Spitfire versus six Messerschmitt 109s

One Messerschmitt did a barrel roll to the left. I fired at him as he did so, and he dropped back. I was then engaged from astern, and lost a bit of ground. By the time we got to Hastings I had caught up the rest of them again, and knocked bits off one. Another was half a mile or more below and behind the others as they crossed the coast. He was dropping back rapidly, and I was hoping to finish him off when six more Messerschmitt 109’s came down at me from over the Channel in line abreast.

Solo Spitfire in flight
Spitfire F Mk.1 in flight viewed from slightly above.

The relative merits of the Spitfire and the Messerschmitt 109 have been debated ever since the Battle of Britain. Whatever the different technical performance of the different airframes, engines and armaments one factor was never predictable – the capabilities of the pilot. Sometimes, fighting for their very life, exceptional pilots could overcome heavy odds.

The Battle of Britain, as it would eventually be designated, was now drawing to a close. But in late October the Germans were still conducting fighter sweeps across southern England and RAF fighter squadrons were still meeting them.

One Spitfire pilot describes how he was detached from his flight to investigate enemy aircraft and then returned to join his colleagues above south East London. Moments later he realised he had mistakenly joined a patrol of enemy Me 109s and was weaving between enemy aircraft:

When I realized what I was doing I got a pretty fair shock. I went in to attack double quick. One Messerschmitt did a barrel roll to the left. I fired at him as he did so, and he dropped back. I was then engaged from astern, and lost a bit of ground.

By the time we got to Hastings I had caught up the rest of them again, and knocked bits off one. Another was half a mile or more below and behind the others as they crossed the coast. He was dropping back rapidly, and I was hoping to finish him off when six more Messerschmitt 109’s came down at me from over the Channel in line abreast.

They went into line astern and circled round me at about 30-yards intervals. But number six was about 100 yards behind number five, so I went for him. He climbed steeply in a close turn. I had about 300 miles an hour on the clock, so I pulled up almost vertically and gave him a burst flat into his feet from beneath. He rolled over and went straight down.

By this time number one was on my tail, so I went down behind number six, who was still going straight down in a slow aileron turn at 10,000 feet. But number one was still worrying me, so I went into a steep left-hand turn—and blacked out. On recovering from my black-out there were no more enemy in sight, so I climbed up again and went home.

Unfortunately the source does not give the exact date or the name of he pilot. See Norman Macmillan :THE ROYAL AIR FORCE IN THE WORLD WAR

Spitfire F Mk.1. Six aircraft of 65 Squadron
Spitfire F Mk.1. Six aircraft of 65 Squadron in starboard echelon formation. From near to far in the photo can be seen Spitfires FZ-L, FZ-O, FZ-P, FZ-A, FZ-H, and FZ-B.
RAF Spitfire in flight
A Spitfire Mk 1 from the Battle of Britain.

Nazi propaganda controls German news

Twenty-four hours after Italy’s wanton aggression against Greece, the German people are still deprived of news by their rulers.  Not a line in the morning papers or the noon papers.  But Goebbels is carefully preparing his public for the news.  This morning he had the press publish the text of the outrageous Italian ultimatum to the Greek government.  It was almost an exact copy of the ultimatum which the Germans sent to Denmark and Norway, and later to Holland and Belgium.  But the German public may have wondered what happened after the ultimatum, since it expired yesterday morning.  


Joseph Goebbels portrait
Joseph Goebbels addressing a Nazi rally.

The Nazi propaganda machine was highly efficient. There was tight control over the information getting to the German population. When the news was unwelcome the German Propaganda Minister, Joseph Goebbels, was able to delay its release while the desired message was formulated. Hitler, and the Nazi regime, had been taken by surprise by the Italian invasion of Greece. But it was matter of routine for them to delay the news and then twist the facts when it did come out.

In one of his last diary entries from Germany the American journalist William Shirer describes German news management. Shirer had had a very successful run following the war in Germany and had covered the first bombing of Berlin by the RAF, after earlier getting the scoop on the French surrender in June.

