Sefton Delmer

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Denis Sefton Delmer was born in Berlin, Germany, on 24th May 1904. He is best known as a black propagandist for the British government's Political Warfare Executive during the 1939-45 war.

Early life

His father, Frederick Delmer, was an Australian lecturer in English at Berlin University and on the outbreak of the First World War was interned as an enemy alien. In 1917 Delmer and his family were allowed to go to England.

Delmer was educated at Lincoln College, Oxford, where he obtained a second class degree in German. After leaving university he worked as a freelance journalist until being recruited by the Daily Express to become head of its new Berlin Bureau. While in Germany he became friendly with Ernst Roehm and he arranged for him to become the first British journalist to interview Adolf Hitler.

In the 1932 general election Delmer travelled with Hitler on his private aircraft. He was also with Hitler when he inspected the Reichstag Fire. During this period Delmer was criticized for being a Nazi sympathizer and for a time the British government thought he was in the pay of the Nazi regime. Ironically the Nazi leaders were convinced that Delmer was a member of the British secret service - his denials of any involvement only served to strengthen their belief that, not only was he a member, but an important one.

In 1933 Delmer was sent to France as head of the Daily Express Paris Bureau. In 1935 Delmer married Isabel Nichols (she later married composer Constant Lambert and after his death married again in 1955 to composer Alan Rawsthorne). Delmer covered important stories in Europe including the Spanish Civil War and the invasion of Poland by the German Army in 1939. He also reported on the German western offensive in 1940.

Delmer returned to England and worked, for a time, as an announcer for the German service of the BBC. After Adolf Hitler broadcast a speech from the Reichstag offering peace terms, Delmer responded immediately, stating the British cast the terms in "your lying, stinking teeth."[1]

In September 1940 he was recruited by the Political Warfare Executive (PWE) to organize black propaganda broadcasts to Nazi Germany. His first, most notable success, was a shortwave station, Gustav Siegfried Eins, which came on the air shortly after the flight of Rudolf Hess to England in 1940. Gustav Sigfried Eins featured "Der Chef," an unrepentant Nazi, who disparaged both Churchill ("that flatfooted son of a drunken Jew") and the "Parteikommune", the "Party Communists" who betrayed the Nazi revolution. When Stafford Cripps discovered what Delmer was up to he wrote to Anthony Eden, the Foreign Secretary: "If this is the sort of thing that is needed to win the war, why, I'd rather lose it."

Soldatensender Calais was another clandestine radio station directed by Delmer for the German armed forces. Transmitting from Crowborough, Soldatensender Calais broadcast a combination of good music, "cover" support of the war, and "dirt," - items inserted to demoralize German forces. Delmer's propaganda stories included spreading rumours that foreign workers were sleeping with the wives of German soldiers serving overseas. Delmer also oversaw the production of a daily 'grey' German-language newspaper titled "Nachrichten für die Truppe" with much of its text being based on the Soldatensender broadcasts. Nachrichten was disseminated over the German frontlines each morning by the Special Leaflet Squadron of the US 8th Air Force.

Lord Beaverbrook sacked Delmer in 1959 and he retired to Suffolk where he wrote two volumes of autobiography, Trail Sinister (1961), Black Boomerang (1962) and several other books including Weimar Germany (1972) Tail of a Tale and The Counterfeit Spy (1973). Sefton Delmer died at Lamarsh, Suffolk, on 4th September 1979.

External Resources

Articles and books by Delmer are availabe at the Sefton Delmer website, also featuring photographs of Aspidistra, the secret propaganda transmitter and Milton Bryan the secret broadcasting station.