AT THREE minutes to six on the evening of October the 24th, 1943 Johnnie Kisch* was sitting, as usual, in front A of the battery of grey Painted receiving sets in his lowceilinged cabin at the B.B.C. monitoring station in Caversham. Johnnie was bored. He had a boring job. His sets were tuned to the stations in the German radio network and it was his task to watch for variations in their programmes-variations which suggested that the Germans were trying to put some secret code message across to an agent, or that Goebbels was up to some new trick in his propaganda warfare.
But there never were any variations. Night after night, day after day, Johnnie had to listen to the same dreary speakers churning out the same dreary propaganda . . . `the impregnable fortress of Europe, Hitler the champion of Western civilisation against the Bolshevik hordes, the Jewish conspiracy' . . . deadly stuff. Quite utterly deadly. Johnnie felt very sorry for himself.
Absent-mindedly he twiddled the knob on the set which was tuned in to Munich. It was now six o'clock on the dot. And then it happened! With a crash of drums and a blare of trumpets a jubilantly boisterous German march burst from the set. It was so loud that Johnnie immediately leaned forward to turn down the volume. As he did so, a voice which Johnnie had never heard before announced in crisp soldier German-"Here is the Soldiers' Radio Calais, broadcasting on wave-bands 360 metres, 4to and qgz metres. Coupled with it the German short wave radio Atlantic, on wave-bands 30.7 and q8.3. We bring music and news for comrades in the command areas West and Norway. We shall now play dance music."
* At the time of writing J. H. Kisch is the London editor of the German maga-Zine Quuk.
Johnnie had never heard of the Atlantiksender. He had specialised in the medium wave-band. And so he was amazed by the exhilarating dance music which was snappier and dancier than anything he had heard over the radio before. Johnnie reached for the telephone to call his superior.
" Hey, Bob," he said, "there is a new German forces station broadcasting from Calais. Very powerful signal and really excellent music. It's on almost the same wave-band as Munich." "Right," said Bob. "Let me have a report." At half-past six Johnnie called his superior again.
" You really must listen to this station yourself, Bob," he said, "I cannot make it out. It seems to be much more outspoken than most of the German stations. They are putting out the usual German crap, but in between there are items which are quite different from the normal run. And I don't know whether they deliberately intended it as irony, but immediately after a quotation from that very optimistic speech of Gauleiter Sauckel, they had some very depressing news from the front in Russia. I wonder what's up?"
A few minutes later Johnnie Kisch, who is an intelligent young man, was able to make a pretty shrewd guess at what was up. A messenger arrived, and in an envelope marked `Secret' he handed Johnnie Kisch a D-Notice-so-called because it was issued under the war-time emergency law known as the Defence Regulations. It was the same notice that had already been sent out by the Ministry of Information to the editors of newspapers and news agencies.
" No reference will be made," it said, "to the radio transmissions of Soldatensender Calais or the Kurswellensender Atlantik, or to the contents of their broadcasts." But in Germany, in German-occupied France, and the Low Countries there were many listeners who heard this first broadcast. And they had no D-notice to help them. They accepted the new station at its face value as a German station, and they listened to it with wonder and with pleasure. A less enthusiastic, but equally attentive listener was Dr. Joseph Goebbels.
Four weeks after the Soldatensender had first gone on the air he recorded in his diary for November the 28th, 1943-"In the evening the so-called Soldatensender Calais, which evidently originates in England and uses the same wave-lengths as Radio Deutschland-when the latter is out during their air raids-gave us something to worry about. The station does a very clever job of propaganda and from what is put on the air. one can gather that the English know exactly what they have destroyed in Berlin and what they have not." *
Yes, we had made the medium wave at last. And not only did we have the powerful 60o kw. transmitter nicknamed `Aspidistra' broadcasting us at full blast, but Harold Robin had also linked with it a small half kilowatt mobile transmitter which he and his men had trundled to a spot on the coast near Dover where it was directly opposite Calais. Just a little touch for the benefit of those trying to get a DF fix. But what a fight it had been to get authority for the new station and to prise `Aspidistra', the most powerful transmitter in Europe, from the grasp of the B.B.C.
Although `Aspidistra' had only been lent to them by our department, long possession had made the B.B.C. regard it as theirs by right. That it should be transferred to those rough, vulgar fellows of the `Black' was unthinkable. But after almost four weeks of paper, meetings, and arguments they had been made to give way. Ivone Kirkpatrick had been my chief antagonist.
" Black is all right on short wave," he said with the clipped dogmatic self-assurance of the military man turned diplornat. "But if you get on the medium wave with all your lies and distortions, you will undermine the whole currency value of British propaganda as a purveyor of truth."
Kirkpatrick represented the European Service of the B.B.C. in the counsels of the Political Warfare Executive, and as a high-ranking diplomat he carried great weight. Particularly with Bruce Lockhart who was a former Foreign Office man himself, and naturally coveted the good opinion of his senior colleagues.
But Bruce Lockhart was away ill at the time this decision had to be taken, and General Brooks was presiding over the department in his place. Dallas Brooks was a marine and what counted with him were the views of the Service Ministries, and particularly those of the Admiralty. And the Service Ministries, led by the Admiralty, were all for `Black' having `Aspidistra' and some medium wave frequencies. For the time had arrived to soften up the Germans in preparation for the invasion of German-held France. In the opinion of the Chiefs of Staff the B.B.C. with its inhibitions and its passion for ideological debate was not quite sharp enough an instrument for this purpose. Something new and more ruthless was needed in addition to the B.B.C.: Soldatensender Calais.
Even the name `Calais' required approval before we could use it. For the allied cover plan was designed to have Hitler and his Intelligence men believe that Calais and the area around it would be the main target of the invasion, and that Normandy was merely a diversion for deception purposes. If we named our transmitter `Soldatensender Calais', would that make the Germans think that the threat to Calais was bluff? In the end it was decided that it would not affect their decisions one way or the other, and I was allowed the name with its euphonic elegiac rhythm."Mind you don't let me down, Tom," were Dallas Brooks' last words to me before we let loose. "I'm taking a big gamble on this. If you make a mess of things it will be my head that rolls in the sand!" But after our first night's performance Dallas Brooks rang up all pleasure and excitement.
" As you know I speak no German myself," he said, "so I cannot follow what you are saying. But friends of mine who do understand, tell me it was brilliant, quite brilliant." Kirkpatrick too, was most generous in his praise and `Kirk' spoke German well." It is awfully good," he said, "but you will never be able to keep up the pace with your small team. I still have the gravest reservations."
I too feared that there was a danger here. For our staff was only about a third of that for the B.B.C.'s German Service. And here we were putting out constantly changing news bulletins with three Service programmes every evening instead of just one, as we had been doing up to now on `Atlantik'. " Calais has got to be absolutely first class for the first six weeks," I told the team in our conference the next morning. "We are going to have a lot of critics listening in and some of them will be trying to catch us out. So there will be no leave for anyone for four weeks. Einverstanden ?"
<< Table of Contents | Previous Page | Next Page >>
" Hey, Bob," he said, "there is a new German forces station broadcasting from Calais. Very powerful signal and really excellent music. It's on almost the same wave-band as Munich." "Right," said Bob. "Let me have a report."