|Lt. Col. Alexander Scotland|
15 July 1882|
Middlesbrough, Yorkshire, England
|Died||3 July 1965
Brent, London, England
|Years of service||1903–1907 (German Army, South-West Africa)
1915–1919, 1940–1948 (British Army)
|Commands held||Prisoner of War Interrogation Section|
|Battles/wars||German campaign in South-West Africa
World War I
World War II
|Awards||Officer of the Order of the British Empire
Bronze Star (USA)
Scotland was noted for his work during and after World War II as commandant of the "London Cage", an MI19 prisoner of war facility that was subject to frequent allegations of torture. He wrote about this period in his 1957 book, The London Cage.
Early life and career
Scotland was born in England to Scottish parents from Perthshire. His father was a railway engineer. He came from a family of nine children, three girls and six boys. He left school at the age of fourteen, worked as an office boy at a tea merchant's in Mincing Lane, London and then sailed to Australia before returning to England, where he worked in a London grocery business.
In his 1957 memoir The London Cage, Scotland wrote, "Perhaps because I had a variety of uncles, aunts and other relatives living abroad, my mind was focussed from an early age on the notion of a career overseas, and before I was twenty this compulsive travel urge was again asserting itself."
He travelled to South Africa with the intent of joining the British Army, as his brother was serving there and promised to get him in his unit. However, the Boer War had just ended by the time of his arrival. He then worked for an insurance company before returning to the grocery and provisions trade. He lived in the town of Ramonsdrift, at the border between South Africa and German South-West Africa. German forces became his chief customers, and he learned to speak German fluently.
At the invitation of a German officer, Scotland joined the German Army as "Schottland". In London Cage he says he took part in "several battles" with the Khoikhoi, then engaged in an uprising against German rulers of South-West Africa. He served in the German army from 1903 to 1907.
Upon return to Cape Town, Scotland was appointed General Manager of the government trading post at Ramonsdrift by Dr. L.S. Jameson, premier of the Cape Colony. The appointment made Scotland influential with British, German and Khoikhoi forces, and he became involved in cease-fire talks with the Khoikhoi leader Johannes Christian. Scotland was awarded the Order of the Red Eagle for his services.
During that time, Scotland began unofficially reporting German manpower and other information to British intelligence in Cape Town "and to General Smuts' agents on their periodic visits to me in my bushland commercial headquarters."
Over time, the Germans became suspicious of him, but no action was taken and he continued his work for both side until 1914, when he was imprisoned by the Germans on suspicion of espionage. He was interned in the prison at Windhoek until 6 July 1915, when the area was captured by British Empire troops. He returned to England upon his release. Following his return he launched an unsuccessful court case in the King's Bench Division of the High Court of Justice, attempting to recover the salary that had been withheld by his employer, South African Territories (Limited) whilst he was interned.
World War I
In 1915, Scotland sought to enter intelligence work in England. Initially rebuffed, he was then accepted into the Inns of Court Officer Training Corps. He was posted to France and received a commission as second lieutenant in July 1916. In France he was assigned to interrogate German prisoners.
In London Cage, Scotland says that he used his fluent German and knowledge of the German Army to cajole information from German prisoners. To determine the manpower needs of the German army, for instance, he ordered German noncommissioned officers at a prisoner of war cage to survey their men's health status and age. The purpose was to determine whether the German Army was being forced to return ill soldiers to duty, or to use young and inexperienced soldiers, because of manpower shortages.
In the spring of 1918, Scotland made three secret trips behind German lines in Beverlo, a town in Flanders where porous security allowed transit into German-occupied Belgium. Scotland posed as an overseas German from German South-West Africa. On the recommendation of a German he knew in South Africa, he found employment as a civilian worker for the German Army, and gathered intelligence by chatting with German soldiers. Scotland fled to England when he came under suspicion from a German noncommissioned officer.
Scotland left military service in 1919 with the rank of captain, which he describes in London Cage as the highest rank in the Intelligence Corps. He was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) on 1 January 1919, in a group of honours awarded "for valuable services rendered in connection with military operations in France and Flanders".
