Thursday, 31 October 2013

'X' and Camp Security

In many Allied POW camps in Europe during World War 2, the security around escape work was ultimately controlled by ‘X’. As camp intelligence matters were usually overseen by the Camp Intelligence Officer (CIO), this freed up ‘X’ for security matters which linked in to most of his main responsibilities and activities around escape preparations. 

The CIO and ‘X’ did consult on some areas of security, although in the diagram of an ideal camp escape organisation modelled on Stalag Luft 111 (see above),  their lines technically did not cross. Where no CIO existed, ‘X’ would often head camp intelligence operations along with his own core escape work. A Camp Security Officer (CSO) would then take on the dedicated role for security.

In practice, each arm of escape preparation work (e.g. tunnelling, forging documents, tailoring, making maps and compasses etc.) had its own subcommittee from which security was one spur. This would link in with the other operations, all overseen by ‘X’ or the CSO.  It was also vital that intelligence and prisoner behaviour around this was completely secure and controlled. (See previous posts on the CIO)

Any escape preparation work had to be undertaken with good early warning systems of guards/ferrets approaching - and slick shutdown procedures were vital. Prearranged safe hiding places for items in preparation for escape were essential and tunnellers needed to return to the surface quickly in the event of unscheduled Appels (roll calls).

Early warning systems were set up with a network of strategically placed lookouts (‘stooges’) covering all approaches to huts, or wherever a clandestine piece of work was being carried out. Some stooges were located inside huts where they had good views of their observation patch, but remained unseen from the outside. Those who were visible would try to blend in with the rest of the camp activity. Once a guard or ferret moved into an ‘at risk’ area a series of prearranged signals would travel back to the hut where the work was being carried out.

The ‘all clear’ system of this is shown in the film The Great Escape where a ferret checks inside a hut whilst a ‘lecture’ on bird watching is in progress. Once he has left and reached a safe distance away, a stooge taps his tobacco pipe into the palm of his hand four times, another replaces a dustbin lid and the man outside the hut knocks on the wooden wall. Forgery operations recommence.

The diagram below shows a snapshot of the real stooging system set up in huts to protect the forging operation in the camp library at Stalag Luft 111 prior to the Great Escape. All viewing angles have been covered by hidden sentries.


©Keith Morley

THIS BLOG claims no credit for any images posted on this site unless otherwise noted. Images on this blog are copyright to its respectful owners. If there is an image appearing on this blog that belongs to you and do not wish for it appear on this site, please message me with a link to said image and it will be promptly removed.


