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"Name, Rank, Serial No., Plus" from Intelligence Bulletin

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]   Postwar article on German interrogation methods and the problem of Allied PWs disclosing secret information, from the Intelligence Bulletin, June 1946.

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


[Name, Rank, Serial No., Plus]

The Jerries had a pretty good system for pumping information out of Allied prisoners of war. Sometimes it worked. Most of the time, when Allied prisoners stood on their rights, it didn't work. But in some cases no interrogation system was needed at all—some guys just talked for Jerry free of charge.

Some Americans were nurtured on quiz programs, to judge by the glibness with which a few airmen, shot down over Germany in World War II, answered the questions of German interrogators. This was not an occupational trait of airmen alone, for there are an equal number of cases where U.S. officers and men of all branches, seeming to forget the precombat security lectures they received (or slept through) during training periods, "spilled their guts" when captured later and brought before German intelligence officers.

But purely for purposes of example, consider the interrogation report of the air crew shot down during a daylight mission against Heidelberg in March 1945. Conquest of Germany has brought to light this document, and others like it, on file at an enemy Air Forces interrogation center. The crew of this Marauder bomber revealed enough classified information to fill six pages. They had flown 48 missions, were bursting with ideas and opinions, and spilled them forth willingly, as it would seem from the wealth of detailed statements they handed to the "Jerries," free of charge.

Operational training at Barksdale Field, La., route taken to Sardinia, missions against target in Italy, and finally the pin-point target of Heidelberg railway installations—these were among the topics fully discussed. "At the briefing it was carefully emphasized that under no circumstances was the city itself to be hit. For this reason a rather small formation was used: to prevent any injury to the city from misses," runs the report. There was no alternate target.

The last mission was minutely described—formation, route, weather, bomb load, escort, flak defense. With growing expansiveness, the fliers revealed that "in general, Marauder formations have little to fear from German flak." This is the enemy's summary of the crew's observations: "By reason of their greater speed in comparison to that of the 4-engine formations, the medium bombers appear over the target quickly and vanish just as quickly, without remaining in the danger zone for any length of time. While the possibility of hits on a plane in a 4-engine formation is estimated at 40 percent (not shot down—merely a hit) the possibility of a hit on a medium bomber is very slight. As an example, the interrogated PWs claim that only once in their previous 48 missions did they return to base with any flak holes."

Chatting freely, the pilot and the navigator, ably assisted by the rest of the crew when their turns came, gave information on the flight to the IP and the bomb run itself; formation and strength; bomb release; navigation and pathfinder operation. They were as frank in revealing what they did not have as in boasting of their equipment and achievements: "All attacks were carried out without pathfinders. There were none at the disposal of the nd Med. Bomb Wing," states the report, going on to say:

"Loran and Diskus: Neither of these navigational aids was known to the navigator. He knew the designation "GH" only from hearsay, but was able to say with certainty that Diskus was not in use by the nd Med. Bomb Wing." Nor did their aircraft have high altitude equipment. Because they never flew over 12,000 feet, even oxygen masks were unnecessary.

From information gathered during interviews, the enemy pieced together a complete picture of current tactical organization. Earlier operations came in for discussion, and the crew revealed what they knew of future plans. They had not heard of a planned conversation from Marauder to Invader, however, "Despite the admitted bad flying characteristics of the B26, especially on take-off and landing, there was no likelihood of a change in the near future," says the report, which concludes with this statement on B26 dive bombing: "Some time ago the B26 was used experimentally for dive bombing. It was used in this manner against a single target in Holland. According to reports all attacking aircraft were shot down because the speed and rate of climb after the bombs were dropped were not sufficient. It can be stated with certainty that in the future the Marauder will be used only for horizontal bombing."

Recreation was considered worth a paragraph: "The Hotel Martinez in Cannes has been requisitioned by the AAF for flying personnel and deserving members of the ground crews. Leaves up to 7 days were given at this rest center. After its thirtieth mission the crew interrogated spent 4 days at the hotel and then returned to Sardinia."

The second lieutenant who served as observer for the crew of a Flying Fortress shot down in March 1945, east of Schmachtenhagen, turned spokesman at the interrogation. He revealed five closely typed pages of information, including targets he had attacked in the course of 30 missions, and mention of a visit of General Doolittle and a group of Congressmen and Senators to his base at Nuthampstead. He modestly admitted that his squadron was famous for bombing pin-point targets by means of Meddo and GH. He himself had had no training as a radar observer, but many pin-point targets in the Rundstedt offensive area such as a railway and other bridges were successfully bombed by radar. He described one complete failure which cost the squadron its reputation for perfect blind bombing—the radar observer had misread the Meddo indicator and the bomb pattern was correctly laid down but about 8 km. short of the target.

