Top British codebreakers are admitting that the recently found World War II message, found attached to the skeleton of a carrier pigeon, may never be cracked. Historians believe the bird was dispatched from Nazi-occupied France on June 6 1944, during the D-Day invasions. It is possible that its destination was the top secret Bletchley Park which is just 80 miles from the location the bird was found at.
Discovery Magazine explained how the message was found:
“Hand-written on a small sheet of paper headed “Pigeon Service,” the message was found in a red cylinder still attached to the bird’s leg bone. The pigeon’s skeleton emerged in 1982 from the chimney of 17th-century home in Bletchingley, Surrey, when the home’s current owner David Martin decided to restore the fireplace. Unseen for three decades, the message was handed last month to intelligence agents at the GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) in the hope it could be deciphered. But the 27-code cryptographic puzzle has stumped Britain’s renowned code-breakers. The experts had to admit the pigeon may have taken its secret to the grave since the coded message can’t be cracked without its codebook.”
Sent to “XO2” at 16:45, the encrypted message reads:
AOAKN HVPKD FNFJW YIDDC
RQXSR DJHFP GOVFN MIAPX
PABUZ WYYNP CMPNW HJRZH
NLXKG MEMKK ONOIB AKEEQ
WAOTA RBQRH DJOFM TPZEH
LKXGH RGGHT JRZCQ FNKTQ
KLDTS FQIRW AOAKN 27 1525/6
Signed “Sjt W Stot,” the message features two more codes at the end: NURP.40.TW.194 and NURP.37.OK.76.
Parts of the message, shown in the picture above, are known. The group of letters at the bottom indicated the bird’s origin. “NURP” stands for National Union of Racing Pigeons while the following two-digit number indicates the year the bird was registered (40 refers to 1940). The final set of numbers identified the specific pigeon and the area of the country it was from. The remainder of the message is a mystery.
Experts at Bletchley Park explained to Discover Magazine how the WWII encryption methods worked:
“During the war, the methods used to encode messages naturally needed to be as secure as possible and various methods were used. The senders would often have specialist codebooks in which each code group of four or five letters had a meaning relevant to a specific operation, allowing much information to be sent in a short message.”
The code groups in the message would then be encrypted using a one-time pad meaning, the key was used to encrypt only a single message.
“The advantage of this system is that, if used correctly, it is unbreakable as long as the key is kept secret. The disadvantage is that both the sending and receiving parties need to have access to the same key, which usually means producing and sharing a large keypad in advance.”