Battle on the Airwaves
JAMES WEDGWOOD DRAWBELL
THIS is London calling,” says the BBC announcer. And then, as a pandemonium of whistles, hoots and crackles assaults the ether, he adds, calmly, “And that is Germany jamming it.” We catch that much and miss half the next sentence. The next few words are fairly clear, and then there is a muffled passage. So it goes on, to the end of the bulletin, the announcer speaking slowly and as clearly as he can in an effort to be heard through the noise. But, in spite of all we have missed, we have contrived to gather the main outline of the news, and the news is good.
We wonder whether the message has been heard in the European countries to which it has been aimed. Is it a waste of electric power and lung power to pour out, for 24 hours a day, bulletins, stories, argument, facts and figures in 22 different languages, with the enemy doing all he can to dam the flood with noise? No. There is abundant evidence to show that no word is wasted, that all eventually reach the ears for which they are intended—if not at once, then very soon.
The more favorable the news is for the Allied cause the more convincing the argument; consequently the more noisy are the interruptions. Allied victories bring a crescendo of interference and drive the enemy to new expedients, new and louder devices. Bells and rattles swell the din to baffle ears, and yet every word that the BBC sends into stricken Europe is heard, understood, passed along, or printed in the hundreds of underground newspapers that keep alive the hopes and strengthen the resolves of the millions who wait and work for liberation. These newspapers, the reports of secret agents, the stories of men and
For 24 hours a day ín 22 different languages the BBC is fighting the war of words over European wavelengths ... and winning
women who escape from occupied territory, and, above all, the quick, active response to suggestions, show the BBC that although it shouts against a hurricane it does not shout in vain.
There was, for example, the V campaign. Its success may be ancient history, but its real meaning has hardly been understood even today. Far more important than its moral effect on the Germans was the confirmation it gave of eager reception and prompt results.
It began simply as a device to discover whether the BBC programs to Belgium were reaching a wide public. The V, chalked on walls, on German cars, on restaurant tables, or tapped out in Morse in cinemas and other meeting places, would be a sign to other listeners. In a week it had spread through Belgium to Vichy France, and in a month it was all over Europe, from Narvik to
Athens. It had become more than a sign to patriots— the Germans saw in it, a menace to themselves.
After three years it is still doing duty; the Morse V, like the knockings on a door, still heralds each BBC broadcast to Europe.
Some of these European programs from Britain, sent out on short waves, can be heard in Canada, and the sound of Big Ben is as familiar in Toronto or Winnipeg as it is in Liverpool or Manchester. But there are, in addition, dozens of programs on the ordinary wave band which can be heard only in Europe. It is in this congested band that the radio war is being fought most keenly. Three or four times as many stations as there were before the war now clamor to be heard. Most of the old pre-war stations are still there and in their old location on your radio dial, but between them and occasionally overlapping them, are stations giving out all the tongues of Babel.
A tour round the dial is an earsplitting adventure and, for anybody really trying to sort out what is being said, a nerve-racking job.
Here, next to London Regional, Is a German station which regularly follows the BBC’s news bulletins with its own version of the news in English. Its call sign Is the opening strain of “Deutschland Uber Alles ” Sometimes it plays jazz programs for our own exclusive benefit, for everything in the nature of jazz or swing is
forbidden to German ears. I have even heard it play Chopin and Tchaikovsky—both banned in Germany.
“Let ’Em Rave”
THERE is never any jamming on this wave length.
The British official attitude to enemy broadcasts is: “They say. What say they? Let them say!” Or, in the vernacular, “Let ’em rave.”
This is how a BBC speaker put it in a recent broadcast to Denmark:
“Probably at this very moment, while I am talking, the German disturbance of my broadcast may be coming from your loudspeaker. There is no jamming on any of the German transmissions. Has it ever occurred to you why this is so? Certainly not because we couldn’t produce just as much disturbance as the Germans if we wanted to. But we don’t want to. You see we all know why the Germans jam us. Because they’re afraid. They’re afraid of the truth. And the more frightened they become the more violently they try to jam us. We are not afraid of what the Germans say—on the contrary it is very useful for us to be able to remind you from time to time of what you have heard from that side. But the Germans are afraid and becoming more afraid. Jamming is a good barometer of their fear these days and that is why we are reproducing for you these jamming sounds today. We want you to remember in future: each time you hear this sound you will know that it is a sign of German fear, and the more violent it is the more violent is that fear of the truth.”
