Hitler’s deputy sent a coded signal to SS chiefs in Paris in August 1944 ordering that the masterpiece be taken back to Berlin before Paris was reduced to rubble on the Fuhrer’s orders.
But Bletchley Park intercepted the signal from the Gestapo chief and ensured the French Resistance got to the Louvre first with just 48 hours to spare.
Four SS members arrived with two trucks and enough spare fuel to get back to Germany but were sent packing by a hail of bullets.
The fragile strip of embroidered linen was found safe in a crate in the basement when Paris was liberated just days later.
A long-lost file found in the National Archives has revealed Bletchley Park was intercepting messages to Nazi police stations and SS barracks even before war broke out.
It amassed thousands of intercepts from police units on the eastern front and police headquarters in Germany.
The codebreakers opened a dossier on the Nazi looting operation after learning about it in decodes sent from Russia in the closing months of 1942.
A Military Intelligence officer wrote: “The work of plundering is carried out by a special battalion of the SS.
“Their task was to rob churches, museums and picture galleries and bring their booty to Germany.
“These prizes were reserved for the use of the higher Nazi bosses in their villas. Lesser bosses had to be content with rare books and vases.”
Initially, the Allies built up a file on Nazi looting for propaganda purposes to discredit Hitler.
But on August 18, 1944, Himmler sent Carl Oberg, head of the SS in France, a radio message decrypted by Bletchley.
The order read: “Do not forget to bring the Bayeux Tapestry to a place of safety.”
Knowing that meant the heart of the Reich, the duty officer was called.
As Hitler’s armies marched into Poland, the Bayeux Tapestry was taken off display by the French and packed into a zinc-lined crate, wrapped in sheets and sprinkled with moth powder.
Himmler had reserved a space in his renovated…