[Lone Sentry: Some Enemy Practices Used in Interrogating Prisoners of War, WWII Tactical and Technical Trends]
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"Some Enemy Practices Used in Interrogating Prisoners of War" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following report on German interrogation methods was originally printed in the U.S. War Department publication Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 12, November 19, 1942.

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department publication Tactical and Technical Trends. As with all wartime intelligence information, data may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the text. Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]


By resorting to tricks and subterfuge to entice the unwary, the enemy hopes to extract information of value from captured prisoners. Here are some of these tricks as recently reported.

In a building set aside for interrogation, prisoners are questioned in a half-hearted manner and are then transferred to another room where they find three or four other "prisoners." These prisoners are, in fact, Italians or Germans speaking perfect English. To avoid detection they are often dressed in a uniform of a service other than that to which the real prisoner belongs (for example, RAF when the prisoner is in the army, South African when the prisoner is English).

A smiling Nazi may say in an attempt to ingratiate himself, "England and Germany should be fighting together. We don't hate one another."

Sometimes a prisoner is not questioned for several days--perhaps weeks. If he is in the hospital, a "wounded" German or Italian is sent along who has been in England and speaks some English. He has all the charm of a Fuller brush man, and gradually lets it leak out that he is anti-Nazi, and perhaps has a row with a fellow Nazi. He takes his time, and gradually the conversation veers around to the war.

Real interrogators use another method to get prisoners to talk. "We know so much there is nothing you can tell us," he remarks, as he flips over a lot of important looking papers. He then attempts to provoke the prisoner into proving that he is not the ignoramus the interrogator tells him he is.

The prisoner may be marched into a tent lighted by one flickering lantern. There is a good deal of side-play. The interrogator snaps out the routine questions: "Name - rank - number?" When the next question is greeted with silence, the sentry is ordered to leave the tent. The interrogator fingers his revolver. "I don t want to resort to methods we dislike," he says, and hopes the prisoner will believe the opposite. He may be taken into a confined space, such as an armored car. The interrogator talks in a low voice, and explains that he wants some important information and he is determined to get it. He is candid. "You are alone, you have a family. You want to live. It is nice to be a hero when someone is looking, but you are alone."

The note of death is constantly repeated in an attempt to break down morale. The interrogator, however, is not going to kill the goose which may lay the golden egg; besides, there are thousands of enemy (German and Italian) prisoners, and news of what happens in German prison camps travels fast.

Breaking down resistance and morale is the first object of the enemy interrogating officer. To encompass this, physical fatigue is often induced by forced marches, light rations, and inadequate shelter. Another trick is the spreading of fantastic tales about Russian reverses, Japanese successes, and Allied losses. Then there is the time-worn trap: "Your comrades have told us everything so why don't you?"

In a Nazi or Fascist state, everyone is a suspect of the secret police. They are long practiced in eavesdropping, and this experience is used in wartime. If other methods fail, prisoners are put together in the most innocent-appearing circumstances. A hidden microphone reveals to a listening enemy any matters of military interest that are talked about.

The answer to these tricks, and there are others, is the maintenance of rigid silence.

Direct interrogation is a war of attrition between prisoner and interrogator, and the battle is lost by the one who tires first. If it is the interrogator, the prisoner is passed on as "no good" to join his countrymen in a prisoner-of-war camp. If, however, he tries to bluff the interrogator by giving him false information, or to appease, by giving half-truths; if any chink is found in his armor of silence, he will often remain for weeks and weeks under process, much to his own personal discomfort. The tough prisoner is not only admired by the enemy but, if he wins out, fares better in the end. Thus the attitude of "name, rank, and number only" not only serves country and comrades, but is without doubt in the best interests of the individual.

Conversations on military matters must always be resolutely avoided; plans to escape discussed only in the open. Further, attempts to persuade a prisoner that he can relieve the anxiety of his family, by broadcasting must be resisted. Such offers are made to build up enemy radio propaganda.

Finally, personal papers should never be carried into battle. Most insignificant pieces of evidence, personal letters, hotel bills, tickets, give clues to a competent interrogator.


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