Personal Notes

The Great Escape – Paul Brickhill

MI9 Escape and Evasion 1939-1945 M.R.D. Foot and J.M. Langley

Thursday, 17 October 2013

The Camp Intelligence Officer - Maps

Section of an ideal POW Camp organisation

Map  - Oflag V1B - 'Australian War Memorial'
Much has been written since the Second World War around MI9 and MIS – X concealing maps and other escape aids in innocent everyday items e.g. shaving brushes, pencil clips, monopoly games, gramophone records, playing cards etc. These were sent to prisoner of war camps in boxes and packages under the guise of various welfare and charity organisations for prisoners. (See previous posts).
It was a few years before this operation kicked into full swing, and whilst these aids would prove invaluable in escape attempts, the items would only help a few of the thousands of prisoners. Most maps were produced in the camp by the prisoners themselves under difficult conditions. No drawing or printing materials were available as these were strictly forbidden, so considerable levels of creativity and underhand practices had to be applied to obtain or produce them.
Eichstatt - Oflag V11B - 'Australian War Memorial
Intelligence and security were crucial in the operation. In an ideal camp organisation, the Camp Intelligence Officer would head the map operation and coordinate intelligence, whilst ‘X’ looked after security. As outlined in previous posts, in some camps ‘X’ handled intelligence in conjunction with the cogs and machinery of actual escape work (including map making), leaving security to the SO (Security Officer).
A camp might already have maps smuggled in via MI9/MIS- X parcels or obtained via illicit means. These could form the master copies from which the map makers worked, though they were insufficient in number and often lacking local detail.  Current intelligence on the area around the camp was vital, so it could be translated on to maps as every second counted during the initial stages of an escape.
Details on the surrounding area were obtained from internal and external sources.  New prisoners arriving in the camp plus those recently recaptured and returned were debriefed for snippets of intelligence about the geography and terrain, the quietest pathways away from the area, useful short cuts or seldom used routes, railways, new roads, and landmarks which might aid navigation. This information also came from prisoners who had been on working parties outside the camp or German guards and ferrets, who might unwittingly reveal something in casual conversation. Useful sources were German camp personnel who had been previously compromised by accepting bribes of luxuries such as coffee or chocolate. ‘Tame goons’ as the prisoners referred to them were often targeted. All information had to be collated and filtered through to the map makers. In a model organisation this would be via the Camp Intelligence officer (CIO).
Map Hanover to Kassel - Oflag 79 - 'Australian War Memorial'
To maximise the chances of a successful escape once outside the wire, the maps had to be produced in sufficient numbers with suitable materials. Many were hand drawn, but the ingenuity applied in order to achieve a larger production is fascinating.
Englishman Philip Evans was serving as a captain in the Royal Artillery when he was taken prisoner  at Tobruk in 1942. A printer by trade, he saw the possibility of making printing plates from tiles which came from a bombed out building in the camp. The detail on the map could be drawn by hand on to the plates, with ink being made from melted margarine mixed with pitch scraped from a walkway. The printing press came from floorboards, and an ink roller from a window bar covered with leather.
Map drawn by Philip Evans - copyright British Library Board
In Stalag Luft 111, Des Plunkett and his team of mapmakers had produced a portfolio of detailed maps. Some had even been configured to individual escape plans. For security reasons Plunkett’s team operated from huts at scattered locations throughout the camp, and all were subject to the same early warning system of lookouts and stooges. His general maps covered the escape routes from Czechoslovakia to Switzerland and France and through the Baltic to Sweden.
Because of the numbers of maps required, individual tracing map by map was too slow, so Plunkett managed to obtain some invalid jellies through a German in the hospital block in the kommandantur. He cut them up, soaked them in hot water, and squeezed them through a handkerchief, tasting the fruity solution that ran out until it was no longer sweet. The sugar had effectively been extracted from the gelatine which was still left in the handkerchief. He melted the solution, pouring it into flat trays made from old food tins. Once it was set Plunkett had a basic but effective mimeograph (stencil).
He used ink made from the crushed lead of indelible pencils to draw the master copy of his maps. These were supplied by suitably compromised ‘tame’ Germans who had been ‘approached.’ After pressing the drawn map on the mimeograph, Plunkett was able to print off hundreds of copies.
©Keith Morley
THIS BLOG claims no credit for any images posted on this site unless otherwise noted. Images on this blog are copyright to its respectful owners. If there is an image appearing on this blog that belongs to you and do not wish for it appear on this site, please message me with a link to said image and it will be promptly removed
The Great Escape – Paul Brickhill
Personal notes

Next week - 'X' and Camp Security

Monday, 7 October 2013

The Camp Intelligence Officer - Forgery

Forged German Identity Card  Stalag Luft 1 - Roy Kilminster

As above - Roy Kilminster

Accurate documents were essential for the prisoner of war attempting escape from a German run camp in occupied Europe. Once away from the wire, he would be unlikely to get very far without at least an identity card.

As the war evolved, POWs were kept in camps or secure permanent structures (e.g. Colditz) in Germany or Poland. The geographical location of many camps put their prisoners a long way from the borders of a neutral country; either by distance, terrain, or both.  

A good set of documents and passes had to be carried to undertake any serious travel via train or bus, or to visit certain towns and cities. A ‘back story’ within the documents carried needed to fit the escaper’s bogus identity. Identity cards and permits had to be forged to a high standard, and for this to be effective, accurate and up to date intelligence was vital. Passes and official documents were sometimes changed by the occupying powers in design and stamp. The POW forgery operation had to be mindful of this. Photographs of the holder were also often required.
Forged leave pass for a French worker who had been taken as a POW and forced to work in Germany - Roy Kilminster
In an ideal organisation, the Camp Intelligence Officer (CIO) would head the operation to obtain information and produce the necessary documents. Although the organisation chart above sets this apart from the work of ‘X’, it is likely that ‘X’ would have been fully aware of what was happening and be involved periodically outside his own remit. As in previous posts, ‘Security’ was a typical cross-over point.  In some camps ‘X’ incorporated the CIO role, and security was run as a separate position by another officer. In these set ups, all parties usually reported to the camp Senior Officer who had a more proactive role, rather than being just a figurehead with final ‘rubber stamp’ authority for escape work.

A good forgery operation in a POW camp required specific key components:

A team of men with artistic skills and a steady hand with pen and ink, an eye for detail and the ability to improvise with materials.

They had to be able to hand stencil to make a finished product look like a typewritten script, and also draw the background of a master document’s watermark with pen, ink brush and watercolour so that it looked authentic. Someone with photographic and developing knowledge had to be able to work with minimal materials.

Typical examples of innovation would be the carving of authorisation stamps with a razor blade out of wellington boots, shoe heels or even soap, or making up the appropriate type and colour of paper for cards/ documents by tearing out quality paper from library books provided by the Red Cross and staining them in the correct shade with cold tea. Two other examples were the ‘manufacture’ of paints and ink from lampblack diluted with oil, or the creation of a waterproof ink from a mix of glycerine, ether, oil and soot.

