It was amazing however, how many Germans were genuinely taken in, and did in fact believe the station to be a German Forces Radio. Quite early on we received indisputable evidence from a prisoner that for several days on end the sergeant at the Wehrmacht equivalent of a NAAFI station in Tunis had piped the Atlantiksender into the recreation huts `because the music was so marvellous-so fabelhaft'. Only when an officer reprimanded him did he realise he had been entertaining his comrades with a forbidden enemy station.
In the nine months that the Atlantiksender remained on its own, broadcasting exclusively on short waves, the team developed into a hard-working crew of perfectionists. Talks and news items would be rewritten again and again until we got them as I wanted them. Immense trouble was taken over small detail.
" Accuracy first," I used to tell the writers. "We must never lie by accident, or through slovenliness, only deliberately!" And as we put out news bulletin after news bulletin and service programme after service programme an entire system of subversive campaigns developed. It was based on the campaigns we had originally created in the Gustav Siegfried days. But now they had been elaborated, and perfected as a result of Clifton Child's research and ingenuity. In item after item we gave examples of the `inequality of sacrifice' between the common man and the `privileged' party functionaries. And there was enough truth to them and enough fact to back them up to give our allegations complete plausibility and make them stick in the minds of our listeners. Germans wanted to believe ill of their Nazi Party overseers and we gave them the `facts' with which to back up their suspicions. Party functionaries we showed were exempt from front-line service. (We could quote a genuine decree exempting officials of the Goebbels propaganda ministry from military service.) If they were sent to join the forces they did so only for a short token period, and then they returned to their posts on the `home front'. Regularly once a week we put out a list which was entirely factual and genuine, of Party officials who had left for their period of token service and others who had returned.
The wives and daughters of Party high-ups, we said, were exempt from the call-up of women. Their families were exempt from providing billets in their homes for evacuees or bombedout families, as ordinary Germans were compelled to do. (Quite true. Reasons of security and secrecy no doubt dictated this exemption. But why should we point that out?) Party high-ups were permitted to move their offices and homes away from the much bombed urban districts, while the ordinary worker had to stay put in the town to fight fires. We gave innumerable examples of the defeatism of the Party high-ups. They were selling the businesses they had acquired in occupied countries, knowing that they would soon be leaving. They were busily smuggling their money to safe accounts in Switzerland and South America.
We encouraged our listeners to defiance and disobedience not by appeals, but by news items showing that control had slipped from the hands of the German authorities. It was safe to defy them and their police. For such police as had not been called up for military service were old and decrepit. In our sports news 4Villy Meisl stressed the defeat of police teams. "They're such a lot of elderly crocks, they can hardly run, let alone kick a ball." In bulletin after bulletin we plugged the crime wave, the spate of unsolved murders. Air raids, we showed by innumerable examples, made police control impossible.
" The authorities do not know who is missing because he has been killed, and who is missing because he has deserted." The files and registers on which the police relied were being destroyed in the raids. Under cover of the bombing more and more prisoners were escaping from custody. The same enemy explosives which were sending the house walls crashing down, were destroying the whole edifice of Himmler's security system. In almost every bulletin we illustrated these themes with news items, some true, some invented, but all of them plausible.
The news of the day however was our main concern. When Goebbels announced that he was distributing a special `air raid bonus' of chocolate in the workshop canteens, in addition to other food-he did so in order to attract absentee workers back to their factories-we added in the blandest and most matter of fact style that this `bomb chocolate' had been spiked with drugs like Pervitin to stimulate the bomb-fatigued workers to extra energy and extra productivity.
When we learned that families bombed out during the `Terror Raids' on Hamburg were being evacuated to Eastern areas such as Poland, Slovakia and Ruthenia, we reported the epidemics of typhoid and cholera allegedly raging in those areas.
We did the same for the `Kinderlandverschickungslager', the short and snappy title under which the special camps were known to which evacuee children were being sent. We did not, of course, put out the news of these epidemics in the KLV camps as a straightforward announcement. We dressed it upoften something like this: " Dr. Gonti, the Reichsfiihrer for Physicians has congratulated the medical officers at the KLV camps in the Gau Wartheland for the selfless devotion with which they are fighting the diptheria epidemic among the children in their care. He has expressed his satisfaction at their success in overcoming the tragic lack of medicaments, and reducing deaths by an average of sixty a week."
