|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|
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
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
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