Shirer had now decided that time was running out for him, even though he was an American citizen. He had already moved his family to Switzerland.

On this occasion his German military contacts seem to have had a very accurate assessment of the abilities of the Greeks against the Italians:

Berlin, October 29, 1940

Twenty-four hours after Italy’s wanton aggression against Greece, the German people are still deprived of news by their rulers.  Not a line in the morning papers or the noon papers.  But Goebbels is carefully preparing his public for the news.  This morning he had the press publish the text of the outrageous Italian ultimatum to the Greek government.  It was almost an exact copy of the ultimatum which the Germans sent to Denmark and Norway, and later to Holland and Belgium.  But the German public may have wondered what happened after the ultimatum, since it expired yesterday morning.

LATER.-The news was finally served the German people in the p.m. editions in the form of the text of today’s Italian war communique.  That was all.  But there were nauseating editorials in the local press condemning Greece for not having understood the “new order” and for having plotted with the British against Italy.  The moral cesspool in which German editors now splash was fairly well illustrated by their offerings today.  After several years of it I still find it exasperating.

Also today, the usual Goebbels fakes.  For example, one saying that the Greeks disdained even to answer the ultimatum, though the truth is that they did.  They rejected it.

 There is certainly no enthusiasm among the people here for the latest gangster step of the Axis.

German military people, always contemptuous of the Italians, tell me Greece will be no walk-way for Mussolini’s legions.  The mountainous terrain is difficult for motorized units to operate in and moreover, they say, the Greeks have the best mountain artillery in Europe.  General Metaxas, the Premier, and quite a few Greek officers have been trained at Potsdam, the Germans tell me.

See William L. Shirer: Berlin Diary: Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941

German children receive Nazi propaganda lessons, October 1940
German state propaganda extended into all areas of life. The Nazi party had recognised from its earliest days in power that one of its key target audiences were the young.

Metaxas says “No” – and Italy invades Greece

An ultimatum was delivered by Italy to Greece at 0300 on the 28th October and expired at 0600. The Greeks refused the terms and invoked Great Britain’s assistance. Artillery duels lasted till 1800, and the Greeks, retired from several advanced posts to previously prepared positions. The Italian forces on the Greco-Albanian frontier comprise seven divisions, with a considerable amount of artillery and A.F.Vs.

The Italian Julia Alpini Division march into Greece.
The Italian Julia Alpini Division march into Greece, October 1940.

The Italian dictator Mussolini was now beginning to feel sidelined by Hitler’s triumphs. He had joined the war opportunistically when he was confident that France would be defeated – but he had so far failed to gain anything significant for Italy from the war.

He had moved his troops into impoverished Albania. Now Mussolini thought he would present Hitler with the surprise occupation of Greece, south of Albania. Although they were formally in an Alliance Mussolini did not want to discuss the move in advance with Hitler.

At the time Hitler wanted to leave the Balkans undisturbed, not wanting to provoke British or Russian interests. Later in the war he would blame the events that were now about to unfold for the delays that prevented him getting to Moscow in 1941.

The Greek Prime Minister Metaxas
The Greek Prime Minister Metaxas immediately rejected Italian demands.

The opening gambit from Italy was typically presumptuous. The Greek Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas was roused from his bed in the early hours of 28th October and told to submit to Italian demands by 0600. Famously, standing in his night clothes, he said “Ohi” – “No”, and to this day the 28th October is celebrated in Greece as “Ohi Day”. Other accounts suggest that Metaxas curtly replied in French: “Alors, c’est la guerre” (“Then it is war”).

Italian-Greek Campaign.

An ultimatum was delivered by Italy to Greece at 0300 on the 28th October and expired at 0600. The Greeks refused the terms and invoked Great Britain’s assistance. Artillery duels lasted till 1800, and the Greeks, retired from several advanced posts to previously prepared positions. The Italian forces on the Greco-Albanian frontier comprise seven divisions, with a considerable amount of artillery and A.F.Vs.

