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MI9, the British Directorate of Military Intelligence Section 9, was a department of the War Office between 1939 and 1945. During World War II it was tasked with facilitating escapes of British prisoners of war and facilitating the return of those who succeeded in evading capture in enemy occupied territory (for example, aircrew who had been shot down and soldiers stranded after the Battle of Dunkirk). It also communicated with British prisoners of war and sent them advice and equipment (Foot & Langley, 'MI9 : Escape and evasion 1939-1945'; Book Club Associates (Bodley Head) 1979, p34.)
MI9 officially came into being on 23 December 1939, by Major (later Brigadier) Norman Crockatt, formerly of The Royal Scots (The Royal Regiment). In December 1941, MI9 became a separate department, MI19. At first MI9 was located in Room 424 of the Metropole Hotel, Northumberland Avenue, London. It received little financial support and was understaffed due to power struggles and personality clashes with MI6 (whose assistant-head was Colonel Sir Claude Dansey, known as ACSS) and other outfits such as Special Operations Executive (SOE) and Political Warfare Executive (PWE). With limited space at the Metropole, a floor was also taken at the requisitioned Great Central Hotel, opposite Marylebone station where WWII evaders were questioned about their journey home. Later MI9 moved to Wilton Park, Beaconsfield.
In late 1940 Lieutenant Colonel (later Brigadier) Dudley Clarke arrived in Cairo at the request of Commander-in-Chief, Middle East, General Sir Archibald Wavell. Clarke's main role was to manage military deception in the region, as cover for this secret mission he was also assigned the job of managing MI9's presence in the Middle East. After Clarke set up his 'A' Force deception department this cover was extended to the entire office; and for a while 'A' Force represented MI9 in the region until later in the war when the two became separate once again.
MI9 manufactured various escape aids that they sent to prisoner of war (POW) camps. Many of them were based on the ideas of Christopher Hutton. Hutton proved so popular that he built himself a secret underground bunker in the middle of a field where he could work in peace.
Hutton made compasses that were hidden inside pens or tunic buttons. He used left-hand threads so that, if the Germans discovered them and the searcher tried to screw them open, they would just tighten. He printed maps on silk, so they would not rustle, and disguised them as handkerchiefs, hiding them inside canned goods. For aircrew he designed special boots with detachable leggings, that could quickly be converted to look like civilian shoes, and hollow heels, that contained packets of dried food. Some of the spare uniforms that were sent to prisoners could be easily converted into civilian suits. Officer prisoners inside Colditz Castle requested and received a complete floor plan of the castle.
Hutton also designed an escaper's knife: a strong blade, a screwdriver, three saws, a lockpick, a forcing tool and a wire cutter.
MI9 used the services of former magician Jasper Maskelyne to design hiding places for escape aids including tools hidden in cricket bats and baseball bats, maps concealed in playing cards and actual money in board-games.
Forged German identity cards, ration coupons and travel warrants were also smuggled into POW camps by MI9.
MI9 sent the tools in parcels in the name of various, usually nonexistent, charity organizations. They did not use Red Cross parcels lest they violate the Geneva Convention and to avoid the guards restricting access to them. MI9 relied upon their parcels either not being searched by the Germans or ensuring that the prisoners (warned by a message) could remove the contraband before they were searched. In time the German guards learned to expect and find the escape aids. Pat Reid describes in his book the story of a package of records that was sent to Colditz prisoners in the Second World War. One soldier took his out of the package and tripped. It smashed on the floor to reveal money and forged identity cards. Unfortunately, everyone else took to smashing their records hoping that they would find some escape items inside, destroying their actual records with nothing to be found inside.
In popular culture
In the BBC children's spy-fi adventure series M.I. High, the name MI9 (stylised as M.I.9) is used for a fictional secret British intelligence service which is a sort of combination of MI5 and MI6. It runs the M.I. High project - that gives the television series its name - which trains young teens to be spies. Though MI5 and MI6 still exist in the fictional world, they are not mentioned often and M.I.9 effectively takes care of operations that would (in the real world) be run by the two agencies.
- Foot (1979), pg. 34–35
- A. Neave, Saturday at MI9 (Hodder & Stoughton Ltd., 1969) pp. 5–7
- Holt (2004), pg. 26–30
- Rankin (2008), pg. 279–280
- Foot (1979), pg. 87–89
- Tom Cavier, Where the hell have you been? - Monty, Italy and one man's incredible escape, 2009, page 100.
- Foot, M. R. D.; Langley, J. M. (24 May 1979). MI9 Escape and Evasion 1939–1945. The Bodley Head Ltd. ISBN 0370300866.
- Holt, Thaddeus (2004). The Deceivers: Allied Military Deception in the Second World War. Scribner. ISBN 0743250427.
- Rankin, Nicholas (1 October 2008). Churchill's Wizards: The British Genius for Deception, 1914–1945. Faber and Faber. p. 466. ISBN 0571221955.