MI-9 Escape and Evasion

Title:                      MI-9 Escape and Evasion

Author:                 M. R. D. Foot

Foot, M.R.D. (1980) and Langley, J.M. MI 9 : Escape And Evasion, 1939-1945. Boston : Little, Brown

LCCN:    80018870

D810.S7 F56 1980



  • Published in Britain with the title MI 9: The British Secret Service that Fostered Escape and Evasion 1939-1945 and its American Counterpart [London: The Bodley Head, 1979]

Date Updated:  September 11, 2015

Reviewed by George C. Constantinides[1]

To study the literature of escape and evasion (E&E) as directed by Allied intelligence headquarters organizations and seen from this perspective, one should either begin with this book or end with it (until a newer and even more thorough work appears). It is the culmination of books by British officers connected with MI9—Airey Neave, Jim Langley, and Donald Darling—that progressively revealed more and more and improved our knowledge of the organization of British E&E and of the interservice frictions that existed. Langley and Foot, a historian and author on resistance, give the best and most detailed picture of the organizational and staff aspects of Allied E&E. MIS-X, the American counterpart of MI9, is treated, but it is the story of MI9 that gets the lion’s share. The book has the added distinction of spelling out and describing in more detail some of the operational methods and techniques used. Among them were the use of POWs for the collection of intelligence, the use of code to communicate between POWs and the intelligence staff in London and elsewhere, and the operational support for escape planning provided to the POWs. The traumatic failure to free Allied prisoners in Italy during the Italian armistice, a failure in policy and operational planning, is dealt with frankly and extensively. According to a reviewer in the Illustrated London News, the staff muddle connected with this event and its con sequences had never previously been investigated by historians. Foot and Langley regard their work only as a pioneer study showing future historians where to look. One reason for this attitude is that they did not have access to all British records on MI9 and admit that U.S. records “were cursorily skimmed.” The Illustrated London News reviewer added that this book is a triumph of persistence, which uncovered records previously believed destroyed. The RUSI reviewer’s praise for it as “excellent and long overdue” sums up the consensus. Langley’s actual affiliation with MI6, incidentally, is revealed here, and the relationship of the deception organization A Force and MI9 is made clearer. Hutton’s Official Secret[2], on escape devices, is a companion work. MI9’s U.S. edition has revisions and more on the U.S. role.

This is a review by the Defense Intelligence School.[3][3]

This book, originally published in England in 1979, has been slightly expanded to give some material on the American MIS-X, the counterpart of the British escape and evasion organization, MI 9. Langley, who escaped from German hands after the loss of an arm at Dunkirk, was the representative of MI6 in MI 9. He ultimately was the co-commander of the joint American/British E & E task force, IS 9, on the continent following D-Day. Foot is a well-known British historian, MI9 oversaw the establishment of escape lines, the preparation of escape kits, and the instructions for troops and fliers as to how to evade capture if possible., how to conduct oneself if captured, and how to undertake escape if imprisoned. It also found the means to be in communication with some of the prisoners in enemy camps. The book, written from the viewpoint of MI9 headquarters, includes the intelligence perspectives of E & E, and also describes the work of some of the major E & E nets, (the “rat lines”), in various theaters of World War ZII. It is the first book to describe the work of the Americans in this field, although in nowhere near the detail given to the British work which preceded it. Nevertheless, it is an important work, and one which sets the path for an overall American volume on this subject.

Some comments by Roy Berkeley:[4]

In the Chelsea area of London, not far from the South Kensington tub station, and just off Fulham Road, is Pelham Crescent. Facing the green at mid-block is 22 Pelham Crescent. Two Belgian officers lived here during WWII, working tirelessly with MI9 to exfiltrate Allied military personnel from western Europe.

By 1944 the large number of escapers and evaders on the Continent could no longer be hidden in the cities. And the escape networks of MI9 were increasingly subject to Gestapo infiltration. Airey Neave of MI9 met with the Belgians in this building to plan a string of hide-outs in the French countryside where Allied personnel could helter until they could be exfiltrated. Only one such camp was established, but hundreds of Allied servicemen were protected in it until Allied troops arrived three months later.

Georges d’Oultremont and Baron Jean de Blommaert, who lived in this building when they were not moving in and out of German territory, were part of a generation that would never have scuttled off to a neutral country to avoid military service. If your country was at war you fought as resourcefully as possible and as long as necessary. These two brave and high-spirited men, and their cohort, were the finest (and perhaps the final) flowering of what M. R. D. Foot may be the last to call “the officer class.”

More comments by Roy Berkeley:[5]

Site 59: the old Great Central Hotel, Marylebone Road. This grand pile, requisitioned by the War Office during WWII, was used in part to debrief Allied military personnel returning from occupied Europe.

For the last two years of the war the chief organizer of escape networks for Britain’s wartime exfiltration organization was the impressively capable Airey Neave (see Site 24 Ebury House, 39 Elizabeth Street). He was debriefed here himself following his own escape from maximum-security Colditz Castle. Wearing a hand-me-down uniform without insignia, he had been constantly questioned by military police on the train down from Scotland. Britain was still obsessed with German saboteurs and Neave must have been quite a sight. But things were different at the Great Central:

We were directed to the reception desk where two years
before a splendid blonde in black had been on guard.
Now there was a sergeant at the desk. “What is this place, sergeant?”
“The London Transit Camp, sir.” He studied me politely.
“Where are you from, sir?” “Germany.”
He did not bat an eyelid
“Quite so, sir. Then it will be MI9 you want. They are on the second floor.”

This building never resumed its function as one of London’s four major railway hotels, disappointing many who, like Neave, had gloried in its “magnificent dullness and solidity.” For a time British Rail used the building for offices. It is now the Regent Hotel.

[1] Constantinides, George C. (1983). Intelligence and Espionage: An Analytical Bibliography. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, pp. 192-193

[2] Hutton, Clayton (1961). Official Secret: The Remarkable Story of Escape Aids—Their Invention, Production And The Sequel. New York: Crown [London: M. Parrish, 1960]

[3] Defense Intelligence School (1981). Bibliography of Intelligence Literature: A Critical And Annotated Bibliography of Open-Source Literature (7th ed, rev.). Washington, D.C. : Defense Intelligence School, p. 25

[4] See Berkeley, Roy (1994). A Spy’s London. London: Leo Cooper, pp. 84-85

[5] See Berkeley, Roy (1994). A Spy’s London. London: Leo Cooper, pp. 149-150



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4 Responses to MI-9 Escape and Evasion

  1. Pingback: The Escape Room | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

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  4. Pingback: Evasion And Escape Devices Produced By MI9, MIS-X, And SOE In World War II | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

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