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…I am a little man and this is a little town, but there must be something inside this little town that can turn this spark into a flame. 1
It seems extraordinary that at the height of the war, in the late spring of 1942, Sir Winston Churchill had time for reading anything other than official communiqués, cabinet memoranda, and intelligence reports. But in May, the great man took time to read John Steinbeck’s latest novel, The Moon is Down. The book, set in an unidentified wintry, snow-covered country recently occupied by a brutal enemy, is a morale-raising tale of the courage and resistance of the subjected people of a small town. Using small sticks of dynamite parachuted to them by their Allies, the townsfolk rise-up against their enemy oppressors.
In addition to being a well written story, it stresses, I think quite rightly, the importance of providing the conquered nations with simple weapons such as sticks of dynamite which could be easily concealed and are easy in operation. 2
The idea of supplying concealable explosives en masse to the people of occupied countries did not come as an innovation to SOE. They had previously researched the idea and reached the conclusion that such a plan was inappropriate. Firstly SOE did not have access to enough aircraft. They believed priority for the limited airlift available should be utilised for the transportation of agents and their supplies. Secondly, random explosions in occupied countries, at a time when there was no likelihood of an Allied invasion, would “fail to produce any important military results and would lead to a large-scale massacre of hostages”. Lastly, they felt that children could be injured or even killed by playing with the explosive devices.
On reconsideration Lord Selborne thought the war situation had fundamentally changed and it could now be possible to paralyse enemy communications in the occupied countries. With “special design” the accidental wounding of children should also be avoidable. He agreed to have the plan thoroughly reinvestigated but pointed out that “the timing and scale of this operation would appear to be very important”. 3
SOE started work on what was initially called the Moon Project and later rechristened Operation Braddock. Two schemes were developed by SOE.
Braddock I consisted of parachuting 50,000 attack packs behind enemy lines to potential resistance fighters in coordination with the invasion of Europe. The attack packs contained specially designed grenades, pocket incendiaries, and a small, one-shot, personal firearm that SOE called the Liberator pistol.
The Liberator pistol fired a single .45 ACP bullet and could store an additional ten rounds in its butt. It was a very basic, ugly looking design constructed out of sheet metal. A million pistols were manufactured in six months by the Inland Guide Lamp Manufacturing Division of the General Motors Corporation in the US at a cost of $2.10 each. Manufacturing the pistols in America led to a security problem and almost immediately rumours about the operation appeared in the media. The Daily Mirror newspaper, quoting a Cincinnati radio broadcast, repeated the story under the headline “Pistols by Air for the “V” Army”.4 SOE were not amused by the leak, one observation on the newspaper report being:
This is too near the truth to be funny… I am afraid this is only the start of American insecurity. 5
Eventually Braddock I was abandoned. By all accounts a small number of Liberator pistols were included in regular container drops to the French resistance and others were used by OSS in the Far East by Philippine insurgents against the Japanese as well as being supplied to the Chinese. 6
The plan for Braddock II was to scatter around three million incendiary packages over Germany and Italy to be used by foreign workers and anti-Nazis for sabotage purposes. SOE reasoned if only one percent were used by saboteur arsonists, it would result in 30,000 fires across Germany.
The incendiary package consisted of a small transparent celluloid case filled with a combustible gel ignited by crushing an integral time-pencil. Half an hour later the device would quietly burst into flames and burn for around four minutes at a temperature of 2,000 degress C. The first packages were filled with a petrol based gel but this was found to be unreliable and with a short shelf life. An estimated twenty to thirty percent of these were expected to fail, therefore a white spirit gel was used instead. The package was taped to a red card, 6” x 4” in size, on which the following message was printed in eleven languages, English, German, French, Dutch, Italian, Greek, Russian, Polish, Czech, Serb, and Serbo-croat:
THIS IS QUITE SAFE TO HANDLE. Tear the package off the card and hide it. Then read the instructions in the envelope, and make your plans!
