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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 supporting available European Resistance networks and making use of them to assist Allied airmen shot down over Europe in returning to Britain. MI-9 infiltrated agents, usually by parachute, into occupied Europe. These agents would link up with a Resistance cell and organize escape-and-evasion efforts in a particular area, usually after being notified by the Resistance of the presence of downed airmen. The agents brought false papers, money and maps to assist the downed airmen.
The usual routes of escape were either south to Switzerland or to southern France and then over the Pyrenees to Spain and Portugal. The group also facilitated the escapes of British prisoners of war both out of the prison camp and out of occupied Europe. It also communicated with British prisoners of war and sent them advice and equipment.
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 World War II prison-camp escapees were debriefed and questioned about their journey home. Later MI9 moved to Wilton Park, Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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 camps, that the German authorities began to capture significant amounts of escape material.
- Foot & Langley, 'MI9 : Escape and evasion 1939–1945'; Book Club Associates (Bodley Head) 1979, p34
- 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.
- 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.
- Froom, Phil (2015). Evasion and Escape devices produced by MI9, MIS-X and SOE in World War II. http://www.schifferbooks.com/evasion-and-escape-devices-produced-by-mi9-mis-x-and-soe-in-world-war-ii-5811.html: Schiffer Publishing. pp. 72, 82, 277 to 290. ISBN 978-0-7643-4839-6.
- Foot, M. R. D.; Langley, J. M. (24 May 1979). MI9 Escape and Evasion 1939–1945. The Bodley Head Ltd. ISBN 0-370-30086-6.
- Holt, Thaddeus (2004). The Deceivers: Allied Military Deception in the Second World War. Scribner. ISBN 0-7432-5042-7.
- Rankin, Nicholas (1 October 2008). Churchill's Wizards: The British Genius for Deception, 1914–1945. Faber and Faber. p. 466. ISBN 0-571-22195-5.