Radio propaganda in World War II

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The Second World War was the first war in the history of mankind in which radio propaganda was used to directly influence large parts of the population of a hostile or neutral state with information about the course of the war, political declarations of intent and announcements of future sanctions against war criminals , almost without the other government being able to intervene . The sanctions against eavesdropping sucked. Enemy transmitters were very different: in Great Britain z. B. Listening to these stations without legal consequences; in theIn the Nazi state , on the other hand, severe prison sentences had to be expected in many cases . Quite a few Germans paid with their lives for the (oral or written) dissemination of such enemy state reports from 1941 onwards.

Nazi propaganda was the first to use radio as a weapon in the propaganda struggle. As early as 1933, Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels considered radio to be the most modern means of influencing the masses that existed. Just a few weeks after the start of the war, 113 German programs were broadcast daily in 15 foreign languages. Great Britain became the most important target of German foreign radio propaganda with 20 English -language broadcasts a day. On the other hand, in 1940 the German-language BBC World Service became the most important source of information for those Germans who did not trust the standard program of the notorious liar Goebbels and had the courage to listen to so-called " enemy stations ".

Beginning and end

The Second World War began in Europe with a fake, allegedly Polish attack on the Gleiwitz radio station on the evening of August 31, 1939. The next day, the German population was informed hourly by radio broadcasts that the Führer Adolf Hitler had therefore ordered the Wehrmacht to go to Poland to march in: " Since 5:45 a.m. they've been shooting back! "

Just as World War II began with a lie on the radio, untruths were spread over German radio right up until the end of the war. On May 1, 1945, in the evening, the radio announcer of the Hamburg Reichssender announced that the Führer Adolf Hitler had died in his command post in the Reich Chancellery fighting for Germany to the last breath against Bolshevism . In truth, Hitler escaped possible capture by committing suicide . Following this lie, a speech by Dönitz was broadcast, in which he untruthfully said that death had overtaken the Führer "at the head of his troops".


Punctually at the beginning of the war, the ordinance on extraordinary broadcasting measures banned listening to foreign broadcasters. The individual Reich broadcasters had already been combined to form the Großdeutscher Rundfunk on January 1, 1939 , and from June 1940 they only broadcast two full programs. March music instead of dance music and constant situation reports from the war front dominated. The request concert for the Wehrmacht began - the bridge between home and the front. Stars like Zarah Leander and Hans Albers should give the soldiers courage and strength to continue fighting.

After the beginning of the war, Alfred-Ingemar Berndt , a confidant of Goebbels and newly appointed head of the broadcasting department of the Ministry of Propaganda, set about adapting the broadcasting landscape to the requirements of warfare. A large part of the journalistic and technical staff was drafted into the propaganda companies of the Wehrmacht, the broadcasting schedules were thinned out. From about midnight until the start of the broadcast at 5 or 6 in the morning there was a break in transmission. This was filled by the program of the Deutschlandsender , which began broadcasting at 12.30 p.m. and ended after the morning news.

At the end of 1942 there were already 16 million German radio subscribers. At the same time, the often vital topicality of the medium of radio became apparent: the first reports of attacking bomber formations scared people into the air-raid shelters . The radio broadcast air situation and war reports continuously.

During the Second World War, the BBC (with 11,500 employees in London), along with Radio Beromünster (see below), was an important foreign source of information for millions of radio listeners in Europe. The BBC could be heard far into Central Europe on medium and long wave via the powerful transmitter Droitwich . In Germany and the occupied countries

Two death sentences for converting radio receivers; January 28, 1944

the Ordinance on Extraordinary Broadcasting Measures threatened listening to so-called enemy stations with severe penalties. Just one week after the start of the war, Jan Masaryk addressed his compatriots at home via the BBC. With this, the BBC began broadcasting a daily 15-minute program in Czech, listening to which was forbidden by the German occupation regime, under pain of the death penalty .

