It seems like not another day goes by that another daring war story comes to light. Stories of British spies surviving months in the mountains in order to blow up Hitler’s atomic bomb-making facilities (detailed in Tony Insall’s excellent Secret Alliances) or of daring escapes across the Alps in winter, appear on our newsfeeds every other day.
But even with this, there is one organisation whose work during the war remains depressingly unsung: MI9.
Fortunately, we’re about to correct that. Read on for more…
What was it?
Much in the style of MI5 and MI6, MI9 was a secret government organisation set up in 1939 to aid in the fight against Nazi-occupied Europe. Set up by Norman Crockett, the group’s mission was to support the Resistance, whilst also using them to spirit stranded Allied airman all the way back to the UK. It also supplied prisoners of war with the materials they needed to escape.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the department was extremely underfunded and short-staffed during its time of operation thanks to infighting within MI6 and the SOE. For a while, it operated out of a hotel in Marylebone, where it questioned escaped prisoners of war. To each his own!
How did it work?
MI9 would drop agents into Europe by parachute. Those agents would then get in touch with local Resistance members and help them to identify and rescue downed airmen, using false maps, money and identification documents to do so.
Getting anything in or out of Nazi-occupied Europe without suspicion was hard, so MI9 employed everybody from former magicians to games manufacturers to create gadgets that would hide valuable escape items. They created compasses that could be hidden in buttons, hid packets of dried food in hollowed-out heels and hid real money in board games.
How successful was it?
MI9 did invaluable work in helping spirit escape equipment to soldiers around Europe, including the people behind the infamous Colditz escape. Though the work was extremely dangerous, it also helped turn the tide of the war effort- with a few incredible stories to tell, to boot!
MI9: Escape and Evasion, by M.R.D. Foot and J.M. Langley is out 6th February 2020. Pre-order your copy now!