As Allied armies struggled in hard fought battles to take Berlin in the final days of World War II, victory was in sight. On 7 May 1945 Germany signed unconditional surrender to the Allies and the war in Europe was over. The following day on 8 May 1945, there were celebrations in town, cities and villages for VE Day – Victory in Europe Day. As we approach the 75th anniversary of VE Day there is now more understanding of how years of intelligence gathering enabled that victory. There is an appreciation that everyone played their part – whether fighting on the frontline or working on the Home Front. This was a united effort to defeat Nazi tyranny.
For this VE Day, I would like to pay tribute to the men and women of the intelligence services who worked under Colonel Thomas Joseph Kendrick at 3 secret sites across the war: Latimer House and Wilton Park in Buckinghamshire and Trent Park in North London. At these sites, teams of secret listeners worked in 12-hour shifts to record the private conversations of German prisoners of war and Hitler’s captured Generals. The prisoners believed that they were being so clever in not revealing information to British and American interrogators during an interrogation. What they did not realise was that their rooms were ‘wired for sound’ and their conversations being recorded.
The prisoners unwittingly gave away vital Nazi secrets that they had been entrusted to keep under wraps. They boasted to each other about new weapons and technology on U-boats and aircraft, about battle plans and strategy, but perhaps most significantly they provided confirmation of Hitler’s secret weapon programme – the V1 and V2 – being developed by German scientists at Peenemunde on the Baltic coast. I have traced a direct link between British intelligence discovering this in bugged conversations in march 1943 to the bombing of Peenemunde in mid-August 1943. That far back, if we had not discovered the V1 and V2 in time, the Allies could not have mounted the D-Day landings.
This VE Day we celebrate and commemorate the end of World War II and the contribution and sacrifice across all Allied forces made for that freedom.
We also honour the men and women who worked in secret for the intelligence services, who could not tell their stories until relatively recently because they had signed the Official Secrets Act. From sites like Bletchley Park that intercepted German communications and broke Enigma codes to RAF Medmenham at Danesfield House that processed aerial intelligence, to the clandestine bugging operation of Latimer House, Wilton Park and Trent Park. To them we owe a huge debt of gratitude. Without their work, the Allies could not have travelled the road towards victory. It is said that without their work that as late as February 1945, even though Allied armies were heading for Berlin, Germany still could have won the technological war – and thereby the war itself.
But the intelligence work of these secret sites went further and this is reflected in my quote for this VE Day. It comes from Kendrick’s deputy Lieutenant Colonel St Claire Grondona who wrote:
‘If it hadn’t been for these sites, it could have been London and not Hiroshima that was devastated by the atomic bomb.’
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