Few clashes in the annals of modern warfare are more exciting than the confrontation of submarine and surface craft. What has been a quiet but deadly cat-and-mouse game may erupt into a tumult of fury, perhaps aided by strange technical devices, planes, bombs, and well-placed depth charges, and suddenly the hunter becomes the hunted. Before the chase ends there is the possibility that the sub may be disabled and its crew forced to abandon ship. Even before disaster struck at Pearl Harbor, key United States Navy personnel gave considerable thought to unique problems presented by enemy prisoners of war taken in this fashion on the high seas. In mid-1941 the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) dispatched Lieutenant Harry T. Gheradi, a 35-year-old reservist, to London to study British interrogation methods, and in October of that year a joint Army-Navy committee decided the U.S. Army would be responsible for final custody of POWs. The Navy, these gentlemen concluded, should turn over enemy personnel “as soon as practicable” after their capture to the Provost Marshal General’s Office which would operate all prisoner of war camps.
For obvious reasons, the Navy took the lead in establishing centers where enemy personnel, especially German U-boat officers and enlisted men with technical skills, could be questioned. On Dec.18, 1941, the Secretary of the Navy approved the creation of special interrogation units, and three weeks later his Army counterpart concurred. They decided that two joint facilities would be set up, one on the East Coast near Washington, D. C., and the other in California. During succeeding weeks various officers visited two imposing estates, “Swannanoa” near Charlottesville, Virginia, and “Marwood” at Potomac, Maryland; however, both ultimately were rejected. Although “Swannanoa” could have been purchased and renovated for about $200,000, those concerned were reluctant to ask Congress to buy a marble palace for interrogation purposes.”Marwood,” a palatial country place over-looking the Potomac River and the historic Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, was turned down because of cost ($300,000) and substantial publicity once local folk learned it was being considered for “spy work.”
In May 1942 the Army’s G-2 and ONI agreed to set up shop at Fort Hunt, then a CCC camp located about 17 miles from Washington close by Mount Vernon, and at Byron Hot Springs, an isolated spot near Tracy, California, not far from San Francisco, Hunt was on land controlled by the National Park Service, and Army-Navy officials promised to respect that historic site and return it to the Interior Department soon after hostilities ceased. Within a short time a depleted CCC contingent moved to Fort Belvoir, and federal authorities appropriated $221,000 for new construction at Hunt.
Temporary “holding stations” were developed at Fort George Meade, Maryland, and Pine Grove Furnace, Pennsylvania, in the East and at Camp Stoneman and Angel Island in the West. Enemy personnel sometimes were questioned at these bases, but U.S. authorities preferred to take them to the supersecret installations at Hunt and Byron Hot Springs, known only as “P. O. Box 1142” and “P. O. Box 651,” respectively. Hunt was so hush-hush that architectural plans used by construction workers were labelled “Officers’ School,” although these men must have wondered why officers needed a maze of electrical wires, eight-foot fences, “conference” rooms, and rows of cells and pondered what wag gave streets names such as “Nathan Hale Drive” and “Pinkerton Road.” In August 1942 Hunt was ready to receive “guests,” as they were euphemistically called, and early in 1943 Byron Hot Springs began operation. Both could house some 40 or 50 men, depending upon how many were quartered in each room.
Strictly speaking, anything of this sort contravenes or “bends” a dozen or so articles of the Geneva Convention of 1929 relating to prisoners of war. If asked, all a POW is required to give is his true name and rank or his regimental serial number. If he refuses to say more, he cannot be threatened or insulted. As soon as possible, his capture must be reported to an intermediary power and an address given to which his family can write. His captors must provide a canteen, infirmary, and all other basic facilities furnished their own soldiers, POWs must have an opportunity for daily exercise, at least two hours in the open air, and within one week of arrival at camp be permitted to write to their families, Throughout World War II, U.S. officials stoutly maintained that Hunt, Byron Hot Springs, and temporary interrogation centers developed in North Africa, Europe, and the Southwest Pacific were not true camps. Prisoners merely were being “processed,” hence such international regulations did not apply.