On the other hand, listening to German channels was permitted in Great Britain. During the war, the number of propaganda broadcasts in all countries involved increased. On the German side, British and American immigrants sympathetic to Nazi policies were hired to address Britons in English. One moderator was " Axis Sally ", whose programs were broadcast by Großdeutscher Rundfunk . Goebbels also launched the international radio station " Germany Calling " in Norddeich , whose moderators, above all the Irish-American National Socialist William Joyce as well as Wolf Mittler and Norman Baillie-Stewart , became known under the nickname " Lord Haw-Haw ". The US radio journalist Edward R. Murrow created a new form of broadcasting in 1940 by reporting live for CBS directly from London, which was bombed by the Luftwaffe . His shows, This is London, captivated millions of listeners across the United States and helped quell isolationist sentiment in the United States. From March 1941 until the end of the war, Thomas Mann's monthly radio show Deutsche Hörer! also broadcast by the BBC via long wave in the German Reich. About 25% German listeners secretly listened. In a speech in Munich's Hofbräuhaus , Hitler himself berated the author as someone who was trying to incite the German people against him and his system. The song “ Lili Marleen ”, broadcast by the German soldier radio station in Belgrade since August 1941 , was heard every evening by millions of soldiers throughout Europe and North Africa , and from January 1942 also by Allied soldiers in an English version, until Joseph Goebbels banned it in April 1942 because he had found out about Lale Andersen 's contacts with Swiss Jews . In May 1942, the BBC began broadcasting credible reports of the murder of Polish Jews. Field Marshal Paulus spoke to German listeners on Radio Moscow after the defeat of Stalingrad . On the submarine U 96 , on which Lothar-Günther Buchheim took part in a patrol as a war correspondent at the end of 1941, British, US American or Russian "enemy radio stations" were regularly monitored.

Jammers were also used to make unwanted "enemy propaganda" impossible or to place one's own propaganda in the program of an enemy station, such as in Hitler's last New Year's Eve speech.


People's receiver, type DKE38 (German small receiver, built from 1938 to 1945)
Blosenberg Tower , transmitter Beromünster

The broadcasts of the BBC , the “ Voice of America ”, the NFD , Radio Moscow , Radio Vatican and the Swiss broadcaster Beromünster did mean that 16 million German households who (1943) paid radio license fees were sufficiently informed about the increasingly hopeless military and political Germany's situation could be informed. No broadcaster succeeded in bringing about a majority critical opinion of the regime in Germany. How many Germans secretly listened to the BBC, the most comprehensive foreign source of information, cannot be said. Estimates vary between one and ten million listeners. In Berlin, the BBC's rate of convicted broadcast criminals was 64%. In southern Germany, 61% of those convicted had heard the Beromünster radio station. The absolute numbers of broadcast crimes were rather small.

Reference to the ban on listening to foreign broadcasters, which was included with every people's receiver when it was purchased

If someone did not pass on the knowledge they had acquired in this way, the "crime" was often treated as a trivial offense by the Kripo and punished with the confiscation of the people's receiver . Otherwise, it could happen that the listener was arrested by the police as the "main culprit of this decomposition" and the public prosecutor's office submitted the case to the senior Reich prosecutor at the People's Court in Berlin. Because listening to so-called enemy stations was strictly forbidden, almost no one who knew what was on the radio passed on their knowledge to others - if they did, they could even face the death penalty "in particularly serious cases". For example, in 1941, three so-called " groups of four " specifically listened to enemy radio stations, disseminated their information and were therefore convicted by the People's Court.

The weekly reports in Jean Rudolf von Salis ' "Weltchronik" broadcast every Friday evening via the Swiss broadcaster Beromünster were seen by millions of listeners in Central Europe as an objective assessment of the political and military situation in Europe. However, he judged the Third Reich mildly, which is difficult to understand, only mentioned the murder of the Jews in passing and certainly did not comment on it. The World Chronicle was by no means the "courageous act of resistance" that it was later happily portrayed as. What is certain, however, is that the Nazi regime did not succeed in fully imposing its view of things. In France, Charles de Gaulle , derided by Vichy propaganda as Le Général micro , became an important voice for many French radio listeners.

The British soldiers' station in Calais (director: Sefton Delmer ) was so well established that for a long time the German population mistook it for a Wehrmacht station. The almost perfect camouflage was achieved by broadcasting music popular with Germans, sports scores and reports on events in Germany. Occasionally, however, moral-destroying information was interspersed. For example, the dictum "If the Führer knew", known in Germany since 1938 at the latest, was used so skilfully in its programs that the abuses described seemed credible. Hitler was never attacked personally, only people around him. Also popular was Frau Wernicke , who played a Berlin petit bourgeois woman on BBC programs who, with her simple temper, easy tone and common sense, tartly mocked the Nazis .

