Possible Decryption of World War II Pigeon Message

A Canadian claims that the message is based on a WWII codebook. A spokesman from GCHQ remains dubious, but says they'll be happy to look at the proposed solution.

EDITED TO ADD (1/14): The backstory. Skepticism about the alleged deciphering.

Posted on December 17, 2012 at 12:39 PM • 19 Comments

Comments

BrythonDecember 17, 2012 1:06 PM

The bits of the "solution" published by the BBC, at least, look extremely dubious, like the guy is just making up sentences whose words each begin with the letters of a group. So apparently CMPNW means "Counter Measures [against] Panzers Not Working", rather than any of the other thousands of sentences with those initials, and Mr Young knows this because he's seen an unrelated code book written before Panzers even existed.

Frankly, it's depressing that the press are swallowing this nonsense so uncritically.

Dave WalkerDecember 17, 2012 1:30 PM

I'm also sceptical. While tanks were introduced on both sides during WWI, and it appears that German ones were referred to as Panzers back then, I'm not sure the colloquialism "Jerry" was applied to German soldiers until WWII. To my eye, the short, fixed-length letter groupings make me think "one-time pad".

Chris SDecember 17, 2012 1:47 PM

Well, if that was the only evidence, I'd be skeptical, too.

However, the Canadian (articles identify him as Gord Young from near Peterborough) claims to have used a code book.

In this sense, incidentally, it is maybe better to say the message was "decoded" rather than "decrypted".

If he did use a code book, then that piece of physical evidence would go a very long way to validating this claim.

pavelDecember 17, 2012 1:49 PM

It looks exactly like a one-time pad cipher. The guy even considers one of the letter blocks to be six letters, when it's clearly five (The U looks like an LI, I guess, if you're not paying attention.)

curiousDecember 17, 2012 1:57 PM

The message itself looks like a code book, 26 blocks of chars for the alfabet + 1 block as possible checkblock, +additional instructions which variation to use (the numbers)

''code'' would come out as FNFJUAREEQYIDDCRQSXR

i bet this is too simple though :p

emzedDecember 17, 2012 2:22 PM

So, it’s the alleged decrypter’s contention that it isn’t a code at all, but a clear text transmission composed of abbreviations that all happened to be exactly five characters long? What are the odds of that? A frequency analysis of the letters shows a nearly even distribution –half of the letters in the alphabet appear between 4 and 6 times. Abbreviations would reflect the frequency that the letters start words. Even allowing for a creative military, I’d say there’re too many Js, Ks, Vs, and Zs for this to be plausibly plain-text abbreviations. GCHQ is being far too charitable and the BBC just can’t resist a good story, however absurd.

In WWII and afterward, I believe it was common for encrypted messages to be broken into 5-character blocks regardless of word length in order to ease manual decryption. The frequency analysis is consistent with polyalphabetic substitution encryption, such as you get with a one-time pad, Enigma-type machine, or Vigenère cipher. The latter two can be broken, but it’s difficult, to say the least, without a longer text and/or more information about the circumstances of the message (e.g., to do a known plaintext attack). The latter is the kind of kind help the public could provide GCHQ.

Evan HarperDecember 17, 2012 2:37 PM

Sure, it just happens to be written in the cipherer's traditional five-letter groups and to have a uniform letter frequency distribution, but really it's a series of bizarre IM-style nonce abbreviations for semi-grammatical sentences that don't make a great deal of sense in context anyway. Color me convinced.

the_pigeonDecember 17, 2012 3:21 PM

I'm sorry, but the fact that this is getting so much attention is absolutely laughable. This is just a bunch of random nonsensical abbreviations which the author has made up to fit the cipher-text.

BobDecember 17, 2012 3:23 PM

Looks like a code, vice cypher. Had a laugh at the strained interpretation of the digits at the end. '27' is the group count. My guess on 1525/6 is "station number 1525, message 6", but without more messages, it's impossible to tell.

Bob TDecember 17, 2012 4:14 PM

@emzed

Also, he wouldn't say that he knows where the German HQ and Panzers were without saying where they were.