Nevertheless, since some individuals were detained in prison-like conditions for a month or more, it is obvious that the Geneva rules were being strained considerably, if not actually broken. On occasion men were threatened by those questioning them (“We’ll send you to a bad camp if you don’t talk . . . how do we know that you’re not a saboteur . . .you know what happens to them . . .they get the electric chair!”), daily outdoor exercise was not permitted, mail rarely was received or sent out, and, in effect, enemy personnel were held incommunicado. As a matter of policy, Navy officials usually waited three months before reporting the capture of U-boat personnel to the State Department, which then informed the Swiss government, the neutral nation handling POW matters between the United States and Germany during World War II.
Perhaps the most flagrant breach of the Geneva Code was failure to notify a POW in advance of his destination whenever he was transferred from place to place and permit him to take his personal effects with him. On the other hand, except for the mental anguish of captivity, long hours of utter boredom, and uncertainty as to what was happening or what would happen next, life at Hunt and Byron Hot Springs was relatively pleasant. Food was good, question sessions sometimes featured relaxed, informal conversation, and copious quantities of beer and whisky, cigarettes, and reading materials (especially newspapers) were readily available.
Yet Major General Allen W. Gullion, Provost Marshal General and the man in charge of all POWs, was far from happy with some of these wartime practices which, it would seem, are the genesis of superspy activities plaguing our nation today. On June 7, 1942, he asked key Pentagon officials to rescind illegal orders relating to treatment of POWs at Hunt; and, when Swiss authorities complained that men lodged there were not allowed daily outdoor exercise, Gullion declared he had no jurisdiction over the inside of that facility and forwarded their protests to the U.S. Army’s Deputy Chief of Staff.
Interrogation procedures developed slowly and were subject to constant change and experimentation. The first German seamen to be interned by the United States were from the Odenwald, a blockade runner seized by the USS Omaha near Brazil in November 1941 because it ostensibly was masquerading as an American vessel. A blistering radiogram from the Chief of Naval Operations (Jan.5, 1942) indicates there was an exchange of souvenirs and visiting cards between crewmen and officers of the two ships, no segregation of sailors taken aboard the Omaha, and little effort made to obtain personal papers, photos, and other materials of “extremely great value.” The Chief of Naval Operations conceded hostilities did not then exist; but, now that war had been declared, the men of the Omaha were ordered to surrender Nazi party buttons, flags, and whatever else they had received.
Five months later, on May 19, 1942, the Vice Chief of Naval Operations instructed all ships and stations concerning capture and detainment of POWs. Enemy officers, non-coms, and enlisted men were to be placed under armed guard and separated into three groups. There was to be no fraternization with U.S. personnel, and only interpreters were to talk to prisoners. Each POW was to be “minutely searched.” “EVERYTHING” was to be taken from him except necessary clothing. His effects were to be bundled, marked, and a receipt given, if demanded.(A good opportunity, it was noted, to obtain name, rank, and serial number.) After segregation and search, and only then, POWs could be given warm clothing, medical attention, cigarettes, and food.”Our first interest is in obtaining all information of value to us and any humanitarian considerations must be subordinated to this interest.”
There was to be no formal interrogation at sea unless a seriously injured POW who might die wished to give information. When a ship bearing prisoners reached port, enemy seamen and their possessions were to be turned over to local Naval District representatives.”NO SOUVENIRS OF ANY KIND WHATSOEVER ARE TO BE RETAINED.” However, the Vice Chief said he appreciated “an understandable desire” for such existed and assured all captains that Naval Intelligence would endeavor to return “articles of no value” to crewmen involved in the capture of enemy sailors.
On April 14, 1942, the USS Roper sank a German submarine (U-85) off Cape Hatteras. There were no survivors, but intelligence experts were able to gain considerable information from the 29 bodies, debris, and diaries found at the site. The first enemy submariners to be captured by U.S. forces during what the Germans called “the American shooting season” were crewmen from the U-352, sunk off the North Carolina coast on May 9, 1942. Interrogators were especially interested in knowing what damage had been wreaked by British commandos at St. Nazaire a few weeks earlier, since they suspected these men were there. They learned little except that the crew liked to drink at La Belle in Gotenhafen and were distressed because a bottle of champagne now cost six marks or more at La Baule’s Maritza Bar. It should be noted, perhaps, that this anti-sub war was a joint British-American effort. Survivors usually were interned by the nearest nation; and, to facilitate interrogation, Lieutenant Ralph W. B. Izard of the Royal Navy worked with Gheradi and others throughout 1942.