So the BBC turns the Germans’ own devices against them, using their jamming sounds as a demonstration.
As we go up and down the dial and hear voice after voice meeting opposition, we know that these voices are our own. Here is one speaking French and we can catch most of what it says. On the Continent, where the jamming originates, the interruption must be louder, but still the message gets through. What one underground listener in France or Belgium misses, another hears, and in cafés and homes, wherever two or three patriots gather, they pass the word along.
Following the advice of the BBC, they listen separately and meet as soon as possible to pool the different items that they have been able to get. Each group is advised to have at least one member who can speak another language, for in France, for example, programs in French are most heavily jammed, while English and German programs can be heard there with less difficulty.
“This,” says the familiar voice from London, “is the
BBC special transmission for the editors of the clandestine press in Europe. Our aim is to give you facts, figures and quotations that will be useful to you in your work; and to keep you informed of what your colleagues in other enemy-occupied countries are doing. We hopt.* that you will tell us what kind of information you want and how you want us to give it.
“Remember we are acting as your special correspondent in London and we are under your instructions. Our intention is to help the editors of the clandestine press in Belgium, France, Luxembourg and especially in those countries where radio sets have been confiscated—Poland, Norway, Holland. Here in London we read your papers carefully. Print your instructions in your paper and we shall do our best to serve you.”
Several times a day, in many languages, bulletins expressly scheduled “for the clandestine press” go out from London to the occupied countries. In spite of jamming and such desperate expedients as the confiscation of radio sets, the underground newspapers come out and are distributed among patriots and also among the German troops.
GERMAN generals find patriots’ news sheets under their breakfast plates. Nazi soldiers in barracks find them in their beds. A Nazi officer hanging up his coat in a restaurant may later find his pockets stuffed with them. Even in Germany itself there are dozens of illegal publications, drawing most of their information from Allied broadcasts. They have been found in the haversacks of German soldiers captured in Russia. In Poland, where radio sets have been confiscated, there are 150 underground newspapers, and in Greece 50, appearing regularly, although their editorial, printing, and publishing offices are always on the move, from hiding place to hiding place.
From cellars, from the back rooms of little shops, from parlors of suburban villas, and from country farm cottages come the sheets that will be passed from hand to hand all over Paris, Brussels or Amsterdam. They are pushed under doors, left on tables, wrapped in legal newspapers, inserted in packages of rationed food. Boys distribute them among passengers in truins and buses. Death is the penalty for possessing them—yet they are everywhere.
Many of the “hostages” shot in reprisal for attacks on German soldiers have committed no other crime than reading an illegal newspaper. Distributors, editors and printers are shot immediately they are captured, but their
papers still appear. One printer-editor --*--
was working as an underchef in a Paris hotel when his hand press was found in the basement. His arrest was reported next day in his own paper, printed in a charcoal burner’s hut in the Forest of Compiègne. The hut was found and its two occupants shot—but next day the paper appeared as usual. A country innkeeper’s daughter, a woman who used to sell matches to customers in Paris boulevard cafes, u music hall comedian and a watchmaker whose workshop was a listening post are among those who have been arrested for illegal journalism.
Confiscation of radio sets is one of the last moves in the German war on the truth—and a desperate move when its meaning is realized. Not only is it a confession of defeat—it also has a demoralizing effect. It was imposed in Holland only after a series of dramatic events in which the BBC figured. First the Germans demanded a declaration of “loyalty” from all Dutch students— with the implication that anybody who refused to sign would be sent to forced labor in Germany. Radio Orange, the Dutch Government’s program from London, said, “Don’t sign.” Ninety per cent of the students refused.
Next the Germans ordered all former Dutch soldiers to report for transportation to Germany. “Don’t report; keep quiet,” said Radio Orange. The exsoldiers did not report. German troops and agents were sent to hunt them in shops, factories and homes. Workers went on strike. The German troops fired on strikers, killing many. German troops were attacked in the black-out, and hostages were shot.
Not until then did the Nazi authori-
ties order the confiscation of radio sets. And that in itself was a victory, for it meant silencing German propaganda also—that propaganda which had helped to clear the way for the Nazi armies even before the war, and which since the invasion had wooed and threatened the civil population. It meant, in fact, that the truth from outside had won a decisive victory over the Nazi propaganda machine. Hollanders continued to listen in secret, and the illegal presses went on printing the news.
