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Random PSYOP leaflet - L'Amérique en Guerre, No.74, 3 November 1943


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The Types of Research Units and What is Black, Grey & White Propaganda

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Secret radio stations operated by the Political Warfare Executive were given the generic code name of “Research Units”. They could be either Freedom stations exhorting the populations of occupied countries to organise and resist or they pretended to be of enemy origin with the goal of subverting the enemy regime.

The Political Warfare Executive further classified its output into white, grey, and black propaganda depending on the level, or otherwise, of its camouflaged origin. White openly spoke in the name of His Majesty’s Government, grey and black propaganda pretended to be anything but the voice of the British Government. How convincing or important the deception of origin was governed where on the greyscale the station fell. This latter point, in particular, seems to have been lost in post-Second World War definitions and understanding. Documenting and codifying the terminology Political Warfare Executive created was not a priority.

The archives of the Political Warfare Executive, and its forerunners, were not particularly well organised at the time, and those records relating to covert activities were in large part destroyed. Even amongst the jumble of papers that did survive, and are now available at the National Archives, some pages are still withheld until the year 2020.

Recently I have been re-examining PWE and SOE archives in even greater depth with a vague idea in mind of writing a greatly expanded version of my book ‘The Black Art’. The document below was found during this renewed trawling. It is a definition of terminology included as an appendix to a draft memorandum discussing the current situation of Research Units in November 1943. One member of PWE comments that the draft memorandum is not only excellent but “the first comprehensive and lucid treatment of this subject.”

Lee Richards

Types of Research Units



There are two broad types of RU - Opposition and Counterfeit Stations.


Under the guise of operating in the country which it addresses and in the circumstances of danger and difficulty which such a situation would entail, an opposition station represents the voice and sentiment of a movement which is in opposition to the enemy.

Opposition stations can be subdivided according to the nature of the oppositional movement.

Representational Opposition Stations. The oppositional movement is genuine, but the claim of the station to be speaking as its mouthpiece is fictitious.

Co-operational Opposition Stations. The oppositional movement is genuine and organized; the station is in direct touch with it and acts as a mouthpiece for it, giving instructions and advice.

Fictitious Opposition Stations. The oppositional movement is fictitious either in the sense that, though the opposition exists, it is not in the form of an organized movement or that the name given to it by the station is invented.


There are two main types.

Official Counterfeit Stations. Counterfeits of official enemy or enemy-controlled stations.

Unofficial counterfeit Stations. Counterfeits of real or imaginary enemy-controlled opposition stations.


Both Black and Grey stations differ from white in that:

(i) They purport to be something which they are not.

(ii) They can be disavowed by H.M.G.

The differences between Black and Grey stations are as follows:

Black. They depend as much upon cover as upon content and technique to achieve their object. Their disguise, both as to location and control, must be sufficiently plausible to deceive their audience.

Grey. Their disguise need only consist of a plausible cover that they are not under British control. They depend entirely on content and technique to achieve their object.


To provide:

(1) a good plausible source and cover for the type of material being put out.

(2) the cover to break down in the listener any resistance he would have if the material put out came from an official British or Allied station.

(3) a disguise sufficiently realistic for H.M.G. or an Allied Government to be able to disavow any station convincingly.


[Source: TNA FO 898/56, transcribed by]



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