We never gave up trying to make our Wehrmacht listeners worry about what was happening to their families at home. We even made them worry about what these evil men, the Party bosses, would do to their wives should they have the misfortune to lose their lives while fighting for Fiihrer and Fatherland. Hitler himself was of the greatest help to us in this campaign. For he had an impulsive way of rushing out decrees which were intended to sustain and comfort his men, but which when twisted a little by us had just the opposite effect. As, for instance, his decree about posthumous divorce. Hitler must have heard or read somewhere that it was a great scandalthat women against whom their soldier husbands had started divorce proceedings would be saved from the consequences of their adultery if the husband was killed before the hearing of the case was concluded. Forthwith he issued an order--on April the Ist, 1943-that not only should all such divorces be carried through to the bitter end just as though the soldier was still alive, but that divorce proceedings must also be instituted in those cases where a dead soldier would probably have started proceedings against his wife had he lived. The fact that he might not have known of his wife's infidelity before he was killed was immaterial. Henceforth it would be up to the State Prosecutor and the Party Authorities to sue in the dead man's name in order that no faithless wives of soldiers should bear their dead husband's name, inherit his worldly goods, and collect his pension.
It was a gift, and we went to town on it in a big way, not only on the Atlantiksender, but with printed leaflets as well. The Fiihrer's decree was of course an invitation to us to report, as we did in convincing detail, that party bosses were using it to frame and blackmail the widows of our comrades. To forestall such blackmail, said the Atlantiksender, many comrades were sending their wives legally certified letters of renunciation, duly witnessed by the C.O., in which the man stated expressly that he would not consent to a posthumous divorce, no matter what his wife might have done or be accused of having done.
To help our services listeners to visit their families and see for themselves what was going on at home, we reminded them that if their home had been bombed they were entitled to compassionate leave under an order-`OKW order 967/42g Of August 28, 1942'-which Clifton Child had discovered among the captured documents. To help them still more-service after all is one of the best ways of making friends and influencing people-we put out lists of the streets which had been bombed in German towns during the raids of the previous evening. These lists became a regular feature of our programmes and impressed the German listeners enormously. For our reports were fast and accurate. Indeed they were so fast and accurate that German intelligence men checking them, decided we must have agents in the bombed cities reporting to us on secret transmitters. The belief' has survived to this day. In that ridiculous German thriller film about the `Soldatensender Calais'-the medium wave extension of the Atlantiksender which followed later -agents of the big fat boss of MB pop up in the middle of an air raid on Essen to tap out their messages to him. "Bombs have fallen on the Kettwiger Strasse in Essen and destroyed houses Nos. seven to twenty-five," they flash, or "Incendiaries have struck the Administration Buildings of the Krupp Works in the Altendorfer Strasse. The entire complex is on fire."
Most certainly we put out reports like this, and often embroidered them with graphic detail as well. But we did not receive our intelligence from agents. Our reports were based on information given us by the raiders themselves. Within minutes of the bombers arriving back from Germany a squadron intelligence officer who had examined the pilots would be on the `scrambler' to me to tell me where the raiders had been, what they believed they had hit, whether they had dropped mainly incendiaries and caused big fires, or whether they had been dropping block-buster high explosives as well. And so on.
This information, however, useful as it was, would not by itself have enabled us to compile those detailed street by street reports which so impressed the Germans. The main source for these were the photographs brought back by the R.A.F. Mosquitoes which flew to the bombed areas immediately after every attack to check the damage. My friends in Air Intelligence rushed the pictures to MB by motor cycle dispatch riders as soon as they had been printed. A special section in Clifton Child's intelligence team then interpreted them with the aid of' stereoscopic viewers. To help them, they had a whole library of German town plans and Badekers. In charge of this work was a young German Rhodes scholar, whom the R.A.F. Intelligence men had specially trained for me in the art of reading their reconnaissance photographs. Peter von Schlabrenhorst took a justified pride in his work, and he not only compiled the lists of streets bombed in the latest raids, but insisted on going to the microphone and giving them out himself. They were remarkably accurate.
Those reports on the other hand, in which the Atlantiksender described a raid that was still in progress and gave precise details of what buildings and streets were on fire, or the harrowing eye witness accounts of men and women and children being caught up in the melting asphalt of the Cuxhavener Strasse, or of Local Groupleader Schickedanz ordering the Teno to blow up the crowded shelter in the Buxtehuder Platz while the folk-comrades were still inside it-these were all fiction and guess-work. From the bomber pilots we knew approximately when and where the bombs had fallen, where fires were raging. We filled in the rest with the picture we wanted to present. Our listeners accepted these reports as true because the rest of our damage and air raid reports had been so accurate.
