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HISTORY OF S.O.E. POLITICAL WARFARE SECTION, FORCE 136

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The following document is taken from the Special Operations Executive historical records of Force 136. It documents the role of S.O.E. political warfare in South East Asia, including the setting up of a rumour-mongering network in India and the organisation of the Indian Field Broadcasting Units for the production of frontline propaganda.

 

HISTORY OF P.W. SECTION, FORCE 136

1. ORIGIN

In March, 1942, H.E. the Viceroy, acting on the advice of the D.I.B., asked S.O.E. India, to set up an organisation for spreading rumours favourable to the Allied cause in the bazaars of India. The state of public morale was at that time very low and it seemed obvious that one counter to the flood of alarmist and pro-axis rumours then circulating would be a regular supply of reassuring and pro-Allied rumours.

Accordingly, Mr. A.D.C. Peterson,i then acting as head of the Rumour and propaganda section of S.O.E., London, was despatched to do a four months' tour of the country and set up a rumour network.

Mr. Peterson arrived in Meerut on April 15th and it became immediately clear that not only was a rumour network required but a whole organisation for post occupational propaganda to come into operation should Eastern India fall to the Japanese. Mr. Peterson's headquarters were, therefore, transferred to Calcutta.

2. RUMOUR NETWORK

In setting up the rumour network it was essential to use only Indian agents and the first essential was to secure a first class Indian to control and select these. We were lucky to find such a man in Rai Bahadur S.C.D. Mehta, a retired Indian Police Officer, who had acted at one time as D.I.G, Bengal. Through his help a network was soon established in Bengal, Delhi and the Punjab. Other chief agents were recruited for Southern and Western India but the good organisation and enthusiasm of the rumour network was mainly due to Mehta.

Two mistakes were made in the early stages - excessive secrecy and too high rates of pay, though in the latter respect we never offended as badly as Military Intelligence. It was later discovered that it was essential that at least the senior police officer of the province should be in the secret and that normal rates of pay should be about Rs.100 per month for all leaders and Rs.20-30 per month for members.

By the 17th May, 1944, when the decision was finally taken to close down this network in view of the improved war situation approximately 200 paid agents were employed covering 20 of the larger towns in India. It is a tribute mainly to Mehta's skill that this large organisation was liquidated without a single breach of security. Its effectiveness over the two years of its existence is difficult to gauge but it seems probable that in an illiterate country this method of propaganda repays the outlay.

3. POST-OCCUPATIONAL PLANS

Post-occupational propaganda parties were organised in Bengal under Sen Gupta (secretary of the Bengal Bolshevik party) and initial contacts established in Madras and Ceylon. It was not considered likely that the Madras or Ceylon organisations would have functioned and they were very soon laid off. Experience in Burma (MAHOUT) indicates that more could have been expected from the Bengal party. They were provided with equipment for secret printing presses but lack of sets and operators made it impossible to provide them in advance with W/T [Wireless Telegraph].

On his return from Madras and Ceylon the Commander asked that Mr. Peterson should be permanently posted to India to start up a Political Warfare Section; to this S.O.E., London, agreed.

4. FIRST ORGANISATION OF P.W. SECTION

The functions of this section under its first charter were:-

  1. Clandestine or 'black' propaganda operations in S.O.E., India's theatre. At this time it is worth nothing that a very strict distinction between overt and covert propaganda was maintained and that the P.W. section was an operational section in that it planned and launched its own operations. Apart from short infiltrations in Arakan early in 1943, the only operation carried out in this way was MAHOUT, which entailed the dropping of a Bengali Bolshevik agent in Central Burma with the intention of reaching Rangoon and creating unrest among dockers and railway workers. This operation was successfully carried out in June 1943, but the post-box method of communication worked out for him and his follow ups failed and it was not known until after the Japanese surrender that he had in fact succeeded in carrying out some part of his tasks.
  2. After MAHOUT I, the charter of P.W. section was revised and all operations became the function of the country section concerned, P.W. section initiating plans and, in some cases, providing agents. For this purpose one staff officer in each country section was detailed to deal with the P.W. aspect of his territory.

