WW2 code found on a dead carrier pigeon in a chimney:

Discussion in 'World War 2' started by teamrose, Nov 27, 2012.

  1. teamrose

    teamrose Member

    Experts at intelligence agency GCHQ have asked for help in de-coding a message found attached to a pigeon leg, thought to date back to WWII.
    The dead bird was found in a chimney in Surrey a few weeks ago.
    But without more information, the code may never be cracked, according to the BBC's security correspondent Gordon Corera.
    The code is as follows:
    KLDTS FQIRW AOAKN 27 1525/6
  2. Kiamoko

    Kiamoko Member

    Interesting stuff. It is strange how we are still turning things up from so long ago that could be significant or not. I am very curious to see if this is ever decoded and if so would it have mattered if it had been found earlier. Thank you again for posting this!
  3. teamrose

    teamrose Member

    You are right. What could have changed the outcome of human events if the code had been known. Perhaps Hitler never would have gotten all that power. Maybe America never would have entered the fray. Maybe thousands of lives could have been saved. Inquiring minds want to know.
  4. Steed

    Steed Member

    I believe the bird was sent back from Normandy during the weeks following D-Day, so if the message had been deciphered as planned it could only have had an impact on events after June 1944.

    What surprises me is that the secret agents never kept copies of their codes for future posterity to be used in exactly this type of situation.

    Anybody ever heard of Samuel Pepys? He wrote the most amazing diaries in code, describing London 1660-1700 approx., so he saw the Great Plague, the Great Fire, met Isaac Newton, saw the new product called "tea" etc. Trouble was that nobody could read the encoded volumes and volumes for centuries until the penny dropped: he had been Secretary to the Admiralty and was using the 1660 naval code!
  5. SabraO

    SabraO New Member

    What surprises me is that the secret agents never kept copies of their codes for future posterity to be used in exactly this type of situation.

    That would, unfortunately, defeat the entire purpose of having a code to begin with. My understanding is that many of these codes were single-use-only, with both sender and recipient destroying the key immediately upon use. This makes it virtually impossible to crack any given example.
  6. Vladimir

    Vladimir Siberian Tiger

    I think the “27 1525/6″ part refers to the date and time. 27 is possibly the 27th day of a month. And i think 1525 is referring to 3:25 pm. :p
  7. Steed

    Steed Member

    I'm not an expert in cryptology but I'd tend to disagree with you SabraO (Hi and welcome BTW) that all codes were just single use between sender and recipient.
    If you were an SOE agent parachuted into occupied Europe to sabotage the Nazi war machine , and you had to use a new code every time you sent a message, you'd have to learn hundreds of codes before you even stepped onto the plane that was going to take you!

    You could get round this problem of dangerously repeating the same code by using a one-off pad based on a book. You know Ken Follett's book "The Key to Rebecca"? It's essentially a true story, the Germans were basing their one-off pad code on the popular book "Rebecca" in the Western desert campaign.

    A one-off pad system involved both sender and recipient having the same book.

    Here's one way of doing it... imagine I wanted to send this pigeon message to you and we'd both agreed on the book Rip van Winkle. I'd indicated the page at the end of my previous encrypted message, say page 64. The first letter A that we see on the pigeon's message sends us to the first letter A on page 64. That's the starting point, ok?
    Then the following letter, an O, indicates that the real letter in uncrypted English that the sender wants to send is 10 letters down from that A (O is the 10th letter in our alphabet). This 10th letter would perhaps be a P,for example, and that would be the start of the real message. The next letter in the pigeon's message was an A, and A means that the sender is telling you the next letter in the message is only 1 space from the P, maybe a U.
    Page 8 at the end would set the page for the next message.
    Sorry if I'm not explaining it too clearly! But there are many different variations of doing this code using a book, and it's impossible for the enemy to break it unless they know what book you're using.

    Vladimir, Hi and welcome to you too, you could well be right about the numbers at the end indicating the date, but they could also be an indication to the pigeon handler receiving the message in Britain, who wouldn't know the code, which government operative he/she had to deliver the message to. I don't think these numbers would be an integral part of the message, like what page to use next message in Rip Van Winkle, because that would give the Germans a start in their deciphering process.
  8. SabraO

    SabraO New Member

    I think we are actually discussing something very similar, Steed. I should know better than to post off vague recollections without looking it up first so that I can explain coherently.

    What I was speaking of, poorly, was a one-time pad. The cipher would not be memorized but printed. Sender and recipient would each have the same pad and would have previously agreed on how to use it. From there it would work similarly to what you explained (I gather it used numbers rather than letters). Key difference is once a given message is encoded and then decoded, the key text would be discarded and not used again. In theory, the individual ciphers would be impossible to break. Wikipedia's article on it seems pretty comprehensive, or at least aligns with what I've gleaned elsewhere. It seems these were used in WWII, although not frequently, and so you probably are right on the type of code actually in use with this message.

    Still, if they'd left behind the means to break the code, it really would defeat the purpose of having it.
  9. Steed

    Steed Member

    Ok SabraO, I'm with you now. Sorry for misunderstanding you before.
    You're right: if it's a one off pad, not a book like Rebecca was, then when it was discarded it's going to be impossible to break.

    I was pondering the question of exactly who would be using pigeons when radio communication would be much swifter and more practical. When troops go into battle it's kind of difficult to imagine them taking a lorryload of pigeons with them when just one radio would do much better. You can just imagine the conversation:
    "C platoon is pinned down by enemy fire coming from that farmhouse, sir. Shall I send off a pigeon asking for air support? It should be here by next Wednesday"

    So it would have to be someone outside the normal military units, who wouldn't be too worried about taking a lot of time to encrypt and send the message, then wait for the bird to get the message to Britain, possibly an hour or so away. And they would have to have access to a set of pigeons who had been brought up in London so they would fly there thinking it was their natural home. Which makes it difficult IMHO for the sender to be a clandestine agent behind enemy lines sending regular messages. How would they have access to London based pigeons?

    I just can't think of any sender who would fit that profile. Any suggestions??

    Because if we knew what type of person actually sent this message, it could point us in the direction of what type of codes they were using.

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