Robert Bruce Lockhart, who had become Director General when Rex Leeper departed to be Ambassador to the King of Greece, was a cautious Scot, and circumspect almost to a fault. But when I put our revolutionary project to him, he accepted it with an alacrity amounting to enthusiasm.
I was impressed. For Bruce was too old a hand in Whitehall politics not to be aware that a live news bulletin, complete with music, greetings from home and all the other attractions of a German forces radio, was going to bring us slap up against the powerful interests of the B.B.C. For just as the Church of England regards the British heaven as its established monopoly, so did the B. B.C. in those days before Commercial Television, regard the British ether as theirs.
That we would start with only six half-hour short wave broadcasts an evening in no way lessened the daring of Bruce's decision in my eyes. For I had told him that we meant to extend this as soon as we had gained confidence and proficiency. We meant to have continuous all-night broadcasts, and he cannot have failed to realise that before long, we would go even further and ask for the department's 60o kw, transmitter to be taken from the B. B.C. and handed over to us so that we could broadcast on medium wave as well as short wave. But Bruce showed no qualms.
He agreed to let me have the exclusive use of the studio for my team and immediately ordered additional prefab huts to be erected in the studio compound, to house the intelligence unit with its files. Clearly the voice of the Admiralty conveyed through Dallas Brooks had been most eloquent and suasive. For the first time in the department's history Bruce Lockhart was able to tell his ministers that a Fighting Service had proposed an operational task.
Early in the new year my team and I took possession of `MB', as the Milton Bryan studio and its compound were known. It consisted of about five acres of grass and tarmac in the centre of which stood a neat and functional, two-storey, red brick building which, from the outside, looked like any of the new factories and workshops then being built. Around it stretched a twelve foot high mesh-wire fence topped by vicious-looking barbs. A squad of special constables guarded the place, and at night they patrolled the fence with those German sheep dogs, which in Britain we rather stupidly prefer to call `Alsatians'. They also had an armoury of rifles and tommy-guns, with which they practised on a special shooting range just in case.
Everything at MB was the last word in up-to-dateness and efficiency. As operators for our telephone switchboard we had no amateurish war-time recruits, but three girls of established trustworthiness, who had been trained by G.P.O. London,* and had served there for years before the war. Two telephones stood on my desk. One bore the coveted colour green, which meant that it was a `scrambler' and that over it I could talk to other executives on the `scrambler level' in complete confidence of secrecy, knowing that anyone trying to listen in would hear nothing but a meaningless jumble. `Black', thanks to the Admiralty, had arrived. Now it was up to us to justify expectations.
On February the 5th, 1943, after three weeks of rehearsals and dry runs, the `Atlantiksender'-as the Germans soon called it-opened its maiden broadcast with a shrieking pipe melody as its signature tune. It had been recorded on a Hammond organ by my versatile musician friend among the radio engineers. In accordance with what, by now, was a traditionfor we had given birth to several other `black' stations since Gustav Siegfried first ventured on the air-the script for the speakers was written in such a way as to suggest from internal evidence, that this was not the first broadcast of a new station, but the umpteenth of a series which the clumsy monitors of Reichsmarshal Goring's radio security service had somehow contrived to miss.
But the enemy monitors did not, in fact, miss it. By the time our third transmission of the evening was going out their jammers were after us in full hue and shriek. The launching of the Atlantiksender had meant, of course, that I had to take on fresh staff and reorganise my unit.
True, I had considerably enlarged my original Gustav Siegfried team in the twenty months that had gone by since `The Chief's' first broadcast. We had moved from our discreet red brick villa into a much larger house. It had once belonged to the owner editor of a news-sheet known in sporting circles as `The Pink Un'. (In uncanny premonition of our activities there he had named his house `The Rookery'.) But I still had nothing like enough personnel to staff this ambitious new enterprise.
I had to look around for fresh talent. Amazing good fortune blessed my search. From a then moribund department of the Foreign Office I managed to extract as my chief intelligence expert Clifton Child, a young education officer from Manchester. Child had an almost supernatural genius for ferretting German news from the most un-promising sources. I am sure he could have been one of the greatest news editors Fleet Street ever possessed, if only he could have been persuaded to join a newspaper after the war, instead of rejoining the Foreign Office, as he has done. Leonard Ingrams and the Ministry of Economic Warfare generously seconded to me C. E. (`Tom Brown') Stevens, the Oxford Ancient History Don, who today tells his Oxford undergraduate pupils that only a course of `black' propaganda will give them a full understanding of Caesar and Cicero ! Stevens's truly historic contribution to psychological warfare was made however before he joined my team.
One morning Leonard Ingrams walked into his office at M.E.VV. " Got any ideas today for the V-Committee?" asked Leonard. The V-Committee was the small body of propagandists planning the `V for Victory' campaign which was being put over on the European service of the B.B.C. " Well," said Tom Brown, sucking on his dreadful old pipe, "have you ever thought of the letter V in morse code-dot, dot, dot, dash? It fits the opening bars of Beethoven's Fifth ... just an idea." With Max Braun and a team of university graduate girl researchers to help them, Child and Stevens now headed a first class intelligence team. It was as gifted in its own specialised work as the equally mixed intelligence groups of professional officers, lawyers, biologists and the like, in the Service Ministries, who, in those last years of the war showed themselves far and away superior, not only to the Germans, but to our Russian and American allies as well.
