MI9

Establishment 

Upon the outbreak of WWII, and as a result of missed opportunities and a lack of capability discovered too late during WWI, the British War Office recognised the need to establish a new organisation to help troops and aircrew evade and escape the enemy. An organisation dedicated to delivering escape and evasion training, the design and supply of evasion and escape devices and an executive organisation to conduct the administrative tasks associated with such an organisation.

British Troops taken prisoner by the Germans under guard in Europe during the First World War. Without escape and evasion training, few would have even considered escape and would have lacked the tools to do so should they have even tried. Courtesy the Library of Congress

The formation and training of this new organisation was obviously to be very highly classified and this in itself would further complicate the extremely challenging task of sourcing and producing these new escape devices and establishing escape lines throughout occupied Europe to assist troops in evading and or escaping capture. 

Not only did the new organisation have little idea of what equipment they were actually required to produce for escapers or evaders, they also had no previous plans to work from, likewise neither doctrine nor tools – especially of official origin – existed from which to draw inspiration. From the outset it was apparent that a Joint Service approach was necessary, and the Director of Intelligence (D of I) at the Air Ministry, and the Director of Naval Intelligence (DNI) were both consulted. 

The outcome of these various discussions was the establishment of a new section within the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) on 23rd December 1939. This new section was named MI9, and its creation and purpose was circulated to a select few which included only MI5, MI6, the Naval and Air Intelligence branches and DMI’s two deputies. The charter outlining MI9’s purpose was brief and to the point.

Conduct of work No. 48. laid down the Charter for MI9 and outlined the roles and aims of the organisation upon formation. Courtesy Per Ardua Libertas

This embryonic organisation came into official being under the leadership of Major (later Brigadier) Norman Richard Crockatt DSO, MC, a veteran officer of the Royal Scots during the First World War.

Brigadier Norman Crockatt DSO, MC, head of MI9 from its formation until the end of the war. Courtesy ACR Archives via Graham Pitchfork

Organisation

Upon its formation in 1939, MI9 was located in Room 424 of the London Metropole Hotel in Northumberland Avenue, conveniently situated just a five-minute walk from the War Office. Being based in a prominent London hotel the comings and goings of uniformed personnel were relatively common and provided the anonymity necessary for the fledgling organisation to set to work on its secret mission.

The London Metropole Hotel, Northumberland Avenue, the historical London HQ of MI9 prior to their move to Beaconsfield. Courtesy Dave Bowman

MI9’s technical section came into being on 14th February 1940, but on 13th September during the London Blitz, the Metropole Hotel was bombed resulting in the move of MI9 to a large country house estate at Wilton Park, close to Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire. Here a hutted camp was constructed in the grounds of the historic house, which became known as ‘Camp 20 Beaconsfield’ and it was here that MI9 remained until the end of the war.

An aerial view of MI9’s subsequent wartime headquarters at Wilton Park, near Beaconsfield. To the south, new prisoner of war interrogation cells can be seen during their construction. Courtesy The Royal Air Force Museum

As the war progressed and more men fell into the hands of the enemy, the responsibilities of Ml9 continued to expand resulting in the establishment, in December 1941, of a Deputy Directorate of Military Intelligence (Prisoners of War) – DDMI (PW). This saw the initial sections of MI9(a) re-formed into a new section – MI19 (MI Nineteen), while MI9(b) became the new MI9

On 1st January 1942, the newly-revised Ml9 organisation was once again restructured, this time into two sub sections: MI9(b) which dealt with coordination and distribution of information and liaison with Government departments, other services and overseas commands, and MI9(d), which was responsible for organising preventive training to combatants of all three services, the issue of escape and evasion equipment and the promulgation of information to units at home and to Ml9 organisations overseas.

Intelligence School 9 (IS9)

Furthermore, in January 1942, another unit with six subsections called Intelligence School 9 (IS9) was established. The purpose of Is9 was to take over the executive work of MI9 and to form a school to train intelligence officers from all three services. IS9 would subsequently be capable of briefing the men within their commands on the art of evasion and escape in hostile Europe. Organisation and roles of the various IS9 sections are described below.

