Shooting spies

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Shooting spies

Kevin Green
Kevin Green

December 17th, 2009, 7:10 am #1

When reading accounts of the second war, it is widely written that the Germans shot spies when the chance of turning them didn't present itself. Masterson in his book the Double Cross or DOUBLE XX or whatever it was, claimed that Britain caught and turned every spy that landed on British shores and thus, effectively controlled the entire German spy network. I was just wondering if it was Allied policy to shoot spies and if it was known to have happened.
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monty convoy r.i,p.
monty convoy r.i,p.

December 17th, 2009, 11:40 am #2

not quite what you were thinking of but the US did execute \juliius and ethel rosenberg in 1953 for spying for the soviets.
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Joined: January 1st, 1970, 12:00 am

December 17th, 2009, 2:05 pm #3

When reading accounts of the second war, it is widely written that the Germans shot spies when the chance of turning them didn't present itself. Masterson in his book the Double Cross or DOUBLE XX or whatever it was, claimed that Britain caught and turned every spy that landed on British shores and thus, effectively controlled the entire German spy network. I was just wondering if it was Allied policy to shoot spies and if it was known to have happened.
German parachutists who were caught in American uniform during the Ardennes Offensive were considered under the rules of war to be enemy "spies" and were executed.

Note that international law does permit the use of enemy uniforms as a legal "ruse de guerre", but clearly states that you are only allowed to use enemy uniform up to the point of contact. You are not allowed to fight while in the enemy's uniform.

Germany's Brandenburg commandos, for example, used enemy uniforms on some of their missions. The Allies made limited use of this too; in the spring of 1945, a company of American soldiers approached one of the Rhine river bridges wearing German helmets and overcoats in an attempt to take the bridge, but their ruse was discovered and the bridge quickly blown up before they could storm it.

In other words, these things didn't just happen in the movies.

The German parachutists probably didn't do as much damage as the fellows in that 1960s movie, but that wasn't the point; whatever activities they were conducting, they had not changed back into their own uniforms and therefore, my understanding is that they were found guilty - not sure what the exact term would have been; "espionage" perhaps. There are pictures extant of the executions - it was done by firing squad.
Michael Dorosh
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Kevin Green
Kevin Green

December 17th, 2009, 4:41 pm #4

That would qualify Mike. I hadn't thought of 'in theatre' spies. I was thinking more of homeland invaders like Jack Pickersgill and Guy Belland and those fellows. All of the Resistance and Maquis fighters were subject to this risk but I will restate that Masterson claims ALL Germans landing in Britain were turned so would there really have been any examples of foreign spies in Britain. Frankly I can't see how they would have got them all. There must have been German sympathetic French and Italian spies that were naturalized in GB.

I know some Germans were dropped in Nova Scotia by submarine and caught some hours later while trying to use out of date currency and speaking in really funny Danish or Norwegian accents. I don't think we shot them but imprisoned them for the duration.
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Doug Townend
Doug Townend

December 17th, 2009, 4:54 pm #5

it was his brother whose name escapes me at the moment. His story was on the History Channel this week.

DT.
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Rick Randall
Rick Randall

December 17th, 2009, 8:22 pm #6

German parachutists who were caught in American uniform during the Ardennes Offensive were considered under the rules of war to be enemy "spies" and were executed.

Note that international law does permit the use of enemy uniforms as a legal "ruse de guerre", but clearly states that you are only allowed to use enemy uniform up to the point of contact. You are not allowed to fight while in the enemy's uniform.

Germany's Brandenburg commandos, for example, used enemy uniforms on some of their missions. The Allies made limited use of this too; in the spring of 1945, a company of American soldiers approached one of the Rhine river bridges wearing German helmets and overcoats in an attempt to take the bridge, but their ruse was discovered and the bridge quickly blown up before they could storm it.

In other words, these things didn't just happen in the movies.

The German parachutists probably didn't do as much damage as the fellows in that 1960s movie, but that wasn't the point; whatever activities they were conducting, they had not changed back into their own uniforms and therefore, my understanding is that they were found guilty - not sure what the exact term would have been; "espionage" perhaps. There are pictures extant of the executions - it was done by firing squad.
At Skorzeny's trial, one of the charges was that he ordered and participated in "espionage" (i.e., having men fighting in enemy uniforms), along with charges he stole Red Cross packages and US uniforms from POWs.

Skorzeny admitted in court he did order the wearing of enemy uniforms for deception. He insisted he never authorized their use for combat -- thus it was a legitimate ruse of war, not an illegal use of enemy unifroms and symbols. At least one Allied officers testified for the defence that he, too, had worn German uniforms for the purposes of deception while behind German lines.

It was noted afterwards that both the WWII American "Soldier's Handbook" and the American field manual on the Rules of Land Warfare (dated 1940) discussed the legitimacy of using enemy uniforms and flags for deception, so long as they were discarded before combat (or as soon as fired upon).

Skorzeny was acquitted of all charges. While the court did not eleaborate on the acquittal, the evidence of SKORZENY'S guilt in the confiscation and theft of uniforms and Red Cross packages from POWs was pretty thin. Yes, he requisitioned the stuff from the German POW command. . . but that was becuase they had all the stocks of captured uniforms (so they could be issued as replacements for POWs as needed, as international law recommended that POWs be kept resupplied out of unifroms of their side when possible) and any unissued Red Cross packages (in the case of POWs who died, had never been captured and were mistakenly sent packages, or were repatriated before they received their packages.)
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Joined: January 1st, 1970, 12:00 am

December 18th, 2009, 12:37 am #7

Always wondered where they got the uniforms from.

