Questions for Reflection
- How did President Franklin D. Roosevelt's stamp collection reveal the existence of American forgeries of German stamps?
- What were some of the methods used in the OSS's Operation Cornflakes to target Axis populations during WWII?
- How did the OSS's MO unit in Italy create mail forgeries, and what challenges did they face?
- How did the OSS and the British propaganda agency, the Political Warfare Executive, use rumors as a weapon in their operations?
- How successful was the OSS's MO propaganda in affecting German and Italian soldiers during WWII?
President Franklin D. Roosevelt was a known stamp collector and OSS head William “Wild Bill” Donovan sent the president some propaganda stamps printed with Himmler (produced by the British) and Hitler on them. A thank you letter for these stamps from FDR to Donovan still survives. After President Roosevelt’s death in 1946, his family auctioned his stamp collection, including some of the forged Operation Cornflakes stamps. For the first time, American forgery of German stamps was made public.
On some stamps, the words “Deutsches Reich” (German Empire) were changed to “Futsches Reich” (ruined empire) and Hitler’s profile had a skull overlaid on it.
In a series of postcards from a fictitious organization called "Ring der Kriegermütter" (War Mothers Group), handwritten postcards from lonely mothers were made to seem as if they wished their sons would desert their military positions and come home. One such postcard read in German:
After five years of struggle against overwhelming enemy power, you have done more than your duty. Today, the war is lost and the enemy is within our country! We are abandoned and helpless. Do not leave your mothers alone in the hour of danger! Come home!!! The mothers are your nearest and dearest!
At its height, the OSS employed roughly twenty-four thousand people during WWII.
A special unit in Italy created mail forgeries at a rate of 15,000 letters per week. British stamp forgeries were of considerably higher quality than the Americans’, since the British used actual postage stamp facilities in England to produce their forgeries. Maintaining color consistency with the original was an issue, and agents faced paper and ink shortages during the war.
Targeted rumors was another MO weapon. Working with the British propaganda agency, the Political Warfare Executive (PWE), the MO placed rumors in mass media by intelligence agents. The rumors were meant to cause confusion, distrust, and incite revolts among Axis populations. For example, a rumor was spread that British soldiers were being outfitted with warm winter clothing for a large-scale operation in Norway.
About ten thousand German and Italian deserters were directly affected by MO propaganda, many holding MO propaganda when they deserted.