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MI9, the British Directorate of Military Intelligence Section 9, was a secret department of the War Office between 1939 and 1945. During World War II it had two principal tasks: assisting in the escape of Allied prisoners of war (POWs) held by the Axis countries, especially Nazi Germany; and helping Allied military personnel, especially downed airmen, evade capture after they were shot down or trapped behind enemy lines in Axis-occupied countries.[1] During World War II, about 35,000 Allied military personnel, many helped by MI9, escaped POW camps or evaded capture and made their way to Allied or neutral countries after being trapped behind enemy lines.[2]

The best-known activity of MI9 was creating and supporting escape and evasion lines, especially in France and Belgium, which helped 5,000 downed British, American and other Allied airmen evade capture and return to duty. The usual routes of escape from occupied Europe were either south to Switzerland or to southern France and then over the Pyrenees to neutral Spain and Portugal.[3] MI9 trained Allied soldiers and airmen in tactics for evading and escaping and helped prisoners of war to escape by establishing clandestine communications and providing escape devices to them.[4]


MI9 officially came into being on 23 December 1939, led by Major (later Brigadier) Norman Crockatt, formerly of The Royal Scots (The Royal Regiment). In December 1941, a sub-section of MI9 became a separate department, MI19. At first MI9 was located in Room 424 of the Metropole Hotel, Northumberland Avenue, London. With limited space at the Metropole, a floor was also taken at the requisitioned Great Central Hotel, opposite Marylebone station, where World War II prison-camp escapees were debriefed and questioned about their journey home.[5] After a German bomb caused slight damage to the Metropole Hotel in September 1940, Crockatt moved MI9 to a large country house, Wilton Park, Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire.[6]

MI9 initially received little financial support and was understaffed due to power struggles and personality clashes with MI6, the "oldest and grandest" of the British secret services. The assistant-head of MI6 was Claude Dansey, known as ACSS. Dansey maintained on behalf of MI6 considerable control over MI9, especially not wishing the upstart secret services such as MI9, the Special Operations Executive (SOE), and the Political Warfare Executive (PWE) to compete or interfere with the intelligence gathering function of MI6.[7]

Two posthumously well-known sections of MI9 are Intelligence School 9, section d, known as IS9(d) or "Room 900," and "Q." Room 900 was staffed by James Langley and Airey Neave (code named "Saturday") who joined MI9 in 1941 and 1942 respectively. Both were soldiers who had escaped from German captivity. Langley and Neave were concerned with creating and supporting escape and evasion lines in Europe. "Q," staffed by Christopher Hutton and Charles Fraser-Smith, was charged with inventing devices to aid soldiers to evade or escape capture. "Q" was made famous in fiction by the James Bond movies.[8][9]

Escape lines[edit]

The routes used by the escape lines to smuggle airmen out of occupied western Europe.

Escape lines for Allied soldiers and airmen stranded behind enemy lines were created after the Dunkirk evacuation in June 1940. Most of the British soldiers left behind were captured or surrendered, but about 1,000 soldiers stranded in France declined to surrender, evaded capture by the Germans, and eventually made their way back to Britain with the help of escape lines. Initially, escape lines were created and financed by the citizenry of France and Belgium who opposed the German occupation of their countries.[10]

Many of the stranded soldiers made their way to Marseilles in Vichy France, theoretically independent but a puppet state of Nazi Germany. Residents of Marseille created the Pat O'Leary Line to help the British soldiers in Marseilles escape to neutral Spain, either by boat or by crossing the Pyrenees on foot. In July 1940, MI9 sent a young man named Donald Darling (code named "Sunday") to Spain and Portugal to help the fledging Pat line exfiltrate soldiers from France to Spain.[11] In Nazi-occupied Belgium, Belgians created the Comet Line. MI9 became aware of Comet in September 1941 when a young woman, Andrée de Jongh, appeared unknown and unannounced at the British Consulate in Bilbao with a British soldier in tow who she had guided through German-occupied France all the way from Belgium. She promised to bring more soldiers if MI9 paid the Comet Line's expenses. A British diplomat, Michael Creswell (code named "Monday"), became the chief contact of the Comet Line in Spain.[12] Darling headed MI9 operations in Portugal and later in Gibraltar.[13]

Working for the escape lines was arguably the most dangerous resistance activity in Europe and about one-half of the "helpers" (as they were called) were women, mostly young, who could travel with less difficulty and were less suspicious to the Germans than men.[14][15] The Comet line initially rejected all MI9 assistance and advice except reimbursement for expenses ($200 to $300 in 1942 U.S. dollars for each airman or soldier delivered to Spain). The Pat Line also received financial assistance from MI9 and beginning in April 1942 accepted wireless operators sent to France by MI9 to improve communications between Marseilles and MI9 headquarters.[16][17]

As Allied bombing of occupied Europe increased in 1942, the emphasis of the escape lines turned to rescuing and exfiltrating airmen who had been shot down or crashed in Nazi-controlled territory. The Germans succeeded in mostly destroying the Pat line and weakening the Comet line and additional lines were created, sometimes at the initiative of MI9. MI9 created the Shelburne Escape Line which exfiltrated downed airmen by boat from the coast of Brittany to England and in Operation Marathon set up a secret camp to shelter downed airmen in a remote forest until they could be rescued by Allied forces after the successful Normandy invasion of France.

