Large-scale public propaganda campaigns were introduced in World War I, but they became more far more elaborate, and effective, in World War II.
In 1914, Allied propaganda consisted of simply spreading stories of German soldiers committing atrocities. Newspaper readers in both Allied and neutral nations were told that innocent men, women, and children were being maimed and killed in Belgium and France by German troops. Though never substantiated, the stories helped swing public opinion firmly against the Germans.
By World War II, Germany had become master of the art of propaganda, building one of the most sophisticated mis- and dis-information machines in the world. The Minister for Enlightenment and Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, knew the importance of radio in spreading the Nazi message. He authorized the manufacture of inexpensive radios that would be affordable to more people. He even gave away free radios on his birthday.
Radio broadcasts played on the familiar themes of German National Socialism. Wrapped around music programming, Goebbels would include short pieces that appealed to Germans’ resentment at the outcome of the last war and their depressed standard of living, which he skillfully blamed on Jews, communists, and unpatriotic Germans. Through his efforts, the Nazi government gained the loyalty of otherwise sensible Germans and convinced them to sacrifice their efforts, fortunes, and lives for Hitler.
But England soon proved as adept at the game as Germany. In “London Calling — Goebbels Jamming,” William Bayles describes the impressive operations at the British Broadcasting Corporation, which provided news and persuasion throughout Europe and the Middle East.
The BBC enlisted the help of national resistance heroes like Queen Wilhelmina of Holland and Charles De Gaulle of France to speak to their conquered people over the airwaves. It also drew on a vast pool of refugees who’d sought asylum in England and who could write and speak languages of all the major nationalities in the war zones: 24 nationalities in all — from Albanians to Turks – prepared “ammunition for the radio offensive against Hitler.”
And while the Germans distorted the facts in their news, the British made a point of being honest in their reporting. They believed the blitz-propaganda machine, which repeated lies until they were believed, would someday fail. When Hitler eventually exhausted the trust of the German people, they would know where to find a more reliable source.
The British were also particularly good at using an enemy’s words against them. The BBC would edit clips from Hitler’s different radio speeches to show him repeatedly contradicting himself.
Perhaps nothing was more effective than the way the BBC ended its German broadcasts every day. Listeners heard “a clock ticking hollowly and a ghostly voice intoning: ‘Every seventh second, a German soldier dies in Russia. Every seventh second … hour after hour … day after day … Is it your husband … your son … your brother? Shot … drowned … frozen … every seventh second … seven … seven.’”
The news in early March of 1917 wasn’t good. Americans learned that German submarines were going to resume their attacks on all ships heading to England. Just days later, the U.S. government released the text of the Zimmerman Telegram, an intercepted message from Germany to Mexico. If the U.S. entered the war, it read, and Mexico declared war on the U.S., a victorious Germany would force America to return the territories of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona to Mexico.
Even before these news items, American opinion had generally turned against the German cause. It had been Germany, after all, who sank the Lusitania. And it was probably Germany who blew up an island in New York Harbor where the U.S. had been storing ammunition.
Now, as war drew closer, the country was growing more apprehensive about spies and saboteurs working for Imperial Germany. Many Americans suspected their German neighbors of being foreign agents. Pro-war propaganda in the newspapers helped to further demonize all Germans in Americans’ eyes. The public’s fears were shared by the federal government, which pondered how it would handle aliens from an enemy nation.
It was a problem that the U.S. would struggle with in subsequent conflicts.
In “Alien Enemies,” an article from the March 17, 1917, issue of the Post, author Melville Davisson Post describes how Great Britain developed its approach to handling German aliens. Based on Britain’s experiences, he recommends the U.S. take aggressive measures against anyone of German ancestry in America, including stripping naturalized German Americans of their citizenship and subjecting them to military justice. He also urges the forcible relocation of all resident aliens away from areas of military significance.
When war did come, President Wilson signed orders that labeled all Germans in America “enemy aliens.” He barred them from working in or near military facilities or Washington, D.C. This caused so many Germans to lose their jobs that the Labor Department feared a serious shortage of manpower.
All Germans had to register with the Post Office and carry identification papers at all times. German business owners had to open their account books to authorities. In several states, the attorney general ordered that Germans’ bank accounts be made public.
Several orders appear to have been motivated more by profit than national security. Late in the war, Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer seized the assets of German companies in the U.S., which were then sold to Americans. And just days before the war ended, the U.S. confiscated the patent rights of Germans, which included the patents to valuable industrial chemicals and medicines.
The enemy alien laws affected 250,000 German men and 6,300 German women. Out of this number, the Justice Department’s Enemy Alien Registration Section incarcerated 2,048 Germans. Some, like Karl Muck, the conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, left America when released from camp and refused to ever return.
