Then on March the I I th, the Soldatensender and its twin brother the short-wave Atlantiksender made our announcement. And here is the Minute taken at the Fiihrer conference on the following day.
" Berlin March 12, 1945, 16.00 hrs.
Remagen Bridge. The British Atlantiksender has announced German plans to use amphibious commandos to blow up the bridge at Remagen. The C.-in-C. Navy informs the Fuhrer that he intends to carry out his plan regardless of this broadcast, because there is a possibility that the British made the announcement in order to bluff us."
Doenitz was trying to make light of the `leak' of his operational plans. Not so however Hitler or the unfortunate frogmen commandos. For Hitler, it was the supreme proof that he was surrounded by traitors. His secrets had become so cheap that the enemy broadcast them to the world. For the frogmen it was catastrophic. They felt like condemned men when they finally set out for their underwater swim to the bridge. Vicky had played them the Lorelei song by way of greeting and as they flippered their way through the swirling icy-cold currents with their unwieldy twin torpedos they felt the eyes of the enemy upon them all the way. They surfaced and surrendered to the Americans before they got anywhere near the bridge.
Which did not, however, prevent Doenitz from claiming the destruction of Remagen Bridge as the work of his brave frogmen when at last it did collapse, not from any damage the Germans had managed to do, but from the after-effects of the pasting it had received from the K.A.F. and the U.S.A.F. while it was still in German hands.
" I was right, mein Fuhrer," triumphed Dcenitz. "The Atlantiksender was bluffing. We have destroyed the bridge despite their claim to know our plans."
But Hitler just stared ahead of him without looking at his Grand Admiral.
" Perhaps . . ." he said, and that was all.
In these last few months of the war, the German section of S.O.E. had been given a new boss, a man of immense energy and drive who was determined to harass the Germans with every means at our disposal. He now co-opted me to sit in at a regular weekly meeting at which we discussed new plans and new ideas. And it was as a result of one of these meetings that my unit carried out its last and most bizarre counterfeiting operation of the war. ' The new boss was Lieutenant General Gerald Templer.*
He had been badly shattered during the campaign in Southern Italy when his car collided with a retreating German army lorry and a looted piano which the Germans were carrying off in the lorry fell on Templer and broke his back. Now Templer, effervescent and enthusiastic as ever, presided over our meetings, strapped in a corset of steel and plaster.
We had been discussing `Operation Periwig', a scheme for harrassing the SD and Gestapo and submitting them to the utmost strain. The talk had got around to dropping fake agents by parachute-dummies that were got up in battle dress and fired off crackers which sounded like automatics-when young Squadron-Leader Potter of S.O.E. mentioned carrier pigeons.
" I believe, sir," he said to Templer, "that we still have a considerable stock of carrier pigeons for which no one seems to have any use. The sort, sir, which we used to drop over the occupied territories for resistance-minded inhabitants to pick up and send back to us with intelligence about the Germans in their district." Potter explained that the pigeons were parachuted to the ground in air holed cartons which contained, in addition to the pigeons, a questionnaire concerning troop movements and other matters of interest to the intelligence people. Also a set of instructions on how to feed and water the birds and how to attach the filled in questionnaire before setting the pigeon free to fly home to its S.O.E, loft.. .
Someone now suggested dropping these birds m Germany and giving the Germans a chance to repudiate Hitler by giving useful information. This was the cue for me.
" That is a splendid idea. But I think we might be able to do even better, sir," I said, speaking in my full dignity as the only ' Psychological Warrior on the committee. "I suggest that in addition to parachuting live birds with questionnaires in their boxes we should also drop a few dead ones without boxes but with questionnaires attached to their legs which have already been completed-by . . . er ... ourselves!"
Templer, who had-and still has-a schoolboy's delight in mischief, roared with laughter and immediately approved the scheme.
The object, of course, was that the birds and their completed questionnaires should fall into the hands of the Gestapo who would try and detect from the answers what traitor had written them. We would phrase the answers in such a way, I suggested, that the Gestapo would be led into arresting some of their own trusted Party functionaries-men who they would be led to believe were now trying to buy themselves a little slice of last minute reinsurance with the allies. And if the dead bird was picked up by an ordinary civilian who did not hand it over to the police, it would still provide admirable evidence that wellinformed and authoritative party comrades were defecting. It would encourage him to do so himself:
" One snag, sir, that occurs to me is," I said to Templer, "can we devise a way of landing a dead bird without it smashing to pulp when it strikes the ground ? If it does, it will rather give the show away. For a tired pigeon or even one which had been killed in mid-air would surely not fall from such a height as to smash."
Squadron-Leader Potter immediately promised to take care of this aspect, and I was authorised to go ahead and prepare the questionnaires-with and without answers.
The pigeons were duly dropped and duly picked up by the Germans. Quite a number arrived back with questionnaires that had been filled in by our German correspondents. But one pigeon scrambled into its loft with this polite `Thank you' message scrawled over an otherwise blank sheet. "I had the sister of this one for supper. Delicious. Please send us some more."
Whether the Gestapo fell for our deception, as I hoped they would, I never got a chance to check. But I think that anyone who knew that slow witted and gullible Security Service and its methods will agree with me that it is a safe bet that they did.
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MB - Photo 1986