It is common for large organizations to have breakdowns in communication. It is also common in those organizations that are not attentive to remedying these breakdowns that problems will occur. Orders will be duplicated. Personnel will be confused. One hand will not know what the other is doing. And when one hand does not know what the other is doing, well in, say, a purse factory, chaos can ensue. This year's colors may not match this year's styles. And so one department will blame the other department and members of the organization, including the higher ups that caused the problems by not communicating in the first place, will not be happy. Invariably, however, those who cause the problems are not the ones ultimately hurt by the lack of communication. Now, in a purse factory, fallout could consist of unhappy consumers and perhaps designers or marketing men who may find themselves out of a job. But, when you are dealing with a World War, allies from many different countries, and different branches of the armed services, well, things can take a more serious turn.
Captain John McGraw, USAAC, had run into a spot of bad luck. He had managed to complete five successful bombing missions over Germany without a scratch, but on his sixth mission, a single Luftwaffe plane had been able to break away from the fighter squadrons and let loose a barrage that unfortunately hit his plane in a disastrous spot.
Forced to bail out, McGraw was separated from his crew upon landing and was quickly captured by a German platoon. Thankfully, the Captain was uninjured, the only lucky break he would have in the next few weeks.
"McGraw, John, Captain, T-539126"
"We know that Captain. You've repeated it constantly over three days for three different interrogators." The German interrogator in the transit camp was going through the motions, figuring he would not get anywhere. McGraw was barely paying attention. He was hungry, sleep-deprived, cold and willing to admit he was scared. He only wanted to survive this and be sent on his way to whatever prison camp he would live in for the remainder of the war. The interrogator finally released the Captain, who stumbled back to his quarters, only to be told to assemble for his transfer to his new home; Stalag 13.
McGraw was the sole passenger on the truck that passed through the front gates of Stalag 13 on a cold and windy afternoon in mid-February. Most of the prisoners were huddling in their barracks, trying to keep warm, but an alert resident of Barracks two notified Colonel Hogan of the new arrival. Battling the cold, Hogan quickly hustled over to the Kommandant's office to run interference.
The Captain was already standing in front of Klink's desk, when Hogan walked through the door.
"Kommandant, you know I should be notified when a new prisoner arrives," he said pleasantly. Turning, he introduced himself. "Robert Hogan, senior POW officer."
"Captain John McGraw, Sir."
Hogan showed no reaction at the fact that another officer had shown up in camp. The last officer taking up residence had been a plant, and he was immediately suspicious. Klink, Hogan and McGraw continued with the routine introductions, including of course, Klink's drawn-out soliloquy about his perfect no-escape record.
McGraw, a little surprised at hearing this, glanced at Hogan, who appeared, at least to the Captain, somewhat unengaged. He shrugged it off, and left the office, feeling a tad better about his new C.O. as Hogan started to pump him for information on his way to his new barracks.
Hogan left him there in the care of his new bunkmates and hurried back to Barracks two. In his possession was the Captain's name, rank and serial number, which would be passed on to London for a security check.
London was able to clear Captain McGraw within a few days and none of his bunkmates, or those shadowing him, had discovered anything suspicious. Unfortunately, about the same time, Hogan was informed via a phone tap that the unlucky pilot had been sent to the wrong camp and was being moved.
"He'll be transferred out of here in a few days, so pass the word; we're still keeping him out of the loop."
"Can't we get the Underground to ambush the truck and get him out?" Kinch asked.
"Not with the maneuvers going on around here," Hogan said. "Too risky."
"Poor bugger." Newkirk was sympathetic. McGraw seemed like a nice fellow when he had gotten close enough to him to pick his pockets.
Hogan agreed. "Yeah, it's a damn shame. But we can't save everyone, and for his own safety, our mission is a secret."
Some of McGraw's time at Stalag 13 was spent wondering why he had been sent here, and not to an officer's camp, but being an affable sort, he wisely didn't mention this to his bunkmates. He just put it down to his streak of bad luck. The rest of the time, however, was spent observing the camp, the prisoners and particularly Colonel Hogan.
The Captain spent a grand total of one week at Stalag 13. He was informed by Kommandant Klink that he had been mistakenly sent to an enlisted man's camp, while an unfortunate enlisted man had ended up in Stalag 7, an officer's camp located quite a distance away. The respective camps were notified and the switch was made. He then left the camp for Stalag 7, with a definite impression that had been imprinted on his brain.
Upon arriving at Stalag 7, Captain McGraw, who by now had fully recovered from the ordeal of being captured, thought about his duty as an officer. Within several months, he, along with several other prisoners, had escaped and made it back to England, a feat that convinced Captain McGraw that his streak of misfortune had ended.
All escaped prisoners received a warm welcome and then an extensive debriefing held at one of the numerous bases scattered along the British countryside. Captain McGraw was introduced to the American major, Brian Harrelson, who was assigned to his case. After the obligatory congratulations, the major immediately got down to business. The army was interested in any information that could be provided about the camps. McGraw did his best to describe the personnel and layout of Stalag 7, including the treatment of the prisoners, the food; in short, everything from soup to nuts.
