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14 May 2016 at 1:34 pm
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I have previously written about Operations Cornflakes, a psychological warfare campaign waged by the United States Office of Strategic Services (OSS) Morale Operations (MO) section in Rome during WWII. Operation Cornflakes was designed to drop German mail sacks containing subversive material in carefully addressed envelopes inside the Reich near shot-up enemy trains. The same people in the 2677th Regiment of the OSS (Provisional) who were involved in the Cornflakes operation were also preparing propaganda for use in Operation Sauerkraut, a plan to use captured German prisoners of war to distribute Allied propaganda behind enemy lines. In fact, many of the leaflets that I have depicted in the Cornflakes article were also used in the Sauerkraut campaign. The data below is from a large number of official Sauerkraut documents in my possession and from personal interviews with some members of the Rome OSS team.
The Sauerkraut story begins on 21 July 1944 when the German generals attempted to assassinate their Führer, Adolf Hitler. Just hours after the first reports of the attempted coup, MO Rome was busy devising ways to capitalize on the news from Germany. The OSS identified the situation: "The attempted assassination of Hitler provided an unusual psychological moment to attack the morale of the German Army if appropriate propaganda could be circulated without delay." Ordinary methods of infiltration via aircraft drops were not considered speedy enough. Several members of the OSS staff had been meeting with "friendly, trustworthy" German prisoners over a period of several months attempting to determine their political views. The implementation of the program was defined: "By passing agents directly through the front lines to distribute freshly-conceived rumors, leaflets, fake orders and 'official' proclamations, as well as longer-ranged arousers of homesickness such as fake Germans women's 'lonely hearts clubs'."
We know that the Morale Operations Sauerkraut unit was part of Company D of the 2677 Provisional OSS Regiment based near Siena, Italy. We know there were 3 officers, one enlisted man and three civilians. All used code-names that were very close to their real names, sometimes just a letter or two different. The team members came and went so it is impossible to say with any accuracy who they were but reading secret coded reports seems to imply that the officers were; First Lieutenant Jack Daniels; a Major Dewart; Captain Erik Anderson, and finally First Lieutenant Arthur Tritsch who seems to have commanded the unit at some point.
The enlisted person is more difficult. We know that Private Barbara Lauwers of the Woman's Army Corps was a member, but they may have put her in a different category as a female WAC member. We know there were a Sergeant Alfio Durso who also acted as a printer and a Corporal Glass who also acted as a driver. A Sergeant Ring is also mentioned in one report so one of the above four is the enlister person in the team.
I only found three civilians so these names could be accurate. We know Eddie Lindner for sure, and a George Carpenter and Broch de Rotherman are also mentioned. We assume these were the three.
The German agents started out as a small group and grew as more agents were needed and some were removed because of various security worries. Linder mentions 20 German agents in his final report but that does not mean that they all saw action.
A 19 December 1944 report mentions the equipment that each team member carried. I note:
Proper identification and passes;
Berretta pistols and German rifles;
Forty rounds of ammo each;
Italian and Swiss watches;
3000 pieces of printed Morale Operations propaganda;
2300 to 7800 lire in all denominations;
German steel helmets, uniforms and field equipment;
Italian cigarettes, matches and stationery;
First aid packets.
Eight faked field post letters in the German language were produced by the OSS in Italy. They were printed in Rome between the summer of 1944 and the spring of 1945. The total number of forged field post letters that were printed in Rome is indicated in an OSS production report. 287,000 copies were produced in the period between 15 July 1944 and the end of the war. Of these, 257,232 copies were reportedly distributed, an average of 32,000 copies of each letter. This "lonely hearts club" leaflet is in the form of a field post folded letter.
This letter allegedly originates from the "Verein Einsamer Kriegerfrauen (VEK)" (Association of Lonely War Women). This message attempts to destroy the morale of the soldier in the field by making him believe that his wife, girlfriend or sister was having casual sex while he was fighting at the front. The text is:
Dear frontline soldier!
When will you have leave again?
When will you be able to forget your arduous soldier's duties for a while, for a few days of joy, happiness and love? We at home know of your heroic struggle. We understand that even the bravest gets tired sometime and need a soft pillow, tenderness and healthy enjoyment.
