RIGHT UP to the departure of the first waves of the invasion force the propaganda batteries under my command kept up their softening-up barrage. And by and large they did so on the lines we had agreed at the start.
True, with the R.A.F. and the U.S. Air Force bombing the roads, railways and bridges of occupied France, and Rommel racing from the Channel to the Mediterranean and back again to inspect his coastal defences, it would have been unrealistic for us to keep up our original dolce far niente insouciance and ignore the possibility of invasion. We just had to refer to it occasionally in our output. The main accent however remained as before on the priority of the Russian front and the OKW's alleged view that France was a minor theatre, a mere training and recreation base, expendable in the event of allied attack. Troops continued to be withdrawn from it, we said, despite Rommel's orders to meet invasion with counter-invasion.
" Further task forces from the command of C.-in-C. West," declaimed the Calais announcer in a typical news item of this time, "will shortly follow the SS Panzer divisions Hohenstaufen and Frundsberg to the Eastern front. Drafts are also being sent from West units hitherto considered below the standard needed for the Eastern front. They are being sent to reinforce the Rumanian sector where our long distance air reconnaissance reports heavy Russian troop concentrations, indicating the imminence of a new Russian offensive here." We also reported the withdrawal of troops from the West for transport to the East in easily remembered `human stories'.
Here is an example:
"A new swindle racket by platform vendors on Cologne main station is claiming numerous victims among Wehrmacht personnel in the many transports now passing through Cologne on their way from the West to the East Front. Just before the train is due to depart the vendors offer the comrades bottles of Eau de Cologne at much reduced prices. But though these bottles contain genuine Cologne water it is not the famous Cologne perfume but only Cologne tap water."
Our main attack however was still indirect. We reported events from the Russian and Italian Fronts which I hoped would stick in the minds of our Wehrmacht listeners in France when their turn arrived. One feature of this attack was what I called our `Briefing' items. I had been greatly impressed by the admirably clear and objective briefings which General Brooks used to give the top executives of the department at our weekly conferences. So I now decided to lay on similar `briefings' for our Calais audience-but with a very different purpose. " The sudden collapse in Italy is ascribed to two main factors," said our military expert on June the 4th, 1944 -just two days before the allied landing was due. "Firstly to the overwhelming air superiority of the enemy. And secondly to our High Command's unjustified confidence in our defensive system of concrete strong points. As a result of this excessive confidence in their impregnability the redoubts were being manned in many instances by troops of inferior quality. . . ."
Depressing listening this for the units in France who had been told by us again and again that they were second class. Furthermore they were well aware of the Ukrainian and other foreign units in their ranks. Nor were these weaknesses we were suggesting to them, in connection with the Italian campaign, new to them. We had suggested much the same kind of thing in connection with the Russian campaigns.
When Sebastopol had fallen a month before, our military expert said that this fortress which had been equipped with the latest and best fortification devices at the Fiihrer's disposal had been so unexpectedly captured by the enemy for four main reasons:
( I ) The penetrative power of the new armour-piercing bombs and phosphorous shells supplied to the Russians by the Americans. They broke through the toughest armour and ferroconcrete.
(2) The remarkable knowledge which the Russians possessed of the weak points in the German defences.
(3) The failure of the minefields to hold up the Russian attack.
(4) The confusion in the ranks of our comrades caused by the Folk-Germans (naturalised Poles) and foreign troops in German uniforms. Some of the Vlasov soldiers turned out to be Russian partisans who attacked the German units from the rear....
All of it grand stuff to help the troops in France justify their own desire to surrender when the time came. And we spared no pains to suggest to our listeners that the British and the Americans were no less well informed than the Russians about the most closely guarded German secrets.
For instance, when my friends with U.S. Air Force Intelligence reported to me that a group of Mustang fighters had made a rocket attack on a chateau believed to have been a German staff headquarters we put out this item within six hours of the attack taking place:
" Field Marshal Rommel has once more escaped an attempt to ambush and kill him. This morning he was due to visit Chateau Lebiex. At the last minute he changed his mind and cancelled the inspection. But at nine thirty a.m. ten minutes after his party had been scheduled to arrive a flight of enemy Mustangs dived out of the clouds on to the chateau and shot it up wifh rockets. The chateau and the entire staff H.Q. were destroyed." News items intended to stimulate surrender and desertion by drawing attention to their advantages and feasibility belonged to the routine bread and butter of the Calais bulletins and Nachrichten. Here is a favourite one exploiting `operation Tuckbox'.
" The chief of the OKW Wehrmacht Fursorgeamt (Welfare Office) appeals once more to relatives of missing men receiving a first sign of life from a soldier previously reported missing to communicate this instantly to the nearest Wehrmacht Meldeamt. (Reporting Office.)
" Frequently the first sign of life to be received from a missing man is a letter to his relatives showing that he is a prisoner of war. In isolated instances it takes the form of a food parcel which the prisoner caused to be purchased out of his dollar earnings and sent to his home address. It is in the relatives' own interest that they should immediately report such signs of life as the authorities themselves are frequently only informed much later and rapid notification facilitates the payment of family allowances and other monies." With the exception of the bit about the food parcels the announcement was copied from a genuine communique which we had taken from the DNB Hell-schreiber.
Typical of our attempts to stimulate desertion were items reporting the escape of allied prisoners to neutral territory. To rationalise desertion and make it seem an every-day practice we even suggested that General Kreipe had not been captured in Crete but was a deserter. I herewith make belated apologies to my friend Patrick Leigh Fermor for casting this slur of doubt on his brilliant guerilla operation!
" The former commander of the 22nd Panzer-Grenadier Division in Crete, Major General Kreipe, who was allegedly captured in the last week of April during a British commando ambush, has now arrived in London, according to a report of the London radio. At the instance of the OKH (High Command of the Army) proceedings have been instituted against General Kreipe for desertion. As we have previously reported it is alleged that the enemy only put out the story that the general had been captured in an ambush to cover up the general's deliberate and carefully planned desertion."
The impotence of the police was illustrated in news items varying from the unsuccessful police search for the French mass murderer Dr. Petiot to straightforward reports of the increase in unsolved crimes. And as part of the same campaign-although the main purpose of the item was slightly differentwe reported how French Resistance fighters were masquerading in SS uniforms with false papers, and getting away with it.