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The Sefton Delmer Archive

16 August 2012
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Trail Sinister
Trail Sinister, An Autobiography, Volume One by Sefton Delmer (Secker and Warburg, 1961)

Sefton Delmer, whose dispatches were probably read by more people than any other British foreign correspondent's in the years before and after World War II, was born and brought up in Berlin, where his father was Professor of English at the University. He speaks and thinks as fluently in German as he does in his native tongue. This gave him, when he came in the 'twenties and 'thirties to live again and work as foreign correspondent of the Daily Express in Germany, a unique insight into, and to a large extent sympathy with, the German character. He himself regards this attribute both as a gift and a curse. Whichever it was, it has enabled him in this book to give the most intimate, revealing and enthralling picture of life in Germany between the two wars ever to have been written, and particularly of the Nazi leaders, all of whom he knew personally.

Black Boomerang
Black Boomerang, An Autobiography, Volume Two by Sefton Delmer (Secker and Warburg, 1962)

In this second installment of his autobiography, Sefton Delmer tells of the use to which his unique knowledge of the German people was put during World War II. Early in 1941, Mr. Delmer was made head of a newly created special section of the Political Warfare Executive, charged with the task of spreading what became known as "black" propaganda amongst the enemy. He started with a secretary and one assistant, but from these small beginnings developed one of the most curious and fascinating by-products of the whole war. The task of Mr. Delmer's team, which grew to include such disparate personalities as a history don, an inspector of schools, a banker, a newspaper editor and an assortment of German and other refugees, was to launch broadcast propaganda which purported to come from a German station. Much of what was broadcast was the truth - gleaned often from the tapped conversations of German prisoners - much of it had a ring of truth, sometimes it even deceived our American allies, always it purported to come from patriotic Germans eager to expose the weaknesses and corruption which were impeding the noble Führer's efforts. Mr. Delmer gives fascinating examples of actual broadcasts, of deceptions practiced, of lies disseminated, of new techniques whereby he and the merry men of his ghost station "Soldatensender Calais" were able to take over the wavelength of German radio stations driven off the air by radio.

Tail of a Tale
Tail of a Tale by Sefton Delmer, (, 2012)

The first three chapters of Sefton Delmer's previously unpublished third volume of his autobiography charting his post-WWII career and reflecting his fear of Nazism re-emerging in Western Germany. More chapters to follow soon.

Weimar Germany: Democracy on Trial
Weimar Germany: Democracy on Trial by Sefton Delmer, (Macdonald/American Heritage, 1972)

Defeated in battle, in the throes of a profound social revolution, Germany after the First World War was inhospitable ground in which to plant a liberal and democratic republic. Yet the politicians who met at Weimar in 1919 attempted to do just that - and for a few years it seemed that their gamble might succeed. In this volume Sefton Delmer (who was himself a witness to many of the events he describes) relates the tortuous course of the Weimar Republic's existence, examines the forces on both Left and Right which always threatened it, and outlines his arresting thesis that at the moment of its birth the republic contained within itself the contradictions and tensions which drove Germany inexorably from a tentative democracy to the dictatorship of Hitler's Third Reich.

The Counterfeit Spy
The Counterfeit Spy by Sefton Delmer, (Hutchinson, 1973)

In London in the first half of 1944, characters like Paul the Dutchman, Talleyrand the Pole, and, in particular, Cato the Spaniard, brought the Allied Deception Programme to its peak and, it can be claimed, had an incalculable effect on the course of the Second World War. The Allies set themselves the job of persuading Hitler of three things. First before D Day, that the invasion was being postponed, and that an assault on Norway was highly probable. Second, that if and when the invasion came, the Pas de Calais and the Belgian coast would be the target. Third, once the Normandy landings happened, that they were merely a diversion to draw down Axis troops from the Pas de Calais and leave it defenceless. The Germans fondly believed that Paul, Talleyrand, and Cato were impeccable sources of intelligence, agents operating at the heart of the Allied war effort. Agents they were, but double agents as well. Through them an elaborate tissue of myth was woven which fogged the Germans’ vision and made the Normandy landings unexpected and unrecognisable for what they were. A network of 25 agents was invented for Cato, ranging from Welsh Nationalists to a dowdy sex starved female in the War Cabinet Office. Imaginary armies, fleets of landing craft, tanks, and planes were summoned up, deployed and manoeuvred by means of wireless signals and dummy models, to give substance to Cato’s warnings about Norway, or the Pas de Calais.


