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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.
ln Britain the authorities had only begun to prepare for war at the last minute. Nevertheless September 1939, found Radio Berlin and the Reichsrundfunkgessellschaft worse equipped in regard to the provision of English-speaking announcers, news writers and commentators than the BBC was for their equivalent in German.
They had not even organised in advance the recruiting to the Berlin team of William Joyce, the former Mosley Fascist and fanatical Hitler devotee who under the nickname of Lord Haw-Haw was to become the führer's Radio Fifth Column for Britain. His appearance was entirely fortuitous.
As the British historian. J. A. Cole reveals in a gripping study, now translated into German: "Hier sprict der Grossdeutsche Rundfunk", this strange and contradictory character only decided just before war broke out that he would travel to Berlin and "throw in my lot with Germany for good or for ill." Although he was personally known to Goebbels's secret London envoy, one Dr. Bauer, his welcome was so discouraging that he rushed despairingly to the British Consulate in an attempt to return to Britain, even if it meant being interned there.
For so far from jumping with joy at the advent of this Nazi Englishman who had nearly twenty years of getting just the kind of experience of demagogue oratory the Nazis needed in their propaganda puppets, German officials treated him with disdain and distrust and threatened to intern him themselves. They suspected Joyce of having been planted on them by the insidious Secret Service.
And indeed, he could have been. In a passage which Mr. Cole, to my disappointment, has not elaborated there is a reference to a British Intelligence officer, who shortly before the outbreak of war had sounded Joyce out on his willingness to go to Germany as a spy for the British.
At his first try-out as a voice for Dr. Goebbels the producer turned down the man who was to become their only star in the radio war against Britain. A sound engineer at the control panel saved him. He thought the future Lord Haw-Haw had promise. And on September 11th, 1939 the Fascist speaker who, in his public meetings, used to denounce the British people for its lack of patriotism and true national feeling made his first broadcast for the enemy.
The English in which the broadcasts had been written by Dr. Gobbels's English experts made Joyce writhe. Sometimes as on the occasion when he was expected to announce that "a torpedo struck the machines and kettles of the boat", it was too much for him.
Ignoring the order that in no circumstances would he deviate from the text given him - a normal security precaution to prevent speakers from introducing code messages - Joyce took his life in his hands and changed the script.
Despite such linguistic shortcomings, indeed probably because of them, the broadcasts of Gobbels's team over Radio Hamburg were an instant success. People listened to them for a laugh.
Indeed, the pained would-be upper class 'officer-and-gentleman' accents in which the main speaker, a British ex-officer defector named Norman Baille-Stewart, jeered at the British and their Government was funny. Everyone laughed at his pretentiousness. He was nicknamed Lord Haw-Haw by the newspapers and when he succeeded Ballie-Stewart as the number one commentator William Joyce inherited the title.
Though the constant demscopic polls conducted by the Home Office never gave the Haw-Haw broadcasts a higher rating than 13.5 listeners per hundred - and don't forget the British never jammed the German radio or forbade the public to listen - the broadcasts did become a worry for the government after the fall of France when Hitler threatened invasion. For now they carried some authority. The spate of rumours they gave rise to amongst the British public was impressive. Haw-Haw and the German high command were given credit for knowing even in the smallest detail what was going on in Britain.
Radio Hamburg, although it was the official voice of Germany, did not hesitate to broadcast lies in its endeavour to spread panic in Britain as a prelude to invasion - an operation which the BBC with respect for truthfulness and honesty would have rejected with horror and indignation.
Not that Britain's psychological warriors renounced rumours and lies in their warfare against Hitler. But they did not put them out in official 'Voice of Britain' broadcasts or leaflets. We used disavowable instruments for this purpose; underground agents, radios camouflaged to give listeners the impression that they were anything but a British station.
Dr. Goebbels also had to resort to what in propagandists jargon is called 'Black Radio'. And it is in this, the field of 'Black' that the failure of the Germans to plan and organise their psychological warfare in advance becomes most noticeable. Also, if I may say so as one who took part in this side of the war of wits, the more bullying less subtle approach of the Führer and his henchmen by comparison with ours.
When in early 1940 the German propaganda men decided that the official broadcasts of Tshairmany calling' needed reinforcement with some 'black' Fifth Column radio operating ostensibly from inside Britain, so scarce was their writing and speaking talent that they had to fall back once more on their already over loaded war horse William Joyce. But Joyce was overjoyed, for his chief, an interesting man called Dr. Erich Hetzler - I would like to meet sometime if he is still around - told him that this would enable him to escape the bureaucratic controls of Ribbentrop's and Goebbel's desk men.
So Joyce - who had high-mindedly refused the raise in salary Dr. Hetzler offered him for this work - took on in addition to his normal white broadcasts the scriptwriting for three 'Black' stations: the 'New British Broadcasting Service' the 'Workers Challenge' and 'Radio Caledonia'.
He had no intelligence at his disposal beyond the London newspapers which were at least a day old and some selective monitoring reports of foreign news broadcasts made not for his needs but for those of other offices. As speakers he had a number of prisoners whom he had personally selected from the POW camps. But the German security men would not allow the British prisoners the kind of freedom without which their work was bound to be poor. They were cooped up in a Berlin flat and not allowed into the streets except with an armed guard. They were not even allowed female secretaries to type their scripts for fear immoral relations might develop.
Poor Joyce: I wonder what he would have said could he have seen the apparatus at the disposal of the British 'Black Radio' team, when it became our task to soften up the German armies in the west for the allied invasion of Normandy.
We even had German wireless teleprinters which enabled us to receive Goebbels's own official news service at the same time it was being received by the German newspapers and radios. We had a service of air reconnaissance photographs showing us the damage done in German cities by the bombing raids of the previous night.
In addition we received the reports of the RAF and US Air Force bombers as soon as they returned to base telling us what targets they thought they had hit and how heavily.
A mass of intelligence came to us daily from the latest prisoners of war to be captured and the latest travellers to arrive in neutral countries. Special press reading teams in Stockholm sent us over excerpts from the German provincial and national press by Mosquito aircraft.
In addition to a battery of short wave transmitters we had a 500-kilowatt medium wave voice. This had the special capability of being able to lie in wait for one of the German transmitters to go down and take over from it within a two-hundredth of a second of it doing so. So that we were able to broadcast on the German frequencies in the name of the Nazi authorities without the listeners knowing the difference.
As for the small army of German prisoners working for our Soldatensender, men from all services and of all ranks - they were all allowed to go on leave to London quite freely in civilian clothes. The English girl secretaries got on so well with them that there were several marriages; maybe there should have been several more.
One could hardly expect William Joyce's scripts to be of high quality in view of the terrific demands on him and the lack of support. And they were not.
Had Hitler however prepared for psychological war as thoroughly as he did for the shooting and bombing war, he could have had the same apparatus ready for Joyce that we had and much more.
Even so, I doubt whether Joyce's propaganda would ever of been of the top class. For essentially he, like his master Hitler, was a ranter and a poseur. His propaganda to Britain was always propaganda with a capital P - propaganda that never sounded like anything but propaganda. Propaganda moreover that was not so much intended to convert, or subvert, as to terrify.
Both Hitler and Joyce might have done better had they been a little less bullying, a little more subtle and devious. But then of course had Hitler been more subtle there never would have been a war. And then there would have been no need for psychological warfare.