Operations have begun slowly, and the principal Italian advance is directed from the south-western corner of Albania along the western coast of Greece. It is possible that this is intended initially as a diversion, and that an attack from the Koritsa area towards Fiorina and Salonika may develop later when certain Greek forces are engaged in the Epirus.

From the British military situation report for the week ending 31st October

For a thorough analysis of the circumstances that led Mussolini to invade Greece see Ian Kershaw: Fateful Choices: Ten Decisions that Changed the World, 1940-1941.

Italian troops crossed the border from Albania into Greece at 6am after the ultimatum was served at 3am.

Desert war – a different type of war

One did not occupy the desert any more than one occupied the sea. One simply took up position for a day or a week, and patrolled about it with Bren-gun carriers and light armoured vehicles. When you made contact with the enemy you manoeuvred about him for a place to strike, much as two fleets will steam into position for action. There were no trenches. There was no front line.

A detachment of newly arrived troops in Egypt leaving their camp for a route march, 9 October 1940. New reinforcements had to get used to their surroundings and get accustomed to marching in the desert.
A detachment of newly arrived troops in Egypt leaving their camp for a route march, 9 October 1940. New reinforcements had to get used to their surroundings and get accustomed to marching in the desert.
Infantry on patrol in the Western Desert, 27 October 1940.
Infantry on patrol in the Western Desert, 27 October 1940.

The Italians had crossed the border into the Egyptian desert in September but they were not making a co-ordinated attempt to continue their attack towards Cairo and the Suez canal. Alan Moorehead was a journalist covering the war:

More and more I began to see that desert warfare resembled war at sea. Men moved by compass. No position was static. There were few if any forts to be held. Each truck or tank was as individual as a destroyer, and each squadron of tanks or guns made great sweeps across the desert as a battle-squadron at sea will vanish over the horizon.

One did not occupy the desert any more than one occupied the sea. One simply took up position for a day or a week, and patrolled about it with Bren-gun carriers and light armoured vehicles. When you made contact with the enemy you manoeuvred about him for a place to strike, much as two fleets will steam into position for action. There were no trenches. There was no front line.

We might patrol five hundred miles into Libya and call the country ours. The Italians might as easily have patrolled as far into the Egyptian desert without being seen. Always the essential governing principle was that desert forces must be mobile: they were seeking not the conquest of territory or position but combat with the enemy. We hunted men, not land, as a warship will hunt another warship, and care nothing for the sea on which the action is fought.

See Alan Moorehead’s The Desert War: The Classic Trilogy on the North African Campaign 1940-43.

Men of the Staffordshire Regiment training with Bren guns for use against aircraft .
Troops of the King's Own Royal Regiment (Lancaster) laying a minefield, Egypt, 30 October 1940.
Troops of the King’s Own Royal Regiment (Lancaster) laying a minefield, Egypt, 30 October 1940.

Empress of Britain bombed at sea

At 9.20am on the 26th October a German FW 200 Condor emerged from the clouds and dropped two bombs on the liner Empress of Britain. She was north west of ireland, en route to Liverpool. The liner was now a troop transport and had been requisitioned in 1939. She was then subjected to a series of machine gun attacks from the aircraft. Her crew fought back with machine guns mounted on deck and there were relatively few casualties at this stage. However the bombs started large fires which soon crippled the ship. Many crew were trapped below deck by the fires, some forced to escape through portholes into the sea.

The liner Empress of Britain
A pre war image of the 42,000 ton Canadian Pacific luxury cruise liner Empress of Britain, the fastest ship of her class at the time. She became the largest civilian ship lost in the war when she was bombed on 26th October

At 9.20am on the 26th October a German FW 200 Condor emerged from the clouds and dropped two bombs on the liner Empress of Britain. The liner had been requisitioned in 1939 and was now a troop transport.

As well as the bombing the Empress was subjected to a series of machine gun attacks from the aircraft. Her crew fought back with machine guns mounted on deck and there were relatively few casualties at this stage. However the bombs started large fires which soon crippled the ship. Many crew were trapped below deck by the fires, some forced to escape through portholes into the sea.