A folded instruction leaflet in a cellophane pouch was attached to the front of the package. In the same eleven languages and illustrated with six diagrams, the leaflet gave step-by-step directions for using the incendiary and suggested placing it against wood shavings, straw, curtains or easily ignited material.
Packages with different time delays were also manufactured using American time pencils. The end of the package was colour-coded to identify the length of the delay.
Black – 15 minutes
No colour – 30 minutes
White – 3 hours
Green – 8 hours
Blue – 34 hours
It took until November 1943 to manufacture three million incendiaries or Braddocks as they were now named.
In the interim considerable debate had taken place over when and how the Braddocks should be disseminated. Fifty Lancaster bombers were required to drop half a million of them. The RAF did not show much enthusiasm for the project and felt dropping conventional incendiary bombs would be better employment of the aircraft. They had a good point. The timing of the operation was another issue. For maximum effect SOE sought large-scale dissemination before the D-day invasion. They wanted “a regular monsoon before the enemy has had time to devise counter measures”. Northwest Germany was considered to be the best target because of the high concentration of foreign workers there and as it was the “happy hunting ground of Bomber Command” the air raids gave good cover for the arsonists to plant their incendiaries. 7
Lt. Col. Thornley, as head of SOE German section, was solicited for his opinion about the likely response to the operation in Germany. He foresaw seven possible reactions:
1. They will presumably follow their normal procedure of shooting any workers who pick up the material and of publishing even larger figures of shootings which may or may not have been carried out.
2. They will probably declare a curfew for all foreign workers to prevent their circulating at night and picking up the material.
3. They may produce and distribute a facsimile with a booby-trap attached to it to act as a deterrent. (They would have to be careful where they place their booby-traps).
4. They will set the Hitler Jugend (Hitler Youth) and other organisations to work collecting the material.
5. It hardly seems likely that they will be able to increase much the physical supervision of foreign workers except by introducing a curfew and other measures of that kind which would not interfere much with production.
6. It would be typical of the rather childish German mentality to collect a lot of the material and drop it back over Liverpool, S. Wales, etc. (Perhaps the Home Office might have something to say about this).
7. They will, of course, make any propaganda use of this they can by making the lives of the foreign workers intolerable and by blaming the British for it.
Thornley believed it would be very undesirable to start the operation by dropping just a few Braddocks as it would give the Germans plenty of time to work out counter measures. He also suggested that PWE, especially the black section under the leadership of Sefton Delmer, ought to be consulted in advance to synchronise their psychological warfare. To plant ideas into the minds of potential saboteurs coordinated propaganda could claim that the incendiaries were being used all across Germany to destroy workers’ records. He went on to say:
I still maintain that an infinitesimal quantity of these devices will actually be picked up by foreign workers or others but the psychological affect on the Germans will be considerable as they will not know what quantity have been dropped or how many have been stored away. 8
In October 1943, PWE was approached to formulate a joint SOE/PWE plan to implement the Braddock II scheme. The focus was no longer to genuinely encourage widespread sabotage but to cause as much confusion as possible for the German police and administration and bring it closer to breaking point. As Thornley suggested, using propaganda to instruct foreign workers and dissidents to collect and cache as many Braddocks as they can would alarm the German authorities and might provoke harsh retaliatory action. In turn a disproportionate reaction by the authorities could incite the eight million foreign workers to cause further disruption. As Braddock II was now essentially a psychological warfare operation, Delmer felt it no longer necessary to drop huge quantities of the incendiaries but instead to rely on supporting propaganda to exaggerate the scale of the operation.
High level discussion concerning when the operation should be launched continued for months until finally in May 1944 the Joint Intelligence Committee agreed that Braddock II should be conducted as soon as possible after D-day and should be a matter decided by General Eisenhower, as Supreme Allied Commander. 9 There seems an apparent lack of enthusiasm for the operation in many quarters. If the original idea had not come from Churchill himself perhaps it would have been shelved long before? When details of the plan were submitted to SHAEF they initially showed more eagerness.
