21 settembre 2008

La stazione radio che imbrogliò il Reich

E' stato uno degli artefici principali nella battaglia "mentale" combattuta durante la Seconda guerra mondiale sulle onde della radio tra le forze della propaganda inglese e l'opinione pubblica del Terzo Reich. Molti storici sono ormai pienamente convinti che la sconfitta di Hitler è dovuta anche a personaggi come Sefton Delmer, l'uomo che inventò un'arma subdola e particolarmente efficace chiamata Gustav Siegfried Eins. Questo era il nome della stazione radio che fingendo di essere tedesca, riusciva a seminare tra i suoi ascoltatori (tedeschi) l'idea di una Germania non così monolitica come l'avrebbe voluta il Führer.
Su Sefton Delmer e la macchina propagandistica di Churchill è uscito recentemente un libro edito da Faber&Faber, intitolato appunto Churchill's Wizards, che racconta i successi maturati su un fronte dove nessuno sparava un colpo e nessuno rimaneva ferito, se non le proprie fanatiche certezze. Al volume, scritto da Nicholas Rankin, un veterano del BBC World Service che qualche anno fa pubblicò la biografia di un giornalista che riguarda da vicino noi italiani. Si tratta di George Steer, corrispondente di guerra del Times, che oltre a riferire del tragico bombardamento di Guernica nel corso della guerra civile spagnola, fu testimone della guerra chimica condotta dalle truppe italiane in Etiopia.
Ma torniamo a Delmer e alla lunga recensione pubblicata oggi dal Sunday Express e debitamente segnalata su Medianetworks da Andy Sennitt:

Saturday September 20,2008 Paul Callan

Sefton Delmer scooped his journalist rivals by getting to know the Nazi leader as he rose to power – and then helped wreck the German war effort with his brilliant propaganda tricks and deception...

