Discovery by the Enemy

As the war progressed and more and more Allied troops (aircrew especially) fell into the hands of Axis forces, it was inevitable that the escape devices provided by MI9 and MIS-X would eventually become compromised. Some through the careful evaluation of the various German intelligence branches; others by the careless talk or actions of their users and many simply through discovery on captured aircrews, or examination of downed aircraft.

An article from a German Army publication Die Wehrmacht, dated August 1943, that describes the interrogation of a recently shot down USAAF crewman by a German Intelligence Officer. The article features escape aids discovered on the crewman. Courtesy

The Luftwaffe Lists of Escape Items

By 1944, the Germans had discovered almost all of Clayton Hutton and Fraser-Smith’s ‘gadgets’ as evidenced in German documents captured in Romania by the 2677th Office of Strategic Services (OSS) group, dated 10th June 1944. In an in-depth and fully illustrated briefing document intended for all Luftwaffe commands, the Luftwaffe ‘Auswertestelle West Oberursel’ describes the items captured from Allied aircrews. 

It states:

The following account shows the many sided and skilled preparations of the RAF and the USAAF, in order to enable their personnel to escape, in the case of bailing out or through forced landings in enemy territory, and to return to their units. The present report has to give ground personnel of the Luft waff e and to all services charged to arrest and guard air force prisoners, a survey of the means of escape with which enemy fliers are equipped, in order to enable them to take efficient counter measures. Any new means of escape discovered is to be sent to the nearest unit immediately. 

The document goes on to list almost all of the Allied escape and evasion items in use by the RAF, Commonwealth, and Allied Air Forces in exile, and USAAF aircrews at that time. These include (paraphrased by the author from the German description for clarity):

Escape photographs – Describes the photos along with their intended use.

Aids boxes – Complete with a list of contents.

Escape Purses – With identification letters explained and currency contents listed.

Escape compasses – States that while small, they are extremely suitable for rough orientation, convenient and well made.

Collar stud compasses – Explains that they have hidden compasses inside them.

Fly button compasses – Black lacquered buttons, one with magnetic properties and the other with a spike to balance the other upon to form a compass.

USAAF ‘Class Seal rings’ – With hidden compartments. Noting that the USAAF aircrews buy these rings at their own expense to hide compasses inside.

Swinger compasses – With dimensions and photograph.

The ‘Norden’ compass – Bar compass, describing its size, construction and use.

Smoking pipe compass – Describes the extremely small (5mm) compass enclosed inside the ‘escape pipe’ and all but praising its construction and ingenuity.

Pencil compass – The discovery of a very covert compass, describing its location and size (5mm).

Hacksaw blades – Describes the construction and size and states that some are drilled (a 4mm hole) in the center, to allow them to be used as compasses and explains that the angled end always points to North. The description goes on to say that most blades are enclosed in a rubber or greaseproof cardboard cover to protect against rust.

Tobacco pouches – Describes the maps hidden inside and dimensions of the pouches.

A complete description of RAF and USAAF escape maps – Lists identification letters, areas covered and emphasising their clarity and completeness. It lists nine different map sheets.

Shoes (possibly including boots) – States that maps are hidden under soles or heels.

Electrically heated flight boots – Describes maps hidden in them during manufacture.

Flight gloves – Describes maps hidden inside during manufacture.

Phrase cards – Describes the types and languages available, and that they only cover the most basic of phrases.

Escape knives – States that ‘all’ aircrew carry these knives, and describing their blade types and going on to say that they are “very suitable for rough work.”

The document goes on to state that the tunic button compasses are very well made and are often found secreted in uniforms. 

Interestingly as late as 1944, they still advise that the buttons unscrew in the standard fashion – not mentioning that Clayton Hutton had changed the thread direction to deceive the German searchers (which he seems to have succeeded in doing).

The paper continues by talking about the effect on the morale of Allied aircrews by the provision of such items. Then describes Allied escape organizations across Europe and generally concedes that Allied crews are extremely well prepared for their missions. And, that the usage of these escape aids can allow downed aircrew to survive weeks or months on the run before they make contact with an escape line and are assisted back to their units.

It is evident from this report that the Germans were well aware of the many options and variants of escape aids available to Allied aircrews and at this stage of the war. So, it has to be asked, just how much was being walked into the camps hidden on newly captured prisoners of war? However, the large amounts of escape contraband being shipped directly into the camps by MI9 and MIS-X must have more than compensated for the limited individual items now being carried into the camps.

So as can be seen, as the war progressed, and young inexperienced soldiers and air crew inadvertently disclosed items of escape material, or gave them up during interrogation, the Axis authorities became more and more knowledgeable in where and how to find Clayton Hutton’s gadgets. Although by the time that most had been discovered, the tide of the war had turned. 

The infamous Colditz Castle (Oflag IVB) the supposedly escape-proof camp for habitual escapers, from where over thirty escaped, many with the aid of MI9 and MIS-X gadgets. Courtesy U.S. Government
The parcels office at Colditz, where prisoner mail was inspected and searched for escape aids and other contraband. In the background American and French personnel oversee the German search team. Courtesy Gavin Worral
A selection of contraband discovered by camp staff at Colditz. There was so much that the commandant (Captain Reinhold Eggers) opened his own escape museum to educate new staff and even personnel from other camps. The image shows a range of games such as solitaire and backgammon. Courtesy Topham Picturepoint via Jacques of London
Another group of items from the Colditz escape museum, maps and money hidden in handles of badminton racquets supplied by the fictitious Licenced Victuallers Sports Association. Courtesy Topham Picture point via Jacques of London