Since neither Fort Hunt nor Byron Hot Springs was ready to receive these men from the (7—352, they were questioned at their port of entry (Charleston, S. C.) and shipped to permanent enclosures; but, by the latter part of 1942, members of several U-boat crews were in residence on the banks of the Potomac, They usually got there in this manner, After arriving at Boston, Norfolk, Miami, or other Atlantic Coast ports, POWs were interrogated briefly. At that point, Naval Intelligence might decide certain individuals either would not talk or really had nothing to divulge. These men were turned over to the U.S. Army and dispatched to various POW camps throughout the nation. Naval personnel usually were housed in facilities separate from Army troops, and efforts were made to segregate Nazis and anti-Nazis and officers and enlisted men. Italian and Japanese POWs were treated in a similar fashion.
Nearly all U-boat officers and crewmen thought to possess special skills were sent to Fort George Meade. The trip, under the auspices of the U.S. Army, might be by truck convoy, train, or plane, depending upon distance, but always amid strict secrecy. Windows were covered, the men sometimes blindfolded and handcuffed, and transport from Meade to Hunt by means of windowless buses divided into several well-ventilated compartments. Yet, despite such precautions, most POWs somehow figured out they were close to Fort Belvoir and the nation’s capital, and one German sailor knew exactly where he was: he had lived in Washington shortly before the war, and he and his girl used to park along the Potomac near Fort Hunt.
POWs lodged there lived under a strict set of rules. They had to obey all orders promptly; were forbidden to speak to other prisoners in the latrine, through open windows, or to resident staff without permission of U.S. officers; gambling, betting, writing on or smearing of windows, and (naturally enough) attempts to escape were verboten; no writing materials were to be taken from one room to another; and enlisted men were responsible for the cleanliness of their rooms.(Efforts to force officers to police their quarters failed.) The last rule, number 16, stated that transgressions of any order would mean loss of “buying privileges,” a rather hollow threat since these were virtually nonexistent.
Initially, U. S. authorities tried to keep survivors of various U-boat crews separate, but within a few weeks they concluded that about 90 per cent of all information of any value came from “judicious mixing” of prisoners and recording of their informal conversations, not from interrogation sessions per se. On Sept.12, 1942, while commenting upon these developments, the Director of Naval Intelligence asked his superiors for permission “to hold such individuals as are of use as stool pigeons.” In subsequent months, there was considerable discussion concerning utilization of “SPs,” and eventually several German sailors were detained at both interrogation centers as spies and informers, in one instance with disastrous results, Late in November of 1943, the Joint Chiefs of Staff also considered the possibility of POWs volunteering for duty with the OSS. What they had in mind was secreting anti-Nazis into Europe via England or Yugoslavia; however, several officials insisted any cloak-and-dagger program of this sort should recruit POWs before their capture had been reported to the enemy, In any case, this scheme was fraught with pitfalls. Turning a recent captive loose in his homeland on the premise that he would aid his captors was risky business indeed.
During the first five months of operations at Hunt, Naval Intelligence questioned 175 survivors of eight German U-boats and one blockade runner. After naval personnel finished with these individuals, they faced interrogation by the Army, although the Navy insisted technical data was privileged information and only told the Army whatever deemed pertinent to its needs. On occasion, American interrogators were able to use tensions within a U-boat crew to advantage. They might discover enlisted men detested officers or circumstances surrounding capture had given birth to charges of cowardice and ineptitude. German military personnel, especially high-ranking officers, also were lodged at Hunt and Byron Hot Springs from time to time, although the West Coast facility had been designed primarily for Japanese POWs.