THE tired German soldier, far from home, was searching for music on the old radio when he suddenly came across the smoochy sounds of a dance band. It was just what he wanted.
When the music ended, “Vicky”, the husky-voiced ann­ouncer, read a few items of news. One caught the young soldier’s attention – and sent him reeling into a state of high anxiety.
“Our gallant doctors are battling an ­outbreak of diphtheria among German ­children,” read one of the items. The soldier was instantly anxious – he had three young children back home.
Yet in reality there was no outbreak of diphtheria and the morale-lowering effect of the broadcast was the object of the exercise. The radio station interspersing romantic music with seemingly positive items did not come from Germany. It was “black propaganda” designed to affect German morale and actually came from a closely guarded compound in what is today Milton Keynes.
The station was the brainchild of Sefton Delmer, the former Berlin correspondent of the Daily Express who was in charge of broadcasting misleading propaganda.
The story of his brilliant battle over the airwaves in the Second World War is told in a new book, Churchill’s Wizards, by broadcaster Nicholas Rankin. It tells how writers, journalists and artists created elaborate camouflages and fiendish propaganda to deceive the Germans in two world wars.
In the Second World War the British became masters of these dark arts. Not only were German secret codes broken but captured spies were forced to send back false intelligence. Bogus wireless traffic invented entire armies and fake airfields were filled with cardboard aircraft. Inflatable tanks and dummy landing craft also created a clever illusion of military strength.
Among the most brilliant operations were the phoney German radio stations designed to cause chaos and, in particular, greatly lower the morale of both the ordinary German soldier and the population.
Delmer was uniquely qualified to mastermind this deception. It was 80 years ago that the affable, jovial six-footer, always known to his friends as “Tom”, was sent to head the Berlin bureau of the Daily Express by Lord Beaverbrook, then the proprietor.
He had been partly educated in Germany and spoke the language perfectly. He reported the rise of Nazism from the brawls in Munich bierkellers to Hitler’s election as chancellor in 1933.
Delmer built up an outstanding set of contacts in the Nazi party and was the first British journalist to interview Hitler. He found him a rather ordinary looking man with a little moustache, unhealthy skin and hair that had been arranged too carefully.
“He reminded me of the many ex-soldier travelling salesmen I had met in railway carriages on my journeys across Germany. He talked like one, too,” said Delmer.
Delmer’s professional skill and charm ensured that Hitler let him travel on his ­private aircraft during the 1932 election campaign in Germany. He was also given the Nazi leader’s personal telephone number in case he had to check a story.
Delmer was even allowed to accompany Hitler to the smouldering remains of the Reichstag on the night of February 27, 1933. The Nazis had actually set fire to the Reichstag themselves and would use the incident as the pretext to outlaw all political opposition and impose dictatorship. They blamed the fire on a Dutch communist sympathiser.
Later Delmer recalled how Hitler walked alongside him and said: “God grant that this be the work of the communists. You are now witnessing the beginning of a great new epoch in German ­history, Herr Delmer. This fire is the beginning.” Then, with Delmer struggling to control his laughter, Hitler stumbled over a hosepipe and almost fell over.
When war broke out Delmer returned to England to work for the BBC. One of his first broadcasts was in response to Hitler’s own offering peace terms.
He addressed the Führer directly in smooth and deferential German. “Herr Hitler,” he said, “you have on occasion in the past consulted me as to the mood of the British public. So permit me to render your Excellency this little service once again. Let me tell you what we here in Britain think of this appeal of yours to what you are pleased to call our reason and common sense. Herr Führer and Reich­skanzler, we hurl it right back at you, right in your evil-smelling teeth.”
In September, 1940, Delmer was recruited by the Political Warfare Executive to organise black propaganda broadcasts. An early success was ta short-wave station called Gustav Siegfried Eins. It came on air shortly after Rudolf Hess’s controversial flight to Britain in 1940.
In the seven-minute broadcast, a ranting character known as Der Chef – Hitler’s nickname on the election tour that Delmer reported – loudly denied the rumour that Hitler was behind Hess’s mission to Britain. This covertly spread the news about Hess’s journey throughout Germany. The Nazis had hoped to keep it secret but, courtesy of Delmer’s propaganda station, it became widely known.
If this “black” broadcasting was to deceive efficiently then the principal speaker had to be totally convincing – and Der Chef was ideal. He had to sound like a Right-wing, patriotic German who was outraged at the incompetence of many in the Nazi hierarchy who were profiting at home from the massive sacrifices of the decent German ­soldier fighting abroad.
Der Chef frequently used the type of language used by ordinary soldiers. In his very first broadcast, the Prime Minister was called “That flat-­footed bastard of a drunk old Jew Churchill.” It was designed to add to the overall effect of a genuine German speaking his mind.
The idea was that a bored German radio operator – more likely to be military than civilian because only soldiers had short-wave receivers – would pick up a German voice speaking the saucy language of the barracks when he searched the dial one night.
When deeply religious cabinet minister Sir Stafford Cripps discovered such broadcasts he complained to the Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden. “If this is the sort of thing that is needed to win the war, why, I’d rather lose it,” he said.
Another of Delmer’s fake radio stations received the latest records from the German equivalent of the hit parade flown over from Stockholm. It even had a German in-house band, led by Henry Zeisel, which had been captured by the British Eighth Army when they were entertaining the Afrika Korps.
Although some listeners guessed it was an enemy station, they didn’t stop listening because it was so good. It even broadcast “special request” music to specific U-boats which thought their positions were secret so that the German navy felt under constant surveillance.
Broadcasting was not Delmer’s only form of propaganda. He had acquired a teleprinter left behind by the correspondent of DNB, the official German news agency. This was still receiving information from German propaganda chief Goeb­bels’s centralised news system.
Delmer’s team could hack into his official Nazi news items, either as a perfect cover or to bend them for their own disruptive purposes. Accurate reports of damage on specific streets and neighbourhoods following air raids was cleverly mixed on air with heart-rending descriptions of the widespread deaths of women and children.
News items about disease, mutilation and rats were transmitted. These demoralising stories, allegedly from the civilian home front, were often followed by fantasy stories of a better life for soldiers who had surrendered, deserted and were earning good money in neutral countries.
Another Delmer radio station was influential when the Allies invaded Europe in June 1944. Its broadcasts helped sap the morale of German troops defending the Normandy coast, even encouraging slacking by announcing: “Units which show themselves smart and efficient are drafted to the Eastern Front. Promotion in France is a sure way to death in Russia.”
After the war Delmer became chief foreign correspondent for the Daily Express and for 15 years ­covered most top stories.
War correspondent Ronald Payne recalls: “I ran into him in 1956 during the Suez Crisis when Colonel Nasser took the canal and Delmer’s introduction on his story referred to Nasser as ‘this third-rate imitation Hitler of the Nile’.”
Delmer was allegedly booted out of Egypt. In 1959 he fell out with Beaverbrook and retired to his Essex farm where he wrote various books, including an account of his wartime work.
While he might never have fired a shot in anger, Delmer’s ingenious duping of the Nazis played an invaluable part in the Allies’ victory.

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