Those Germans who avoided detention endured harassment and vandalism from Americans throughout the war.
In later years, it became clear that the government’s actions against Germans had been excessive and did little to protect the country from enemy sabotage or subversion. Yet America was destined to repeat the mistake 25 years later with its Japanese citizens during World War II.
The author discusses Great Britain’s solution to the problem with German citizens living in England while it was fighting Germany. Though the U.S. wasn’t yet in the war, he believed German agents were already in America and recommended rigorous methods for isolating both Germans citizens and naturalized citizens from Germany.
Featured image: Photo from Brown Brothers, New York City, from “Alien Enemies” in the March 17, 1917, issue of the Post.
“Prophecy may vary between being an intellectual amusement and a serious occupation; serious not only in its intentions, but in its consequences,” H.G. Wells wrote in 1916. “For it is the lot of prophets who frighten or disappoint to be stoned. But for some of us moderns, who have been touched with the spirit of science, prophesying is almost a habit of mind. … The scientific training develops the idea that whatever is going to happen is really here now — if only one could see it. And when one is taken by surprise the tendency is not to say with the untrained man, ‘Now, who’d ha’ thought it?’ but ‘Now, what was it we overlooked?’”
This was how Wells began his forecast of the remaining days and aftermath of the world’s first great war. The article was part of a 10-part series titled “What Is Coming?,” which appeared in The Saturday Evening Post in 1916.
The author had already established a reputation for prediction, based on books like The Time Machine (1895) and The War of the Worlds (1898). And he seemed a good fit to predict the outcome of World War I.
But in 1916 when the series was released, the war was far from over. After the article below (the second in the series) was published, the line of battle that stretched from the Swiss border to the English Channel would move no more than a few miles in the following 35 months. Though Wells did not predict how long the war would last, he was proved right about its ultimate conclusion: The end of the war would be “no longer about victories or conquest but about securing … the best chances of rapid economic recuperation and social reconstruction.”
What Is Coming: The End of the War
By H. G. Wells
Originally published on January 15, 1916
The prophet who emerges with the most honor from this war is [Ivan Stanislavovich] Bloch. It must be fifteen or sixteen years ago since this gifted Russian made his forecast of the future. Perhaps it is more, for the French translation was certainly in existence before the Boer War. His case was that war between fairly equal antagonists must end in a deadlock because of the continually increasing defensive efficiency of entrenched infantry. This would give the defensive an advantage over the most brilliant strategy and over considerably superior numbers that would completely discourage all aggression. He concluded that war was played out.
His book was very carefully studied in Germany. As a humble follower of Bloch I did not realize this, and that failure led me into some unfortunate prophesying at the outbreak of the war. I judged Germany by the Kaiser, and by the Kaiser-worship which I saw in Berlin. I thought that he was a theatrical person who would dream of vast attacks and tremendous cavalry charges, and that he would lead Germany to be smashed against the allied defensive in the West, and to be smashed so thoroughly that the war would be over. I did not properly appreciate the more studious and more thorough Germany that was to fight behind the Kaiser and thrust him aside, the Germany we English fight now, the Ostwald-Krupp Germany of 1915. That Germany, one may now perceive, had read and thought over and thought out the Bloch problem. There was also a translation of Bloch into French. In English a portion of his book was translated for the general reader and published with a preface by the late Mr. W.T. Stead. It does not seem to have reached our military authorities, nor was it published here with an instructive intention. As an imaginative work it would have been considered worthless and impracticable.
Getting Military Science Up to Date
But it is manifest now that if the Belgian and French frontiers had been properly prepared — as they should have been prepared when the Germans built their strategic railways — with trenches and gun emplacements and secondary and tertiary lines, the Germans would never have got fifty miles into either France or Belgium. They would have been held at Liege and in the Ardennes. Five hundred thousand men would have held them indefinitely. But the Allies had never worked out trench warfare; they were unready for it, the Germans knew of their unreadiness, and upon this unreadiness it is quite clear they calculated. They did not reckon, it is now clear that they were right in not reckoning, the Allies as contemporary soldiers. They were going to fight a 1900 army with a 1914 army, and their whole opening scheme was based on the conviction that the Allies would not entrench. Somebody in those marvelous maxims from the Dark Ages that seem to form the chief reading of our military experts said that the army that entrenches is a defeated army. The silly dictum was repeated and repeated after the Battle of the Marne. It shows just where our military science had reached in 1914 — namely, to a level a year before Bloch wrote. So the Allies retreated. For long weeks the Allies retreated out of the west of Belgium, out of the north of France, and for rather over a month there was a loose, mobile war — as if Bloch had never existed. The Germans were not fighting the 1914 pattern of war, they were fighting the 1899 pattern of war, in which direct attack, outflanking, and so on were still supposed to be possible; they were fighting confident in their overwhelming numbers, in their prepared surprise, in the unthought-out methods of their opponents. In the Victorian war that ended in the middle of September they delivered their blow, they overreached, they were successfully counterattacked on the Marne, and then abruptly — almost unfairly it seemed to our sportsmanlike conceptions — they shifted to the game played according to the very latest rules of 1914. The war did not come up to date until the Battle of the Aisne. With that the second act of the great drama began.
