The fun was about to begin. We did not have long to wait for an opportunity to try out Big Bertha. Winston Churchill saw to that..
As the British and American armies began their advance into Germany, the B.B.C., the Voice of America, and the I2th Army group broadcasters of Radio Luxemburg had all been telling the German civilian population-"Stay where you are. Don't move." They had done so under a carefully considered directive from SHAEF. But when Winston learned of this advice-quite fortuitously-he blew up in hot outrage.
Churchill was spending the weekend at Eisenhower's headquarters outside Rheims. At breakfast on the Sunday morning he was leafing through the only newspaper available, the American forces Stars and Stripes. There his incredulous eyes lit on an item proudly reporting that Radio Luxemburg and the B.B.C. were telling the German civilians to `stay put'.
" Pray General, what sort of nonsense is this?" the old man growled at host Eisenhower, and pointed an accusing finger at the news item. "Surely we should not be telling the German civilians to stay where they are? We should be driving them out into the highways and byways so that they impede the strategic communications of the Hun armies, just as the French civilians impeded the communications of the French Armies in 1940!"
It was not of course a new thought this for the SHAEF planners. It had been carefully considered by them and rejected before the `stay put' directive was issued. Eisenhower's British and American experts had decided against driving the German civilians into the roads, because they feared they would be just as much hindrance there for the advancing allies as for the retreating Germans. Also it was a good way of indirectly assuring the Germans that they would be well treated by the allies without making any direct promises. It countered Goebbels's prophesies of allied frightfulness. In fact it was a very good line indeed.
But Eisenhower was a politician and a diplomat as well as a soldier. He was anxious to please Churchill. For he had angered the old man by turning down his strategic recommendations for the final push across Germany. The sacrifice of a psychological warfare directive seemed the easiest and cheapest way to placate him. So General McClure, Dick Crossman and the American planner C. D. Jackson were hastily summoned to Rheims-they flew there each in his own little Piper Cuband there Eisenhower's chief of staff bitterly informed them of the change in orders. The Germans, said General Bedell-Smith, were not-repeat not-to be told to remain in their cellars to await the allies. Instead they were to be panicked out on to the roads. Period.
That however was much more easily stencilled into a directive than done. Neither the B.B.C. nor the Voice of America or even Radio Luxemburg could openly go back on what they had been saying without losing all authority and goodwill. In their dilemma General McClure and Bruce Lockhart turned to us, the ruffians of the `black', the disavowable scallywags who did the dirty work.
Bruce Lockhart called me up on the scrambler and explained the situation.
" Tom," he then said, "I want you to run a campaign on the Soldatensender that will drive the German civilians on to the roads. Can you do that?"
" We can have a shot at it on the Soldatensender," I replied, "but surely this is just the job for Big Bertha. If you agree, I think we could issue some pretty drastic evacuation instructions to the population in the name of the German authorities. And perhaps we could hold out some other inducements as well," I added, as I suddenly remembered the 'bomb-free safety zone' we had tried out on the Italians. "Do you want me to send you a short list of suggested announcements?"
" Yes, do that, so that I can report what you are doing. But don't wait for me to give you my formal approval. Get cracking. I am sure you will think up something good." Which was very generous of him after the crashing failure of my `war winner'.
We were in luck. Everything was set fair for our first Big Bertha operation. Radio Cologne, our target, had been behaving just the way we wanted it to behave. During the past couple of weeks it had been frequently interrupting its programme to give its listeners situation reports and instructions.
We had been making special recordings of these emergency broadcasts and we had filed them in our record archives together with the `air situation reports' and instructions we had recorded from other radios in the German network. Now we brought them out and listened to them again.
A man and a woman had been the voices broadcasting the instructions from Cologne. Fine. I had a man and a woman ready to take their places. The man was Moritz Wetzold, a German prisoner who had been a trainee announcer on the German radio before he was called up. I had been keeping him on ice for just such an operation as this, ever since he had joined my team six months before. The woman was Margit Maass, the actress wife of Alex. She could imitate anything.
Next we had some captured documents showing that the area on both banks of the Rhine had been divided into zones under special Nazi commissars. We even had the code name for the operation. It was SIEGFRIED. The operation itself was called an R-operation, R for Riickfiihrung = evacuation. That was just the jargon to make our instructions sound convincing. Clifton Child, Stevens, and Hans Gutmann now set to work to prepare the actual text of our announcement. I gave them the rough outline.
