Can anyone crack the pigeon's wartime code?

Dasha Afanasieva
Reuters Middle East

LONDON, Nov 23 (Reuters) - A World War Two code found

strapped to the leg of a dead pigeon stuck in a chimney for the

last 70 years may never be broken, a British intelligence agency

said on Friday.

The bird was found by a man in Surrey, southern England

while he was cleaning out a disused fireplace at his home

earlier this month.

The message, a series of 27 groups of five letters each, was

inside a red canister attached to the pigeon's leg bone and has

stumped code-breakers from Government Communications

Headquarters (GCHQ), Britain's main electronic

intelligence-gathering agency.

"Without access to the relevant codebooks and details of any

additional encryption used, it will remain impossible to

decrypt," a GCHQ spokesman said.

The message is consistent with the use of code books to

translate messages which were then encrypted, according to GCHQ,

one of Britain's three intelligence agencies.

However without knowing who the sender, "Sjt W Stot", is or

the intended destination, given as "X02", it is extremely

difficult to decipher the code, GCHQ said.

Although the code books and encryption systems used should

have been destroyed, there is a small chance that one exists


A spokesman for GCHQ said it was "disappointing" that the

message brought back by a "brave" carrier pigeon cannot be read.

He added: "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."

The Curator of the Pigeon Museum at Bletchley Park, north of

London, Britain's main code-breaking centre during World War

Two, is also trying to trace the identity numbers of the pigeon

found in the message, according to GCHQ.

Pigeons were used extensively in the war to carry vital

information to Britain from mainland Europe. Flying at speeds of

up to 80 km per hour, they can travel distances of up to 1,000

km but were vulnerable to hungry hawks and bored soldiers who

used to take pot-shots at them as they flew overhead.

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