Delmer drafted a proposal for the black propaganda aspect of Braddock and forwarded it through McLachlan to the Psychological Warfare Division of SHAEF at the beginning of August. The proposal centred on using the powerful medium-wave transmitter codenamed Aspidistra to intrude onto German radio stations and issue false news reports and instructions. The civilian population should be fooled into believing them to be genuine German official broadcasts.
1. Counterfeit instructions for action against operation Braddock and news about its results will be circulated on three successive nights in three different target areas by means of the special medium-wave transmitter Aspidistra. This will be done as follows:
(a) Aspidistra will come in automatically on the frequency of the regional German station which is driven off the air by the approach of our aircraft carrying out operation Braddock. The German listener will notice no hiatus between the sudden termination of his local programme and the beginning of the Aspidistra transmission, which will be relaying the programme of a German station unaffected by the approach of our aircraft.
(b) After relaying this German programme for a few minutes Aspidistra will give a warning in the normal German phraseology that enemy aircraft are approaching but with the startling news that the aircraft are dropping parachutists over German territory and that some quite unusual air operation is beginning. Individuals and local defence organisations will be warned to look out for and round up parachutists and to report any suspicious incidents to the local air defence headquarters by telephone.
c) Aspidistra then goes off the air and the German listener hears no more from us for some fifteen or twenty minutes during which the stage is set for the next phase of the intruder operation.
d) During this period the German listener in the target area is tuning in to the frequency on which he is used to receiving further air raid warnings and details of the approach of aircraft. He receives intermittent reports. Between these Aspidistra, working on the air raid warning frequency, will interpolate our counterfeit reports, with the true news that large numbers of incendiary missiles are being dropped and further warnings about parachutists. At the appropriate moment towards the end of the raid Aspidistra will issue what purports to be an official instruction that everyone – Germans and foreigners alike – must go into the streets and the countryside to collect these missiles. They will be told that they are harmless.
If the German authorities countermand this order and state that the missiles are dangerous it may be assumed that great confusion will be caused.
2. As soon as the warnings and instructions go out on Aspidistra they are picked up by monitoring services all over the world as messages heard on the official German wireless. They will be reported by British, American, and other news agencies as authentic. This will help to establish the authenticity of our operation to any German who listens to foreign broadcasts.
3. Our own covert wireless programme for the German forces (Atlantik) will take part in the operation from the moment that the first warnings that something unusual is happening are put out by Aspidistra. Atlantik will report in succession the dropping of parachutists, the dropping of Braddocks over the target area, the instructions to collect them and subsequent German reactions. It will build up a picture of a fire-raising and sabotage conspiracy between the Allies, foreign workers, and German resistance groups. Medium-wave Calais programme will join in again as soon as the Aspidistra transmitter is again available.
It will be the special function of Calais to deny any German attempts to cancel the instructions given on Aspidistra and to deny the authenticity of its warnings.
4. It is estimated that our account of the impact of Braddock on Germany should have six to eight hours clear run to establish itself all over Europe.
5. On the second night of Braddock we would repeat the intruder operation with Aspidistra, but with a fresh instruction, fresh news, and some variations in technical procedure made necessary by the change of target areas.
For the second night our instructions would be that all foreign workers must be arrested at once and handed over to the local police or defence organisations. This instruction would receive the same wide publicity as the instruction given on the first night of Braddock and should create a situation of confusion and alarm in which many foreign workers, prepared for some such event by leaflets and broadcasts previous to Braddock, would be able to escape or go underground.
6. It is thought probable, that whatever measures the German authorities might have taken to expose the first Aspidistra ruse, it would never occur to German listeners in an area unaffected by the first operation that (a) the trick was being tried again, (b) that the Allies would order the arrest of foreign workers.
