IN NEUTRAL newspapers from Istanbul to Stockholm it was one of the minor sensations of D-Day : the first news of the allied landing in Normandy, so they reported, had been given to the world by the German Soldiers Radio Calais. At 4-5o a.m. on June the 6th, 1944 a Calais announcer had interrupted the station's dance music to flash a report that the invasion had begun. Fifteen minutes later the announcer had been back with a longer report. It was so graphic that Swedish monitors picking up the broadcast, said an Aftonbladet reporter, decided that the radio station itself must be either in the invasion area or close to it.
In fact, however, the distinction of having `scooped' the invasion story did not belong to us at all. It belonged to our competitor Dr. Goebbels and his indefatigable news agency the DNB. We ourselves had picked up the invasion report from a flash on DNB and had immediately put it on the air. But we knew a little bit more about the invasion than did Dr. G. and the DNB. And with Aspidistra's 60o kilowatt of power to boost our announcer's voice we made a great deal more noise.
Ten anxious hours I had waited at MB for that DNB flash which gave us the signal to put out our carefully prepared invasion reports. Donald McLachlan, the only other member of the MB team to be in on the secret of D-Day and H-Hour, had spent most of Monday, June the 5th, at the SHAEF head-quarters in Bushey Park, just in case there was another change in the plans. Shortly after seven in the evening he strode into my office at NIB, flung his naval officer's cap on my desk and announced:
" It's on! Ike is definitely going through with it."
" Are you sure he can't change his mind once again and call it off?" I asked gloomily. For we had been through this once before twenty-four hours earlier. "The weather is bloody awful," I added. "Just look at it."
" No," said Donald, "I am sure it's all right this time. And the Met. boys say the weather will improve."
So we decided to go ahead with our plans. I warned Harold Keeble-who was in the know-that I hoped to be changing the front page of .Nachrichten with a `special' piece of late news. And then we went to dine at RA.G. It was a trying meal. For we had strict instructions from the Security men to let no one in on the secret. Donald and I could think of nothing but what lay ahead. We would have given anything to talk about it. But we dared not.
The trickiest part of the evening was getting Hans Gutmann, my chief news writer, to come back to MB with me at midnight without anyone noticing that something was up. Hans had been with us for dinner. And when, just before midnight, he got up to go home I offered to drive him to the married couples' house where he stayed.
" I have to pop back to MB for a moment," I said, "there are one or two items I want to rewrite. I'll give you a lift on my way." "Perhaps I can help?" Hans asked, as I had hoped he would. "Well, that would of course be most useful," I said.
" I'll come too," said Donald, and off we went without my team suspecting anything.
At MB the three of us went through to my office.
" I am very relieved you have come, Hans," I now said. "Donald and I could not really have done this job without you. You see what we want to do is to work out a top secret draft in German of the kind of story we shall put out, if and when the invasion takes place. I want to have three stories on ice for the great moment-the first a brief flash announcement for Calais, the second a rather longer story for the first bulletin and finally a much fuller piece for Nachrichten. The object will be to suggest to the garrisons of the Atlantic wall defence works that their line has been breached, that they are cut off and that they might as well give up. We don't want to say that of course. All we do is give them a picture of the situation from which they can draw their own conclusions. The whole thing is only a mock-up, of course, Hans, but I would like to get on with the job full speed ahead as one never knows when it will be needed."
Han's liquid brown eyes shone with enthusiasm. And I could see from the grin twitching around his mouth that he had guessed what was up. This was the great moment he had been waiting for ever since that evening in November 1938 when the Stormtroop mob had smashed the plate-glass windows of his antique shop in Berlin's Kurfurstendamm and he had been forced to flee for his life. He yearned to know more. But Hans Gutmann did not embarrass me by asking difficult questions.
" Just a mock-up to be kept on ice for the great day," he said in German, "and you want us to write it now, at one a.m." "Fine!" I grinned. "Here is the outline of the stories. Donald has cleared the stuff with SHAEF."