Image source: Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-13774 / Unknown Heinrich Hoffmann / CC-BY-SA [CC-BY-SA-3.0-de (], via Wikimedia Commons
The Soul of Hitler, (The Daily Express, 10 July 1939)

A series of articles giving the inside story of the rise of Adolf Hitler. "June 1919. The Lance-Corporal looked ill, hungry, and apathetic as he sat on his chair, moodily pulling at the ends of his drooping moustache. (Once it had been a Kaiser moustache. The ends of it had turned up with martial ferocity. Now it was an ex-Kaiser moustache, its ends turned down.) Around him in the barrack room of the 2nd infantry Regiment in Munich sat other soldiers, all dressed as he was in shabby, outworn field-grey uniforms showing signs of front-line wear. There was no cloth for new uniforms in the Munich of June 1919. The war was over. But revolution and disorder were still sweeping Germany..."

HMG's Secret Pornographer
HMG's Secret Pornographer, (The Times Literary Supplement, 21 February 1972)

"My first experience of propaganda by pornography came in France during the Phony War period of 1939. I was a war reporter with the French army in France. On one of my visits to the Maginot Line, a sniggering French Lieutenant showed me what he declared was a very clever piece of German psychological warfare. It consisted of a small picture on very thin tissue paper showing a French soldier doing his duty at the front. But if one held the picture up to the light, the scene underneath underwent a complete change. In place of the brave poilu one now saw in minute salacious detail a British Tommy fornicating with what a caption told us was the Frenchman's fiancée..."


Adolf Hitler. Image source:Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1990-048-29A / unknown Heinrich Hoffmann / CC-BY-SA [CC-BY-SA-3.0-de (], via Wikimedia Commons
Adolf Hitler by Sefton Delmer

"'Adolf Hitler as dictator of Germany?' mocked the know-it-alls in February 1933, just after the Nazi agitator had taken power, 'Don't make me laugh! Sure, he's been made Chancellor alright. But - ha! ha! - he is a chancellor in handcuffs. The Conservative Vice-Chancellor von Papen and his pal President von Hindenburg have Adolf so well tied up the poor fellow cannot do a thing without their okay. They've made a fool of him, ha! ha!' Certainly that was how the Conservatives had planned things. But then in the night of February 27th something happened which gave Hitler the chance to escape from all the restraints his Deutsch-National and Junker allies were putting on him..."

Image Source: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1987-0313-507 / CC-BY-SA [CC-BY-SA-3.0-de (], via Wikimedia Commons
Rudolf Hess, Hitler's one time deputy Führer

"...I have long had a kind of guilt complex about Rudolf Hess. I feel that for one reason and another we British have been bungling our handling of Hess ever since the night of May 11th 1941 when he parachuted from his Messerschmitt fighter near Eaglesham in Scotland, broke his ankle, and was taken prisoner. First we bungled the political and intelligence exploitation of this unexpected gift from the skies. Then when the war was won we bungled again by handing him over to be tried by the Allied War Crimes tribunal at Nuremberg. No-one who saw Hess sitting listless and apathetic in the Nuremberg dock, unable to take the slightest interest in the proceedings, can have failed to form the conclusion, as I did, that if ever there was a prisoner unfit to plead, this prisoner was Rudolf Hess."

Image source: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-H25833 / Heinrich Hoffmann / CC-BY-SA [CC-BY-SA-3.0-de (], via Wikimedia Commons
Albert Speer, Nazi Armaments Minister and Hitler's personal architect

"The only time in my life I met Albert Speer face to face was in April 1933. He was a young man of twenty-eight on the threshold of an amazing career, but - let me confess it - I failed to detect anything about him to suggest he might make news one day..."

Lord Haw-Haw, William Joyce
Lord Haw-Haw, William Joyce

"Hitler and his generals prepared their war down to the last and minutest detail. One would have expected, therefore, that they would have built up an efficient and up-to-date psychological warfare machine to match their armaments. But they did not do so - at least, not so far as propaganda, directed at the British was concerned..."

Churchill and Son
Churchill and Son

"Ever since I was a schoolboy during the First World War I have been a devoted admirer of Sir Winston Churchill. Like most Englishmen of my day - and most Dutchmen and Americans too - I regard him as far and away the greatest leader produced in the first half of the twentieth century. I go further than that. It is my conviction that had Roosevelt and Eisenhower accepted his advice in the latter stages of the war we would not have the Russians in Central Europe today. Had the British electorate not given him the push in 1945 we in Britain would not now be facing the difficulties we are... It is my personal misfortune however that with all my admiration for Churchill I found myself a little disappointed on the several occasions, when I, as a very minor cog in his war machine, had business with this great man. And the same, alas, goes for the only time I met him face to face..."