It was after a series of raids in search of hidden sets in Leeuwarden and Huizen, Holland, that the president of the Court said to one of the accused, a Friesland cattle owner: “Most of the trouble around here has been caused by listening to English broadcasts. Do you hear them clearly?”
“Not always,” the man replied. “Sometimes reception is pretty bad.”
A French illustrated paper recently published a cartoon showing an old man sitting beside his radio, with his manservant asking him: “And what jamming would Monsieur le Marquis like to listen to this evening?”
A FRENCHMAN who escaped from France a few weeks ago told the BBC: “There is a shortage of radio tubes in France. But I managed to get a burntout tube replaced because my dealers knew me to be a BBC listener. A La valite would have had to wait a very long time. There is a doctor in Vichy who is said to regard as lifelong enemies those patients who have the bad manners to summon him to their bedside at the time of the BBC bulletins. I know many cafés where as BBC news time approaches trusty customers go one by one into the back room.”
When British and Canadian troops entered Italian towns they were puzzled to see the words “Viva Stifens” written on walls—until they learned that “Stifens” was Colonel Stevens, one of the principal commentators in the BBC Italian service. He has been on the air since Christmas, 1939.
The part that the BBC has played in keeping together the forces resisting the German rule in Jugoslavia Is acknowledged thus by the Germancontrolled Croat radio: “Of all the enemy’s wireless propaganda, the transmissions of the so-called Jugoslav radio in London are the most dangerous.” And a Nazi Minister addressing Croat workers in Berlin has declared that all the armed resistance and sabotage were “brought about by enemy propaganda.”
The German-controlled Radio Paris recently paid the BBC this compliment: “Many good people listen nightly to this impudent radio as if it were the voice of truth. It may utter the greatest absurdities, but that does not matter. They enjoy it. They believe it. Thousands of people throb in suspense before its waves.”
It is the same in Belgium where, says a Belgian air officer who was there last summer, “People are radio maniacs. They do not go to the cinema or the theatre, or visit friends because they do not want to miss the news.”
Germans in their own country and abroad listen to it. The porter in a Liege hotel where many German soldiers were billeted said he heard them listening to the BBC every evening. A Luxembourger who recently reached London reports: “I have heard there is even more clandestine listening to British programs in Germany than in occupied territory.”
The columnist of a Leipzig newspaper bears this out by complaining: “I am often rung up and asked to say whether some rumor is true or not. The callers seldom reveal their names and certainly they include some who have ‘made an illegal trip to London on the short wave.’ ”
So the war in the ether rages and we in England can hear the sounds of wordy battle on our radio sets. Here and there on the dial are “open” stations, transmitting without intermission. Some of these are British. Our ordinary programs of news and entertainment are seldom interrupted for the enemy needs, for his own purposes, the information they give, if only so that he may twist it. And almost always one wave length has to be left unjammed so that the German listening service can learn our “line.” This wave length varies from day to day. But there are far more jammed than open stations on the dial and all the jammed stations are ours.
This in itself is a tribute to the growth of the British radio weapon, for at the beginning of the war we were almost as unprepared in the ether as we were on land.
Everybody must have wondered before the war what war would do to radio. Would all stations immediately shut down? Would all radio sets be confiscated? Would the warring nations, abandoning their wave length agreements, invade one another’s strips of ether, shout one another down, piling kilowatt on kilowatt, and so produce chaos? How would radio go to war?
“A country which has so thoroughly barricaded its citizens as Germany,” wrote a prophet at that time, “will naturally not leave any obvious loopholes by which radio propaganda
--— can enter.” Listening to British stations
even then, years before the outbreak of war, had been forbidden in Germany.
Drums And Trumpets
AND already Hitler had begun to L make himself lord of the short waves, sending out Axis propaganda to the British Dominions and Colonies, as well as to Europe. Enormous transmitters, far more powerful than any the BBC had, were making war on us long before the declaration of war. Radio for Britain was not an organ of propaganda, but a means of communication. The Empire service, nearly six years old when the war began, was a family affair—a thin small voice, and no fighting weapon to set against the boasting, the trumpets, and the drums of Berlin. While Hitler invented grievances and excuses for marching into Austria, bombarding the Spanish port of Alméria, and taking over the Sudetenland, and was demanding Lebensraum in Africa and elsewhere, British radio minded its own business. Not until the invasion of Czechoslovakia did Britain begin to mobilize for radio war.