IS9 (D)

IS9(D) was established in the spring of 1941 for the purpose of assisting evaders and escapers in enemy-occupied Western Europe, to avoid capture and to return to the United Kingdom. This was the top-secret section of Ml9, which remained located in Room 900 of the War Office after other sections had moved to Beaconsfield. Its operations were overseen by the overriding authority of the Special Intelligence Service (SlS), now known as MI6.

A post-war photograph of the dilapidated MI9 headquarters building at Camp 20 Wilton Park, Beaconsfield. Erected in 1942 and one of the last remaining blocks used by MI9. The block was ultimately destroyed by developers in 2014. Courtesy Barbara Smith

IS9 (W)

IS9(W) was responsible for the debriefing of escapers, evaders and repatriated personnel, and for compiling the resultant data into reports for distribution to all relevant branches of the War Office and Intelligence staff. As with other Sections of Intelligence School 9, IS9 (W) originated in MI9(b).

IS9 (X)

IS9(X) was established in January 1942 as the Planning Section of IS9, with a task of planning and facilitating escapes from prisoner of war camps. IS9(X) took on this task practically from scratch, since no previous work had been conducted on the subject.

IS9 (Y)

IS9(Y) was also established in January 1942 as the Codes and Communications Section of IS9. It too had previously been a part of MI9(b) and had been responsible for the collection and dissemination of military and economic information received by secret means from Allied prisoners of war, and in return, for supplying them with information likely to be of assistance in making escape plans.

IS9 (Z)

IS9(Z) was formed in January 1942, and was responsible for the production, distribution and dispatch of escape and evasion aids. Prior to the formation of IS9 this role had also been part of MI9(b) and had already passed from the experimental to the productive stage when it became a separate section commanded by an Intelligence Officer Major (Christopher Clayton Hutton). The role of Section-Z also included experimental work, production of escape and evasion equipment, and preparation of ‘special’ prisoner of war parcels. Finally, the distribution of devices and special clothing for IS9(D)/P15 agents, through container drops, etc.

Christopher Clayton Hutton ponders a number of his evasion and escape aids sometime during World War Two. Author’s collection.

IS9 (D)/P15

IS9 (D)/P15 was formed in the spring of 1941 with the purpose of employment and training (under auspices of SIS) of agents sent to enemy-occupied countries of Western Europe to assist escapers and evaders to return to England. The organisation clothed and equipped many agents selected by IS9(D)/P15 for work in connection with other clandestine organisations across Western Europe.

IS9 (AB)

IS9(AB)s role included interviewing helpers of British and American evaders and escapers in France, Belgium, Holland and Denmark, investigating and settling financial claims and making recommendations for awards to helpers and punishment for collaborators. (This work was carried out in close conjunction with the Americans and the Intelligence Services of the various countries concerned.)

MI9 ‘A’ Force – Middle East

MI9 ‘A’ Force – Middle East was formed in August 1940 in the Middle East and Mediterranean regions. The section was known under various cover names but most commonly as ‘A’ Force. The primary role of ‘A’ Force was the deception of enemy high command. However, it was also tasked with the training of locally deployed troops in the art of escape and evasion and to provide all necessary help and support in these activities.

MI9 ‘E’ Group – Far East

MI9 ‘E’ Group – Far East was established in Asia in October 1941, within India Command. E-Group sat under the General Staff (Intelligence) Branch, GSI(d) in New Delhi, which was responsible for both MI9 and MI19 tasks.

One of the many guides provided to assist combat troops and evaders to survive in the jungle if necessary. Issued by the CGS India and distributed by the Manager of Publications, Delhi. Courtesy John Ensor

IS9 (WEA) – Western European Area

IS9 (WEA) Western European Area, was established on 14th January 1944, as planning for the invasion of Normandy ‘Operation Overlord’ commenced. It was realised that a new section of MI9 would be required to shepherd evaders and escapers through the forthcoming invasion and intense combat across the recaptured France and occupied Europe.

Three Witches formation patch worn for just 10 months by IS9 (WEA) and associated units in Holland 1944-1945, thought to be the only specific insignia worn by MI9/IS9 during the war.
Four members of the IS9 (WEA) group somewhere in Holland in 1944. The Three Witches formation sign can be seen on the wall behind them. Courtesy Barbara Smith