This guy on Quora who appears to have been a German Army conscript and later a mercenary in the various Balkan wars says.
I saw my share of captured enemy soldiers, but I never saw anyone reciting his name, rank or number. We would have had a big laugh if someone would have done that. Then we would have told him: “Hey man, you are not in a movie! Chill out!”…
Real life is different, though. If you get captured, there is one thing you really don’t want to do and that is pissing off your enemy. Reciting name, rank and number, however, is the fastest way to achieve exactly that.
You will also arouse your interrogators curiosity: “Whom we got here? Only name, rank and number? Someone has received SERE (survival, evasion, resistance and escape) training? Maybe the guy is special forces? Let’s get some info out of him!” And then you are screwed.
What you should do instead, especially if you have any kind of classified information in your head, is to play dumb and talk and talk until they will get tired of you. Curse your own army! Swear at your commander-in-chief! Do everything to make your captor believe that you are an unimportant, disgruntled, battle weary moron who is ready to spill the beans, but unfortunately has nothing* interesting to say. Your captors will soon lose interest in you.*
I find it dubious? I mean giving name rank and serial number will mark you down as< checks notes> special forces.
Talking to convince them you know nothing doesn’t seem to be a good idea, if you an officer or even aircrew they know you know stuff.
As I recall from the Good Old Days, the story went that the Geneva Convention said a soldier was only obliged to provide name, rank and serial number - he could not be interrogated or punished for refusing to provide more info like troop strength, objective, where HQ was, etc. And obviously, any form of coercion to get more that that out of him is a violation of the convention.
Whether some forces cared about the Geneva convention or modern war crimes rules - well if they did, they wouldn’t do quite a lot of things.
It’s name, rank, and unit under the Geneva convention, and that’s information we’re required to give truthfully for identification purposes. It’s like being required to show a cop your ID.
Stubbornly giving your captors nothing but name, rank, and unit is movie nonsense. SERE training doesn’t teach that. Also, SERE is available to all kinds of career fields that might find themselves captured, not just special forces.
Captives are instructed into how to build repoire with their captors, to humanize themselves. Survival is goal #1. Your unit, once they know you’re captured, is going to assume that you’ve spilled your guts immediately, so there’s not much emphasis placed on holding out indefinitely. If you know it will take some folks a few hours to evacuate, maybe you try and stall for those few hours, but that’s not really the focus.
Also, the distinction between spies (who were fair game to be dealt with as necessary) and prisoners of war with a rank and wearing a uniform was a distinction.
IIRC from those old WWII movies and novels, for example the escapees from a Stalag were supposed to wear some part of their uniform under their disguise since a foreigner in plain clothes could be treated as a spy and summarily shot, while an enemy soldier was supposed to be treated decently per the convention.
As far as the legal requirements are concerned, the Third Geneva Convention (the one that governs prisoners of war - the “Geneva Convention” is actually a package of four conventions governing different matters) provides in Article 17:
Every prisoner of war, when questioned on the subject, is bound to give only his surname, first names and rank, date of birth, and army, regimental, personal or serial number, or failing this, equivalent information.
If he wilfully infringes this rule, he may render himself liable to a restriction of the privileges accorded to his rank or status.
Each Party to a conflict is required to furnish the persons under its jurisdiction who are liable to become prisoners of war, with an identity card showing the owner’s surname, first names, rank, army, regimental, personal or serial number or equivalent information, and date of birth. The identity card may, furthermore, bear the signature or the fingerprints, or both, of the owner, and may bear, as well, any other information the Party to the conflict may wish to add concerning persons belonging to its armed forces. As far as possible the card shall measure 6.5 x 10 cm. and shall be issued in duplicate. The identity card shall be shown by the prisoner of war upon demand, but may in no case be taken away from him.
No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever. Prisoners of war who refuse to answer may not be threatened, insulted, or exposed to any unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind.
Prisoners of war who, owing to their physical or mental condition, are unable to state their identity, shall be handed over to the medical service. The identity of such prisoners shall be established by all possible means, subject to the provisions of the preceding paragraph.
The questioning of prisoners of war shall be carried out in a language which they understand.
So it’s true that legally they only need to give name, rank, number, and date of birth. How wise it is, as a matter of practice, to insist on this if the captor wants more information is a different matter.
I see you haven’t met many officers … one submarine commander my husband served under was routinely called “Wingnut”, one dependents cruise I pissed off the weapons officer [doing his best Top Gun know it all handsome flirty bit and just barely stopping from actively hitting on any of the wives] with knowing basic Jane’s information [that a Chinese hichun class craft can outrun the damned torpedo] and correcting him enough that the enlisted torpedomen in the compartment were openly sniggering at him.
On a side note, if you are interrogated for info, the absolute worst thing you can say is, “I won’t tell you.” That means you do know what they want, but just stubbornly won’t tell, which invites torture.
Saying “I don’t know,” on the other hand, might convince them.
Even then, its only so that their captors will know how to treat them. Basically if you want to be treated like an enemy combatant rather than a partisan terrorist you have to provide some form of evidence that you are such a person.
Fun fact - The US Army serial number (at least when I was in) is just your social security number, so your captors can do an online background check on you once they get it, or open a bunch of credit cards in your name.
It worked for one guy during the Vietnam War. He was captured and ended up in the infamous Hanoi Hilton. He just kept saying he didn’t know anything and acted really stupid. The Vietnamese ended up nicknaming him “the incredibly stupid one”. The Vietnamese asked him to write statements against the United States, which they could then use for propaganda. Most soldiers refused to write statements like these (although some gave in under torture), but “the incredibly stupid one” said he was happy to do it. The Vietnamese then found it he couldn’t read or write and spent months trying to teach him until they finally gave up.
Half the time they didn’t even bother to guard him. They let him roam around the compound with a broom or whatever. When they weren’t looking, he managed to sabotage trucks and other things. He managed to convince the guards that he needed new glasses, and memorized the route and various landmarks from the prison to the eyeglass shop in Hanoi. He also managed to memorize the name of every U.S. soldier in the camp by putting their names to a song (Old MacDonald) as a memory aid.
Of course, when it came time to trade prisoners, the Vietnamese were happy to get rid of “the incredibly stupid one”, considering him to be of no value. Once released, he was able to give U.S. commanders details about the prison, the names of everyone who was there (from his song), and exactly where the camp was, according to the landmarks he had seen when getting new glasses.
He also testified against the North Vietnamese about conditions in the camp at the Paris Peace Talks, and was able to give solid details that the North Vietnamese could not refute.
I also wonder - I see that Ukraine just put a Russian soldier on trial for war crimes. I assume they work on the same model as the Napoleonic code, where the defendant in a trial cannot refuse to testify? I wonder who that squares with the code for PoW’s?
“Name, rank and number” is about a practicable boundary taking them out of combat and under the protection of the Geneva Conventions. War crimes are another matter: but that all depends on how honestly/fairly any prosecution is being conducted.
The above hides a significant issue. Privileges of rank may mean significantly better treatment for officers.
My grandfather was taken prisoner during the Spring Offensive of WW1. He was lucky, being an officer he was sent to an officers POW camp. Even then that mostly meant enough food to survive and good enough housing to avoid freezing to death. Mere enlisted men did not fare so well. My grandfather still needed significant care after hostilities had ended to recuperate. He did at least survive. A huge problem being that his captors were themselves on the ragged edge of survival.
Indeed, the Geneva Conventions give officers a range of privileges during captivity, among them exemption from forced labour. The classic cineastic treatment of this is, of course, Alec Guinness’ insistence in The Bridge on the River Kwai.