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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.
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