This paper will explore Operation Cornflakes, an operation carried out by the Morale Operations Unit of the United States Office of Strategic Services, in both the historical, comparative, and predictive scope of Public Diplomacy. The approach of Operation Cornflakes may best be described as advocacy along with a tagline of security as the theme.
Nazi Germany’s Final Stand
“Defend Paris to the last, destroy all bridges over the Seine and devastate the city!” This was a quote from German Chancellor and Fuhrer Adolf Hitler to the Nazi military in July of 1944 in response to the allied forces offensive to retake France. One month later, France was liberated and the war was coming to Germany. Hitler was watching first hand as his once vast empire was now in the process of crumbling. In one of his last ditch efforts to save it, Hitler ordered the creation of the Volkssturm in the final months of the war. This called for the conscription of the remaining German males between the ages of sixteen and sixty in Germany who were not already serving in some aspect of the Nazi military.
Shortly after this order from Hitler, the allied forces began making their final push into the Reichstag while facing heavy resistance. The allied forces, specifically the U.S. military, amassed heavy casualties in the Battle of the Bulge and knew they needed to come up with methods that would make the push into Berlin slightly easier and prevent the conscripted Germans along with other ordinary citizen’s part of Nazi Germany from putting up one last fight.
Office of Strategic Services
Enter the United States Office of Strategic Services. As the predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency, its primary function was to coordinate missions of espionage overseas. In response to this potential uprising of the civilian population, beginning in January of 1945, 21 members of the OSS Morale Operations unit were designated the task of carrying out what was to be known as “Operation Cornflakes”, an operation that would influence the citizens of the Third Reich through anti-Nazi messages received in the mail.
The objectives of this operation were as follows: weaken the German peoples will to fight, increase confusion in the communication and transport services, and finally, convince the Germans that there was an anti-Nazi underground. Before these objectives could be reached however, research was conducted in order to better execute the plan.
In efforts to better understand the German postal system, members of the Morale Operations unit disguised themselves as government officials interested in administrative research and began interrogating former German mail clerks who were being held as prisoners. Through these interviews, the Morale Operations unit was able learn proper German mailing procedures along with packing and labeling methods. Additionally, through intelligence from a special unit in Rome, the morale operations unit was able to obtain German telephone books consisting of more than two million names and addresses located in cities all over the Third Reich. The Morale Operations unit then had typists who addressed almost fifteen thousand envelopes on a weekly basis. Additionally, to offset any suspicion, some envelopes had their addresses hand written. Many of the typists were German captives.
The 14th Fighter group from the 15th Air Force was identified as those in charge of piloting the missions within the operation because of their specialization in aerial attacks at low altitudes. To avert any suspicion, the pilots were responsible for pressing a button on their control panel that would activate a specially designed bomb which would release the mail sack from the canister it was in and then destroy the canister itself. There were several steps involved in the actual execution of the operation.
The first step of the operation was to locate a train by flying northward bound from Southern Austria. The second step was to bomb the train so that many of the original mail was scattered all over the area of attack. The third and final step of the operation was to drop several sacks of mail containing anti-Nazi sentiment, all of which had legitimate German addresses, into the area of the wrecked train. The logic was that during the process of cleaning up the mess, the German postal service, Deutsche Reichspost, would then not only pick up the mail sacks that were originally on the train, but also the mail sacks dropped by the OSS. The Deutsche Reichspost would then deliver this mail to the homes of German citizens in the morning of who would then eat breakfast and read the mail, hence the term “Operation Cornflakes,” in reference to the breakfast cereal. Upon reading the bad news from the beginning of the day, the citizens would have a lower morale and believe that the destruction of Nazi Germany was imminent. This would in turn dissuade citizens from continuing to support the Nazi movement and furthermore, it’s efforts in the war. Operation Cornflakes consisted of several different methods in which to communicate anti-Nazi messages to the citizenry of the Third Reich through their mailing system.
