The following article on methods of dealing with German prisoners of
war consists of excerpts taken from a personal letter written by a British
Intelligence Officer in the North African desert. This officer's notes are based on his
work at headquarters of the British XXX Corps during the winter campaign of
1941-1942. A few changes have been made in unfamiliar British military
terminology, but otherwise the excerpts are presented verbatim.
Of particular interest both to U.S. Intelligence officers and to any U.S. soldiers
who may be taken prisoner are the illustrations of the tremendous
amount of information which is unintentionally divulged by prisoners of war.
"In static warfare evacuation of PW [prisoners of war] was easy, because
they went back through the normal supply channels to the cage and thence
to railhead. The great advantage was that they could be intercepted at any point, and
there was always a little transport to spare for carting around a few who
were specially interesting.
"In the armored battle, when movement was generally very rapid, it
was impossible to arrange anything cut and dried. Interrogation could not be
done forward of the FMCs [field maintenance centers] because IO [intelligence officers] at
Div Hq and below were much too busy with other duties. My own view it that a
second IO is essential at Hq of an Armd Div.
"The shortage of tactical interrogators is very marked. The cages at FMCs and
railhead were manned almost entirely by CSDIC [sic] personnel. This is not
satisfactory, except in a few cases, because CSDIC people know nothing
about tactics, and, with respect, nothing about tactical interrogation either. It is
essential to have interrogators who can do the job without calling in gunners, etc., to be
present at the interrogation and telling them what questions to ask. The
idea that interrogators need not be soldiers should be buried forever.
"Arrangements for interrogation were haphazard. Sometimes a tent was provided for the
interrogators at the cage, sometimes nothing. Some form of cover is essential at the
cage even in mobile warfare, and in a campaign like this where two foreign
languages are involved, the arrangements should be duplicated. It would be a
great help if each pair of interrogators could have one car, driven
by a batman-driver; this car should be of the Humber staff-car type with an
office table in place of the rear seat. A typewriter is an enormous asset.
"During the armored battle, liaison with interrogators was almost non-existent (a) because
the intelligence staffs of higher echelons were too busy with other
jobs, and (b) because there was no direct means of communication. During the
static operations, it was very good, because (a) intelligence staffs
had more time; (b) the FMC, though not the cage itself, was on the end of a line, and
we put the interrogators in the picture at least once a day; and (c) we sent
the interrogators our intelligence summaries daily. Results in this case were
first-rate, and each day we gave the interrogators a list of the points which were
of most immediate interest.
"The technique of tactical interrogation as taught at X [in England] seems to
me, if I may say so, to be excellent. German PW have run true to form. They
nearly always respond (a) to someone who shouts at them, and (b) to show of
knowledge. Many of them are comparatively secure about tactical information, but
most of them will at least admit their units.
"The 'show of knowledge' worked with one Pionier, who unlike most of
his countrymen had no Soldbuch [paybook] and no Erkennungsmarke [identification
tag] . He refused to give his unit and was asked 'You don't imagine that
we don't know what German sapper units are in Libya?' - he said 'Yes, I do', but
gave the name of his unit straight away as soon as the list of sapper units was
reeled off to him.
"Other points which I have had a chance of verifying or discovering are
(a) Never ask a leading question, (b) Don't ask too many questions one on top of the
other, (c) If the PW doesn't answer a question immediately, always leave a
longer pause than you think necessary; he usually says something in the end
which will help the interrogation even if it doesn't give you any
information, (d) Don't expect too much from interrogation. Training courses inevitably
present interrogation as something a little spectacular. If a chap does produce a
spectacular piece of information, go to great pains to check it; for this
purpose it sometimes helps to deny what he says, so that he is obliged to give the
reason why he knows, (e) Maps: out here at any rate it is practically useless to
show a prisoner a map. The Germans apparently make little use of them; an
Obergefreiter never has anything to do with one. If a PW starts to point out a
route or a position on a map, he nearly always gets the scale wrong. It is best
for the interrogator to have the map or the air photograph and to take some
well-known reference point and then say 'You are standing here with your back
to so-and-so. Now what do you see?' It is most important to cross-check any estimate
of distance that a PW gives.
