The story of the World War 2 Secret British Black Propaganda Operations against the Nazis

ONE EVENING in April 1962 four of us were sitting around the fire in my club sipping the Hine I904. and reminiscing about the war. Suddenly a question was shot at me. " Which single operation of your `black' work during the war do you yourself consider to have been the most ingenious and most effective?"

The veteran war historian who had put the question sat back in his chair and quizzed me through his glasses, waiting for an answer. I turned to Donald McLachlan who was with me. But he, too, was at a loss for the kind of answer the old man wanted. For the truth was that there never was any one `black' operation that had been spectacularly effective all by itself. They were not designed that way. We never staged anything which could compare, for ingenuity and individual effectiveness, with deception operations such as, for instance, Commander Montagu's `Man who never was'. This was the operation by which the corpse of an unknown British officer carrying bogus plans for the invasion of North Africa was washed up on the Atlantic shore ofSpain, so that German Intelligence should receive his plans and be deceived by them.

We never attempted to concentrate on individual coups. Our task as I saw it was to corrode and erode with a steady drip of subversive news and `evidence' the iron system of control in which Hitler's Police State had locked the body and soul of the German people. No one single campaign could be as effective on its own as `the man who never was' had been. All, however, from Gustav Siegfried to the Soldatensender and operations like Tuckbox, Braddock and Periwig, worked together to secure a dividend which in the opinion of the Services Intelligence men watching the fall of the shot, was indeed helping to hasten the collapse of Hitler's military and social apparatus.

My American colleagues however had a different approach when they started up `black' on their own towards the end of the war. Not for them the concerted system of `black' campaigns which we had adopted. They were more ambitious-and perhaps also more sanguine than I ever was concerning the credulity of the German public. They launched several `black' operations which were intended to stand on their own just as the `Man who never was' had stood on his own.

Two American operations in particular remain in my memory as typical of these American propaganda coups. Howard Becker, a tall, slow-spoken, Garry Cooperish professor of Sociology who was running `black' for O.S.S., was responsible for the first. Becker called on me one day at MB together with a writer of film scripts named Polonski and asked me whether I would let him borrow `Aspidistra' for a one-shot broadcast which he and Polonski had worked out.

" Just one shot!" wheedled Howard Becker, "we're not trying to steal her from you, Tom ... !" Needless to say I immediately agreed. It would have been churlish to refuse, specially in view of all the help Howard, and O.S.S. as a whole, had been giving me with intelligence, recordings of hit music, personnel, and so much else.

As a result `Aspidistra' unhooked herself from the Soldatensender for a couple of hours one evening in September Igqq. to put out over a temporarily vacant German frequency what must have been one of the most fantastic broadcasts of the war. Nothing less than a speech by a man whom Hitler, the German army, the German public, and all the rest of the world presumed to be dead-killed by his own hand and with his own pistol on the night of July the 2oth, 1944 when his Putsch against Hitler had collapsed. -

" I am Colonel-General Ludwig Beck," intoned a deep resonant voice, coming seemingly from the bottom of the ocean. "I am not dead as has been lyingly and all too prematurely reported by the spokesmen of our traitor rulers. When on the night of July the 2oth I was compelled to go through the act of shooting myself, I did not die-I was only wounded. Friends carried me away, pretending I was a corpse. They took me to a secret place where I was nursed back to health. I would have remained in hiding there until the end of the war. But the plight of my fatherland compels me to come forward and speak." There followed an appeal to the army to rise against Hitler in order to save Germany from total destruction, and remove, by this gesture, the heavy burden of guilt resting collectively on the German people for its complicity in the Fuhrer's crimes.

It was a beautifully written piece and beautifully spoken. Though I had never heard Beck when he was alive, I was quite prepared to believe that this was a more than fair imitation of his voice. None the less I tried to propose some alterations in the script before the recording was put out.

" Why don't you change it just a little," I suggested to Howard, "so that we could claim that this is the speech that Beck had wanted to put out if the Putsch had been successful. He had secretly prepared this recording. It was to be broadcast from the Deutschlandsender. Somehow the Nazis and the Gestapo never found it. Now we have got hold of it. We could put it out over the Soldatensender, if you like."

But Howard and Polonski understandably did not like. They wanted to bring Beck back to life as a symbol of defiance and resistance. They wanted to stage a spectacular propaganda coup.

