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"German Efforts to Break United Nations Security" from Intelligence Bulletin

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]   A report on German methods of gathering intelligence from POWs, from the Intelligence Bulletin, May 1944.

[Editor's Note: The following article is wartime information on foreign tactics and equipment published for Allied soldiers. More accurate data on foreign tactics and equipment is available in postwar publications.]




When the Germans capture a hostile soldier, their primary interest is in documents or personal papers that he may be carrying. Experience has taught the Germans that United Nations prisoners are security-conscious, and that interrogators approaching them to gain information must implement the questioning with as much background knowledge as possible about the prisoner and his previous activities. In this connection the value, to the German interrogator, of all documents and personal papers—even those which are seemingly trivial and of no military importance—must not be underestimated. Although the intelligent soldier avoids carrying into battle areas any document which, to however slight a degree, might help an enemy interrogator in his job, German staff officers wait hopefully for the capture of that soldier who will prove an exception. Even then, the German enlisted man's fondness for acquiring souvenirs may upset the established procedure of German intelligence officers.


It is important to remember that not even the smallest scrap of information—whether written or oral—should be allowed to reach the enemy. A special order issued in November 1943 by the operations officer of a Panzer Grenadier division illustrates the enemy's recognition of the possible importance of every source of information, however slight:

In the past few days there have been numerous instances of forward troops delivering United Nations prisoners to the POW collecting point minus all documents and personal belongings. According to the statements of the prisoners, the forward troops took all these things from them immediately after their capture.

Apart from the fact that plundering of prisoners is unworthy of a German soldier, such conduct greatly increases the difficulties of interrogation and, with it, the procuring of important data for our own command and troops.

Because of the extreme stubbornness of British and American soldiers in divulging information, the papers and other articles that a prisoner carries on his person often provides the only background for an interrogator to open up a conversation with the prisoner. Moreover, almost all letters and papers can provide information which, when pieced together will furnish details about a prisoner's unit. They also constitute an effective means, during interrogation, of verifying a prisoner's statements and sometimes of surprising him by catching him in a lie.

Troops are therefore definitely instructed that under no circumstances are any articles or papers to be removed from prisoners.

Strict surveillance is maintained, however, as a precaution against any attempt by prisoners to destroy items in their possession.


In a special order, Major General von Ziehlberg, formerly commanding the German 65th Infantry Division, commented on some of the difficulties experienced by German interrogators. He said in part:

I myself have witnessed the interrogation of British soldiers who have received excellent training in security. Although threatened with the death penalty, they gave nothing away under interrogation. To all questions they replied simply, "My orders are to give only my name, rank, and number," and often added, "A German soldier in my position would not answer these questions either."

Thorough training must be given to our own soldiers to insure the same attitude on their part.

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