George Larkin, a crew member later recalled:

The first I heard was machine gun fire, a moment later a bomb hit the ship. We were trapped and had to go right forward again through black choking smoke and fumes. Two men collapsed through suffocation before we reached safety by climbing to the upper deck

The Liverpool Daily Post carried a full report of the attack on 29th October:

A graphic description of the bombing was given by one of the seamen. It was overcast in the morning, he said, and the German plane came out of low cloud without warning.

It shot down in a deep dive dropping its bombs and raking the deck with machine-gun fire, very soon the vessel was an inferno.

James DEAN of St Andrews St, Edge Hill, Liverpool, said he was below when the bombing started and rushed on deck to see the bomber flying low over the ship. Despite the ruthless machine-gun fire and the raging flames along the whole of the deck, there was no panic. An anti-aircraft gun was put out of action so the ship was unable to reply effectively.

He feared some were trapped below deck, he got away in a lifeboat and was picked up by a rescue vessel. A steward, said, a single enemy plane suddenly came out of the clouds, machine-gunning the decks and the crew as it went. Some bombs dropped wide of the mark and the plane continued to circle the ship before dropping bombs which set the deck ablaze.

“It was like an inferno, although I have been on the ship for a long time and know every exit from the kitchen, I could not find my way out. All the staircases were ablaze, my only means of escape was through a porthole which I scrambled through and flung myself into the sea.”

“The water was icy cold and I kept swimming to prevent myself from becoming frozen. There was a heavy sea and it was impossible to reach the boats against the swell, while, those in the boats were unable to pull to members of the crew any distance away in the water. I and a colleague who followed me through the porthole, were in the water nearly an hour before we were picked up.”

Among the rescue vessels were two warships and three trawlers, who quickly answered the vessels SOS. Another survivor, said, there was no panic, the bombing was over in less than half an hour, occurring at 9.30am and many of the crew were unable to escape for some hours, but, conducted themselves with exemplary coolness and obeyed orders despite the rapid extension of the flames and the bursting of ammunition.

Read the whole of the original Liverpool Daily Post story at Old Mersey Times.

Almost all of the crew and passengers were rescued and the liner, still ablaze, taken in tow by Royal Navy destroyers. She was making slow progress so it was relatively easy for the U-Boat U-32 to reach the position and track her for 24 hours before torpedoing her on the 28th October. U-32 was on her ninth and last patrol, two days later she was herself sunk by depth charges by the destroyers HMS Harvester and HMS Highlander.

Oberleutnant Bernhard Jope (centre). At around 9:20am on 26 October 1940, travelling about 70 miles northwest of Ireland along the west coast, Empress of Britain was spotted by a German Focke-Wulf C 200 Condor long-range bomber, commanded by Oberleutnant Bernhard Jope. Jope’s bomber strafed Empress of Britain three times and hit her twice with 250 kg bombs.
Oberleutnant Bernhard Jope (centre).
At around 9:20am on 26 October 1940, travelling about 70 miles northwest of Ireland along the west coast, Empress of Britain was spotted by a German Focke-Wulf C 200 Condor long-range bomber, commanded by Oberleutnant Bernhard Jope. Jope’s bomber strafed Empress of Britain three times and hit her twice with 250 kg bombs.
Attack on the transport Empress of Britain 42,000 Gross Register Tons. Front Line Intelligence Newssheet of the Luftwaffe No. 26, Sheet 213
Attack on the transport Empress of Britain 42,000 Gross Register Tons. Front Line Intelligence Newssheet of the Luftwaffe No. 26, Sheet 213

U-Boats now operate from France

It is thought that, in view of the better repair facilities available in French than in Norwegian ports, this policy will be increasingly pursued in the future, and that Norwegian ports will largely be used as stopping places for submarines homeward bound for Germany after 2 or 3 cruises, to give leave. There is no reason to believe that any. of the submarines in Lorient came there by way of the English Channel, and it is possible that fear of air attack, has made them take the long sea route from Germany.

U Boat U-37
The Germans were now able to make use of the French port of Lorient as a base for their U-Boats. U-37, one of the most successful U-Boats of the war, was in Lorient for a month from 22nd October.