And that is how we came to capture what should have been Dr. Goebbels's great scoop. For when the DNB flash came through on the Hell-schreiber tape, thanks to Gutmann and Donald, we had everything ready. Our announcer put out his flash:
" The enemy is landing in force from the air and from the sea. The Atlantic Wall is penetrated in several places. The command has ordered alarm grade 3."
Without waiting for the main story in the Calais bulletin to be broadcast I jumped into my car and raced off to Marylands with the new front page for Nachrichten. Harold Keeble was ready and waiting to replate.
It was a splendid front page which he and Dennis Glarke produced. And despite its lateness, John Gibbs and his printers rushed it through in time for the American Fortresses to deliver ,Nachrichten to our readers in Normandy only a few hours later. "Atlantic Wall breached in several places" said the banner headline in German. "Armour penetrates deep into the interior: bitter fighting with parachute commandos."
I still have a copy of that number.* And when I read it through again today and remember that this `report' was based exclusively on Donald's knowledge of the plans and his picture of what he hoped would happen, and that it was at least twelve hours in advance of any official news releases, then I thrill once more with admiration for the masterly job done by Donald McLachlan and Hans Gutmann. But it is even more interesting as an historic document. For it shows how our reports were written to fit in with the allied deception plan which was to mislead the Germans into the belief that the invaders were striking at the mouth of the Seine and at Calais. Keeble had splashed the report across three columns of the front page of Nachrichten in his best Daily Express style.
To top the whole thing off Donald and Hans Gutmann had produced a box-insert under the heading "What is available." (`Was bereit steht!'). It showed the tenuous German resources and gave a most alarming picture of the over-extended German defence front. I will quote just two sentences from it:
" An average of 18 Luftwaffe aircraft go with each German division in the West. At the time of the battle of France in 1940 there were eighty Luftwaffe aircraft to each German division. During last week's battle of Rome the Anglo-Americans had I60 aircraft for each of their divisions."
We had begun to slap that biceps at last.
My German team were all men who had broken with Hitler's regime the hard way. They had sacrificed their homes and their jobs in Germany for an unknown future abroad in order to fight against the evil that had seized their country in its grip. Prisoners like Virchow and Mander had come over to us knowing that even in Britain they risked assassination by the Nazi prisoners' underground for doing so. Every man among them wanted Hitler's Germany to perish, and to perish as rapidly and as violently as possible, so that a new and better Germany could take its place. And yet with all that I could feel the secret, often subconscious, sympathy and sadness with which these men now watched their countrymen across the channel being bludgeoned into extinction by the vast juggernaut of the AngloAmerican armada. Not for nothing had we immersed ourselves so completely in the life and surroundings of our Wehrmacht listeners. We were able to feel those cannonades as though they were coming down on our own heads. And the talks which my speakers now put out reflected this. They had in them an undertone of personal tragedy which made these ephemeral pieces of psychological warfare as moving for me to listen to as if they had been the greatest literature.
There was Rene Halkett for instance, a queer fish Bohemian of a German aristocrat, who derived his name from Scots ancestors. His uncle was General Werner von Fritsch, the former C.-in-C. of the German army whom Hitler sacked for his opposition in 1938. Halkett had done just about everything in his life that a Prussian aristocrat was not supposed to do. He had served before the mast, danced in ballet, written a bestseller-Dear Monster-played in a dance band and acted in repertory. Now his job was to sound like a German officer of the old school. And he did. I can still hear the moving talk that he delivered five days after the invasion had begun, the quaver in his voice, the bitterness and the disgust. Part of it may have been conscious acting, but most of it was genuinely felt--the resentment and the sorrow of an officer seeing his fellow-countrymen laying down their lives for a regime of criminals and cranks.