7. It is considered unlikely that we could successfully issue fresh instructions by the same trick during the third night of operation Braddock. But if circumstances were favourable it would be possible to devise suitable instructions at short notice. 10
This brilliant proposal was sanctioned by the Chiefs of Staff. Delmer, however, had failed to plan for the petty, bordering on juvenile, machinations of the Minister of Information, Brendan Bracken, who incorrectly believed Aspidistra was his personal plaything. The Minister feeling that he had not been properly consulted on the use of transmitter vetoed its use, in his mind it would be premature to reveal our new radio weapon for such a small operation devised by “that peculiar organisation SOE”, even if the Chiefs of Staff, General Eisenhower, SOE, and his own department PWE thought otherwise. 11
Soon afterwards a curtailed Braddock operation, without the invaluable assistance of Aspidistra, was given the go-ahead by General Eisenhower. The psychological warfare component consisted of both white and black, radio and leaflet, propaganda. From mid-August to the first week of September BBC broadcasts to foreign workers advised them to be alert for future instructions to be sent by radio, leaflets or other means. From 5th to 7th September Eisenhower’s Voice of SHAEF radio transmitted appeals to foreign workers in several languages. The broadcasts urged workers to assist in bringing down the Nazis and to save their own lives. They were instructed to desert their factories, to go into hiding, and not to be dragged further into Germany with retreating Wehrmacht soldiers. They should help to secure communications and gather information helpful to the Allies. Propaganda leaflets were also disseminated repeating the Voice of SHAEF messages, (WG.7).
The first release of Braddocks happened during 25 September with the United States Air Force dropping 200,000 of them over the Frankfurt and Mainz region. That evening Voice of SHAEF broadcast another overt appeal to foreign workers. “The hour for action has come!” the radio announced and explained that in certain parts of Germany organised cells of foreign workers are today being supplied with means for active resistance. Anyone finding them was told to read the attached instructions and to conceal the Braddocks in a safe place until they had formulated a plan to make best use of them. Two days earlier the same message had also been given in Allied propaganda leaflets dropped over Germany, (WG.8).The story was now taken up by black propaganda. Soldatensender West transmitted a detailed news report on the day’s events.
The systematic arming of foreign workers in the Reich for widespread acts of sabotage and terrorism entered a new stage today when countless masses of incendiary capsules (Brandpäckchen) were dropped from enemy bombers over wide areas of Western Germany. These Brandpäckchen were dropped by foreign bombers which today bombed the areas of Frankfurt, Koblenz, and Ludwigshafen. Soon after the bombing attack had been completed, while fire-fighting and rescue work was taking up all available resources, came the first news from areas which had not been bombed that the aircraft had dropped large numbers of this new sort of incendiary. Soon afterwards the first news came that these instruments had been found in neighbouring towns. Immediately the Security Services were called out everywhere to collect the incendiaries. Search is still going on. The collectors were told that the incendiaries can be picked up without danger. At the same time police, SS, and other services were warned and immediately rushed to the foreign worker camps. Precautions were taken in many areas and everywhere foreign workers and other suspected persons were stopped and searched. Reinforcements of police had to be sent from Mannheim, Heidelberg, and Speyer to conduct a thorough search of the workers camp for the I.G. Farben factory in which more than 50,000 workers of all nationalities are living.
In Frankfurt detachments of SS troops occupied the Dutch workers’ hostel in the Crystal Palace in the Grossen Gallusstr. Frankfurt police announced that from the moment of dropping until dusk between 20-25,000 Brandpäckchen had been collected. It is feared that many thousands more of these have already found their way into the hands of foreign workers and other unreliable elements. The police fear that organisations of foreign workers have already received advance information about the dropping of the incendiaries. Recently it has been established that an unusually large number of foreign workers have not come to their work. The police are of the opinion that many of these foreign workers have been holding themselves in readiness to pick up and store the incendiaries.
