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"The Stealthiness of the Enemy and His Ubiquity!
I Saw That We Must Copy It..In Our Own Way Of Course..."
- Adolf Hitler
MIS-X: Lost in the dusty, musty recesses of the Archives and the Pentagon, random papers so vague they are meaningless refer to a dark, quiet secret known as MIS-X. In over 50 years, since the genesis of the acronym, it is still a mystery.
In truth it was an ultra-secret POW communication, support and supply program that operated full-tilt during WWII, and was so successful, it maintained contact with all Eastern European POW camps... 64 in all.
This story begins with the awesome British Intelligence operation, MI-9... itself borne of the 50,000 plus British servicemen taken at Dunkirk. As Hitler ordered all POW camps to be 1000 miles from the English Channel, MI-9 was tasked to accommodate both it's POWs and the vast European front MI-9, the Escape & Evasion agency of the Prisoner of War Branch (all services), resolutely dug-in, creating no less than 36 faux Humanitarian Aide Societies, and commandeered manufacturers under the Official Secrets Act to 'load' E&E materials into goods. They trained hand-picked Airmen and Soldier's to surreptitiously communicate with special codes should they become POWs. Thus was created the Active POW Offensive Unit. Captive POWs would communicate, escape, evade and generally wage war on their captors from within. Some escapes were even planned so that escapees could simply gather intelligence, be recaptured and then transmit such back to London.
With it's involvement in the war in 1942, the 8th Army Air Force, in preparation for moving it's European command to England, was briefed on the exploits of MI-9 and how it was wreaking havoc with captured POWs. MG Carl Spaatz, was amazed and immediately saw the potential for an American program based on the British success. Ever mindful of the hazard to his fliers, MG Spaatz was instrumental in getting British Air Vice-Marshal Charles Medhutt to brief Secretary of War Stimson in the US on MI-9. Eventually, rather than create a US arm of MI-9 under the 8th Air Force, it was determined to invent a separate, secret unit and it was originally setup with 8th AF personnel. By October, the German POW camp at Fort Hunt, Virginia, part of George Washington's Mount Vernon estate, now housed several off-limits, high security buildings of MIS-X, America's own MI-9, so secret it was only referred to by it's PO Box number, 1142.
So clandestine was 1142, that only a select handful of people knew it existed. And then, even these few hadn't all the facts. Three cover Aide organizations were created to cover the shipment of parcels, some purely humanitarian, but many 'loaded' with; Radios and parts, electronics, hand guns, shovels, photo and developing equipment, cameras, maps, millions in Reichmarks, compasses, Allied and Axis uniforms, printing presses, saws, forged documents and anything else needed by POWs. Sometimes clandestinely, sometimes overtly - these parcels and their contraband passed by inspectors and censors of the Luftwaffe, Wehrmacht and SS at each camp's parcel station.
Over a 3 year period, the trained POW Code-Users or CU's, not only reported to London and MIS-X, the setup of camps, staffing and status and identities of POWs, escape plans and intelligence data, but were able to advise the US of technical problems on aircraft, impediments with equipment and dangerous areas for escapees and evaders throughout Europe. One infamous message that made its way out of the camps came from B-17 crewmen who advised MIS-X of critical problems with hatches on the noble Flying Fortress. Within days, the problem was fixed. Such masses of information not only aided the war effort, but allowed briefers to give Airmen a better chance of survival and in the event of capture, a procedure to follow to support or contact camp escape committees.
US and British E&E agencies, under the guise of the Aide Societies, were able to supplant the POW starvation diet and thus saved countless lives. They shipped hundreds of thousands of food items such as coffee, sugar, pate, cheese, oleo, biscuits, canned meats, dried fruit, salmon and powdered milk. Cigarettes, soap and coffee created a POW currency with which to trade and bribe guards. Blankets and uniforms became lederhosen and peasant clothes for escapees, fashioned by POW tailors who used razor blades to etch perfect patterns in the wool cloth.
