I first read about it in the BBC History Magazine. A difficult topic to read but necessary.
Colonel Alexander Paterson Scotland’s memoir
Colonel Alexander Paterson Scotland was the head of the London Cage. After retirement he wrote his memoires.
Even if everything always went by the rules of the Geneva Convention, there was always the risk that the Colonel might describe something or someone in a manner undesired by the government. So, in June 1954 MI 5 and MI6 were sent out to “seize all copies of a typed manuscript that ran over 350 pages and described life inside the secret wartime interrogation centre.”
Needless to say that the manuscript made a lot of people nervous. Ban Scotland from publishing in the UK and he might take it overseas. Gag him, and it becomes a publicity scandal. So they made a deal: you can publish after MI5 used their black sharpie to redact the text.
The issue was to cross out descriptions that German defense attorneys might be able to use to show during the various court proceedings that their clients confessed to war crimes under duress. The risk was of course, the reopening of cases and the appeals in progress.
As you can imagine, the memoir became a lot less interesting but this cleaned-up version was published in 1957. But with all places where interrogations take place, people keep wondering especially if rumors keep popping up. In the 90s, the official files from the London Cage were released into the National Archives. Parts were missing. This was explained away by claiming that parts were contaminated with asbestos and destroyed, or parts were lost due to flooding, etc. So what was it that Scotland could not publish and that got lost or destroyed whether by flooding water or asbestos?
The London Cage
The exact location of the London Cage exists today. It is at No. 6-8 Kensington Palace Gardens. The first German prisoners arrived at the Cage on October 23, 1940. Note the ‘cage’ is UK slang for interrogation centre.
Fry describes how the building was used per floor and room. With the included floor plans, you can walk through it. It was supposed to be a temporary cage so there was a five-day limit on the prisoners’ stay there. However, Scotland feared that with some prisoners they would need more than five days and so he wrote to the War Office. His task was after all, to get information from these captured German prisoners of war to assist MI5 and MI6 in outmaneuvering the enemy and win the war. They were one year into World War II.
On several history sites WWII is describes as starting on September 1, 1939 with Hitler invading Poland and ending on September 2, 1945, with the capitulation of Japan. The International Red Cross did not know that the London Cage existed until 1946. The Royal family didn’t know either. It was a well-kept secret.
Scotland (July 15, 1882 – July 3,1965)
Fry describes in Chapter 2 the life of Colonel Alexander Paterson Scotland. He was not well-liked, had a great reputation as an interrogator, developed successful methods of interrogation, served in the German army, knew the language and the German military well, and understood the German respect for authority. And because he knew that, he was very effective.
Scotland selected his interrogators himself and after hiring, trained them. He looked for people with a good memory, keen observational skills, endless patience, practical knowledge of psychology, and the capability to act quickly.
The best moment to get immediate results was “while a prisoners was still disoriented by the shock of capture.” If the prisoner had not adjusted yet to their new status and if the interrogator had a higher rank than the prisoner, there was a bigger chance of success.
According to reports, some prisoners were allegedly locked up for hours in small spaces, or they were hosed with cold water, or they had to clean their cell with a toothbrush, or were kept awake for days on end. Prisoners who presented a challenge were told things could become uncomfortable for them. More on that is in Chapter 6.
Fry describes the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the case of Rudolf Hess, the Second Battle of El Alamein (November 1942), the case of Otto Witt, the use of truth serums, experimental psychology, Camp 21, the case of SS Lieutenant Colonel Fritz Knochlein, and more.
Of course, Fry discusses the Sagan case that is much better known as Stalag Luft III. On March 25, 19944 eighty Allied airmen escaped from Staalg Luft III. That was a secure German Prisoners of War camp about 60 miles south-east of Berlin, near Sagan, Silesia, now Western Poland. Fifty of the escapees were recaptured and killed. Watch the movie ‘The Great Escape‘ to see how the men dug three tunnels named ‘Tom’, ‘Dick’ and ‘Harry.’ If you are planning to watch it, add the movie ‘The Wooden Horse.‘
The Sagan Trials brought The London Cage front and center. Scotland had to answer for the intelligence that he got in court. Several Nazi war criminals of course stated that their confessions were obtained under duress. They spoke of brutality, starvation, sleep deprivation, and even electric shock treatment. Scotland’s own skills as interrogator became visible when he was questioned by one of the German defense lawyers, Dr. Ohlert. “The calmer he remained, the more agitated and frustrated Dr. Ohlert became.”
The Sagan Trials only partly brought justice as some war criminals were never caught. The allegations of torture and brutality against The London Cage were dismissed. Scotland was exonerated.
In his memoir, Scotland expressed regret that he had not been able to bring all Sagan war criminals to justice. “Though we knew the full story of the murders in the Breslau area, it was one of the most unsatisfactory sections of the Sagan crime for, in the end, not one man went to the gallows to answer for the deaths of twenty-nine RAF Officers.”
In the fall of 1948, The London Cage was closed. Questions remain about psychological intimidation, mistreatment, and torture. Chapter 16 ends with a ‘what happened to them afterwards’ section. Many interrogators continued successful careers but they all took their secrets with them. It is obvious that Scotland did not write down everything in his memoir. We will never know the full story.
The War Office quietly released Scotland’s manuscript to the National Archives were nobody saw or touched them for decades. No. 6-7 Kensington Palace Gardens are now part of the Russian Embassy.
What I wrote here is just the tip of the enormous information iceberg that the author put in her book. It is well written, has a good pace, the chapters are of a good length, and timelines are clear. In the appendix is a list of all te staff at The London Cage followed by notes per chapter. There is a list of contents, a bibliography, a list with illustration credits, and an index. It also has 16 pages with black and white photography.
The book isn’t easy to read because of the topic however, it is one we must read as what happened in The London Cage is still relevant today.
If you are interested in history, World War II, interrogations, training of interrogators, and British Intelligence, this book is for you. Highly recommended reading!
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