In 1939, the War Office requisitioned Trent Park on behalf of the Intelligence Service MI6. The stately rooms, once a socialite playground for royals and famous personalities, were ‘wired for sound’ and bugging devices placed in the light fittings, plant pots, fireplaces, billiards table and even the trees in the grounds. Intelligence gathered here impacted directly on all aspects of the war.
From May 1942 the house was reserved exclusively for captured German Generals and high-ranking officers. The luxurious surroundings was a deliberate ploy in which they quickly became unguarded in their conversations, little suspecting that they were being bugged.
Highly sophisticated room-bugging, eavesdropping and passive manipulation techniques were used for the very first time to gain vital intelligence to assist the war effort. The results of this clandestine operation were highly successful and intelligence gained included valuable information on German U-boat tactics, bombing raid radar system technology and some of the first evidence of war crimes and atrocities, including the mass killing of Jews. Little did they know that the ‘secret listeners’ were recording their conversations.
The Generals enjoyed their time at Trent Park.
When describing Trent Park, Generalleutnant Erwin Menny noted in his diary: ‘Great lawns with marble statues, glorious woodland with cedars and great oaks. A golf course, large swimming pool, a fine pond with wild duck…’
Soon, they handed British and American Intelligence the biggest intelligence coup when they began to speak about Hitler’s secret weapon (V1 & V2) and the atomic bomb programme. It is believed that the discovery of the V1 and V2 from the mouths of the Generals at Trent Park, alongside the cracking of the Enigma Codes at Bletchley, shortened the war by up to four years.
DID YOU KNOW….
Oberleutnant Franz von Werra – whose exploits were captured in the feature film The One That Got Away (made in 1957, starring Hardy Kruger and directed by Roy Ward Baker) and was partly filmed on location at Trent Park – was taken as a prisoner to Trent Park on 7th September 1940 and kept there for four days. He was the only German prisoner of war captured by the British who eventually managed to escape and get back to Nazi Germany, although not escaping from Trent Park but a different POW camp. The feature film was based on the book of the same name by Kendal Burt and James Leasor – first published in 1956.