Amateur Historian Cracks WWI Pigeon Code
December 17, 2012

Amateur Historian Cracks Lost WWI Carrier Pigeon Code

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

A World War II message found in a fireplace attached to the remains of a dead carrier pigeon is believed to have been decrypted.

A Canadian World War II enthusiast says that he has deciphered the message after realizing that a code book held the key to the encryption. Gord Young, editor for the history group Lakefield Heritage Research, says the 1944 note uses a simple World War I code to give information about German troop positions in the area around Normandy, France.

The 74-year-old David Martin first uncovered the message when he was renovating the chimney of his house in the village of Bletchingley in Surrey, England.

During his renovation, he found the remains of a dead pigeon, along with a leg that had a red canister still attached. Once he cracked open the canister, he found a thin piece of paper with the words "Pigeon of Service," along with handwritten encrypted codes.

According to the BBC, Britain's top code breakers at the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) obtained the message at the beginning of November but were unsuccessful at cracking the code.

The British agency told BBC that they were convinced the message was impossible to decrypt, but did confirm that they would take a look at Young's solution.

"We stand by our statement of 22 November 2012 that without access to the relevant codebooks and details of any additional encryption used, the message will remain impossible to decrypt," a GCHQ spokesman told BBC.

"Similarly it is also impossible to verify any proposed solutions, but those put forward without reference to the original cryptographic material are unlikely to be correct."

Young, however, said that the code is not complex, and that people who are trying to decrypt it are "over thinking."

The code, according to Young's account, belonged to 27-year-old Sgt William Scott, who was placed in Normandy to report on German positions. Scott was killed a few weeks later and  buried in a Normandy war cemetery.

Around 250,000 carrier pigeons were used during World War II, and Young said that Scott would've sent out two pigeons to ensure that the information made it through enemy lines and arrived back in England.

He hinted that it was pretty obvious that the peculiar spellings and heavy use of acronyms indicate that Scott was trained during World War I.

"You will see the World War I artillery acronyms are shorter, but, that is because, you have to remember, that, the primitive radio-transmitters that sent the Morse code were run by batteries, and, those didn't last much more than a half-hour tops, probably less," Young told BBC.

According to Young, the decrypted message reads:

"Artillery observer at 'K' Sector, Normandy. Requested headquarters supplement report. Panzer attack - blitz. West Artillery Observer Tracking Attack.

"Lt Knows extra guns are here. Know where local dispatch station is. Determined where Jerry's headquarters front posts. Right battery headquarters right here.

"Found headquarters infantry right here. Final note, confirming, found Jerry's whereabouts. Go over field notes. Counter measures against Panzers not working.

"Jerry's right battery central headquarters here. Artillery observer at 'K' sector Normandy. Mortar, infantry attack panzers.

"Hit Jerry's Right or Reserve Battery Here. Already know electrical engineers headquarters. Troops, panzers, batteries, engineers, here. Final note known to headquarters."

Young said that more deciphering is required still, but that extra bits of code could have been inserted into the text to confuse the enemy.