Radio Londres, a weapon of war
"The great secret weapon wasn't the V1 or V2 bombs, it was the radio. And it was the English who developed it". So said Jean Galtier-Boissière at the end of the Second World War, a witness to the violent war of the airwaves that played out daily between three major radio stations, Radio Paris, Radio Vichy and the BBC.
In 1925, Hitler had written in his book Mein Kampf: "In times of war, words are weapons". Fifteen years later, German radio had become a formidable weapon "as effective as tanks on the battlefield" according to the German Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels. The battle of opinions was launched and, in this game of seduction and propaganda, the BBC won over the hearts and minds and became the spearhead of an unprecedented civil resistance.
Amazing letters found in the archives in England testify to the unique relationship forged between Radio London and its listeners, and reveal the state of public opinion among these French under the German yoke. "My Dear English friends, thank you for the comfort you give with your broadcasts to those freedom-loving French who refuse to be forced to dance to Hitler's tune, to those who keep in their hearts, with an impotent rage against the evil shepherds, the tenacious hope of an uprising "(A listener from Beziers, 20 June 1940).
In September 1939, France had 6.5 million wireless sets, compared to 9 million in England and 13.7 million in Germany where the leaders had a specific goal: destroy the enemy through moral poisoning and psychological paralysis. Since Hitler came to power, the nazification of the media subjected the citizens of the Reich to a daily diet of propaganda broadcast over the airwaves of the Reichsrundfunk Gesellschaft with citizens being prohibited from listening to any "enemy" radio stations under pain of severe penalties.
The master of the airwaves, Joseph Goebbels, took matters in hand. He developed the German international service and created black stations aimed at the rest of the world. Thus, the Voix de la Paix, a clandestine radio station launched in December 1939, took a pacifist and extreme right wing revolutionary opposition stance, complemented in January 1940 by Radio Humanité which spoke to French workers denouncing this "imperialist and capitalist" war.
Faced with this machinery, the French government refused to use the radio as a weapon of war. In its eyes, in wartime the mission of the radio was to simply inform and guide the public, broadcast news that was of course directed and censored but free of any virulent propaganda. This was a major mistake! State radio rapidly alienated its audience, irritated by this infantile censorship and the excessively elitist tone of its broadcasts. So French listeners tuned into the BBC, the Swiss station Radio Sottens and more dangerously the German black stations with the most infamous in terms of misinformation and intoxication being the notorious Radio Stuttgart.
THE BBC ENTERS THE WAR
In France, one man understood the power of radio and words on the battlefield, a virtually unknown officer, interviewed for the first time on 21 May 1940 in Savigny-sur-Ardres in Champagne-Ardenne. Speaking into journalist Alex Surchamp's microphone, Colonel Charles de Gaulle, the commander of the 4th armoured division, rejected defeatism and predicted that by mechanical force victory would come. On 18 June, he launched his appeal for resistance from a BBC studio in London. The war of the airwaves was on.
Faced with on the one hand Radio Paris, entirely under the German boot with programming that combined propaganda, sharp diatribes, entertainment and music, and on the other Radio Vichy, Marshal Petain's station which started out with a moderate tone but then soon took a more hostile stance against the Allies and was apologetic with regard to the collaboration, the BBC was to be one of the finest instruments in this battle of the airwaves.
In June 1940, with six daily news bulletins, Radio London's French language services were just getting underway. But the defeat of the French army and the takeover of the national media by the Germans served as a catalyst for major broadcasting changes in England. On 19 June, a new programme, Ici la France (Here is France) was added from 20:30 to 20:45, first with the journalist Jean Masson, then, from June 24, with Pierre Bourdan, whose real name was Pierre Maillaud, a journalist from the Havas Agency in London, who took over the show for a while from 20:30 to 21:00.
