Operation Soldatensender Calais

Soldiers' Radio Calais

This was a British and US radio propaganda operation undertaken by the British Political Warfare Executive with support by the Morale Operations branch of the US Office of Strategic Services (12 writers and six musicians) in North-West Europe (14 November 1943/30 April 1945).

Supposedly beamed from a German transmitter in Calais, and the most popular 'grey' propaganda station of the war, 'Soldatensender Calais' was in fact transmitted from southern England and from 14 Novemeber 1943 until almost the last week of the war with Germany broadcast news, music, nostalgic stories and anti-Nazi propaganda to German troops and civilians, many of whom suspected the broadcasts were of Allied origin but were unable to confirm their suspicions.

Created by Sefton Delmer, 'Soldatensender Calais' transmitted on the medium-wave band, and the associated 'Kurzwellensender Atlantik' aimed at U-boat crews transmitted on the short-wave band. The station used a 500-kW transmitter, which had been built by RCA for a US broadcaster but lain unused at the factory after the US Federal Communications Commission imposed a 50-kW power limit on all US radio stations, so RCA was happy to sell the transmitter to the British Secret Intelligence Service. Codenamed 'Aspidistra', the transmitter was installed in an underground bunker near Crowborough in Sussex in southern England.

'Soldatensender Calais' operated from 18.00 to dawn and, unlike those of its predecessor, 'Gustav Siegfried Eins', its programmes were transmitted live from a purpose-built studio at Milton Bryan in Bedfordshire and presented by Agnes Bernelle using the codename 'Vicky'.

The propaganda transmitted by 'Soldatensender Calais' was described by Delmer as 'cover, cover, dirt, cover, dirt'. Thus the programme used good music and coverage of sporting and other events to catch the attention of German troops and other persons, and interspersed these with propaganda items designed to decrease morale. An example of the latter was a warning that confidence men were swindling German soldiers being transferred from France to the Eastern Front. The approach was conceptually similar to that of 'Tokyo Rose' and 'Axis Sally' but more successful because of its lighter tone. As part of its cover, 'Soldatensender Calais' relayed speeches by Adolf Hitler and other Nazi officials.

During the D-Day invasion which started 'Overlord' on 6 June 1944, 'Soldatensender Calais' broadcast information that was intended to impress German intelligence officers that the invasion frontage was wider than it was. After the Allies had overrun the Pas de Calais area in the first half of September 1944, the station changed its call sign to 'Soldatensender West'.

The broadcasts of 'Soldatensender Calais' were repeated in print on the following day in the Political Warfare Executive’s and Office of Strategic Services' Nachrichten für die Truppe newspaper air-dropped to German troops.

The 'Soldatensender West' station ceased transmission on 30 April 1945.

Other propaganda radio stations operated by the Political Warfare Executive and its predecessors during World War II included 'Das wahre Deutschland', 'Sender der Europäischen Revolution', 'Gustav Siegfried Eins', 'Wehrmachtssender Nord' and the 'German Priest'. The US Army operated a similar programme as Radio 1212.