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

It was this same desire not to make any claims for our propaganda-combined with the journalist's innate desire to forget about yesterday's paper and get on with today's-that had impelled me to turn down the suggestion made to me a few days earlier by the new Director General, Major General Alec (`call me Bish, old boy') Bishop. He had proposed that I should send a team to Germany to check up on on the effectiveness of our work.

"It is over now and what's done is done," I told him. "While we were doing our stuff I was most anxious to find out whether we were having any effect, and what. That was useful. But with these other jobs you want us to take on I just cannot spare anyone for an enquiry which is now of purely academic interest."

Looking back on this decision today, I think that I was wrong. I should have asked Clifton Child to go to Germany with a small team of interrogators and researchers to find out what could be found out. For what I had not expected was that PWD SHAEF would include our `black' operations in its Official History and that as a result our work would be dragged into the controversy between the two American `Sykewar' agencies-O.W.I. (Office of War Information), who were responsible for American 'white' output, and O.S.S. (Office of Strategic Services), who were responsible for American `black'.

`Sykewar' historian Daniel Lerner of the O.W.L (who announces somewhat astonishingly that his father's account of pogroms in Tsarist Russia was his first lesson in psychological warfare-I would have preferred to call it a lesson in history )suggests that the `black' operations were not only useless but harmful because they were `blatant fakes' and undermined the reputation of allied propaganda for truthfulness.

He cites his British colleague, the poet Norman Cameron, as a witness for the prosecution and quotes his opinion that had our `black' stations been any good the Luftwaffe would have bombed the transmitters! Lerner further implies that `black' and `grey' by conducting campaigns with such objectives as stimulating hostility between the army and the Nazi Party were duplicating a white campaign, and were at best superfluous. What he overlooks is that `black' and `grey' spoke much more convincingly on these internal German themes than `white' could ever do, and that these campaigns had been first developed by `black' and `grey' and had then been taken over by `white'.

Lerner even goes so far as to claim as `white' certain campaigns which were exclusively conducted on `black'. As for instance the Soldatensender operation intended to undermine the efficiency of the German air force by leading the LuftwafFe Command to believe that German flying personnel were deserting in their aircraft to the allied side. Not the `white' broadcasts as Lerner says, but the Soldatensender and Nachrichten carried the news items intended to make the German authorities believe they must tighten up their security watch to prevent their men deserting-a tightening up which (as in the case of the U-boat sabotage campaign) would, we hoped, have a deleterious effect on Luftwaffe morale.

This Luftwaffe `desertion' campaign, incidentally, was repeated by the Americans eight years later during the Korean war. In `Operation Moolah' they offered a reward of 50,000 dollars plus asylum and freedom to any Communist pilot who would deliver a MIG fighter to the United Nations forces.

Unfortunately, however, the American Psychological Warriors of 1953, in their hunger for public recognition, announced to their own press that the object of this offer was not so much to induce Communists to surrender with their MIGs as to make the Chinese highups take morale-destroying measures against their flyers. That, alas, ruined what was otherwise an ingenious revamp of our operation.

I do not at this late stage intend to enter the dreary controversy between American `white' and American `black'. Nor would I dream of countering the claim of Dick Crossman, that our psychological warfare would have been more effective if no talent had been wasted on `black' with a similarly totalitarian claim that British propaganda would have been better if left exclusively to `black' and `grey'. In my view, all three colours were needed, and all three colours did well. Between them, their voices constituted an effective, if somewhat cacophonous choir.

Nor am I in any way disparaging Carleton Greene and his men when I say that the spinsterish insistence of the B.B.C. on its freedom from government control made it inevitable that the Services would look around for an alternative medium without these virginal complexes. The whole of our `white' radio output suffered under the system of divided responsibility by which the B.B.C., an independent corporation, controlled what was broadcast to Germany in the name of Britain, while the government's planners and policy makers, sitting in my department, were merely consulted by the B.B.C. as advisers. This meant that it was never possible to gear B.B.C. output to operational requirements as perfectly as could be done with a unit where policy making, planning, intelligence, and production were all under one hat. That alone made `black' and `grey' a necessity.