We are waiting for you:
For you who must spend your leave in a foreign town; for you whom the war has deprived of a home; for you who is alone in the world without a wife, fiancée or a flirt.
We are waiting for you:
Cut our symbol from this letter. In every coffee shop, in every bar near a railway station, place it on your glass so that it can be clearly seen. A member of our VEK will soon contact you. The dreams you had at the front, and the longings of your lonely nights, will be fulfilled... We want you, not your money. Therefore, you should always show our membership card (to anyone who may approach you). There are members everywhere, because we women understand our duties to the homeland and to its defenders.
We are, of course, are selfish too - we have been separated from our men for many years. With all those foreigners around us, we would like once more to press a real German youth to our bosom. No inhibitions now: Your wife, sister, or lover is one of us as well.
We think of you and Germany's future. Which rests - rusts.
Association of Lonely War Women.
The League of Lonely War women was the creation of Women's Army Corps (WAC) and OSS Morale Operations agent Corporal Barbara Lauwers. The operation was so successful that the Washington Post was fooled and ran a story on 10 October 1944 entitled, "German soldiers on leave from the Italian front have only to pin an entwined heart of their lapel during furloughs home to find a girl friend." The newspaper got the story from a circular that was captured on the Eighth Army front. The circular had been written by Lauwers and carried behind German lines by the Sauerkraut agents. Lauwers later was awarded a Bronze Star for a PSYOP campaign that led to the surrender of several hundred Czech and Slovak soldiers who had been drafted into the German Army.
Barbara was a native of Czechoslovakia and spoke a number of languages fluently. Her code name was Zuzka. She graduated from the Masaryk University in Brno with a doctor of law degree. In 1941, she came to the United States and served for eighteen months in the Czechoslovak press relations office. She joined the OSS and served in the U.S. Army for the duration of the war. Corporal Barbara Lauwers was decorated with the Bronze Star for her black operations work for the OSS. Her last married name was Barbara Podoski.
While assigned to interrogate prisoners a German sergeant bragged about the great number of Czechs and Slovaks that were assigned the worst missions in the German Army. She prepared leaflets in both languages which said in part:
Shed this German yoke of shame, cross over to the partisans.
The leaflets were carried by at least 600 Czechs who had earlier joined the Wehrmacht and now decided to defect to the Allies.
In 2010, some of the data in this section on Barbara Lauwers was used in the production of a Department of Defense sponsored TV broadcast by the American Forces Radio and Television Service entitled "American Heritage: American Patriots."
According to the Shadow War against Hitler, Christof Mauch, Columbia University Press, NY, 1999:
The plan that Company D hatched the night of July 21, 1944 was surprisingly simple and seemed to solve all outstanding problems at a single stroke. As agents for the covert actions, it would not be OSS or military people who would be recruited, but rather German prisoners of war. An idea concocted by the philosopher Frederick Burkhardt and the Austrian aristocrat Oliver von Schneditz [code name Oliver Rockhill], two Research and Development agents working in Italy. It did not take long to come up with a name for the new OSS project. We wanted to give the operation a title name that would be very German and at the same time widely understood. I think it was Eddie Lindner's idea. "How about Sauerkraut? The Germans are called Krauts anyway." Sauerkraut seemed absolutely appropriate for the operation.
Now was the time to strike. While two members of the team departed to the prison camp at Aversa, near Naples, to select candidates, other members were hard at work producing a series of tactical leaflets to take advantage of the situation. The first was a special order of the day declaring that Field Marshall Walther Von Brauchitsch had taken control of Germany. Other leaflets called on German troops to take revolutionary actions, and a special edition of the Allied black newspaper Das Neue Deutschland was printed.
Meanwhile, Captain William T. Dewart and Corporal Barbara Lauwers had recruited sixteen German prisoners who volunteered to act as American agents.