I do not believe that the Germans ever thought it would come up to date so soon. I believe they thought that they would hustle the French out of Paris, come right up to the Channel at Calais before the end of 1914, and then entrench, produce the submarine attack and the Zeppelins, working from Calais as a base, and that they would end the war before the spring of 1915 — with the Allies still a good fifteen years behindhand. I believe the Battle of the Marne was the decisive battle of the war, in that it shattered this plan, and that the rest of the 1914 fighting was Germany’s attempt to reconstruct their broken scheme in the face of an enemy who was continually getting more and more nearly up to date with the fighting. By December, Bloch, who had seemed utterly discredited in August, was justified up to the hilt. The world was entrenched at his feet. By May the lagging military science of the British had so far overtaken events as to realize that shrapnel was no longer so important as high explosive, and within a year the significance of machine guns, a significance thoroughly ventilated by imaginative writers fifteen years before, was being grasped by our conservative but by no means inadaptable leaders.
The war since that first attempt, admirably planned and altogether justifiable — from a military point of view, I mean — of Germany to “rush” a victory has consisted almost entirely of failures on both sides either to get round or through or over the situation foretold by Bloch. There has been only one marked success — the German success in Poland due to the failure of the Russian munitions. Then for a time the war in the East was mobile and precarious while the Russians retreated to their present positions, and the Germans pursued and tried to surround them. That was a lapse into the pre-Bloch style. Now the Russians are again entrenched, their supplies are restored, the Germans have a lengthened line of supplies, and Bloch is back upon his pedestal so far as the Eastern theater goes. Bloch has been equally justified in the Anglo-French attempt to get round through Gallipoli.
The forces of the India Office have pushed their way through unprepared country to Bagdad, but from the point of view of the main war that is too remote to be considered either getting through or getting round; and so, too, the losses of the German colonies and the East African war are scarcely to be reckoned with in the main war. They have no determining value. There remains the Balkan struggle. But the Balkan struggle is something else; it is something new. It must be treated separately. It is a war of treacheries and brags and appearances. It is not a part of, it is a sequence to, the deadlock war of 1915.
But before dealing with this new development it is necessary to consider certain general aspects of the deadlock war. It is manifest that the Germans hoped to secure an effective victory in this war before they ran up against Bloch. But, reckoning with Bloch as they certainly did, they hoped that even in the event of the war getting to earth it would still be possible to produce novelties that would sufficiently neutralize Bloch to secure a victorious peace. With unexpectedly powerful artillery suddenly concentrated, with high explosives, with asphyxiating gas, with a well-organized system of grenade-throwing and mining, with attacks of flaming gas, and above all with a vast munition-making plant to keep them going, they had a very reasonable chance of hacking their way through.
The Teutonic Air Path
Against these prepared novelties the Allies have had to improvise, and on the whole the improvisation has kept pace with the demands made upon it. They have brought their military science up to date, and today the disparity in science and equipment between the antagonists has greatly diminished. There has been no escaping Bloch, after all, and the deadlock, if no sudden peace occurs, can end now in only one thing — the exhaustion in various degrees of all the combatants and the succumbing of the most exhausted. The idea of a conclusive end of the traditional pattern to this war, of a triumphal entry into London, Paris, Berlin or Moscow, is to be dismissed altogether from our calculations. The end of this war will be a matter of negotiation between practically immobilized and extremely shattered antagonists.