There were many different stamps the Nazi government used to boost the morale of the German people, while also making them more patriotic. One of the stamps used had a picture of two soldiers with German words printed around it that translate to “One people, One Nation, One Fuhrer.” This particular stamp was created to celebrate the incorporation of Austria into Germany. Another stamp had an oval photo of Hitler in leaning over to squeeze the cheeks of a young girl. This stamp depicted the Fuhrer as a compassionate leader. It was used in 1940 to commemorate Hitler’s birthday that year. In the latter half of the war, the messages of the stamps became more overtly clear they were used to boost the morale of the German people. In 1943, there was a stamp created titled, “Duty of Youth Day” in which it was used to commemorate the holiday utilized by the Third Reich to admit new members of the Nazi Party. These stamps had a picture of two young German girls smiling while gazing at the German flag. Finally, in one of the very last stamps produced by the Nazi regime, there was a picture of three armed German civilians standing side by side ready to take charge against the enemy with a very large eagle hovering our their heads. This stamp, properly titled “A people rises up” was released in February of 1945 in order to promote the Volkssturm, who were the Nazi’s final line of defense.
As a way to counteract the ongoing morale boosting operation of the Nazi party, the OSS Morale Operations unit often placed forged ‘Hitler stamps’ on the mail that was eventually going to reach German citizens. The original stamps had a picture of Hitler staunchly staring at his left side with the words Deutsches Reich printed below, which translates to ‘German Empire.’ These stamps cost either 6 or 12 Pfennig [German coins]. Additionally, these stamps either had a red or purple background. Using these stamps as a template, the OSS made some tweaks and removed a noticeable amount of skin from Hitler’s face making his skull visible, but still allowing his face to be recognized. Consequently, this stamp gave the effect that Hitler was a dead man. The OSS also altered the words originally placed on the stamp from Deutsches Reich to Futsches Reich which translates to ‘Ruined Empire.’
The OSS also created postcards to communicate its message to the Germans. In one of the postcards, at the very top is the word Volkssturm, referring to the Germans who were conscripted, many of whom would fight in civilian clothing. At the very bottom of the postcard are the words Schewere Panzer, referring to the heavy tanks the Nazi’s used. In the middle of the postcard are two obese large blonde women on roller skates. They both are wearing armbands with swastikas along with hats that have a flower on them. One of the women is carrying a broom as a weapon while the other woman is carrying her umbrella as a weapon. Ultimately, this postcard was illustrating to those civilians conscripted into the Volksstrurm that they typically fought unprepared and if they chose to stand side by side the Nazi military, they would most likely die.
In the postcard titled ‘The OSS Bombed Cities,’ there are oval photos of the German cities Hamburg, Munchen and Koln. Behind these pictures is a silhouette of a bombed town in the night sky with a full moon and stars that are in the form of burial crosses. Below the images is a parody of a popular German lullaby. The lyrics to the parody of the lullaby are as follows
Tired am I, I’m going to rest, the bombs continue to fall let the eyes of the anti-aircraft protect our little town. What the enemy has done to us. Dear God, just look at it! Your grace and our courage will repair all damage. Many that are known to us had their houses burned and so large and small have mostly rubble and no home. Let the moon stand in the sky and reveal the desolate city. Yes, all this we have only you to thank our dear little Führer!
Furthermore, this lullaby was to convince the German public there was an anti-Nazi movement within Germany and subsequently reduce their morale.
Das Neue Deutschland [Newspaper]
The OSS went as far as creating a newspaper in which it used to communicate its anti- Nazi sentiment messages over to the citizens of the Third Reich. The idea behind the newspaper titled, Das Neue Deutschland, was that the German public would believe that the individuals who sponsored the newspaper were actually a sect within the German empire, leading the German public to believe that there was turmoil within the Reich. Among the headlines on the newspaper was “The Sinking Ship” which tells of an attack on a Spain for neglecting to assist the falling German empire. The article also accuses Spain’s General Francisco Franco of treachery. In a separate article titled “More Gallows, More Blood,” it is noted that after the attempted assassination of German leader Adolf Hitler, the Nazi party alongside the Gestapo murdered one hundred and eighty six civilians, a large amount of who were innocent. In another print, there is a drawing of Hitler visibly distraught aiming a pistol at his head, ready to commit suicide. The heading reads Hitler Will Keinen Frieden, which translates to Hitler does not want peace.
