Secrets of Crewe House/Chapter 5

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1669396Secrets of Crewe House — Chapter 5Campbell Stuart



Hindenburg's outburst: German Press Comments: Ludendorff on the conduct and effect of British Propaganda against the Central Powers.

The Press of the enemy countries was closely watched for references to British propaganda in editorial articles or in the reports of utterances of political and military leaders. During August, 1918, the misgivings engendered by the trend of events, as revealed by our propaganda, found expression in print. Then, as if a pent-up stream had at last carried away the dam, came a flood of wails from many quarters, generals vying with editors in hurling imprecations at the British Enemy Propaganda Department, with blackest vilifications of Lord Northcliffe, and in beseeching German troops and people not to be affected by the leaflets which had by this time found their way into even the remotest corner of rural Germany.

These outbursts were symptomatic of the fear of defeat which had laid hold of the Germans, and were correctly interpreted in England as foreshadowing the end which came so dramatically in November, 1918. It was obvious that even the German Government felt it unwise to restrain, by use of the censorship, the publication of such damaging admissions of the deadliness of British propaganda. It was impossible to stop the rising tide of truth which was covering Germany.

To attempt to quote even a small proportion of these unintentional tributes to the work of Sir George Macdonogh's department of the War Office and of Crewe House would be wearisome. Perhaps the best specimen of all came in the form of a manifesto from no less a person than Field Marshal von Hindenburg, the war idol and personification of German militarism. This is the text of the remarkable document:

We are engaged in a hard struggle with our enemies. If numerical superiority alone guaranteed victory, Germany would long since have lain shattered on the ground. The enemy knows, however, that Germany and her Allies cannot be conquered by arms alone. The enemy knows that the spirit which dwells within our troops and our people makes us unconquerable. Therefore, together with the struggle against the German arms, he has undertaken a struggle against the German spirit; he seeks to poison our spirit and believes that German arms will also become blunted if the German spirit is eaten away. We should not take this plan of the enemy lightly. The enemy conducts his campaign against our spirit by various means. He bombards our Front, not only with a drumfire of artillery, but also with a drumfire of printed paper. Besides bombs which kill the body, his airmen throw down leaflets which are intended to kill the soul. Of these enemy leaflets our field-grey men delivered up:
In May
‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥
In June
‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥
In July
‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥          ‥
A gigantic increase! Ten thousand poisoned arrows daily in July; 10,000 times daily the attempt to deprive the individual and the whole body of belief in the justice of our cause and of the strength and confidence for ultimate victory! We can reckon, in addition, that a great part of the enemy leaflets will not have been found by us.

Poisoning the Home Spirit.

But the enemy is not merely satisfied in attacking the spirit of our Front, he wishes above all also to poison the spirit of our home. He knows what sources of strength for the Front rest in the home. True, his aeroplanes and balloons do not carry these leaflets far into our homeland; they lie far from it in the lines in which the enemy vainly struggles for victory by arms. But the enemy hopes that many a field-grey soldier will send home the leaflet which has innocently fluttered down from the air. At home it will pass from hand to hand and be discussed at the beer-table, in families, in the sewing-room, in factories, and in the street. Unsuspectingly many thousands consume the poison. For thousands the burden the war in any case imposes upon them is increased, and the will and hope for a victorious issue of the war is taken from them. All these again write their doubts to the Front, and Wilson, Lloyd George and Clemenceau rub their hands.

The enemy attacks the spirit of the home in another way besides. The silliest rumours, designed to break our inner power of resistance, are put into circulation. We find them simultaneously in Switzerland, in Holland, and in Denmark. Thence they spread like a wave over the whole of Germany. Or they emerge simultaneously, agreeing in silly details, in the remotest regions of our country—in Silesia, in East Prussia, in the Rhineland—and wend their way thence over the remainder of the home territory. This poison works on the men on leave and flows in letters to the Front. Again the enemy rubs his hands.

The enemy is ingenious. He knows how to mix the little powder for everyone. He decoys the fighters at the Front. One leaflet runs:

"German soldiers! It is a shameful lie that the French ill-treat German prisoners. We are not brutes; only come over to us without fear; here you will find a most considerate reception, good food, and a peaceful refuge."

Ask brave men who have succeeded with unspeakable difficulty in escaping from the enemy captivity about this. Plundered to the utmost in wire compounds, roofless, goaded by hunger and thirst into treasonable utterances, forced by blows and threats of death to betray their comrades, spat upon, pelted with filth by the French populace while being driven to hard labour, that is what the paradise that the enemy conjures up really looks like.

Reproductions of original letters written by prisoners are also thrown down, in which these men describe how well it goes with them. God be praised, there are still also decent and humane commandants of prisoners' camps in England and France; but these are the exception, and the letters the enemy throws down are only of three or four different kinds. But he sends these multiplied by many thousands of copies. The enemy intimidates the faint-hearted by saying:

"Your struggle is hopeless; America will settle you; your submarines are no good; we are building more ships than they sink; after the war we shall debar you from getting raw materials, then Germany's industry must starve. You will never see your colonies again."

That is the tone of the leaflets; now enticement, now threat.

German Facts and Fancies.

What is the real situation? We have enforced peace in the East and are strong enough to do it in the West, notwithstanding the Americans; but we must be strong and united; that is what the enemy is fighting against with these leaflets and rumours. He wishes to deprive us of faith and confidence, will and force.

Why is the enemy continually seeking new allies in the struggle against us? Why does he try to press nations still neutral into the struggle against us? Because in strength we are his equals.

Why does he incite black and other coloured men against German soldiers? Because his will is to destroy us.

Again, the enemy says another thing:

"You Germans, your form of government is wrong. Fight against the Hohenzollerns, against capitalism; help us, the Entente, to give you a better form of State."

The enemy knows perfectly what strength resides in our State and Empire; but that is precisely why he combats it. The enemy also seeks to tear open old wounds in the German body politic. With his leaflets and by rumours he attempts to sow division and distrust among the Federal States. At Lake Constance we confiscated many thousands of leaflets conveyed to Bavaria and intended to excite anger against the North Germans. They wish to destroy the German Empire, which for centuries was the dream of Germans and which our fathers won for us, and to condemn Germany to the impotence of the Thirty Years' War.

The enemy also wishes to shake our loyalty to our allies. He does not know the German way and the word of a German man. He himself sacrifices his allies; he who is England's ally dies of it.

Traitors to the Fatherland.

And finally the enemy sends not the least dangerous of his poisoned arrows

Leaflet No. 8.For translation see Appendix, page 243.

Leaflet No. 9.
For translation see Appendix, page 243.

Leaflet No. 10.For translation see Appendix, page 244.

dipped in printers' ink when he throws down the utterances of German men and German newspapers. The utterances of German newspapers are torn from their context. Regarding the utterances of Germans which are reproduced, remember that at every time there have been conscious and unconscious traitors to the Fatherland. Most of them reside abroad in neutral countries, in order not to be obliged to share our struggle and our privations, or to be condemned by our Judges as guilty of high treason. Nor have champions of extreme party tendencies any right to claim to speak for the generality of the German people.

It is our strength, but also our weakness that even in war we allow unrestricted utterance to every opinion. We still tolerate the reproduction in our newspapers of enemy Army reports and the speeches of enemy statesmen which are weapons of attack directed against the spirit of the German Army and people. This is a sign of strength, because it proves a consciousness of might. But it is a weakness because it allows the enemy's poison to find an entrance among us.

Therefore, German Army, German Homeland, if one of these thrown-out pieces of poison in the form of leaflet or rumour comes before your eyes and ears, remember that its originates with the enemy. Remember nothing comes from the enemy which is not harmful to Germany. Every one must be mindful of this, whatever his position or party. If you meet anyone whose name and origin indeed are German, but who by nature stands in the enemy's camp, keep him at a distance, despise him, put him publicly in the pillory in order that every other true German may despise him.

Defend yourself, German Army, German Homeland!

Hindenburg's fear that only a small part of the leaflets was given up was fully justified. The numbers which he quotes suggest that hundreds of thousands must have been carried to their homes by the "field-grey men."

The whole manifesto is an interesting study in psychology. Hope had slipped away; dismay had ripened into despair and despair had sown wild anger and hatred. The dissemination of the unwelcome facts of the position caused him to burst out in vituperation and so to give a valuable clue as to the effect which Allied propaganda was producing on the German troops and public.

After such a mighty oracle, it is not surprising that others took up the cry. Not long after, the following noteworthy message, signed by General von Hutier of the Sixth German Army, was captured:

The enemy begins to realise that we cannot be crushed by blockade, superiority of numbers, or force of arms. He is, therefore, trying a last resource. While engaging to the utmost of his military force he is racking his imagination for ruses, trickery, and other underhand methods of which he is a past master, to induce in the minds of the German people a doubt of their invincibility. He has founded for this purpose a special Ministry ("The Ministry for the Destruction of German Confidence"), at the head of which he has put the most thoroughgoing rascal of all the Entente—Lord Northcliffe, who has been given billions for use in influencing opinion in the interior of the country and at the Front by means of paid agents, the assassination of Ambassadors, and all the other ways in favour with the Entente.

The method of Northcliffe at the Front is to distribute through airmen a constantly increasing number of leaflets and pamphlets; the letters of German prisoners are falsified in the most outrageous way; tracts and pamphlets are concocted, to which the names of German poets, writers, and statesmen are forged, or which present the appearance of having been printed in Germany, and bear, for example, the title of the Reclam series, when they really come from the Northcliffe Press, which is working day and night for this same purpose. His thought and aim are that these forgeries, however obvious they may appear to the man who thinks twice, may suggest a doubt, even for a moment, in the minds of those who do not think for themselves, and that their confidence in their leaders, in their own strength, and in the inexhaustible resources of Germany may be shattered.

Fortunately, Northcliffe, the Minister for the Destruction of German Confidence, forgets that German soldiers are neither Negroes nor Hindus, nor illiterate French, English, and Americans, incapable of seeing through such machinations. Explain these infamous attempts to your young and inexperienced comrades, and tell them what our mortal enemy expects of them, and what is at stake. Pick up the leaflets and pamphlets and give them to our commanders for transmission to the High Command, which may be able to make valuable deductions from them as to the aims of our enemies. You will thus help the Command, and you will also help to hasten the hour of victory.

The allegation that huge sums of money were expended by Lord Northcliffe is comic. As will have been seen already, the total cost of the operations conducted by Lord Northcliffe during his tenure of office was considerably less than a one-hundredth part of Great Britain's daily war bill.

German Army orders, which fell into Allied hands, showed plainly how widespread was the effect produced among the enemy troops by the leaflets. Officers and men were threatened with severe punishment if they neglected to hand the leaflets in immediately. On the other hand, bonuses for the delivery of unknown specimens of phlets, books, leaflets, and pictures were offered as follows: —

3 marks (nominally 3s.) for the first copy.

30 pfgs. (nominally 4d.) for other copies.

5 marks (nominally 5s.) for a book.

An order issued by Ludendorff showed that the influence of the propaganda extended beyond the troops to the population of Germany. This read:

"There has been an increase in the number of complaints received from home that men on leave from the front create a very unfavourable impression by making statements actually bordering on high treason and incitement to disobedience. Instances such as these drag through the mud the honour and respect of the individual as well as of the whole Army, and have a disastrous effect upon the moral of the people at home."

A "high officer at the front" describing, in the Kölnische Zeitung of October 31, 1918, the demoralisation of the German Army as a result of the retreat, wrote:

What damaged us most of all was the paper war carried on by the enemy, who dropped daily among us 100,000 leaflets, which were extraordinarily well distributed and well edited.

This strikingly confirmed a report received by the Foreign Office the previous month which stated:

Leaflets thrown by Allied airmen have much more effect now. Instead of being thrown away or laughed at, as was often the case in the past, they are eagerly picked up and read. There is no doubt that recent events have seriously shaken the moral of the German people and Army. One of the returned officers mentioned above said that if the Entente knew what poison these leaflets, etc., were working in the minds of the German soldiers they would give up lead and bombard with paper only in future.

That neither threats nor bribes was inducing the surrender of the leaflets to German Headquarters was plainly shown by the statements of prisoners captured during the last four months of hostilities, and by the fact that most of them had British leaflets in their possession. Among the subjects which seemed to have attracted special attention were the German responsibility for starting the war, for the adoption of poison gas attacks, and for the bombing of open towns; the ineffectiveness of Zeppelin attacks and of the U-boats preventing the transport of food and troops; the arrival of the American armies; the Allied war aims; comparison of food conditions in Germany with those in Great Britain; and the extracts from German Socialist newspapers. Inhabitants of the recaptured territory testified to the effect of the propaganda on the German troops, remarking on the lowering of moral and the increasing number of deserters which they attributed to it.

Politicians and newspapers were also greatly excited, and raised loud cries for the creation of an organisation for counter-propaganda. Herr F. Stossinger described British propaganda in the Frankfurter Zeitung as "the most complicated and dangerous of all," and commented on its "countless" activities. The Minister of War, General von Stein was complimentary enough to say "In propaganda the enemy is undoubtedly our superior." (Berlin Morgenpost, August 25, 1918.) Other tributes were:

Rheinische-Westfälische-Zeitung: "At any rate, the British Propaganda Department has worked hard. Had we shown the same activity in our Propaganda perhaps many a thing would have been different now. But in this, we regret to say, we were absolutely unprepared, but we hope that by now we have learned differently."

Deutsche Tageszeitung: "We Germans have a right to be proud of our General Staff. We have a feeling that our enemies' General Staff cannot hold a candle to it, but we also have the feeling that our enemies have a brilliant Propaganda General Staff, whereas we have none."

Violent and bitter attacks were repeatedly made. The revelations of the British propaganda created great nervousness, which in turn gave rise to all kinds of wild rumours, which spread all over Germany. These were attributed to Lord Northcliffe's department. Speaking in the Bavarian Lower House of Parliament during August, 1918, General von Hellingrath, the Bavarian Minister of War, said: —

"These rumours are nothing but the result of the industrious and determined agitation which our enemies carry on in the interior through their agents."

Herr von Kupffer, the editor of the Berlin Lokal-Anzeiger, referred to them as "a carnival of soul-storms, idiotic terror, and criminal irresponsibility," and he continued:

"The main thing is to remember the source of such rumours and to bear in mind what their object is. Their object is to demoralise us and, by so doing, turn into realities what otherwise would remain merely nightmares. One would have to be really blind not to see that these things radiate from that organisation in England formed to shatter the German nervous system by means of shameful and impudent lies. Is not the figure of Lord Northcliffe, the great Propaganda Chief of the English Home Army, pilloried in world-history for all time?

"Is anybody in doubt as to the purpose of this propaganda? Does not everybody know that the generalissimo of this campaign of mendacity has unlimited funds at his disposal in order to circulate streams of lies through neutral channels with devilish cunning and almost impressive skill? Does not everybody realise that the Northcliffe Propaganda is too shrewd to work by means of mere newspaper tales that could easily be disproved, and therefore resorts to the much more subtle method of carrying unrest, disloyalty, and alarm into our country and into the lands of our allies by means of verbal communications of all sorts? Paid rascals are systematically employed for this purpose. It is this sort of person who propagates these wild stories in Germany and upsets our sense of proportion in connection with war events. These are the facts. Let people bear them in mind before they promote the Northcliffe Propaganda by repeating every bit of washerwoman's gossip as gospel, even though it be without the slightest foundation in fact."

