avatar nickpelling November 23, 2012 11:52 am

    Keoghly: that would indeed make a lot of sense, thanks for pointing it out – but may I ask if it that’s just your inference or something you know from seeing similar WW2 messages?

    http://www.nickpelling.com/

  21. avatar Bob November 23, 2012 1:02 pm

    The 37 & 40 on the rings denotes the year the bird was ringed that’s assuming the correct year ring was used, ringing was usualy done 7 days after hatching.

  22. avatar Keoghly November 23, 2012 1:11 pm

    Hi – checksum is standard fare for crypto. 1525/6 is likely ref to one time pad/offset used.

  23. avatar Andy November 23, 2012 1:12 pm

    Nick,

    Firstly, great post and I enjoyed finding more out about this – plus I’ve also just purchased ‘Between Silk and Cyanide’ as a result!

    Just a quick question – and it may have been mentioned already – what do you read into the sentence ‘Number of copies sent” which has been marked as 2?

    Does that mean that messages are sent multiple times in case a bird doesn’t make it back (like our chimney friend)?

    Could that therefore mean that there is already a deciphered version of this note somewhere? More to the point, where they ever archived, or were they simply destroyed after the message was relayed?

    Anyway, just some thoughts!

    Thanks in advance,

    Andy

  24. avatar nickpelling November 23, 2012 2:10 pm

    Andy: yes, two pigeons were dispatched with the same top secret message, and we have both birds’ ringing references… though nobody has yet (I think) worked out who their owners were. Somebody will tell us soon, I hope!

    http://www.nickpelling.com/

  25. avatar nickpelling November 23, 2012 2:10 pm

    Bob: thanks for clarifying that, much appreciated!

    http://www.nickpelling.com/

  26. avatar nickpelling November 23, 2012 2:12 pm

    Keoghly: thanks very much again – but if you happen to find a history reference that discusses this (I don’t remember any mention from BS&S), I’m sure a lot of people [myself included] would like to see it! :-)

    http://www.nickpelling.com/

  27. avatar Tom November 23, 2012 2:38 pm

    Hi, I just happened to read today the authorities cannot decipher this code. Great!

    Thanks for the historical info. That might help.

    My first thougt’s on this :

    - 27 is as already mentioned a confirmation code (27 blocks of five letters)
    - the fourth block of the last column is not AREEQ but ARLLQ (look at the similarities with other E’s and L’s)
    - UAOTA might be the beginning of the code (because it seems to be written in bold)
    - maybe UAOTA stands for START
    - as there almost certainly is not a message of exact a factor of five letters, i believe there must be an ending in similar way. Note that three blocks have an X on the third place, which might show the end of the message. These blocks stand also in harmony (1,2 and 1,4 and 1, 6)

    So, I am very curious and hope we will find it one day.

    good luck to all

    Tom from Belgium

  28. avatar Keoghly November 23, 2012 2:55 pm

    Sorry Nick, no direct reference. Was into codes a couple of decades ago – the checksum was something that stuck in the gray matter. Interesting post though.

  29. avatar nickpelling November 23, 2012 3:17 pm

    Update: I’ve added a follow-up post, that suggests that our pigeon may have been flying back from Dieppe:-
    http://www.ciphermysteries.com/2012/11/23/dead-ww2-pigeon-a-ring-of-truth

    http://www.nickpelling.com/

  30. avatar Cassandra November 23, 2012 4:06 pm

    I found a possible photo of the sender – a “Serjeant W. Stott who is a wireless operator/air gunner. http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205211429

    Also, the fact that “serjeant” is written with a “j” implies that he was with the Royal Air Force – a fact that lines up nicely with the above photograph.

  31. avatar Cassandra November 23, 2012 4:19 pm

    Knowing more about the sender might help as well…

    Here is some possible information. A Sgt Stott is mentioned in the following link: http://www.archieraf.co.uk/archie/1037zau.html.

    The only discrepancy is the fact that we see two Sgt Stotts in the link – one mentioned as “Sgt Stott” and “Sgt Stott H H”. This is most certainly the same person in the article but not sure if it is “our” Sgt W. Stott.

    The information that matches between a previous photograph I found (URL: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205211429) is that both Stotts are air gunners.

    I thought this might be of interest b/c of the date. The Sgt Stott in this article died on or about 27th April 1942 which further suggests that your above comment about being sent in the early 1940′s is plausible.

