A new archive has revealed the BBC’s role in secret activities during World War Two, including sending coded messages to European resistance groups.
Documents and interviews, released by BBC History, include plans to replace Big Ben’s chimes with a recorded version in the event of an air attack.
This would ensure the Germans did not know their planes were over Westminster.
BBC programmers would also play music to contact Polish freedom fighters.
Using the codename “Peter Peterkin”, a government representative would provide staff with a particular piece that would be broadcast following the Polish news service.
Historian David Hendy said: “The bulletins broadcast to Poland would be deliberately short by a minute or so and then a secret messenger from the exiled Polish government would deliver a record to be played.
“The choice of music would send the message to fighters.”[…]
The U.S. Navy, anticipating a future when a high-tech enemy could read its electronic communications, is going back to a hack-proof means of sending messages between ships: bean bags. Weighted bags with messages inside are passed among ships at sea by helicopters.
In a future conflict with a tech-savvy opponent, the U.S. military could discover even its most advanced, secure communications penetrated by the enemy. Secure digital messaging, voice communications, video conferencing, and even chats could be intercepted and decrypted for its intelligence value. This could give enemy forces an unimaginable advantage, seemingly predicting the moves and actions of the fleets at sea with uncanny accuracy.
Last week, a MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter delivered a message from the commander of an amphibious squadron to the captain of the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer. The helicopter didn’t even land to deliver it, dropping it from a hovering position before flying away. The message was contained in a bean bag dropped on the Boxer’s flight deck.
The bean bag system, as Military.com explains it, is nearly eight decades old. The system dates back to April 1942, when a SBD Dauntless dive bomber assigned to the USS Enterprise was flying a scouting mission ahead of the USS Hornet. Hornet, about to launch sixteen B-25 Mitchell bombers on a raid against Japan, was traveling in extreme secrecy to preserve the element of surprise. The Dauntless pilot encountered a Japanese civilian ship and, fearing he had been spotted, dropped a message in a bean bag on the deck of Hornet. You can see some archival footage of the event here.[…]
Many thanks to a number of SWLing Post readers who sent a link to this piece from the BBC News:
Computer pioneer and codebreaker Alan Turing will feature on the new design of the Bank of England’s £50 note.
He is celebrated for his code-cracking work that proved vital to the Allies in World War Two.
The £50 note will be the last of the Bank of England collection to switch from paper to polymer when it enters circulation by the end of 2021.
[…]”Alan Turing was an outstanding mathematician whose work has had an enormous impact on how we live today,” said Bank of England governor Mark Carney.
“As the father of computer science and artificial intelligence, as well as a war hero, Alan Turing’s contributions were far-ranging and path breaking. Turing is a giant on whose shoulders so many now stand.”[…]
This is such an amazing story, Fred, and the CBC did a fine job putting it together. Thanks so much for sharing.
Editor’s note regarding WWII history: Regular SWLing Post readers know that I’m an avid WWII history buff, in that I read, view, and especially listen to many accounts of the Second World War era, the glory days of radio. I’ve traveled and lived in several of the countries that were, at that time, among the Axis Powers, some of my close friends are from or reside in these countries now, and feel much as I do about this history: that this was a devastating war which we must not forget or romanticize, and from which we can learn about ourselves as human beings, hopefully with the view of preventing such chilling events from ever being repeated. As we have readers and contributors from all over the world in this radio community, I sincerely hope that WWII-related articles are regarded in this light of understanding. The takeaway? Times have changed. I firmly believe that a deep understanding of our shared history makes us all better people.
Soldiers coming ashore in Normandy, France. (Photo: National Archives)
Today, as many know, is the 75th anniversary of the World War II battle in Normandy, France, known to history as D-Day. “Operation Overlord,” as D-Day was code named, without doubt, was one of the key turning points of World War II.
But many may not know that D-Day was also one of the first events that brought continuous news coverage via radio on the home front.
“In addition to what it meant as a great turning point in world history, D-Day is also unique in how it was broadcast by American radio networks, as CBS, NBC, and what would become ABC pooled their reporters, engineers and other resources, and cooperated closely with military officials to present, for the first time, what would now be called “wall-to-wall” coverage of a developing major international news event for American audiences.
It’s something we take for granted now in the age of the internet and cable news, but this kind of media coverage can be traced back to D-Day.”
But the widely-covered event was originally top secret. So secret, in fact, that news agencies in the US first learned about Operation Overlord via not Allied news, but Axis news sources. Thus the information was delivered with caution, since the source wasn’t the War Department of Allied Forces.
A little after 3:30 AM (Eastern War Time), the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) in London produced Communiqué #1, a short statement read twice by Colonel R. Ernest Dupuy, confirming that Allied naval forces, with the support of the air forces, and under the command of General Eisenhower, began landing Allied armies that morning on the northern coast of France.
Here is the actual recording via the Miller Center at UVA:
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Jarno (PA3DMI), who shares the following Old Time Radio (OTR) show, The Spy on the Kilocycles, which features Henry Fonda who had just completed his military service (October 8, 1945).