There is, of course, one aspect of the Bloch deadlock that the Germans at least have contemplated. If it is not possible to get through or round, it may still be possible to get over. There is the air path. This idea has certainly taken hold of the French mind, but France has been too busy and is temperamentally too economical to risk large expenditures upon what is necessarily an experiment. The British are too conservative and skeptical to be the pioneers in any such enterprise. The Russians have been too poor in the necessary resources of mechanics and material. The Germans alone have made any sustained attempt to strike through the air at their enemies beyond the war zone. Their Zeppelin raids upon England have shown a steadily increasing efficiency, and it is highly probable that they will be repeated on a much larger scale before the war is over. Quite possibly, too, the Germans are developing an accessory force of large aeroplanes to cooperate in such an attack. The long coasts of Britain, the impossibility of their being fully equipped throughout their extent, except at a prohibitive cost of men and material, to resist invaders, expose the whole length of the island to considerable risk and annoyance from such an expedition. But it is doubtful if the utmost damage an air raid is likely to inflict upon England would count materially in the exhaustion process, and the moral effect of these raids has been, and is likely to be, to stiffen the British resolution to fight this war through to the conclusive ending of any such possibilities. The best chance for the aircraft was at the beginning of the war, when a surprise development might have had astounding results. That chance has gone by. Nor is there anything on or under the sea that seems likely now to produce decisive results. We return from these considerations to a strengthened acceptance of Bloch.
The essential question for the prophet remains, therefore, the question of which group of Powers will exhaust itself most rapidly. And, following on from that, comes the question of how the successive stages of exhaustion will manifest themselves in the combatant nations. The problems of this war, as of all war, end as they begin in national psychology.
But it will be urged that this is reckoning without the Balkans. I submit that the German thrust through Serbia is really no part of the war that has ended in the deadlock of 1915. Here there is no way round or through to any vital center of Germany’s antagonists. It turns nothing; it opens no path to Paris, London or Petrograd. It is a long, long way from the Danube to either Egypt or Bagdad, and there and there — Bloch is waiting. I do not think the Germans have any intention of so generous an extension of their responsibilities. The Balkan complication is no solution of the deadlock problem.
A whole series of new problems are opened up directly as we turn to this most troubled region — problems of the value of kingship, of nationality, of the destiny of such cities as Constantinople, which from their very beginning have never had any sort of nationality at all; of the destiny of countries such as Albania, where a tangle of intense tribal nationality is distributed in spots and patches, or Dalmatia, where one extremely self-conscious nation and language is present in the towns and another in the surrounding country, or Asia Minor, where no definite, national boundaries, no religious, linguistic or social homogeneities, have ever arisen since the Roman legions beat them down. But all these questions can really be deferred or set aside in our present discussion. Whatever surprises or changes this last phase of that blood-clotted melodrama, the Eastern Empire, may involve, they will not alter the essential fact of the great war, they will but assist and hasten on the essential conclusion of the great war, that the Central Powers and their pledged antagonists are in a deadlock, unable to reach a decision, and steadily, day by day, hour by hour, losing men, destroying material, spending credit, approaching something unprecedented, unknown, that we try to express to ourselves by the word exhaustion.
The Rigors of a War of Attrition
Just how the people who use the word so freely are prepared to define it is a matter for speculation. The idea seems to be a phase in which the production of equipped forces ceases through the using up of men or material or both. If the exhaustion is fairly mutual it need not be decisive for a long time. It may mean simply an ebb of vigor on both sides, unusual hardship, a general social and economic disorganization and grading down. The fact that a great killing off of men is implicit in the process, and that the survivors will be largely under discipline, militates against the idea that the end may come suddenly through a vigorous revolutionary outbreak. Exhaustion is likely to be a very long and very thorough process extending over years. A “war of attrition” may last into 1918 or 1919, and may bring us to conditions of strain and deprivation still only very vaguely imagined. What happens in the Turkish Empire or India or America or elsewhere may accelerate or retard or extend the area of the process, but is quite unlikely to end it.
Let us ask now which of the combatants are likely to undergo exhaustion most rapidly, and, what is of equal or greater importance, which is likely to feel it first and most. No doubt there is a bias in my mind, but it seems to me that the odds are on the whole against the Central Powers. Their peculiar virtue, their tremendously complete organization which enabled them to put so large a proportion of their total resources into their first onslaught and to make so great and rapid a recovery in the spring of 1915, leaves them with less to draw upon now. Out of a smaller fortune they have spent a larger sum. They are blockaded to a very considerable extent, and against them fight not merely the resources of the Allies, but, thanks to the complete British victory in the sea struggle, the purchasable resources of all the world. Conceivably they will draw upon the resources of their Balkan allies, but the extent to which they can do that may very easily be overestimated. There is a limit to the power for treason of these supposititious German monarchs that British folly has permitted to possess these Balkan thrones, and none of the Balkan peoples is likely to witness the complete looting of its country in the German interest by a German court with enthusiasm.