Ian Fleming, 007 - James Bond
Ian Fleming, 007 - James Bond

"I had known Ian for twenty-five years, had worked with him on some of his secret operations during the war and had received his help with my own. He was the godfather of my son. 'Call him Felix' he had said. 'There are too few Felix's in this world!' And he had followed his own advice by creating an American partner for James Bond whom he called Felix Leiter. Even our very first meeting had a James Bondish touch. At any rate as far as the locale was concerned. We met in a compartment of the Warsaw-Moscow express when we were travelling to Moscow together in March 1939 to report the Kremlin negotiations of Robert Hudson, Britain's Minister of Overseas Trade... Fleming was reporting for The Times, I for the Express and we were the only reporters accompanying the delegation. Ian Fleming, a tall, slimly built young man whose profile reminded me of the piper in the ancient Etruscan wall paintings at Tarquinia, spent the best part of two days with me on that train to Moscow. By the time that we arrived we were firm friends..."

Let us liberate the Germans
Let us liberate the Germans

"I want to see the Germans liberated from their new illusionists and their new illusions. For twice in my life have I had to see and suffer the disasters brought upon themselves and the rest of us by the tragic readiness of the otherwise kindly, intelligent and law-abiding Germans to subject themselves to ambitious illusionists lacking political realism and moral scruple. I have wanted to believe that the Germans were cured. Alas, on my repeated trips to Germany since the war including this last one which took me to Bonn, Hamburg, Essen and Berlin I see signs that illusionists are once more riding high in Germany, eager to try their luck a third time, in the belief that this time, with us and the Americans behind them, they will be on the winning side..."

Visit to Potsdam
Visit to Potsdam

"I had not visited Potsdam since July 1934 when Hitler expelled me from his Reich. I very much wanted to see what that pretty little Prussian town looked like now thirty years later. Irresistible bait for me too were the Central Archives, where they store the mountains of files recovered from the salt mines and other caches in which the Nazis had hidden them... The drive to Potsdam turned out to be one long demonstration of what the Ulbricht wall means for East Berliners, in both its negative and its positive aspects." Written c.1964, in this article Delmer takes a trip behind the Iron Curtain to view the Third Reich's captured archives held at Potsdam. He notes the Berlin Wall's impact on the lives of East Germans and laments on the re-employment of middle-ranking Nazi officials in the West German administration.

Israel's Secret Service, Part I
Israel's Secret Service, Part I

The Shin Beth "is at one and the same time both the youngest and the oldest of the world's great espionage and deception agencies. Youngest because it was officially not born until 1949, oldest because it traces its descent to Joshua." In this previously unpublished article, written in the mid-1960's, Sefton Delmer lifts the lid on the exploits of Israel's intelligence service.


Letter from Adolf Hitler to Sefton Delmer, 30 September 1931
Letter from Adolf Hitler to Sefton Delmer, 30 September 1931

A personal letter from Adolf Hitler to Sefton Delmer, dated September 1931, declining an invitation to write an article for the Daily Express newspaper on the subject of Britain's current economic crisis. Delmer mentions the letter in his autobiography Trail Sinister, page 143: "...Hitler knew me quite well by the spring of 1932. I had met and talked with him several times since that first interview in April 1931. I had even on one occasion - in September 1931 - invited Hitler to write an article for us. Britain had gone off the gold standard, the pound was falling, sailors had mutinied at Invergordon, and Beverley Baxter wanted Hitler to expound his views on Britain in this crisis, as part of a series by foreign celebrities all writing on the same topic. What kind of a fee do you think brash young reporter Delmer offered Hitler? Ten guineas! Hitler declined with an elaborately courteous letter."

This is the Chef that Jack Built
This is the Chef that Jack Built

In 1987 Gustav Siegfied Eins' "der Chef" Paul Saunders came to England to take part in a documentary for Anglia TV. Walking around the grounds of the Rookery, Aspley Guise (RAG) on a cold snowy winter's day, he told me about the parties in the early days of GSI. On his return to Switzerland he sent me a script of a piece he wrote and performed at one of those parties when all of the select few who where involved came to visit RAG. Saunders' verse is of course a parody on the nursery rhyme "This is the house that Jack built" but describing the Gustav Siegfried Eins' production team. F.S.D.


