When World War II broke out, Winston Churchill was more than determined to win the war, adapt to modern warfare, and toss out the window all the 19th-century rules of engagement.  This meant he would be more than willing to employ all necessary means to defeat the enemy forces. And he did just that—unconventional and unique units spawned from the British troops. First, there was Special Air Service, Long Range Desert Group, and then the ambitious and daring Special Interrogation Group (SIG).

The Idea of Blending In

The idea of SIG came from Captain Herbert Buck. He was a fluent German speaker who was once captured by the Afrika Korps in late 1941 when he was in North Africa. He managed to escape by wearing bits of a German uniform and successfully went his way back to the Allied lines. The experience gave him an idea that if one spoke German, dressed, and acted like them, they could efficiently operate behind without the Germans knowing they were from the Allies.

Herbert Buck. (specialforcesroh.com)

He proposed the idea to the Middle Eastern heads of the Special Operations Executive, the wagers of Churchill’s “ungentlemanly warfare.” Unsurprisingly, his plan was approved. The age range and the exact number of the volunteers that joined Buck’s group were uncertain but what we know for sure was that the majority of them were Jews who fled to escape the Nazi’s antisemitism, immigrated to Palestine, and then joined the British Army when the war broke out.

Learning to be a German

From the very beginning, Buck was clear about the nature of their task and its risks. Once captured, they were more likely to be tortured and executed by the Gestapo.

The group began training with two German Afrika Corps prisoners of war who claimed to be against the Nazi regime and agreed to train the recruits. The operatives were uncomfortable with the idea, but Buck naively shrugged off the complaints and insisted they go ahead with the training.

They started their training in the morning, being woken up with harsh German commands until the time they went to sleep. Everything was done in German. They wore German army uniforms, taught them German army terms and army slang, and they sang German army songs. Each of them was given a German identity and their own cover story involving photos of fake wives and girlfriends and forged documents. They were building a whole new identity out of them.

First Big Operation

The SIG’s first big operation was in June 1942.

They were tasked to attack two German airfields at Matrub and Derna. The plan was that they would disguise themselves as Germans and escort 33 French prisoners of war. The group successfully passed through the roadblocks, and the German soldiers even warned them to be careful as there was news that the English operatives were in the area. They also lined up in a German camp and had their fill in the field kitchen.