There is no evidence yet that the incendiaries have been used for acts of sabotage, but in view of the very large number of fires burning in the cities which have been attacked and where new fires are breaking out one after another it cannot be said for certain whether some of these have not been caused by the incendiaries. The particular danger of this new implement lies, in the opinion of the police, in the fact that the incendiaries can be retained without any danger for an unlimited period so that they can be used at the moment when a suitable opportunity presents itself... 12
The broadcast then continued to describe what the Braddocks looked like and how easy and safe they were to use. An almost word-for-word transcript of the broadcast was reproduced on the front page of the next day’s Nachrichten für die Truppe. The day after Nachrichten ran another article under the headline “Where will smoke first?” and included a photograph of a Braddock. More stories were published throughout the rest of the week. But the operation soon burnt out, like a spent Brandpäckchen, when SHAEF suspended further Braddock disseminations pending a more “fluid” military situation.
In spite of pressure from Lord Selborne for more large-scale dissemination, little further happened until February 1945. SHAEF reached a compromise whereby the Special Leaflet Squadron was sanctioned to drop small numbers of Braddocks at the expense of a five percent reduction in its propaganda leaflet payload. From 20 February a small flow of Braddocks trickled across Germany, with each city receiving just one or two bombs worth. Each bomb contained a little over 700 individual Braddocks. Black propaganda was intensified to support the resurrected operation. Soldatesender West transmitted tales of the exploits of foreign worker arsonists which were also mirrored in print by Nachrichten.
Police today searched foreign workers’ camps in Düsseldorf after the unexplained fire at the Wicking Saw Mills, as they believe incendiary packets dropped in Wednesday’s raid were the cause. The particular danger of these packets is that they are so easy to use and as they do not burst into flames until after half an hour, the perpetrators can never be traced. 13
Nachrichten reported on 4 March how refugees from the East had burned down the house of a Party leader above his head. The Nazi leader, SS-Oberführer Seemann, of Gut Bressen, had sent numerous refugees away from his estate during the preceding days, by taking advantage of the Housing Order of 27 February 1943 exempting Party officials from accepting refugees in their homes. The report added that the police consider the fire in his house was due to refugees, using Brandpäckchen dropped by enemy planes.
Delmer writes in Black Boomerang that C.E. Stevens, his economic intelligence adviser and Oxford ancient history don, contributed to the Braddock operation with some “typical ingenious research”. 14 Whilst scanning through the German press Stevens observed a number of similar death announcements of young women in a Leipzig newspaper. He concluded the deaths must have been the result of a factory accident and guessed the most likely cause to be an explosion at the Rudel and Fiedler chemical works. From this supposition, which proved to be correct, Delmer embellished the story by blaming the explosion on foreign workers using Braddocks. The story appeared in the 19 February edition of Nachrichten, was reprinted three days later, and was also reproduced on the Q-series black leaflet Q.77/H.1390. Under the headline, “If you haven’t one — you will soon find one”, the story claims:
So now the police have found out; the big explosion at the Rudel and Fiedler Chemical factory, Leipzig, was due to incendiary packets. Those small, self-igniting packets which the Anglo-Americans drop by air foster incendiarism among foreign workers.
And with this discovery – that incendiary packets have again been at the root of the trouble and probably too, that foreign workers laid them – police are at their wit’s end. One can hardly hope to find the wrongdoers when incendiary packets are used. For you simply pick them up and place them where they are to burn peacefully continue your way – and after half an hour the fire starts. And if there are any explosives near, the whole thing goes up.
It is a very bitter pill for the police; they are important. And it is obvious that such things as the explosion at Rudel and Fiedler’s, in Leipzig, are only the beginning of something they cannot deal with at all…
A lot of people now have an incendiary packet like this lying at home in the drawer. (The police estimate that there must be between 40,000 and 170,000 packets today which have been picked up and not handed over). And most of them also know fairly well where they are going to place their packet one day – and press the little copper fuse…
And although the Party fanatics bang on the table and shriek at their police that the matter of the incendiary packets must be brought to an end immediately – it is to no avail. On the contrary, the use of incendiary packets has only just started. If you haven’t one, you will soon find one.
