WWII code experts called in to help solve mystery of the pigeon’s foot
GCHQ turn to Bletchley Park veterans for help with D-Day cipher
Friday 23 November 2012
Britain’s top code-breakers have appealed for public help to crack a secret Second World War code found attached to the leg of a dead pigeon.
The message was discovered by David Martin after he ripped out a fireplace and found the bird’s skeleton while renovating his house in Bletchingley, Surrey.
Historians believe the pigeon was almost certainly dispatched from Nazi-occupied France during the D-Day invasions of 6 June 1944. Attached to its leg was a red canister and a piece of paper headed “Pigeon Service”, with 27 handwritten blocks of code in the canister.
The mysterious message was passed to Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in Cheltenham, in the hope that its codebreakers could decipher the words.
But GCHQ’s experts say they are unable to unravel the puzzle without knowing more about the cryptographic context in which it was sent. They have now appealed to retired codebreakers who worked at GCHQ’s predecessor, Bletchley Park, and others who may have worked in military signals during the war to offer their expertise.
Those who are still alive are likely to be in their nineties but their memories may be sharp enough to recognise the type of code used, and explain how it could be deciphered.
Experts believe it could be a one-off encryption for which only the sender and the recipient would have had a key, rendering it almost certainly unbreakable, or that it was based on a specific codebook for a particular operation. If the codebook has since been destroyed, that would also make the cipher virtually unbreakable.
More than 250,000 carrier pigeons were used as secret messengers in the Second World War and each had an identity number. There are two pigeon identification numbers in the message – NURP.40.TW.194 and NURP.37.OK.76 –but it is unclear which one relates to the bird in the chimney.
A GCHQ historian told the BBC: “There are still quite a lot of people alive who worked in communications centres during the war and who might have some knowledge about this and it would be very interesting if anyone did have information if they could put it in the pot and we could see if we could get any further with it.”
The only part of the message that has been deciphered is that of its intended destination – that of Bomber Command, referred to as XO2, while the sender’s signature at the bottom of the message read Serjeant W Stot.
The spelling of “Serjeant” is thought to be significant, as the RAF used “j” while the Army used “g”. It is thought the bird’s destination was Bletchley Park, 80 miles from Mr Martin’s home. The Royal Pigeon Racing Association believes the bird probably either got lost, disorientated in bad weather, or was exhausted after a long journey.
Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas
- 2 Scottish independence: Learn from Quebec's mistakes and beware of promises. Vote Yes.
- 3 A bottle of wine a day is not bad for you and abstaining is worse than drinking, scientist claims
- 4 Revealed after 75 years of secrecy: 'Fifi' the glamorous WW2 special agent who tested British spies' resolve
- 5 Hitler’s former food taster reveals the horrors of the Wolf’s Lair
Thailand beach murders: Thai PM suggests 'attractive' female tourists cannot expect to be safe wearing bikinis
Scottish independence: Final opinion polls show undecided voters could swing result either way
Isis release 'Flames of War' video warning Obama of attacks troops could face in Iraq
Hitler’s former food taster reveals the horrors of the Wolf’s Lair
Alan Henning: British Muslim leaders unite to urge Isis to release UK hostage
Daniele Watts: Django Unchained actress detained by Los Angeles police after being mistaken for a prostitute
Scottish independence referendum: A nation divided against itself
The political class is doing what Hitler couldn’t – destroying Britain
Scottish independence: Nationalist leader Jim Sillars threatens pro-union companies with 'day of reckoning' after independence
Portuguese academic says British are 'filthy, violent and drunk'
Scottish independence: David Cameron is becoming the 'George Bush of Britain'
£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Are you QTS qualified and availa...
£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Long term Math Post - potentiall...
Negotiable: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education is currently recruitin...
Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: Description Randstad Education i...