  3. The recruitment and training of P.W. agents and of all Indian agents.
  4. Recruitment by P.W. section was a makeshift procedure which gradually lapsed as country sections built themselves up and established their own contacts. From the political angle, however, it had certain advantages and was responsible for producing 'Lancelot' and 'Galahad', the two agents through whom initial contact was made with the A.F.O. [Anti-Fascist Organisation] and those elements in Burma which later became the Burmese Patriot Forces.

    Under the charter to undertake training of P.W. agents, P.W. section founded the School for Eastern Interpreters, which was subsequently handed over to O.T. branch.

  5. All operations relating to currency. P.W. section were responsible for the production of the first Grenville [forged Japanese occupational currency]. This function was subsequently handed over to FIN. [Finance] section.
  6. Operation of Forward Propaganda Units. The history of these requires a special section.

5. FORWARD PROPAGANDA UNITS (IFBUs)

In January 1943, when the first Arakan campaign was being planned it became clear that the effect of the P.W. agents being infiltrated overland would be much increased by the establishment of some sort of field propaganda organisation on our own side. The suggestion that this should be undertaken by the P.W. section of S.O.E. was warmly welcomed by the G.O.C., Eastern Army and General Lloyd, then commanding 14th Indian Division which was undertaking the operation.

Accordingly, a small unit was raised from S.O.E. parties recently withdrawn from the Manipur Road scheme and two Korean officers secured from Chungking. Lt. Col (then Captain) G. L. Steerii was posted from Middle East to command this unit and arrived just in time to take it into the field.

The intention from the first was that these units should have a dual role - propaganda by loudspeakers and leaflets to the Japanese and propaganda by leaflets, trade goods and medical supplies to the local inhabitants. The unit served throughout the first Arakan campaign and demonstrated the value of local propaganda in providing Intelligence with a belt of well disposed country through which Japanese infiltration was rendered much more difficult. As a result of the experience gained in the Arakan, a meeting was held by D.M.I., India [Director of Military Intelligence, India], on 25th March, 1943, to consider the future organisation of such units. It was agreed to christen them Indian Field Broadcasting Units, a W.E. [War Establishment] was drawn up and a plan approved to raise 5 units by September 1st, 1943, with a further five units by January 1st, 1944. The W.E. allowed for a unit of 56 all ranks under the command of a captain. S.O.E., in consultation with D.M.I., were responsible for selection of personnel, specialist equipment, training and attachment of specialist personnel. The units were to be G.H.Q. [General Headquarters] troops under the administrative control of Intelligence Corps India. It was agreed that Japanese speakers should be provided by S.O.E. securing the attachment of a Liaison Unit from the Korean National Army. This was done as the result of an agreement between the Commander and General Kim Yak San.

Considerable difficulty was encountered in securing personnel and the plan of joint working between G.S.I.(q), India and S.O.E. gradually evolved into a system by which S.O.E. undertook the raising, training and operation of the units, G.S.I.(q) a certain amount of policy guidance.

By June, 1943, a camp site had been secured and other ranks personnel for one unit drawn from the Assam Rifles. The remaining four units were formed by disbanding chemical warfare units of the Bombay and Madras Sappers and Miners. These five units took the field in January 1943, Number one, drawn from the Assam Rifles, being attached to 15 Corps in the Arakan and the remaining four to 4 Corps in the Imphal area.

Experience in these campaigns showed that the units as constituted were large enough to undertake only one or other of their two tasks. IN the Arakan the unit was used almost entirely for local propaganda while the four units at Imphal undertook virtually no local propaganda but concentrated on propaganda to the Japanese either by loudspeaker or leaflets discharged from mortar bombs. Another factor which came to light was that the Sappers and Miners were unsuitable for the type of forward patrolling which local propaganda required and which in the Arakan involved one engagement with the Japanese in which the IFBU accounted for 17 Japanese dead and for his part in which the IFBU commander received the M.C. [Military Cross]. A proposal was, therefore, put forward to South East Asia Command to reform the IFBU's on a company basis and a new W.E. of 169 all ranks commanded by a major with five B.O's was put forward.

