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Castaways of the Kriegsmarine

December 1943 brought little cheer to Hitler's Kriegsmarine.

As his Mediterranean U-boats sortied suicidally against allied convoys a short, vicious battle in the Bay of Biscay sank a German blockade-runner and three of the escorts trying to bring her in.


On Boxing Day the battlecruiser Scharnhorst met her lonely end in the heaving, freezing waters of the Barents Sea. Some survivors claimed they sang the U-boat anthem, No Roses Grow on a Seaman’s Grave, as they awaited rescue or death.

Only the most wilfully myopic of the exhausted, disoriented castaways brought to the Latimer House and Wilton Park interrogation centres could believe in ultimate victory, a gift for the experienced interviewers awaiting them. They knew how to adapt their approach to the individual prisoner, work patiently toward a result – and they had a secret weapon. Every word the prisoners said in their cells was overheard and, when interesting, recorded by secret listeners eavesdropping from another part of the site.

This tale follows the interwoven fates of the bedraggled captives and the Naval Intelligence team coping with an unprecedented surge of guests. It looks at how raw data and rumour became useful intelligence for strategists and fighting sailors, and highlights the contribution of this small, eclectic, irreverent band of reservists and Wrens to ultimate victory.

I develop Helen Fry's important work on the Combined Services Detailed Interrogation Centres by looking at their processes and people at the peak of their efficiency. In particular, the book shines new light on the pace at which captives were brought into the system, the role of stool-pigeons, the classification of intelligence value and the part psychologists played in tracking German military morale and opinion.


Death! Betrayal! Sex! (if you look carefully) Claustrophobic clash of wills! And all true!

How much drama do you need?


In case you're wondering, I have uploaded and tested a Kindle version. The charts are kind of OK if you're using an e-reader but illegible in any other format. Until and unless I work out how to fix that it has to stay paper only, I'm afraid.

Burton Cope, a veteran interrogator from the Great War, joined Bernard Trench's team in March 1940. No natural conformist himself he ended up as the face of authority to an eclectic mix of temporary officers ranging from convoy veterans with salt in their hair to journalists, engineers and an artist - who did not take easily to naval conventions. Read Castaways of the Kriegsmarine to find out more about this unconventional team and their extraordinary achievements.



Also find out:

  • Which anti-Nazi U-boat skipper was a family friend of Pastor Niemöller?
  • What happened when a German blockade-runner reached Japan, and two racist cultures met nose-to-nose?
  • How did the Allies learn enough about German homing torpedoes to counter them before they even entered service?

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.22: For Putkhold, read Purkhold.


P.36: Franz von Werra was not the only 'one who got away.' A less famous but perhaps even more influential escaper was Kurt Reich, Maschinenmaat (Mechanician 2nd Class) from U 63. He staged a daring break from the transport steamer taking him to Canada by jumping overboard in the St Lawrence Seaway and swimming to shore. It is also possible that Oberleutnant (Ing) Rottman of U 33 made it back, but I have not been able to confirm this.


P.64, 69: I imply that Julius Lunzer was the first Jewish naval interrogator. In fact Wilfred Samuel had that distinction. At the time of our narrative, however, Samuel was serving in Ottawa as liaison with the Royal Canadian Navy, and in charge of mail censorship for prisoners in both the US and Canada.


The Wrens in the photo have been provisionally identified as (from left to right) Jean Flower, Evelyn Barron, Esme Mackenzie (not Claudia Furneaux). The last is probably Gwendoline Neel-Wall. New information suggests that the photo was taken in 1943.


P.112. 'remarried' should read 'married'.


P.113: A reader has kindly pointed out that Korvettenkapitän Wirich von Gartzen (b.1909) survived the sinking, wrote a post-war book (Die Flottille: Aussergewöhnlicher Seekrieg deutscher Mittelmeer-Torpedobooteon torpedo-boat operations and lived until 1993. The captives at CSDIC did not know this but assumed he had gone down with the ship.


P.146. The reference for the Kurt Boehme quotation should read SRN 338, not 138.


P.158. The reference to 'von Rath' could use clarification. The 1938 assassination of Ernst vom (not von) Rath, a German diplomat in Paris, by a Jewish teenager provided the pretext for Kristallnacht, an orgiastic night of murder, destruction and arrest against Nazi Germany’s Jewish population.


P.161.In refernce 4 'TNA 223/809' should read 'TNA 186/809'.


P.202. The captain of Scharnhorst was erroneously called Hintz, not Hintze, in the original document. The name should have [sic] after to indicate this.


P.203. For mmm. read mm.

Press Release
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