    URL: http://www.archieraf.co.uk/archie/1037zau.html

  32. avatar nickpelling November 23, 2012 4:39 pm

    Cassandra: very nice finds, thanks! Having said that, my experience tells me that we might spend a long time trying to work out which Stott is which. The Sergeant William Gordon Stott who died in North Africa in 1942 was a pilot, whereas we don’t know what the Sergeant William Leslie Stott who died on 8th May 1945 did. He was “age 35. Son of Bertie and Mary Stott; husband of Catherine Emily Stott of Hoole”, according to http://twgpp.org/information.php?id=2047540 It may be that trying to trace his family is the best way forward here… something to think about!

    http://www.nickpelling.com/

  33. avatar Narissa Andrews November 23, 2012 4:55 pm

    Does anyone else think its one mighty coincidence that the pigeon was found in Bletchingly. The name that is rather similar to Bletchley. Its not a hoax is it?
    Look at all the place names in the UK. I believe there is 1060 towns and about 6-8 villages for every town!

  34. avatar William Stott November 23, 2012 5:01 pm

    My father was Sgt William Stott who served in North Africa and Egypt for the whole of the war as a physiotherapist.Never found out anymore details of where he was and when but I will now.It’s odd that he never came home for nearly 6 yrs.Bit far for a carrier pigeon to fly!!

    http://bill@bot.co.uk

  35. avatar nickpelling November 23, 2012 5:15 pm

    Narissa: there have been a fair few laughs in online forums about short-sighted pigeons misreading maps – Bletchley / Bletchingley etc. :-)

    http://www.nickpelling.com/

  36. avatar nickpelling November 23, 2012 5:19 pm

    William: thanks very much for leaving a comment, much appreciated! May I ask if your physiotherapist father was in the RAF during the war? The consensus seems to be that the “Sjt W Stott” on the note was probably in the RAF… though it’s entirely possible that he was in SoE, engaging a very different kind of war indeed.

    http://www.nickpelling.com/

  37. avatar narissa andrews November 23, 2012 5:31 pm

    Could both williams have worked at same place? I say this because william stott squadron 13 could have worked at hooten park but the other william was born just down the road from hooten in hoole! Another coincidence?

  38. avatar nickpelling November 23, 2012 6:05 pm

    Narissa: stranger things have happened! To be honest, I suspect that with the amount of media attention this story is getting, we may well find out precisely which “Sjt W Stott” would have been most likely to send this message before very long… fingers crossed!

    http://www.nickpelling.com/

  39. avatar Germo November 23, 2012 6:28 pm

    About the “lib” thing: could it be the time the pigeons were released? “Liberated 16:25″

  40. avatar nickpelling November 23, 2012 6:39 pm

    Germo: it’s certainly possible. For the little it’s worth, I suspect it’s more of a French hand than a British hand, so might indeed be “libéré[e]” (i.e. ‘released’). But not being a French racing pigeon specialist, I’m somewhat at a loss to judge whether this is the correct terminology or not! :-)

    http://www.nickpelling.com/

  41. avatar Tom November 23, 2012 6:48 pm

    Germo,

    about “lib 1625″ : that was also my first thought.
    But I wonder why the would write time of origin and then again time of liberation.
    So I started thinking it might be a reference to “Library 1625″,
    might be a book.
    And then there would be the possibility that you have to start in that book at a certain page, and then note every letter that commes after the A, the O, the A, the K, the N and further on…
    In that case finding the right book might be very difficult.

    good luck

    Tom from Belgium

  42. avatar narissa andrews November 23, 2012 7:29 pm

    The 1525/6 bit I think I’ve worked that out. Its not a time or a date but a log number. They sent 2 messages and these are 1525 and 1526. I’ve frequently logged things the sameway at work.

  43. avatar Germo November 23, 2012 7:31 pm

    When i look at the (color) photo of the message, it’s clearly written with 2 pencils.
    I suppose:
    - Sjt W Stot composed his message at 15:22
    - He cyphered it, and finished that at 15:25
    The message was then taken to the pigeons, where 2 pigeons were selected (NURP 40 TW 194 & NURP 37 DK 76)
    - Their ring numbers where written down, including the number of copies (2) and the “libéré[e]“-time (16:25)
    This was all written down with a second pencil, and looking at the 6 by a different writer.

