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'The Story of Cornflakes, Pig Iron and Sheet Iron' is a booklet produced and printed in Rome in April 1945 by the Office of Strategic Service Morale Operations. It tells the story of the infiltration of subversive black propaganda into the German postal system by dropping fake mailbags beside shot-up railway trains and the widescale aerial dissemination of fake underground newspapers. Some additional illustrations have been added here to the original text.
CORNFLAKES was a complicated operation devised by MO to bring subversive propaganda to the German breakfast table through the infiltration of the German mail system. At the point where it left Allied control, it was highly successful. Final judgment cannot be passed upon it, however, until there has been an opportunity to examine postal and Gestapo records which are still unavailable in Germany.
MO had long been perplexed over its inability to secure steady distribution of home-front material inside the Reich. Due to the lack of agents and pinpoints in Germany, distribution was scattered and sketchy.
The mind of the average German was an important target. He constituted a particularly fertile field for the ideas expressed in the newspaper, "Das Neue Deutschland". To acquire him as a reader, it was eventually decided to use his own mail system as a distribution agency.
Many plans were suggested and many discussions were held before a practical method of achieving this was agreed upon. One suggestion abandoned as too barren was to try to infiltrate mail trains leaving Switzerland for the Reich. 1 The plan finally adopted was a refinement of the casual dropping from planes over Hungary of two Hungarian mailbags filled with subversive MO literature, tried in the summer of 1944 out of MO Bari, then under Mr. John Fistere. (The two Hungarian mailbags contained leaflets, not letters, and they were not dropped on specific targets, but in open country.) Simply, it was decided to employ the air force to drop German mail sacks containing subversive material in carefully addressed envelopes inside the Reich alongside shot-up enemy trains.
It was felt that, with the growing disruption of the German transportation system, much mail was inevitably being misdirected and scattered about the country. Further, it was agreed that any average citizen or soldier upon discovering legitimate German mail sacks in a recently bombed rail terminus or along a right-of-way would turn them over to the postal authorities for transmission to their proper destination.
Obviously, each detail which went into the makeup of the operation had to be perfect in every respect. In January, 1945, Mr. Jan Libich, who had done much of the preliminary work on the project, was placed in charge. He began an exhaustive investigation into the German mail system. Former German mail clerks were interviewed in PW cages hundreds of miles apart and cross-checked in order to obtain minutest details. Samples of stamps, postal cancellations, German business letters, mail sacks, etc., had to be obtained. The latest German postal regulations were studied.
After considerable experimentation, German six and twelve pfennig stamps were copied and printed in Rome. Mail sacks and sack labels were also reproduced in large quantities. Methods of packing and labeling the sacks, based on information obtained from ex-mail clerks, were followed to the last detail. Vexing difficulties were encountered in obtaining authentic cancellations for reproduction purposes. In August, 1944, the German postal system had undergone a thorough reorganization and the country had been divided into new postal districts. This had resulted in changes in all of the old cancellations, each district having a special number. Weeks of search were required in Rome before a sufficient number of these post-August, 1944, cancellations could be found. All this work was done by MO.
Most of the difficulties were of a mechanical or research nature rather than administrative - approval from AFHQ was easy. When the written proposal was submitted to the brass hats of the 15th AAF, it was received with joy, and the commanding general was reported to have not only initialed it with a gleeful grin, but he also made the merry suggestion that certain specially chosen Nazis be mailed "poison pen" and other incriminating letters. This showed that MO could not boast of having the only MO-minded people in the theater. Much as MO would have liked to follow his suggestion, it was impractical because of lack of addresses and suitable background material on the individuals to be thus honored.
Since "Das Neue Deutschland" embraced all of MO's propaganda themes and contained them all in the smallest space, the vast majority of the envelopes were stuffed with the newspaper. In some envelopes, which were addressed to Austrian cities, the "Ten Commandments For Austrians" was included, also Austrian "underground" newspapers such as "Der Oester-reicher." Stickers and stamps made up the rest of the enclosures.