Zehn Gebote fur Osterreicher [Leaflet]
The OSS had also printed leaflets to be enclosed within envelopes for the Austrians incorporated into Nazi Germany. Of the leaflets dropped in Austria, one was entitled Zehn Gebote fur Osterreicher or Ten Commandments for Austrians. The ten commandments for Austrians were as follows: 1) You shall never forget that your home is Austria and not “Ostmark” or Pan-Germany, 2) You shall not make common cause with the Nazis, the traitors and oppressors of Austria, the blasphemers and war profiteers, 3) You shall clearly be aware that you have only one enemy, the parasitic Germans of Hitler’s Reich and that everyone who fights against the Third Reich contributes to the liberation of Austria and is, therefore, your friend, 4) You shall not prolong the suffering of our home by contributing to the continuation of the senseless war which is already lost, be it through your combat service in the Wehrmacht or through your work in an office or a factory, 5) You shall, contrarily, strive for shortening the murderous war with all your strength: When you are in the army, avoid active service by simulating illness and surrender at the first opportunity. The free Austria needs you as a living Austrian, not as a dead “Ostmarker”. When you are working, then escape work by letting your boss know that you are sick and sabotage wherever you can the total murderous mission of the Germans, 6) You shall not deny your wish for freedom and your love to your home in fear and faintheartedness of the shameful hangman’s assistants of the Gestapo. Time has come to proceed to action!, 7) You shall prepare the day of the liberation by starting right now to write down the names of Nazi criminals and exploiters from the Old Reich, to make clear who will be fired and who will be hanged, 8) You shall not obey the orders of party functionaries or Nazi authorities. The majority of these orders just lead to a further enslavement of our homeland and bring death and misery to us Austrians, 9) You shall do everything you can to strengthen and disseminate the wish and will for the liberation of Austria among your relatives and friends, and you shall join the existing resistance groups or form such ones yourself, 10) You shall not say “Heil Hitler” but revive the good old Austrian greeting “Grüss Gott” [ which translates to “god be greeted”] and you shall always think of Austria’s liberation and independence! Essentially, these leaflets were meant to polarize the Austrians from Nazi Germany and create dissent. Subsequently, this would also dissuade Austrians from being a part of any Nazi uprising.
The effectiveness of Operation Cornflakes was to an extremely minimal extent. Some Nazi military prisoners who had surrendered in Italy told the allied forces during the course of their interrogations that they had heard about the newspaper, Das Neue Deutschland, and had believed it was all part of an anti-Nazi underground movement based in Austria and in various other regions of Germany. However, this is one of the very few instances where Operation Cornflakes was effective.
There were many times when the operation was compromised. In one incident, the German prisoners who were employed under the OSS began sending hand addressed envelopes back home to their families. At this time, the prisoners could have potentially exposed the entire operation to families back home. However, the closest the operation came to being exposed was during February of 1945 when a mail sack was dropped in Saint Poelten, Austria that was compromised due to a grammatical error. There was a German postal clerk who happened to notice that the word “kassenverein,” on the return address of the envelope was spelled with the letter ‘C’ instead of ‘K.’ Shortly afterward, a postal inspection ensued and at the very least, that one bag with all of the contents was destroyed. At the most, Germany security officials have at one time stated that up to ninety seven percent of all of the forgeries mailed to Third Reich were discovered and destroyed.
Battle of Berlin
One of the best measurements in determining how effective this operation was is to discover whether or not German civilians and Volkssturm continued to fight in the war after the operation was executed, which according to many estimates, they in fact did. In what was the last clash in Europe for allied forces, over 40,000 Volkssturm fought in the Battle of Berlin. There are many reasons as to why they continued to fight. One reason is that Germans were being delivered propaganda at home by the Third Reich which could have counteracted any information they received from the OSS. Another reason they fought regardless of the information given to them from the operation was because they knew if the Soviets captured them, they would be dead anyway. As it turns out, this is exactly what happened. In the time immediately after the battle was war, some Soviet troops began raping, pillaging, and murdering any Germans they saw on the streets for reasons none other than vengeance.
