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Having also read up on the multitude of Army ciphers used in WW2 at the NA, I’m 99% certain how the structure of the wrapper around the cipher was contructed. But as we will see with Lance Serjeant Stout, this is the only day he could have sent it…
Firstly, whatever system was employed for the cipher itself, the AOAKN letter group (which appears at the start and at the end of the message) is very likely an obfuscated or enciphered key reference for the message as a whole. though not quite as simply as you might expect from his gravestone.
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I spent last Saturday at the National Archives in Kew, accompanied by fellow programmer Stu Rutter who is just as fascinated by the whole pigeon cipher mystery as I am.
Between us we did a kind of “Extreme Programming” two-man research team thing, where every time one found something unexpected or cool or had an insight, he would call the other over to see, or we’d both go downstairs to the café and discuss where we’d got to over a sandwich or whatever ().
I’ll divide the overall argument down into a series of individual steps so that any passing Army historian who wants to take me to task over any detail can do so nice and easily.
🙂 I was already pretty sure of this: when I looked up all the “A Smith”s in the armed forces, every single “Serjeant” [with a ‘j’] was in the British Army.
But what emerged at the National Archives were two widely-distributed pigeon-related documents (one from 1941, the other from 29th Jan 1944) that made it absolutely clear what different colour pigeon-carried canisters meant: * Red = US Forces + British Army * Blue = US Forces + British RAF * Blue with coloured disk = British RAF * Blue with white patch = RAF * Red with coloured disk = British Special Service * Grey = British Special Service * Green = British Special Service * Black = British Civil Police * Yellow = British Commercial Hence our dead pigeon was an Army pigeon; or (to be more precise) a NURP pigeon commandeered by the British Army.
Knowing for sure that we’re looking at an Army message helps us narrow down the list of suspects to (I’m quite certain) one and only one individual – Lance Serjeant William Stout of 253rd Field Company of the Royal Engineers (as predicted here before), whose war grave says he died on 6th June 1944, the day better known as D-Day. I’m 99% certain that the “” (released) in French, and hence it seems overwhelmingly likely to me that the pigeon was released in France.
But because there were no Royal Engineers at all in France (or indeed in Holland or Belgium) between the Dunkirk Evacuation (27th May 1940 – 4th June 1940) and D-Day (6th June 1944), the pigeon can therefore only have been sent either on or before 4th June 1940, or on or after 6th June 1944.
This gives us two “bubbles” of historical possibility to consider, the first ending with Dunkirk, the second starting on D-Day.