World War II codes baffle government after carrier pigeon skeleton find

By Culture24 Reporter | 23 November 2012
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A black and white photo of a carrier pigeon on top of a roof outdoors
A carrier pigeon clue could allow experts to decipher World War II codes
David Martin’s discovery of the skeleton of a carrier pigeon, trapped in the chimney of his house in Bletchingley, Surrey, had given government experts hope of deciphering some of the messages famously sent on wings during World War II.

But a handwritten message on a small sheet of paper found in a canister next to the pigeon’s leg, headed “Pigeon Service”, has only led to frustration after codebreakers decided the note could not be contextualised.

A lack of “vital information” – such as the date, the meaning of the X02 destination in the message and the sender’s signature, thought to read “Sjt W Stot” – has left investigators baffled.

They believe the words correspond to a set of 27 established five-letter code groups, but a lack of codebooks and extra encryption details means the message is unlikely to ever be understood.

The pigeon itself has been narrowed down to one of two birds, and the curator of Bletchley Park’s Pigeon Museum is now attempting to trace their identity numbers.

Around 250,000 pigeons were used by all arms of the services during the conflict, defying enemy hawk patrols and sky-watching soldiers to provide information for organisations including the Special Operations Executive.

A statement from the Government Communications Headquarters said: “Although it is disappointing that we cannot yet read the message brought back by a brave carrier pigeon, it is a tribute to the skills of the wartime code-makers that, despite working under severe pressure, they devised a code that was undecipherable both then and now.”
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