The concept of secretly sending Americans behind the wire in prisoner-of-war camps was apparently not that uncommon. In 2011, I was contacted by the family of Technical Sergeant (T3) Werner A. Bloch, who they believed was in the OSS during the war. Bloch was a German-Jewish refugee who arrived in the US in 1939 and was drafted into the US Army in 1940. He was fluent in French and Belgian and his native language was German so he was assigned to Intelligence duties. His record shows that he was assigned in both Sicily and Rome with the military occupational specialty of Intelligence non-commissioned officer (631). He told his family that during the war:
I was often dressed in a German uniform and placed in a stockade of recently captured prisoners where my mission was to strike up conversations to establish which ones were candidates for coming over to our side. Once they were selected and volunteered, I identified myself and interrogated them to glean more information.
Back at Operation Sauerkraut, another OSS officer named Ed Lindner prepared fake credentials and gathered uniforms and weapons for the agents. The German prisoners were driven to Rome, and by the time they arrived on 23 July, the propaganda literature and leaflets were prepared and waiting. The teams were moved close to the front lines at Sienna. While the men were issued their uniforms and weapons, Ed Lindner schooled them on their cover stories and supplied them with documents and currency. The teams were well equipped with uniforms, credentials, weapons, compasses, matches, and miscellaneous items. They were issued money, Italian cigarettes, matches, stationery, and first aid kits. Each POW carried from 2300 lire to 7800 lire in mixed denominations. Three teams of three men each were scheduled to cross the lines at the Arno River and then be on their own. They were to penetrate as deeply as possible, placing leaflets and proclamations on trees, buildings, into trucks, and scattering them on the streets.
The charcoal sketches in this story were prepared by German Sauerkraut agent Willy Haseneier. Haseneier was captured 4 June 1944. An artist and graduate of the Düsseldorf Art Academy, we was used by his OSS handlers to forge identity papers, passes, credentials and signatures. At the end of the war he worked for the Allies producing visual aids for the Nurnberg trials. He immigrated to Hollywood after the war and found fame as "Will Williams," illustrating book covers, comic books, movie posters, and portraits of actors. Ironically, some of his drawings were called "the secret agent series," a subject he was very familiar with.
Declassified documents show that Edmund Friedrich Linder was an Austrian born in Vienna 11 May 1908. His father was an American citizen working for Republic Steel in Cleveland, Ohio. After the Germans entered Austria, Linder first went to Switzerland and later Belgium while awaiting papers to allow him to enter the United States. He tried to join the American military but was turned down as an alien. He was cleared to join the British Pioneers. He eventually joined the American OSS assigned to the Algiers MO section 1 August 1943. An October 1944 letter to the Chief of Morale Operations describes Linder using his code name and says in part:
Eddie Zinder, Austrian, is now applying for American citizenship... Eddie is a remarkably versatile young man, having written many leaflets, the song "Wie Lange Noch," acted as a doctor at various times and is the supreme master of briefing, preparation of documents and preparing prisoners of war for infiltration.
Readers might be confused by the various spelling of this agent's name. Understand that although he was born "Linder," he adopted his father's Paul Americanized name "Lindner," and the OSS used the code name "Zinder." In all the correspondence I have seen the names are used interchangeably, so I have followed that pattern and used the name that appears in a specific document when talking about a specific campaign.
All the teams returned safely two days later after leaving 3000 pieces of propaganda behind the lines. Some of the men had penetrated as far as three miles behind the German lines. They reported that they had disseminated the propaganda and German soldiers were eagerly reading the literature. They also brought back intelligence about defensive positions and German military movements. As a result, the Fifth Army G2 (Intelligence) requested that more teams be sent behind the lines.
The Story of the Sauerkrauts, an OSS booklet printed in Rome in May 1945 gives a brief description of the operation. Some of the comments are:
Unimpeachable credentials were vitally important. Special documents had to be prepared to substantiate the agent's cover stories. After the operation started, the Germans made frequent changes in their documents and it was necessary to check and duplicate these changes. Although the agents were accosted by German Military Police on many occasions, there was only one instance in which their credentials were questioned. A special department was set up so that the documentation could be completed in the field. A wide variety of official rubber stamps were manufactured in Research and development in Rome. Every conceivable kind of insignia had to be located. Uniforms were completed down to the last detail. Hose of a wrong color might give a man away and destroy the entire operation. Weapons had to be supplied.
