Informing the enemy: Australian prisoners and german intelligence on the western front, 1916-1918

Aaron Pegram*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    3 Citations (Scopus)


    This article considers the intelligence value of prisoners captured during the First World War. 3848 troops of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) were taken prisoner by the German Army on the Western Front between the years 1916 and 1918. Because their capture was at odds with a heroic representation of the Australian war experience in the post-war period, little has been written about their war in captivity. But historians who have written about captivity tend to dwell on the personal, subjective nature of captivity and rarely consider the benefit prisoners are to the armies that capture them. This study addresses both omissions, and looks at prisoners of war as intelligence sources through the experience of Australian troops captured by the German Army on the Western Front. This paper uses prisoner testimony and German intelligence records to demonstrate that most Australian prisoners were sturdily determined not to reveal any information of value to the enemy, yet the German Army still managed to obtain very important information from them. It looks at AIF counter-intelligence methods, German procedures for handling prisoners for intelligence purposes, interrogation methods, prisoner experiences, what the German Army learned from Australian prisoners, as well as examples of how the German Army used information obtained from prisoners. It also looks at two cases of Australian troops who willingly disclosed information about the AIF and its operations having deserted to the enemy.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)167-184
    Number of pages18
    JournalFirst World War Studies
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2013


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