|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.
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The Great Escape – Paul Brickhill
Next week - 'X' and Camp Security