Germany will have to pay on the nail for most of her Balkan help. She will have to put more into the Balkans than she takes out. And compared with the world behind the Allies the Turkish Empire is a country of mountains, desert and undeveloped lands. To develop these regions into a source of supplies under the strains and shortages of wartime will be an immense and dangerous undertaking for Germany. She may open mines she may never work, build railways that others will enjoy, sow harvests for alien reaping. And for all these tasks she must send men. Men?
At present, so far as any judgment is possible, Germany is feeling the pinch of the war much more even than France, which is habitually parsimonious, and Russia, which is hardy and insensitive. Great Britain has really only begun to feel the stress. She has probably suffered economically no more than Holland or Switzerland, and Italy and Japan have certainly suffered less. All these countries are full of men, of gear, of salable futures. In every part of the globe Great Britain has colossal investments. She has still to apply the great principle of conscription, not only to her sons but to the property of her overseas investors and of her landed proprietors. She has not even looked yet at the German financial expedients of a year ago. She moves reluctantly but surely toward such a thoroughness of mobilization. There need be no doubt that she will completely socialize herself, completely reorganize her whole social and economic structure, sooner than lose this war. She will do it clumsily and ungracefully, with much internal bickering, but not so slowly as a logical mind might anticipate.
Germany then, I reckon, will become exhausted first among all the combatants. I think, too, that she will as a nation feel and be aware of what is happening to her sooner than any other of the nations that are sharing in this process of depletion. In 1914 the Germans were reaping the harvest of forty years of economic development and business enterprise. Property and plenty were new experiences, and a generation had grown up in whose world a sense of expansion and progress was normal. There existed no tradition of the great hardship of war, such as the French possessed, to steel their minds. They came into this war more buoyantly and confidently than any other people. Neither great victories nor defeats have been theirs, but only a slow vast transition from joyful effort to hardship, loss and loss and loss of substance, the dwindling of great hopes, the realization of ebb in the triumphant tide of national welfare. They are under stresses now as harsh as the stresses of France.
The First Heralds of Peace
We know little of the psychology of this new Germany that has come into being since 1871, but it is doubtful if it will accept defeat and still more doubtful how it can evade some ending to the war that will admit the failure of all its great hopes of Paris subjugated, London humbled, Russia suppliant, Belgium conquered. Such an ending will be a day of reckoning that German imperialism will postpone until the last hope of some breach among the Allies, some saving miracle in the old Eastern Empire, some dramatically snatched victory at the eleventh hour, is gone. Nor can the Pledged Allies consent to a peace that does not involve the evacuation and compensation of Belgium and Serbia, and at least the autonomy of the lost provinces of France. Those are the ends of the main war. Europe will go down through stage after stage of impoverishment and exhaustion until these ends are attained or made forever impossible.
But these things form only the main outlines of a story with a vast amount of collateral interest. It is to these collateral issues that the amateur in prophecy must give his attention. It is here that the German will be induced by his government to see his compensations. He will be consoled for the restoration of Serbia by prospect of future conflicts between Italian and Jugoslav that will let him in again to the Adriatic. His attention will be directed to his newer, closer association with Bulgaria and Turkey. In those countries he may yet repeat the miracle of Hungary. He will hope also to retain his fleet, and no peace, he will be reminded, can rob him of his hard-earned technical superiority in the air. The German Air Fleet of 1930 may yet be something as predominant as the British Navy of 1915. Had he not better wait for that? When such ideas as these become popular in the German press we may begin to talk of peace, for these will be its necessary heralds. The concluding phase of a process of general exhaustion must almost inevitably be a game of bluff. Neither side will admit its extremity. Neither side, therefore, will make any direct proposals to its antagonists nor any open advances to a neutral. But there will be much inspired peace talk through neutral media, and the consultations of the anti-German allies will become more intimate and detailed. Suggestions will “leak out” remarkably from both sides, to journalists and neutral go-betweens. The Eastern and Western Allies will probably begin quite soon to discuss a Zoilverein and the coordination of their military and naval organizations in the days that are to follow the war. A general idea of the possible rearrangement of the European states after the war will grow up in the common European and American mind; public men on either side will indicate concordance with this general idea, and some neutral power will invite representatives to an informal discussion of these possibilities. Probably, therefore, the peace negotiations will take the extraordinary form of two simultaneous conferences: one, of the Pledged Allies, sitting probably in Paris or London; and the other, of representatives of all the combatants, meeting in some neutral country — probably Holland will be the most convenient — while the war will still be going on. The Dutch conference will be in immediate contact by telephone and telegraph with the Allied conference and with Berlin.
