Scots psychiatrist’s World War II heroics revealed

Dr Oscar Oeser was a university professor in St Andrews. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

Dr Oscar Oeser was a university professor in St Andrews. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

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THE EXTRAORDINARY exploits of a Scottish “shrink” whose daring raid on Hitler’s mountain retreat, under the command of James Bond author Ian Fleming, helped win World War II have finally been unearthed.

Dr Oscar Oeser, a psychiatrist once based in at St Andrews University, was a code-breaker during the Second World War, a leader of a raid on Nazi intelligence centres, and head of a de-Nazification unit in Germany after VE Day.

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The “unsung hero” was never able to tell people of his involvement in the war effort, as most of his activities were classified at the time, with little information released after his death.

But his undercover past has now been brought to light thanks to the efforts of another former St Andrews University egghead - Alan Kennedy, now emeritus Professor of Psychology at Dundee University.

Professor Kennedy came across the name of Oscar Oeser - his former colleague and predecessor - while researching material for a novel to be set in wartime France.

Oscar Adolph Oeser was born on 21 February 1904 at Pretoria, South Africa, eldest of three children of German-born parents Alfred Edward Oeser.

A child prodigy, Oeser had gained degrees in physics and mathematics before the age of twenty-one.

He went on to complete a doctorate in psychology at Marburg University in Germany, and a second doctorate at Cambridge.

Dr Oeser, was one of the first psychologists to study the psychological effects of unemployment. He led a three-year survey of Dundee youth in the 1930s, reporting on their economic deprivation and the harsh treatment they received at school.

In 1940, Oeser was recruited to work as a codebreaker at Bletchley Park.

Oeser, bilingual in English and German, became Section Head concerned with translating and interpreting deciphered German Air Force Enigma messages.

At Bletchley Park he worked on the Lorenz teletype code known as ‘Fish’ that the Germans believed too complex to decode - although it was, in fact, broken by Alan Turing.

In May 1945, after four years at Bletchley Park, Oeser was recruited by Ian Fleming - who later went on to write the James Bond novels - to lead a commando raid on Hitler’s “Eagles Nest” retreat in the mountains near Berchestgaden, Germany, where several Lorenz machines had been hidden.

Oeser’s TICOM [Target Intelligence Committee] raid liberated over seven tons of German cryptographic equipment.

This TICOM operation has been referred to as “the last great secret of WWII”.

Among the haul of equipment was a top secret machine, known as the ‘Russian Fish’ used by the Germans to decode Soviet signals.

Oeser brought this back to Bletchley Park under conditions of extraordinary secrecy. It was used to intercept Russian signals during the early days of the cold war.

From 1945 to 1946 Oeser was in command of the British de-Nazification Bureau in Germany. He used the same peer-assessment method as part of a week-long programme of psychological and psychiatric tests to weed out personnel considered too dangerous to work in the new civil state in Germany.

Oeser spent the rest of his life in Melbourne, where he was the foundation Head of the Department of Psychology.

Professor Kennedy said: “I was appointed to a lectureship in St Andrews in 1965 - the same post Oeser held thirty years earlier.

“Prior to that, I had been in Oeser’s department in Melbourne.

“I got to know him quite well, but none of us knew much about his wartime exploits.

“Most of his activities were classified at that time and little was officially released until after his death in 1983.

“The details of his raid on Hitler’s “Eagle’s Nest” were only declassified a few years ago.

“His TICOM team was in fact the first allied force to reach the place.

“Few psychologists know about him now, but Oeser really was an unsung hero - an exceptionally clever man who helped win the war.

“And his post-war work in Germany also helped win the peace.”

The extraordinary story is contained in ‘Oscar & Lucy - An Autobiographical Biography’, published by Lasserrade Press.

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