  44. avatar nickpelling November 23, 2012 7:56 pm

    Germo: I just now saw the colour picture myself for the first time (as released by Bletchley Park), and what you suggest does seem perfectly sensible – I’m pretty sure all the individual pieces have been proposed separately, but it’s nice that you’ve put them altogether into a single story. :-)

    I just wish someone had access to a wartime membership list of the National Union of Racing Pigeons, so we could try to work out where the little fellow was headed… :-)

    http://www.nickpelling.com/

  45. avatar narissa andrews November 23, 2012 8:34 pm

    Just saw the colour image too. And what do you all make of those dots? There’s one by the H on 2nd block and 3 alongside the right hand margin.

  46. avatar Germo November 23, 2012 9:53 pm

    When i look carefully, I see dots at the end of each line. My guess: that’s where the writer rested its pencil when it was checking the text.
    It looks that UAOTA was corrected. That could be the reason there is also a ‘check-dot’.
    The first dot could be accounted for as the start of the message. Several sources describe that the first block (and the last) are a reference to the (de)cypher text.

  47. avatar James B in Kentucky November 24, 2012 2:57 am

    I read that many people, in the early 40′s used poems to break or create the codes.
    Poem #1525 Emily Dickinson (1525 is on the bottom right of the message)

    “He lived the Life of Ambush”

    He lived the Life of Ambush
    And went the way of Dusk
    And now against his subtle name
    There stands an Asterisk
    As confident of him as we —
    Impregnable we are —
    The whole of Immortality intrenched
    Within a star —

    I’m guessing the message is simple. They were being ordered to ambush the enemy at dusk. Maybe 6pm. The message says 1525/6

  48. avatar OneAhead November 24, 2012 4:17 am

    Two points:
    - The remaining [K/R/H] ambiguity is a K. If you take the high-resolution scan on this page and increase the contrast and decrease the brightness both by 123 (binary units as used in Gimp), it becomes very clear.
    http://thenextweb.com/insider/2012/11/23/after-weeks-of-trying-uk-cryptographers-fail-to-crack-world-war-ii-code-found-on-dead-pigeon/

    - For those of you who hope a coordinated effort may reveal what poem the sender used, I hate to burst your bubble, but there is no poem. When given a riddle like this, even an amateur cryptographer’s knee-jerk reflex would be to take a dictionary of words that are likely to occur in the unencrypted message, like “strike”, “position”, “lines”,… These words would then be subtracted from the encrypted message at every possible position. If the word actually occurs in the message at that position, the result of the subtraction will be part of the key, and if the key consists of English words, a computer program can recognize this. This method is readily available in cryptographic software and will allow any desktop computer purchased the last 5 years to completely crack the message in mere minutes. You can take it for granted that GCHQ tried this and concluded that it was encrypted with a one-time pad (mathematically proven to be impossible to crack without the key). Bearing in mind that this was encrypted using practices devised by the same institution that’s trying to decrypt it now, this conclusion can’t be difficult to reach. Furthermore, the above website says “The Curator of the Pigeon Museum at Bletchley Park is trying to trace these numbers, and if they are identified and their wartime service established, it could help to decode the message”. It think they’re currently hoping to dig up an archived code book containing the key.

  49. avatar Tom November 24, 2012 5:13 am

    thanks to germo and narissa,

    we are making progress !

    to find the picture in colour you can use this link :

    http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/pictures/2012/11/23/1353671047040/Second-world-war-pigeon-c-001.jpg

    the text is complete and readable !

  50. avatar Michael November 24, 2012 10:47 am

    What if :? ?
    Sergeant John Raymond Stott, 10 Operational Training Unit RAF. John Stott was the air gunner of Whitley bomber Z9472 which went missing on an Atlantic patrol on 21st September 1942. He was 20 and is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial, Panel 94.
    Maybe he tried to contact homebase ???

  51. avatar nickpelling November 24, 2012 11:22 am

    Michael: I think we’re all starting to think along the same lines! Check out today’s post, where I talk about the “110″ at the top and 110 Squadron…
    http://www.ciphermysteries.com/2012/11/24/dead-ww2-cipher-pigeon-timeline

    http://www.nickpelling.com/

  52. avatar Tom November 24, 2012 7:23 pm

    Hi Nick,

    thanks for the link you give. Very clear explanation.

    In the comments on that link I read something about the Tirpitz.

    Which made me start thinking of the Bismarck.

    If there is one very important event in WWII it might be the hunt for the Bismarck, the invincible ship.