But the English wanted to offer French listeners a real creative programme, without no obvious propaganda aimed at informing them and keeping up their morale, telling the truth and restoring hope. On 7 July, the Director Michel Saint-Denis, alias Jacques Duchesne, was appointed to form a totally French team with its national programmes and aspirations. He was to gather around him men and women from various backgrounds, including Pierre Bourdan, who commented on the news, Yves Morvan, alias Jean Marin, mobilised at the Anglo-French news mission on 2 September 1939 and present at the BBC since June 1940, Jean Oberlé, former correspondent for the daily Le Journal, Pierre Lefèvre, the youngest of the bunch, the poet and man of cinema Jacques Borel (Brunius on the radio), the designer and antiquarian Maurice Van Moppès who Duchesne turned into a popular singer, not to mention the beautiful Geneviève Brissot. At the end of 1943, Pierre Dac joined the team. The team started its broadcasts on July 14, 1940 under the same name Ici la France but took the title 'The French speak to the French' on 6 September. Denouncing the occupation and the damaging effects of collaborating with the enemy, the programme was a window on the free world, a breath of fresh air and a source of hope in those difficult times.
Meanwhile, from 18 July on, Free France was given 5 minutes of airtime from 20:25 to 20:30 under the title Honneur et Patrie and presented by General de Gaulle's spokesman Maurice Schumann. From 9 December, the programme was rebroadcast in the midday news bulletin. Aware of the strength of this modern tool, de Gaulle knew that the BBC would enable him to keep in touch with the French and instil in them the spirit of resistance.
Even though he only intervened on special occasions - 67 times in five years - his voice was keenly waited for by the French who firmly believed that "the BBC is de Gaulle". A misconception since every programme was subject to British censorship including those by de Gaulle who constantly strove to increase the power of Radio Brazzaville so as to gain greater freedom of expression.
Driven by an ideal, that of the destruction of Nazism and the restoration of freedom in Europe, the BBC's French programme started every evening at 20:15 (21:15 in winter) with the news written in English and translated into French, followed at 20:25 by the five minutes of Free France then from 20:30 to 21:00 "The French speak to the French" took over with news commentaries, sketches, small scenes, slogans, songs and jingles that the French hummed along with as a rallying sign. "Radio Paris lies, Radio Paris lies, Radio Paris is German! " became the popular jingle launched in September 1940 by Jean Oberlé one of the members of a highly creative team. Another example is "The Three Friends Chatting" featuring three characters having different opinions and who are discussing current affairs. And "La Petite Académie", often broadcast on Sundays, took listeners to the French Academy where Jacques Borel in the role of President, Jacques Duchesne as Archivist and Jean Oberlé as reporter redefined the words in the dictionary in the context of the occupation: "Freedom = word temporarily removed" or "ration = the Occupier's leftovers." There was something for everyone, including children who every Thursday had their programme in which Babar and other children's characters served the Allied camp's objectives.
But the most intriguing aspect for listeners to Radio London was those mysterious sentences that slipped into the personal messages programme from 28 June 1940 on and initially reserved for escapees from France who wished to reassure their families by letting them know, in a rather cryptic manner, that they had arrived. From September 1941, Colonel Buckmaster, head of the French section of Special Operations Executive (SOE), came up with the idea of broadcasting coded messages over the airwaves of the BBC; "Lisette is fine", "The moon is full of green elephants", "The gardener's dog is crying"... Fascinating formulas that were to serve as means of communication with the resistance movements to identify agents, announce acts of sabotage, equipment shipments, arrests, future threats or any other resistance operation.
THE GERMAN RIPOSTE
The station was a great success: proof of this came from the reactions of German caricaturists who drew de Gaulle as "General mic" and those at Radio Paris who mimicked their London opponents and the programme The French speak to the French with their programme called Au Rythme du Temps presented by Georges Oltramare. This mimicry was a first victory for the BBC! But that resulted in a violent backlash from the Germans...
The Germans retaliated by scrambling "enemy" airwaves and making it a crime to listen to Allied radio stations. Anyone caught in the act was at best liable to a fine and the loss of their radio and at worse to a prison sentence and hard labour.