When, after the defeat in Stalingrad, the BBC broke the news that Moscow had reported the capture of 91,000 German soldiers, the shock of this defeat was indescribable. After that, almost only fanatical National Socialists believed that the war could be won. Moreover, Joseph Goebbels had previously announced the heroic death of all German soldiers in Stalingrad and had thus been publicly exposed as a liar. At the end of the war, Edward Murrow (see above) reported on the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp in an unusually ruthless manner for many listeners : he described the condition of the survivors and the mountains of corpses, "piled up like logs".

The German Wehrmacht reports as a special form of propaganda

The daily announcements "The High Command of the Wehrmacht announces" were followed by a summary of the combat operations from the first day of the invasion of Poland to the unconditional surrender of the Wehrmacht . These Wehrmacht reports were issued by the Wehrmacht Propaganda Department of the OKW Wehrmacht High Command and broadcast on Großdeutscher Rundfunk around noon before the following news items. In addition, there were special reports on the radio, introduced with fanfare blasts, about outstanding successes with additional mentions of units or individuals who had particularly distinguished themselves. Actions by enemy forces, such as Allied air raids on war targets and cities in the Reich, were also mentioned. The Wehrmacht reports were of an official nature and were the main source of commentary on the events of the war in the media. The Wehrmacht reports broadcast in 2080 were a mixture of sober military reports and political propaganda and are regarded by historians as a valuable and questionable secondary source. The report was brief; more detailed, more concrete and sometimes exaggerated when successes were reported; shorter, more abstract and cryptic when it came to setbacks and personal losses. They largely avoided direct false reports, operated with omissions and additions, with tendentious emphasis and trivialization as well as with euphemisms, delays and obfuscations.

Radio London

Radio Londres was a French-language BBC radio station that operated from 1940 to 1944, with content created by the Forces françaises libres .

It broadcast Charles de Gaulle 's “ Appeal of June 18 ” and other calls for resistance against the German occupation, satirical contributions by Pierre Dac , Maurice Schumann and others, and coded messages to the French Resistance . In 1944, Paul Verlaine's poem Chanson d'automne ( Autumn Song ) announced the imminent landing of the Allies in Normandy .

Radio Tokyo

From 1943 onwards, during the war in East Asia, the Japanese increasingly relied on radio propaganda against the Americans by broadcasting “ The Zero Hour ” on Radio Tokyo. For the predominantly female presenters who spoke American with a Japanese accent, the term Tokyo Rose became common in GI terminology .

literature and audio documents

  • The battle for the airwaves. Enemy Propaganda in World War II . Edited by Hans Sarkowicz and Michael Crone with the cooperation of the German Broadcasting Archive. Eichborn Verlag, Frankfurt a. M. 1990 (historica collection • sound documents).