Under the heading "Route of Departure and Rendezvous," the report includes this paragraph:

"Pilots were told that if damage to their aircraft was so severe that a safe return was questionable, they were to head for Russian territory. Special instructions as to which airports were suitable for landings were not given. PW remembers that in a raid on Chemnitz one aircraft left the formation and headed for Russia. Nothing has ever been learned concerning the fate of this aircraft."

German interrogators were ever on the alert for signs of distrust of their allies on the part of Americans. The report of a detailed interview with a staff sergeant, waist gunner on a B17 shot down the same month, includes this information: "Thus far neither special regulations nor specified landing fields have been designated for emergency landings in Russian territory, although all crews have a justifiable interest in knowing where in the 'Russian Steppes' such landings should be made. . . . The fact that the U.S.S.R. has thus far not been willing to place airfields at the disposal of American heavy bombers in the war with Japan has made for hard feelings because this denial has the effect of lengthening the Pacific war."

Another report ends with this paragraph based on an officer's remarks: "Unlike the people of all other cities in southern and central Italy occupied by the Allies, the population of Grosseto makes no attempt to hide its hatred for the Americans. The American officer thought that 'Mussolini had really done his work in Grosseto.' There have already been frequent clashes between Americans and young Italians. The Americans stationed in Grosseto wish that they could bomb the town to rubble and ashes because of the unfriendly and hostile attitude of the population."

The same officer who recalled that an American plane had been swallowed up in Russia contributed this on RAF-USAAF relations: "RAF officers give regular lectures at Nuthampstead about night operations of the RAF. Participation on the part of American officers is optional and not very lively. Night operations of the RAF are regarded lightly. This was especially noted when the English bomber formations flew over the base at dusk on their way to Germany. The frequent comment was that in comparison with the orderly American formations, the RAF formations were a disarranged swarm. The fact that formation flying is not practicable at night was not looked upon as an excusing factor by the PW."

In this connection one regrettable fact emerges—a low standard of political consciousness prevailed among the rank and file of the Allied fighting forces. German interrogators were quick to seize on the possibilities of the "divide and conquer" technique. They were frankly surprised at the lack of political education displayed by Allied PW and by the ease with which they were able to parry whatever justification a prisoner tried to advance. Briefly, interrogators presented Germany in a favorable light, outlining the social similarities between Germany and the Allies. Soviet Russia was the butt of many an argument. Americans, said the interrogators, were dying in vain inasmuch as in the event of an Allied victory the Western Powers would find the Bolshevik tyranny a fait accompli in Europe. To all this prisoners offered unexpectedly little opposition—simply because of their abysmal ignorance of politics.

German interrogators, later captured by allied troops, have made many suggestions to American authorities—notably that punishing prisoners who had disclosed classified information would have the effect of improving security consciousness on the part of troops-still fighting in the Pacific. They did not suggest however, that we should attempt political indoctrination to raise security. Even the Germans felt that this would scarcely work in a democratic population.

If interrogation of captured American troops caused our No. 1 security leak in ETO and Mediterranean Europe, document security was our next greatest means of telling the enemy what he wanted to know. This was attested to by the counterintelligence officer of the German II Paratroop Corps, a lieutenant colonel captured in the Falaise Pocket in August 1944. A highly intelligent officer, one who had served in Corps and Army Headquarters in Poland, France (1940) and Russia, he mentioned particularly that the security of documents in the American Army was absolutely shocking.

Again and again Top Secret documents were found in American PW pockets and in vehicles in the front line. This PW recalled an occasion when he found a Top Secret document giving the complete regrouping of the American forces shortly before the battle of Avranches on an American lieutenant. When he remarked on it to the lieutenant, the latter answered: "Well, you cannot keep all this in your head."

The German officer pointed out that had the Allied Air Forces permitted them to move their troops at all, this flagrant breach of security would have done us incalculable harm, as many locations and moves of Allied units were exposed well in advance.