Forged documents were hand stencilled to look like script. The official German stamps were carved from rubber heels taken from POW shoes -  U.S. Air Force Academy
A location(s) where the forgery operation could take place and be shut down quickly in the event of guards or ferrets being nearby.

A well-rehearsed shut down operation with good hiding places for work in progress were mandatory. On an occasion in Stalag Luft 111, when a guard approached unexpectedly, forger Alex Cassie launched into a lecture on psychology to cover up the work which had been quickly concealed. In the Hollywood film The Great Escape, the actor Donald Pleasence, played the part of ‘The Forger’, and gave a lecture on bird watching to cover up what was going on.

An effective early warning system of signals from lookouts and stooges around the camp

A system used in Stalag Luft 111 will be covered in a later post

Obtaining paper, drawing and photographic materials and a camera by whatever means.

 ‘Borrowing’ or retaining original documents to copy usually occurred by illicit means, namely bribery or blackmail of guards and ferrets, plus occasional picking of pockets. A camera and basic photographic materials were also obtained by compromising and then leaning on carefully chosen Germans in the camp. Pens, ink and paper arrived this way too, but in one known instance a German cook in the camp kitchen at Stalag Luft 111 was genuinely convinced that drawing materials would provide a lifeline for a prisoner he had got to know, so smuggled items in.

This camera was sent into Stalag Luft III in early 1944. Although it came in covertly via MI9 it is illustrative of the type used to take photographs for identity cards and passes.  Image U.S. Air Force

The collection of up to date verbal intelligence around documentation.

This was often picked up from tame guards or ferrets, new prisoners with outside knowledge/information from a previous camp, or prisoners who had been recaptured due to a change in documentation or revision of checking strategies.

Forged documents produced at Stalag Luft III - IWM HU21214.

The range of forged documents and papers which might be required by a POW on the run to complete his identity was astounding. These could include a basic identity card, officer’s pass, forged leave papers and permits  giving permission to cross a frontier, correspondence bearing forged business letter heads and company stamp (often produced using genuine firms names taken from adverts in German newspapers) and fake personal letters from a wife or girlfriend.

On 29 October 1943 Lieutenant Richard Codner and Flight Lieutenants Eric Williams and Oliver Philpott broke out of Stalag Luft 111 via the famous Wooden Horse escape. The men’s escape plan was to make for the German port of Stettin and try to get aboard a ship from neutral Sweden.

In their IS9 files the list of false documents carried is a perfect illustration of how forgery and intelligence worked in parallel:

Flight Lieutenant Oliver Philpott

‘My story was that I was Herr Jon Jorgensen a Quisling Norwegian (did not speak a word of the language) on an exchange from Denofa (a/k Frederikstad), to the Margarine Verkauf’s Union, Berlin, and doing a tour of all branches, factories, etc. anywhere in Gross Deutschland. A very fine set of papers were provided in the camp:

 *Vorlaufige Ausweis (an original, and the first time we have used one of these.)  * Temporary Identity Card

*Two polizeiliche Erlaubnisse  (One original)  *Police permission to travel

*One Bescheinigung   *Certificate

*Arbeitskarte   * Work card

*Bestatigung (Certificate of Issue of Arbeitsbuch)   * Confirmation certificate of issue of workbook

Typed letter from Margarine Verkaufs Union introducing me.

Typed letter from the National Samling*, asking me in Norwegian to go and hear Quisling speak about the reconstruction of Europe.  *National Unity Party in Norway – fascists

Membership card of the National Samling

A very bogus Swedish sailor’s pass added for the dock part of the journey.’

Lieutenant Robert Codner

‘Vorlaufige Ausweis

Arbeitskarte  Police permission to travel, reason for travelling supplied by the firm on Reichsbauamt  (German Empire Building Authority’ – construction, maintenance and equipment)

‘Swedish seaman’s pass (highly questionable). Seaman’s pass designed solely to baffle a simple official in case we were stopped.’

Flight Lieutenant Eric Williams

‘As above plus:

A photograph of a stunning girl inscribed ‘ A mon cher Marcel – Jeanne’  Two letters written in French to myself, Marcel Levasseur.’


IS9 Files – National Archives

The Great Escape – Paul Brickhill

Personal notes
©Keith Morley

THIS BLOG claims no credit for any images posted on this site unless otherwise noted. Images on this blog are copyright to its respectful owners. If there is an image appearing on this blog that belongs to you and do not wish for it appear on this site, please message me with a link to said image and it will be promptly removed