Improvised Front-Line Propaganda
During the Russian campaign the Germans made extensive use of frontline propaganda and achieved remarkable results in many cases. The following incident occurred during the winter of 1941-42 when 6th Panzer Division launched a series of limited objective attacks to the west to secure the lines of communication of the German units facing the main Russian assault from the east. (See Snail Offensive, p. 7) In this instance, front-line propaganda was improvised very effectively after the second thrust. Among the many wounded and dead Russians collected on the battlefield was Vera, an eighteen-year-old female sergeant. After a few hours treatment for shock, she recovered from her horrible experience which she compared to the "end of the world." Vera was a medical auxiliary with the battalion that had held the main strong point and had been completely annihilated with the exception of one officer and fourteen enlisted personnel.
During her first days as a prisoner of war she was under a severe emotional strain. Her interrogation confirmed other intelligence on enemy dispositions gathered from statements of other prisoners. By her own admission she was a member of Komsomol [Ed: the Russian communist youth organization], that is to say, a convinced Communist. Before she was evacuated with the next transport of prisoners she innocently requested permission to return to her former regiment. Asked for the reason for her request, she replied in a serious and calm tone: "I want to tell my comrades that it is hopeless to fight against such weapons and that the Germans will treat them well. They should come over to the German side." Asked whether she had any other reasons for returning, she answered: "Yes, I would like to save the life of my friend who is still over there." To the question of whether this was not a subterfuge to escape from the Germans, she replied: "No, I have already stated that I shall return and bring along my friend."
Since she could not possibly give away any German secrets and her self-assured statements seemed trustworthy, her request was granted. Dressed in civilian clothes she crossed the German lines at a point opposite the sector held by her former regiment. German scouts escorted her through the deep, snow-covered forest to a place close to the enemy outposts. She promised to return at the same point once her mission was accomplished.
Several days passed but the girl did not return. After twelve days many people expressed doubts as to her true intentions. But on the fourteenth day the designated front sector reported the arrival of two Russian deserters, one of whom was a woman. It was Vera and her companion. Half exhausted from the long march through the deep masses of melting snow, they arrived at the command post. Vera had an interesting story to tell.
After her return to the Russian lines Vera was immediately interrogated by a Politruk [Ed: low-ranking political officer] who doubted the veracity of her statements when she told him that she had been treated well by the Germans and was able to escape in civilian clothes because of the carelessness of her guards. For five days and nights she was imprisoned in an ice bunker in the company of criminals under sentence of death and was fed bread and water. When she was questioned again she repeated her previous statements. As a result she was returned to her former regiment, given another uniform and assigned to a front-line battalion as a medical auxiliary. This battalion was waiting for the arrival of urgently needed replacements since it had lost its entire manpower with the exception of one lieutenant and a few soldiers. After she was initiated in her duties she took the lieutenant's map and compass and went to the front. There she surprised a Russian sergeant while he was reading a German propaganda leaflet and persuaded him to desert by telling him of her own good experience with the Germans. She talked to a few more men and told them the same story. They believed her and the story spread like wildfire.
One hour after Vera's return to the German lines the remnants of the sergeant's unit consisting of six men and one machine gun arrived at the point where she had crossed and surrendered. They had overheard the conversation between Vera and the sergeant and decided to follow their example. For several days groups of two to three deserters arrived daily at various points along the front. This provided the division with exact information on enemy intentions and facilitated the planning of further attacks.
With regard to the effect of propaganda leaflets dropped from the air, Vera stated that they were hardly ever read by Russian soldiers because such an offense was punishable by death. Moreover the contents were not believed because of the intensive counterpropaganda to which the commissars subjected them. But she was certain that her former comrades would believe anything she wrote in personal letters. Her idea was taken up and soon this valuable correspondence was in full swing. German patrols delivered her hand-written letters at various points in
the forest near Russian outposts and attached them to branches in the trees. They were easily recognizable by their red markings. The results were unmistakable since the number of deserters doubled within a short time. When, in addition, her voice was recorded and transmitted over loud speakers near the enemy lines, the number of deserters along the entire sector increased so much that it exceeded 400 only three weeks after the start of this improvised propaganda campaign. This figure was much higher than the combined total of deserters on all other sectors of the entire army front. The idea of using Vera as the mainstay of this propaganda campaign proved very effective.
Four days later a few bottles of liquor made a powerful propaganda improvisation that eliminated the danger of a local enemy penetration. After a German attack with limited objective the enemy attempted several strong counterthrusts. The situation became very tense when several Russian tanks penetrated the German lines and the last reserves had to be committed. The tanks were destroyed but some of the enemy infantry succeeded in infiltrating through the German lines. Not many Russians got through at first but more and more followed. In this difficult situation the local German commander sent a civilian with several bottles of liquor to the Russian soldiers behind his line and invited them to taste these samples. They were told that they could drink to their heart's content if they decided to come over unarmed. Slightly inebriated by the first bottles they began to arrive hesitantly and in small groups without arms. As soon as the first men had convinced themselves that the Germans had no intention of killing them, about fifty additional Russians turned up to receive their liquor. They indulged so heavily that they forgot all about their weapons, quite apart from the fact that they were physically incapable of returning to them. Meanwhile a strong German detachment picked up the abandoned weapons and stopped all further enemy infiltration attempts.
page created 4 September 2002
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