Reports emanating from these interrogation sessions concentrated upon technical aspects of submarine construction, use of detection devices, modes of operations at sea, morale in the German Navy and on the home front, and effects of the Allied war effort, but they could encompass the most intimate and minute details—where crewmen stayed when ashore, where they drank and caroused, what their families thought of the war, Hitler, Himmler, and so on. Before World War II ended, interrogators were analyzing tattoos found on the arms of German seamen and searching out POWs familiar with various parts of the Continent (Normandy, for example, before June 1944). In time, they even were alerted to be on the lookout for specific individuals who might fall into Allied hands, men other POWs said possessed valuable information and might talk.
Blockade runners, frequently on their way home from extensive tours in the Far East, provided unique insight into life within Japan’s “Co-Prosperity Sphere” and relations among the Axis powers. On rare occasions, individuals were recalled to Hunt after a few months in a OW camp or interrogators visited them. These sessions often furnished graphic details from the “inside” of how some installations were dominated by ardent Nazis, many of them non-commissioned officers who seemed to form the hard core of resistance on U.S. soil. Some of these men were able to relate tales of extensive fraternization between guards and POWs and provide proof of inept administration.
Although no capture on the high seas or ensuing interrogation can be termed typical, it is possible to trace what happened to some enemy seamen. At about 1700 on July 19, 1943, a U.S. plane sank the 17—513 in the South Atlantic near the Brazilian coast. Within four hours the USS Barnegat was on the scene and picked up seven survivors, six enlisted men and the captain, an astute, 28-year-old native of Munich with rank equivalent to that of an American lieutenant-commander. This gentleman, Fritz Guggenberger (6 feet tall, 165 pounds, blue eyes, blond hair), had joined the Navy in 1934 and was rumored to have sunk the Ark Royal, an exploit not mentioned by any of those who questioned him. Guggenberger and a seaman, both seriously injured, were taken to the Barnegat’s sick bay where this conversation with a medical officer ensued.
G Sprechen sie Deutsch?
G Do you speak English?
G This bed feels good. Thanks for the blankets. (Because of exposure and injury a Syrette of morphine was administered.) This is very practical (referring to the Syrette). Is this an aviation ship?
G Was the plane American, too?
G The plane showed great courage in attacking us.
Guggenberger, who proved to be extremely “security conscious” (wartime vernacular which can be translated as “non-cooperative”), then expressed concern that other survivors might be talking too much. Although this officer and his men had spent four hours in a rubber raft dropped from an American plane (a raft clearly marked “U. S. Navy”) and were taken aboard a ship flying a U.S. flag, he still feigned ignorance as to who his captors were. Though personable and friendly, Guggenberger refused to answer any direct questions on board the Barnegat or in Rio. A stock reply was: “I am not permitted to say.” His men proved equally uncommunicative, and it is apparent that, while in the raft, they had plenty of time to coordinate their defenses against all queries. En route to Rio, crewmen did talk among themselves of recent liberty in France, also expressing surprise that enemy planes were operating so far south and mentioning that sixty-five companions had gone down with the U-513. On one occasion, Guggenberger, who rose to the rank of admiral during postwar decades, revealed that he had seen considerable service in the Mediterranean and, in contrast to most Germans, thought the Italians a people of culture, “fine comrades.” The Barnegat’s skipper noted that for some inexplicable reason Guggenberger wore underwear marked with the name of “Peterson.”
Two months later, on Sept. 25, 1943, this U-boat commander arrived at Fort Hunt. Again interrogators found him personally attractive but learned nothing. After one session, he returned to his room (which, as most POWs surmised, was bugged) and told a companion that the American “Gestapo” probably would work them over shortly. Following a week of fruitless badgering and cajoling, officials at Hunt gave up and shipped Fritz Guggenberger, now POW no.7G 117 NA, to a camp near Crossville, Tennessee.