In regard to the training of the men the report says:
Each man was interviewed thoroughly and tests of his character were made. As each was accepted, a complete record of his past performances and his qualifications was entered in the files. The men were trained in the use of the German light machine gun, explosives, map reading, and the operations of American and German vehicles. They practiced the dissemination of MO material and their cover stories.
The files on some of the men are interesting. Let's look at one. Hans Tappert was a 33-year old Protestant who spoke five languages. His family was persecuted and his father was shot by the Nazis. His mother was placed in Bochum penitentiary for anti-Nazi activities. She was later moved to Finsterwalde Concentration Camp where she died and was cremated in 1937. Tappert was tried three times for anti-Nazi activities. He was jailed for 18 months in 1934, but was still drafted into the Wehrmacht in 1940. He was confined for 6 months that year and then was sent to Greece. In 1943 he was court-martialed again and sentenced to 18 months. After six months he was let out and was sent to the Italian front. He immediately deserted to the partisans and later surrendered to the Americans. He took part in Sauerkraut missions 2 and 3.
Clayton D. Laurie mentions the black newspaper Der Oesterreicher in The Propaganda Warriors, University Press of Kansas, 1996. He says that it was purported to represent a resistance group and sought to split Austria from Germany by portraying the former country as a Nazi-occupied nation. The Sauerkraut teams also carried Italian-language newspapers such as Voice of Italy and Voice of the Patriot behind the lines.
We know that the Germans soon became aware of the American activities because they began lighting their frontlines with flares. They had not done so previously.
The OSS semi-monthly report of 3 August 1944 says in part:
The bomb attack on Hitler was exploited as rapidly and extensively as possible by MO.
Two bogus leaflets, printed on captured German Feldpost forms were prepared and disseminated.
For the first time - it is believed - German deserters were used for the infiltration of enemy lines. A group of 14 [there was fear of double-agents among the group and some were returned to the prison camp] was recruited, briefed, and given MO material, and headed for the front within 48 hours after the bomb assault.
Additional printed matter in the form of three more leaflets not yet off the press was prepared and will be ready in a day or so.
Just as in Operation Cornflakes, the printing was done by Corporal Egidio Clemente, a master printer who supervised the OSS presses.
The Sauerkraut printed material was prepared in two qualities; very good or very crude. There is a reason for this. The documents, hand-stamps, Nazi Party dues stamps and identification papers that the agents carried behind the lines had to be perfect. They had to pass inspection by the German military police. At the same time, the leaflets, gummed labels, and posters had to look crude. The plan was for the German soldiers to think that there was an underground anti-Nazi movement that existed all around them. If the stickers on the wall were too good, it would be apparent that they were of Allied origin. As a result, many of the leaflets had the appearance of crudely mimeographed sheets that had been produced in a basement on a hand-cranked machine.
A second Sauerkraut operation took place on 7 September 1944 when seven German agents in three teams were sent behind the lines northwest of Florence. Their mission was:
To disseminate specially prepared black propaganda material throughout their itinerary, placing special emphasis on bivouac areas, installations and vehicles. Material to be placed on the sides of buildings, fences, and trees when possible. Material to be left lying on the floor in buildings likely to be used as headquarters and installations by retreating front line troops. Material to be left lying on the ground and attached to trees and bushes in any places likely to be seen by troops. If possible, material to be posted in public places in any towns entered.
The teams all returned safely and reported on the German defenses in their sector. This was published on 10 September as an intelligence bulletin and contained such data as:
A battalion of the German 4th Parachute Division is ill-clad, poorly fed (no rations in the past three days) and believed that the war was lost.
A German artillery unit in L'Isola has so little ammunition that they can only fire after telephone permission from the Division Commander
Two tiger tanks and three light tanks are hidden in a group of four houses by crossroads L-712098.
At the same time, they reported leaving MO propaganda in a German medical station. Other material was planted on the walls of the medical station, inside officer's quarters, in supply trucks, storage warehouses, and in six ambulances left unattended. Some leaflets were placed in unguarded Tiger tanks, and in a mechanic's tool kit.