Enemy Attack on Seaborne Trade.

During the [the week up 24th October] 36 ships (150,091 tons) have been reported sunk. Of these, 17 British (89,199 tons), 3 Norwegian (14,080 tons), 3 Swedish (13,533 tons), 3 Dutch (10,878 tons), 2 Greek (7,408 tons), 1 Estonian (1,186 tons), 1 Belgian (5,186 tons) and 1 Yugo-Slav (5,135 tons) were sunk by submarine. Three British vessels (1,722 tons) were sunk by mine, 1 British (1,595 tons) was sunk by E-Boat and a British trawler (169 tons) was sunk by aircraft.

The U-Boats were particularly successful during this period, U-37 had continued to be active since April. They had ready access to the Atlantic and well co-ordinated tactics were now being used to hunt in Wolfpacks, often in response to sightings by Condor aircraft.

British Naval Intelligence worked hard to follow developments in the U-Boat fleet and now established that Lorient was being used as a U-Boat Base:

U-Boats.

The main German U-boat dispositions remain as in the last few weeks. Four or possibly five have been at work in the North-West Approaches and further out, one or two well to the Northward between 580 N. and 600 N. There have been indications of submarines on passage both to and from Lorient, and of one homeward bound via the Norwegian Coast which, after being damaged by air attack, entered the Skagerrak. Since the beginning of October it has been noticeable that there have been few reports of submarines on passage through the North Sea; on the other hand, the use of Lorient as a base has steadily increased.

For some time after the 22nd July, when the first U-Boat arrived in Lorient, the port was only used for short visits, but latterly there has been evidence from photographic reconnaissances of as many as 8 or 9 U-boats in the port, and that these are docked and repaired there. It is thought that, in view of the better repair facilities available in French than in Norwegian ports, this policy will be increasingly pursued in the future, and that Norwegian ports will largely be used as stopping places for submarines homeward bound for Germany after 2 or 3 cruises, to give leave. There is no reason to believe that any. of the submarines in Lorient came there by way of the English Channel, and it is possible that fear of air attack, has made them take the long sea route from Germany.

See TNA CAB /66/13/9

French leader Petain meets Hitler

The First World War French hero Petain had taken over the French Presidency at the age of 84 and it was his administration that signed an Armistice with Germany. Petain believed that he had to come to some accommodation with Germany, in order to preserve some independence of action for what remained of the French state. In his negotiations with Hitler at the Montoire meeting Petain sought to obstruct German access to French North Africa. Unfortunately the image of him shaking hands with Hitler came to represent a view that he was engaged in collaboration with the Nazi’s, rather than a more pragmatic co-operation. It became evidence to portray him as a traitor to France.

Petain meets Hitler
The French President Marshal Petain meets Adolf Hitler at Montoire in front of Hitler\’s interpreter Paul Schmidt with Foreign Minister Ribbentrop at the side.

The First World War French hero Petain had taken over the French Presidency at the age of 84 and it was his administration that signed an Armistice with Germany. Petain believed that he had to come to some accommodation with Germany, in order to preserve some independence of action for what remained of the French state. In his negotiations with Hitler at the Montoire meeting Petain sought to obstruct German access to French North Africa.

Unfortunately the image of him shaking hands with Hitler came to represent a view that he was engaged in collaboration with the Nazi’s, rather than a more pragmatic co-operation. It became evidence to portray him as a traitor to France.

For more details on the meeting and the position that Petain found himself in see the comment by Huntziger below, helpfully translated by Andrew Shakespeare.

Meanwhile in Britain the Blitz continued, the weekly Naval Military and Air Situation Report for the week up to 24th October recorded:

Great Britain.

46. The number of enemy aircraft operating during daylight against this, country was less than half that of the previous week and again consisted chiefly of fighter aircraft, some of which carried bombs.

