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"PW Interrogation: The Germans Mean Business" from Intelligence Bulletin, March 1945

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]   A report on German methods of PW interrogation, from the Intelligence Bulletin, March 1945.

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


Deprived of opportunities for extensive air reconnaissance, the Germans have come to depend increasingly on prisoner-of-war interrogation for information about the strength and dispositions of Allied forces, as well as about new weapons, military installations, Allied morale, and other vitally important matters. German interrogation, which was skillful even at the beginning of the war, today is a highly developed technique in which every move is deliberately calculated to serve a purpose. The latest procedures, as practiced by an enemy Army Group now engaged in combat, should be more widely known. Although German interrogators still like to get their hands on an Allied officer whenever they can, they seldom miss a chance to put an enlisted man through the mill.

[PW Interrogation: The Germans Mean Business]

The Army Group in question does not make a practice of commencing interrogation immediately after capture. It recognizes that any attempt to get an Allied soldier to talk at such a time is almost certain to fail. As a rule, then, the "preliminary interrogation" begins soon after the prisoner reaches a collecting point.


The interrogating officer launches an extremely general conversation. In the course of this, he casually requests the prisoner to fill in a personnel form. This form of course goes much further than "Name, rank, and serial number." Any information already available concerning the man's unit and its mission is used as a check on the accuracy of the statements made on the personnel form. The Germans know that instead of stopping at "Name, rank, and serial number," an overconfident prisoner, intending to have a little fun at his captor's expense, may answer the questions incorrectly. (Official U.S. Army comment on this misguided effort to be clever is "Don't attempt to give any answers at all!")

If a prisoner lies, or loses his temper and behaves in an undisciplined manner, "a rougher treatment (within the limits of the Articles of the Geneva Convention) or a lengthy solitary confinement may be of help," this Army Group has been told. Such treatment even may be accorded a prisoner who observes the rules of military courtesy, but who scrupulously refuses to tell more than his name, rank, and serial number. However, the prisoner who conducts himself with absolute propriety is the winner in the end; the Wehrmacht, if not the SS, entertains a certain respect for the Allied soldier who says, "In obeying orders, I am behaving with the same correctness that you would expect a German soldier to display in the same circumstances." Loyalty to one's own military organization inspires a grudging admiration in the German mind.

During the preliminary interrogation, the interrogating officer is likely to express doubts as to the effectiveness of U.S. weapons—introducing the subject offhandedly, as part of a seemingly friendly conversation. The purpose, of course, is to lead the prisoner to contradict the interrogator and supply further information unwittingly. Or the interrogator may go to extremes in boasting about the effectiveness of German weapons—again with the hope that he will be contradicted and that the truth will be forthcoming.

The Germans know that it is useless to assume that an Allied soldier harbors any sympathy for National Socialism. Interrogators generally refrain from introducing politics into the conversation, although they sometimes probe around to find sore spots—telling a British prisoner that the Americans are letting his people do all the fighting, and vice versa. Or remarking to a British or American soldier that the Soviets are merely using the Western Allies as pawns. Since Allied prisoners usually are quick to recognize the motive behind such slurs, the Germans are likely to talk about sports, instead, knowing that Allied prisoners are genuinely interested in this topic. It is not unusual for the Germans to ask something like "What do you think of the St. Louis Cardinals?" as a possible tongue-loosener before touching on military matters in a casual fashion.

German interrogating officers have been warned that clumsy or premature questions do more harm than good.

When dealing with prisoners of war who have been discovered among the civilian population or who have been found wearing items of civilian clothing, the Germans usually threaten to treat such prisoners as sabotage agents unless they prove their identity by naming their units and giving many sorely needed details about these outfits.

After the preliminary interrogation, the examiner writes out his impressions of the prisoner's personality, mentality, and so on, and, if possible, indicates what kind of information possibly can be extracted from him in the course of the main interrogation.

During the first few days, prisoners are permitted, and even encouraged, to write to their relatives and friends. The Germans always hope that such letters not only will contain descriptions of events preceding the capture, but will dovetail with other prisoners' letters and thereby reveal much useful data.