Halkett spoke in the short staccato sentences of the typical Prussian Officer:
" This is a report, an epitaph and a warning. An epitaph for the comrades of the Kremlin Division, who were cut off on the beaches of Ouistrehan and Arromanches, who were left in the lurch and hammered to death. Only a few men of one regiment in this division remain. Of the 916th Grenadier Regiment. Only a couple of men from it have got back to tell the'tale. What these comrades have to tell us must be a warning to everyone. It is a warning to all those who may be lying in an outpost somewhere on the beaches, or are stationed somewhere up on a hill, or on the coast. And as they lie there they may get the order, `Hold on, reinforcements are on their way to you'.
" The reinforcements will not come. They cannot come because nothing is being done about sending reinforcements, because all these men have been written off-written off as dead and lost.
" Here is the warning story which the few survivors of the 716th Infantry Division, the Kremlin Division, have brought back with them.
" On Tuesday came the first attack on the coast. The division got the order `Hold on. Reinforcements are on their way'. By Thursday for all practical purposes the division was surrounded and overrun. In its rear were the enemy parachutists. In front of it lay the enemy battle cruisers firing at them, hacking their concrete dugouts to shreds. Overhead, in the sky, a thick curtain of enemy aircraft. They drop a never-ending barrage of bombs and explode what is left of the minefields. Far and wide not so much as a single German fighter. No communication to the right or to the left. All that they knew was: the Anglo-Americans are landing continuously to both sides of us. Landing troops and heavy materials.
And those reinforcements for the g I 6th ? Not the slightest sign of them! But an order did get through at last from the command: `Hold out,' it said. `Hold out to the last round of ammunition'."
Halkett paused for a moment for the senselessness of the order to sink in. Then he went on:
" There they lay in their smashed and slit up dugouts, naked, without cover. Grenadiers with machine pistols and Mgs. and anti-tank guns. Guns which they were never to get a chance to fire."
" Then word came through once more from the rear: `Reinforcements,' said the message, `are on the way-they will get through to you and help you fight your way out. Armour is on its way to you from Gaen.' Quite true, armour was on its way. One single section of the 2lst Panzer Division with Mark Four tanks. One single section with Mark Fours! On the third day! It was to push through in the direction of Luc sur Mer. A friendly gesture, I grant you. But nothing more. Needless to say the Mark Fours never got through. They were stopped long before that. For, by the time they were being sent up the enemy had six times as many tanks ashore around there. What remained of the section of the 2lst Panzer Division had to turn back, back to Douvres and on the following morning back to Gaen. That was the promised relief operation. That was the promised reinforcement. That was literally all that was done for the Kremlin division by land and by air. The 716th Grenadier Regiment. They withdrew then at last to the hillocks behind. A few of the men got through. But left behind to be overrun and rubbed out were 4,000 men. Four thousand comrades left in the trap, defenceless, deserted, without cover or help.
" In front of them on the water lay the enemy battleships.
Those enemy ships had fun with a little target practice against our fortifications and our boys. They took their time over it. They approached to within three miles of the shore and anchored there. No one interfered with them. And then the battleships opened fire with observer balloons up in the sky to score for them. They covered every square yard, systematically, with twelve inch shells. And in among the shells fell bombs and more bombs.
" And when the enemy tanks then followed up no defences were left, no obstacle, no barrier, nothing between Ouistrehan and Arromanches. Two-thirds of the Kremlin Division perished in three days of Atlantic Wall. The few men that were still alive in this cemetery are now prisoners of war in England. That was the end of a division. The end of comrades who held out and waited for reinforcements for relief. Who did not know that they had been written off-written off from the very beginning."
It was a brilliant performance. Again and again Halkett had put over his theme and never once did it become boring or repetitious: the division was written off, help was promised, but there was never any serious intention of sending help. The division had been written off. But behind all this calculated impact I felt the misery and bitterness in Halkett's voice. And that was real, not acted. The breakdown in communications between the German units at this period was so grave that many German commanders were tuning in to Calais for our `situation reports'. They used them to chalk in corrections to the constantly changing order of battle on their staff maps.
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The masterly job done by Donald McLachlan and Hans Gutmann.