Middle East[edit]

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.[18]

Escape aids[edit]

MI9 manufactured various escape aids that they sent to prisoner-of-war 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.[citation needed]

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. A magnetised razor blade would indicate north if placed on water. 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. Notably were maps hidden in Monopoly boards, and real money hidden in the piles of Monopoly money.[19][20]

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 secret message) could remove the contraband before they were searched. In time the German guards learned to expect and find the escape aids.

The British games manufacturer Jaques of London were commissioned by MI9 to produce a variety of games (from board games to sports) which contained numerous escape and evasion devices. These included travel and full sized chess sets, with contraband inside the wooden boards, the boxes or the chess pieces themselves, table tennis, tennis, badminton racquets containing money, maps and miniature compasses, dart boards filled with escape devices and tools, shove halfpenny boards, hollowed and filled with escape aids, and larger boxed games containing even more contraband. It was not until X-Ray machines were deployed at German POW[21] camps, that the German authorities began to capture significant amounts of escape material.

In southern China the MI9 unit British Army Aid Group helped POWs in Japanese camps escape to China during World War II. The group was closely linked to the Hong Kong Chinese Regiment.

Post War[edit]

In 1959 23 Special Air Service Regiment (Reserve) was formed by re-naming of the Reserve Reconnaissance Unit, successors to MI9.[22]

Notable members[edit]

The Staff of MI9 (At Wilton Park. Beaconsfield, Bucks. February 1940)

  • Lt. Col. N.R. Crockatt (GSO1)
  • Lt. Cdr. P.W. Rhodes R.N.
  • Capt. C Clayton-Hutton (I.O.)
  • Capt. H.B.A. de Bruyne (I.O.)
  • Capt. L. Winterbottom
  • Flt. Lt. A.J. Evans
  • Major C.M. Rait (GSO3)
  • Major V.R. Isham (GSO2)

See also[edit]

  • British Army Aid Group – military unit
  • Comet Line – World War II Belgian Resistance organization
  • Edgard Potier – Belgian airforce officer (1903-1944)
  • Escape and evasion lines (World War II) – WW II network helping downed airmen to evade capture
  • MI High – British children's TV series
  • MI numbers – Department of the War Office (1873–1964)
  • MIS-X – United States equivalent of the UK's MI9, the US equivalent of MI9
  • Pat O'Leary Line – Resistance organization in France during World War II
  • Shelburne Escape Line


  1. ^ Fry, Helen (2020). MI9. New Haven: Yale University Press. p. 3. ISBN 9780300233209.
  2. ^ Foot & Langley 1979, Appendix I: Statistical Summary.
  3. ^ Rossiter, Margaret L. (1986). Women In the Resistance. New York: Praeger. pp. 23–24. ISBN 0030053382.
  4. ^ Fry 2020, p. 4.
  5. ^ Fry 2020, pp. 5–7.
  6. ^ Foot & Langley 1979, pp. 42–43.
  7. ^ Foot & Langley 1979, pp. 56–58.
  8. ^ Fry 2020, pp. 1–2, 7–12.
  9. ^ Neave, Airey (1970). The Escape Room. New York: Doubleday and Company. p. 49.. Originally titled Saturday at MI9.
  10. ^ Foot & Langley 1979, pp. 51–52.
  11. ^ Neave 1970, pp. 61–62.
  12. ^ Fry 2020, pp. 79–82.
  13. ^ Long, Helen (1985). Safe Houses are Dangerous. London: William Kimber. p. 203. ISBN 0718305515.
  14. ^ Olson, Lynn (2017). Last Hope Island. New York: Random House. p. 289. ISBN 9780812997354.
  15. ^ Rossiter 1986, p. 24.
  16. ^ Fry 2020, p. 60.
  17. ^ Neave 1970, p. 127.
  18. ^ Foot & Langley 1979.
  19. ^ Cavier, Tom (2013). Where the Hell Have You Been? - Monty, Italy and One Man's Incredible Escape. Short Books. p. 85. ISBN 9781780720982. Retrieved 30 March 2019.
  20. ^ Bond, Barbara (2015). Great escapes: The Story of MI9's Second World War Escape and Evasion Maps. Glasgow: Times Books. pp. 85–113. ISBN 9780008141301.
  21. ^ Froom, Phil (2015). Evasion and Escape devices produced by MI9, MIS-X and SOE in World War II. Schiffer Publishing. pp. 72, 82, 277–290. ISBN 9780764348396.
  22. ^ "Special Air Service | National Army Museum".
  23. ^ "[https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts- 68209738 Carry On films: The star who helped World War II prisoners escape]", David Sillito, BBC News, 6 Feb 2024, retrieved 6 Feb 2024


External links[edit]