`Tom Brown'-he was given that nickname when, as a twelveyear-old, he arrived at Winchester for his first term wearing a top hat, a dickie, and a made-up tie-was our walking encyclopaedia. He carried the most abstruse facts and statistics in his head. For Tom is one of those rare and fortunate people with a photographic memory.
Once he had read something it remained in his head. Better still he knew the various sections of the Ministry of Economic Warfare inside out and was trusted by its officials. He knew to whom to go for information and could always get it, without having to make long explanations of what it was needed for. As for Child, his uncanny gift of deduction was positively embarrassing to me. For, on several occasions, his guesswork hit the nail's head so accurately, that we were accused of having had forbidden access to the top, top secret intelligence derived from the breaking of German cyphers.
Day after day, week in, week out, this extraordinarily painstaking and gifted man Clifton Child provided us not only with items beautifully apposite to the campaigns we were running, but with `scoops' which built up the belief in Germany that Atlantic had its agents everywhere.
As deputy to myself in running the Atlantiksender, I secured Karl Robson from the War Office. Karl, a tall, haggard, darkeyed Hamlet figure, was the ideal counterpart to my own bulky, over-ebullient self. He was magnificently adept at bringing me back to earth when my ideas outran what was feasible. Karl had been a newspaper correspondent in Berlin right up to the outbreak of the war, and spoke excellent German.
He was well equipped for the difficult duty, which very few other Englishmen could have performed, of sub-editing the German news copy submitted to him in German by Germans, few of whom had written news before. For, unlike the B.B.C. we did not have English journalists to write our news and talks in English and then translate them into German. With us, everything was written in German by Germans from the very start.
But Karl's job was more difficult even than that. For I was determined to introduce a new kind of radio language into our broadcasts. I meant to make listening easier for German listeners just as British popular newspapers had made reading easier for their readers. " We are having none of those long classical sentences with the all-important verb left to the very end," I laid down at the first rehearsal. "We are going to use easily understood colloquial German in short sentences. None of our stuff is going to sound as though it is being read aloud from some learned periodical." That was not too easy to put across with Germans who had been brought up to regard anything simple and colloquial as ungrammatical and as `bad German'.
My second demand was that our news items must have what I called `Horfang' in their opening phrase. `Horfang' was a German word meaning 'Listen-catch', which I had invented. "The difference between the way we are going to write our news items and the way the Deutschlandsender and the B.B.C. write theirs," I lectured the team, "is the difference between the English way of reading figures and the German. We say 'Eighty-three'-eighty being the operative word-while Germans say `three and eighty'. In our items the operative word will come first to catch the listener's attention and give him an idea of what the item is about from the start. Verstanden?" Karl and I had to see that these little rules were applied, and he did it very well.
As my chief news writers in addition to Albrecht Ernst-my friend from Spanish war days and Lisbon-I had a one-time Berlin art dealer, Hans Gutmann, and Dr. Albert, a former Press Attache of the Austrian Legation who had remained in Britain when Hiter took over his country. To Alex Maassanother veteran of the Spanish War-I gave the important job of chief disk jockey. Alex put together the dance music that was both an important listener attraction of the station and by its distinctive style a kind of continuous call sign.
We took a great deal of trouble over getting the right music for the station. Some of our records were the latest German hits specially flown over to us by Mosquito from Stockholm where `Joe' Parrott (today H.M. Ambassador in Prague) with his press reading team did a wonderful job collecting information for us and other little items like these disks. Other records were specially made for us at MB by the German equivalent of an ENSA band under that accomplished musician Henry Zeisel. Zeisel and his band had been touring North Africa when they were captured by the Eighth Army and sent back to Britain.
Now with my American radio colleague, John Kebbe, to direct them, they were carrying on their good work of entertaining Hitler's Wehrmacht on the Atlantiksender. The American O.S.S. men with whom we were now starting to co-operate, gave us not only Kebbe. They also supplied us with the latest and best American dance music. They even arranged for German-speaking artists, such as Marlene Dietrich to make special recordings for us in German.
Marlene, of course-like the other artists-had no idea she was recording her songs for a counterfeit. She was led to believe that her songs would be put over on a German broadcast of the Voice of America. This was why, when she visited Europe, I was reluctantly compelled to keep her voice off the air so that she should not hear herself singing on what was ostensibly a Nazi radio. Poor Marlene ! She never learned the truth until she revisited her native Berlin after the war and the new Chauvinists pelted the `traitress Marlene' with rotten tomatoes.
But we had yet another supplier of music-the band of the Royal Marines. General Brooks arranged for it to come up to London from Portsmouth for a top secret recording session inof all places-the Albert Hall. One of the tunes the Marines recorded for us was a catchy Berlin music hall song called "Es war in Schoneberg im Monat Mai". (Louis Armstrong visiting Berlin many years after the war found the melody so attractive that he produced his own swing version of it.) I had chosen it as the theme song of the Atlantiksender's special navy programme, because, as we had learned from prisoners, it was a favourite with the U-boat men and they had made up some bawdy new verses for it.
Rene Halkett, a nephew of the Wehrmacht's former Chief of Staff General von Fritzsch, sang the new vocal bits. He was the most versatile member of the team, and seemed to be able to do anything, whether it was writing, speaking in dialect, or singing vocals and accompanying himself on an accordion or a guitar.
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MB - Photo 1986