    Suppose that the plane had discovered the Bismarck (or thought he had), bringing this message would to my opinion be an event that needs the disclosure and coded message that we see with the pigeon.

    Because i presume only a very very important message would be coded like this and sent with the only two pigeons they probably had on board.

    Just a thougt :)

  53. avatar xmas November 25, 2012 1:05 am

    The first two letters AOAKN is the persons initials who sent it
    the next three letters AKN maybe for the decoding machine to be used =(AKN) Anoraks

  54. avatar David Thorne-Alexander November 25, 2012 6:32 pm

    This intercept of a GERMAN message was being ferried by ill-fated pigeon from a homeland monitoring center, –a so-called “Y Station”, most likely from the RAF–, to a decoding facility downstream in the SIGINT community. At Bletchley or elsewhere. Three dozen Y Stations or so were monitoring German military communications from the UK territory or from ships at sea and relaying their quarry to decryption specialists. Thus, what we can read on paper is the verbatim retranscription of a radio message that was heard on a radio receiver by signal intelligence operator and faithfully transcribed. This explains the otherwise incongrous presence of the standard “checksum” and EOM signature, –comprising the reiteration of the header group as a last group, followed by the total number of 5-groups sent — 27 in the instance. The origin time “1522″ is the ZULU at which the monitored transmission started while the end of transmission time/date is written after the checksum “1525/6″. Taking pauses into account, this means the morse code operator using a straight key was transmitting the groups at 10wpm, a credible speed for this type of operation. I hope this helps. Greetings from rainy Montreal
    David Thorne-Alexander

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Y-stations

    I hope this helps

  55. avatar nickpelling November 25, 2012 7:27 pm

    David: certainly could be an intercept. I’ll check to see if the first ten letters encrypt “HEILH ITLER”, here’s hoping! ;-)

    http://www.nickpelling.com/

  56. avatar Shawn November 26, 2012 6:38 am

    I think this is a German field cipher. The 5 letter “words” are not words at all, but are meant to be strung together to form more complete words and sentences. They were broken into 5 letter segments for transmission purposes. You’ll find more about that here: http://www.nsa.gov/public_info/_files/cryptologic_quarterly/world_war_II.pdf

    Perhaps this message was intercepted by Sergeant Stott, then relayed to his superiors in the original German cipher?

  57. avatar Shawn November 26, 2012 7:08 am

    I failed to mention that this link (pdf file) also tells how the ciphers like this were originally broken. It will be very helpful in deciphering this message. If only I knew German…

    http://www.nsa.gov/public_info/_files/cryptologic_quarterly/world_war_II.pdf

  58. avatar Joc November 27, 2012 4:43 pm

    The one thing I did notice in the pigeon code is that the #7 does not have a line through it. Therefore, it is most certainly not French as the French write their 7′s in a different manner. It is taught to them since kindergarten to be written with a line through the middle.

  59. avatar Tony December 3, 2012 9:12 pm

    I do not have it completely solved but I believe I have enough to be confirmed. So now the question is….who do I give it to?

  60. avatar nickpelling December 3, 2012 10:16 pm

    Tony: if you want your near-solution published for everyone to check, I’d be happy to post it up here (or you could post it somewhere & send me a link, and I’ll post a link to the blog). Or if you want someone to check it first, I’d be happy to check it or can pass you a few names. Or if you want to pass it to GCHQ, I have an address for them too… basically, it’s your call. But the warning from crypto history is to be extremely careful with near-solutions, they seem to take delight in deceiving you… =:-o

    http://www.nickpelling.com/

  61. avatar Tony December 3, 2012 10:38 pm

    Nick
    I thank you and no doubt welcome and trust your advice. I have a few questions to solve as geography is not my strong point. I need to verify some data before making a fool of myself…..not that data was a requirement the last time I made a fool of myself.

  62. avatar nickpelling December 4, 2012 7:21 am

    Tony: ok, very good luck with that, and be sure to let me know when you’re done! :-)

    http://www.nickpelling.com/

  63. avatar Brainiac March 10, 2013 2:24 pm

    (w) JGHBY NUSHO MANSI RYZCT or
    (f) JGHBY NUSHO MANSU RYZCT

    Could be “by Nusho Mansur” oder “by NU SHOMANS”?

    Google the names and let me know what you think of it!

  64. avatar Brainiac March 10, 2013 3:04 pm

    or even “by Nu Shaa Manzar”?

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