A war of technicians started up on both sides of the Channel with the Germans seeking to make their jamming tactics more efficient and the Allies looking to increase transmitter power and counter German jamming. For London, it was also a question of being informed sooner in order to react more rapidly and influence public opinion. In March 1942, after setting up a tapping centre to listen in to enemy broadcasts, BBC journalists were able to avail of three news bulletins every day, a fantastic tool enabling them to be highly responsive. The finest example of this news battle is certainly the speech in favour of the Relève given by Pierre Laval, June 22, 1942 on the national radio station in which he said "I desire a Germany victory" and the scathing response from Maurice Schumann the same evening: "No to blackmailing of French workers!" A victory for Radio London in this war of words in which Radio Paris tirelessly advocated collaboration with Germany to usher in a new Europe and was not afraid to spread slander against Jews, the English, the French of London and Freemasons.
In addition, with the return of Pierre Laval to power on 17 April, 1942, the French broadcasting system aligned itself on the themes of Radio Paris. Programmes such as "The Jewish question", "The militia informs you", or "The Legion of French volunteers against Bolshevism" on Radio Vichy echoed "The LVF informs you", or the programme "The Jews against France" broadcast on German radio.
In this heated atmosphere, London waged a permanent all-out war on the voices who presented Radio Paris shows, such as Georges Oltramare, a Swiss Nazi writer and presenter of the sequence "A neutral persons informs you", Dr. Friedrich at the head of the show "A German journalist talks to you", but above all Jean-Herold Paquis on Radio
Paris since June 1942, and Philippe Henriot, future Secretary of State for Information and author of a successful twice-daily chronicle on Radio Vichy, broadcast in the northern zone on Radio Paris from 1943. The oratory skills of this man with collaborationist overtones, his vitriol-laced formulas, scathing denunciations of the "rabid liars at the BBC", the deadly bombing by the Allies, Jewry, the maquis terrorists and "bloody Communists" rightly concerned people in London and they appointed Maurice Schumann and Jean Oberlé to counter him. Finally, the dangerous Henriot was to find his most brilliant opponent in Pierre Dac until 28 June, 1944, the day he was executed by a group of resistance fighters at his home in Paris.
RADIO, SPEARHEADING THE CIVIL RESISTANCE
"Yes, tell us what can be done. " On the walls, it's done. The leaflets are done. But this is not enough, we must destroy the traitors" (occupied zone letter, May 1941). The BBC was the radio station of freedom, truth and hope, with the ambition of informing the French population despite the state controlled media, building trust and shaking people out of their apathy. The BBC's first goal was to arouse a resistance in the minds of the French. But from a war of words, it finally moved into a war of acts, launching appeals, giving orders, and in this it followed the calls from the field... and the instinct of one man, General de Gaulle , convinced that a crucible of civilian resistance existed among the French population, ready to take to the streets of France to openly express their rejection of the current situation.
He was the first to take the initiative on 1 January 1941, asking the French to empty the streets, from 2 to 3 pm in the unoccupied zone and from 3 to 4 pm in the occupied zone. Other orders followed such as the famous V campaign orchestrated in March 1941, calls to protest on 11 May, 1941, every 1 May, 14 July, and 11 November, not to mention sporadic calls against the violence of the occupier, such as the national Stand to Attention launched on 31 October 1941, in memory of the hostages shot in France shortly before. Beyond word-of-mouth, the BBC could count on relays from the resistance movements, Radio Brazzaville, Radio Moscow from the summer of 1941, the Voice of America or Radio Algiers, starting from the spring of 1943. And the French did not disappoint.
Regularly, on set dates and times, processions of men, women and children walked through the streets of their towns and villages, some wearing banned national colours, others the V for victory, to the sound of La Marseillaise and in a atmosphere of communion. Thus, on 14 July 1941 in the capital alone, an estimated 26,000 gathered at the Arc de Triomphe. In 1942, on the same date, there were 150,000 in Lyon, 100,000 in Marseilles, 30,000 in Toulouse... a national revival that saw demonstrations in 71 French cities.
Radio London became a formidable vector for civil resistance, a crowd leader that hoped that, when the time came, it would coordinate this huge potential to help achieve the Liberation! But before this could be achieved, it had to combat the despair that was ruthlessly winning over the French from 1943 on.
