MI9/IS9 Lecture Notes on Secret Code Letter Writing

The following No. 9 Intelligence School lecture notes for operational personnel give a background to the purpose of MI9, the escape and evasion section of Military Intelligence. They give an explanation on the use of secret letter-writing codes by Prisoners of War to communicate with home, to request escape aids and to supply military and economic intelligence.

 

No. 9 INTELLIGENCE SCHOOL

IV. SECTION 'Y'

LECTURE NOTES ON "CAMP CONDITIONS"

1. INTRODUCTION

Title of lecture camouflage. The talk mainly concerns secret means of communication established with our Prisoners of War.

The lecture is "MOST SECRET" and no notes will be taken during it unless the class are specifically instructed in certain instances. It is not to be discussed or mentioned to anyone.

2. HISTORY OF M.I.9.

Formed in January 1940 for the purpose of dealing with all matters relating to British Prisoners of War from an Intelligence aspect. Its charter consisted of:-

  1. Arranging secret means of communication with our Prisoners of War, for the purpose of receiving from them information of military and economic value.
  2. Providing them with aids to escape.
  3. Helping operational personnel to evade capture if stranded in enemy occupied territory.
  4. Training operational personnel in the above before they are sent on active service.

The Admiralty and Air Ministry were both consulted and agreed that all British Prisoners of War should be dealt with from an Intelligence angle by M.I.9. It is, therefore, an Inter-Service Section made up of officers from the six services - the Royal Navy, Army, R.A.F., W.R.N.S., A.T.S. and W.A.A.F.

Successful escapers of the last war were drafted to the section, the Foreign Office code experts were consulted with regard to the supply of official codes, lectures were arranged to preach the gospel to operational personnel and a technical section formed to work out ways and means of manufacturing escape and evasion aids, etc.

3. OFFICIAL CODES

The first code given to us by the Foreign Office experts was one which could only operate in conjunction with a dictionary. Later on we were given a second, less complicated code. These codes were named No. I and No. II.

In the case of the Royal Navy and R.A.F. (both being based at home), we were able to get No. I Code taught to quite a number of operational personnel, but when France collapsed in June 1940, there were only three official code users who were actually Prisoners of War - 2 R.A.F. and 1 R.N. - and no code communication had, up to that time, come from them.

The prisoners taken by the Germans after the defeat of France numbered about 50,000, nearly all Army personnel, none of whom, so far as we were aware, knew anything about our activities.

Added to this was the fact that no communications came through from our Prisoners of War until about November 1940.

In December 1940 we received our first code letter from an Air Force prisoner, and so secret means of communication was established with Stalag Luft.

Our great problem was how to get in touch with the Army personnel, who constituted 95% of our Prisoners of War, when nothing had been arranged with them before capture.

This is how we tackled it.

  1. We instructed Censorship to send us for examination any letters suspected of secondary meaning or of containing a private means of communication.
  2. We also asked them for other types of letters - those containing information about conditions in the camps, about morale, etc., so that we could get a general picture.
  3. We then examined these letters carefully and got in touch with the addressees in likely cases.
  4. We discovered a few workable private codes and ourselves wrote to the prisoners concerned, using the means they had employed and sending the letters from fictitious people and addresses. We invented names which we hoped would make them suspicious. (EXAMPLES TO BE GIVEN).
  5. Our luck was in because, in certain cases of officer Prisoners of War, they read our secret messages and we, therefore, established contact with two or three Oflags.
  6. Then real good fortune came our way. We were notified by means of one of these private codes, that the Camp had got the War Office Official Code which had been brought in by an officer captured whilst on a special operation.
  7. Although this officer, whose name was given us by the camp, had not been taught by us, we got all his back letters from his wife and, because it turned out to be an adaptation of our No. II Code, we managed to break it ourselves.
  8. This officer had done a magnificent job from our point of view. His back letters gave particulars of many officers to whom he had taught the code. They covered all the Oflags and, when we obtained the back letters of these officers, we discovered they had taught others as well. So the snowball was well under way in the Oflags. We set about getting them to organise Code and Escape Committees which they did with alacrity and enthusiasm.
  9. The case of the Stalags was different. We had not found a single private code in the hundreds of letters we had read from O[ther] R[ank]s. This is how we managed to get in touch with them.
  10. Under the Geneva Convention of 1929 it is laid down that protected personnel (i.e. padres and doctors) may, if they wish, volunteer to serve in the O.R.s' camps. We suggested, therefore, to our Code correspondents in the Oflags that selected padres and doctors should be approached and asked to volunteer for service in the Stalags - taking with them, of course, the code in their heads.
  11. The padres and doctors played up splendidly. They did as suggested, and on reaching the Stalags, picked out the most reliable O.R.s, taught them the official code, notified us of their particulars, etc., and so got code communication with us going.
  12. Today we are in touch by official secret means with practically all British P/W camps under German control (excluding certain working detachment camps isolated from the base camps) and this had been the case since the Spring and Summer of 1941.
  13. Many camps are splendidly organised with Code Organisations and Escape Committees operating smoothly and efficiently.
  14. We have been greatly encouraged in our work by letters of appreciation of our efforts received from many of the camps, also by what successful escapers have told us of the value of our efforts to those interned. Morale is, in consequence, on a very high level.

4. ESCAPE MATERIAL

Part of M.I.9's Charter is to try to help Prisoners of War to escape. It is the duty of every Prisoner of War to try to escape if possible, so there is nothing unusual in this being included in the Charter.

We, therefore, are always endeavouring to supply camps with aids for this purpose.

