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The M Room: Secret Listeners who Bugged the Nazis in WW2
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 6 January 2013
This book good gives a great insight into a hidden aspect of the war. Fascinating to hear some of the transcripts recorded and to discover many new facts about the war and about some of the opinions of those involved.
My only criticism is that by about half way through you become aware of a lot of repetition and also a tendency to mention something of interest but then not elaborate, leaving the narrative skirting on the surface. Nevertheless a hugely interesting read.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 29 June 2013
(author's review copy)

Ms Fry is already the author of a number of books; her focus is on the history of Jews in Britain and on the Second World War. Here the two themes come together in the shape of Jewish refugees who served as `secret listeners' in MI 19's camps where German PoWs were left to chat to each other in bugged quarters, thus inadvertently amplifying whatever information they had given under formal interrogation. Through this runs the career of cellist Fritz Lustig, who with other `enemy aliens' was interned on the Isle of Man, allowed to enlist in the Pioneer Corps, and in 1943 was transferred to secret listening.

The sources for the book are chiefly the transcripts of this bugging released to the National Archives in 1999 under WO 208 (already mined by Sönke Nietzel in 'Soldaten') and AIR 40, which codes also cover summary reporting and other matters. There are tens of thousands of pages of paper in these records and Ms Fry is to be congratulated on creating a coherent and digestible narrative from them for the lay public.

The story of the bugging of PoWs starts in 1939 in the Tower of London where the `M Room' housed the initial listening operation. The supply of useful PoWs meant that larger quarters had soon to be sought, and the Hertfordshire mansion Trent Park was taken over and equipped with secret microphones and recording equipment in 1940, Latimer House and Wilton Park being added to the programme soon afterwards. When thoroughly milked the PoWs were moved on to make room for others. The programme continued beyond the end of the war for interrogation of senor German personnel. Farm Hall in East Anglia was used in 1945 for a similar process with captured German nuclear scientists. This was written up in 2001 by Jeremy Bernstein in `The Uranium Club'.

The original listeners were chosen from officers with a good knowledge of German, ideally good enough to transcribe the conversational German of the PoWs and able to cope with the variety of German dialects. A huge step forward came when Lt Col Kendrick, the architect of the scheme, was allowed to fish the pool of native German speakers who had fled Nazi Germany before the war. They of course had also to be fluent in English.

In the early part of the war Kendrick's subjects were chiefly Luftwaffe aircrew and U-Boat survivors. Prisoners snatched on Commando raids were added to the mix as they became available. The result was a rich haul of technical, tactical, operational, organisational, political, social and domestic intelligence of immense value, particularly prior to Bletchley Park getting into its stride. The content of this intelligence is described in some detail. Absolutely vital technical information apart, an uncovenanted benefit was a sort of continuous attitude survey of the Germans. `Turned' PoWs were used as stool-pigeons to lubricate the process and seem to have gone undetected.

From 1942 Generals started to be captured and Trent Park was turned over to housing senior officers (and their batmen), in relaxed conditions. The petty behaviour of the arrogant and self-important Generals makes amusing reading. Their political arguments amongst themselves made very informative `listening' but most important of all was the lead they gave us on Peenemunde and the V-weapons.

There is discussion over the refusal to allow the material gathered to be used as direct evidence in War Crimes trials. For me there would seem to be `hearsay' objections which would probably have disallowed its use anyway.

Ms May's work was the basis for the programme recently shown on Channel 4 'Spying on Hitler's Army' [ ... ], in which she appears. Its 45 minutes of course cover far less material than her book. When that was written she was unable to identify `Lord Aberfeldy' who was the Generals' British welfare officer, but he was named in the programme as Major Ian Monroe of MI 19. Equally the soldier who had been in Belsen, and whose accounts of that must have tormented his secret Jewish listeners, emerges in the television programme as Private Pffanberger.

Sometimes a PoW was horrified to hear from cellmates about what went on in the East, but others approved whole-heartedly. Some of the Generals retrospectively disapproved, but mostly because they saw the routine murder of the Jews as a massive political blunder. None of this had stopped them doing their bit before capture to try to plunge the whole world into a thousand-year Nazi night. Finally confronted with newsreels of the death camps one of them commented "That's the only thing about the Thousand Year Reich that will last for a thousand years".

Debits are a rather perfunctory index, and some infelicities of vocabulary in Service matters such as `petty officers' (p.83), `escorted' (p.84), `other rank officers' (p.99) and so forth; and HMS Hood was a battle cruiser, not a battleship.