Initial inquiry of prisoners usually began with innocent, insignificant questions, answers to which were already known: what is your name, where were you captured, what ship were you on, what is your rank? POWs often were told this information was needed for processing purposes or that their interrogators knew much about their ship, but merely wanted to confirm a few details. Sometimes more than one American officer was present. Their true names and rank were not revealed, but they always wore insignia outranking those facing them or masqueraded as civilians who knew German life well. An especially cooperative subject might win unusual favors and become an informant or stool pigeon. One young man, Werner Dreschler, a seaman captured when the U-118 was sunk in mid-1943, spent nearly seven months at Hunt. Known as “Limmer,” he was placed in the same room with various sailors and apparently extracted considerable information.
Early in 1944, despite specific orders from the Navy that Dreschler never be sent to a camp where he could be recognized, the Army shipped him to Papago Park, Arizona. He was dead within six hours of arrival, cruelly beaten and hanged by seven POWs who decided to execute a fellow countryman they considered a rank traitor. These men were tried by a military court, sentenced to death, and eventually hanged at Leavenworth in August 1945. During the last weeks of the war in Europe, some attempts were made to exchange them for GIs under death sentences for crimes committed in German POW camps, but hostilities ceased before anything could be accomplished. It is perhaps significant that no German POWs charged with serious crimes were executed until after all Americans held in Germany had been released. The seven seamen admitted they killed Dreschler, but they saw the deed as an act of patriotism, not a crime. One can only conjecture as to how U.S. servicemen might have acted under similar circumstances.
Just how U. S. Army authorities convinced these seven men to confess is not clear. A file lodged in the National Archives entitled “PWs, Coercion Methods on” which relates specifically to the Dreschler Case remains restricted. Correspondence indicates these POWs were denied sleep, taken on lengthy rides at night, and forced to don gas masks impregnated with noxious odors. In a memorandum written in June 1942, the Chief of Army Intelligence rejected “for the time being” offers of help from hypnotists, noting such measures (and drugs as well) were forbidden by the Geneva Convention and, furthermore, had not produced the results claimed,
There are indications officers at Hunt occasionally scattered cooperative enemy sailors among various POW camps. These men were provided with aliases and told to write directly to a “Captain Peters,” whose address actually was the central censorship bureau in New York City. Officials in Manhattan were ordered to forward these letters (unopened) directly to P. O. Box 1142.
By far the most extensive and most successful stool pigeon operation occurred at Byron Hot Springs in 1942—1943. Five German enlisted men, one of them a seaman, were formed into “a special interrogation unit” and granted unique privileges. This quintet, described casually as “all more or less loyal to the U.S.,” was provided with bogus identities, paid the usual 80[cent] per day granted all POWs who worked, allowed to wear civilian clothes and GI uniforms, permitted use of the post swimming pool and post exchange, and occasionally attended movies off the base in the company of an officer and a guard. In return they were assured the American government would give them full protection at all times and look with favor upon any requests to remain in this country after the war ended.
Everything went well for about seven months, but gradually all five became disenchanted with the attitude of a Captain ———, who, they claimed, was using them to gain higher rank and threatened to send them to a POW camp if they failed to do as he wished. In July 1943 these men suddenly were transferred to Fort Lewis, Washington, but soon they were back on the job at Byron Hot Springs. Several weeks later two of the informants, with the knowledge of the entire group, escaped and went directly to the police station in Pittsburg, some 25 miles away. They demanded to talk to the FBI and, once this wish was granted, told of their clash with the captain, noting this seemed the only way to inform the base commandant of their plight.
Following an inquiry, that gentleman concluded the group’s usefulness was at an end and shipped all five (under bogus names) to a camp then being formed in Nebraska. He followed up this decision with a letter to their new commanding officer indicating the men were “treacherous” and “untrustworthy.” When the Pentagon learned what had happened, a blistering rebuke was dispatched westward. How could anyone, the Director of Military Intelligence asked, treat men who have been so cooperative so shabbily? Also, he demanded to know how these POWs knew the true names of American personnel and the actual location of P. O. Box 651! Late in 1944, when the Nebraska camp was de-activated, aware of what had happened to Werner Dreschler, the Army transferred the men to a POW installation in Canada.
