Sefton Delmer     “I gazed into the mirror... There, staring at me, was the pallid, flabby-mouthed face of a crook” Black Boomerang p. 218

Atrocity Propaganda and Political Justice

Allied Propaganda during World War II

Udo Walendy

Sefton Delmer, born in Berlin in 1904, with Lord Beaverbrook’s support, Daily Express correspondent of long standing, promoted in 1940 to be the leading correspondent for the British Information Secretary of State, Duff Cooper, and finally directed the German-language broadcasts of the BBC and the propaganda linked with it. About his first BBC radio broadcast Sefton Delmer wrote as follows:

For Hitler had chosen my first Friday – Friday July the 19th, 1940 – to make his triumphal Reichstag oration in celebration of his victory over France. More important still, he had chosen it as the occasion for his “final peace appeal” to Britain.

“It almost causes me pain,” I heard him piously intone as I listened in on the radio in the BBC studio, “to think that I should have been selected by Providence to deal the final blow to the edifice which these men have already set tottering... Mr. Churchill ought for once to believe me, when I prophesy that a great empire will be destroyed which it was never my intention to destroy or even to harm... In this hour I feel it my duty before my conscience to appeal once more to reason and common sense in Britain... I CAN SEE NO REASON WHY THIS WAR MUST GO ON!”

...Within an hour of Hitler having spoken I was on the air with my reply. And without a moment’s hesitation I turned his peace offer down. My colleagues at the BBC had approved of what I meant to say. That was enough authority for me.

“Herr Hitler,” I said in my smoothest and most deferential German, “you have on occasion in the past consulted me as to the mood of the British public. So permit me to render your excellency this little service once again tonight. Let me tell you what we here in Britain think of this appeal of yours to what you are pleased to call our reason and common sense. Herr Führer and Reichskanzler, we hurl it right back at you, right in your evil smelling teeth...”

...Duff Cooper rallied to my support with all his suave authority. He assured the House that my talk had the Cabinet’s full approval. And when the Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax replied to Hitler a couple of days after me the sense of what he said was the same, although he used rather more restrained language. (Black Boomerang, pp. 16-18)

Sefton Delmer finally was entrusted with the command of a “Research Unit,” which, however, did not have anything to do with research – but was simply the cover-name – for special radio stations giving the impression, “as if they were working at some place inside the Europe occupied by Hitler.” His initial chief was Leonard Ingrams, a key employee in “the Cloak-and-Dagger Organisation S.O.2 later renamed S.O.E. (Special Operations Executive) which was responsible for the organisation of resistance, sabotage, assassination and kindred enterprises” (pp. 36-37). Delmer’s remit: “There are no limits. No holds are barred” (p. 38).

Delmer’s instructions included the following:

“Accuracy first,” I used to tell the writers. “We must never lie by accident, or through slovenliness, only deliberately!”

And as we put out news bulletin after news bulletin and service programme after service programme an entire system of subversive campaigns developed. (p. 92)

* * *

We are waging against Hitler a kind of total war of wits. Anything goes, so long as it serves to bring nearer the end of the war and Hitler’s defeat. If you [Otto John] are at all squeamish about what you may be called upon to do against your own countrymen you must say so now. I shall understand it. In that case, however, you will be no good to us and no doubt some other job will be found for you. But if you feel like joining me, I must warn you that in my unit we are up to all the dirty tricks we can devise. No holes are barred. The dirtier the better. Lies treachery, everything. (p. 181)

* * *

The monitored conversations between the generals, the interrogations, the maps all travelled down to MB [Milton Bryan, near Woburn]. And there they were built up into news stories about the hitherto top secret private life of Hitler and his suite that tortured the ailing Führer with the suspicion that the British had their spies right inside his HQ. Clifton Child was a genius at freshening up a piece of intelligence with a new development that made it sound like something that had happened the night before...

