WWII Carrier Pigeon Message Stumps Experts
November 28, 2012

D-Day Pigeon’s Message May Never Be Deciphered: Experts Say

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

A coded message found attached to the remains of a D-Day military carrier pigeon may never be decoded, Britain´s top code-breakers say.

The pigeon's skeleton was discovered in 1982 in the chimney of a 17th-century home in Surrey when the homeowner, a retired British probation officer named David Martin, was renovating the fireplace.

The hand-written message was found in a red capsule still attached to the pigeon's leg bone. Inside the cylinder was a coded, handwritten message with the words “Pigeon Service” at the top of the small sheet of paper.

The “Pigeon Service” title indicates the bird assisted Allied Forces during World War II.

However, Britain´s code-breakers had other priorities in 1982, such as the 74-day Falklands War in Argentina.

But Martin´s discovery attracted attention from other pigeon aficionados, who began an initiative that ultimately persuaded Britain´s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) to take another look at the code.

The organization released a statement about the matter last week, saying they believed the message was created using a one-time pad – a method of encryption that is extremely difficult to decrypt without knowledge of the key.

“Unfortunately, much of the vital information that would indicate the context of the message is missing,” the GCHQ said.

“This means that without access to the relevant codebooks and details of any additional encryption used, it will remain impossible to decrypt.”

The GCHQ said it was able to obtain a partial decryption of the note´s sender — “Sjt. W Swot,” and its code-named recipient “xo2,” which is believed to be British Bomber Command, according to the New York Times.

But some pigeon enthusiasts are suspicious of GCHQ´s findings, given the location of Martin´s residence – just five miles east of the headquarters of Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, commander of Allied ground forces during D-Day, and directly between the Normandy beaches and the renowned code-breaking center of Bletchley Park, which is thought to have held a MI6 pigeon loft.

“I think there´s something about that message that is either sensitive or does not reflect well on British special forces operating behind enemy lines in wartime France,” Martin told the Times.

“I´m convinced that it´s an important message and a secret message.”

GCHQ analysts were puzzled at the reaction.

”We didn´t really hold out any hopes we would be able to read the message,” a GCHQ historian named Tony, who requested his last name not be given, told BBC News.

“Unless you get rather more idea than we have of who actually sent this message and who it was sent to we are not going to find out what the underlying code being used was.”

The GCHQ source told BBC News the code would remain unknown unless someone in the public comes forward with information to help identify the sender.

“There are still quite a lot of people alive who worked in communications centers during the war and who might have some knowledge about this,” he said.

“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.”