The operational side of the project, meanwhile, had been placed under the direction of Lt. Jack Daniels, located at that time with Company B, in Bari. Contact was established with the 15th Air Force and a fighter group was designated to carry out the mission. This particular group had a reputation for its low level attacks on German rail traffic in southern Germany and Austria, and called themselves "World's champion trainbusters".
Careful coordination was necessary to insure that the mail carried by each mission was directed to and emanated from towns and cities on a rail line on the day's train hunt. For this reason, postal cancellations - which were pre-dated and prepared by R&D in Rome - were stamped on the envelopes at the airfield just prior to the flight. Special bombs were prepared and packed with mail sacks each containing about 800 letters, by the MO personnel stationed in Bari (later in Foggia). These were designed to explode fifty feet above the target, thus allowing the released mail sacks to reach the target untorn and undamaged.
MO met an amusing difficulty at the outset of the operation through disregard of an ancient military precept: keep your powder dry. For security and safety reasons the explosive bombs were stored in a guarded tent outside Bari. The inundations which characterize Italian winters dampened the powder of the first bombs, a fact which showed up when test drops were made at Foggia. This was followed by a three day search for paraffin, a matter which seemed to baffle most Quartermaster organizations. Eventually, it was located in a British dump not far away and thenceforth dry explosives were prepared.
The 14th Fighter Group assigned to the operation went through considerable practice before undertaking the mission. It was found that much of their tactical procedure had to be modified in order to carry it out. Several practice sessions were held at their base near Foggia and kinks in the operation were ironed out.
The technique which was finally employed by the group was to find an enemy train moving north from southern Austria, preferably with a mail car attached. The group would then attack the train, usually destroying two or more of the cars and demobilizing the train. In the confusion, the bombs containing the mail sacks would be dropped around the train to be found in the debris.
In Rome, an entire new department was set up in the print shop run by Cpl. Egidio Clemente, to handle the production. More than two million addresses and names, from such German cities as Berlin, Dresden, Vienna, Hamburg, Stuttgart, etc., were gleaned from telephone books provided by R&A after it had proved impossible to find them elsewhere.
A staff of typists was engaged to address the envelopes, producing more than 15,000 envelopes a week. Those envelopes which were hand-addressed, to provide a plausible mixture, were prepared by agents in MO's two holding areas. Other personnel stuffed the envelopes and attached the stamps.
Shortly after the project was under way, German postal officials announced a drastic change in their regulations. Thenceforth, it was verboten to mail anything but business and official mail through the German postal facilities. Mr. Libich found, reproduced and originated samples of envelopes from various German industrial houses in Berlin, Vienna, Munich, Linz and elsewhere. These envelopes were printed in quantity and dispatched on their way in conformance with the new Nazi dictum. At the time this was written, in April, 1945, more than 120 mail sacks had been dropped around probable targets inside Germany. One pilot, who had been one of the more enthusiastic supporters of the project, unfortunately lost his life on the second mission when he flew in too close to a German flak-wagon in order to drop his load.
Here are AAF reports on the operations, covering the period from 5 February to 31 March 1945:
Operation No. 1: 5 February 1945.
Target: Train in open country 12 miles west of Amstetten, proceeding in direction of Linz. Damage: Locomotive destroyed, 12 cars damaged and left burning. Drops: 8 mail-bags dropped directly on target, 2 bags cleared from one ship which hit tree one mile from target. Six bags returned to base.
Operation No. 2. 7 February 1945.
Target: Train in open country 4 miles southeast of Ybbe, 45 miles east of Linz. Damage: Slight, train well defended, but locomotive destroyed. Two planes lost and remainder withdrew. Drops: None. Planes lost were carrying no mail-bags. All bags returned to base.
Operation No. 3. 13 February 1945
Target: Train attacked in open country 40 miles west of Vienna. Damage: Slight. Drops: No bags dropped on target because of the limited damage. In fact, the train was pulling into town. Two bags jettisoned in forest 11 miles away.
