London — A World War II code found on the leg of a dead pigeon stuck in a chimney may never be broken, a British intelligence agency said Friday.
The code was found by a man in Surrey, in southern England, while he was cleaning at his fireplace.
The message, a series of 27 groups of five letters each, was inside a red canister attached to the pigeon’s leg. Code breakers from Britain’s main electronic intelligence-gathering agency, Government Communications Headquarters, have been stumped by the message.
An agency spokesman said, “Without access to the relevant code books and details of any additional encryption used, it will remain impossible to decrypt.”
According to GCHQ, one of Britain’s three intelligence agencies, the message is consistent with the use of code books to translate messages which were then encrypted.
Without knowing who the sender, “Sjt W Stot,” is or the intended destination, “X02,” the code is extremely difficult to decipher.
There is a slim chance that a code book or encryption system, which should have been destroyed, may still exist.
An agency spokesman said it was “disappointing” that the message brought back by a “brave” carrier pigeon could not be read.
The curator at the Pigeon Museum at Bletchley Park, north of London, is also trying to trace the identity of the numbers of the pigeon found in the message. The museum was Britain’s main code-breaking center during World War II.
Flying at speeds of up to 50 mph, pigeons were used extensively during the war to carry vital information from mainland Europe to Britain. They could travel distances of up to 620 miles, but were vulnerable to hungry hawks or bored soldiers who used to shoot at them.