I will also say this to our post-war detractors. In their perfectionist attention to detail and their operational application of intelligence in co-operation with military planning, our `black' and `grey' provided a stimulating example to the B.B.C. Had they not done so I fear the B.B.C. might well have continued to plod along in the dreariness and the pious unrealism which had so irritated Duff Cooper in 1940. Secondly, `black' and `grey' by their ability to speak from the German point of view took on much of the task of internal agitation which the Russians performed with their `Free German Committee', a form of propaganda denied to us Westerners because of the refusal of our masters with their unconditional surrender complex to tolerate even a `Free Austrian Committee' let alone a `Free German' one. That complex I should add, made subversive propaganda by `white' virtually impossible.

Thirdly, we were able to help the allied intelligence and deception agencies. The intelligence men we assisted by suggesting to Germans at all levels that nothing was secret from allied intelligence and that they were therefore justified in speaking freely to their allied interrogators when captured. The deception men we helped by our treatment of U-boat movements and the army order of battle, to mention but two categories of information we disseminated.

All these were tasks which were legitimate, and valuable psychological warfare operations and which, because of the quite proper restriction of the official voices to truthfulness, could not be carried out by the B.B.C. or the other overt allied media. `Black' and `grey' were a necessity, not a useless luxury. I cannot however give any verdict, favourable or otherwise, on the success of our efforts to stimulate civil and military disobedience. In the aftermath of the war nearly every German I met put forward some example of his disobedience as evidence of his `resistance' to the Nazis. To vary the old Soldatensender refrain about police inability to check up on missing persons, it was impossible in 1945 and 1946 to check how far this disobedience had in fact, taken place, and how far it was caused by propaganda and how far by bombs. Nor would I be prepared to claim that the German deserters who had made their way to Sweden and Switzerland by May 1945 were all clients of ours -even though in the last ten months of the war we had been distributing neat envelopes containing leave passes, travel vouchers, and furlough ration cards-all produced by Armin Hull.

But I will concede this to Daniel Lerner. I, too, was distressed to find the `Let's do it all ourselves' ambitions of General Omar Bradley's i 2th Army Group leading their psychological warriors into such second-rate duplications of Nachrichten and the Soldatensender as Frontpost, a daily soldier's newspaper, and Radio 1212.

I suppose I ought to have felt flattered. '1212' however just filled me with gloom. It was a caricature of the Soldatensender. Bradley's men had neither the resources nor the technique of' my staff at MB. By unnecessarily multiplying the `black' effort they weakened it.

Did my team do as I asked, and keep silent about our work after the war?

By and large I believe they did. The exception was our little SS man who, as I have related, thought it right to try and redeem himself in the eyes of Germany's new Right Wing rulers by informing against the `traitors' of MB. Nevertheless a great deal has been printed in Germany about the mysterious Soldatensender and the men that produced it. It has appeared mostly in those illustrated magazines of which there has been such a flourishing crop in the new post-war Germany. Much of what has been published has been highly imaginative and wrong. But there have been layers of accuracy in this sugar cake baked up by the German `I am able to reveal' brigade.

One aspect that has interested me in particular is the change that the character of Delmer, the big, fat boss of MB has undergone in this Soldatensender fiction. From being a hero of light, a new Siegfried, fighting to free Germany from the yoke of an unrighteous despot-that is how I appeared in the Frankfurter Illustrierte version of 1949 - I have now become an obese Fagin exploiting the idealism of young German anti Nazi patriots, suborning them to foul misdeeds against their own kin and country. I have accepted the metamorphosis with resignation. For I regard it as an inevitable by-product of Germany's regained sense of national power and national grievance. And believe me, it is not to correct that picture of myself that I have written the foregoing chapters!

My decision to break my self-imposed silence about our work is due to my belated realisation that far from having prevented the evolution of a propaganda myth, we have, by our silence, contributed to the development of an equally dangerous legend in the new Germany. The legend of the good Generals and the good Wehrmacht who were always against Hitler. By showing here one of the sources from which this legend sprang I hope I shall have done something towards banishing it. For it will be a sad day for Germany and for Europe if, disguised as AntiNazis, the men who sponsored Hitler and Hitler's svar are restored to power once more to undermine by their presence in our ranks the moral unity of the West in its resistance to Eastern aggression. Alas, it looks as if exactly that has been happening.


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Its all over, all that is left of the Aspidistra control room.
Its all over, all that is left of the Aspidistra control room.


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