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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.
JANUARY AND FEBRUARY 1945
A signalman deserter from the Luftwaffe has stated: "...The broadcasts made by 'Catholic Priest' have many listeners among civilians and service men, particularly in Catholic circles." On 13th December, 'Catholic Priest' broadcast a confession that Gauleiter Jury had in fact made to an old friend about a year previously, in the course of which he said "if he had known what the Anchluss and Hitlerism would lead to he would never have joined up with these people". The broadcast went on to deplore the fact that this confession was not made publicly, because it would have helped the Austrian people considerably, and the Gauleiter would have saved his reputation, and - perhaps - his soul as well; it also deplored the projected total evacuation of the Austrian people to the Reich on account of the approach of the Russian armies. Four days later, Gauleiter Jury referred to this matter in a speech, and on the 20th December the local paper, Niederdonauer Beobachter, stated that "The Gauleiter's visit was particularly intended to remove misunderstandings and dispel people's worries". The Gauleiter said "I have never spoken of evacuating the country people from the frontier areas of the Gau. Anyone who spreads rumours about the imminent evacuation, and thus creates unrest, only proves that he listens to enemy broadcasting stations".
The Swedish radio magazine for the week 17th-23rd December, carries an article about the station which it describes as "the most interesting and the most exclusive of all illegal stations". It continues: "A male voice, as soft as honey, preaches a sermon in which the German people are called upon to oppose 'anti-Christ' and the 'heathen Nazi' - an original form of radio propaganda.
G.9 Soldatensender West (Formerly Calais)/Atlantik
A German deserter now in Sweden, has sent a letter to "Atlantik" which has reached us through the Press Department in Stockholm. The man appears to be an enthusiastic radio listener, and has built up his own reference list of the news services provided in German, by legal and illegal stations. He describes Atlantik as "my best friend in this collection".
"In May 1943 I was on the Donetz Front. We were sitting quietly in the woods. As batman to the Company Commander, I was able to use the service receiving set - the only thing in the army I have ever been fond of - so every morning at 3 a.m. when on telephone duty, I twiddled the dial for light music. Up bobbed "Herr Atlantik" in the ??? metre band. At first I thought it was in fact an official broadcast for the German army. The news was not exaggerated, and the other incidentals did not give anything away. Later I began to see through it; mainly English recordings, and the matter of presenting the material showed the station was illegal, and since I listened pretty regularly to news broadcasts from foreign stations, I also discovered a similarity between the BBC and Atlantik. Most of the Company thought it was a real German station. After three weeks the CO forbade listening, but of course I and a few friends continue all the same. The music was so good that it got talked about, and after a short while the station had devotees throughout the whole division.
"After the retreat I deserted from the army, and travelled illegally to Hamburg. That was in August 1943 after the heavy RAF attacks. Atlantik was almost unknown when I first arrived; reception seemed to improve after a time, and it soon became the habit amongst my anti-Nazi friends to listen to both the BBC and Atlantik.
"Soon after, I escaped to Denmark and found Atlantik was a great source of entertainment for the Danes. We often danced to it. I remember hearing two compatriots in Copenhagen commenting on how Atlantik had announced that their home street in Hanover had been bombed.
"In March 1944 I got to Sweden, and noticed how widely known the station was in the camp. Most people thought it was in France or Switzerland; some said in Russia, and others a mobile station inside Germany. But fancy a station using three short and three medium waves in a regular twelve-hour programme anywhere in occupied territory or in Germany!
"Then one day, to my great joy, a voice came back on the air which had been a great favourite: 'der Chef' of Gustav Siegfried I. When I first heard him in Denmark in '41 talking about SS methods in Norway, we all listened to the talk three times over. Of course my circle of acquaintances at home is a little less vulgar perhaps than 'der Chef', but we forgave him everything. There was a lot of conjecture as to where Gustav Siegfried I might be, and then I hit on it: GSI is of course an official designation for one of the English short waves! I am so glad 'der Chef' is back on Atlantik, even though his tone and presentation have entirely changed; for me he is still 'der Chef'. I wonder if he comes from Berlin. Anyway I hope to meet him one day.
"What is the reason for Atlantik's success? Of course the German soldier does not like it when he and the army are held responsible for defeats. He takes it as a personal affront. Very German! But if Atlantik attacks the Party or the SS, he is full of childish delight. Moreover he believes what he is told and then he also believes what he hears in the news part of the broadcast, which does not happen when he listens to an official news service coming from abroad".
