Black Boomerang - Chapter Nine - Sefton Delmer

THURSDAY, JUNE the 6th, 1941, was a fresh, sunny day in the little village of Aspley Guise, and despite the bad news from Crete, I was feeling good. For, on my personal front of the war, things were beginning to look up. Johannes Reinholz had joined the Gustav Siegfried team the previous day with his wife, and his very first script had shown that he was going to be able to write the kind of thing I wanted `The Chief' to put over.

A second point of satisfaction: Dick Crossman had asked me to take on a new assignment with the B.B.C. Together with him I was to listen to Goebbels's star broadcaster Hans Fritzsche doing his weekly pep-talk for the German public over Radio Berlin. Then, an hour and a half later, I was to tear Fritzsche to pieces with a reply over the German service of the B.B.C.

" If we pull this off," Dick had said, "it will help enormously to build up our audience. Millions of Germans listen to Fritzsche. If you do your stuff right, Tom, they'll all be wanting to hear you make him look silly."

As I have said, I had no great belief in the dry and dreary business of debating with the Nazis over the ether, an exercise of which the B.B.C. with its flock of would-be M.P.s was overfond. But this particular idea seemed different. It oozed human interest and listener appeal. The first clash with Fritzsche was booked for that evening, and I was looking forward to it. But just as I was about to get into the car, which was to take me up to London, the telephone rang. Leonard Ingrams was calling me.

" Why haven't you come over to the Abbey?" he asked, "don't you know you are wanted at an important conference here ?I told him no one had informed me, and that I was about to leave for London." You can get up to London later," said Leonard, "you simply have to be in on this thing. All the top brass will be there, and you may have to do some talking. Hurry!"

The stately ballroom of the Dukes of Bedford was already crowded when I got there. Sitting at long conference tables was the motley of University dons, advertising men, diplomats, motor salesmen, journalists, and officers from the Services that made up the top team of Britain's psychological warfare.

At a high table sat Lord Vansittart, Valentine V'illiams, Leonard Ingrams, Dr. Hugh Dalton, and some others whom I had not met before. Behind Dalton hovered a diffident, selfeffacing young man carrying the Minister's brief case-his Principal Private Secretary, Hugh Gaitskell.

Presiding in the Chair was the Department's own special boss, Rex Leeper-tall and spare with the thoughtful, concentrated face of some old-time papal secretary. I had known Leeper before the war, for he had been the Foreign Office Press Chief. Another point of contact was that his father, half a century earlier, had been the warden of my father's college at Melbourne University and his classics tutor. I admired Rex as one of the subtlest political brains I had met in the department, and my admiration was to increase as the war went on.

Rex had a flat, deliberately unemotional voice, guaranteed to make the most sensational announcement sound commonplace. But even he could not rob what he had to say now of its drama.

" Gentlemen," he said, when the last official had shuffled to his seat and lit his pipe, "I have obtained permission from the Prime Minister to reveal to you a piece of secret information which has been known to Mr. Churchill and the Chiefs of Staff for several weeks, but has until now been denied any wider circulation. He has authorised me to impart it to you-and to you only-in order that we may concert as early as possible our plans for the situation which we shall be facing shortly.

Briefly, the information is that Hitler and his Wehrmacht are about to attack Soviet Russia. German armies have been secretly assembling on what I suppose will soon be called the Eastern Front. The actual invasion is expected to take placearound the middle of June. The estimate of the joint Intelligence Committee at their meeting yesterday was that June the 22nd is the most likely date.* You will all agree, I am sure, that we should start planning now, how best we should exploit this situation in both the overt field of political warfare, and in the covert. I will now call upon the heads of the regions for their suggestions."

This conference seemed to me a somewhat cumbrous method of planning, and indeed, not very long after, my journalist colleague Ritchie Calder was appointed head of a specially created Directorate of Plans which removed the necessity for over-large and over-long meetings of this kind. But here we were now, faced with several hours of verbiage. As the talk went on and on without anything but the obvious being said, my mind drifted off to other fields of speculation.

Into my day dreams broke the throaty, almost adenoidal voice of Rex Leeper-"And now, Mr. Delmer" he was saying, "will you please tell us what line that interesting character `Der Chef' is going to take?" I felt very nervous as I got up to speak. Oratory is one of the many accomplishments with which I am not endowed.

" `Der Chef', sir," I said, "is all for Hitler and this new war of his against the Bolsheviks. `Der Chef' will applaud and support the Fiihrer's decision." . Lord Vansittart, sitting next to Leeper, roared with laughter, and barked "Bravo, Delmer! Excellent!" But the rest of my colleagues knew nothing of Gustav Siegfried Eins. They stared at me in horrified incredulity.

" `Der Chef'," I went on, "will insist that the Fuhrer combines his anti-Bolshevik crusade against Soviet Russia with a cleaning-up campaign against the Bolsheviks at home, the Bolsheviks that is, of the National Socialist German Workers Party. He calls them `Die Parteikommune', an interesting hybrid made up of `Partei' meaning the Nazi Party and `Kommune' the word by which the Nazis themselves used to refer to the Communists. `Der Chef' has collected a great deal of astonishing material about the Parteikommune which he will bring to the attention of the Fuhrer."

Now they all laughed. `The Chief' had at least provided the comic relief of the meeting. I travelled to London that afternoon for my first appointment with Fritzsche feeling a strange new elation and confidence.

The war against Russia was the making of `Der Chef'. He now became an entirely plausible figure. As he ranted against the Russian Bolsheviks in Moscow and the Party Bolsheviks at home, I felt that I might be listening to old Ludendorfl: When things began to go wrong,

`The Chief' blamed all mishaps on the party. He did not actually use the word `Dolchstoss' or refer openly to `the stab in the back', favourite alibi of German generals.

And, of course, he never used the word `Nazis' which would have smacked of propaganda talk. But with each new, carefully detailed story he told of the scandalous private and public life of the Parteikommune officials the moral was there: "while our brave soldiers are freezing to death in Russia because of the corruption of this Parteikommune crowd, who delayed getting the army's winter clothing ready in time because they were out for a bigger profit, these same traitorous swine are having a wonderful time feathering their nests in soft job billets far from danger and privation". The Party was to blame, the Wehrmacht were the good men, the decent Germans, the true patriots.

I made the Nazi party functionaries the number one target of our attack because, in my opinion, the fanatical and dedicated officials of Hitler's organisation were doing an amazingly effective job as the driving force behind the war effort of the German people.

I was immensely impressed by the way Goebbels and his underlings, high and low, were succeeding in cheering and goading the Germans to ever greater efforts, and ever greater sacrifices. If we could blacken these men in the eyes of the German public as a venal and slothful privilegentsia which demanded everything from the common man, but made no sacrifices itself, why then we would have struck a mortal blow at a vital nerve of German's war morale. Not only that. We would be giving the ordinary German a splendid excuse for any falling short in his own devotion to duty:

"Why should I put up with this," he would be able to say to himself, "when those party swine can get out of it all?"

`Der Chef' told how party highups used their inside knowledge to secure privileges for themselves at the expense of Germany's war economy. But when doing so, he was always at great pains to reveal exactly how the Nazi big shot had done his foul deed, in the hope that listeners would follow his dastardly recipe themselves. This was what Leonard Ingrams called `operational propaganda'-propaganda which made people do things. And sometimes it worked.

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BBC technician gets ready for Sefton Delmer reply to Nazi Propagandist Fritzsche