"Now, Captain, you mentioned in your first report that you were originally sent to Stalag 13. How long were you there?" the Major asked.
"One week, Sir. It was because of a SNAFU on the German side."
"Anything to add about this Stalag? We don't have much information to go on."
"Well, there were no escapes." McGraw noted.
Interested in the Captain's tone, Harrelson asked him to elaborate.
"The Kommandant made it crystal clear when I got there that the camp was escape-proof, and when I asked around, the men backed him up."
"The prisoners backed up the Kommandant?"
"Well sort of."
Thinking he had a war criminal on his hands, Harrelson asked for information on the Kommandant. "Did he order executions, abuse the prisoners, anything?"
"No. Truthfully Major, I think he was an idiot. The prisoners even made fun of him behind his back and what's more, the camp was set-up for escapes."
"I don't get it." The Major was now taking copious notes. "What do you mean set-up?
"First, the barracks were level with the ground. Makes it easier to dig tunnels. The perimeter was wooded, and the guards, well, not too swift, if you ask me. Even the dogs didn't seem right."
"Were the prisoners digging tunnels?"
"Not that I know of, Sir. They all just seemed settled in their routine. I asked about escape committees and they always changed the subject or told me I had to check with the Colonel."
"Colonel? In an NCO camp?"
"Yeah. He was the Senior POW officer, obviously."
"What was his name?"
Harrelson jotted it down.
"You're an officer. Did you talk with him?"
"Not much. I had a brief conversation, the first day, in Klink's office. He asked me some questions, checking me out, obviously. Saw him around quite a bit, though. He seemed awfully friendly with the guards, and the Kommandant, as well."
"Friendly?" Harrelson leaned forward. "Are you insinuating he was collaborating?"
"I'm not insinuating anything. I'm just letting you know what I saw." McGraw explained some of the other weird things going on in camp that he had heard of or observed.
"What were the conditions like in camp?"
"Better than Stalag 7."
"Do you think this Colonel wasn't just looking out for the men?"
"Possible, but there's something going on in that camp that's not right, Sir. I'd bet my life on it."
Major Harrelson concluded Captain McGraw's debriefing with a promise to look into the situation at Stalag 13. McGraw, satisfied, continued on with his duties and was sent back into action. Harrelson was puzzled about McGraw's observations and decided to take the matter to a higher level, his superior officer, a Colonel in the Army Air Corp.
"Robert Hogan a collaborator! Not a chance in hell! Where did you get this information?" Colonel Ryan had met Hogan several times and was familiar with his record. He had known the Commander had been shot down but had not been aware of his current address. Harrelson showed Ryan McGraw's reports and brought him up to date on the Captain's observations.
"Hogan was flying for Britain before we even entered the war," Ryan explained to Harrelson as he reread the report. "I can't imagine him deliberately working with the Germans."
Harrelson elaborated. "He may not be deliberately working with the Germans, Sir, but according to this Captain, his behavior at this POW camp is out of the ordinary. In fact, the atmosphere at the camp is not what you'd expect. The camp is a textbook case of an escape waiting to happen, but they've had no successful escapes. There were no tunnels, either. The Kommandant seems to be a caricature of an old aristocratic German officer, yet the prisoners seemed to be just biding their time, according to the Captain. And look at this."
Ryan read descriptions of Hogan spending a great deal of time in the Kommandant's office, playing chess and, on one occasion, attending a dinner with Klink and several generals, allowing prisoners to work as a chef and servers. The Captain's report verified that this behavior was common. The Captain also questioned Hogan's presence in a NCO camp. When he broached that subject with others, they claimed they had no idea why he was there, but that they just followed his orders.
"That is out of the ordinary. Does this Captain have any reason, you think, to hold a grudge or make these up?" Ryan still wasn't buying it, but the information was beginning to tickle his conscience. He went fishing for an explanation.
"No," Harrelson said. "McGraw was somewhat reluctant at first to speak about a superior officer in this manner, but he was concerned and thought it was his duty to report his observations, that's all. The Captain's record is exemplary. He just wanted to get back into action."
Colonel Ryan was now a tad concerned about the information given to him by Major Harrelson. Not willing to take any chance that a bomber commander had turned or had been brainwashed, he conducted his own investigation and then brought the information to the attention of the next man in his chain of command, General Agee.
"Let me see if I got this straight. This captain spent one week in this POW camp and now claims…"
Ryan interrupted. "I wouldn't say claimed, more like he's concerned and wanted to bring it to our attention. Concerned that this Colonel Hogan is a collaborator, or brainwashed, or not capable of leading."
"And your take on this, Ryan?"
"At first, I thought these allegations were ludicrous, but then I studied the report and conducted my own investigation. Spoke to some people on the sly, of course. I think it merits further investigation."
General Agee took a quick glance at the file that Ryan had turned over to him. He took a guess that it measured at least four inches thick. He had already made up his mind that the whole matter was obviously a red herring set up to make his life miserable, but Ryan appeared so earnest that he agreed to look over the information and come up with a recommendation.
Within several days General Agee had reluctantly passed the file on to intelligence. It was now their headache. A few more weeks of in-depth research now led a high level American intelligence officer to call in two of his very best undercover operatives for an assignment.