THE RADIO AS A STAKE IN THE WAR
An instrument of power, radio was also a stake in the Allied camp. Thus, at the time of the Anglo-American landing in North Africa in the night of 7 to 8 November 1942, General de Gaulle and his men, after being squeezed out of the preparations for operation Torch, found themselves banned from the BBC's airwaves. Previously, in October 1942, still unknown to the General, the British had launched a black radio station called "Radio Patrie" in England. Picked up by combatants in France, this clandestine radio aspired to control the domestic French Resistance. After some heated discussions, it gave birth to a new station called "Honneur et Patrie, Poste de la Résistance Française" in June 1943, co-managed by the Franco-British. André Gillois worked there with great talent until 2 May 1944, before it merged with the BBC's French programmes as the 6 June Allied landings loomed. Before this, on 27 May 1943, General de Gaulle left London for Algiers now having a robust radio system based on Radio Brazzaville and Radio Algiers, two stations run by French combatants.
THE WIRELESS, AN INVALUABLE ASSET
From a war of words to a war of acts, the Allied camp had bet on radio to guide the French who they intended to transform into auxiliaries for the Allied forces on D-Day and to coordinate resistance movements. The wireless was therefore a precious object to be treasured, sold for high prices on the black market... up to 7,000 francs for a second hand model, 800 for a lamp, at a time when the average hourly wage of a skilled worker in Paris was 10 francs.
Concerned about the occupier's repressive policies, the British regularly launched awareness campaigns on the value of the wireless, urging listeners to form listening groups, keep their wireless sets safe, use sets that ran on batteries, crystal sets, and prepare a place to hide the set in case of mass confiscation in France.
As the climax to the war approached, radio set seizures were initiated, the largest being in March 1944 in l’Orne, Calvados, La Manche, L’Eure, Le Nord and Lower Seine, possible theatres for an Allied landing. But these localised actions did not prevent the radio from play its leading role in the French liberation operations, starting from 6 June, 1944, before exhorting the population, over the summer, to take the path back to normality.
On 18 August, Radio Paris ceased its broadcasts. On 20 August, at 22:30, La Marseillaise was heard on the station followed by this announcement: "This is the French nation's radio broadcasting service". On 26 August, Radio Vichy also shut down. The radio landscape was undergoing total change. A new era was being ushered in and the BBC gradually took the form of a myth; but the invisible link woven between "the grand lady of London" and the French would never be erased as shown in these letters that were still being sent to London: "Gentlemen, you are entitled to the infinite gratitude of French patriots. Through your daily programmes, at a time when everything was crumbling around us, you kept us in contact with the outside world, you were a beacon for us allowing us to avoid pitfalls and showing us the way home. You were a supporting and comforting guide".
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Media and publishing in France from 1939 to 1947 - From censorship to freedom of expression
6 May: law-decree on control of the foreign press.
29 July: Creation of a General Commission for Information led by Jean Giraudoux; creation of the national French broadcasting authority (Administration de la Radiodiffusion Française Nationale)
24 August: law decree authorising the seizure and suspension of publications that cause harm to national defence.
27 August: law-decree on the control of the press and publications in time of war (seizure of any publication in violation of the measures provided for by the act of 11 July, 1938).
12 September: decree supplementing the decree of 27 August 1939, pursuant to the decree of 24 August 1939, concerning the control of the press and publications.
4 April: creation of the Ministry of Information by the Government of Paul Reynaud, with the minister being Ludovic-Oscar Frossard.
10 April: Jean Giraudoux Chairman of the Supreme Council of Information.
6 June: Jean Prouvost appointed Minister of Information.
14 June: the Germans enter Paris. closure of Éditions Denoël and Editions Sorlot due to their anti-German publications.
17 June: French call for Armistice; departure of General de Gaulle for London; republication of the Le Matin and La Victoire.
18 June: call by General de Gaulle to continue the fight.
19 June: Jean Prouvost appointed High Commissioner for Information in the Pétain Government; the Free France radio programme "Ici la France" goes on the air.
22 June: signing of the Franco-German armistice at Rethondes; republication of Paris-Soir in Paris and another Vichy influenced Paris-Soir in the South zone.
25 June: interruption of radio broadcasts in accordance with the armistice agreement.
June 28: establishment of the Propaganda Staffel (propaganda squadron) to control censorship and the development of propaganda; recognition of General Charles de Gaulle as leader of the free French by Great Britain.
