Skip to content

70 year old carrier pigeon mystery almost solved — what was the urgent message to RAF Bomber Command in WW II?

3 November 2012

70 year old carrier pigeon mystery almost solved — what was the urgent message to RAF Bomber Command in WW II?


Most of the information in this post comes from a thorough article written by Mr. Alan Cowell of The New York Times. The report appeared in the 2 November 2012 issue and is entitled, “Memo from Europe: a Bird Skeleton, a Code and, Maybe, a Top Secret” — it can also be found here.


Like an Agatha Christie murder mystery novel we come into the story surprised by the appearance of a skeleton where no skeleton should be. The bones fell, one by one, from within a 17th Century home’s chimney not long ago. A scarlet colored container holding a coded message from WW II was attached to a foot and leg.

Fortunately, it was no human skeleton in the chimney but that of a carrier (homing) pigeon — 40TW194 — which died while on a mission to  deliver a message shortly after D-Day in Europe. The story begins 70 years ago when not one, but two, carrier pigeons were released to fly to the top secret homing pigeon operation at Bletchley Park — then Great Britain’s code breaking center — to deliver an as yet undeciphered message. The birds were named 40TW194 and 37DK76 and it was the remains of 40TW194 which were found — 37DK76 is listed as MIA. Since two birds were sent the message must of had special importance, likely to Bomber Command since they are thought to have been the intended recipient. Soon, the message will be decoded by staff at GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters, a British intelligence agency) so that the message can finally be read.

Carrier pigeons served military and non military forces since ancient times, even used by Reuters to deliver news, and were one of the most reliable methods to send messages quickly prior to the radio age. These faithful birds could be relied upon to fly fast and true to their home roosts. They braved weather, predators as well as enemy fire to deliver message packages weighing as much as 2½ ounces (~71 grams).

According to Cowell’s information these pigeons flew 250,000 missions during the course of WW II. Quite a record for an animal with the extraordinary gifts of flight and navigation.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: