1. ITV Report

The wartime secrets of a Cambridgeshire country home used to spy on captive German scientists

Watch the report by ITV Anglia's Stuart Leithes

It sounds like the plot of a Hollywood movie: scientists, being held captive in a Cambridgeshire house with listening devices trying to learn the extent of the Nazi's nuclear capabilities.

But ten German physicists were, in fact, held at Farm Hall in Godmanchester during the Second World War. MI6 wanted to get information about the Nazi nuclear programme. It was known as Operation Epsilon.

MI5 bugged the house to find out if the Nazis has developed a nuclear bomb. Credit: ITV News Anglia

The group included three Nobel Prize winners:

  • Werner Heisenberg - a pioneer of quantum mechanics
  • Otto Hahn - who disovered nuclear fission
  • And Max von Laue - who studied x-rays
The mission to capture the scientists is the subject of a new book. Credit: ITV News Anglia

The mansion was bought by Professor Marcial Echenique, its current owner, in the late 1970s. He discovered wires under under the floorboards where the rooms had been bugged.

Professor Echenique wrote to the surviving scientists who'd been held in his home. Their replies contained fond memories of their spell as wartime captives in Cambridgeshire.

"It was like a club for them, although they were surrounded by troops, by officers they had a very good time, it was fantastic they spent six months just talking about physics and having a good time here."

– Professor Marcial Echenique, Cambridge University
The scientists recalled fond memories of their spell as wartime captives. Credit: ITV Anglia

The mission to capture the scientists - and their time in Godmanchester - is the subject of a new book by journalist Colin Brown.

He details how in 1945 troops discovered a nuclear reactor being built at Haigerloch in Germany. They kidnapped scientists to bring them back to the hall in Cambridgeshire, but recordings of their conversations showed that Germany had not developed a nuclear bomb.