Like the Army and the Air Force, the BBC had to go up against enemies formidably, almost overwhelmingly arrayed. All the BBC had to build on and fight with was that modestly begun Empire service, which had to be turned almost overnight into a world service and a war weapon. In those early days, and for months later, you could have gone all round the dial and found enemy voices at every kilocycle notch. At the drop of the hat the Axis
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Battle on the Airwaves
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turned loose its exhorters, shouters, mockers, wheedlers, high - powered bullies and intimidators, not only against Britain and France, but chiefly against those in distant lands who might possibly entertain doubts of Axis victories.
They had everything ready. Great new transmitters opened. Goebbels threatened, Hitler roared, and HawHaw jeered. Mariners in British ships far away were told that it was no use returning to their home ports, for bombs had destroyed them. Long before the Ark Royal was sinking Italian warships, the Ark Royal had been sunk many times by German radio.
Egyptians were told that the British had let them down; Frenchmen that Britain would betray them; Arabs that Mussolini was a personal friend of Allah; and Americans that Britain was doomed. It was the same technique as that they are using today in an effort to divide the United Nations. They tell the Americans that the British are making a cat’s-paw of them. They tell the British that the Americans intend to swallow the Empire and drive British merchant ships from the sea. They tell the Russians that our help to Russia is negligible and the second front a dream.
Drums and trumpets have played a large part in the German radio war, even if there have been no fanfares lately and Hitler himself has discreetly stayed away from the microphone. But from the beginning it was not all shouting. The enemy had many sorts of tricks.
On a Sunday night in September, 1939, 1 heard a voice from Germany say: “Dear British people, remember that today is Sunday.” There then followed the hymn, “The Day Thou Gavest, Lord, Is Ended,” played lugubriously on an organ. That was our first encounter with the slimy Haw-Haw. Later we were to hear that voice in many guises.
One day he would tell us that we were too clever a nation to be taken in by anti-Nazi propaganda, and the next that we were just a bunch of catatonic schizophrenes—his very words, which 1 noted at the time as a sample of Haw-Haw at his loftiest. Haw-Haw could be high-brow and low-brow in one broadcast, but when Goebbels wanted to get right down to the gutter he put on a speaker whom we called Cockney Bill, this one was so thumping lowbrow that he made bargees and Billingsgate fish porters blush.
¿v He was a failure, and not for long did his obscenities pollute the ether. There was also a woman, speaking in a pseudo-kailyard accent, who tried to persuade the Scots that the English were doing them wrong. After a few performances of her one Scotch joke, Goebbels gave her the hook. It was ali part of the German plan of telling different stories to different people. Belgian Walloons were told that the Flemings were scoundrels, and the
Flemings that the Walloons ate their young. A comedian named Fredonnet told the French that the English were all lying about in club armchairs while the French stood guard on the Rhine; and Haw-Haw at the same time told the British that the degenerate French were no fit companions-in-arms for high-minded Tommy Atkins.
Lies Home To Roost
Now these inconsistencies were no handicap to Goebbels while he also had victories to report and the BBC’s news bulletins were doleful records of disaster. But today, with the military, naval and air initiative on our side, his lies are coming home to roost. He has no heartening news for his own people, no fanfares to accompany his words. But despite this he has gone on building up his propaganda until today he is broadcasting from about 120 stations. Many broadcasts are devoted to Germany’s Allies and satellites. Much time is given to programs for foreign workers, thousands of whom have been brought to the microphone to persuade their comrades to work harder for Germany.
But the old game of playing one nation or party or race is played out, now that the force which backed it up has been driven back to the defensive. Goebbels used to say: “Nothing
impresses the world more than a victory.” And there was a time when there was no need for him to invent victories and he could let his imagination run riot in other directions. 'Today there is nothing he would not do if he could to make the world believe him — but it is too late.
All Europe knows of the Atlantic Charter, the Hot Springs Food Conference, the Moscow, Cairo and Teheran conferences and the common aims of the United Nations. It knows that we have far more to offer Europe and the world than Hitler ever had. The Allies have a better story to tell than Goebbels and it is being told.on the air, in the underground press, and wherever two or three of Hitler's millions of victims are gathered together.
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