The broad conditions of a possible peace will begin to get stated toward the end of 1916, and a certain lassitude will creep over the operations in the field. The process of exhaustion will probably have reached such a point by that time that it will be a primary fact in the consciousness of common citizens of every belligerent country. The common life of all Europe will have become — miserable. Conclusive blows will have receded out of the imagination of the contending powers. The war will have reached its fourth and last stage as a war. The war of the great attack will have given place to the war of the military deadlock; the war of the deadlock will have gone on, with a gradual shifting of the interest to the war of treasons and diplomacies in the Eastern Mediterranean; and now the last phase will be developing into predominance, in which each nation will be most concerned, no longer about victories or conquest but about securing for itself the best chances of rapid economic recuperation and social reconstruction. The commercial treaties, the arrangements for future associated action, made by the great Allies among themselves will appear more and more important to them, and the mere question of boundaries less and less. It will dawn upon Europe that she has already dissipated the resources that have enabled her to levy the tribute paid for her investments in every quarter of the earth, and that neither the Germans nor their antagonists will be able for many years to go on with those projects for world exploitation which lay at the root of the great war. Very jaded and anemic nations will sit about the table on which the new map of Europe will be drawn. Each of the diplomatists will come to that business with a certain preoccupation. Each will be thinking of his country as one thinks of a patient of doubtful patience and temper who is coming out of the drugged stupor of a crucial, ill-conceived and unnecessary operation. Each will be thinking of Labor, wounded and perplexed, returning to the disorganized factories from which Capital has fled.
For years, American soldiers had heard about the courageous fight the Polish underground was waging against Nazi invaders in their native land. The stories became legend. But the fact that a highly organized Polish army battled daily at the back of the Wehrmacht never really crystallized, never came alive for U.S. soldiers, until the following story emerged in The Saturday Evening Post.
LONDON December 30, 1944 — “We took off at dawn on June 21, 1944, bombed our target in Germany and proceeded toward Russia,” said Lt. Louis R. Hernandez, 23, pilot of the downed bomber, as he began the narrative of the mission. “As we headed for Brest Litovsk, we saw four Messerschmitt 109s dart out of the clouds. Four more fighters came out of the same cloud bank and attacked us with fury, poking a huge hole in the wing between the Number One and Number Two engines. This caused the ship to plunge into a sudden dive. I promptly rang the alarm bell — the signal to bail out. I don’t remember anything after that until I regained consciousness in a rye field near a farmhouse. Three young Polish girls were holding me in their arms, trying to carry me.”
The plane’s engineer, Sergeant Anthony R. Hutchinson, 32, picked up the story: “When I landed, several men dressed like American farmers were coming toward me. I hollered, ‘American, America!’ They replied, ‘Comrade, comrade!’ They hugged me and kissed me. I was rushed to the nearest farmhouse where I was served up with scrambled eggs, black bread, cheese, and a very thick, sweet honey wine. I was very nervous. I didn’t feel much like eating, for fear the Germans were close by. But the Poles urged me to eat. They rolled cigarettes for me. When I got through gulping the food down, I asked, ‘Where are the nearest Russian troops?’ They indicated, with gestures, that the Russians were still some distance away.
“About this time, several girls carried Lt. Hernandez into the same house. He had been cut and was bleeding about the face. The girls washed and bandaged his cuts. He said it was best to get out of this spot as soon as possible, since our plane had crashed about 100 yards away and many people seemed to be gathering in the vicinity. The farmers bundled us in blankets and carried us out to a patch of tall grain. They indicated that we should lie there and wait.”
The two fliers lay there about a half hour when a 40-year-old man appeared on a bicycle.
“It sure was a relief to hear him speak English,” Hutchinson continued. “He identified himself as ‘Liniowiec,’ which I learned later means ‘Dreadnaught.’ He told us he was the quartermaster officer for this unit of the 34th Infantry Regiment, Polish underground army. Before the war, he had been a wealthy owner of a chain of movie houses in Warsaw.
“Dreadnaught said the Germans were already searching for us and that we had better leave with him quickly. A horse and wagon seemed to appear like magic. An underground doctor dressed Hernandez’s wounds after we got into the wagon. We stopped to change horses and wagons twice, but we always kept close to the forest. When we finally got to a village where some underground troops were quartered, to our delight, five others of our crew appeared.”
The reunited airmen soon met the district underground leader in an obscure farmhouse near the forest. Dreadnaught introduced the man as Commander Zenon. “He spoke to us that first night. With Dreadnaught as interpreter,” recalled Lt. Alfred R. Lea, 25, the plane’s navigator. “He gave his pledge that we would be captured by the Germans only after every Pole in the underground-army unit assigned in that district was killed.”
