Canadian says he unraveled WWII pigeon code

December 17, 2012 by Nancy Owano report
UK codebreakers stumped by WWII pigeon message

(—British intelligence officials were baffled last month by a secret World War II message which a man had discovered on the leg of a dead pigeon when renovating his chimney in Surrey, England. He had found pigeon parts including a leg to which was attached a paper of character-string code, in the form of 27 handwritten blocks. Now they are being told by a Canadian researcher that they can stop scratching their heads. He said he has figured out most of it. What he was unable to crack was possibly parts deliberately planted to dupe the German enemies if they got hold of the note.

Britain used some 250,000 pigeons as its messengers during the war. The National Pigeon Service was a squadron of 250,000 birds flying at speeds of 80 mph, covering thousands of miles using their to get their messenger jobs done. The Surrey discoverer handed the paper over to GCHQ.

Codebreakers determined that the message handed over to them was impossible to crack without its code book, as code books and computers were destroyed after the war, and they were convinced the message would be impossible to decrypt without reference to the original cryptographic material. Without access to the relevant code books and details of any additional encryption used, the message would remain impossible to decrypt, a spokesman said.

The latest news is that the Canadian, Gord Young of Peterborough, Ontario, now believes he has the answer, nonetheless. The puzzle took him 17 minutes to figure out, with the aid of a book that he inherited, according to the BBC. He used his great-uncle's Royal Flying Corp [92 Sqd-Canadian] aerial observers' book to piece out the message.

Young said the note utilized a simple code to detail German troop positions in Normandy. The note was written by a Lancashire fusilier who had been parachute-dropped into Normandy with pigeons to report on German positions. The man was killed a few weeks later.

Young said that the short form relied mostly on acronyms, most of which he unraveled. "The message is indeed breakable."

The message told RAF officers what the situation was on the ground after being parachuted behind enemy lines. Some sample portions of the message were said to read: "Artillery observer at 'K' Sector, Normandy…Final note [confirming] Found Jerry's whereabouts… Panzer attack - blitz. Know [where] local dispatch station."

Young is the editor of a local history group, the Lakefield Heritage Research, which has a collection of photocopies and other forms of information related to Peterborough's history, from both city and county.

Explore further: UK codebreakers stumped by WWII pigeon message

More information: via BBC

Related Stories

Japan mini-satellite to flash code from space

October 5, 2012

A palm-sized Japanese satellite in orbit around Earth will flash a Morse code message that will be visible around the world from next month, the mission commander said Friday.

Air Force grant to tighten online encryption

December 14, 2009

( -- Computer scientist Rafael Pass is seeking new approaches to cryptographic security with a $600,000, five-year grant from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

GSM system about to be compromised

December 8, 2009

( -- Research scientists in California and elsewhere are deliberately setting out to compromise the mobile phone system used by around three billion people. The system uses Global System for Mobile communications ...

Computer scientist cracks mysterious 'Copiale Cipher'

October 25, 2011

The manuscript seems straight out of fiction: a strange handwritten message in abstract symbols and Roman letters meticulously covering 105 yellowing pages, hidden in the depths of an academic archive.

Recommended for you

The wet road to fast and stable batteries

December 14, 2017

An international team of scientists—including several researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory—has discovered an anode battery material with superfast charging and stable operation ...

US faces moment of truth on 'net neutrality'

December 14, 2017

The acrimonious battle over "net neutrality" in America comes to a head Thursday with a US agency set to vote to roll back rules enacted two years earlier aimed at preventing a "two-speed" internet.


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

3 / 5 (2) Dec 17, 2012
Young interprets AOAKN as "Artillery Observer At K Sector, Normandy", yet the message both begins and ends with this same block... given Mr Young's working hypothesis that acronyms were used to "keep it short and sweet", why this apparent repetition?
1 / 5 (3) Dec 17, 2012
People are stupid.

Multi-alphabet encryption exists, and some relatively simple, yet hard to break methods exist.

They can be memorized. Why people find a hard time believing that, I just don't know.


What idiot would code military communications with an acronym?

The germans used a multi-substitution, transposition, re-substitution algorithm, part of which is actually mentioned in World Book Encyclopedia.

Does anyone really think somebody broke a code with acronyms that professional military code breakers couldn't break?!
1 / 5 (4) Dec 17, 2012
With all due respect...who is this that claims to be a cryptographer? His contrived decryption betrays the fact that he knows NOTHING about any kind of basic historic, cryptologic systems...sorry...dead wrong on all counts.
1 / 5 (1) Dec 18, 2012
Color me skeptical. Acronym 'codes' are far too unspecific for the urgent needs of wartime.
not rated yet Jan 10, 2013
What idiot would code military communications with an acronym?

The only codes not broken in world war II used a variant of native american languages.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.