30 June: requisition of the Messageries Hachette, a press distribution organisation, that the Germans replaced with the Messageries de la Coopérative des Journaux Français; Marcel Déat political editor of L'Œuvre.
2 July: the French government sets up in Vichy.
3 July: requisition of the premises of Librairie Hachette by the Germans.
5 July: creation of Radio-Vichy by the Vichy French government.
7 July: resumption of broadcasts on Radio Paris and Radio Vichy.
11 July: promulgation by Marshal Pétain of the French State. reopening in Paris of the Theatre de l'Œuvre; publication of the first issue of the collaborationist newspaper La Gerbe.
12 July: publication of the first issue of the anti-semitic weekly Au Pilori.
14 July: first broadcast of the Free French radio programme "The French speak to the French".
18 July: Creation of the Propaganda-Abteilung Frankreich (Department of propaganda in France) led by Joseph Goebbels; Radio-Paris taken over by the Propaganda-Abteilung Frankreich for its propaganda radio station for occupied France.
Publication of the first clandestine brochure Advice for those living under the occupation by Jean Texcier.
16 August: French state law establishing Organising Committees for each economic sector.
17 August: Re-publication in Paris of L'Illustration.
21 August: Decree from the Minister of Public Instruction on the annual review of school textbooks.
27-28 August: Seizure in Paris and in the entire occupied zone of books deemed undesirable by the German authorities and closure of publishing houses.
30 August: German ordinance on the prohibition of French textbooks.
Distribution of the pamphlet "Vichy at War" by Jean Cassou, Jean Texcier's second brochure Our fight; publication of the first issue of the underground newspaper La Vérité française.
10 September: The first issue of Today by Henri Jeanson was published. Henri Jeanson was replaced by Georges Suarez in November.
23 September: New seizures of books and publishing houses closed by the Germans.
28 September: First "Otto List - Works removed from sale by publishers or forbidden by the German authorities"; Convention on the censorship of books between the Union of Publishers and the Propaganda-Staffel.
Publication of the first underground issue of Pantagruel by Raymond Deiss, of Arc by Jules (Probus) Correard entitled Libre France, of L'Etendard.
8 October: publication in the north of the underground newspaperL’Homme Libre; the re-publication of the Petit Parisien authorised by the Germans.
14 October: publication of the collaborationist newspaper Le Cri du Peuple by Jacques Doriot.
18 October: German order requiring, among other things, that people wishing to start a newspaper provide evidence of their "Aryan" origins going back at least three generations.
October 29th: Creation of the Agence Française d’Information de Presse (French Press News Agency), a relay of the official Reich news agency.
30 October: Speech by Marshal Petain announcing to the French that he was entering upon the path of collaboration.
Publication of the first underground issue of L’Université libre by Jacques Solomon.
1 November: publication of the pro-German newspaper Les Nouveaux Temps by Jean Luchaire.
11 November: publication of the first issue of the underground monthly L’Alsace, journal libre by Camille Schneider.
25 November: creation of the French Information Office by the French State, the successor to the information arm of the Havas agency; publication in Marseille of the first underground issue of Liberté by François de Menthon.
Publication of the first underground issue of Libération-Nord (1st of December), of l’Atelier, hebdomadaire du travail français (7th of December), of Résistance (15th of December).
1941: Creation of the National Committee of writers, organ of the literary Resistance.
January: Publication of the first issue of the underground newspaper Valmy by Raymond Burgard.
February: re-publication of Pays libre by Pierre Clémenti (1 February), of the pro-German weekly Je suis partout with chief editor Robert Brasillach (7 February), release of the film Le Juif Süss in Paris.
6 March: publication of the first issue of the collaborationist newspaper L'Appel by Peter Costantini.
17 April: Creation in Paris of the Centre Syndicaliste de Propagande by the team from the union newspaper L'Atelier.
18 April: threat of sanctions by the Secretary General for Information, Paul Marion, against newspapers who disobeyed censorship instructions.
3 May: Decree from the French state establishing an Organizing Committee for publication industries, arts and trades (called the Book organizing committee) in charge of the sector's economic and technical problems.
9 June: Decree from the French State establishing a French Book Council for matters relating to "the intellectual direction to be given to the production of books, the development of public reading and the distribution of French books".