The question of further IFBU's was referred to General Slim, who reported on 22nd May, 1944: "Experience has shown that the IFBU's are of considerable operational and intelligence value. I consider that more units of this type should be raised," and recommended that personnel for the enlarged IFBU should be made available form the Assam Regiment.

The new W.E. was notified in A.C.I.s. 19th July, 1944 (M.E. 85), but very great difficulty was encountered in securing personnel from the Assam Rifles. This was finally resolved only by a direct decision of the Supreme Allied Commander and the personnel were in fact supplied too late to enable the full strength to be put into the field with 14th Army during the advance through Burma. IFBU at this stage suffered serious losses in officer personnel, including the death in a road accident of Lt. Col. Steer and the death in action near Mandalay of Captain the Marquess of Dufferin and Ava.iii Finally, the speed of the campaign and the necessity of using air lift for all supplies made it impossible to maintain the local propaganda patrols with the trade goods they required and the units became once more mobile broadcasting sections.

It was in this capacity that they were planned for ZIPPER and it seems clear that the local propaganda patrol operating with trade goods can only be used where the logistic position does not impose too great a strain on supplies.

Since the Japanese surrender IFBU's have been in great demand for propaganda to liberated peoples and on their disbandment along with the rest of Force 136 their place is being taken by units of No. 60 Sonic Company operating under P.W. Division. It is the personal opinion of the writer that the attempt to combine the mobile loudspeaker and mortar section directed against the enemy with the propaganda patrol directed to the local population was a mistake and that the two should operate under the same organisation (a military P.W. Branch) but as separate units.

MOBILE PRINTING UNITS

In order to supply IFBU's with operational leaflets, S.O.E., in consultation with the Ministry of Information, designed and raised three mobile photo-lithographic printing units. These were all fully employed by P.W. Division, S.A.C.S.E.A. [Supreme Allied Command, South East Asia] from the time of their arrival in the Spring of 1944 to the close of hostilities. No. 2 Light Mobile Printing Unit moved with 14th Army through the whole advance from Imphal to Rangoon. The units were accepted as a prototype by South East Asia Command and large numbers ordered for P.W. Division and Civil Affairs. The only ones which actually arrived in the Theatre, however, were those raised by S.O.E.

ASSISTANCE GIVEN TO S.E.A.C.

It will be seen above that a great part of the work of P.W. section has been in providing instruments by which the propaganda policy of G.H.Q., India and later of South East Asia Command could be carried out in operational areas. This was undoubtedly a deviation from the strict terms of S.O.E.'s directive by which it should have been concerned only with covert propaganda. It was clear from the start, however, that had S.O.E. not undertaken this work nothing would have been done and the general war effort would have suffered. Moreover, the distinction between overt and covert propaganda in operational areas is so tenuous that it would have been impossible to draw a hard and fast line.

S.E.A.C. when setting up its own P.W. Division drew liberally on Force 136 assistance and from the start Lt. Col. (then Major) P.B. Grieve, M.B.E., was attached to them from Force 136 P.W. section. Initially a charter was agreed dividing the spheres of action of S.E.A.C. P.W. Division and S.O.E. but the Supreme Allied Commander felt that this was not entirely satisfactory and on 18th July, 1944, he wrote to C.D. [Colin McVean Gubbins, head of S.O.E.] proposing that the two organisations should be amalgamated. This letter sets out the whole position and a copy is attached to this history.

The joint body functioned every smoothly and it is of interest to note that when P.W. section, Force 136, finally closed on 1st November, 1945, and P.W. operations were vitally important throughout the theatre all of P.W. Divisions outposts, viz. Singapore, Batavia, Saigon, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong were commanded by officers trained in and transferred from Force 136.

