P.O. Box 1142, A Top-Secret WWII Military Intelligence Site

After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the War Department determined that two temporary detention centers would be needed to interrogate high value prisoners of war (POWs), one in California and the other within a 100-mile radius of Washington, D.C. On May 15, 1942, the Department of Interior, which had owned the land since 1933 as part of the George Washington Memorial Parkway, issued a special use permit to the War Department for the establishment of a Joint Interrogation Center at Fort Hunt.

Three key secret intelligence programs were conducted at the site, henceforth known only as P.O. Box 1142, the post’s Alexandria, Virginia, mailing address. 

MIS-Y Servicemen - Photo Credit:  NPS  

MIS-Y Servicemen - Photo Credit:  NPS

 

Military Intelligence Service

MIS-Y Prisoner Cell - Photo Credit; NPS

MIS-Y Prisoner Cell - Photo Credit; NPS

The first was the strategic interrogation of high-value prisoners of war, jointly conducted by the Office of Naval Intelligence OP-16-Z and the Army Military Intelligence Service (MIS).  Interrogators were recruited for their language skills, technical knowledge and ability to process volumes of information. Several were Jewish immigrants who had escaped Nazi Germany and Austria; some lost entire families in the Holocaust.  Interviews with former interrogators reveal that what they learned from the 3,451 POWs that passed through the P.O. Box 1142 detention center point to a critical role in the Allied victory in the war, the engineering of the atomic bomb, the early Cold War, and the space race.

For example, surgical bombing of the Nazi war machine was possible based on information obtained from prisoners, including, the location of critical ball bearing plants and information about key dams on the Rhine and Ruhr Rivers. Interrogators also learned about German technology, such as the breathing devices that allowed German submarines to stay underwater for extended periods and the operational characteristics of the German’s acoustic torpedo, permitting the development of effective counter measures. On June 4, 1944, German submarine U-505 was captured, the first warship captured by U.S. forces since the War of 1812.  The crew was secretly held in Bermuda and interrogators from Fort Hunt were dispatched to interview them.  U-505 proved to be an extremely valuable source of intelligence, including an Enigma machine and the accompanying codebooks.  In May 1945, following the end of the war in Europe, U-234 surrendered to the USS Sutton while en route to Japan to deliver 1,200 pounds of uranium oxide, a disassembled Messerschmitt jet, and other valuable technical data and materials. Interrogations of the German general, naval officers and key scientists on U-234 proved valuable in connection with the continuing war against Japan, as well as a windfall of technical information in support of U.S. advances in electronics and other fields early in the Cold War.

After the end of the war in a project called “Operation Paperclip”, interrogators from P.O. Box 1142 assisted in evaluating German rocket scientists like Wernher von Braun as the government prepared to bring them into the United States. In 1946 a select group of German prisoners involved in another secret endeavor, “Hill Project”, were transferred from Fort Ritchie to Fort Hunt to assist in preparing a defense of Western Europe against a potential invasion by the Soviet Army.

 

MIS-X: Escape & Evasion

Escape & Evasion Device - Photo Credit: US Playing Card Co.

Escape & Evasion Device - Photo Credit: US Playing Card Co.

Officers of AGAS salute Allied civilians liberated from Japanese prison camps in Shanghai, August 1945

Officers of AGAS salute Allied civilians liberated from Japanese prison camps in Shanghai, August 1945

 

Military Intelligence Research Section

Red Books from 1942 and 1945 - Photo Credit: Dorothy Canter

Red Books from 1942 and 1945 - Photo Credit: Dorothy Canter

The second program called MIS-X, provided aid to American servicemen captured by the enemy by developing sophisticated communication codes and by providing escape devices concealed in care packages.  During the war, 95,532 United States servicemen fell into enemy hands.  Through its correspondence with the POW camps, MIS-X collected critical intelligence from behind German lines and had an immeasurable effect on the morale of the prisoners.  Some 737 prisoners managed to escape and return to their commands.  Most did so with the help of MIS-X. Another significant number of airmen that had to bail out over Europe managed to evade capture and return to their commands.  Specialists at P.O. Box 1142 debriefed the experiences of these airmen and incorporated their advice into an Evasion and Escape manual and an MIS-X training program to continuously increase the likelihood that future airmen would successfully evade capture. 

A branch of MIS-X in Asia called the Air Ground Aid Section (AGAS) rescued American airmen downed in China, on the Hump route, and in Southeast Asia with an intelligence network and special operations that extended from the Himalayas to the coast of China and from northern China to Vietnam. AGAS personnel from the Army (ground and air forces), Navy, and Marine Corps deployed to China from PO Box 1142, and AGAS reported to PO Box 1142 during its service in the China Theater AGAS received official credit for rescuing 890 airmen and at the end of the war liberated thousands of Allied civilians held in Japanese prison camps in China since 1942.

All MIS-X operations in Europe ceased after Germany’s surrender on May 8, 1945. On August 20, 1945, the War Department ordered all MIS-X records destroyed.  AGAS continued to operate in China investigating Japanese war crimes until December 4, 1945

 

 

The third program, the Military Intelligence Research Section (MIRS), provided exhaustive analysis of captured enemy documents. The primary purpose of the MIRS group was to create the Red Book – the order of battle for the German Army.  The first version of the Red Book (so-called for the color of its cover) was delivered to General Eisenhower in advance of the D-Day invasion.  After the invasion it was regularly updated and sent to division commanders in Europe. Using captured documents, newspapers and information gathered from interrogations of prisoners, MIRS also maintained detailed information on Hermann Goering, Adolph Hitler and other high-ranking staff.