22 June: call by L’Humanité clandestine to fight against the occupier and collaborators.
Publication of the first underground issue of Libération-Sud.
Publication of the first issue of Résistance the second underground publication to bear this name.
15 August: first issue of the underground newspaper Défense de la France.
5 September: ban in the free zone of the journal Esprit and catholic weekly Temps nouveau.
12 October: first issue of la Révolution nationale by Eugène Deloncle, head of La Cagoule.
1 November: first issue of the collaborationist weekly Le Rouge et le Bleu by Charles Spinasse.
Publication of the first underground issue of Cahiers du Témoignage chrétien by Father Pierre Chaillet (1 December), of Franc-Tireur and Socialisme et Liberté.
15 December: Decree from the Secretary of State for National Education and Youth subjecting textbook manuscripts to the censorship of the Secretariat of State.
Publication of the first underground issue of France d’Abord by Charles Tillon.
1 March: Inauguration in Paris of the exhibition Bolshevism against Europe .
1 April: French state decree establishing a Supervisory Commission on Printing Paper.
27 April: German ordinance aimed at ensuring rational use of printing paper.
29 May: publication of the first underground issue of Populaire in the southern zone.
23 June: General de Gaulle's speech on the BBC condemning the Third Republic and the Vichy regime.
8 July: second edition of the Otto list entitled "Undesirable French literary works."
20 September: publication of the first underground issue of Lettres françaises by Claude Morgan.
21 October: publication of the first issue of Résistance, the third underground publication to have this name.
"Official" distribution of The Silence of the Sea, by Jean Bruller alias Vercors, published in February by the clandestine Editions de Minuit.
10 January: German ordinance prohibiting "any publication that harms the prestige of the German Reich, that is detrimental to order and calm in the occupied territories or which endangers the occupation troops."
April: publication of the first issue of the underground review Les Cahiers politiques by Alexandre Parodi.
12 April: Creation of a commission to ban school textbooks by the Secretary of State for National Education and Youth.
10 May: Third edition of the Otto list of "Undesirable literary works in France."
14 July: publication of the compendium L’Honneur des poètes by Éditions de Minuit.
Publication of the first underground issue of Cahiers de Libération and including the The Partisans' Song.
April 9 Dissolution of the French Information Office.
6 May: order of the Provisional Government of the French Republic reaffirming freedom of the press.
6 June: call on the BBC by General de Gaulle for general mobilisation: "It's the battle of France and it's France's battle"
18 August: publication of the last numbers of the Parisian dailies; last broadcast by Radio-Paris.
22 and 26 August: Orders setting down the economic, financial and moral criteria for the reorganization of the press.
25 August: Liberation of Paris.
26 August: Last broadcast by Radio-Vichy.
Creation of a Publishing Purification Commission, with such prominent members as Pierre Seghers, Vercors and Jean-Paul Sartre.
30 September: dissolution of publications published under the occupation; creation of Agence France-Presse.
17 November: The Organizing Committee for publication industries, arts and trades becomes the Professional Book Office.
December 18: Publication of the first issue of the daily Le Monde.
19 January: Robert Brassillach, chief editor of the far-right newspaper Je suis partout from 1937 to 1943 is sentenced to death.
2 February: Creation of a Consultative Commission on publishing purification.
30 August: Creation of the Messageries Françaises de Presse.
17 September: Death sentence for Jean-Herold Paquis presenter at Radio-Paris.
11 May: Creation of the Société Nationale des Entreprises de Presse (Society of National Newspaper Companies) to manage the property confiscated from publications that collaborated during the Occupation.
11 July: creation of the CFJ (Centre for Journalism Studies).
30 September: dissolution of the Professional Office of the publication industries, arts and trades.
2 April: Bichet Act on the status of newspaper and periodical consolidation and distribution companies intended to organise a distribution system for the press based on three fundamental principles and one control body (the publisher's freedom of choice, equality of publishers with respect to the distribution system, solidarity between publishers and co-operators under the control of the Superior Council of Express Services).
16 April: creation of the Nouvelles Messageries de la Presse Parisienne (NMPP)