D-Day edition of Nachrichten für die Truppe, Delmer's daily 'grey' airdropped newspaper
D-Day edition of Nachrichten für die Truppe, Delmer's daily 'grey' airdropped newspaper

Nachrichten für die Truppe, a 'grey' propaganda newspaper, was put together daily by a joint team of British and American journalists under the direction of Sefton Delmer. Up to a million copies were then air-dropped onto German troops on the Western front by a dedicated squadron of the US Eighth Air Force. Nachrichten contained a mix of factual news intermixed with subversive propaganda. The front page accurately reported the war situation on all fronts, often before German troops received the news from their own sources. It was the first newspaper to report the D-day invasion. The inside pages generally dealt with the situation on the home front. The corruption of the Nazi bosses (Bonzen) was highlighted, how they avoided military service, lived in luxury villas outside the cities to avoid air raids, received extra "diplomatic" food rations and basically profiteered from the war. Meanwhile soldiers' wives are shown to be in peril through over work in munition factories, dodging bombs, and suffering with poor diet and diseases coming from the east. Nachrichten often included a page 3 pin-up girl and even gave details of German military promotions, awards and sport results.

Black Propaganda Attack on Norway
Black Propaganda Attack on German Forces in Norway

"Germans are tough. They fight hard and they fight well. But they are also upstarts, conscious of their lack of tradition as a great power and of their past defeats. Despite all their protestations of invincibility they have a sense of inferiority. They have not forgotten that they were beaten in the last war. This feeling of upstart inferiority is liable to make the German change suddenly from tough fighting to cringing surrender. Just as the German crew in the Henley Regatta rowed in champion form in the preliminary heats, which they won, and then in the final heat suddenly gave up rowing when they found themselves two lengths down at the mile with another quarter to go, so did the German troops in Tunisia surrender although they had ammunition, men and fortified positions. The Germans in Tunisia surrendered because they had become convinced that there was no future in their fight, that their supplies were cut off, that no help would be coming from the mainland of Europe..."

G3 Gustav Siegfried Eins (GS1) Black radio station: Object, Method and Effect
G.3, Gustav Siegfried Eins (GS1) Black radio station: Object, Method and Effect

Gustav Siegfried Eins (GS1) was undoubtedly Sefton Delmer's most infamous black radio station due, in the early days of its transmission, to its use of vulgar language and pornography. The salty stories had the intended effect of quickly generating a large audience. It first began broadcasting on 23rd May 1941 and ended, in an illusionary crescendo of Gestapo machine-gun fire, on 18th November 1943. The following Political Warfare Executive report is an appraisal of the object, method and effect of Gustav Siegfried Eins as far as could be ascertained from wartime Britain.

G3 Gustav Siegfried Eins (GS1) Daily Monitoring Transcripts
G.3, Gustav Siegfried Eins (GS1) Daily Monitoring Transcripts

Translated monitoring reports of broadcasts made by the British clandestine radio station known as Gustav Siegfried Eins (GS1). GS1 pretended to be the mouthpiece of a group of disaffected German soldiers. The main announcer is referred to as "der Chef", the Chief, who revels in the use of foul language to attack the murderous British enemy and to complain about the clique of Nazi bosses (the Party Kommune) who are mismanaging the war while profiteering and living a comfortable life at the expense of the German people. The station was on the air from May 1941 until November 1943. Broadcasts of this radio station were monitored by the U.S. Foreign Broadcast Intelligence Service, the transcripts of which make up this collection. The originals are held by the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Record Group 262.

G7 Christ the King Black radio station: Object, Method and Effect
G.7, Christ the King Black radio station: Object, Method and Effect

This Political Warfare Executive report is an appraisal of the object, method and effect of the Catholic clandestine radio station known as Christ the King.

G7, Christ the King Daily Monitoring Transcripts
G.7, Christ the King Daily Monitoring Transcripts

Translated monitoring reports of broadcasts made by the British clandestine radio station known as G.7, Christ the King. The station was on the air from mid-September 1942 until the last days of the war in Europe. Broadcasts of this radio station were monitored by the U.S. Foreign Broadcast Intelligence Service, the transcripts of which make up this collection. The originals are held by the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Record Group 262. This online archive currently contains reports from December 1942 to May 1943.

G9 Deutscher Kurzwellensender Atlantik Grey radio station: Object, Method and Effect
G.9 Deutscher Kurzwellensender Atlantik Grey radio station: Object, Method and Effect

Research Unit G.9 was Sefton Delmer's most ambitious clandestine radio station. Shortwave Sender Atlantik was originally formed in collaboration with the Naval Intelligence Department to attack the morale of German U-boat crews operating in the North Atlantic. The first broadcast went out on 22nd March 1943. It's remit soon expanded to appeal to the whole German Wehrmacht with special programmes for the Luftwaffe and Army added later. Unlike other black radio stations, G.9 was broadcast live. Extensive use of dance music was used to provide popular entertainment with news flashes and sports news interleaved. From 14th November 1943, Atlantik was relayed on Europe's most powerful medium-wave transmitter, codenamed Aspidistra, under the call sign of Soldatensender Calais. The Soldatensender also played a valuable part in the Operation Overlord deception campaign. Following the D-day landings and the Allied advance through France, the medium-wave broadcasts were renamed Soldatensender West and continued until 30th April 1945. The following Political Warfare Executive report is an appraisal of the object, method and effect of Atlantik written before the advent of Soldatensender Calais.