The main interrogation is based on the results of the first questioning, on information derived from documents recently captured and evaluated, and on a summary of all information already known regarding the prisoner's unit as well as of the most important questions which need to be answered.

An interrogating officer best suited to the character and temperament of the prisoner is detailed to perform the job, on the theory that the prisoner's reserve possibly will thaw in an atmosphere of congeniality. Sometimes this necessitates the use of a second interrogating officer for the more highly specialized questions.

Although, on the surface, the main interrogation may seem much like the preliminary interrogation, the two differ greatly; in the second questioning the enemy has much more data on which to base queries, and can work toward more definite objectives. To their annoyance the Germans have found the average U.S. soldier security-conscious and extremely stubborn about refusing to talk. He has been very well trained in this respect," an official German source observes.)

The way a prisoner will react depends on the individual method of treatment, the Germans believe. This is why so much emphasis is placed on judging each man's personality beforehand. Having analyzed each case as carefully as possible, the interrogator tries to decide which of the following approaches will yield the most favorable results:

1. Speedy, exact, and pointed questions.

2. Cordial introductory conversation about personal interests—family, profession, sports, weapons, reminiscences about military experiences, and so on.

3. Casual revelation of information at hand about Allied units, with the implication that, since everything is already known, there is no need to bother about concealing anything.

4. Indication—whether true or false—that the prisoner's officers already have given information.

5. Comment that, if the prisoner refuses to talk, documents which have been found on him and which he should have destroyed (marked maps, and so on) may be shown to other prisoners of war—thus suggesting subsequent unpleasantness in store for him.

6. Offer of cigarettes or a drink, and a promise to see to it that the prisoner's relatives will immediately be informed of his capture, either by mail or over the radio.

This Army Group makes a great point of not allowing an interrogation to seem what it really is. The atmosphere of a voluntary and pleasant conversation is sought. The interrogating officer is alone with the prisoner, and does not take notes. Under no circumstances is a stenographer permitted to take down, in a prisoner's presence, the information that he gives; if necessary, however, the stenographer will take down the information while remaining out of sight. (The usual procedure is for the interrogating officer to write down, as soon as the questioning is finished, all the information he has obtained.) Sometimes a prisoner is questioned during the course of an outdoor stroll—after he has been in solitary confinement long enough to make him well disposed toward the person who apparently has arranged for his release.

Persistently stubborn prisoners of war may be quartered with stool pigeons, or with prisoners from the same Allied unit so that their conversation may be picked up by microphones. However, an interesting development has restricted this particular Army Group's use of stool pigeons. Double-crossing has been so prevalent that permission to use this method now is granted only in very special cases. [It is not stated whether the trouble has been caused by anti-Nazi Germans or by Allied prisoners determined not to aid the enemy.]

To summarize, the Army Group pursues a policy that a sympathetic, but clear and methodical, approach should be the standard operating procedure when dealing with U.S. prisoners of war. "The better the interrogating officer can put across the idea that he already has an abundance of information about the prisoner's unit and about the Allied forces in general, the sooner the prisoner will talk. It has proved helpful to discover and memorize the names of prisoner's immediate superiors, and to introduce into the conversation plentiful allusions to what the man's outfit has been doing in recent months."

Leading questions (such as "Your outfit sailed from Boston, didn't it?" and "Your commanding officer really didn't know his stuff, did he?") are avoided, since it is believed that they lead prisoners to make deliberately vague and incorrect replies.

Knowing that the enemy uses such interrogation methods as the foregoing, the U.S. soldier who is taken prisoner must be doubly on his guard, and must on no account permit himself to go farther than giving his name, rank, and serial number. The cigarette may look too good to be true. and so may the shot of schnapps—the interrogator may sound like a good guy and really know his World's Series—the alleged opportunity to get word to the family right away may seem like a lucky break—the opportunity to talk big and pull the wool over the interrogator's eyes may be tempting—


It's still got to be "name, rank, and number" and "That's all I can say, sir."

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