A third Sauerkraut operation took place on 2 October near Florence. Three teams were involved, now bearing the names, "Ada," "Marie," and "Rosie." This time the agents on their way to Bologna ran into German SS troops while placing propaganda on a tree near Route 64. A German officer read the literature, realized it was anti-Nazi and alerted his men. A firefight ensued and the "Marie" team reported killing from three to seven of the enemy. MO took advantage of this incident and prepared a leaflet that said, "Street fighting provoked by SS men against troops of the Wehrmacht." That leaflet was infiltrated on 8 October. MO also started a rumor to be carried by the agents that Hitler had been caught at the Swiss border trying to flee Germany. In addition, other rumors were that Field Marshall Albert Kesselring was either wounded or had tried to commit suicide, and that maps found on a Russian pilot shot down near Vienna showed local areas suitable for massed landings by airborne forces.
Once again, all items of MO material given to the team for distribution were placed as directed. The success of this mission caused the Fifth Army to request that the operation be broadened, and another twenty German prisoners were brought into the program.
Explanatory leaflet for captured German soldiers
(To put in the pay book!)
1.) Keep your soldier's honor by behaving respectably in captivity and strengthen thus the respect of the enemy for you and the German army!
2.) You must only tell your a) name b) military rank c) day and place of birth d) home address. Nobody can force you to tell more!
3.) Answer to all further questions just with this sentence: "I do not know this!"
4.) Consider always that every further statement is treason. And Treason is murdering comrades!
By the end of October the German prisoners were being treated like honored guests and a building was put aside for them in the Fifth Army sector. Reported problems were clothing and operational enemy equipment. As the project grew there was need for more uniforms and more military materiel. The OSS was also trying to open a "second front" with another holding area for German prisoner-agents in the Eighth Army sector. Lack of transportation seems to have been a major problem. The unit had few trucks at its disposal.
By 15 November 1944 the MO section was feeling quite confident in their Sauerkraut operation. The Fifth Army German holding area was complete. The area had its own mess hall and rationing system, supply room, and administrative detachment. Agents had been recruited, screened, and in some cases replaced. A German supply dump was found and with it rifles, bayonets, mess-kits and helmets. Italian-language leaflets were delivered for use against the Monte Rosa Division immediately after it had appeared in the front lines in the Fifth Army's sector. A "black list" leaflet of wanted war criminals was printed and delivered. There is a printed comment from a partisan leader that these "black lists" were very powerful tools and often kept the fascist leaders inside their homes for weeks after the leaflets were placed in the center of Italian towns.
Sauerkraut mission four was made up of teams "Sylvia," "Lou," and "Texas." They went behind the lines on the nights of 21, 22 and 23 November northwest of Florence. The teams were to split up and reconnoiter the towns of Zocca, Vergato, Sestola, and Pievepelago. Their instructions were to disseminate MO material among German troops, place posters and leaflets wherever it might be suitable, in and around military installations, bivouac areas, supply depots and in German vehicles. The teams returned to San Marcello on 26 November. They reported that the propaganda had been distributed along Route 12 in the area of Abetone and along Route 64 near Bologna and Vergato. They gathered tactical intelligence on mined areas, artillery emplacements, and identified an Alpine Division.
The fifth Sauerkraut mission consisted of one team code-named "California." It was to pass through the lines on 30 November, proceed through Bologna, Vergato, Casatechio, Riale-Rivabello-Montepassore and Cereglio-Vergato. It would disseminate MO material, carry out intelligence assignments, report on German morale, and pass the following rumor:
Himmler found a "doppelganger" (double) for Hitler for the purpose of presenting that man as Hitler himself. The Fuehrer has disappeared and it is possible that he is dead, seriously ill, or that he fled to some foreign country like Switzerland or Argentina.
The team returned safely on 3 December. Their after-action report states that they left MO special toilet-paper in latrines and in bars on Route 9. The OSS produced a number of different types of Hitler toilet paper, all showing the Führer in embarrassing poses or with crude text attacking the Nazi Party.
Comrades! Stop this shit! We do not fight for Germany but only for Hitler and Himmler. The NSDAP led us this damned way but now the bigwigs are only trying to save their own skin. They let us die in the mud; they want us to hold out until the last bullet. However, we need the last bullets to free Germany from this SS-shit. Enough! Peace!