World War II and the 'cages'
After the First World War, Scotland returned to South-West Africa and then obtained what he describes in London Cage as a "roving job with a famous commercial enterprise." This brought him to South America, where he worked between 1927 and 1933. While in South America, Scotland says he made "discreet inquiries" about the large German communities in those countries. Scotland returned to England in 1933, and made several trips to Germany in the ensuing years. During one of his trips to Germany in 1937, Scotland says, he met with Adolf Hitler at a friend's house in Munich, and discussed South-West Africa.
In early 1940, Scotland was recalled to duty. He says in London Cage that he was commissioned a major and was posted to France in March, but official records say he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in April. He was assigned to the British Expeditionary Force in France, where he was assigned to organize prisoner of war interrogation centers, and to instruct officers on treatment and interrogation of prisoners. He found British forces ill-equipped to deal with war prisoners, with the staff assigned to such duties consisting of writers and journalists, some with background in security work but none with training or knowledge of military intelligence. Scotland returned to England in the Dunkirk evacuation a month later, and in July 1940, he was transferred to the Intelligence Corps.
Upon his return to England, Scotland was put in charge of the Prisoner of War Interrogation Section (PWIS). A "cage" for interrogation of prisoners was established in each command area, manned by officers trained by Scotland. 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 noncommissioned officers who served as interrogators and interpreters. Security was provided by soldiers from the Guards regiments selected "for their height rather than their brains." Scotland does not describe in detail the wartime functions of any of the cages, including the eponymous London cage, in his London Cage memoir.
War crimes investigations
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.
In London Cage Scotland spoke disparagingly of the varying treatment of Nazi war criminals, and the necessity of prompt prosecutions. 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 a Nazi Gauleiter, 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.
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. He participated in the investigation of the SS and Gestapo men who murdered 41 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.
On 14 February 1946 he was awarded the US Bronze Star for his prisoner interrogation work, and enhancing US/UK cooperation. He was formally granted permission to wear this foreign decoration on 25 September 1947.
Scotland was accused by a number of prisoners of the London Cage of extracting confessions by torture. Prior to publication of London Cage, MI5 pointed out that Scotland had detailed repeated breaches of the Geneva convention, and had admitted "that prisoners had been forced to kneel while being beaten about the head; forced to stand to attention for up to 26 hours; threatened with execution; or threatened with 'an unnecessary operation'." Publication of the book was delayed for years, and these details were excised.
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."
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 General 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 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."
Scotland's efforts to obtain publication of The London Cage were opposed by British intelligence officials, on the grounds of the Official Secrets Act. In 1955, Special Branch detectives searched his home and seized all three copies of the manuscript, as well as Scotland's notes and records, some of which were official files he had retained at the end of the war. Scotland responded by threatening to publish the book in the United States. The New York Times reported that the British government was "unwilling to have the bugbear of German atrocities revived at this time, when official policy is to support the Bonn government and the ratification of the Paris agreements to arm West Germany."
An expurgated version of the book was published in Britain in 1957, with the disclaimer "The War Office wishes to make it clear that the views and facts stated in this book are the Author's own responsibility. Further, the War Office does not in any way vouch for the accuracy of the facts and does not necessarily accept any opinions expressed in this book."
In 1957, Scotland was technical advisor to the movie The Two-Headed Spy, starring Jack Hawkins as a British intelligence agent named Scotland who poses as a general of the German Wehrmacht named "Schottland".
Scotland does not mention the movie in London Cage but says that false stories of his serving on the Nazi general staff circulated in the British press after his testimony at the 1947 trial in Italy of Field Marshal Albert Kesselring. He had testified at the trial that he had served in the German army early in the century. Scotland said in London Cage that he planned to call a press conference to deny the allegations, but was told by Whitehall "'Say nothing. Let the story rip.' I have never discovered the official reason for this intriguing ban."
Scotland died on the 3 July 1965 at the Tywford Abbey nursing home in Brent, London, aged 82.
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- 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