"I have held two parades of German PW, one of 16 men, and the other
of 95. The words of command taught at X worked very well, and so did the idea
of calling out the senior NCO and making him do the work. Here again a show
of knowledge and authority helped a great deal. It was a good scheme to line
them all up, tell them to place all their belongings on the ground in front of
them and hold ready their Soldbuch and Erkennungsmarke. On the
first occasion the old trick worked of saying 'Everybody in the 104 Lorried Inf Regt fall
in over there'; on the other, after the fall of Bardia, I told the senior NCO, that
rare specimen, a Hauptfeldwebel, to fall in the 95 other chaps according to units
and, to my great surprise, he did it like a lamb.
"The Soldbuch was on the familiar pattern. Very occasionally a PW said
he had handed it to the company office, and sometimes pages 3 and 4 were torn
out. But practically always it gave the necessary information. All officers
"During the operations at Bardia, Salum, and Halfaya, many PW did not
carry paybooks. These had been taken away and kept with the Wehrpass at the
company office, where, in many cases, they were duly found later on. Instead of
a Soldbuch, PW carried a temporary certificate of identity giving the following
Rank, Christian name, Surname,
Date and place of birth,
Date of arrival in Africa.
"The certificate was signed by the company commander and was stamped
with the field post number. Identification was therefore possible in most cases.
"The certificate was typed on any piece of paper. When folded it was much the
same size as a Soldbuch. A facsimile is reproduced below. Occasionally
particulars of pay were entered on the back of the certificate, and in these
cases the company commander's signature and field post number were repeated.
|Inhaber ist der __________________________________________________|
| (Dienstgrad, Name, Zuname)|
|geb am ___________________________________________________________|
|wohnhaft in ______________________________________________________|
|(written in) Am . . . . . . . auf afrikanischem Boden eingetroffen|
|(Official stamp) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . |
"Erkennungsmarken were of three kinds (1) showing the man's present
unit - this was comparatively rare, (2) showing the man's ersatz unit - this
was the most common, (3) giving a number, usually so far as I remember of five
digits but not the field post number - this is evidently a new kind; very few PW have it.
"The field post number was invaluable as a means of identification. From
quite early on, Army compiled a fairly extensive list, and this must have
been of great help to regular interrogators. I think that in the first few days
of a campaign it is most important that field post numbers should be reported with identifications.
"Documents were almost fantastic in their quantity and their value to us. Examples
are (a) the capture by 30 Corps on D2 of a map showing the dispositions of all
German units before D1; (b) the capture by 13 Corps of a valuable operation
order, and (c) by far the biggest capture, the complete signals office
of 21 Pz Div during the first week of the offensive. Minor examples are legion: war
diaries, code names, photographs showing new weapons, training pamphlets, intelligence
summaries, personal diaries, casualty returns and so on. Two things stand out from
the IOs point of view; he must know Schrift as well as possible, and he
should have a very good knowledge of German conventional signs; the Germans use
them for marked maps, orders of battle, operation orders and vehicle markings, in
fact wherever possible. If an IO knows them by heart he will save himself an immense
amount of time.
"Out here almost all the organizations have something peculiar about them; but a
knowledge of the normal organization helps a lot. I believe that it
would be a good aim to have everyone leaving X knowing the organization of the
German Inf and Armored Divs backwards. An IO who knows his way about
enemy weapons is invaluable.
"A knowledge of the main principles of tactics is invaluable, because the
Germans are so consistent. I take back any mud that I may have thrown
at von Cochenhausen! [See Tactical and
Technical Trends No. 7, p. 22,
and No. 8, p. 7] This
knowledge is particularly helpful when it comes to writing deductions for