As an added comment, the German stated that distribution lists on nearly all documents were one of the most valuable sources of information to the Germans. This officer, by his very helpfulness to an erstwhile enemy—still the enemy of his country—proved the truth of a statement made by a German interrogator who observed: "All security training is wrecked by the human factor."

The Luftwaffe's evaluation center made a report on papers found on the body of Sgt. R, killed in action in the Berlin area in March 1945.

A personal diary contained entries which gave the Germans data concerning target, time and method of attack, bomb load, bomb line, assembly, weather, emergency landing in Russian territory, and fighter position.

In case this seems incredible, an entry in the diary is reproduced:

Target: Berlin, take-off 0644 hours. I got up at 0240 hours, dressed and had breakfast: French toast, syrup, coffee, and oranges. I drew my equipment. The briefing began at 0345 hours. The target for today is a marshalling yard in the city of Berlin. It was expected to be a visual attack but they also reckoned with the possibility of having to bomb through an overcast (Meddo). Heavy flak was expected over the target. Our bomb load is 12 x 45 RDK HE bombs and 8 incendiary clusters (M-17) 225 kg each. (Total load according to this 2.34 tons.) We were to bomb no target east of 12° or west of 8°. (This indicated that the east front had pushed westward—compare this with the document evaluation of Detachment Stendal, Crash Report No. VE 1/45 dated 18 March 1945 A. d. A.) In case we have to make an emergency landing behind the Russian lines our recognition signal to the Russians is to dip the left wing 3 to 5 times. Our fighter escort is to pick us up as we cross 7° long. We taxied onto Runway 24 and took off in a SW direction just as the dawn began. We flew through a thin cloud cover into a clear sky. The sun was just rising over the horizon. Assembly began. The high box was in formation at 1850 hours. We put on our oxygen masks at 0810 hours at an altitude of 4300 m. Our operational group crossed the English coast at 0900 hours.

The papers of 1st Lt. L, taken prisoner in the Müncheberg area in March 1945, contained a list of 38 check points with code numbers given out by the operations officer of the rd Bomb Group, dated 1 February 1945. Said the German Evaluation Report, "These are apparently points which are repeatedly used in operations against Germany (possibly also turning points). These code numbers may be used in radio communication as well as on papers carried on operations. The frequent use of lakes as check points, especially specific points on a lake, is worthy of notice."

The value of this information to the Luftwaffe, with both interceptor squadrons and AA under its command, does not need emphasis here.

German interrogators agreed that the only possible way to resist interrogation was to say parrot wise: "My name is Smith, my rank is so-and-so, my number is such-and-such." A man who did this was regarded as a hopeless case and the interrogators' commitments being what they were, the PW was dumped in a permanent camp. As a matter of fact, very few prisoners were able to stick to this formula but the official instruction is the perfect one and the one at which security education should aim.

The success of rigid adherence to the name, rank, and number formula is shown by the story of a British PW interrogator who was captured in June 1944 by the Germans in Italy. This man endured 9 days solitary confinement and approximately 20 days interrogation by the Gestapo, during which time he was manacled, without ever departing from his original statement "My name is H-, my rank is Flight Lieutenant, and my number is such and such." He was finally dumped in a permanent camp WITHOUT THE GERMANS EVER DISCOVERING THAT HE WAS AN INTERROGATOR.

The interrogation staff tried for 9 days to shake this resolution and for the last 3 of these days had him handcuffed continuously. A guard entered the cell every half hour during the night and switched on the light. He had no opportunity to wash or shave during these 9 days, and maintains that the heating of the cell produced acute discomfort after 2 hours. This was altered, however, as soon as he complained. At the end of 9 days he was told that he had lost his chance of being treated as a bona fide prisoner of war, and was then conveyed to the criminal prison at Frankfurt, where solitary confinement continued for a further 3 weeks. From there he was taken periodically to the S.S. Headquarters in Frankfurt and interrogated.

He was assailed by a long campaign of threats culminating in the statement, after about 20 days, that he was to be taken to Berlin and probably eventually to be hanged. His morale remained unshaken, however, even when he was confronted by the escort which was to take him to Berlin, and a receipt for him had been exchanged. His destination, however, turned out to be an ordinary PW Stalag, for the Gestapo, like the earlier interrogators, had bluffed their last trump and lost.

This officer was in due course repatriated and has himself interrogated some of the men who handled him in Germany. This glowing example of a prisoner who refused to speak is the greatest possible vindication of the basic security rule "Name, Rank, and Serial Number"—ONLY!  

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