Operation Ulysses (ii)

This was a US black propaganda undertaking in Greece (13 June/October 1944).

Unlike other US agencies, such as the US Army and the Office of War Information, the Morale Operations branch of the Office of Strategic Services undertook covert strategic and tactical morale operations based on deception and subversion. The Office of Strategic Services employed any means and all methods deemed capable of yielding useful results, and its members believed that Nazi psychological warfare efforts in the 1930s and early 1940s had been extremely successful. The belief in the efficacy of Nazi methods indicated how firmly leadership of the Office of Strategic Services supported a programme of propaganda in which scruples, ethics and commonly accepted decencies were 'optional extras' which could be ignored to ensure that national objectives were met. As its output was covert, the Morale Operations branch could act without fear of damaging the USA’s reputation or moral standing.

The Morale Operations branch was relatively late into the US war effort, but between 1943 and VE-Day nonetheless implemented campaigns of a scope and level of sophistication beyond any propaganda ever practised by the Germans. The Morale Operations branch’s output was unofficial and disclaimed by federal authorities and was covertly disseminated to make it appear to be of non-US origin. The members of the branch hoped not only to aid the US forces by demoralising the German armed forces but also to undermine the belief of the German armed forces and civilian population in Adolf Hitler and Nazism, and also their faith in Germany’s political and social institutions. As such, the Morale Operations branch attempted to unpick the fabric of German society by creating the impression that a fifth column was at work within the country.

In July 1944 Major General Robert A. McClure, chief of the Psychological Warfare Division, instructed David Bruce of Office of Strategic Services that the Morale Operations branch was to create the impression in Germany that 'internal rot has set in…that effective controls are breaking down…That others… accept defeat as in the best interests of the nation'. The Morale Operations branch was to use all the means available to it to encourage desertion, dereliction of duty, and surrender within the German armed forces, and to create division, friction and suspicion within the German civil administration and population.

Although the primary mission of the Morale Operations branch was to attack Germany, it also attacked German allies, and as such the branch operated wherever there were Axis military and civilian populations, and its personnel eventually participated in all Psychological Warfare Division campaigns after the start of 'Overlord'.

In the early days rumours were used as the primary means for the dissemination of Morale Operations branch propaganda, which consisted of brief and concrete stories, of highly simple and lucid style, supposedly emanating from inside sources and concerning familiar persons and events, and successful examples were based on the precept that such stories were easy to remember, had a plot, concerned current events, and appealed to emotion and sentiment. Rumours were intended to deceive and thereby subvert, and to raise feeling of fear, anxiety, confusion, distrust and panic. Once created and cleared by the Office of Strategic Services and the British Political Warfare Executive, as many as 20 rumours were disseminated each week by agent, radio and leaflet, or alternatively through 'plants' in Axis and neutral newspapers. Success was gauged by mention of the rumour in the foreign, neutral or Allied press, or by Allied or Axis intelligence. According to Office of Strategic Services' tallies of such 'comebacks', the rumour was extremely effective.

Rumours were of the strategic rather than tactical nature, and considerable effort was made to hide the rumours' origins so that they appeared to be 'homegrown'. As noted above, the Morale Operations branch was a covert service, and therefore did not have to adhere to official US policies: thus Morale Operations branch rumours in June 1944 included stories that British paratroopers had landed in Berlin, German sailors in Wilhelmshaven had shot their officers, Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel and Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt had been captured, Luftwaffe pilots were refusing to fly, foreign workers had taken over the Krupp factory in Essen, former Nazi leader Rudolf Hess was leading a detachment of Allied troops in France, and it had been found that German military rations had been poisoned.

Even after the Morale Operations branch had developed more advanced distribution means and larger-scale subversive schemes, the rumour continued in favour for attacks on Axis morale. Rumours after the launch of 'Overlord' emphasised tensions between the SS and the army and between Germany and her allies. Anti-Nazi rumours continued to be a staple of the Morale Operations branch’s fare, and included stories claiming that Nazi leaders were making plans to flee to South America, enjoying foods and luxuries other Germans were denied, and were intentionally ordering the military to kill refugees because food, housing and evacuation areas could not be found for them. The Morale Operations branch created stories about senior commanders of the German armed forces being 'martyred' for their actions in the plot against Hitler, and emphasised the wholly selfish motives of the Nazis who intended to make the people fight to the death while they fled to Japan. When the V-weapon missiles began to appear, the Morale Operations branch started the rumour that launch crews were soldiers undergoing punishment who were required to fire a quota of the missiles, which were claimed to be unstable and probe to explosion. Rumours about anarchy in Germany were much favoured, and were linked with stories about control of the black market by the the Nazis.

Although rumours were meant, of course, to be plausible, on occasion some were patently unbelievable. This was the case when Morale Operations branch agents in Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, were told not to spread atrocity stories about human sausage, human skin decorations, and preserved human meat as these were too fantastic to be believed. Unlike the Office of War Information, however, the Morale Operations branch did not have to avoid atrocity stories and was prepared to consider any rumour as fit for dissemination: the more heinous examples were deemed most memorable and therefore more likely to be told to others. Rumour operations were halted at a time late in April 1945 because Office of Strategic Service planners decided that their highly volatile rumours were impossible to control in areas under Allied occupation and could do as much damage to the Allies as they had to the Germans.

The Morale Operations branch also made extensive use of leaflets, news sheets and newspapers, but unlike the materials of their overt counterparts, theirs purported to originate from Axis sources. Printed materials produced by the Morale Operations branch were crudely designed and hurriedly produced with cheap paper and ink to create the impression that they were made by clandestine groups with small budgets and scarce supplies, operating one step ahead of the Gestapo.