In the Hamburg district matters were much the same, for the influential shipping journal Hansa printed the following on September 14:—

"God be thanked! At last we are just beginning to recognise what the hour of war demands; what is our duty as Germans and as citizens. Despondency, discontent, depression, hanging heads, grumbling! We meet them at every step and turn, but we did not know their origin, these growths of evil fantasy. We did not understand what meant these secret whispers about alleged unfavourable news from the front, these exaggerated reports, fraught with misfortune, which passed so glibly from mouth to mouth. One had heard this, another that, but always it was something bad in regard to our military situation. Nothing definite was ever mentioned. There were only suggestions, which proved to be chimeras as soon as ever they could be run to earth. They were the birth of ignoble defeatism. Yet there they were, invisibly surrounding us, disturbing our spiritual balance, darkening our temper; like an epidemic, like poisonous bacilli, they flew hither and thither in all directions through our German air.

"Whence came they? Who brought them to us? To-day we know. Today we can recognise the origin of this depression of German will-power. It was the long-advertised publicity offensive of the Entente directed against us under England's lead, and under the special direction of that unprincipled, unscrupulous rascal, Northcliffe."

In the Kölnische Volkszeitung for September 11, a letter from the front said:

"Leaflets destined to cause low spirits and despair, or to send deserters to the enemy, are being showered down in thousands in certain places and their surroundings. It is this combat, waged openly or secretly, which, particularly at home, produces low spirits and despair. Here you find statements that Hindenburg was once regarded as a Divinity, but that his laurels are beginning to fade, which is quite evident from the way the enemy advance daily; that our troops have lost courage, whole companies are deserting to the enemy, and such like things."

In another letter to the same newspaper, published on August 20, the writer said:

"Our enemies have recently been very busy distributing leaflets from the air. I have had two of these leaflets in my hands, and it is not to be doubted that our enemies are in that, also, our masters, for the pamphlets are so well produced that anyone who is not on the lookout is very likely to fall a victim to them."

That such Propaganda might have had an effect if it had been tried earlier was evident from the admissions of war correspondents as well as of generals. Herr W. Scheurmann wrote in the Norddeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung (October 30):

"We Germans have learnt for the first time this autumn that the moral resistance of the fighter at the front is a power with which the Command must reckon, all the more cautiously inasmuch as it is difficult to estimate."

All charges of the mendacity of British propaganda were unfounded, for the greatest care was unremittingly exercised to tell only the truth. One effect of this was to make the Germans distrust their official communiqués. "We have in our dear Fatherland to-day," wrote the Kölnische Zeitung on September 11, "great numbers of innocent and ingenuous minds who doubt the plain statements of the German Army reports, but believe the false reports and omissions of the enemy. To prove constantly the contrary to them is a rather thankless task, but of which one should never tire."

It was, indeed, a thankless task to try to keep the truth from the whole German nation. "Warn your brothers, your sons, your husbands, not to believe the enemy's leaflets," was one of "Ten Commandments for German Women," published by the Kölnische Volkszeitung on October 20, but it was then too late to maintain the lie-system by which the German resistance had been stimulated for so long.

Writing in July, 1919, Herr Arnold Rechberg said in the Tägliche Rundschau: "It cannot be doubted that Lord Northcliffe very substantially contributed to England's victory in the world war. His conduct of English propaganda during the war will some day find its place in history as a performance hardly to be surpassed. The Northcliffe propaganda during the war correctly estimated…the character and intellectual peculiarities of the Germans."

Praise from an enemy, when there is no underlying motive, can usually be accepted as sincere. Most of the foregoing quotations were primarily warnings and exhortations to their own people issued during the war, and compliments to Allied propaganda only indirectly.

When, however, hostilities had ceased disastrously for Germany and her allies, passions of hatred and pride began to give place to the cold logic of reason. Ludendorff, who, as First Quartermaster-General from 1916 to the end of the war, was regarded as one of the cleverest of Germany's military leaders, sat down to write his "War Memories" (Hutchinson and Co., London). His reputation entitles him to respect, and he has much to say of value regarding propaganda.

He learned one important lesson. "Good propaganda," he wrote, "must keep well ahead of actual political events. It must act as pacemaker to policy and mould public opinion without appearing to do so." This was the great basic principle upon which was built the success of Lord Northcliffe's department. To try to make propaganda shape policy is as fatal as endeavouring to conduct propaganda campaigns without policy or with conflicting policies. Illuminating volumes could be written on failures from all these causes. But whoever follows the history of the operations conducted from Crewe House will find that painstaking study
Leaflet No. 11.
For translation see Appendix, page 246.