47. Attacks by night were, however, only slightly lower in the aggregate than during the last period though on no night were so many raiding aircraft plotted as on the 15th-16th October. On the nights of the 20th-21st and the 22nd-23rd the major strength of attack was directed against industrial centres in the Provinces instead of London : Coventry, Birmingham and Liverpool being the chief cities involved.

48. In London, communications and public utility services appeared to be the main targets though, as before, many bombs fell some distance from any apparent objective. In contrast to the incessant attacks previously maintained at night, considerable periods of inactivity occurred during the week under review. Twenty Royal Air Force Stations were attacked, but with insignificant results, and the only serious damage sustained by the aircraft industry was to the Armstrong-Siddeley works at Coventry.

49. During the week Fighter Command flew an average of twelve sorties each night and a total of 501 patrols involving 2,142 sorties by day. … Our fighters destroyed one enemy aircraft at night and another was shot down by anti-aircraft fire.

Morale.

80. Londoners are feeling the strain owing to lack of sleep and interruption of normal life, but morale remains sound. The spirit of the people as a whole remains high and there is little evidence of defeatist talk, but there is a certain amount of Communist activity.

See TNA CAB /66/13/5

The ‘London Cage’ opens for selected German POWs


23 October 1940; The ‘London Cage’ opens for selected German POWs

It is estimated that around 3,000 German prisoners passed through the doors of the London Cage throughout the war. What is clear is that the Cage was never declared by the British authorities as an official PoW camp to the Red Cross until 1946. After the War ended, the Cage became an interrogation base for the investigation of German war crimes. What remains unclear is whether the interrogation carried out there both during and after the War was authorised as part of the overall CSDIC operation. Some believe it wasn’t and that it was largely a rogue operation pursued in defiance of official policy by its maverick boss, Alexander Scotland.

No 8 and 8a Kensington Palace Gardens in central London, home to the ‘London Cage’.

In October 1940 Britain stood alone, with London under daily assault from German bombers, while the threat of invasion appeared only to have been delayed by the coming winter. The prospects of overcoming Nazi Germany looked remote. However many remained convinced that that day would eventually come, and there would be a reckoning.

Even if that day lay far off the important business of interrogating prisoners had to be prepared for. There were few significant individuals in custody to date, but that was expected to change in time.

The street at the heart of questions about Britain’s wartime interrogation techniques sits in one of the most exclusive and fashionable parts of London. Numbers 6 and 7 Kensington Palace Gardens now form part of the Russian Embassy. Numbers 8 and 8a were demolished in the 1960s and replaced by billionaire apartments. Several other foreign embassies and consulates are situated on the street, as well as very expensive private houses. The street is guarded at both ends by police but there is nothing remaining to indicate what happened here in the 1940s.

The requisitioning of houses in Kensington Palace Gardens started in October 1940 and Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Scotland started setting up an interrogation centre there. The first prisoners arrived on 23 October 1940. Eventually there were twenty-eight rooms and the centre could accommodate sixty prisoners at any one time. In 1941 part of the paddock of the neighbouring Kensington Palace itself was also taken over to provide supplementary, tented accommodation.

Kensington Palace Gardens was conceived as one of a network of ‘cages’ around the country (see below). Their role was to question captured enemy prisoners of war and determine their usefulness for further questioning. The vast majority of Italian and German PoWs stayed only brifley in these holding camps as they were deemed not to have any information useful to the Allied war effort. They were then sent on to regular PoW camps. However, some, generally high—ranking officers, were deemed worthy of further interrogation.

This type of interrogation was carried out by yet another clandestine operation of the British wartime machine, (CSDIC). This organisation had started work in the Tower of London at the beginning of the war. However, the need for more space and a base safe from the bombing risk of central London led CSDIC to establish three bases outside the capital (see below) but the London Cage also acquired a role as a formidable, and later a controversial, interrogation centre.

It is estimated that around 3,000 German prisoners passed through the doors of the London Cage throughout the war. What is clear is that the Cage was never declared by the British authorities as an official PoW camp to the Red Cross until 1946. After the War ended, the Cage became an interrogation base for the investigation of German war crimes. What remains unclear is whether the interrogation carried out there both during and after the War was authorised as part of the overall CSDIC operation. Some believe it wasn’t and that it was largely a rogue operation pursued in defiance of official policy by its maverick boss, Alexander Scotland.

