Title: Evasion And Escape Devices Produced By MI9, MIS-X, And SOE In World War II
Author: Phil Froom
Froom, Phil (2015). Evasion And Escape Devices Produced By MI9, MIS-X, And SOE In World War II. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd
- “This book describes the design, manufacture, covert shipment and use of the many ingenious evasion and escape devices provided to Allied troops during WWII. Following the fall of mainland Europe, hostile Allied actions against land-based Axis forces were generally limited to air attacks. However, as the numbers of those attacks increased, the number of aircraft and crews failing to return grew alarmingly: something needed to be done to provide these air crews with aids to enable them to evade to safe territory or escape captivity, or losses of irreplaceable crews would become critical. Britain’s MI-9 and U.S. MIS-X organizations were formed solely to support evaders and prisoners of war in occupied territories. They developed a wide variety of evasion and escape devices that were given to Allied Forces prior to operations in hostile territory or delivered clandestinely to POWs. It worked: the aids facilitated the return of thousands of men to their units.”–Publisher description.
- Formation and planning — MI9 origins and establishment — MIS-X origins and establishment — Escape aids: procurement and supply — Covert delivery to the camps — Communications and codes — Escape maps — Escape compasses — Money purses and maps only wallets — Blood chits — Documents, ephemera and insignia — Aids boxes (personal aids survival kits) — Uniform and clothing items — Toiletry items — Smoking items and accessories — Sporting items and games — Personally purchased or adapted items — Forgery, writing and art materials — Mend and make do (sewing items) — General items — Escape tools, knives, saws and blades — Discovery by the enemy — Appendices. I. Escape purse and maps only pouch contents tables — II. List of games shipped to prisoner of war camps — III. MI9 bogus charity groups — IV. Circular rotators — V. MI9 personnel list — VI. MI9 escape aid numbers — VII. E.R. Watts escape aids manufacturing code numbers — VIII. Translation of Die Wehrmacht magazine, August 1943 — XI. 15th Flotilla Coastal Forces in support of MI9.
- Great Britain. MI9–History.
- United States. War Department. Military Intelligence Service–History.
- Great Britain. Special Operations Executive–History.
- World War, 1939-1945–Secret service–Great Britain–Equipment and supplies.
- World War, 1939-1945–Secret service–United States–Equipment and supplies.
- Prisoner-of-war escapes–Europe, Western–History–20th century.
- Escapes–Europe, Western–History–20th century.
- Survival and emergency equipment.
Date Posted: March 22, 2017
Complied and Reviewed by Hayden B. Peake
While undergoing escape and evasion training with the British army in West Germany during the Cold War, Phil Froom developed a passionate interest in the WWII origins of the special devices and procedures that they were then being taught. When he learned that no single book had been written on the subject, he began studying official records and memoirs, collecting documentation from firms that built the special devices, and conducting interviews with survivors to learn how they were actually used. The result is the impressively illustrated coffee table edition, Evasion & Escape Devices.
Besides regaining one’s freedom, successful escape from captivity had two principal military benefits: return of the highly trained personnel themselves, as well as the intelligence they could provide. For these reasons Britain formed a special unit designated MI9 to conduct the training required before deployment and to develop the devices necessary to aid those captured. Evasion & Escape Devices describes how MI9 accomplished its mission in every theater of war. The book pays particular attention to the development of special devices, methods of secret communication with prisoners, and covert delivery of equipment to help prisoners escape and then evade recapture.
The kinds of special devices developed drew heavily on the experience of those who had successfully escaped during WWI and WWII. Communicating with prisoners through “letters and books from home” that contained coded instructions (and later through Red Cross packages and bogus charities), allowed the delivery of instructions and essential devices. Froom provides detailed illustrated examples of silk maps, button compasses, playing cards, passports, needle guns, Gillette razor blades with hidden messages, (p. 255) and a great variety of concealment devices.
When the United States entered the war, its soldiers were faced with the same problems and—based on the British precedent, Froom explains— they established their own version of MI9, designated MIS-X. Located at Ft. Ward, in Alexandria, Virginia, MIS-X developed training programs and a variety of devices. For example, miniature radios were hidden in cigarette packs, cribbage boards, and baseballs. At one point, writes Froom, communication with some camps was such that entire radio sets were shipped and the prisoners managed to steal the parcels before the Germans inspected them. (p. 38)
The German prison authorities were not asleep at the switch, however, and they eventually discovered many of the items sent to the prisoners. But the prisoners greatly outnumbered their guards and the volume of gadgets was so great that communication was effectively continuous.
Froom does not neglect the players that made MI9 and MIS-X a success. The most well-known of those mentioned is Charles Fraser-Smith, the inventor of what he called “Q” devices, a term the James Bond movies applied to Desmond Llewellyn, himself a prisoner of war for five years in Colditz Castle. (p. 9)
While Evasion 8: Escape Devices does not comment on the number of prisoners actually aided by MI9 or MIS-X, other sources make clear the program helped many, particularly downed airmen. Phil Froom has provided the most comprehensive account to date of the efforts to assist POWs in their duty to escape captivity during WWII. A fine reference work.
 Hayden Peake in The Intelligencer (22, 2, Fall 2016, pp. 121-122). Hayden Peake is the Curator of the CIA’s Historical Intelligence Collection. He has served in the Directorate of Science and Technology and the Directorate of Operations. Most of these reviews appeared in recent unclassified editions of CIA’s Studies in Intelligence. Other reviews and articles may be found online at www.cia.gov.