With all the talk recently about which news is fake and which is real, I’ve found a real example of how fake news was used to win World War II. Call it “real fake news.”
If you were a German citizen during the period 1941 to 1943, you might have heard some very realistic-sounding shortwave radio broadcasts. A man with a Berliner accent and a detailed knowledge of the military situation was disseminating some disturbing information. Wounded German soldiers were receiving transfusions of blood tainted with syphilis that had been extracted from captured Slavs. Corruption was rampant in Nazi headquarters. An Italian diplomat was having affairs with the wives of German officers. This broadcaster called himself Der Chief and his information seemed so credible he must be authentic.
Actually, Der Chief was British journalist Sefton Delmer engaging in what he called “Black Propaganda.” He developed what could be considered a fake news factory to disrupt the German war effort. Other efforts included several other radio stations and a German-language newspaper that was air-dropped on the Western Front. His broadcasts were so effective they were repeatedly jammed.
Delmer has come to our attention again because he’s the subject of a new documentary, Come Before Winter. Producer Gary Blount said “Delmer was proud of his work. His broadcasts had not only been heard extensively, but had contributed to the war effort.”
Incidentally, Der Chief ended when Delmer’s script had Nazi troops “storm” his studio and “shoot” him in mid-broadcast in November, 1943, further proof that you can’t believe everything you read… or hear.
Sefton Delmer’s story is told in the article “Fighting the Nazis With Fake News” by Matthew Shaer. It’s in the April 2017 issue of Smithsonian magazine and can be found online here: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/fighting-nazis-fake-news-180962481/ . The photo is from the article and carries the caption “Sefton Delmer reads in the radio booth in 1941 (Kurt Hutton / Picture Post / Hulton Archive / Getty Images).”