The history of the Brandenburg Commandos given in Volume 3 of HISTORY OF THE PANZERKORPS GROßDEUTSCHLAND by Helmuth Spaeter (I have the English translation by J.J. Fedorowicz) cites Article 23 of the Hague Land Warfare Convention as appropriate to the discussion of use of uniforms.


An online search finds that The Laws and Customs of War on Land (Hague IV); October 18, 1907 State the following:

Art. 23.

In addition to the prohibitions provided by special Conventions, it is especially forbidden -

To employ poison or poisoned weapons;

To kill or wound treacherously individuals belonging to the hostile nation or army;

To kill or wound an enemy who, having laid down his arms, or having no longer means of defence, has surrendered at discretion;

To declare that no quarter will be given;

To employ arms, projectiles, or material calculated to cause unnecessary suffering;

To make improper use of a flag of truce, of the national flag or of the military insignia and uniform of the enemy, as well as the distinctive badges of the Geneva Convention;

To destroy or seize the enemy's property, unless such destruction or seizure be imperatively demanded by the necessities of war;

To declare abolished, suspended, or inadmissible in a court of law the rights and actions of the nationals of the hostile party. A belligerent is likewise forbidden to compel the nationals of the hostile party to take part in the operations of war directed against their own country, even if they were in the belligerent's service before the commencement of the war.


Which is all vague, but the use of enemy military uniform as a deception comes from naval tradition - and extends from the use of flags apparently. Anyone who saw Master and Commander will recognize this. In naval warfare it was not considered "against the rules" to fly a false flag up until the point you opened fire on an enemy vessel.
Michael Dorosh
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Joined: October 15th, 2008, 1:18 am

December 18th, 2009, 4:38 am #8

Didn't the US execute some spies that were dropped off by U-boat?
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Kevin Green
Kevin Green

December 18th, 2009, 6:36 am #9

Vague is right Mike. And not steal or destroy an enemies materiel? No poison? Were any of those rules abided by during the great war?

Ruse colours were indeed flown by warships, sometimes changing three or four times before an engagement. You might try their flag, French lets say, then try Italian or Portugese, maybe Dutch, depending on which one was an ally of your enemy (that month) and which one you thouht might buy you some time in maneouvering. Usually the enemy knew very well who you were far before you hoped.

Regarding Master and Commander, Patrick O'Brian wrote some 20 books called the Aubrey/Maturin series, Master and Commander being about the 9th one though the movie borrowed heavily from many of the books. They are an abosolute delight to read and O'Brian was the premier nautical historian and novelist of that time. His books are highly accurate and very well written.

Read them and you will see Hollywood could not have picked a worse actor than Russel Crowe to portray Jack Aubrey who was written as hugely tall, fattish, long blonde curly hair, loud and somewhat boyish.

So it's looking like examples of spies or those caught practicing espionage being shot are not too terrible commonplace.

You're right of course Doug, it's Frank Pickersgill of whom I spoke. I saw that show too. I had read of his exploits in a book about Canadian Spies.
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Anonymous
Anonymous

December 18th, 2009, 10:22 pm #10

Frank Pickersgill and the rest of them were not technically spies. They worked for SOE and were sent into France to raise new circuits. Pickersgill was a WT operator. The WO recruited Canadians largely because of their ability to speak French, familiarity with France and their ability on WT. SOE had to operate in a role similar to SIS at the beginning but their only intent was to wage a sabotage war. Sabotage and spies don't mix. SOE did gather intelligence when it could, but this was not its primary function. As soon as the fighting started, most quickly got into uniform. Others used civilian clothes during that time to travel, however once in a stronghold of the FFI or FTP etc. they would wear a uniform.

As for executions, not only were the German's in Allied uniforms executed but also a few Werwolves. These were German commandos, many from the Hitler Youth, who were trained to attack Allied units in Germany while in uniform and in civilian clothes. Some of the executions were carried out by firing squad on film. Some of those executed looked like they were 12-14 years old but probably older.

The British XX system is an interesting one. While I can't tell you that I know of any German spy during the war being executed in the UK, many chose to work for the British under the duress that if they did not, they would immediately be executed. Some German spies were not brought in but used as a method to feed intelligence directly to Germany in a manner that would not raise suspicion. This included a mixture of true and false information.

I always thought that a few German spies were executed in the US during the war. I know some squealed and it resulted in the network being apprehended, but I also thought some of them were executed?

I think we can learn a lot from those days. Today we are going nuts over a Taliban detainee being slapped in the face with a shoe, yet there is a lot about the winning of prior wars we take for granted. We did not win WW 2 on a squeaky clean slate, in fact far from it. However in those days intelligence services could keep a secret (Well in the days before reality TV ). Now everything has to be a TV show and open to the media. We definitely would NOT have won WW2 without the use of DIRTY fighting and we certainly would not have won trying to be some kind of righteous force for left wingers. War is war and you either win or lose. While no one wants to use torture or wants to condone it, it was used. Tens of thousands of people died to keep a secret. Happenings like the sinking of HMS Prince of Wales and the garrison of Hong Kong were all done knowing defeat would likely occur. The resistance forces we supported and fought alongside used torture and execution frequently. There is even an example of a Canadian SOE member being on the execution target list of the resistance because he was sleeping with an informants wife. We sent men into Sarawak to recruit the local people and to turn them back to head hunting against the Japanese. There are many stories relating to the importance of fighting and winning a dirty war against a dirty enemy. They did not care about our judicial system or our supposed righteous stance. While today it is good to distance ourselves from such behaviour, let us not forget that there is nothing pretty in war. In 1939-1945 we had no choice, victory or subjugation and destruction. We did not have the luxury of self righteousness in those days.
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