  1. a b Hans Sarkowicz : The battle for the ether waves. In: Enemy propaganda in the Second World War. Edited by Hans Sarkowicz and Michael Crone with the cooperation of the German Broadcasting Archive. Eichborn, Frankfurt a. M. 1990, p. 7 f.
  2. Hans Sarkowicz: The Battle for the Ether Waves. In: Enemy propaganda in the Second World War. Edited by Hans Sarkowicz and Michael Crone with the cooperation of the German Broadcasting Archive. Eichborn, Frankfurt a. M. 1990, p. 18.
  3. Hans Sarkowicz: The Battle for the Ether Waves. In: Enemy propaganda in the Second World War. Edited by Hans Sarkowicz and Michael Crone with the cooperation of the German Broadcasting Archive. Eichborn, Frankfurt a. M. 1990, pp. 20/22.
  4. As early as August 29, 1939, Clare Hollingworth , a British reporter, was the first to report on the start of the Second World War. She had observed that German troops , tanks and vehicles were on their way to Poland. "1000 tanks assembled on the Polish border" was the title of the "Daily Telegraph" in its report on August 29, 1939. Ten divisions were prepared for a "quick strike". The BBC took over and broadcast this report the same day. The following lie about the attack on the transmitter in Gleiwitz was thus exposed three days beforehand.
  5. General to radio in the 2. WW: The struggle for the airwaves: Enemy propaganda in the Second World War. Edited by Hans Sarkowicz and Michael Crone with the collaboration of the German Broadcasting Archive. Eichborn Verlag, Frankfurt/Main 1990.
  6. Antony Beevor: The Second World War. Munich 2014, p. 859. Beevor quotes Trevor-Roper: Hitler's last days. Frankfurt/Main 1976, p. 201.
  7. WDR Zeitzeichen , July 29, 2016 (15 min).
  8. Jan Masaryk opens the Czech broadcasts of the British BBC in September 1939
  9. Willi A. Boelcke : The power of the radio. World politics and foreign broadcasting 1924-1976. Frankfurt a. M. 1982, p. 458.
  10. Martin A. Doherty, Nazi Wireless Propaganda: Lord Haw-Haw and British Public Opinion in the Second World War. Edinburgh UP, Edinburgh 2000, pp. 7–19.
  11. Philip M. Seib: Broadcasts from the Blitz: How Edward R. Murrow Helped Lead America into War. Potomac Books, Inc., Washington, DC, 2006, ISBN 1-59797-012-3 , Preface, p. IX.
  12. Thomas Mann: German listeners, fifty-five radio broadcasts to Germany. In: Thomas Mann: Collected works in thirteen volumes , volume 11, speeches and essays. Frankfurt a. M. 1974, p. 983. See loc. → Throw stones in Hitler's window .
  13. Thomas Mann: German listeners, fifty-five radio broadcasts to Germany. In: Thomas Mann: Collected works in thirteen volumes , volume 11, speeches and essays. Frankfurt a. M. 1974, p. 985.
  14. Peter Wicke: "Lili Marleen (Lale Andersen)" . In: Song Lexicon. Encyclopedia of Songs. Ed. by Michael Fischer, Fernand Hörner and Christofer Jost, 12/2011 (revised 10/2013).
    → Listen to the song in Lale Andersen's version (1938)
    → Listen to the song in Marlene Dietrich's version
  15. BBC's first reports on the mass murder of Jews
  16. Cf. Diary of the chief engineer on U 96, Friedrich Grade, published at the end of 2016 in the Nordwest-Zeitung (NWZ), Oldenburg. Quoted from FAZ , article "Die Schleusen der Speicher" by ( Gerrit Reichert ), January 5, 2017, p. 12.
  17. Hitler's New Year's Eve speech, December 31, 1944 .
  18. See People's Receiver#Economic Aspects .
  19. Michael P. Hensle: Broadcasting Crimes. Listening to “enemy stations” under National Socialism. Diss., Berlin 2003.
  20. In the years 1939 to 1943 there were approx. 3500 judgments against sogen. broadcast criminals .
  21. Klaus Basner: Unna. Historical portrait of a city. Vol. 2, Kettler, Bönen 2013, p. 422.
  22. Strictly speaking, there was only one white list of allowed channels. It was forbidden to listen to any stations not mentioned there: → Stations without a listening ban
  23. "Ordinance on Extraordinary Broadcasting Measures" (1939), quoted in Alexander Lüdeke: The Second World War. Bath (UK) 2007, p. 141. – S.a. German digital library
  24. See article by Jean Rudolf von Salis in the NDB
  25. Tagesanzeiger , July 21, 2011 (review of Urs Bitterli, Irene Riesen (ed.): Jean Rudolf von Salis. Selected letters 1930-1993. Verlag Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Zurich 2011).
  26. Jörg Echternkamp: The 101 most important questions - The Second World War. Munich 2010, p. 101.
  27. Le Général micro ( Memento des Originals of December 28, 2016 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. French Fourrier = military function designation for a non-commissioned officer or sergeant who is responsible for the supply of a military unit. German expression until 1945: Furier . @1@2Template:Webarchiv/IABot/
  28. Sogen. Black transmitter , because the impression of a German Wehrmacht transmitter was conveyed. Antonym: white station , if the nationality was known. There were also the gray stations, if no customer was named at all. Examples: Radio Humanité - NS station under communist camouflage, Patris (Fatherland) - NS station for Greece, Gustav Siegfried Eins - British station, The voice of freedom in German night on wave 29.8 - anti-fascist station.
  29. Antony Beevor: The Second World War. Munich 2014, p. 457.
  30. Erich Murawski : The German Wehrmachtbericht 1939-1945, a contribution to the study of intellectual warfare. Boldt, Boppard am Rhein 1962, foreword SI
  31. Cf. Wehrmachtbericht , foreword p. VIII.