A prisoner of war who deserted used to listen regularly to Soldatensender West with a group of rather intellectual acquaintances. The music attracted them at first, but gradually the news and features became their chief interest. They listened in a rather sophisticated way and took an intellectual pleasure in the subversive quality of the material. Prisoners of war recall the story of the German airman caught in a tree upside down and unable to convince the populace that he was friendly. He was impressed by the frequency with which Soldatensender West gave information about things like the Me.262, a subject which was "schwer verboten in der Wehrmacht". Soldatensender West's Bavarian speaker reminded another prisoner of war of the comedian Weiss Ferdl. Two young Volkssturm prisoners had listened regularly, but tonight it was dangerous to pass on news they heard to neighbours. A Lieutenant who had listened near Rennes on a small 4 valve French set had good reception of Soldatensender West, but the BBC was heavily jammed.
Reference on Soldatensender West to promotion and decorations of notorious army men are reported by a member of a coastal artillery ground crew to have gone down well. Another deserter considered Soldatensender West's favourable reception to be due to its inclusion of the Wehrmacht communiqués. He mentioned also that German propaganda pamphlets referred constantly to Soldatensender West and forbade listening. Prisoners of war from 29th Panziergrenadier Division, (a director of shows and operettas by profession) said that Soldatensender West was so widely listened to by soldiers that he had been able to put on a regular 15-minute show for the troops under the name "Hallo, Atlantik Calling". He claims the show was a big success precisely because it was a take-off.
Another prisoner of war listened when on leave at home, but was happier when using earphones in his capacity of battery signaller. A prisoner of war who listened in Normandy said his men found the tone of Soldatensender West too aggressive. This repelled the non-Nazis especially. An interesting extract from the diary of a Lieutenant prisoner of war reads "I know pretty well everything now just in the way I used to. I have always got my information from the English radio and Atlantik". A sergeant motor transport specialist said that Soldatensender West was widely listened to by the troops. He found some of it was laid on too thick, but the subtler points tickled his fancy... According to prisoners of war rumour was current throughout the 272nd VG in early December that "Hitler is suffering complete paralysis of the left side of his body and can neither walk nor talk. Himmler is now in complete control". (This was a regular Soldatensender West line during October-November).
A prisoner of war deserter from the Westphalian 6th VG Regiment, a factory worker in civil life listened particularly to Soldatensender West and said soldiers always liked stories of the Nazi bigwigs, though the particular one about the transfer of funds to Sweden was not believed because the men thought the funds would not be safe there anyway once the war was lost. A Lieutenant from Nuremberg said his men never tired of listening to Soldatensender West which attracted them by its personal approach and by its stories of people they knew or events with which they were familiar. [A] prisoner of war in hospital in Brussels after the Caen battle was amazed how accurate Soldatensender West's news service was, and an Ensign cadet from Berlin said "Soldatensender West is very good. Many a thing in it sounds improbable, but on the whole it expresses the innermost feeling of the German soldier. A prisoner of 38, in peace time cultural editor of a well-known provincial paper, found Soldatensender West amusing and thought that its form rather than its contents interested the soldiers, and said "the presentation is just a bit too good; there is a real danger that people will listen merely for the sake of this virtuosity". A sailor prisoner of war from a patrol boat said that the whole ship's company with the commander at the head used to listen.
Listening by Civilians
A sample interrogation of civilians in a captured town on the west front revealed widespread listening as a regular habit. According to another prisoner of war people of the Saar liked Soldatensender West because German soldiers speak on it. A deserter interrogated 19th November 1944 said everybody in Munich listens to Soldatensender West. A civilian aged 47 from Mecklenburg who escaped from Germany when about to be arrested on suspicion of being concerned in the attempt of Hitler's life, considered Atlantik has already had a great effect in breaking down the resistance of the masses during the past two years. A prisoner of war reports Altanik as the most popular Allied station in East Tyrol, his home province.
A Hamburg doctor in a letter of 18th December summarised his impressions of Allied broadcasts, and stated that differing opinions were held about Soldatensender West in official circles of the German general staff. He himself, from information gleaned from military sources thought it must be a transmitter worked by the resistance party inside Germany but after the 20th July putsch changed his mind and decided it must be English. Soldatensender West has according to him, a very considerable subversive effect on the German home front, particularly amongst thinking people who ask themselves how much more information the English must have about events inside Germany in addition to what they allow to be broadcast on Soldatensender West!