The other operation was put over under the auspices of Colonel Powell who headed the `Sykewar' team in General Omar Bradley's 12th Army Group. Over one of the transmitters of Radio Luxemburg his men broadcast for a period of about a fortnight what was to all intents a `black' soap operathe drama of a Rhineland town which had revolted against Hitler and the SS and was now appealing over an army radio to the Americans to come in and rescue them. The Burgomaster of the town was the chief speaker. Every evening he went on the air to tell his fellow citizens what they should do and give them his daily progress report of the town's desperate battle against the Nazis. The whole show was staged complete with dialogue, sound effects, and messengers dramatically interrupting with bits of late news. It was a drama as exciting as any instalment of `Emergency Ward Io' or `Mrs. Dale's Diary'. Finally the city was liberated and in a moving final scene the Burgomaster thanked his GI rescuers. A blemish of this spectacular operation, in my eyes, was that the name of the city was never revealed. It was such a big story, this revolt of a German city against Hitler, that it should have been carried as news by radio networks everywhere. Listeners would have expected to find references to the town's ordeal and triumph on Radio Luxemburg and the B.B.C. But Luxemburg and the B.B.C. did not mention it.

I did my best to support my American `black' brothers by putting out a report on the Soldatensender that the OKH had ordered the army to take special precautions against allowing Burgomasters and other civilians access to their radio equipment. Especially officials of towns in the immediate vicinity of the allied advance.

" There must be no repetition of the recent incident at a Rhineland town where the Burgomaster, in order to save his town from destruction, broadcast his capitulation to the advancing enemy."

That was the best we could do, lacking the name of the town. It was not much, but it was something.

At MB we never attempted to scale these American heights. Right up to the Soldatensender's last broadcast we remained a soldiers' radio, putting out news, speaking in the name of the ordinary browned off fighting soldier, venting his hate of the party profiteers who were sacrificing the fatherland to their selfish desire to hang on to power to the last possible minute. We voiced the tragic resignation and bitterness of a nation and an army that had been betrayed.

" Wer weiterkampft, kampft gegen seine Kinder," we saidwho fights on fights against his children. But as the allies swept deeper and deeper into disintegrating Germany I felt the Soldatensender was becoming an anachronism. It seemed to be almost the last unit of the Third Reich functioning with cohesion and coherence. I decided that it was time for us too to disband and go underground, as we reported everyone else was doing.

Both Robert Bruce Lockhart and Dallas Brooks had already retired from their posts in the department-Dallas Brooks to rejoin his Royal Marines and register his claim to become their Commandant General, Bruce Lockhart to nurse his failing health.

I therefore approached the new Director General, Major General Alec Bishop, and suggested to him that the time had come for us to close the innings. He agreed. And accordingly at 5-59 a.m. on April the 14th, 1945, Soldatensender West-as it had been called since the fall of Calais-faded from the ether, never to be heard again. Almost at the same time the .Nachrichten team put out their last news sheet. We made no announcement that we were closing. We just disappeared.

This great moment, however, was not allowed to pass unsung and uncelebrated in our own units. Harold Keeble gave a fancydress party in the printing shop at Marylands. I gave another in the canteen at MB. And for the first time security restrictions were relaxed sufficiently to allow the Marylands and MB teams to mix and visit each other's compounds. Charles Lambe, who had just been made an acting Rear Admiral, came down from the Admiralty with Ian Fleming to join in the festivities. Leonard Ingrams too, dropped in with his pretty driver, a demure young woman called Peggy Black. John Gibbs, the publisher who had rolled Off 159,898,973 copies of Nachrichten from his printing presses at the Luton News during the paper's life, romped into the Marylands party in a suit made up of Xachrichten front pages printed on calico.

At MB I interrupted the Soldatensender swan song of dance music to make a special announcement-the only time I ever spoke over one of my `black' stations myself, and the only time I permitted a private joke.

" The Fuhrer," I said in my best Berlinese, "has just radioed a message from his command post in the F'uhrer-bunker in Berlin to Grand Admiral Doenitz in Flensburg, authorising him to promote the Bootsmaat Karl Lamm to Oberboots-maat."

There followed a fanfare in the old Nazi victory announceInent style. Charles Lambe listened attentively and was duly gratified when the announcement was translated for him.