British During World War One
Communicating messages to a foreign audience via mail was something that had been done previously in World War One by the British. In 1918, after having decided to put together a system to influence the enemy’s resistance power, the Crewe House, Britain’s propaganda headquarters, developed an operation which led to the distribution of anti-regime material which included pamphlets, leaflets and newspapers in the different territories of the Central Powers. Similar to the OSS, they planned to use air drops and send material to certain addresses through the axis powers mailing system. To execute this task, the British had to reproduce the regular issue common denomination stamps as follows: for Germany, the ten and fifteen pfennig stamps, for Bavaria, the five, ten and fifteen pfennig stamps and for Austria, the five ten and twenty five heller stamps. Before this operation could have been carried out, the war was over without anyone knowing of its existence. However, in 1921, the stamps appeared on the philatelic market. The philatelists, through comparing the printing methods, soon learned that these stamps could have only been produced by De La Rue and Company, a plant in England responsible for creating stamps for the British post office. Furthermore, this linked the forged stamps directly to the British government.
British During World War Two
The British rekindled their efforts to forge German stamps from the very beginning of World War Two. They began by creating forgeries of the twelve Pfennig stamp with the portrait of Former President Paul Hindenburg. These particular stamps were essentially identical to the original stamps produced by the Germans, everything from color, paper, perforation and the method in which it was produced. The reproduction of this forged stamp continued until 1941 when Hitler demanded that President Hindenburg’s face be removed from the stamps and replaced with his own. As a result of this act by Hitler, the British began forging the new stamps with Hitler’s face on it for the duration of the war. However, these stamps visibly looked more like a forgery because unlike the original stamps, it contained no watermark and the gum on the back of the stamp was yellow and not clear. Additionally, they were printed in sheets of twenty with plain margins as opposed to the way the originals were produced which was in color with numbered margins. Finally, these forged stamps were intended for German troops on active duty, not the civilian population, differentiating it from Operation Cornflakes.
After France fell into the hands of Nazi Germany and was run by the Nazi puppet government known as Vichy, the British also began utilizing forged 25 and 30 centime stamps of Philippe Petain, who was Chief of the French State throughout the duration of the Vichy government. The forged stamps looked very authentic as they were created with a typo graph, similar to the original stamps. Additionally, the forged stamps had the same color as the originals. However, there were some differences. For example, the forged stamps had varying degrees of sizes of holes in them. Since there was a lack of supplies coming into France at the time and the genuine stamps had a wide variety of colors, sizes and textures, it was easy to manipulate the stamps without detection.
While Operation Cornflakes was a clever idea to infiltrate and influence the minds of Third Reich citizens, when executed, it seemed to have been compromised. It could be said that among the reasons for the unsuccessful outcome of Operation Cornflakes was that many citizens may have simply overlooked the stamp on the envelope. Generally speaking, when people read the mail, they do not necessarily pay attention to stamp. Thus, if the forged stamp happens to look very similar to the real stamp, as was the case with Operation Cornflakes, it is easy to not notice any differences. Also, when citizens could not identify the return address of the mail, they could have immediately trashed the mail before even opening it or glancing at the stamp. Another reason for why it may have failed is because there could have been tedious errors, such as misspelling, that would discredit the newsprints that were being produced similar to the ‘kassenverein’ incident. Subsequently, any information would be disregarded. Finally, the most interesting reason for why it could have failed is due to the typists employed by the OSS who were former Nazi German mail clerks. Unless there was strict supervision, which as it seems was not the case since many of them were able to send letters home to family members, these mail clerks could have easily contacted Nazi Germany authorities and notified them about the ongoing operation that was being conducted by the OSS.