Leaflet No. 12.For translation see Appendix, page 246.

was made of the factors governing the political, economic, and military position of each of the enemy countries concerned before action was taken. As The Times observed in a leading article (October 31, 1919) Lord Northcliffe′s work "differed from the praiseworthy and painstaking efforts that had preceded it mainly by adopting as its guiding principle the very maxim which Ludendorff lays down. The consideration that, without a definite policy in regard to each enemy country, propaganda must be at best a hand-to-mouth business was, from the first, regarded as self-evident by Lord Northcliffe and the handful of experts who advised him."

Ludendorff compared the work of the British and German propaganda departments, to the great disparagement of the latter. Indeed he attributed the moral collapse of the German soldier—and consequently the military defeat—in part to British propaganda and in part to the demoralisation of the German home population, which, in turn, he ascribed to British propaganda and to the feebleness of the German Government in counteracting it. Of British propaganda he wrote:—

[1]Lloyd George knew what he was doing when, after the close of the war, he gave Lord Northcliffe the thanks of England for the propaganda he had carried out. Lord Northcliffe was a master of mass-suggestion. The enemy′s propaganda attacked us by transmitting reports and print from the neutral States on our frontier, especially Holland and Switzerland. It assailed us in the same way from Austria, and finally in our own country by using the air. It did this with such method and on such a scale that many people were no longer able to distinguish their own impressions from what the enemy propaganda had told them. This propaganda was all the more effective in our case as we had to rely, not on the numbers, but on the quality of our battalions in prosecuting the war. The importance of numbers in war is incontestable. Without soldiers there can be no war. But numbers count only according to the spirit which animates them. As it is in the life of peoples, so it is also on the battlefield. We had fought against the world, and could continue to do so with good conscience so long as we were spiritually ready to endure the burden of war. So long as we were this, we had hope of victory and refused to bow to the enemy's determination to annihilate us. But with the disappearance of our moral readiness to fight everything changed completely. We no longer battled to the last drop of our blood. Many Germans were no longer willing to die for their country.

The shattering of public confidence at home affected our moral readiness to fight. The attack on our home front and on the spirit of the Army was the chief weapon with which the Entente intended to conquer us, after it had lost all hope of a military victory.

His references to German enemy propaganda are generally in terms of disgust. He considered it rendered Germany no service. “Our political aims and decisions, issued to the world as sudden surprises, often seemed to be merely brutal and violent. This could have been skilfully avoided by broad and far-sighted propaganda. . . . The German propaganda was only kept going with difficulty. In spite of all our efforts, its achievements, in comparison to the magnitude of the task, were inadequate. We produced no real effect on the enemy peoples. … We also attempted to carry on propaganda on the enemy fronts. In the East, the Russians were the authors of their own collapse, and our work there was of secondary importance. In the West, the fronts of our enemies had not been made susceptible by the state of public opinion in their home countries, and the propaganda we gradually introduced had no success.…Germany failed in the fight against the moral of the enemy peoples."

Again and again Ludendorff quotes instances of the effect of propaganda. For example, just before the last German offensive of July 15, 1918:

"The Army complained of the enemy propaganda. It was the more effective because the Army was rendered impressionable by the attitude at home.…The enemy propaganda had seized on Prince Lichnowsky's pamphlet, which, in a way that I myself could not explain, placed on the German Government the responsibility for the outbreak of war. And this, though his Majesty and the Chancellor again and again asserted that the Entente was responsible.…

The Army was literally drenched with enemy propaganda publications. Their great danger to us was clearly recognised. The Supreme Command offered rewards for such as were handed over to us, but we could not prevent them from poisoning the heart of our soldiers."

No greater effect could have been desired by the British authorities than that described by Ludendorff, and such an acknowledgment of the results produced gave the highest satisfaction.

  1. This passage is a translation from the German edition.