By 19 December the Sauerkraut teams were being used to check the "exactness and accuracy of details to be employed in writing MO material."
Sauerkraut mission six was made up of the two-man team "Utah" and infiltrated on 23 December. It distributed seven pounds of MO material around Marzabotto Mission in cars, houses, trees and milestone markers. It reported on the location of the 16th SS Division, the 267th Regiment of the 94th Division, and elements of a parachute division. The team returned safely on 25 December.
Sauerkraut mission seven was a two-man team called "Idaho." It was infiltrated by II Corps on the night of 23 February, and sent back a carrier pigeon with the message that it had safely crossed the lines. The team's route was Santa Maria, Castel D'Aiano, Villa D'Aiano, Zocca, Vignola and Vergato. It identified German units, artillery, hospitals, dumps, and defenses. MO material was spread along the route and placed in empty farmhouses where German soldiers sleep.
Sauerkraut mission eight was a three-man team called "Vonita," infiltrated on 25 February. It was to travel along highway 64 south of Vergato and proceed to the town of Montese. The team returned safely on 28 February.
Sauerkraut mission nine was a three-man team called "Ohio." It crossed the lines on 26 February, proceeded to the area of Zocca, and all but one man returned safely on 1 March. The only admitted fatality of a Sauerkraut agent occurred during mission nine. The team's cover story was that they were from the 232nd Infantry Division stationed near Zocca. Upon their return, MO agent Gustav Preuss was missing. The team members reported that he had been captured. A 2 May 1945 letter from Ed Lindner to the Chief of the MO Branch on the subject of the agent's death says in part:
A recent report from Mr. Halama states that he interrogated a German prisoner, Major Neubauer, who happened to be present at a German police station when our agent was brought in by a patrol. Our agent was in possession of credentials which were issued to him by us under the name of Gustav Schalk. His German soldbuch showed that he belonged to one of the German units in Italy. The German MP telephoned the respective German unit listed in the agent's soldbuch in order to check with the company commander.
The agent tried to escape and was wounded by a shot in the abdomen. Major Neubauer does not believe that Preuss will live. However, he was evacuated to a German field hospital in Modena.
A German document showed that the soldier who captured our agent, Candidate Schmitz, 1st Company, 194 AT Battalion, was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class by Major General Steinmetz, the Division Commander
There was a Sauerkraut mission ten but I have been unable to obtain any record of the results.
Sauerkraut mission eleven was a two-man team called "Pennsylvania." Its mission was to cross the lines near highway 64 towards Vergato. As always the team would spread MO material, check the morale of the enemy troops, identify the opposing units, and discover and mark the location of gun emplacements and fortifications. It infiltrated 18 March and returned on 21 March. This team did exceptionally well. The agents met a pair of German soldiers who wanted to defect but were not sure where the Americans were and were afraid to surrender without a safe conduct pass. The Sauerkraut agents brought the two Germans back across the lines and turned them over to the American prisoner of war authorities. The team distributed their MO material as it traveled, posted flyers on walls and trees, put some in an ox cart, and covered the back of a military bus that carried German troops from Tole to Casalecchio.
There were two more Sauerkraut missions before the operation was cancelled. I believe the last mission was number thirteen.
The story of the fate of the German agents does not reflect pride on the United States Army. The agents were promised preferential treatment but were eventually returned to the POW camp where they received no special treatment and were shunned by their fellow prisoners because of their contact with the Americans.
Ed Lindner fought with the American headquarters about the German agents. He wrote a report that pointed out that their status should have been "alien civilians" and not prisoners of war since they had been released to the OSS. He tried to get the agents paid for their services but was told, "Extra compensation for POWs is not looked upon with favor by this headquarters." The Sauerkraut agents never received any pay for their services. A request for an allowance for recreational purposes was denied. When Lindner wanted them released as alien civilians he was told "No, they are prisoners of war. Return them with men and adequate guard to Caserta." This was a shameful act on the part of the American military forces. They used these men, put them behind the lines at great personal risk, made promises to them about preferential treatment, and then tossed them back into a POW camp when they were no longer needed. Lindner stated, "None were put on his feet by OSS or even helped in his return into civilian life. Something could and should have been done for these men, who did an outstanding job for the OSS."