And if the ordinary man puts one of these things under the bonnet of his District Leader’s car, or under the cushions of the Mercedes, so that it starts burning there, and if he then gets over the border – this ordinary man will have done a good job.
The story was accompanied with a photograph of a hand clasping a Braddock and also reproduced a genuine German Criminal Police bulletin which described the Braddocks and warned fellow police officers and the Gestapo to be on the outlook for them. The section of the bulletin which was not reproduced in Nachrichten recounts the first Braddock operation which took place the previous September. It mentions that about midday on 25 September 1944 enemy aircraft flew over the city of Aschaffenburg and dropped cardboard containers filled with Braddocks. Some of the containers burst in the air but the majority failed to function properly and remained intact until hitting the ground; a few then exploding and causing large fires. Presumably it was a small consolation to SOE that those which exploded on impact may have caused some limited incendiarism.
At the beginning of March, Churchill suddenly showed renewed interest in the operation and minuted Lord Selbourne reminding him that 3¼ million Braddocks were still available. “…The foreign workers in Germany must be very restive by now. Surely the time has come to use this weapon?” he insisted. 15 But even with Churchill’s patronage, the Chiefs of Staff demurred. They were concerned for the safety of Allied prisoners of war as the Germans might think they were trying to arm prisoners with sabotage weapons. This could result in harsh reprisals against POWs. Not only that but intelligence reports suggested that the toughest members of the SS and Wehrmacht were volunteering for stay-behind resistance movements, the so-called Wehrwolf. It seemed likely the Braddocks would be utilised by them for sabotage purposes. And the old objection was restated that 350 Lancaster bombers were required to drop the remaining stocks, those aircraft would be better used dropping conventional bombs. 16
By April SOE no longer felt it worthwhile continuing any form of the operation. They maintained that if Braddock had been conducted on a large scale during the autumn and winter of 1944 valuable results may have been achieved but as the goal of the operation to assist in the breakdown of the German Security Services was now “being obtained by more direct means” the operation was no longer warranted. 17 The last bomb of Braddocks was dropped over the town of Furth on 5 April.
They would make a good VE bonfire. R.I.P. 18
1. The Moon is Down by John Steinbeck, The Viking Press, 1942, p. 177.
2. PREM 3/408/5, Memo M.209/2 from Churchill to the Minister of Economic Warfare, 27 May 1942.
3. Ibid. Memo from the Minister of Economic Warfare to Churchill, 9 June 1942.
4. The Daily Mirror, Saturday, July 4, 1942.
5. HS 6/718, Letter from K to CD, 4 July 1942.
6. OSS designated the pistol as the FP-45 (Flare Projector .45 calibre).
7. PREM 3/408/5, Memo from Lord Selborne to Churchill, 13 April 1943.
8. HS 6/721, Letter from X to AD/E, 20 August 1943.
9. See CAB 121/313 for COS and JIC memoranda and minutes discussing Braddock II.
10. FO 898/397, Memo by Delmer, Operation Braddock – Proposal for Participation by Black Propaganda, 8 August 1944.
11. Ibid. Letter from Brendan Bracken, Minister of Information to Anthony Eden, Foreign Secretary, 23 August 1944.
12. HS 6/718, Transcript of Soldatensender West broadcast on 25 September 1944.
13. FO 898/72, G.9 Rumours.
14. Black Boomerang, p.145.
15. PREM 3/408/5, Letter from Churchill to Lord Selborne, 10 March 1945.
16. Ibid., Letter from Ismay to Churchill, 13 March 1945.
17. FO 898/397, Letter from Gubbins to Bruce Lockhart, 7 April 1945.
18. HS 6/718, Quoted in letter from AD/S.1 to V/CD, 3 May 1945.