An encrypted telegram from Italy is unsolved. Can a reader find the codebook that was used? Without the codebook, deciphering the telegram is as good as impossible.

Paolo Bonavolglia from Venice, …


… Italy’s leading crypto history expert, has provided me the following (undated) encrypted telegram:


Here’s the rear-side of it:


According to Paolo, this telegram was found by Andrea Boraso from Monselice (near Padua), Italy, about 20 years ago in an old dirty fruit case in an attic. Along with the telegram, Boraso found the following pink sheet dated 1917 …

Telegramma 1917-1-Dec

… with the following rear-side:


Does this sheet contain the key that was used to encrypt the telegram? Probably not. According to Paolo, the notes on the sheet look like a reshuffled Baudot code. Only the digits from 1 to 5 are used. So, Paolo believes that the two documents have nothing to do with each other.


Encrypted with a code?

The telegram consists of codegroups of 2 to 5 digits each. There are 176 different codegroups altogether, 114 of which appear only once. Most codegroups are ordered some way; for instance the most frequent codegroup is 8765, the second is 7654. Is this a mnemonic feature?

The telegram was probably encrypted with a code. If so, the only realistic way to solve it is to find the codebook that was used (the one shown below is certainly not the correct one). Even worse, in addition to the code, a second encryption step might have been applied.


Can a reader solve this mystery?

Further reading: Encryped telegram from 1948 deciphered


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Kommentare (5)

  1. #1 Magnus E
    26. November 2018

    When looking at the coded (?) message two things strikes me as odd:

    1) Why the leading zeros on some of the codes?
    2) Many codes have digits which are “in sequence”, at least partially, for example: 45676 or 12343 or 12341. Too much to be a coincidence?

  2. #2 Thomas
    27. November 2018

    @Klaus: Did Paolo Bonavoglia try out the “Cifrario Mengarini” and look for a matching codebook in Filippo Sinagra’s collection?

  3. #3 Magnus E
    27. November 2018

    Another observation is that there are seven two-figure groups in the message, all adjacent to each other.

    There are four one-figure groups, also adjacent to each other.

    I have no idea if this is significant or not.

  4. #4 Jerry McCarthy
    England, Europa
    27. November 2018

    > According to Paolo, the notes on the sheet look like a reshuffled Baudot code.

    Yes, I didn’t check every character, but those I did check are the same as here:

    > Only the digits from 1 to 5 are used.

    The rear side (showing combinations involving the digits from 1 to 5) just shows a re-statement of the code on the front.

  5. #5 Paolo Bonavoglia
    Venezia, Italy
    27. November 2018

    @Thomas, yes I did, I tried a comparison with Baravelli (4 digits) and Mengarini (5 digits) codes and with several WW1 Italian military codes (Rosso, Verde, Cifrario D, Cifrario R) I got from Sinagra or from the recent Cappellano-Colavito book, still to be published on the web, but as far as I can see, there is no matching. Remembering that superencipherment was used …