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Encryption Communications The Military

WW2 Pigeon Code Decrypted By Canadian? 158

Posted by timothy
from the pinned-down-send-fries-and-gravy dept.
Albanach writes "At the start of November Slashdot reported the discovery of a code, thought to be from the Second World War, found attached to the leg of a pigeon skeleton located in an English chimney. Now a Canadian by the name of Gord Young claims to have deciphered the message in less than 20 minutes. He believes that the message is comprised mostly of acronyms."
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WW2 Pigeon Code Decrypted By Canadian?

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  • Re:Well, duh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Neil_Brown (1568845) on Sunday December 16, 2012 @04:41PM (#42308491) Homepage

    Not hard to "crack" a code if you have access to the relevant code book

    It was not a "code book" in any traditional sense of the term, at least in a crypto context — the message, according to this solution, was simply heavily-abbreviated plaintext.

    It seems that "txtspk" actually originated from pigeon messaging :)

  • Re:Well, duh (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) on Sunday December 16, 2012 @04:43PM (#42308499) Journal

    Yep, "it's a bunch of acronyms", i.e. a bunch of random letters, is suspicious. Unless they line up with known shorthand, it's probably not actually decrrypted.

  • Re:Well, duh (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 16, 2012 @04:45PM (#42308509)

    This appears to be a rare case of the slashdot title and summary being more accurate than the original article. Yes, it was decrypted, not cracked.

  • Too generic (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dan East (318230) on Sunday December 16, 2012 @04:59PM (#42308569) Homepage Journal

    I don't believe this is a correct "interpretation" of the message, as it is too generic. Nothing contained in the message is of any use whatsoever. "Hit Jerry’s right or reserve battery here", "Troops, panzers, batteries, engineers, here", "Counter measures against panzers not working", "Go over field notes", "Found headquarters infantry right here"

    What good is any of that? Where is "here"? There would have to be precise coordinates or grid numbers to indicate exactly what is where.

    The other question is where would the pigeon be delivering this message to? All the way back to some headquarters in Britain is where. In that case the context of the message is even less useful, especially considering there would be a several hour delay before the message could be delivered all the way from France to Britain.

    More information on these sites, includes the various "decoded" phrases.
    http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/12/16/world-war-2-pigeon-code-cracked_n_2311364.html [huffingtonpost.co.uk]
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2248818/Hit-Jerrys-panzers--code-dead-wartime-pigeon-cracked.html [dailymail.co.uk]

  • Backronyms (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Admiral Burrito (11807) on Sunday December 16, 2012 @05:17PM (#42308621)

    I don't know about WWI/WWII acronyms but it seems unlikely that they were all exactly five letters long and had letter frequency like this (look at all those Qs, Xs, and Zs). I do know that ciphertext is usually written in groups of five letters to provide spacing without giving clues about the spacing of the plaintext. Also, there is a bit of stuff in the middle of the page below the ciphertext (cropped out of most photos), which if I remember right was used for metadata about what code was used.

    This sounds like a case of someone looking at random stuff and trying a bit too hard to make sense of it.

  • Re:Too generic (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MichaelSmith (789609) on Sunday December 16, 2012 @05:18PM (#42308623) Homepage Journal

    Maybe "here" is known to the recipient, but the sender doesn't want to include it in the message. He was sent to a location and is reporting on his findings.

  • by interval1066 (668936) on Sunday December 16, 2012 @06:33PM (#42308957) Homepage Journal
    This message, if accurate, should be easily verifiable. This part of the message is particularly telling; "Counter Measures [against] Panzers Not Working". It should be a small matter to look at some archives for D-Day's "K" sector at 3:26 on the 27th of June '44 and see if any other dispatches mention any particular counter measures against the German armor in the area failed.
  • Re:No point in... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by S.O.B. (136083) on Sunday December 16, 2012 @07:18PM (#42309207)

    Take off, eh?

  • Bullshit (Score:4, Insightful)

    by OneAhead (1495535) on Sunday December 16, 2012 @10:59PM (#42310589)
    I call bullshit on this whole story. The letter frequencies [wikipedia.org] are nicely consistent with a random OTP and woefully inconsistent with shorthand (which Mr. Young claims it is). 6 Q's, 4 X's and 4 Z's as opposed to 5 T's and 4 E's? Gee, there must have been a lot of Queens, Xylophones and Zebra's involved in that war! This alone is sufficient to sink the whole claim. And then there's the little problem that the story is shock full of holes:
    - Mr Young claims they're using WWI-era codes. What makes him think this would be tolerated, in a war in which both sides were heavily reliant on encryption and codebreaking?
    - A WWII artillery observer using carrier pigeons? Seriously??? We're talking about a very mobile war, with widely available radio equipment, and during which radar, jet engines, ballistic and guided missiles, and the atom bomb were invented. By the time the pigeon found home, the target could have moved 100miles. Yes, carrier pigeons were still used, but mainly in a backup capacity, and most certainly not for artillery observation missions.
    - Why would the official codes use "panzers" and "jerries" as opposed to "tanks" and "germans/enemy"? Also, I'm not sure the word "blitz" was colloquial in allied countries before the end of the war. And it's used in a wrong context.
    - "Counter Measures [against] Panzers Not Working?" There's so much wrong with that sentence I wouldn't know where to start. Not to mention all the other sentences he "decrypted". The guy has a lot of fantasy, I give him that.
  • by rioki (1328185) on Monday December 17, 2012 @05:03AM (#42312233) Homepage
    They do that even today. The level of encryption is determined by the value of the Information. The value of the information is determined by how long the information is useful. For example positions and orders may be not be useful after a day so no need to use encryption that takes longer to break then a day.

    Remember this is WW2 and encryption was really difficult. Either you could compute the cypher by hand and you had a high chance of error or you carried a heavy machine around that did the encryption. If you where a scout deep in enemy territory, having a bulky encryption machine is not very helpful.

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