Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Operation cornflakes

This story is not about Arab propaganda but it is a nice story which you will enjoy. It is not about an invented nation that did not exist before 1967.

During wartime, there is often an attempt to demoralize the civilian population so that they can put pressure on the government to back-off. This is often the case with a war of attrition. Recently we saw that years of demoralization paid off and Gilad Shalit was returned to us, but at a very heavy price.

Demoralization is not a new phenomenon and during the Second World War, both the Allies and the Axis powers used tactics to try and demoralize civilians. One operation created by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the U.S. espionage agency during World War II that later became the CIA, was known as “Operation Cornflakes”. At this time, General "Wild Bill" Donovan was the head of the OSS.

What was Operation Cornflakes? 

One of the stamps issued by the Germans was the Hitler Head series of 1941 - 1944. The standard 6pf and 12pf Hitler Head stamps were forged and instead of the regular Hitler head, these showed a grinning skull or "Death Head" and the 12pf was inscribed with "Futsches Reich" meaning "Ruined Empire" instead of “Deutches Reich”. The stamps were printed at various times in both Rome and Bern, on different paper, with different perforations anywhere from 11 up to 13. 

The OSS needed to learn all about the German mail system. Prisoners of War (POWs) who had been postal workers were interrogated about everything from postal cancellation markings to the ways mail bags were supposed to be packed and sealed. Spies and sympathizers gathered samples of stamps, postal cancellations, mail sacks, and envelopes. Addresses were pulled from German telephone directories. Letters were written filled with anti-Nazi propaganda to as many citizens as possible using the 12pf parody stamp and the correct postal markings. Mail bags were replicated and every other detail of the postal system. Most of the fake mail bore return addresses for legitimate businesses. 

The question now was how to add these letters to the German mail system. After much thought, they felt that the best way was to bomb mail trains. After the fighter-bombers stopped the train with their bombing and strafing fire, they would drop the false mailbags into the wreckage. The Germans would find the bags and presume that they came from the damaged train. 

Why was it called Operation Cornflakes?

In Germany, mail was delivered at breakfast time, so the Allies felt that if German citizens would receive the propaganda at breakfast time by the mailman, they would feel that the "German Empire" was breaking up. 

On February 5, 1945, a German train made its way to the city of Linz. The train’s cargo held mail bound for several northern Austrian towns. Suddenly, Allied planes swooped in, dropping bombs and derailing it. Eight mail bags hit the ground around the train with a thud. Inside each bag were 800 propaganda letters, all addressed to homes and businesses along the train’s route and appropriately stamped. When the train was discovered, German postal workers recovered the bags and delivered the letters without being any wiser about their contents or origins. The Operation had begun. 

Over the course of the operation, 20 loads of fake mail were dropped for a total of 320 mailbags and more than 96,000 pieces of propaganda mail. No one knows how successful the operation was but at least it gave us something to enjoy.

Note: A Hebrew version will appear in a philatelic journal next month.

  1. Poison Cornflakes for Breakfast
  2. Daily Mail