In a British censorship manual from WW2 two pictures containing hidden messages are displayed. Many have tried to find these messages, but up until now with no success.

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Last Friday I gave a presentation about steganography at the annual meeting of the high IQ society Mensa. For 90 minutes I talked about null ciphers, acrostics, semagrams, and other kinds of hidden messages. Most of the material was taken from my the second edition of my book Versteckte Borschaften, which will be published in a few weeks.


In my talk I mentioned the two most important unsolved steganographic mysteries I know. Both are contained in a British censorship manual from World War II. A scan of this manual, which is kept by the British National Archives (KV-2-2424), is available here for download. It’s a fascinating read. I have blogged about it a few times before. Comments from my readers helped me to better understand the examples given in the manual and to learn more about the background.


Mystery 1: A message hidden in a fashion drawing

The first unsolved mystery is displayed on page 14 of the censorship manual. In the following fashion drawing a message is hidden:


As can be read below the picture, the hidden message has two parts. The first one is (in English): “Heavy reinforcements for the enemy expected hourly”. The German original reads as follows: “Massive Feindverstärkungen werden stündlich erwartet”. This message is encoded in morse code. The dots and lines are somehow hidden in the three ladies on the top.


The second part of the message is (in English): “Before Arras.” According to the manual, it is contained in the signature – written in a French shorthand. The German original is not mentioned, but only “Vor Arras” makes sense to me. Arras is a town in Northern France.

So far, I could neither find the morse message nor the shorthand message. I even went to the British Archive in London to look at the original document and to take high resolution photographs (like the following one). It didn’t help.



Mystery 2: A message hidden in a map

The following map is displayed on page 17 of the censorship manual:


This map represents the second mystery.

As can be read below the map, the following message is hidden in it (translated to English): “Oil has arrived, everything is ready. Gustav available for the appointed day.” The German original is not given in the manual. It might be something like: “Öl ist angekommen, alles ist fertig. Gustav hält sich am vereinbarten Tag bereit.”

Again, the message is coded in the morse alphabet (plus a transposition of 11 positions forward), which means that some elements on the map stand for dots and some others for lines. So far, nobody has identified these elements.

Here’s a high resolution picture I took in the National Archive:



Can a reader help?

As mentioned, I have blogged about these two hidden messages several times. I wrote about them in the first edition of my book Versteckte Botschaften. I reported on them in several peresentations. Many tried to find the solution, but to no avail.

If you have an idea how these messages are coded, I would be very interested to learn.

Further reading: Tony Gaffney’s starlight steganogram


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Kommentare (13)

  1. #1 Philipp M
    3. Mai 2017

    some Idea to the Map-Puzzle,
    what about finding old Maps of Amsterdam(When im Right) from the same Year, erase all Points, Names Rivers, etc what match in both maps and check what is left. If u cant find the Needle, make the Haystack smaller!
    I trieded to find old Maps, but all are behind a Paywall.

  2. #2 Rich SantaColoma
    3. Mai 2017

    I have an idea on the fashion puzzle:

    We are assuming that the intent of the censorship publication would be to accurately display the characters used, so that the reader could then see exactly HOW they are used. But that may not be the case… the only intent might be to demonstrate where and in a very basic way how they might be. If this is so, then:

    The publisher might not have considered, nor cared, that the original cipher drawing be adequately represented in the manual. The publishers technical method of photographing, copying, printing might have lost the necessary detail, I mean, to read it… and the publisher might not have cared, as being able for the reader to see it properly may have not been their intent.

    Continuing with that thought… as others have surmised, I would suggest that the form of Morse code is in the borders which are “ladder-like”. Perhaps, as one possible, on the original the little ladder “rungs” don’t meet the border for dot represenation; or perhaps some are thicker, or thinner, to make the distinction.

    Perhaps, even, the original cipher drawing is in color, with different colors denoting “dots” and “dashes”.

    It was great you managed to see and photograph the original manual… but if my guess is correct, it would be the original German cipher illustration which must be seen, to adequately descern the code’s subtleties, in order to know how it was used.

  3. #3 Gerry
    3. Mai 2017

    Regarding the shorthand: If you look at the surname “Shaw” you can recognize (in german shorthand) the words “von aras” if you remove the first line of the “h”. In shorthand there are no double consonants. See the symbol translation at

  4. #4 Norbert
    3. Mai 2017

    Regarding the map, a solution has already been posted here. I could reproduce the reading of “llesfertig” and a few more fragments, at that time.