" The orders will be issued in the name of the Gauleiter," I said, "and they will say that enemy armour is approaching and that women and children must leave their homes at once, this very night, taking only fifteen kilograms in weight of their most essential belongings with them. Wherever possible the local Nazi group leader is to form them up in columns and lead them. The men must of course stay behind with the Volkssturm and defend their villages. The women and children are to take handcarts, perambulators, bicycles and anything else they have on wheels. We must give them some Rhine crossings and assembly points on the other side-well inland, I suggest, where special trains are waiting to take them to the evacuation centres of the National Socialist Welfare Organisations in Bavaria. The families must be sure to take their documentation with them. Identity cards should be tied round the children's necks in special bags."
I felt just like a Gauleiter myself by the time I had finished. Child, Gutmann, and Stevens got down to the job of preparing the announcement, Margit and Moritz Wetzold began their rehearsal in the operations studio. We had typed out the text of one of the genuine Cologne announcements and now Margit and Wetzold read it over, copying the inflection of the Cologne announcers which they heard on our recordings.
Only one question remained: was Cologne going to be off the air that night? And then, just as Harold Robin and I were beginning to get worried about this, Ted Halliday rushed in. He had been getting the night's operational plan from the R.A.F.
" Cologne," he announced theatrically, "will go off the air at nine fifteen tonight-or just after."
Without another word Harold Robin picked up the telephone and called his chief engineer at the transmitter's underground home near Crowborough and told him to get `Aspidistra' ready for action. Then he added one final touch. He produced some tinfoil sound reflectors and put them up behind the microphones.
" That will give your voices the peculiar metallic timbre of these Cologne announcers," he said to Margit and Wetzold. He was quite right. Those sound reflectors did the trick. 1Vargit and Wetzold were practising our announcement now, and with the reflectors added, they sounded uncannily genuine. All there was left for us to do was to wait for Cologne to be driven off the air. Nine-fifteen came and Cologne was still broadcasting. Nine-twenty and Cologne was still there. I looked a little reproachfully at Ted Halliday.
" Your schedule seems a bit out, Ted," I said. Before Halliday could answer, the telephone rang. Harold Robin was on the line.
" What do you think of the signal you're getting now from Cologne?"
" It's good and strong. Time they were off the air though, isn't it?"
" They are off the air. That's us you're hearing. We took over from the Germans exactly twenty seconds ago. So when you're ready . . ."
I looked across at my announcers. Both of them gave me a grinning thumbs up. "Okay Harold. Fifteen seconds from ... now."
The whole thing worked perfectly. Nervous as they were Moritz Wetzold and Margit put out their text without a fluff and in the exact rhythm and intonation of the genuine Cologne team. When they had finished Harold switched back on to the German programme he had been relaying. We carried on for about an hour repeating our bogus announcement at intervals. Then at last `Aspidistra' faded out. `Cologne' stayed off the air for the rest of the evening.
We followed up our guest performance on Cologne radio with similar visits to Frankfort and Leipzig on the following nights. The citizens of the Frankfort and Darmstadt areas we tried to entice from their homes with reports of special N.S.V. Welfare Trains, distributing food-stuffs, hot drinks, and clothing, which we said were calling at certain stations at certain times. The railway section of M.E.W. and Stevens had worked out a most convincing train schedule with the stations just far enough away to make it a real trip to get there. We announced special orders from Gauleiter Florian to the local cadres of Nazi Party functionaries. As `the most valuable element of the Nation' they were to retire (sich absetzen) from the threatened areas in order that they might survive and `hand on the torch of the National Socialist faith'.
On the Soldatensender, and in Nachrichten, we plugged a story of seven bomb-free zones in Central and South Germany where refugees would be safe from further enemy air attacks. Neutral Red Cross representatives in Berlin, we reported, had informed the Reich authorities that Eisenhower was going to declare these seven zones as bomb-free safety areas. Banks were already moving their securities into them.