Lt Colonel Alexander Scotland, the commander of the Combined Services Detailed Interrogation Centre.

Scotland was an unusual man. Curiously, he had served in the German Army in the early twentieth century in Southern Africa and also spent time as a German PoW during the First World War. Later in that War, he served in British intelligence. He met Hitler in Munich in 1937 and at the beginning of 1940 he signed up with British intelligence again.

The evidence about the methods employed at the London Cage comes principally from Scotland’s own post-war memoirs, but also from the claims of captured Germans when they appeared in war crimes trials in the late 194Os. A number of official files about the existence and operation of the London Cage remain classified; others were apparently lost.

In summary, the allegations concerning the London Cage include claims that undoubtedly involve breaches of the Geneva Convention, even though they are clearly not of the same severity as the treatment meted out by the Japanese, Germans and indeed Russians.

Many people might question whether Germans on trial for war crimes can be regarded as entirely reliable witnesses about what happened during their interrogation. However, they alleged that they were doused with cold water, forced to clean rooms with a toothbrush, denied food for long periods, deprived of sleep for several days and made to stand to attention for hours without a break. There were a variety of claims of the use of so-called truth drugs and of extreme psychological pressure put on detainees. Lieutenant Colonel Scotland was himself accused of hitting a number of PoWs.

There were also claims that prisoners at the London Cage were repeatedly threatened with a range of worse treatments including deportation to Russia and even execution. Those official files about the London Cage which have been released into the National Archives make reference to ‘secret control gear’ and to electric shock treatment. There were at least four suicides reported at the London Cage in the immediate post-war period.

Fritz Knoechlein, interrogated at the London Cage for the massacre of members of the Norfolk Regiment in France 1940.

Many of the claims about the London Cage appear to relate to the period after 1945 when interrogation of alleged war criminals was the principal activity there. This might explain, though perhaps not justify, the harsh treatment apparently inicted upon people interrogated there who ranked among some of the most despicable of men in twentieth- century history. Fritz Knochlein was an SS lieutenant colonel who faced trial as the alleged leader of the so called Le Paradis massacre in France in 1940. More than 100 British soldiers, who were in the process of surrendering during the retreat to Dunkirk, were gunned down by an SS division on 27 May 1940.

Knochlein was held at the London Cage for sixty-four days from October 1946. When his trial took place in Germany in October 1948, he alleged that he had been tortured there. He claimed that he had been given virtually no food for three days and that he had been unable to sleep for a similar period because he had been placed in a room where his guards were singing and playing cards.

He said that he was forced to do 100 trunk bends without a break and that he was made to walk round in a narrow circle in the same direction for four hours. When he complained of feeling giddy, he was kicked by the guards. He said he was made to do unnecessary cleaning tasks, that he was refused use of the toilet, forced to stay in cold showers for long periods and made to clean floors kneeling down with a guard sitting on his back.

These claims by Knochlein led to the remarkable sight of his interrogator, Alexander Scotland, ending up in the dock defending himself against war crimes. Scotland fiercely denied Knochlein’s testimony and the court came to no firm conclusion about the truth of the allegations. It ruled instead that the claims were irrelevant to the question of the SS officer’s guilt.

Fritz Knochlein was convicted for his part in the Le Paradis massacre and sentenced to death. He was hanged on 21 January 1949.

Although the allegations against Scotland were left unproven, his court appearance left an air of controversy around the London Cage which had finally closed in autumn 1948. Scotland tried to get permission to publish his memoirs in 1954 but was refused on the grounds that their publication would breach the Ofcial Secrets Act.

His book came out in 1957 but was heavily redacted. Scotland maintained until his death in 1965 that he had not used torture at the London Cage although he admitted to creating a harsh environment, believing that to be justiable and necessary to deal with hardened Nazis and, in many cases, war criminals.