It is hard to determine if the Sauerkraut agents were better or worse off than their comrades who stayed in the prison cages. It is true that they lived better in the OSS compound, certainly ate better food, and apparently were able to have occasional sex with local Italian girls. At the same time, they were in a very unclear status. They were no longer considered prisoners of war, appeared on no official records, and were not employees of the OSS or United States government. They received no payment, not even the small stipend given to prisoners of war, and received no mail or Red Cross parcels as did the most ardent pro-Nazi POW.
According to international law the holding power is responsible for the protection and safety of prisoners of war and expressly forbidden to put them in danger. It is illegal to send them into dangerous or life-threatening situations, so the OSS was clearly in violation of the rules of warfare. The agents were all made to sign waivers that stated clearly that they were volunteers and willing to go behind the lines. Military lawyers thought that this would protect the United States from lawsuits should the prisoners ever bring their case before an international court. All is fair in love and war, and an Army will do what is needed to win, but the Sauerkraut agents were an OSS embarrassment in 1945 and quietly returned to the prison camp and forgotten.
There is only one written record of a Sauerkraut agent being killed on a mission. However, I interviewed an individual who was aware of a dead German being found virtually unmarked on the side of an Italian road. He believed that the soldier had been killed by the concussion from a nearby blast. In the German's knapsack were a pile of gummed stickers and propaganda labels that indicate that this was a Sauerkraut agent carrying MO material behind the lines. Some of the crude stickers show a burial cross and the word "Du?" (You?), or a gallows with the words "Hitler, Himmler an den Galgen," ("Hitler, Himmler at the gallows"). Others have such messages as "Bigwigs in clover, Soldiers in the mud," "Later is too late," "Nazis out," "Home," "Piss off!," "Freedom! Peace!," and "Die for Hitler?" Laurie adds:
The weight and bulk of printed materials always made great distribution risky. MO's solution was to produce pregummed stickers and precut stencils that looked handwritten. Agents could quickly attach stickers to any surface with little risk, and stencils came with an easy-to-use paint pen specially developed by the OSS R&D Branch. Stickers and stencils consisted of simple anti-Nazi or defeatist slogans such as "When Hitler dies - Germany lives," "We quit," "Capitulate," and "Must you be the last one to die?"
There were also postcards from the "War Mothers Group" and faked bombing notification forms. In all, there were several dozen different types of propaganda.
This propaganda Feldpost card is a good imitation of a genuine patriotic card showing ME-109s on the front. The back is inscribed in facsimile handwriting in Gothic script which was still frequently used in Germany during the war. At the bottom right there is an emblem that represents the seal of the "Ring der Kriegermütter" (War mother's group). The OSS wanted the finders to believe that there was an organized group of miserable, lonely mothers who asked their sons in the field to desert or surrender. The poor handwriting is meant to convince the finder that a simple, uneducated woman wrote the card. The message is:
At home, in the sixth winter of the war.
Dear sons in the field!
Now that Germany has become a battlefield, we mothers have joined together to beg your help. After five years of struggle against overwhelming enemy power you have done more than your duty. Today, the war is lost and the enemy is within our country! We are abandoned and helpless - do not leave your mothers alone in the hour of danger! Come home!!! The mother is your nearest!"
Another black postcard is a parody attacking the elderly Volkssturm called to service to protect the Reich in the last days of the war. There is no inscription on the address side of this card. The reverse features a caricature of two obese women on roller skates. Both wear armbands with a swastika, and little hats with a flower or a flag. The lady at left carries a broom as a weapon; the lady behind her has an umbrella. The inscription on top reads "Volkssturm" (People's Resistance), and at the bottom "Schwere Panzer" (Heavy tanks). The postcard ridicules the German attempt of autumn 1944 to mobilize military power by conscripting children and elderly people. On September 25, 1944, Hitler called all male individuals between the age of 16 and 60, who did not already serve in the Wehrmacht, to arms.
