Camp 165 was located in the Scottish Highlands. To locals Camp 165 was a basic Prisoner-of-War camp. However, Camp 165 also served another purpose.
Based in Watten, Caithness, Camp 165 was surrounded by moor. Its remote setting made escape difficult for POW’s. Some tried but found the harshness of the surrounding land too much and they gave themselves up. It was originally an army barracks but in the spring of 1945 it was converted into a POW camp.
Camp 165 had two sections within it. Many low risk POW’s were based in one section of the camp. Many were allowed to work on local farms and when a local young lady was found to be pregnant, eight POW’s claimed to be the father. These normal POW’s lived in what was known as Area A. They were allowed out of the POW camp but had to wear a high visibility uniform with a very visible diamond on the back. In one sense, local farmers relied on these men for their success. Within the camp, these POW’s had access to a church, barbers, workshops and a theatre. Locals called these POW’s “harmless” (Viscountess Thurso) and saw them as hard workers.
Camp 165 also had another area, which was not for low risk POW’s. This was the part of the camp that was kept very secret and locals who worked there were sworn to secrecy. This part of the camp was known as Compound O. This area, effectively screened off from Area A, was the home for hard line Nazis who were brought to Camp 165 for re-education and interrogation. The inmates called Compound O “Little Belsen”. Inmates at Compound O included the likes of U-boat captain Otto Kretschmer, Hitler’s personal aide, Max Wunsche and Paul Werner Hoppe, commandant of Stutthof concentration camp where 85,000 people were murdered.
Men held in Compound O were repeatedly shown films of Nazi atrocities. It was felt that such an approach might go someway to breaking their support for Nazi ideas. Those who showed suitable repentance were allowed to return to West Germany. Those who did not were sent elsewhere for further interrogation and possible trial.
Camp 165, the most northerly POW in mainland Britain, was closed down in 1948.
Very little now remains of Camp 165. A housing estate has been built where the camp once stood and many of those in Watten who knew about the camp or worked there are now dead. Recently declassified government documents have given historians an insight into what went on at Camp 165. Kretschmer must have suitably impressed his captors as he was released and returned to Germany. He rejoined the Germany Navy and in 1965 became Chief of Staff of NATO Command in the Baltic Approaches. He died in 1998 aged 86. Wunsche, despite his past association with Hitler, also returned to Germany and managed an industrial plant. He died in 1995 aged 80. Hoppe was returned to Germany where it was expected that he would be executed. However, he escaped custody once in Germany and went to Switzerland where he worked as a gardener until he returned to West Germany in 1952 believing that no one would remember him. Hoppe was wrong and he was re-arrested in 1953 and sentenced to nine years in prison. He died in 1974.