Reactions in the Enemy Press
DNB European on 18th December said, "Only barely three weeks ago reports were put out by Atlantik, the apparent accuracy of which aimed at demonstrating that the Allies were very well informed about Germany's intentions and capabilities. The other reports of DNB of this period set out to counter two standard lines of Soldatensender West: That the Volkssturm has provided cushy staff jobs for people with the right connections, and that total mobilisation was causing unemployment. A captured circular says "The press is reminded once again not to take any action on the question of the internment of German prisoners of war in Russia and not to interest itself in possible investigations by the Turkish Red Crescent in Ankara". The document is dated 8th February 1944 and may well be a comeback to Soldatensender West's broadcasts of 14th November 1943.
A special circular issued by the 'Landesgruppe der AO in Frankreich' entitled "Defence against Enemy Propaganda" has a special section on black radio, "of which the main aim" is to set members of the Wehrmacht against the Party, and concludes "Every utterance, even among friends, which spreads this schism propaganda between Party and Wehrmacht, helps enemy propaganda and works against German victory". A Breslau newspaper warned against Soldatensender West stating that "it may be a foreign station".
Reactions Amongst Neutrals
"I found that Atlantik was coming through, and could not resist the temptation of listening to it for the rest of the evening... As a medium of mass propaganda the Atlantik technique is as far in advance of the technique of the BBC European Service as BBC technique today is in advance of BBC technique in 1939... I have often noticed that listeners who would not bother about listening to a badly jammed BBC transmission will put up with very bad reception of Atlantik, and will glue their ears to the loudspeaker in order to catch what Atlantik is saying when jamming has reached an intensity that, if it affected a BBC transmission, would have discouraged them long ago", reads an entry in the diary of a MOI broadcasting officer in Stockholm (21st November 1944).
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The Swedish Home Service radio on 17th December 1944 had a broadcast on secret radio stations in war time, and gave detailed description of the technique and contents of the almost "legendary" Atlantik, which "as far as is known was first with the news of the invasion of France, thus winning an undisputed reputation".
Comebacks from Allied Sources
The French Home Service on 3rd January, carried a Soldatensender West story identical in all details except one. Radio News, the American magazine in the "Worldwide Log of Broadcasting Stations" in the November 1944 issue devotes more space to Atlantik than any other station.
Considerable success has been registered by our Ration Cards. The Nazi district leader of Zabern issued a circular letter under date 13th November 1944, which begins by quoting a report by the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Air-War Damage, on the subject of the difficulty experienced in the courts of proving that defendants who have used faked ration cards did so knowingly. It suggests to Gauleiters that, immediately on confirmation of the dropping of such ration cards by enemy aircraft, warnings be broadcast by radio stressing the penalties involved in their use. Penalties are penal servitude or the death sentence.
Evidence in German newspapers reveals the disorganisation caused by those cards. There are eight specific references from widely different areas of Germany over the period covered, reminding of the penalties or instancing punishment meted out.
Nachrichten für die Truppe
One prisoner of war had seen the paper at his battalion headquarters where it was being passed round with favourable comments. Another who had found an unopened bundle of the news sheets gave them publicity by writing "enemy-propaganda" on them and leaving them about in conspicuous places. A report from 21st Army Group dated 17th December 1944 states that five prisoners of war from a batch of seventeen had seen the paper. Some remembered individual items therein, and one was impressed by the fact that it gave news not announced on the German radio. A prisoner of war from 116th Division tells how his young and unpopular platoon commander flew into a rage on entering a bunker and finding prisoners of war reading the news sheet. He issued an order to the whole platoon that reading it was forbidden. A captured document dated 10th November is from a platoon headquarters sending a copy of the news sheet to company HQ for forwarding to higher authority, with the recommendation that steps be taken to prevent the men reading this publication.
The interrogation of 50 prisoners of war, none above the rank of Obergefreiter, taken in the 1st and 3rd US Army sectors showed that only four had seen news sheets before. All 50 were then shown recent copies of Frontpost and Nachrichten für die Truppe and allowed adequate time to read them. On further interrogation 40 stated preference for Nachrichten, 7 for Frontpost and 3 had no opinion. Those that preferred Nachrichten gave as their reasons that it contained more details and was more comprehensive, sounds official, inspires greater confidence, news from home, plenty to distract the mind. Those who preferred Frontpost gave as their reasons the clear and bigger type, and the shorter and snappier presentation of news.
[Source: TNA HS 6/696, transcribed by www.psywar.org]