Hitler’s suspicions reached their climax when the Soldatensender, using the same technique of intelligent deduction and anticipation which had served us so well in the past, reported an order issued by the Führer at a conference in his headquarters, and did so within twenty-four hours of his having given it and before it had been carried out. (pp. 207-208)

* * *

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. (p. 213)

Examples of such measures:

The first consisted of posting letters to the relatives of German soldiers who had recently died in German military hospitals in Italy. Fortunately for us the German hospital directors made a practice of sending radio telegrams en clair to the local party authorities in Germany asking them to break the news to the relatives. These telegrams were intercepted and passed on to me. And they gave us all the information we needed – the soldier’s name, the address of his relatives and the name of the hospital.

We now concocted a moving letter, written out in German longhand script on notepaper bearing the letter heading of the German hospital. Ostensibly the letter came either from a nurse or from a comrade of the dead man who had entrusted it for posting to someone going to Germany on leave. Whoever was the writer, he or she had been with the dead man during his last hours, and was now writing to comfort his relatives...

On other occasions we used the same technique to tell the relatives that their soldier had not died of wounds, but had been given a lethal injection. The Nazi doctor at the hospital, we explained through our nurse, had considered the man had no chance of becoming fighting fit again before the war was finished. The doctor had required the man’s bed for soldiers with a better chance of rapid recovery. (p. 133-134)

Next I decided to fake a letter allegedly written by Mölders expatiating on the doubts he and his comrades felt about fighting for the atheist Hitler... For it was in keeping with the character of young Mölders to have written such a letter. He alone could have denounced it convincingly, and he was dead – murdered, so everyone believed, by the Nazis themselves. (pp. 139-140)

To lighten my conscience a little – and help on our desertion campaign at the same time – I also arranged for food parcels to be sent to those relatives of dead soldiers whom we had hoaxed so cruelly with our ‘Red Circle’ letters. To reinforce their belief that the dead man was not dead at all but a deserter earning good money in a safe refuge abroad we gave the alleged sender of the food parcel the dead man’s Christian name. (p. 142)

* * *

When the bombers of the RAF and USAF flew into Germany and some of the German transmitters went off the air so as not to serve as beacons for the raiders, a number of German regional radios closed down with them and their frequencies were left vacant – a practice which we had already been exploiting in our war with the jammers.

Our plan therefore was for ‘Aspidistra’ [the transmitter] to lie in ambush on the frequency of a German station we expected to go off the air and take over the moment it did. Harold Robin had perfected an electronic device specially designed for the purpose.

It enabled ‘Aspidistra’ to take over the German target frequency within one two-hundredth of a second of the German station closing down. On it we then planned to broadcast the identical programme the Germans had been broadcasting when they closed down. For the German listerners therefore there would be no break in continuity. They would be completely unaware that the big bad British wolf had put on Grandma Goebbels’s nightcap and spectacles and crept into bed in her place.

How did we mean to accomplish this? I had found that when Leipzig or Frankfort, or whichever it was, closed down there were always several other stations left on the air broadcasting the programme which the dear departed had been carrying. All we had to do therefore was to take over this programme from, let us say, Hamburg or Berlin on our antennae and relay it on to the frequency of our German target station through ‘Aspidistra.’ In much the same way we occasionally relayed the radio speeches of Hitler and Goebbels onto the Calais programme. We only needed to carry on with the relay for a fraction of a minute. Then having established the continuity we would interrupt the programme with one of those special announcements which the German authorities, now that other means of communication had broken down, were increasingly fond of making over the radio. The announcement finished, we would carry on with the Goebbels programme for a minute of so. Then, we, too, would fade out as ‘enemy Terror Raiders approached...’ (pp. 196-197)

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 BBC, the Voice of America, and the 12th 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. (p. 200)

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 debris-cluttered 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 asnwer 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. (pp. 204-205)

It is a matter of course that a tremendous amount of documents were forged in the course of this work.

The war was in its last stages, when Walter Adams the new Deputy Director General, came down to MB and asked me to stay on with the department, in order to take on an important new job in connection with the occupation of Germany.

The department was being reorganised, he said. The old regional directorates were being abolished and in their place three ‘Divisions’ were being organised to take care of the new tasks which the Cabinet had allotted to us. One division would look after the London end of our political warfare in the Far East. David Bowes-Lyon was taking charge of that one. A second division was to take on the screening and re-education of prisoners of war. A third was to see to it that the Germans and Austrians under British administration got the right kind of newspapers, radio, periodicals, books, theatres and so forth...

