In a British censorship manual from WW2 two pictures containing hidden messages are displayed. My readers have now found at least a part of the solutions.

Last week I blogged about the two most interesting unsolved steganographic mysteries I am  aware of – a fashion drawing and a map of Amsterdam, both displayed in a Britsh censorship manual from World War II ( British National Archives KV-2-2424). Both pictures contain hidden messages. Thanks to the help of my readers I can now present a partial solution to the fashion drawing message and an almost solution to the map message.


Mystery 1: The fashion drawing

The fashion drawing is displayed on page 14 of the censorship manual:


The hidden message has two parts. The first one is encoded in morse code. This one is unsolved – I have no idea where the dots and dashes are hidden in the picture. The second part of the message is “Vor Arras” (German for: “Before Arras”). It is contained in the signature, written in a French shorthand. Arras is a town in Northern France.


Blog reader Gerry used an online shorthand translator provided by the University of Clausthal to write “Vor Arras” in shorthand. This is what he got:


Gerry wrote: “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.” This can be seen in the following picture:


This looks like the correct solution. Thank you very much to Gerry for solving this mystery.


Mystery 2: The city map

The following city map of Amsterdam, displayed on page 17 of the censorship manual, contains another morse code message (transposed by 11 positions forward):


The message is written in German, but only the English translation is given: “Oil has arrived, everything is ready. Gustav available for the appointed day.” The German original might be something like: “Öl ist angekommen, alles ist fertig. Gustav hält sich am vereinbarten Tag bereit.”

Blog reader Norbert Biermann pointed out that already in October 2016 a reader named “m” had suggested a solution approach that made sense (sorry, this escaped my attention). “m” wrote:

In the map of amsterdam, 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 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.


Norbert has confirmed that “m” was on the right track. He could reproduce the reading of ‘llesfertig’ and a few more fragments.


Can you find out more?

Thanks to “m”, Gerry, and Norbert Biermann for providing these solution approaches! Great job!

However, there are still a few open questions. How exactly does the German cleartext on the map look like? And, most of all, where is the message in the fashion drawing? Any help is welcome.

Further reading: Tony Gaffney’s starlight steganogram


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Kommentare (5)

  1. #1 Thomas Ernst
    7. Mai 2017

    Just a guess regarding the “clothes-morse”: if you take the collar of Figure 1 to contain seven dots, and if you partition the seven dots horizontally into four segments, you can read “EINE” in(to) it, “• | • • | – • | •”, followed by “S” or the beginning of “V” in the outer left compartment of her semi-cape or whatchamacallit, “• • •”. Determining the meaning of two non-aligned dots in the collar could be contextual: if they stand solo, they are two shorts; if they are followed by a dot on the same height, they stand for a long (plus a short). The direction into which each field is to be read remains a problem. While it is unlikely that an urgent message would start out on an indefinite article, this picture appears to have served only as an illustration of how one could write in “clothes-morse”, making “EINE” plausible. Staring at the dots for too long gives you a headache. If you have a bottle of Spalt-Tabletten or Excedrin on you, I’d look for “Verstärkung”, “starke”, oder “schwere”. “Verstärkung” would justify “EINE” better than a following adjective, and there is a promising singleton on top of the next compartment. Squeezing an “R” out of the following dots, you’ll need your Spalt-Tabletten, or Excedrin.

  2. #2 Thomas
    7. Mai 2017

    I wonder whether the German text given on “Stündlich erwartbare große Verstärkungen des Feindes vor Arras” ( is the original plaintext or a translation of the English text in the Censor’s Manual.

  3. #3 Thomas Ernst
    7. Mai 2017

    Am certain that Thomas just unearthed the original, German plaintext. Perhaps one of the 233 commentaries attached to that post offers some detail regarding the clothes-morse. Since the outer left cape-segment yields an “S” easier than the collar, the 15 compartments of Figure 1 probably need to be read from left to right. After the third cape-segment on the left, one would have to read downwards: collar – cape – skirt – hem, and so on. – Stellar find!!

  4. #4 Thomas Ernst
    7. Mai 2017

    “Cape” field 1: S, cape field 2: TUE, cape field 3: ND. More anon.

  5. #5 Thomas Ernst
    6. Juni 2017

    Postscriptum: figure 1, including her sleeves, has not 15, but 17 compartments to her. While one could make out a “LI” in the collar, this interpretation remains impressionistic; a higher resolution of the picture is needed to be certain. As for what constitutes a “long” and what a “short”, I think it simply is the size of the dots. For a correct reading of which see above. As to the direction in which to read the dots: apparently diagonally downward (left outer cape field 1), as well as horizontally across. Which – objectively – allows for variant interpretations of certain fields – something no cryptologist wants to hear. I cannot help but thinking that a morse-pro would have looked at each field, and lexic expectation would have facilitated his/her reading the dots correctly. Since I cannot make out what constitutes a dot in the collar, not to mention small or large, I shall leave it at that. Ideally, one would like to have the original cipher-page at hand, not even the reproduction in the manual, but the original.