The London Cage was an MI19 prisoner of war facility during and immediately after World War II that was subject to frequent allegations of torture. It was located on Kensington Palace Gardens in London.
The United Kingdom systematically interrogated all of its prisoners of war. A "cage" for interrogation of prisoners was established in 1940 in each command area of the UK, manned by officers trained by Alexander Scotland, the head of Prisoner of War Interrogation Section (PWIS) of the Intelligence Corps (Field Security Police). The prisoners were sent to prison camps after their interrogation at the cages. Nine cages were established from southern England to Scotland, with the London cage also being "an important transit camp."
The cages varied in facilities. The Doncaster cage used a portion of the town's racecourse as a camp, while the Catterick and Loughborough cages were in bare fields. The London Cage, located in a fashionable part of the city, had space for 60 prisoners, was equipped with five interrogation rooms, and staffed by 10 officers serving under Scotland, plus a dozen non-commissioned officers who served as interrogators and interpreters. Security was provided by soldiers from the Guards regiments selected "for their height rather than their brains." Many of the British NCOs were fluent in German, and were skilled in persuading prisoners to reveal information. Some wore KGB uniforms due to the Germans' fear of the Russians.
After the war, the PWIS became known as the War Crimes Investigation Unit (WCIU), and the London Cage became the headquarters for questioning suspected war criminals. Among the Nazi war criminals confined at the London cage was Fritz Knoechlein, who was in charge of the murder of 100 British prisoners who had surrendered at Le Paradis, France in May 1940. Knoechlein was convicted and hanged in 1949.
Alexander Scotland participated in the interrogation of Gen. Kurt Meyer, who was accused of participating in a massacre of Canadian troops. Meyer was eventually sentenced to death, although the sentence was not carried out. Scotland observed that Meyer received milder treatment after news of the atrocity had grown "cold". He said that Nazi SS and Police Leader Jakob Sporrenberg, who was responsible for the deaths of 46,000 Jews in Poland toward the end of the war, was not prosecuted by Poland despite documentary evidence of his crimes, because of Polish dislike of Jews. (Sporrenberg was in fact sentenced to death by a Polish court in Warsaw in 1950, and executed in December 1952)
Other Nazi war criminals passing through the London Cage after the war included Sepp Dietrich, an SS general accused but never prosecuted for the murder of British prisoners in 1940. Alexander Scotland participated in the investigation of the SS and Gestapo men who murdered 50 escaped prisoners from Stalag Luft III in 1944, in the aftermath of what became known as the "Great Escape". The London Cage closed in 1948.
Alexander Scotland wrote a postwar memoir entitled London Cage, which was submitted to the War Office in 1950 for purposes of censorship. Scotland was asked to abandon the book, and threatened with a prosecution under the Official Secrets Act, and officers from Special Branch raided his home. The Foreign Office insisted that the book be suppressed altogether as it would help persons "agitating on behalf of war criminals". An assessment of the manuscript by MI5 listed how Scotland had detailed repeated breaches of the Geneva Convention (1929), including prisoners being forced to kneel while being beaten about the head, forced to stand to attention for up to 26 hours, and threatened with execution and 'an unnecessary operation'. The book was eventually published in 1957 after a seven-year delay, and after all incriminating material had been redacted.
In London Cage, Scotland vigorously denied that violence was used against prisoners, and that confessions were obtained by seizing upon discrepancies in the accounts of prisoners. "We were not so foolish as to imagine that petty violence, nor even violence of a stronger character, was likely to produce the results hoped for in dealing with some of the toughest creatures of the Hitler regime."
While denying "sadism", Scotland said things were done that were "mentally just as cruel". One "cheeky and obstinate" prisoner, he said, was forced to strip naked and exercise. This "deflated him completely" and he began to talk. Prisoners were sometimes forced to stand "round the clock", and "if a prisoner wanted to pee he had to do it there and then, in his clothes. It was surprisingly effective." Scotland refused to allow Red Cross inspections at the London Cage, on the grounds that the prisoners there were neither civilians or criminals within the armed services.
In September 1940, Guy Liddell, director of MI5's counterintelligence B Division, said that he had been told by an officer present at the interrogation that Scotland had punched the jaw of a captured German agent at the London Cage. The agent was Wulf Schmidt, known by the code name "Tate." Liddell said in a diary entry that Scotland was "hitting TATE in the jaw and I think got one back himself." Liddell said: "Apart from the moral aspects of the thing, I am convinced that these Gestapo methods do not pay in the long run." Liddell said that "Scotland turned up this morning with a syringe containing some drug or other, which it was thought would induce the prisoner [Tate] to speak." Schmidt subsequently became a double agent against the Germans as part of the Double Cross System of double agents operated by MI5.