Clive RobinsonDecember 17, 2012 4:38 PM

@ emzed,

In WWII and afterward, I believe it was common for encrypted messages to be broken into 5 character blocks regardless of word length in order to ease manual decryption

No that's not the reason at all.

The five charecters result from the use of "commercial codes" to save considerable sums of money back in the late Victorian era (the A.B.C. Tlegraphic code being the most common).

Just like diplomatic and military. codes befor them the codes were used to compress sstandard sentences inot "words" (which was the basic chargeable unit).

You can read more of the history at,

http://people.eku.edu/styere/Encrypt/ABC4/...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/...

FigureitoutDecember 17, 2012 5:51 PM

It seems odd that Stott died when he was 27, it may have been June 27th, and there are 27 blocks of text; surely just coincidence. I don't understand why a WWI book would be used for WWII, seems a little sloppy for the military.

Here's what Mr. Young wrote PM of UK.

AOAKN -Artillery Observer At "K" Sector, Normandy.
RQXSR -Requested [Head] Quaters Supplement Report
PABLIZ -Panzer Attack - Blitz (Error pointed out by pavel, should be PABUZ)
NLXKG -Now loading [e] X [tra] {sector] "K" Guns
WAOTA -West Artillery Observer Tracking Attack
LKXGH -Lt. Knows [that] (e) X [tra] Guns [are] Here [Some Brits Artillery or Infantry Officer might be withhim. Now or with the other observer. In any case, the Lt.has been in touch somehow....maybe by his own courier dog.]
KLDTS -Know [where] Local Dispatch Station [is]
HVPKD -Have Panzers [in] "K" [sector] Determined
DJHFP -Determined Jerry's Headquarters Front Posts
Missing WYYNP and MEMKK
RBQRH -Right Battery [Head] Quarters Right Here
Missing RGGHT
FQIRW -Found [head] Quarters Infantry Right Wing
FNFJW -Final Note [confirming] Found Jerry's Whereabouts
GOVFN -Go Over Field Notes [this is the same short form as WW-1] Stott is asking UK to compare this note tohis "drop note" and his "noon note"
CMPNW -Counter Measures [against] Panzers Not Working
Missing ONOIB
JRZCQ -Jerry's Right Battery Central [Head]Quarters [here]
DJOFM -could be "Determined Jerry's Other Field Mortars
AOAKN -Artillery Observer at "K'-sector, Normandy Stott is confirming he sent the above information to UK'sXO2 operator and not the Germans.
YIDDC -Yanks Infantry Division [now in] Direct Contact
MIAPX -Mortar, Infantry Attack Panzers eXtra. Stott is probably telling England that they are attacking Panzersseparated from the main body of tanks.
HJRZH -Hit Jerry's Right or [Reserve] Battery HereOR - Hit Jerry's Right or [Reserve] Battery Headquarters
AKEEQ -Already Know Electrical Engineers [head] Quarters
TPZEH -Troops, Panzers, Batteries, Engineers, Here
FNKTO -Final Note Known To [head]Quarters [here implied]
27 / 1526 / 6 [June 27th @ 1526 hours or 3:26pm]

PaeniteoDecember 17, 2012 5:52 PM

@pavel: "It looks exactly like a one-time pad cipher."

You are telling us that you have found a distinguishing attack against one-time-pads just by possibly *looking* at one? ;-)

CooDecember 17, 2012 6:34 PM

Hey guys I think I cracked the missing groups.

WYYNP - Working [with] Yanks Yesterday, No Progress
MEMKK - Missing Engineers Many Killed [in sector] K
RGGHT - Regimental Guards Got Hitler's Telephone [number]
ONOIB - Oh NO I'm [a] Bird

kingsnakeDecember 18, 2012 7:20 AM

I wonder what the Mayans have to say about this. Or Nostradamus.

Anyway ... Like Leo Marks, "The Gold Bug" was also the story that got me interested in the subject. (Though in my case I never kept up the childhood passion.)

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