Interrogation and monitoring of U-boat crews was deadly serious business, much of the conversation consisting of heated argument, subtle battles of wit between questioner and prisoner, or whispered conversations and banalities once a subject returned to his room . . .yet there were humorous moments as well. In the fall of 1942 Fort Hunt was host to two high-spirited U-boat officers who very nearly made a shambles of the entire operation. Both were extremely intelligent, spoke three or four languages, including English, and had intimate connections to high places back in their homeland. They drank all the whisky and beer their captors would give them, smoked their cigarettes, joked at length, talked engagingly with everyone in turn, and provided those monitoring their room with page after page of material to transcribe, but actually said little of any consequence.
For our purposes, we will call this lively pair Fritz and Hans. Both of these young men were single, had visited America in the late 1930’s, and knew something about U.S. life. Fritz, who had a consuming interest in the opposite sex almost equalled by that of Hans, lived much of the time in a half-world of fantasy and warm memories of performances past. Once while looking at a newspaper together, Hans blurted out, “But she’s a negress, man!” “That doesn’t make any difference to me,” his friend replied, “but I would have to deny all of our racial theories if I did that!” A few moments later Fritz expressed the wish that his aunt in Manhattan could arrange for them to meet some local females.”So,” laughed Hans, “you want to spoil American girls now. After all the damage you’ve done in France! No! No!” Fritz, it turned out, had bedded down with a New York City girl some four years earlier and, ever since, had compared all companions (somewhat unfavorably) with his “beautiful American Irene.”
One evening following a lengthy drinking bout with their interrogators this conversation took place.
F How do you like American beer?
H It tastes like tar,
F You can’t say that. It tastes very good to me.
H If you compare this beer with German beer, you can readily see that the beer in Germany is so much more substantial than this. This is only an imitation of beer. You know now that this beer gives you a terrific headache. This is my third headache; the fourth time won’t be so bad. I’ve got a headache now. I can’t say much for it. I rate it as inferior German beer or inferior lager.
F I should say that with my befuddled head!
H They’re probably taking a recording of what we’re saying right now. Very probably, since there are three pear-shaped, chromium-plated microphones with paper cones hung up there. What we ought to do is take off the covering tomorrow, take the thing apart, and lay the parts on the bench. When the colonel comes in, we’ll say, “What’s this? We found it up here in the ceiling.” We’ll do the same with the two in the partition wall and in back of the corner. We’ll say, “What’s this? It fell from the ceiling. There’s something hanging there.”
F We’ll do that.
H My, how they would look, wouldn’t they?
F He would say, “Why did you take the ceiling apart?”
H We will say, “There’s nothing in the camp regulations against it.” Then they would have to insert a new paragraph into the regulations: “It is forbidden to tamper with the microphones.”
F They might not do anything about it at all. Ha, ha, ha!
H Yes, lad, they certainly won’t get anything out of me,
F Not out of me either.
H Not even if they kill me with a sling.
F They won’t get anything out of us. Once we’re dead, we’re dead. That’s a lot simpler than being alive. If we had drowned, we would have the matter of dying weeks and weeks behind us. Most humans don’t understand that. It must be rather pleasant, don’t you think?
H I don’t know just how it is. Perhaps one is happy at the prospect of going to heaven.
F One just doesn’t know. . . .
The following morning, badly hung over, one young man was sick to his stomach, while the other ran his finger down his throat in a vain attempt to vomit. Unable to do so, he burst out laughing and groaned, “Oh, heil, triple heil, triple heil!” Talk eventually settled down to a series of dirty jokes, most of them recounted by Fritz, discussion of whether there actually are 39 positions of sexual intercourse, and debate concerning just how many orgasms a healthy male may have in a lifetime, Through some obscure arithmetical computations they concluded the number was 3,400.
A few days later while eating lunch, they tried to take the microphones apart with their forks. One screamed classic German poetry into the receivers while the other struggled to pry them loose, but without success. Another time, again without success, they asked a guard to please bring them “a little pretty girl, perhaps two, whose age is 18 years.” Rebuffed, they inquired why wasn’t he in Germany? When he replied he didn’t know, they assured him conditions actually were much, much better in America . . .”no bombs, only cigarettes, chocolate, and chewing gum.”