"We are disgraced for all time" - Generalmajor Paul von Felbert
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 12 June 2013
Many distingushed authours about the Second World War have refered to matters with words such 'Information from POWs' or 'A POW was overheard to remark..'Maybe the most famous was R.V. Jones' 'Most Secret War' and the X gerat and Knickerbine RDF systems. He says 'We could not find the equipment and had all but given up when a POW was overheard to say 'The equipment is there, but the English will never find it'. This drove us to greater efforts'. In this book the scource of that 'Overherd remark' is finally revealed. The M Room is another story of men and women working in secret to bring about Allied Victory in WW2. No heroics, no recognition just quiet dedication. Written in a informal non judgemental style, the book presents the history of Allied interigation of POW's. Futher it cast light and clarification on what and how information was obtained and used in such diverse manners as the Black Propoganda radio transmissions ( Churchill's Wizard's), the location and subsequent actions against the Nazi V weapon sites, and the guidance of those investigating war crimes for Nuremberg. It is a must read for those intrested in the political and intillegence warfare of WW2. A lot of ideas will need to be rethought.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 4 January 2013
As an American born at the beginning of the war, I have always been fascinated by stories of what it was really like and what made a difference. Helen Fry has taken a subject virtually unknown for many decades and brought it to light. Most of those secret listeners have passed on without ever being truly honored for the secret work they did. The M Room tells the tale and tells it well. Fritz Lustig, one of the few still living listeners, a Jewish refugee who came to London in 1938 finally found a way to serve his adopted country by listening to Nazi prisoner of war officers who revealed important information when they had no clue they were being listened. Quite a fascinating chapter in World War II history.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 5 February 2013
This is a rather disappointing book. It appears to have been self-published; a firmer and more professional editorial hand would have spared the more sensitive reader a mind-numbing exposure to a copious stream of of cliches, and occasional tautologies and errors of punctuation, grammar and page layout. The text is based upon original transcripts which are as fragmentary as they are numerous (referred to with tiresome frequency as "snippets"), and the author has succeeded in imposing upon this diffuse material no more order than would be expected in a poorly-shuffled deck of cards. This leads to many repetitions and unsettling to-and-fro shifts of subject and chronology. The author seems to have an imperfect understanding of the secret German weapons developments which form the most important part of the information gained by the recordings, and her explanations of them lack clarity. At times her portrayal of the characters of senior German military prisoners veers towards stereotype or even caricature, and the book would have benefitted from less shallow moralising and more academic detachment. It improves somewhat in its treatment of disclosures concerning German war crimes, a subject clearly closer to the author's heart, but throughout the book there is excessive interpolation of the relatively uninteresting personal history of her principal human information source, which comes to read suspiciously like padding.
The subject would lend itself to a well-written and well-produced book, but such a book is yet to be published.
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on 8 November 2013
Helen Fry has written a first-class book on this intriguing and for a long time secret area of the work of MI 19. My late father worked as an Army interrogator during WW2 at Wilton Park (one of the interrogation centres), but never spoke of the fascinating and now public areas to which Ms Fry refers.

Why was the evidence of atrocities obtained through listening in to the private conversation of senior German officers not used in post war trials? This issue is addressed well here. Also made clear is the vital use the Allies were able to make from overheard German war plans and strategies, which helped to shorten the war.

It really is a page-turner, and although there are one or two surprising typographical errors, these can be put right in what I hope will be subsequent editions, and do not detract from a book that is worth every penny.
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on 18 August 2013
I read about this book on Sunday, August 11th.
I ordered this book on August 11th.
I received this book on August 13th.
I finished my first reading of this book on August 14th.
I am simply amazed by what I have read. Helen Fry makes these shadowy events shine so clearly across the ages. I feel I really know Fritz Lustig and his colleagues, not to mention the posturing German Generals. Her research has obviously been painstaking and she has given us an outstanding work.
As a child of 8, I was scolded when I threw stones at the internees in Hutchinson Camp, Douglas Isle of Man. I am so relieved I never threatened any harm to the brave Fritz Lustig, "Secret Listener" and a very brave man!
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on 10 October 2013
A mediocre read, much of the content had been read in other publications. There were some factual and most particularly geographical errors in it. On balance I don't think I'd recommend any with a particular interest in the subject as a speciality to buy it. All the same it was interesting to read if from the biographical point of view and how we Brits should be ever grateful to the brave souls who left their homes, and frequently families, to come to this country and help wage war on our behalf.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 30 May 2013
The story doesn't flow but jumps about a bit too much. Fascinating story though. In places a lot more detail could have been given
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on 29 November 2014
This book portrays a period of WW2 of which we knew nothing of previously. Some of it deals with unspeakable acts of bestiality by sections of the German armed forces and how much was known by them and who did it . Also revealed intelligence of other major parts of German strategy such as the U-boat campaign, the Luftwaffe air campaign and their rockets V1, V2 and V3. Probably more important than what emanated from Bletchley Park
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