In the early hours of June 23, orders were issued to move out of the hideout. The airmen were placed in a horse-drawn cart, while 200 resistance fighters, some on horses and others on bicycles, deployed around them as escort. The troopers carried heavy water-cooled machine guns, German-made rifles and machine pistols and grenades.
“We traveled until 8 a.m. — some five hours,” Lea said. “The Poles moved without fear, since they knew the whereabouts of German troops all the time. They impressed us as a genuine military organization and as well disciplined as any unit in the field.”
For the next week, Zenon’s followers and the airmen moved from village to village, always by night, and hid by day. On June 30, the underground troops had their first battle with the Germans.
“We had started to eat when a dispatch rider on a bicycle gave us our first alarm,” remembers Hutchinson. We made a dash for the nearest rye field, hugging the ground. The Gestapo fired at us as Zenon, Dreadnaught, and two Polish troopers joined our party. Zenon then jumped up to give us cover and with his tommy gun — a German Spandau — fired several volleys. Both Lea and I saw him kill four Germans. A fifth tumbled down. The rest beat a hasty retreat.This respite gave us time to find better concealment. We dashed through a potato field into a nearby forest and waited. All the Polish troops assembled here, too, as if by a prearranged signal. The Germans returned — about 500 of them. A pitched battle took place, with the 200 Poles defending us. The Germans, armed with light field guns, machine guns, and one tank, encircled us. They were firing point-blank into the wooded area. The fight lasted for five hours before the Germans retreated, leaving 48 killed and many wounded.”
On July 4 came one of the biggest surprises for the seven airmen. Hutchinson said, “We got up early and found the 300 troops polishing their guns and boots, cleaning their uniforms and scrubbing down their horses. They kept this up for about six hours. We asked what it was all about, but got no satisfactory reply. Finally, Zenon called us to a makeshift reviewing stand. Through Dreadnaught, he explained they were helping us celebrate American Independence Day and added, ‘Come, watch the parade.’ The whole show lasted five minutes, including a short speech by Zenon. Dreadnaught translated the speech to us later. Zenon said that Poland is seeking the same kind of independence that America was enjoying.
“That parade made a lasting impression on all of us. They were just trying to give us a little hunk of home — and to do it, they risked surprise by the Germans, always nearby.”
They spent seven days in hiding. During the next nine days, the band moved through as many villages. All the time, they could see German aircraft overhead. Several more times, they fought skirmishes with the Germans, and the American Airmen took part in the fighting.
The new Russian offensive, which started on June 24, was moving westward across Poland swiftly. The Germans were suffering catastrophic losses as they retreated. The American airmen could hear clearly the booming of heavy artillery from the direction of the Russian front on July 24.
“Soviet relief arrived late in the afternoon of July 27,” Lea said. “[At Soviet field HQ, where the airmen were taken on the 28th,] there took place the oddest transaction we Americans ever experienced. The Russian colonel made out a receipt for ‘delivery of seven American airmen’ to him, signed the receipt, turned the original over to Zenon and kept the duplicate. Then each of us had to sign the same receipt in duplicate, to confirm the delivery, adding our serial numbers. Zenon said he would deliver the receipt to the Polish underground HQ in Warsaw. Zenon stayed with us for another day, leaving Dreadnaught with us to the end. We surely hated to see Zenon go. But, on July 29, early, he came to us, said he was departing and saluted. We tried to tell him how much we owed to him, but he merely replied, ‘It was my duty. We all fight for the same end, comrades all.’
“Our last day in Poland was on July 30. Dreadnaught remained with us until, from a secret airbase, we flew to an American field in Russia. Dreadnaught exchanged salutes, shook hands, and we left. We saw him standing there. He seemed dejected. I know we were.”
In the debriefing that followed, the airmen marveled at the thorough efficiency of the underground organization and its ingenious methods in resisting and thwarting the Germans. The seven concluded their story by saying: “If we worked all our lives for the Poles, regardless of the dangers and hazards involved, we should never be able to repay what they did for us.”
— Excerpted from “Seven Fighting Guests of the Polish Underground,” December 30, 1944
Accompanying pieces from the July/August 2015 issue:
Once again journalist Corra Harris slipped past military checkpoints to report on conditions in the French countryside.
In “The Bravest of the Brave” (The Saturday Evening Post, January 16, 1915), Harris was particularly interested in sharing how the women of Europe were enduring the war. She pitied the Belgian women whose homes and families were torn apart by the German invasion. And she was deeply impressed by the women of France, who refused to be cowed by the Germans.