  5. #5 Klaus Schmeh
    3. Mai 2017

    Thanks for the hint. The comment says: “… below the dashed line running along raadhuisstraat, there are little pen marks, single strokes for dots, small filled boxes for dashes. Starting near keizersgracht eastwards (or should this be hubward in this particular city) i can make out ‘aathut’, which, when rotated 11 positions forward, gives ‘llesfe’, which could well be part of ‘alles fertig’ for ‘everything is ready’.
    There also seems to be morse code between kalverstraat and rokin. But as i have to look up every single character i don’t try to read more :o)”

    All this makes sense. However, it is difficult to read the whole message.

  6. #6 Klaus Schmeh
    3. Mai 2017

    Thank you very much. This makes sense.

  7. #7 Alexander
    27. August 2017

    The fashion drawings are interesting.
    I dont think that the code is hidden in the dots, but the lines in the bordure. Every Model, except for #4 has these bordures in one or another form. Unfortunately they are very small, I think it may be something like two lines representing a dot and three a line.

  8. #8 Name
    Or 20
    20. März 2019

    When I look at the Mary Helen Shaw pic, things like vrill, hair, samson, come to mind….Not to mention the ending sounds in the name mentioned is eerie of a horse sound, stuck on repeat….

    Mythical ideas aside, the OBvious thing here is when you flip the graphic you see a man with a hand over his eye, under the 3 labeled image. The amazing thing here though beyond that, and all the layered images, symbologies, etc….you are given again…obvious clues in the image to….”Wall-eye” certain spots *Layer* them in such a way as to create new images….For instance you would walleye….the circled 3, so the 3 inside the circle line up in the middle of the Bow-tie looking thing in the chair-sitting lap. Amazingly though you can wall-eye MANY MANY different positions to get MANY combinations….I think I even saw one with a yong looking woman on a beach laying down and scandaly clad, winking perhaps even.

  9. #9 Name
    Or 20
    20. März 2019

    The part I forgot to mention which is the real question people might think to ask…..after finding so many possible combinations of wall-eye’ing different positions to make many layered images……how was this accomplished so perfectly? Even today you’d be hard pressed using computer aide to make more than a few different layered points in a single image before losing integrity, and that’s using a digital system, this was apparently hand drawn, also notice many things have been removed, earrings, points on hat…etc. Similar to after seeing the voynich manuscript one should wonder how it was drawn with no mistakes as if the hand/pen never left/touched the medium it was written upon.

  10. #10 Name
    Or 20
    20. März 2019

    The other pic, assuming Klaus is correct about ‘everything is ready’. part… and based on the picture overlays what looks like Germany’s hope for an underground unity type facility running under the land of what might have been called the age of “All vs All”? Perhaps they’re tunnels under what looks like Mare Cia…or Sea of Horse…that is…America. This however is based highly off supposition, piecing together from what is either lacking or yet to be emperically shown/proven, so I digress from posting further possible correlative data:)

  11. #11 Aaron
    Or 20
    17. Mai 2019

    I would only like to propose that my only knowledge of the images being coded in Morse is based upon your direction. Perhaps there was someone at the time that acknowledged the source of the code; however, what if there is an alternative. What if the code itself is not morse, but instead some form of subtractive Braille? The positioning of the polka dots is sufficiently innocuous, but if you overlayed a transparent piece of paper and then recopied each of the dots, an alternative alphabet might emerge. Even if it were reversed from right to left, the decoding process would be simple enough that anyone with the root alphabet would be able to start to trace the patterns, using either an across-then-down method, or a top-to-bottom method. Thank you for the Friday reprieve.

  12. #12 Duployé
    22. Oktober 2020

    Regarding the shorthand message, “Arras” might be written using Duployan stenogprahy in the “H” initial of Helen.

    Rotate the signature 90 degrees counter-clockwise and you’ll see it: “a” (circle), followed by almost oblique longer line for “r”, another “a” (circle) and short line almost like a semicircle for “s”.

    Compare with “arabe”: (lower left on the page).

  13. #13 James Mulliss
    8. Februar 2023

    In pic 4, the fourth marker on the hat is pointing to circle number 7