Spying on Hitler's Army: The Secret Recordings


“They seized three year-olds by the hair, held them up and shot them with a pistol and then threw them in (the mass grave). I saw that myself.”

This powerful docu-drama tells the story of one of World War Two’s last secrets – an audacious British intelligence operation to listen in on the private conversations of 10,000 German POWs without their ever knowing they were being overheard. The prisoners’ unguarded reminiscences and unintentional confessions have only just come to light, but prove once and for all just how closely the German army were involved in the atrocities of the Holocaust. In this programme, they’re dramatized – word for word – from the original transcripts.

British intelligence requisitioned three stately homes for this epic task, and converted each into an elaborate trap. The 100,000 hours of conversation they captured provided crucial intelligence that changed the course of the war, and revealed some of its worst horrors – from rape to mass executions to one of the earliest bulletins from the concentration camps. But when the fighting ended, the recordings were destroyed and the transcripts locked away for half a century. Only now have they been declassified, researched and cross-referenced.

Nicholas Farrell (Secret State, The Iron Lady) leads the cast playing the real-life German generals who were held at one of the houses – Trent Park in Middlesex. The programme also features the historian who uncovered the transcripts, and one of the surviving ‘listeners’ – a hidden army, largely made up of German-speaking Jewish refugees, who had to transcribe accounts of appalling anti-semitic crimes while never betraying their existence to the men they spent every day monitoring.

Spying on Hitler's Army: The Secret Recordings reveals the vast and sophisticated operation involved in capturing the recordings. For the most high-ranking prisoners, stately homes were commandeered and wired with specially-designed microphones – every room was monitored – nowhere was safe, even the trees in the grounds had ears. The luxury offered to the officers was a deliberate ploy to ensure they would relax and open up to one another about what they knew.

At Trent Park, the officers believed their gracious host to be Lord Aberfeldy but this was yet another clever deception; he was a military intelligence officer who carefully engineered discussions to maximise revelations – always within the range of a microphone. Newspapers and the radio also helped stimulate revelatory conversations as the officers followed the events of the war with growing horror.

Secreted away in basements and attics were the listening rooms, filled with state-of-the-art recording equipment. The recordings were meticulously transcribed – both the words and the tone in which they were delivered; they were circulated right up to Prime Minister Churchill.

This film recreates the key moments captured in the transcriptions of this extraordinary covert operation which remained a secret for more than 50 years.

The Cast

Lord Aberfeldy – Thomas Wheatley

The Generals

General Von Thoma – Nicholas Farrell

General Cruwell – Rupert Frazer

General Schlieben – Peter Harding

General Bruhn – Jack Fortune

General Kittel – David Barrass

General Von Felbert – Valentine Pelka

General Von Choltitz – Richard Freeman

Rank and File

Fried – Gareth Kieran Jones

Hartelt – Elliott Jordan

Minneur – Rafe Pugh

Pffanberger – Alan Turkington