Needless to say the Atlantiksender paid great attention in its output to news campaigns intended to stimulate surrender and desertion. Prisoners of war, we showed, were going to have an unfair advantage over the fighting men when `peace broke out'. For the enemy had laid on excellent training courses for them to learn trades and professions in the prison camps. Many of them too were working outside the camps and being paid well in pounds and dollars, money which would have a high value at the end of the war, compared with the useless German Mark.
Tucked away somewhere in most bulletins was an item about deserters. The International Red Cross was the favourite source for these. The Red Cross would report the increase in the number of German soldiers crossing into Sweden, Switzerland, or Spain, and the fact that while many had been interned, the majority were earning good money in good jobs. The German authorities, it would be repeated again and again, were not able to take the threatened reprisals against the families of deserters because-and here came our old tag line -`they do not know who is missing because he has been killed, and who is missing because he has deserted'. Not all the news broadcasts however of the Atlantiksender, and the medium wave station with which it was soon to be coupled, were directed at the enemy. One of the most interesting and successful of our operations had neutral listeners as its target-the neutral firms and business men who were breaking the allied blockade by trading with Hitler. Most of these firms were being punished effectively enough by the Ministry of Economic Warfare which put their names on a so-called `Statutory List'. This meant that they were under boycott and blockade. Any firm dealing with them would also find itself proscribed and commercially excommunicated. But there was a second list of firms who were only suspects. Their names were not published. British officials, however, had orders to put the evil eye on them, wherever and whenever they could.
`Tom Brown' Stevens got hold of this `Black List' of suspects from M.E.W. and the secret file which revealed both the reasons for suspicion and the personal background of the suspect firms' directors. The next thing was, that these neutral business men heard the secrets of their private and commercial lives being publicly exposed on our radio. Usually their reaction was to protest to the nearest British authorities who, of course, denied any connection with us.
We then waited to see whether they would mend their ways. If they did not, we followed up with further broadcasts about them. As a rule, however, one broadcast was enough. One typical case was that of a firm of Swedish exporters who were buying ball-bearings in Sweden, and smuggling them to Germany, thereby undoing the effects of our bombing. Our story about the firm was so accurate and so ribald that the Swedish authorities felt deeply hurt in their national pride. They made unofficial representations about it to the British ambassador Sir Victor Mallet.
" We had our eye on this firm," said the Swedes with injured dignity, "we were waiting to prosecute them, when we had enough evidence. Now your broadcast has warned them." Sir Victor replied that he had no knowledge of the Atlantiksender, and nothing to do with it. Then he sent me a rocket through the Foreign Office. M.E.W. however were pleased with us. For the Swedish newspapers had taken up the story we had put out, and the directors of the Swedish firm, fearing more Atlantiksender publicity, had cancelled all further deliveries to Germany.
" It's blackmail by `black'," I said, congratulating `Tom Brown'. The `Navy Programme' was the first special programme for a fighting service which we launched. And in an astonishingly short time we had evidence that it was proving effective. My friends at the cages where German prisoners were interrogated told me that the Atlantiksender was helping them considerably. "You are doing all our preliminary softening up for us," laughed the R.N.V.R. Commander in charge of U-boat crews interrogation. "The men arriving now have all been told by their officers that the Atlanti,ksender is British. But they are so impressed by the universality of the Atlantiksender's intelligence service and the completeness of its information on everything to do with U-boats or themselves and their families, that they say: `The British know it all anyhow. So I may as well make things more comfortable for myself by answering their questions.' Before you started the Atlantiksender it took us weeks to get them to that stage. Now they're in the `ready to talk' condition before they even get here."
Having seen what we could do, the Admiralty Intelligence people helped us more and more. Donald McLachlan was even able to arrange that N.LD. agents in France should signal back such apparent trivia as the results of the football matches between U-boat crews. We were thus able to announce them within a few hours of the game being over.
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Tom Brown and Agnes Bernelle 1960
The Atlantiksender's `Sailors' Sweetheart'-Agnes Bernelle, a daughter
of the Berlin playwright and theatre-owner Rudolf Bernauer, whom
we called `Vicky'-was able to startle the German navy men by sending
out birthday greetings not merely to the U-boat men themselves, but
also to their families, congratulating them on the birth of a son
or daughter and generally showing an intimate acquaintance with the
private affairs of her `dear boys in blue'. Vicky was incredibly
good at it. The treacle in her voice would never let you suspect
that this Circe had lost half her family in the gas chambers of Auschwitz.