Many of these women chose not to flee when the German army entered their towns. They stayed in their homes, where every day was a struggle to protect and feed their children. Overall, Harris wrote, they showed a tough, resourceful spirit. They could endure much that the Germans inflicted on their property, but they were particularly angered by the German soldiers’ theft of their preserves.
Harris asked a French housewife about having to share a house with German soldiers (before they were driven back by French troops):
“Of course, they drank all the wine, and they ruined the piano; they played it all night — all night! Such awful thunder they make on the poor thing that now it gives out only a bombardment of noise.”
“The Germans are fond of music?” I suggest.
“Yes; but awful! I do not call it music. I am in the cellar, I put my fingers over my ears, I cannot endure it. And the poor piano, it cannot, either. Its feet” — pedals — “are dead. All that, I can bear; since they did not kill us or burn the house; but why have they stolen my jam — my little, little pots of jam! It is wicked. They did so.” She cupped her fingers and pretended to empty something into her mouth. “One after another, that German he licked out my little pots of jam.”
The story is the same everywhere. They break into the stores and eat all the candy and every sweet cake, even when they do no other damage. … It may be that when men revert to savages they get an abnormal appetite for sugar!
Despite their hardships, the French women devoted themselves to caring for the wounded, both Allies and non-Allies alike. One anecdote Harris gathered from a nurse in Paris shows that as much as the French despised the Germans, they could still admire individual courage:
There is a certain hospital near Paris where every bed in the big ward has a locker in which the patient may keep his few possessions; along with the bullet or fragment of shell that has been taken from his wound. And it is the fancy of these men to stick the flag of the nation to which they belong above their lockers; so that ward is very gay with French and British colors.
Recently a desperately wounded German soldier, in this hospital, lay in the corner bed at the end of a long row. Naturally he had no flag above his locker — not until the pain left him and he was able to perceive his inglorious condition.
One day, when the nurse came to take his temperature, she was amazed to see an English flag sticking out of his locker. She was scandalized.
“Where did you get it?” she cried, snatching the sacred emblem.
The German only grinned up at her, wan and invincible. He had stolen it sometime during the night from the sleeping Englishman lying next to him.
The following morning he had it again.
Laughing, Mademoiselle explained, “It is very good for him — stealing that flag. We thought he would surely die, so dreadfully wounded was he; but he has kept himself alive just to do that.” There was no spite against this fallen foe; only a whimsical French sense of humor at the situation, a woman’s kindness, so delicate and so intelligent.
Harris slipped past the military checkpoints to interview an exceptional woman — Jeanne Macherez. When the Germans swept through the French town of Soisson, this 61-year-old women saved the town’s food supply by stepping in and assuming the role of mayor. When Harris asked how she had accomplished this, Macherez told her—
Everybody was gone from the town. I was alone, very busy in my house. The door is open. The Germans see it and they come — officers in a big car, with the streets full of their soldiers. They ask for the mayor … I am not willing to tell them that the mayor is absent. So I make some excuse. Then they say they must see a representative of the mayor. If there is no government they will go and break open the shops and take all. They must have food, everything, at once.
“I thought of what would happen if no one went with them to save a little perhaps for the women and children, hiding in their cellars. So I said: “I am the Mayor of Soissons. I will go with you.”
“Were you frightened?” I asked.
“But no, not for myself — for the people who might starve. The bridges had been destroyed — no trains; no more supplies.
“We could not live if they took all we had. So I got into the car with those Germans. We went to every shop. They wanted all of this and all of that; but I said: ‘No—you can’t have all the flour in this shop.’ I laid my hands on the sugar; I held back all I could. And the lard … they want all of that. I could save only a little.
“The next day,” she went on, “they came again. They demanded to know why I had not delivered the stores — 50,000 cigars; 50,000 pounds of flour; 500 pounds of sugar — all the lard. But they were absurd. I told them so. ‘How can I, messieurs? You have killed all the horses which you have not taken. Shall I send the women and children to your trenches with these things? But no; it is too much for them. Besides, they shall not go!’
“They were very angry. They made a great fuss. I was frightened then; but I stood before them. Let them kill me too! At last they agreed that we should place all the stores in the railroad station. We did that.”
She began to smile. It was like sunlight on an old gray wall — that smile.
“The next day they were all gone; the French came and drove them out. Then we went and carried all the stores back to the shops.”
This, however, was only the beginning of her gallant defense of Soissons against the ravages of the war. So far as the food supply was concerned, it was nearly as bad to have the French troops quartered there. …
[Since then] she has somehow managed to secure food and clothes for the people for three months. It is not an easy task, with no railroads, and almost no horses to bring in the provisions for them.
Step into 1915 with a peek at these pages from The Saturday Evening Post January 16, 1915 issue.