These `safety zones' were all the more effective as almost at the same time as we were announcing them Eisenhower began to proclaim as `targets for tonight' the total destruction of such city areas as Cologne, Dusseldorf, Frankfort and Mannheim. Ike, too, was following the Churchill directive.
Were Big Bertha's instructions obeyed? Did the population leave the towns and villages, and crowd the roads, as Churchill had wanted? The confidential `weekly report' of the Gauamtsleiter of Lemgo,* which I reproduce in the Appendix, suggests that they did. But I never checked any further. When I got to Germany at the end of March, the roads were indeed crowded with refugees-miserable ragged families, trudging wearily along the Autobahn and through debriscluttered streets of bomb ruins. Behind them they dragged carts, buses that had no fuel for their engines, and even hearses. All were loaded with bedding and babies. It was the epitome of everything I had seen in Spain, Poland and France.
I did not stop to question any of them whether it was a message on Radio Cologne or Radio Frankfort that had first started them on their trek. I did not want to know. I feared the answer might be `yes'.
What I do know is that by our intrusion with counterfeit instructions we finally deprived the German authorities of the use of the radio for issuing orders to the German population. For when Hitler's men woke up to what was happening they howled in loud and indignant protest.
" The enemy is broadcasting counterfeit instructions on our frequencies," the Nazi announcers cried. "Don't be misled by them. Here is an official announcement of the Reich authority for . . ." That was just what we wanted.
" The enemy," said our announcer in Big Bertha's next intrusion, "is broadcasting counterfeit instructions on our frequencies. Don't be misled by them. Here is an official announcement of the Reich authority for . . ." It was such a pushover for us that Goebbels abandoned the battle. He gave up just as he had given up once before when we counterfeited Mussolini's Fascist Republican Radio from Munich.
No more orders and announcements went out over the ether. Instead, the Reich government confined itself from now on to giving out its announcements and instructions over the Drahtfunk, a wired diffusion network on which we could not intrude but which was greatly restricted in its scope. And of course we did not limit our Big Bertha counterfeit to messages designed to get the German population moving out on the roads. I also did my best to further our oldest psychological warfare aim of setting German against German.
Here an experience came in useful which I recalled from the time when as a ten-year-old schoolboy I had been in Berlin at the beginning of the 1914 war. In those earliest days of August 1914 the whole of Germany had resounded with rumours of a motor car, filled with a freight of gold bars, which its crew of Russian officers were trying to race across Germany from France to Russia. Motor cars were being stopped by zealous German guards at all conceivable and inconceivable barriers in the fatherland. On two or three occasions there was shooting. That story of the Russian Gold-auto had deeply impressed me in 1914. Now I determined to give the Germans of 1945 a similar thrill.
" Achtung! Achtung!" called Moritz V'etzold on our next intrusion. "At the request of the RSHA* we make the following special announcement. Enemy saboteurs disguised as German officers in Wehrmacht uniform have stolen a field grey Wehrmacht car Number WM g56-673 and are now proceeding from Karlsruhe in the general direction of Holland. The enemy agents have been seen on the following roads," and there followed a list of German highways. "But they may well have changed direction and be on another highway by now. They may also have changed the number plate of the car. These men are armed and desperate. They have already killed police who tried to stop them. German Volksgenossen, Comrades of the Wehrmacht and of the Volkssturm, these dangerous enemy saboteurs must be stopped at all costs. The Chief of the RSHA calls upon you to erect road barriers to stop the enemy car. Those of you with arms are hereby ordered to shoot if you see the car, I repeat-a field grey Wehrmacht car occupied by enemy agents in VVehrmacht officers' uniform."
In my mind's eye, I fondly imagined Wehrmacht officers in speeding cars being held up all over the place and some of them being shot.
Sorry as I was for the refugee families, when I saw them later on the roads of Germany, I had only one real regret about Big Bertha. We should have `pooped her off' much sooner. For by the time the old girl went into action there was not much left for her to hit.
* Reichssicherheitshauptamt-Chief Reich Security Office.
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ASPIDISTRA' OUR powerful 600 kilowatt medium-wave transmitter was not only the biggest and loudest radio in Europe at that time, it wasalso the nippiest. It had been specially designed for us by the Radio Corporation of America so as to be able to make lightning changes of frequency. As Goebbels had noted in his Diary, it hopped all over the waveband.