We utilise many ways of sending out escape material and use all kinds of ingenious methods. We are constantly thinking of new ways. (EXAMPLES TO BE GIVEN). Some have, of course, been discovered by the enemy, and then we switch on to some other means of getting the stuff through.

We have never used, and never shall use, the British Red Cross Society's label for our purposes, nor have we ever used N/K [Next of Kin] parcels.

The types of aids we send out include vast quantities of Reichmarks (genuine), compasses, maps, routes, hacksaws, etc., and of course, any particular thing asked for.

In 1941 we estimate that about 90% of the 1200 "special" parcels sent out reached our Prisoners of War intact.

Escape material goes out regularly and in ever increasing quantities.

We notify the Camps by code what is being sent, to whom the parcels are addressed and where to look for the material. They are, therefore, always on the look out for any of our "special" parcels.

All-contraband parcels are now being received successfully in some Camps.

Our "special" parcels are collected by the Escape Committee who use the escape material at their discretion.

5. INFORMATION THROUGH CODE ORGANISATIONS

Information received from well run Code Organisations is much more valuable than from individual code users.

Details of information wanted by us are sent out to the Code Organisers in all camps. They, in their turn, get their teams to collect the information required which, when obtained, is reported to them. Details are then thoroughly checked and sent to us in a series of code messages.

Code Organisers also send us particulars of doubtful characters in Camps so that we can have them checked up with M.I.5 and, in this way, protect them from the possibility of "stool pigeons" being planted in the Camps.

Code users are employed to send home information of military and economic value, requests for escape material, acknowledgements of messages received, etc. (EXAMPLES TO BE GIVEN).

These channels of secret communication between England and the enemy countries are used not only by the three Services but by the Foreign Office, M[inistry of] E[conomic] W[arfare], etc., also by many subversive departments. It is probably the most reliable source available for keeping this country informed of what is going on inside Germany.

If a P/W code user, arriving at a new camp, cannot find any trace of a code organisation, he should send a message home to us asking for information. If there is no Code Organisation in existence we should instruct him to start one himself by picking out suitable people willing to help. He should then arrange for various Prisoners of War in "key" positions to be collectors of information.

If a Code user finds it necessary to teach the code to selected Prisoners of War it is essential that he sends us all particulars in duplicate - in case one letter goes astray. No variation of code details transmitted to us for registration should be altered without giving us previous warning. Code signs are a great help to us at this end.

The following codes are now in use in camps:-

No. I.
No. II (with four variations).
No. III.
No. IV (Americans).
No. V (Oflag IV/C).
No. VI.
No. VII was given to M[idle] E[ast] for special operations.
No. VIII was given to M.O.I. for special purposes.
Nos. IX, X, XI and XII are in reserve for teaching when required.

All codes with an official number, as above, are submitted to the Foreign Office Code experts before being passed as official codes.

We, ourselves, have invented the codes referred to.

6. ACTION OF PRISONERS OF WAR AFTER CAPTURE

A Prisoner of War does not report to S[enior] B[ritish] O[fficer] at DULAG LUFT (R.A.F.), or DULAG NORD (NAVAL). These are special transit camps where subtle interrogation is carried to a fine art. Only give NAME, RANK and NUMBER, nothing else.

Immediate duty to report OUT OF DOORS to S.B.O. (or Camp Leader) as soon as possible after arrival at permanent Camp.

If the Prisoner of War has been taught an official code he should inform the S.B.O., who will do the rest.

Prisoners of War should keep the Camp Commandant as busy as possible dealing with trivial complaints which are submitted through the S.B.O. Nuisance value is of great importance.

If a Prisoner of War is physically fit, he should think about attempting to escape as soon as possible and, for this purpose, should ask the S.B.O. to put him in touch with the Escape Committee. They will give him all possible help.

7. NEWS LETTERS

Code and Correspondence Section writes many News letters in clear to Prisoners of War.

These letters started at the end of 1940 before we were in touch with Camps by secret means and were written in an attempt to counteract German propaganda which had succeeded in reducing morale to a deplorably low level.

We tried to improve morale by sending out News letters telling our people about the Battle of Britain, etc. The letters were sent from fictitious people and addresses. It was our hope that a few would slip through the German censors and so be read in the Camps.

As the letters had to be examined by a German censor, it was felt that no letter was wasted.

Many of these letters got through successfully and, in consequence, we have continued writing News letters ever since.

They have expanded in scope and now include letters to all our Indian Prisoners of War. We have about 150 outside correspondents who help us in this respect, mainly with regard to the Indian P/W personnel.

Letters are also used by subversive departments in order to spread rumours, etc., and to deceive the enemy.

We write these letters in all sorts of styles - straight news, news in secondary meaning, news by sarcastic converse, etc.

Our prisoners tell us that these letters are enormously appreciated, so we still continue writing as many as we can manage each month. (EXAMPLES TO BE GIVEN).

8. CONCLUSIONS

Secrecy is all important in code work.

Prisoners of War are of great value to their country as code users. They are still in the war and doing a most important job for the war effort.

When teaching code to a class, as many practice letters as possible should be insisted upon. Until code users write code letters naturally, and normally, they are a liability. Practice makes perfect and this is the best security against discovery by the enemy.

Finally, no Prisoner of War is allowed to broadcast over the enemy radio or to give his permanent parole.

THIS LECTURE IS MOST SECRET AND THE INFORMATION GIVEN MUST NOT BE PASSED ON TO ANYONE.

(At the conclusion of this lecture, questions should be invited. At least 15 minutes of the time allocated for the lecture should be allowed for questions).

[Source: TNA WO 208/3242, transcribed by www.arcre.com]