A Most Significant Conversation

A Most Significant Conversation
As WWII entered its fourth year, British Military Intelligence were aware of a Nazi secret weapon programme, but their sources had been vague and unclear so it dropped down the priority list. Events in the early part of the war necessitated British scientists to concentrate on radar and enemy radar counter- measures in the air war, and in crucial U‑boat detection in the Battle of the Atlantic, enemy rockets seemed to some of Churchill’s advisors either a hoax or science fiction.

Then, on 22nd March 1943, one of the most significant conversations at Trent Park – between German generals Ludwig Crüwell and Wilhelm von Thoma, captured in the allied campaign in North Africa – was secretly recorded. Their conversation mentioned future weapons being developed by German scientists that amongst other things had the capability of travelling ​‘15km into the stratosphere’, which meant the allies had no defence against it. When the transcripts from these conversations were circulated via senior British scientific intelligence staff it was realised that Germany’s weapon development involving rockets needed to be taken seriously.

Further to the secret listening, clever subterfuge was employed at Trent Park to elicit information. A partially faked newspaper was ​‘conveniently’ left for the generals to read and comment on. It contained a story from a fictitious Swedish correspondent referring to rocket testing by the Germans in the Baltic area. This clever use of misinformation stimulated approving comments from the Senior German Officer Hans-Jurgen von Armin who was recorded using the expression ​‘in particular huge rockets’. It was a crucial piece of evidence to support the potential threat of Nazi Germany’s ​‘Vengeance Weapons’ programme expanding on the Baltic coast both the Luftwaffe’s pulse jet V1 and the Wehrmacht’s liquid oxygen fuelled rocket V2.

The human intelligence gathered at Trent Park in 1943 moved Nazi secret weapons up the allies priority list. Decisively, Churchill ordered more investigation, subsequently the RAF’s Photo Reconnaissance Unit and its interpreters at nearby Medmenham were called into action which resulted in Operation HYDRA a 600 bomber raid on the night of 17th-18th August 1943, the first proper attempt to target Hitler’s secret terror weapons. Without the information collected by the secret listeners at Trent Park, Nazi technical progress would have gone unhindered putting the allies planned timetable for D‑Day at risk and Nazi Germany with possession of the ultimate weapon: an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile perhaps with a nuclear warhead.

Further Reading:

Campbell, C. 2012. Target London : Under Attack from The V‑Weapons during WWII. Little Brown Book Group.

Dungan, T.D. 2005. V‑2: A Combat History of the First Ballistic Missile. Westholme Publishing.

Jones, R.V. 2009. Most Secret War: British Scientific Intelligence 1939 – 1945. Penguin Books.

Williams, A. 2014. Operation Crossbow: The Untold Story of the Search for Hitler’s Secret Weapons. Arrow Books.