A carrier pigeon's last wartime message has baffled the code breakers at Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the spy agency in charge of signals intelligence.
The message consists of 27 handwritten blocks of five letters each, Phys.org reports. The note was attached to a pigeon whose skeletal remains were recently found by retired probation officer David Martin while doing work on his house in Surrey, England.
The code was written on official stationery with the heading "Pigeon Service" and was discovered in a red canister attached to the bird's leg, Yahoo! reports.
Despite recent advances in cryptography, the simple message may prove indecipherable without the accompanying codebook that presumably would have been in the possession of the message's intended recipient, which is listed only as "X02" on the document.
"This means that without access to the relevant codebooks and details of any additional encryption used, it will remain impossible to decrypt," said a GCHQ spokesman, according to Yahoo!
During World War II, nearly a quarter-million carrier pigeons braved enemy hawk patrols and pot-shooting ground forces to deliver messages from various branches of the British military, including Britain’s Special Operations Executive, according to ABC News.
Stymied so far, the GCHQ has enlisted the Pigeon Museum at Bletchy Park--where mathematician Alan Turing famously helped crack German codes during the war--to trace the pigeon's identity. It is also seeking help from anyone who has information on the note's author, which is rendered in the coded message “Sjt W Stot”, or its presumed recipient, ABC reports.
"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," GCHQ historian Tony, who asked that only his first name be used, told the BBC.
According to the British news site, the best guess is that the message was sent by a unit in the middle of an operation in Europe that was on the move and unable to stop to use a radio message.
It also could have been a kind of training exercise, the BBC reports, even perhaps for D-Day.
"We have had about 50 people getting in touch since our request for help was published yesterday, mainly by email but also some phone calls," a GCHQ representative told the paper.
"They have been of varying ages, from school kids to people who were alive in the war. There have been men and women, and not just from the UK - from Holland and the USA too. They're approaching it from different angles, but no one has come through with a solution, saying this is what it definitely means, so the quest continues. It's still early days," the rep added.
This is the code in full:
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
(Picture courtesy of Lee Sanders / SWNS.com)