MIS-X, hand loaded many of their E&E devices at work tables in Virginia. Only a small number of items could be handled at the 'factory' in Virginia, as manufacturers could not be sworn to secrecy as had been achieved in England. The small band of MIS-X personnel had big talents. Monopoly and checker boards were loaded with currency, maps and forged documents. Cribbage boards were actually radios, chess pieces, shaving brushes and other handle items were full of compasses and money. Decks of playing cards, when stripped of their backs and laid out, became full-color, silk maps of Europe. Rubber shoe heels were carved with VISA and official stamps to be imprinted on the forged papers.
It was so successful, that CU's soon communicated that MIS-X should stop sending E&E devices as they were overstocked in the camps. Contacts were so good, that POWs knew precisely when to listen to their radios for certain messages.
The barbed-wire front, as it became known, staged internal war and turmoil throughout the war... and the USG was apprised all the way. It took less than a week for them to know all the details about Stalag Luft III... home to thousands of American and British POWs who moved 160 TONS of sand to excavate 3 tunnels, each 26 feet deep. Tom and Dick, feeder tunnels over 200 feet long, and Harry, a 336 foot escape tunnel... the road to freedom for the Great Escape.
" The Shovel Is Brother To The Gun"
- Carl Sandberg
On March 25th, 76 British POWs (the Americans had been moved 8 weeks previous) traversed 'Harry' into the night. 50 were taken immediately by German guards, 23 were recaptured and 3 escaped to freedom. The fifty were ordered shot in cold blood by Hitler, and were murdered by the Gestapo. The news went through the other camps like wildfire, hardening the resolve of the POWs. The Military Intelligence services, sobered by this event, dug-in once again to aid the POWs - but most significantly, those 26 British escapees tied up 1 1/2 million German forces who were so busy chasing POWs... they could not fight. The POWs supported by Allied governments bravely fought from within their barracks and the barbed-wire front.
The Red Army, after taking Berlin on 2 MAY 45, along with the collapse of the German rail and postal services, cut off aid to the camps. For whatever reason, the United States Government stood by as US and Allied POWs were stolen out of the liberated camps and transferred by truck and rail transport into the oblivion of Soviet Siberia and it's uranium mines. With all our government knew about POWs in Eastern Europe, how could it stand mute as countless men were consigned to misery and death in the Gulags, Sharashkas, hospitals and camps strewn about Russia.
Immediately, MIS-X was ordered to shut down, smash and incinerate everything. Stacks of 'loaded' goods, records, documents and POW secret messages were destroyed. Save for a few obscure references, from other organizations, nothing survived. So completely obliterated from history was MIS-X, that with the Korean War imminent as early as 1948, no one person or shred of information was available to activate a similar program... In less than 3 years no less.
Japan was a different story. Although a signatory to the 1935 Geneva Agreement, as the Diet regime did not ratify the accord, Japan felt no need to treat POWs as anything other than a 'Maruta', a log of wood, nothing. The brutality of Japan, China and then Korea was a new enemy to encounter. At best, peasants could be bribed to carry food to internees to stave off starvation and friendly natives could assist evading Caucasians, but this was a different war altogether.
Whatever the United States Governments reasons for continued secrecy, why they disbanded this successful organization, we may never know. However, it is patently clear that there have always been some people committed to aiding and securing the release of captive Americans... and another facet just a s committed to putting them out of business.
What a tragedy MIS-X did not continue in the ensuing years... through Korea and Vietnam. Perhaps had the powers-that-be seen fit to support the program in any incarnation, many more brave POWs would have been able to 'get to the other side' and escape, or at least not have suffered from the silence and starvation forced upon them.
The handful of heroes of MIS-X, were in a sense, the first pro-active POW-MIA organization... and ultimately their demise and disappearance was government directed. Yet, during their tenure they succeeded in their mission... acting in secrecy, amongst only themselves, they aided and comforted POWs who eventually were able to wage a secret war from within. So to these very first activists, let us be thankful, they served their brothers well.
1.http://www.aiipowmia.com/wwii/msx.html, Special Thanks to All POW-MIA for their permission to use these valuable and historic resources!