In 1943, allegations of mistreatment at the London Cage resulted in a formal protest to the Secretary of State for War by MI5 director Maxwell Knight. The allegations were made by Otto Witt, a German anti-Nazi who was interrogated to determine if he was acting on behalf of German intelligence.
At his war crimes trial, SS Obersturmbannführer Fritz Knoechlein claimed that he was tortured, which Scotland dismisses in London Cage as a "lame allegation". According to Knoechlein, he was stripped, deprived of sleep, kicked by guards and starved. He said that he was compelled to walk in a tight circle for four hours. After complaining to Alexander Scotland, Knoechlein alleges that he was doused in cold water, pushed down stairs, and beaten. He claimed he was forced to stand beside a hot gas stove before being showered with cold water. He claimed that he and another prisoner were forced to run in circles while carrying heavy logs. "Since these tortures were the consequences of my personal complaint, any further complaint would have been senseless," Knoechlein wrote. "One of the guards who had a somewhat humane feeling advised me not to make any more complaints, otherwise things would turn worse for me." Other prisoners, he alleged, were beaten until they begged to be killed, while some were told that they could be made to disappear.
Scotland said in his memoirs that Knoechlein was not interrogated at all at the London Cage because there was sufficient evidence to convict him, and he wanted "no confusing documents with the aid of which he might try to wriggle from the net." During his last nights at the cage, Scotland states, Knoechlein "began shrieking in a half-crazed fashion, so that the guards at the London Cage were at a loss to know how to control him. At one stage the local police called in to enquire why such a din was emanating from sedate Kensington Palace Gardens."
At a trial in 1947 of eighteen Nazis accused in the massacre of fifty Allied prisoners who escaped from Stalag Luft III, the Germans alleged starvation, sleep deprival, "third degree" interrogation methods, and torture by electric shock. Scotland describes these in his memoir as "fantastic allegations." "At more than one stage in those fifty days of courtroom wrangling, a stranger to such peculiar affairs might have suspected that the arch-criminal of them all was a British Army intelligence officer known as Colonel Alexander Scotland."
Scotland denied the allegations at the trial. In London Cage he says he was "greatly troubled. . . by the constant focus on our supposed shortcomings at The Cage, for it seemed to me that these manufactured tales of cruelty toward our German prisoners were fast becoming the chief item of news, while the brutal fate of those fifty RAF officers was in danger of becoming old history."
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- London Cage, p. 154
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- The London Cage
- Piece details TS 50/3, Publication of book 'The London Cage' by Lt Col A P Scotland: retention of his manuscripts under the Official Secrets Act 1911; Catalogue of The National Archives
- Item details TS 50/3/1; Catalogue of The National Archives
- WO 32/16025, Film "Britain's Two Headed Spy": provision of facilities and correspondence with Colonel A P Scotland; Catalogue of The National Archives
- Piece details WO 208/4294, Papers recovered from Lt Col A P Scotland: notes on operation of War Crimes Interrogation Unit, work and organisation of Prisoners of War Interrogation Section (Home) and miscellaneous subjects; Catalogue of The National Archives
- Piece details WO 208/4295, Papers recovered from Lt Col A P Scotland: reports of atrocities in European theatre of operation; Catalogue of The National Archives
- Piece details WO 208/4296, Papers recovered from Lt Col A P Scotland: German concentration camps; POW interrogation reports; Catalogue of The National Archives
- Piece details WO 208/4297, Papers recovered from Lt Col A P Scotland: Emsland penal camps; reports; Catalogue of The National Archives
- Piece details WO 208/4298, Papers recovered from Lt Col A P Scotland: Emsland penal camps; statements of former prisoners and guards; Catalogue of The National Archives
- Piece details WO 208/4299, Papers recovered from Lt Col A P Scotland: Emsland penal camps; War Crimes Investigation Unit correspondence; Catalogue of The National Archives
- Piece details WO 208/4300, Papers recovered from Lt Col A P Scotland: miscellaneous papers; Catalogue of The National Archives
- Item details WO 208/4300/1; Catalogue of The National Archives
- Piece details WO 208/4301, Papers recovered from Lt Col A P Scotland: shooting of RAF officers at Stalag III; Catalogue of The National Archives
- Piece details WO 309/1813, Report on Wormhoudt case by Lt Col A P Scotland, OC War Crimes Interrogation Unit; Catalogue of The National Archives
- Piece details WO 309/1814, Report on Wormhoudt case by Lt Col A P Scotland, OC War Crimes Interrogation Unit: later version, with additional material; Catalogue of The National Archives
- Piece details WO 311/567, Review of sentences given to war criminals and correspondence between Lt Col A P Scotland and Brig H Shapcott, Army Legal Service; Catalogue of The National Archives