P.W. IN CHINA

The remaining activity of P.W. section not falling within S.E.A.C.'s theatre was P.W. in China. This consisted mainly of supplying facilities and material for propaganda to the Japanese to Chinese organisations who undertook distribution themselves. One specific operation, NONCHALANT, was undertaken to draw dock workers away from Hong Kong. The operation was not very successful since the move of Japanese forces prevented the dock workers whom we had been able to extract from reaching Kunming, from where it had been intended to send them to British ports for work on naval repairs.

CONCLUSION

It is the personal opinion of the writer that 'black' or 'covert' propaganda in the Far Eastern war has been a waste of effort and personnel. That P.W. section of Force 136 has been of any value to the war effort has been solely due to the fact that it engaged in 'white' or operational propaganda. The parallel section of O.S.S. [U.S. Office of Strategic Services] which was tied more definitely by its directive only to 'black' methods expended a good deal of ingenuity, effort and personnel that was badly needed on the 'white' side to achieve little or nothing.

 

[Source: TNA HS 7/116, transcribed by www.psywar.org]


i. Alexander Duncan Campbell Peterson (1908-1988). [SOE symbol D/Q.9 and B/B.210].

ii. George Lowther Steer (1909-1944). [SOE symbol B/B.209]

iii. Basil Sheridan Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood, the Fourth Marquis of Dufferin and Ava (1909-1945).


 

SC4/1176/G.

SOUTH EAST ASIA COMMAND HEADQUARTERS

18th July, 1944

My dear Gubbins,

I have been taking a great personal interest in the proposal which has been put up that P.W. Division S.E.A.C. and the P.W. Section of Force 136 should be amalgamated. I have had talks with people chiefly concerned and I find that the proposal has the support of all those authorities who find it confusing to deal with two separate organisations whose functions are so closely parallel.

I realise, of course, that Force 136 has been the most aggressively active organisation on the P.W. operations in this theatre, and I am well aware that in the last few months the assistance rendered by your P.W. Section to my P.W. Division has been such that it is hardly an exaggeration to say that without it P.W. Division would not have existed.

S.O.E. found the personnel, transport, etc. for the P.W. Division's Forward Base, (which produced all the leaflets used in the Manipur campaign). It raised, trained and operated the I.F.B.U's. It has raised three mobile printing units. In fact, the Forward Base, which has conducted the operational propaganda of P.W. Division over the last campaign, has been in all but name a section of S.O.E. put at the disposal of D.P.W., just as the I.F.B.U's, originally a joint venture, turned into a section of S.O.E. put at the disposal of G.S.I.(q).

I am well aware that if these functions had not been performed by S.O.E. they would probably not have been performed at all; and that S.O.E. was capable of performing them, when other Departments were not, because it is a world-wide organisation. This factor will continue to operate, as it has in the past and S.O.E. will remain capable of performing functions which other Departments cannot undertake.

I know that you realise the particular interest and sympathy I have for the work of your organisation, and that I would be the last to suggest a course of action which I thought would in any way impair its scope and efficiency. Moreover, putting it no higher than on practical grounds I would not dream of suggesting that a Section which can point to such a record of practical activity should be amalgamated if this amalgamation meant, in effect, "absorption".

On the other hand, the advantages of forming a single, strong British Psychological Warfare organisation within this theatre are evident. I am proposing, therefore, that the P.W. section of S.O.E. should be attached to P.W. Division.

The advantages of this proposal are:-

  1. There would be a single P.W. organisation over which D.P.W. would have full executive authority. Peterson would be the channel for the exervise of this authority as far as Force 136 are concerned.
  2. P.W. Division would secure the continued assistance of S.O.E. connections outside the theatre and thereby provide itself with London, New York and China offices (N.B. It is worth noting that S.O.E. have a P.W. section in London and P.W. officers in China).
  3. P.W. Division could use S.O.E's machinery and accounting system for the employment of Secret Funds.
  4. P.W. Division would be in a better position to employ civilians and foreign nationals.

I hope this proposal will be acceptable to you. Peterson knows that these are my views and I think I can say that they are his also. He will be able to discuss them with you in greater detail.

Yours sincerely,

Sd/- Louis Mountbatten



 

 

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