This account comes from Secret Wartime Britain, published in 2018, a survey of a variety of locations around Britain that were used for secret wartime purposes. “They include underground factories, storage sites and headquarters; spy and communication centres; interrogation and POW camps; dummy sites; research facilities such as sinister Porton Down; treasure stores in stately homes and even royal retreats in the event of invasion such as Madresfield Court”

Hitler meets Franco at Hendaye

Francisco Franco owed much to Adolf Hitler, German forces had been of particular value to him during the Spanish civil war. Yet he was in no rush to automatically line up with another Fascist dictator. Whether he demanded too much from Hitler, wanted to play a waiting game to see which way the war turned, or really wished to avoid involvement in the war, given the shattered state of Spain following the civil war is subject to much debate. He was a difficult man to pin down. Famously Hitler is alleged to have said that he would “rather have three or four teeth pulled” than go through another meeting with him.

Hitler meets Franco
Adolf Hitler met the Spanish leader Francisco Franco for 12 hours of talks at the railway station of Hendaye.

The Spanish dictator Francisco Franco owed much to Adolf Hitler, German forces had been of particular value to him during the Spanish civil war. Yet he was in no rush to automatically line up with another Fascist dictator. Whether he demanded too much from Hitler, wanted to play a waiting game to see which way the war turned, or really wished to avoid involvement in the war – given the shattered state of Spain following the civil war, is subject to much debate.

He was a difficult man to pin down. Famously Hitler is alleged to have said that he would “rather have three or four teeth pulled” than go through another meeting with him. During the early part of the war Spain offered some practical support to Germany but as the tide turned Franco shifted his allegiances.

 Heinrich Himmler with Franco
Heinrich Himmler was also conducting talks with the Spanish and it is alleged that lists of Spanish Jews were handed over to the Germans.

The Jewish ghetto is established in Warsaw

When it came time to carry out the ghetto order, everything became chaotic. The Polish side began to haggle—in this suburb they have a church; another is mainly inhabited by Aryans; here is a beautiful school building; there is a factory employing thousands of Aryan workers. How can the rightful owners be driven from all these places? Thus they excised piece after piece, street after street, of the Jewish area, and the boundaries of the ghetto grew more and more constricted.

Transport only for Jews
‘Only for Jews’ : the segregation and persecution of the Jews in Poland had continued incrementally since the beginning of the German occupation. Now there was a step change, with the establishment of a separate Jewish ghetto.

A separate ghetto for Jews in Warsaw was formally announced on the 12th October. The second largest Jewish community in the world (after New York), comprising over a third of the population of Warsaw were to be crammed into a tiny area in the poorest part of the city.

Chaim Kaplan describes the process of establishing the ghetto. Separate living areas for Jews were created at different times at different locations around Poland. Usually the Germans required the local Jewish council or ‘Judenrat’ to undertake the arrangements. In Warsaw substantial numbers of ordinary Poles had to move out of the area designated for the Jews:

October 22, 1940

The creation of the ghetto is accompanied by such severe birth pangs that they are beyond description.

When it came time to carry out the ghetto order, everything became chaotic. The Polish side began to haggle—in this suburb they have a church; another is mainly inhabited by Aryans; here is a beautiful school building; there is a factory employing thousands of Aryan workers. How can the rightful owners be driven from all these places? Thus they excised piece after piece, street after street, of the Jewish area, and the boundaries of the ghetto grew more and more constricted.

Several days ago the Judenrat furnished a questionnaire to all the courtyard committees in which they were asked to give detailed replies to questions about the number of apartments, the number of rooms in each apartment, the number of tenants, and the prices of apartments. On the basis of this information they will confiscate vacant rooms and settle homeless people in them.

How many people will be assigned to each room? Some say four, some say six. And so the people are hurriedly renting out rooms to tenants of their own choice. Incidentally, they are raising the rents sky-high. They are afraid that the Judenrat will match them up with the wrong people and make them stick to the prescribed rents, so they are hurrying to beat the Judenrat to the draw.

See The Scroll of Agony: The Warsaw Diary of Chaim A. Kaplan.