Predicted Future Outcomes
False Stamp Detection
If an operation similar to Operation Cornflakes were to be executed in the present day, in all likelihood, it would be a disastrous failure from the very beginning. There are several ways stamp forgeries can be detected in the present day. While modern day technology can assist in the creation of forged stamps, there is more advanced technology to help detect it. Around the world, there are postal services that have developed measures to protect and prevent the forgeries of their stamps. In fact, some countries have gone as far as taking the same measures they would in order to prevent money fraud.
Among the steps taken to prevent stamp fraud include having specially designed or distinct watermarks on the stamps. In having a watermark, one may be able to easily distinguish a real stamp from a fake stamp simply by placing it behind a light. Stamps can also be printed on special paper thereby diminishing the number of people who would be able to forge stamps. Printing it on special paper can also give the stamp a different feel from one that may have been potentially forged. Delicate engravings may also be placed on stamps that would easy to differentiate it from a fake because they would be visible, yet precise. There are also different methods in which to print the stamps as to avoid forgery. Special ink can be applied to the postmarks so when the postal clerks stamp it, a different color may appear if the stamp is a fake. There are also some more technical and not clearly identifiable methods that can be applied to determine whether or not the stamp is a real or fake. Postal service’s may insert silk threads within the stamps or create secret marks visible only to a microscope. In this situation, if a postal clerk were to become suspicious that a fake stamp may have infiltrated a certain mail collection, they would be able to look under a microscope in order to come to a final assessment. This would make it very difficult for an individual to forge a stamp.
According to the CIA, stamp forgery would not be very useful in the future for intelligence gathering. The reason for this is because on a broad scale, postage meter marks have already begun replacing stamps for commercial mailing purposes in many countries of the world. These meter marks are most particularly used for in things such as bulk mail, magazines and newspapers, all of which are the means to transfer material in order to influence a foreign audience. These meter marks typically have different serial numbers and letters within the postage while having the same design.
Similarly to stamps, attempting to falsify postcards in today’s world in order to influence an audience would be very easy to detect and have control of simply because of the speed at which this information would travel. If someone in Germany today were to receive a postcard stating that the German government was inept and could not run the country properly, with the power of the internet, government officials could find out about it rather quickly. Additionally, the postcard could be tracked through where it was originally picked up from and who sent it.
Leaflets may also not work effectively in the present day. In the current war in Afghanistan, the U.S military has been dropping leaflets in order to get the public to cooperate with them and defeat the terrorists. For example, in one of the leaflets, on the front it states “Drive out the foreign terrorists” and it has a picture of a group of Taliban members raising their arms whilst holding rocket propelled grenade launchers with a target on them. On the back of the leaflet, it has the picture of a Taliban member preparing the attack a woman in a hijab as a little child watches and it says “Our women and children are suffering, is this the future you want for your women and children?” However, as recent as March of 2010, it has been noted that the area is almost completely under the control of the Taliban after a sudden rise in insurgency in the region. Moreover, these leaflets are not very effective at all in telling people what they already know about the country. Similar to the way the Volkssturm fought anyway because they would have been killed by the Soviets anyway and didn’t have much of a choice, many Afghan citizens are not cooperative with coalition forces out of fear that they will be killed by the Taliban. Furthermore, while leaflets may raise awareness on a topic that is already known, it ultimately is not very effective in swaying over a population from a particular course of action, especially when their life is in danger.
False newspapers may not be very effective if it were carried out simply because of the dawn of the new information age with internet. First and foremost, many people use the internet as a means of getting their news and the number of people who continue to read the newspaper is at the lowest number since the 1940’s. Second, if a citizen of a country were to receive a newspaper that stated rather nasty things about the country, one could very easily log on to the internet and report it and in a brief amount of time, many of the recipients of such a newspaper would have access to forums on the internet where they would come to learn that the newspaper is a fake. Additionally, they could easily contact their local authorities via telephone to determine if the newspaper is authentic. In essence, due the advances in modern technology, conducting an activity similar to Operation Cornflakes would most likely be unsuccessful.