Operation No. 4. 21 February 1945
Target: Train 5 miles southwest of Gmund, moving headed north, 75 miles northwest of Vienna on Czechoslovakian-Austrian border. Damage: extremely great. Drops: 14 bags dropped directly on target near 2 passenger coaches, one coach modified in part presumably for mail. Two bags returned to base because of malfunction of bombs.
Operation No. 5. 23 February 1945
Target: Train on the edge of town, Strakonitz (Bohemia) 40 miles southwest of Pilsen. Train was leaving Strakonitz headed north and moving. Damage: Train was bombed and derailed with great damage with great damage resulting and cars burning. Drops: Six bags dropped on target, 2 bags jettitsoned by damaged plane in forest 15 miles south of target. Four bags returned to base, ships unable to get into position for drop.
Operation No. 6. 25 February 1945
Target: Train in open country 10 miles northeast of Regensburg. Damage: Train hit by bombs; cars were badly damaged. Drops: 14 bags dropped on target, 2 bags returned to base because of malfunction of bomb.
Operation No. 7. 4 March 1945
Target: 15 car train made up of 7 or 8 freight cars and 7 or 8 passenger cars with locomotive on the Vienna line. Straffing took place in the vicinity of Gmund. Damage: Front and rear locomotives destroyed and 6 freight cars damaged. Drops: 9 bags dropped on targets.
Operation No. 8. 16 March 1945
Target: 15 car passenger train, stationary, headed north, in the vicinity of St. Poelten. Results: Locomotive destroyed, 2 near misses near the rear end of locomotive, 2 near misses near 3rd car. All cars strafed. Thirteen Cornflakes were dropped with good results, three Cornflakes returned due to release failure.
Operation No. 9. 19 March 1945
Target: Diesel electric locomotive and 15/16 freight and flat cars, stationary and headed SE between Rosenheim and Munich. Results: No direct hits by bombing were observed on the train because of tree screen, but considerable smoke could be seen along the train itself. All sixteen Cornflakes were dropped successfully from 50 feet.
Operation No. 10. 31 March 1945
Target: Electric locomotive and 6 passenger cars, headed NW, in the vicinity of Ried, Austria. Results: Hits scored on rear end of train, damage unknown. Eight Cornflakes dropped, three Cornflakes returned due to release failure, four Cornflakes returned due to failure of pilot to set arming switch, one Cornflake lost, time and place unknown.
In summation, more than 50,000 pieces of mail containing subversive literature were taken into Germany. It is reasonable to expect that at least three-fourths of this mail either came to the attention of the addressees, or at the very least to Nazi postal officials.
After the German surrender in Italy, it was definitely ascertained in the first interrogations of PWs that German troops received DNDs through the German mails. Some of these letters resulted in investigations by German Counter-intelligence of entire units, with courts-martial following. If first fragmentary interrogations of only a few captured troops disclosed success by Cornflakes, it is not unreasonable to assume that the success was much larger than available figures show. German PWs reported having seen DNDs as far North as the Baltic ports and there was reported a widespread knowledge of a German "underground movement" named Das Neue Deutschland in Austria and other sections of Germany, with 90 percent of the prisoners believing it either of genuine internal origin or emanating from Switzerland.
Time may produce more complete figures on the effectiveness of this operation called CORNFLAKES. As General Patton's 3rd Army surged toward the Austrian border and the Russians swept up the Danube from Vienna, targets for the operation became scarcer and scarcer. On 13 April the following cable was sent to Lt. Robich who had taken Lt. Daniels' place at Foggia:
"Warner to Robich - Reich postmaster general broadcast order that quote civilian mail should be delivered at any cost and by any means or transport available unquote. This means CORNFLAKES can be dropped on trucks or wagons or even open roads. Please consult airforce."
No results of this swan song scheme to carry CORNFLAKES to the end had been received when this narrative was written and sent to press.
PIG IRON AND SHEET IRON
These two operations were MO's major, maiden adventures into the field of free leaflet dropping, a field which was dominated by the PWB until the waning months of the war.
Through the PIG IRON operations, more than 10,000,000 miniature editions of "Das Neue Deutschland" found their way into the heart of the German homeland. This was, of course, exclusive of the regular, monthly distribution of 75,000 standard-size editions through MO's clandestine channels.
