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

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Personal Notes

The Great Escape – Paul Brickhill

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


  1. Keith, all this sounds highly organised and controlled, and I suppose it had to be really! I also imagine it gave the prisoners a sense of purpose with a very desirable end goal. I imagine everyone involved took matters very seriously with so much at state. Good post - thank you.

    1. Thanks Maria. It was highly organised in certain camps. Stalag Luft 111 is the best known and a good example to use. All the POWs were Air Force Officers - many with a variety of skills and trades from before the war. POWs had a lot of time on their hands. Some had been behind the wire at various camps for over 4 years by the time preparation for the Great Escape began. Not everyone wanted to escape, with some content to sit out the war, but for those who were desperate to get home, or at least hamper the enemy by tying up their resources after an escape, it must have given them hope, purpose and made the difficult days pass quicker during the spring summer and autumn months. (winter was not 'the escaping season.')

    2. I never thought about there being anyone who would want to sit out the war. Now you have mentioned it, I've thought about it some, and can see why that would be...

  2. Your research is so meticulous Keith. And don't forget that I'm going to be one of the first to buy your book when it is published, having been privileged to listen to this powerful and well-written account.

  3. Many thanks for your comments Margaret. I'm so close to completion and pitch of my book now, and what a journey. Its a privilege to read out chapters at the Group and receive that vital critique, especially from authors with experience and a proven track record. As regards my blog - The Escape Line has grown beyond anything I expected and long may it continue. Escape and evasion is still a vastly under represented area of the war in my view, and if I can in some small way attract more interest and awareness, then it will have been worth it.