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They thought their war was over when they were hauled from the sea.
Instead, captive German sailors were fed, clothed and brought to London where they experienced British naval intelligence officers’ deft skills at extracting vital information from their heads.
Here we follow the naval interrogators’ growing confidence and expertise from their pioneering first steps in World War 1 to their role in dismantling one of the most vicious regimes the planet has ever seen.
We remain fascinated by the secret history of the two world wars. Castaways of the Kriegsmarine, examines the interrogators’ contribution to British naval intelligence in early 1944. I planned to work back from there and show how the interrogation system reached such a high state of tune. I quickly realised that most of the 1939 naval team learnt their trade in the First World War, when these veterans developed their technique. The story inexorably grew.
Some of the characters who created the service pop up repeatedly. Transcripts of prisoners’ unguarded conversations reveal their individuality, and their struggle to reconcile conflicting loyalties. We think about the pressures that could induce a U-boat crewman to change sides. We consider the everyday serviceman’s awareness and experience of the Nazi regime’s atrocities.
We see how British naval intelligence officers were the first in the world to notice and exploit a loophole in the Hague Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war. We watch them develop a structured, systematic information source that produced important results in the First World War and had a critical influence on the second. We learn how the team’s successes saved countless naval and merchant seamen’s lives – and how they didn’t get everything right.
Two questions run through the book. They are the ones I am asked most often about the topic: ‘Did it work?’ and ‘Did we use torture?’ The answer to the first is an emphatic yes, to the second a qualified no.
This is a good history of the British naval PoW interrogation process and what it yielded across the World Wars. Readable and interesting to newcomers and those familiar with the topic alike.
Dr Marcus Faulkner - King's College London
The flow of the writing, including the
detailed technical knowledge, carries the reader along and the book proves to be an interesting and easy read. An enjoyable history lesson by stealth.
The naming of service personnel such as Trench, Cope and Brandon in the WW1 section and in WW2 Ian Fleming, Charles Wheeler and the role of members of the Wrens increased and held the interest of the reader as did eavesdropping on the prisoners' conversations.
The WW2 section was as gripping as a spy novel - fast paced and very interesting.
The thoroughness of the research can only be gasped at and the book contains in depth and useful appendices.
An excellent book from a writer with encyclopaedic knowledge of the subject.
Geraldine Tierney on Amazon
This book examines the interrogation of German prisoners captured by the British navy in the First and Second World Wars, explaining the process, identifying the objectives and analysing the information garnered. It is a fascinating story hitherto largely shrouded in mists of ignorance and neglect. It deserves detailed scrutiny and Nudd is a wonderful guide. As a trained historian with a second degree in operational research and a lifetime’s experience in engineering, he sets the context, lucidly describes technical developments and evaluates what was achieved with balanced judgments. And he writes absorbingly well.
In Castaways of the Kriegsmarine Nudd gave 5 snapshots of WW2 naval interrogation at work over a short time-span. In this
new book he charts the development of this wing of naval intelligence from before the Great War. He tracks its course through WW2 and a tad beyond and attempts a more far-reaching evaluation than the
earlier book allowed. This would be fascinating as an intellectual exercise but it is so much more: we are made to think how events might have unfolded if CSDIC had not existed or if it had
fumbled its catches.
Interrogators probed for scraps of information about new weapons or techniques, and were alert to indications of how effectively Allied systems were working against the enemy. Unwary hints of devastation to come for the British gave forewarning of German inventions or tactical advances, hints to be pursued by later questioners or planted informers. Microphones detected private chat between POWs and sometimes yielded detailed technical information of great value. Even arrogantly uncommunicative prisoners unwittingly provided snapshots of morale in Nazi Germany.
Trained intelligence specialists managed to learn much which had real benefit for Allied war planners. Nudd skilfully allows us to eavesdrop on this process. We sense the concern of interrogators as they uncovered fresh dangers being devised by Nazi scientists and weapons specialists – and provided information to spur on the hunt for a remedy. Occasionally RN intelligence detected a threat so far in advance that a counter-measure was in place before the weapon became operational. This book allows us to sense the tension: interrogation was not a mind puzzle for unusual naval staff but a crucial component in Britain’s existential struggle against a pitiless ideology. Like cryptanalysis it called for minute attention to detail and an imagination rigorously controlled by evidence: like Bletchley it sometimes laid golden eggs.
... It is a piece of original writing, fair-minded, scrupulously researched and satisfying for a serious readership.
Richard Blake, MA (Oxford), M Phil (Southampton), FSNR
Corrections and Clarifications
I promised to keep you posted on any wrinkles that survived the review process. These will be fixed in the next upload, but in the meantime here you are (minor formatting issues excepted):
P.106: John Weatherby does not feature in the photo. His brother Dick is third from right in the back row.