Undermining Hitler (Part Three of Three)

Continued from Part Two

By late 1944, the invasion of Europe was well underway with much of France being liberated from German control.   Sefton Delmer and his team carefully relayed full details of what was happening, including descriptions of the terrible American "superweapons" being deployed against German troops.   Since many German commanders cut off from their own high command relied on these broadcasts for information, they grew increasingly unnerved at the hopelessness of their own position. 

In the meantime however,  some British opposition politicians were becoming leery of the kind of propaganda campaign being run by British Intelligence.  Stafford Cripps, then-member of the War Cabinet and a fierce left-winger, came into possession of an English translation of one of Gustav Seigfried Eins' more lurid broadcasts and promptly went ballistic (or the proper English equivalent).   As he reportedly told Anthony Eden (who was Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs at the time),  "If this is the sort of thing that's needed to win war, why, I'd rather lose it!".   He not only demanded that the PWE team responsible be stopped, but that Sefton Delmer be fired immediately.  Eden arranged for diplomat Bruce Lockhart to calm him down and Delmer's team was allowed to keep broadcasting.   The black propaganda campaigning could continue. 

Using information obtained by German resistance members who managed to escape to neutral territory, Delmer's team also started a rumour campaign suggesting that Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler was trying to replace Hitler as President of Germany.  Realizing that Germany was losing, Himmler had tried to start peace negotiations with the Allies without Hitler's knowledge.   Even as the Gestapo was attempting to track down Himmler so that he could be arrested, Soldatensender was openly calling for Himmler to take over the country. 

As for "Gustav Siegfried Eins", there was an even more dramatic development.  Realizing that the broadcasts had largely served their purpose, Delmer and his team decided to end things with, well, a bang (so to speak).   In November 1944, the last broadcast ended with sounds of chaos followed by gunfire and a loud cry of "schweinhund" (pig-dog).   As far as listeners could determine, the Gestapo had finally tracked down "Der Chef" and Gustav Siegfried Eins had been finally removed from the air.   The courageous broadcaster who had apparently risked his life to bring news to millions of Germans had now become a martyr to truth.   That this distressing broadcast was actually being made in a British studio only became common knowledge after the war ended.

Also by the end of 1944, the British high command ordered major changes in the black propaganda messages being sent out by Delmer and his team.  Up to that time, the PWE broadcasts had been extremely careful not to say anything that might be construed as blatant criticism of Adolf Hitler or his Nazi philosophy.  As the Allied invasion proceeded and the German people saw perfectly well that the war was turning against them however, things became very different.   The average German now saw Hitler and the other members of his party as being responsible for countless deaths as well as dragging Germany into a war that couldn't be won.  The older Germans able to remember the terrible hardship that resulted after the end of the first World War saw history repeating itself and nobody believed the Nazi propaganda any more.  

Now the PWE broadcasts were filled with broad hints that the most well-connected Nazis were preparing to flee the country with their families (which was true enough).   As the fighting spread into Germany itself,  the broadcasts described full details as well as the actions of a (mostly fictitious) German anti-Nazi resistance movement.   To bolster these rumours, British intelligence agents arranged secret messages, airdrops of explosives meant for sabotage efforts, and even actual agents (who were usually "turned" German prisoners of war being sent back to Germany) to work with the resistance.  That these agents were largely being sent back to Germany as sacrificial lambs to be caught or killed by the Gestapo was all part of the game as far as British high command was concerned.   One chilling allegation later made by Leo Marks in his own wartime memoirs, was that a German double agent was deliberately air dropped with a defective parachute so that incriminating documents could be found on his corpse.

Unfortunately,  creating a fictional resistance movement eventually backfired (Delmer would later refer to it as the "black boomerang.")   Many Germans who had been staunch Nazi supporters or collaborators would escape prosecution by claiming to have been members of the resistance that Delmer helped invent.   This would allow them to continue to be a part of the new German republic established after the war and, not coincidentally, to help conceal what many of these born-again anti-Fascists had really been doing during the war.

Still, as the Third Reich crumbled and the Allied forces penetrated deeper into Germany,  Sefton Delmer and his team ended operations.  On April 14, 1945, the last of his radio broadcasts "faded from the ether, never to be heard again."  They didn't even bother with a cover story the way they did when Gustav Siegfried Eins ended.    After a fancy party to celebrate the last broadcast, Delmer celebrated the end of his "black" period by shaving off his beard.   As he would later describe in his memoirs, he was shocked at his changed appearance.  "‘There, staring at me, was the pallid, flabby-mouthed face of a crook," he wrote.  "Was this, I asked myself, what four years of “black” had done to Denis Sefton Delmer?"  

The beardless Delmer then called his team in and gave them a sober debriefing.  He told them their work during the war years would have to remain secret.  Following the end of World War I, British politicians had been indiscreet about the propaganda tricks they used and German nationalists took advantage of  this lapse to insist that they had been defeated due to trickery rather than a superior military (this later became one of Hitler's favourite propaganda ploys).  To avoid future problems, virtually all files relating to their war work were incinerated. 

Sefton Delmer returned to journalism and spent the next fifteen years as chief foreign affairs reporter for the Daily Express.  In the years following the war, rumours about Britain's black propaganda operations began trickling out, largely as a response to a 1953 book by a German Abwehr officer describing the impressive victories of Nazi intelligence in "turning" British agents in the Netherlands during the war.   As for Sefton Delmer, a disagreement about expenses with his publisher, Lord Beaverbrook, forced him into retirement in 1959 and, presumably, made him a little less reluctant to keep his wartime activities secret.   In 1961, he wrote the first volume of his autobiography, Trail Sinister, which was then followed up by a second volume, Black Boomerang.  Both books provided loving detail of all of the black propaganda work personally carried out by Delmer, complete with whatever documents he had managed to save from incineration.  61EEu-m0YVL[1]

Reading more like an adventure epic than a historical record, Delmer's books remains the best record of the long PWE campaign directed against the Nazis.  Nine years later, he published a new book, The Counterfeit Spy, describing many of the still-classified details about "Agent Garbo," a double agent who had successfully tricked the Germans with misinformation about the D-Day invasion.   This time around, Delmer ran into serious problems since his book used material to which he was not supposed to have access.  He eventually struck a bargain with some of his old cronies that allowed him to tell the story with many of the names changed to avoid security problems.  It was an amazing story and it still the book for which he is best known.

Sefton Delmer died on September 4, 1979.  His health had been poor following a stroke several years before but he lived long enough to see a BBC production that was (loosely) based on his book, Black Boomerang.   Titled Licking Hitler, the play was a pseudo-documentary that portrayed the people  who made up Britain's black propaganda team in a somewhat disparaging way.   Though it was an excellent drama that won a BAFTA award in 1978, Delmer was distressed at how his wartime work was portrayed.

So, what can we say about Sefton Delmer, and black propaganda in general?  Though we can afford to be moralistic about how deception was used, its value as a weapon of war can't be underestimated.  Still, there are important differences between the black propaganda operation run by Delmer's team during World War II and the kind of lying that helped embroil the the United States and its allies in a multi-trillion dollar war in Iraq.  Lying to the enemy in wartime is one thing, lying to your own people is another.

Still, it seems unlikely that new revelations about widescale government deception will end black propaganda anytime soon.  It's just another tool of the trade. 





Related Stories

  • Undermining Hitler (Part Two of Three)
  • Undermining Hitler (Part One of Two)
  • Helping Rwanda Heal


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