G9 Kurzwellensender Atlantik / Soldatensender Calais Daily Transcripts
G.9 Kurzwellensender Atlantik / Soldatensender Calais Daily Transcripts

Daily summarised transcripts of the PWE/OSS clandestine 'grey' radio station G.9 Kurzwellensender Atlantik / Soldatensender Calais. These daily summaries have been transcribed from the Political Warfare Executive's archive and record the propaganda component of the broadcasts which was interspersed amongst straight news reporting and musical interludes. This archive currently contains transcripts from 3 July 1943 until the end of March 1944. Text in italics was based on the truth.

Proposed use of the Aspidistra transmitter for psychological warfare purposes
Proposed use of the Aspidistra transmitter for psychological warfare purposes

These two proposed uses of the powerful medium wave transmitter known as Aspidistra for psychological warfare purposes were suggested by Sefton Delmer in late August 1943. The first proposal was acted upon in November 1943, to relay the shortwave Atlantik station on medium wave under the Soldatensender Calais name. Intruder radio operations had to wait until the closing months of the war with Germany.

The controversy between the BBC and PWE over Soldatensender Calais
The controversy between the BBC and PWE over Soldatensender Calais

Of all PWE clandestine radio stations broadcasting in German, undoubtedly Soldatensender Calais developed the furthest reach and acquired the largest audience. This was due in part to being broadcast on Europe's most powerful medium wave transmitter, known as Aspidistra, because of its high production values with much of its programme devoted to specially recorded Jazz dance music and because of its frank news reporting and comment. The combination of these elements, however, made it difficult for Soldatensender Calais to maintain the pretext of being a real German forces station. The BBC in particular was against the concept of a "grey" propaganda radio station that could be identified as being of British origin and could by association damage the BBC's reputation for trustworthiness.

Report on the Effectiveness of Soldatensender Calais
Report on the Effectiveness of Soldatensender Calais

The following memorandum gives evidence of the effectiveness of the Political Warfare Executive's grey propaganda radio station Atlantik/Soldatensender Calais. It shows that the German authorities took extensive measures to jam the station and instructed their troops not to tune in. Nevertheless Soldatensender Calais continued to be listened to by German service personnel.

G9 Progress Report, 28 March 1944
G.9 Progress Report, 28 March 1944

This Most Secret report of 28 March 1944 was submitted to the Foreign Secretary and Minister of Information by the Director-General of the Political Warfare Executive Robert H Bruce Lockhart. It charts the progress of the Atlantik/Soldatensender grey radio station, mentioning the increase in number of hours broadcast on medium wave and noting the reaction of German Prisoners of War to the station. Although signed by Bruce Lockhart the report was passed to him by Sefton Delmer.

Evidence of Reception
Evidence of Reception

In an attempt to ascertain the effects of its clandestine psychological warfare, the Political Warfare Executive routinely monitored neutral and enemy media looking for comment and reaction to its radio broadcasts, underground rumour-mongering and leaflets. The comments of enemy prisoners of war, captured documents and other intelligence sources were also studied. Any comebacks to PWE propaganda campaigns were circulated to interested parties through the following "Evidence of Reception" reports.


Ciné film of Hitler shot personally by Sefton Delmer in 1932
Ciné film of Hitler shot personally by Sefton Delmer in 1932

Remarkable and previously unseen ciné film footage of Hitler shot personally by Sefton Delmer. The film begins onboard a Junkers Ju.52 aircraft transporting Hitler and his entourage across Germany on his April 1932 electioneering campaign. A dour-looking Hitler is seen reading newspapers with cotton wool wadded in his ears. The Nazi propagandist Dr. Goebbels is more jovial and hyena-like laughing. Later he is seen devouring a hardboiled egg. Hitler's black-uniformed SS bodyguards sit at the back of the aircraft. Prince August Wilhelm hands around a box of chocolates, only Hitler declines to take one. The scene onboard is described by Delmer in Trail Sinister p.147. The reminder of the film shows the plane landing at Frankfurt with brief clips of Hitler's speech at the Festhalle and a torch-lit night parade. Jewish lawyers are seen lining up for permits to practice. The film ends with a trip to Dachau concentration camp to inspect Communist inmates.


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