At times, they turned their cell into a radio studio of sorts, giving forth with false news broadcasts, plays, songs, more obscene stories, and very explicit recollections of past exploits. Those monitoring this potpourri of voices and sounds suspected that one of the young men, in the ultimate put-down of U.S. intelligence efforts, occasionally masturbated into the receivers. This unpredictable pair also staged imaginary interrogation sessions with one of them playing the role of an American.
H We treat prisoners of war very good. We give them a large room—and a phone.
F A phone? How’s that?
H Why those microphones. You people in Germany have no microphones. No, no, no. In America we give you real service. And we lock the door tight so that nobody will come in and kill you. We give you shelter for your safety. Yes, yes. . . . Do you know France?
H I don’t believe it, but I heard from German officers and prisoners that French girls are good to love.
F Sir, I cannot tell you about that. It is a military secret.
H The Americans make all the best motor cars, the best in the world, the best airplanes, the best killing. . . .
F Yes, yes, yes.
H Oh, yes, the most planes, the most planes, but not the best.
H I think we have the best battleships, too. You can see them on the ground at Pearl Harbor!
Whether these uninhibited spirits chattered on to while away the hours or to keep U.S. personnel busy, they clearly achieved both goals. Shrewdly egged on by a remarkable mix of wit, sarcasm, crude sex, and rare bits of seemingly important information, weeks after they departed for permanent billets, Army clerks were dutifully translating, transcribing, and collating one outrageous statement after another. Fritz and Hans made certain they were the stars of Fort Hunt as long as they were in residence.
This formal interrogation business, although often fascinating and sometimes of crucial importance, actually was a minuscule operation. In June 1943, for example, 16 Naval Reservists and three civilians were serving as interrogators at Fort Hunt and Byron Hot Springs under the direction of five naval officers, Since the Army ran these centers, its manpower needs were somewhat greater. Yet during World War II officers at Hunt questioned only 3,451 POWs; those at Byron Hot Springs, 2,210.
It is difficult to say just how many of the enemy were naval personnel. Some files remain restricted, and one also faces a number of aliases; however, more than half of the 827 men lodged at Hunt in an 18-month period (August 1942 to March 1944) were Navy officers and seamen. The first German trooper arrived there in January 1943, and the ranks of enemy military “guests” increased markedly after the fall of North Africa. When hostilities ceased in Europe, 371,683 Germans, 50,273 Italians, and 3,915 Japanese were being held at 490 base and branch camps throughout the United States. This means that the 5,661 men who faced formal interrogation (either at Hunt and Byron Hot Springs or by officers attached to those facilities) were an extremely select group.
Finding individuals who could extract information from enemy seamen was a difficult task. At the outset of World War II, the Office of Naval Intelligence interviewed some 450 applicants, but enlisted the aid of only 30 men who studied submarines at New London and went to sea in various craft to familiarize themselves with all aspects of ocean life. A successful interrogator, it seems from these words found in the ONI’s brief account of this operation, had to be a linguist, raconteur, thespian, historian, sociologist, and, above all else, a patient, intelligent conversationalist.
A good interrogator must have an adequate knowledge of the enemy’s language. Complete fluency is desirable but not absolutely necessary. Travel in the enemy’s country and a knowledge of the dialects, colloquialisms, folklore, and slang will be very helpful. Ideally, he should be familiar with the national customs and superstitions of the enemy; the system of education, class or caste divisions; he should also have a background in the enemy’s literature, history, geography, and culture. He should be able to converse on various subjects intelligently. The ideal interrogator makes friends quickly and easily; and he must be actor enough to simulate anger or sympathy when the occasion demands.
Yet no amount of training, tact, skill, or persuasion could solve one problem which all interrogators faced from time to time, a perplexing dilemma to which thousands of pages of once-secret conversation now held in the National Archives in Washington are mute testimony. Men who had just gone through the trauma of capture by the enemy, perhaps having spent long hours in life rafts wondering if they would be rescued, and now were incarcerated in small, neat cubicles with individuals they might detest often were starved for conversation. Then the question became not how did one get Fritz to talk, but how in hell did you shut him up?