There were obvious difficulties in the path of dropping black material over enemy territory from Allied planes and having it accepted by our German reading public. In fact, there were only a few MO production items which could lend themselves to this form of dissemination. Opposition developed, also, from PWB which contended that black and white material could not be dropped together, arguing that their proximity would have a deteriorating effect upon both of them. In the case of "Das Neue Deutschland", MO solved this difficulty by describing the newspaper as a "captured enemy document." Through this device, it was a simple matter to send the paper back to the Germans in quantity, as evidence of what enlightened Germans were thinking and saying inside the Reich.
The newspaper was reduced by photography to 10 inches by 6 1/2 inches, one-fourth its regular size, and was reproduced, at first, at the rate of one million a month. Later on, when PWB relinquished all control over the drops, this was stepped up to one million per week.
This, too, posed new problems for MO. Although MO's production had been high, compared to other propaganda distributing agencies its needs insofar as paper and other supplies were concerned had been light. This new production schedule called for a mountain of paper each week, extended hours for the employees of the MO print shop and barrels of ink. Only MO's long months of experience at "scrounging" saved the day.
Each 1500 copies of the paper had to be packed into a special cylindrical device, allowing them to slide into the propaganda bombs. They were then transported by truck to the MO outpost at Foggia where they were packed in bombs and turned over to the air force for dropping on targets in central Germany and Austria.
This operation received the compliment of the sharpest reaction from the German press ever elicited by MO material. In a two page article, Himmler's own newspaper "Das Schwarze Korps", denounced "Das Neue Deutschland" and its "traitorous" authors. The paper was particularly incensed, apparently, over Germans who intended to use the DND membership card to curry favor with the Allies.
When the Wehrmacht in Italy collapsed and wholesale masses of prisoners were brought in, a surprising number of them had read or heard about DND, and had clipped the coupon, which they filled in, and secreted the coupons in their caps and shoes.
SHEET IRON involved a newspaper produced by the Italian partisans called, "La Riscossa Italiana". To MO's knowledge, it is the only legitimate underground newspaper ever printed in liberated territory from bona fide partisan text and returned by air to the originators. Even here, however, MO was able to contribute a shade of illegitimacy.
Copy for the newspaper was smuggled across the Italian-French frontier by a representative of the partisan propaganda ministry. He approached an MO representative in Annecy, France, Lt. Laird Ogle, with the request that the paper be produced there, production difficulties being insurmountable in Northern Italy. Lt. Ogle printed 10,000 copies of the paper in Grenoble and they were infiltrated by skiers back into northern Italy, through Alpine passes held by the enemy.
The Committee for National Liberation later approached MO with the request that 100,000 additional copies of this paper be printed and dropped on certain targets in Northern Italy, particularly Turin, as an indication of the close cooperation between the partisans and the Allies.
It was necessary to makeover the entire paper, so that it would conform in size for leaflet dropping and still be legible.
The original "La Riscossa" printed by Lt. Ogle was the exact size of an American newspaper, but too blurred for photographing; therefore all the copy was re-set in large clean type in the MO print shop. From this large edition the text was reduced by photography to one-fourth the size of a standard newspaper. This was necessary to reduce weight and bulk for carrying by air; four times as many papers could be carried in the same space.
This was done in Rome and later 100,000 of them were dropped at dawn by an A-20 medium bomber 20 April, 1945, over Turin and other Northern Italian cities.
1. Mr. Warner on a trip to the Swiss border before Christmas 1944 met and discussed with M. Salambier, Chief Swiss MO, the feasibility of infiltrating German mail trains going into the Reich and it was agreed it could be done but only on a small scale. MO MEDTO withdrew therefore from participation in this scheme and suggested that Salambier prepare his own letters and infiltrate them in Switzerland as best he could and to help him, MO MEDTO sent him 10,000 German stamps. What success he had, has not been reported to MEDTO.
[Source: NARA RG 226, transcribed by www.psywar.org]