“Both [Anthony] Eden and Brendan Bracken say that you are the man for the job.” (p. 228)

And after the war in 1945, to the staff at Milton Bryan:

“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...

“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...”

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 controversy between the two American ‘Sykewar’ agencies. (pp. 218-220)

Sefton Delmer was among the men “who were given the opportunity in 1945 of making changes in Germany” (p. 228). What these intended changes looked like, the German constitutional lawyer Prof. Friedrich Grimm depicts in his book ‘Political Justice’ (pp. 146-148):

In May 1945, a few days after the collapse, I had a notable talk with an important representative of the opposite side. He introduced himself as a university professor of his country, who wanted to converse with me on the historical basis of the war. It was a conversation of high standing we conducted. Suddenly he dropped the subject, pointed to the leaflets lying on the table in front of me, we were flooded with during the first days after surrender, mainly circling around the concentration camp-horrors. “What do you say about it?” so he asked me.

I replied:

“Oradour and Buchenwald? With me you force an open door. I am a lawyer and condemn the wrong wherever I meet with it, more than all, when it happens on our side. I know, however, to make a distinction between the facts and the political use one makes of it. I know the meaning of atrocity propaganda. After World War I, I have read all publications by your experts on this subject, the writings of the Northcliff Bureau, the book of the French minister of the finances Klotz ‘From War to Peace’ (Paris, 1923), depicting how the story of the chopped-off children’s hands was cooked up and what profit one got out of it, the enlightenment writings of the journal Crapouillot comparing the atrocity propaganda of 1870 with that of 1914-1918, and finally the classic by Ponsonby: ‘The Lie in War’ [Falsehood in Wartime], revealing that one had in the preceding war already magazines showing artificial corpse mountains by photomontage composed of dummies. These pictures were distributed, with a space left for caption. It was given out by telephone later on according to the needs from the propaganda centre.”

Thereby I pulled out one of the leaflets exhibiting allegedly mountains of dead bodies out of the concentration camps, and showed it to my visitor, who looked at me taken aback.

I continued:

“I can not imagine that in this war with all weapons perfected to such an extent, this mentally toxic weapon should have been neglected that decided the outcome of World War I. More so, I know it for sure! The last months before the collapse I read daily the foreign press. There was reported on German atrocities from a central office, operating in a certain turn. There was one occupied territory after the other called to mind, today France, tomorrow Norway, then Belgium, Denmark, Holland, Greece, Jugoslavia and Czecho-Slovakia.

“First were reported hundreds of corpses in the concentration camps, then six weeks later when it was the turn of this same country again, thousands, then ten thousands, then hundred thousands. Here I thought to myself: this number inflation can not possibly skyrocket into the million!”

Now I reached for another leaflet: “Here you have the million!” There my visitor blurted out: “I see, I have run into an expert. Now I also want to tell you, who I am. I am not a university professor. I am of the central office you talked about: Atrocity propaganda – and with it we won the total victory.”

I replied: “I know, and now you must stop it!” He retorted: “No, now we shall start all the more! We shall continue this atrocity propaganda, we shall intensify it, until nobody shall accept a good word from the Germans anymore, until all the sympathy you had in other countries shall be destroyed, and until the Germans themselves shall be so confused that they do not know anymore what they are doing!” I terminated the conversation: “Then you shall burden yourself with a great responsibility!”

What this man had threatened us with, came true. The worst, however, was the confusion caused among the Germans themselves.

Prof. Dr. Friedrich Grimm did not know the true identity of his interlocutor: It was Sefton Delmer!

† Walendy calls the German edition ‘The Germans and I’ and translates Delmer’s response to Hitler’s peace offer as “Mr. Führer and Chancellor of the Reich, we throw this incredible imposition back at you in the midst of your maladorous Führer snout” (p. 421). The original broadcast was in German. Delmer’s autobiography was published in Britain in two volumes, Trail Sinister (1961) and Black Boomerang (1962). Additional reference: Hans Frederik, ‘The Candidates’ p. 180.

From Udo Walendy, The Methods of Reeducation, Verlag für Volkstum und Zeitgeschichtsforschung, Vlotho/Weser, 1979

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