In the solitude of my bathroom at R.A.G. the next morning I performed another ritual ceremony to symbolise the end of `black'. I removed my beard. For I had to go to Germany on a special reconnaissance for the new job I had taken on. And this time I could not wear civilian clothes as on my last visit there in March. This time I had to wear uniform. And beards were not allowed with an officer's service dress. As my razor shaved the soap sodden whiskers from my face I gazed into the mirror with all the horror of Dorian Grey, confronting his tell-tale portrait. There, staring at me, was the pallid, flabby-mouthed face of a crook. Was this, I asked myself, what four years of `black' had done to Denis Sefton Delmer?

Beardless, I faced my team a few hours later that day to give them my farewell address as `Director of Special Operations' and tell them about what now lay ahead of them.

I had called them all together in the canteen. And here they stood before me now-German and Austrian prisoners of war, German anti-Nazi exiles, British and American executives, and editors, British girl secretaries and research workers.

By rights this should have been a solemn and emotional moment. But my team had never been brought up to be solemn and emotional. From somewhere at the back of the room came the Bremen voice of the Sergeant, Frankie Lynder.

" Der Bart ist ab! Der Krieg ist aus!"-the beard is off, the war is over.

Everyone laughed, and they all took up the cry--`Der Bart ist ab !' which in German is the equivalent of `the cat is out of the bag'.

They laughed some more when I told them of my Dorian Grey ordeal that morning in front of the bathroom mirror. It was as good an introduction as any to what I had to tell them about the new task which had been assigned to me, and to such of them as wished to stay with me. My main purpose, however, in calling this meeting, was to issue a caution and a warning.

" Our security has been excellent up to now," I said. "You have not talked about our work with outsiders and nothing much is known about us or our technique. People may have their suspicions, but they don't know. I want you to keep it that way. Don't be misled into boasting about the jobs we have done, the tricks we have played on the enemy.

" Certainly we have done a good job. A necessary job. We have worked hard and done our best, and we have, within our limits, contributed our bit to the defeat of Hitler. But please, please, make no mistake: the share of psychological warfare in the defeat of Hitler is only a very small one indeed. The defeat of Hitler is the work of the fighting services. Our role has been purely subsidiary.

" I know there will be a great temptation for Psychological Warriors to come forward and take a bow. They will want to tell the world of the great things they have done. We `black' men of MB must resist that temptation, whatever our colleagues of the B.B.C., and PWD SHAEF, or i zth Army Group may do.

" Why do I ask this? Well, just remember what happened after the 1914-18 war. After that war, Lord Northcliffe, who had charge of our propaganda then, was unable to resist the temptation. He was hungry for public glory. He wanted headlines about himself, histories, and biographies praising his greatness. He was not content with the private satisfaction a man feels over a job well done. He needed public acclaim, and so he fell for the post-war propaganda of the Germans.

" In their propaganda the Germans told the world what a great and wonderful victory had been won by the superpropagandist Northcliffe. It was he, they said, who by his propaganda of tricks and lies had brought the Americans into the war against the Kaiser, and then with more tricks and lies and false promises, he had deceived the Germans into surrender. `We were beaten not by the armies in the field,' the German generals now declared, `but by NorthclifTe's propaganda.'

" Not only was that factually untrue, it was also dangerously untrue. It prepared the way for Hitler and this present war. It fostered the illusion in the illusion-hungry Germans that they could have won if they had not fallen victims to Northcliffe. It made them anxious to have a second go.

" If we start boasting of the clever things we did, who knows what the result of that will be. So mum's the word. Propaganda is something one keeps quiet about. Are you einaerstanden ?"

The team knew that `einverstanden' phrase, and many ironic quips had been made about it. But once more, with a great bellow of laughter they roared back Einverstanden!


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IMPORTANT CommanderFleming expects that you will return this evening the razor blades and sharpener you  borrowed, as he want them for a friend

" Der Bart ist ab! Der Krieg ist aus!"-the beard is off, the war is over.

Everyone laughed, and they all took up the cry--`Der Bart ist ab !' which in German is the equivalent of `the cat is out of the bag'.



Copyright The Sefton Delmer Estate August 1962 The Valley Farm, Lamarsh, near Bures, Suffolk.