The first major black leaflet undertaking was the Wie lange noch? (How much longer?) campaign, an operation comprising 16 leaflets implying origins in an anti-Nazi resistance group. Delivered by agents, the leaflets, stickers and posters were identified by a red circle and three extended fingers forming a W. Each consisted of a captioned cartoon asking how much longer Germans were going to tolerate a certain situation before rebelling or quitting the war. Examples included cartoons showing crosses or other appropriate drawings and captions such as 'How much longer will they deny that the Eastern Front is a common grave?', or 'How much longer shall our soldiers be forced to fight side-by-side with the dregs of Europe?' or 'How much longer are we to be left behind while the party bosses flee the bombs?'

One success toward the end of the war in Italy, according to the Morale Operations branch, involved the dropping of safe-conduct passes allegedly from partisan groups in the vicinity of fascist Italy’s 4a Divisione alpina 'Monte Rosa', which held a vital sector of the front. Within one week more than 1,000 Fascist soldiers had deserted, carrying Morale Operations branch leaflets ensuring good partisan treatment. Further desertions were limited only by partisan refusal to accept the mobs of surrendering fascists.

Black leaflets covered a variety of situations adapted to local circumstances. Leaflets distributed to the German forces in Italy, for example, contained lists of streets which had been bombed in German cities, instructions on how to desert to Switzerland or feign an illness, and false proclamations and orders from German officers as well as counterfeit leave passes or leaflets claiming that the wives, sisters, and sweethearts of soldiers were at the sexual mercies of foreign workers and Nazi party members at home. Other clearly pornographic materials were dropped to Axis soldiers to reinforce themes suggesting that women, boys and girls were being forced to submit to all manner of Nazi sexual perversions.

The Morale Operations branch developed the 'League of Lonely German Women' campaign to heighten the anxieties of enemy soldiers over the women left behind. A leaflet instructed soldiers to place a small red heart on their lapel or glass the next time they were on leave or in a restaurant or tavern. The badge identified them to the 'League of Lonely German Women' who were eager to do their part in boosting morale through sexual promiscuity. The leaflet continued 'Don’t be shy. Your wife, sister and sweetheart is one of us. We think of you, but we also think of Germany.' Widely distributed, the leaflets were picked up by Allied intelligence agents and mentioned in the neutral media and in Stars and Stripes, Toronto’s Canadian Tribune and the US Time magazine. Many captured soldiers possessed both the leaflet and the heart-shaped lapel badge.

Another fertile field was the undermining of the morale of German troops and those if Germany’s Axis allies in occupied nations. Frequently the Office of Strategic Services air-dropped Morale Operations branch kits, containing leaflets, pamphlets, stickers, rubber stamps, and posters, to partisan and other resistance groups in Yugoslavia, France, Greece and Italy.

Special aid was given to Tito’s partisans by a two-man team of the Morale Operations branch landed on the island of Vis: between June 1944 and April 1945 this team distributed more then 3 million pieces of propaganda. Other Morale Operations branch agents disseminated leaflets and rumours designed to undermine the pro-German governments of Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania.

In addition to spreading propaganda, teams of agents organised distribution networks and gathered intelligence behind Axis lines. The first such Morale Operations branch undertaking, codenamed 'Apple', comprised six men who were delivered to Axis-occupied Crete by British motor torpedo. Their mission, lasting from May to July 1944, sought to confirm reports of low German morale and increasingly strong partisan activity. After landing, the team successfully accomplished their missions and determined in the process that German morale on the island was so low that only 3,000 of the 15,000 troops there were likely to resist an Allied attack.

Another Greek mission, codenamed Ulysses (ii), was launched in June 1944 after reports were received that resistance movements on the island of Evia (Euboea) and in Thessaly were willing to help Allied agents. The Morale Operations branch accordingly decided to establish a local base to take advantage of the situation, sending a four-man team from Cairo to Evia on 13 June 1944. As a result of German activity, however, the group went instead to Volos and, once ashore, distributed its stocks of newspapers, pamphlets, and poison-pen letters, printed nearly 37,000 leaflets, sabotaged bridges, trucks, and locomotives, and avoided detection until Greece was liberated in October 1944.

The Morale Operations branch undertook a number of similar operations in North-West Europe. Leaflets informing German troops of the creation of soldiers' committees such as those of November 1918 were Morale Operations branch favourites in 1944. The most famous such committee was the Soldatengruppe 'West', the subject of a score of Morale Operations branch leaflets. Other leaflets were dropped to Austrian divisions informing them of anti-Nazi groups such as the 'Democratic United Austrian Front'.

One operation, undertaken in 1944, was based on the 1918 incident of General Erich Ludendorff’s flight to Sweden to avoid capture following the armistice. Bogus leaflets of Ludendorff’s explanation for his actions, addressed to officers on Oberkommando der Wehrmacht stationery, were re-created and instructed officers to convince themselves, and then their troops, 'that it is more important to save officer personnel for future wars than to die in a battle already lost. Soldiers are easily found, but officers are a rarer commodity.' Enlisted men were to fight to the last because without the officer corps, the text read, Germany was finished.

The purpose of this five-page pamphlet was, of course, to foment disobedience and suspicion among enlisted men and to facilitate mutiny and the creation of soldiers' committees. As similar incidents had actually already taken place, most notably in Cherbourg during July 1944, it was believed that the Ludendorff campaign could have a devastating effect on morale and discipline. The materials were distributed in the summer and the early part of the autumn of 1944 by Morale Operations branch infiltration teams and fighter aircraft of the US 9th AAF. Comebacks of the campaign’s effectiveness came via the British House of Commons, where the pamphlet was introduced as a genuine Oberkommando der Wehmacht document, and appeared in Time magazine as well as other US publications.