One of the artists who worked in the OSS Morale Office in Rome was Saul Steinberg of The New Yorker fame. Steinberg drew the Schwere Panzer postcard. In official papers such as the Semi-Monthly Report, M.O. Section, Period 15-31 July 1944 Steinberg was never given a code name or a duty. It simply said "Lt. Saul Steinberg, USNR." Steinberg did not go behind the lines or deal in black operations so there was no need for a code name. He was a "floater" who did illustrative work as needed such as flyers, postcards and covers for song sheets allegedly from anti-Nazi organizations.
Although Romanian by birth, Steinberg had escaped from wartime Italy in 1941. He had a diploma from the Reggio Politecnico, but under Italy's new anti-Semitic laws he was identified as "Saul Steinberg, of the Hebrew race." By 1942 he was working for the Office of War Information and was soon commissioned an Ensign in the Naval Reserve working for Intelligence in Washington, DC. In 1943 he was sent to Kunming, China, and by December he was in Algeria. He was next sent to North Africa and finally to the OSS in Allied-occupied Rome. In September, 1944, he was ordered back to Washington.
Christof Mauch concludes:
Sauerkraut agents discovered the 4th Parachute Division, found the site of German "Tiger" tanks, and determined where infantry divisions were staying. Colonel Kenneth Mann, who led the MO Branch since May 1944 reported that Operation Sauerkraut had been a complete success and that those skeptics who warned that the German prisoners of war would simply dispose of their propaganda material were proven wrong.
Barbara Lauwers recalls that "actually there was no security." The 16 German prisoners of war recruited for Sauerkraut sat down with two OSS agents in the loading space of a truck. "The sixteen guys could have overpowered those two MPs very easily, sixteen against two, even though those two MPs had guns." The agents, however, proved "eager to cooperate."
We should mention that there was also an Operation Ravioli that was supposed to be similar to Sauerkraut, but used Italian prisoners of war. This plan seems not to have been a success. The Italians simply did not have the drive of the Germans and failed to achieve much success. There is one early MO comment that the Italian volunteers are "virtually worthless." In a 5 March 1945 memorandum entitled "Current operations and plans," The status of Operation Ravioli is mentioned. Some of the comments are:
Larry has been busy interviewing three couriers from the Modena area. They are not of first rate character and could not suit our needs for Ravioli but they gave useful information. According to your directives, we prefer to spend a little more time waiting rather than waste it completely with a second-rate job.
Still, the author is optimistic:
From all these contacts it becomes more and more evident that the Ravioli operation will be easy to conduct as soon as we have the right man to handle it across the lines.
A 15-31 semi-monthly report states:
Lt Bruzzese interrogated 5 prospective agents at the Partisan Rest Camp…Colonel Riepe, 15th Army group gave his formal approval for the Ravioli plan.
A Ravioli mission was finally completed when three Italian partisans were sent behind the lines in Fascist uniforms on 14 April 1945. They were to proceed to Castelnuovo and disseminate MO material among Republican fascist troops, in and around military installations, bivouac areas, supply depots, vehicles and road houses. Their orders were to distribute propaganda and gather intelligence on enemy strength and return on 17 April. The team got nervous and instead of waiting for their guides to arrive and night to fall, decided to return the American lines in full daylight. The Germans opened fire with mortars and machine guns thinking that they were Italian Army deserters, but the three agents returned safely, if breathless. As a result, a decision was made to send partisans in civilian clothes across the lines and hold off sending agents in Italian uniforms until "some later stage in the campaign."
Both operations are mentioned by Clayton D. Laurie:
The Sauerkraut and Ravioli missions exemplified perfectly the willingness of the OSS leadership to use whatever means were necessary to defeat the Nazis since these operations were in violation of the 1929 Geneva Convention and the U.S. Army Rules of Land Warfare, both of which applied to the OSS. William Casey was a major proponent of using expendable POWs for MO work and for equally dangerous SO and SI missions. He assured OSS member J. Russell Forgan of the full cooperation of the U.S. Army's provost marshal's office, which had guaranteed the OSS an unending supply of POWs.
This ends our brief look at the Sauerkraut operations. It was a very daring use of enemy prisoners to distribute propaganda and gain intelligence for Allied forces. It was extremely successful and would have certainly gone on to greater successes had the war in Europe not ended in mid-1945. Readers who care to comment on any aspect of this article are encouraged to write the author.