Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Operation Cornflakes

Let’s start with today’s story, a story I like to tell many times but I haven’t written about it. I was reminded of this story as a result of the exhibt of a colleague of mine, that of Menachem Lador talking about secret services, another fascinating topic. And here's a link to his display. During a war, there is often an attempt to undermine the morale of the citizens so that they put pressure on their government to end a war. The term is called demoralization. This is usually the case in a war of attrition.

Demoralization is not a new phenomenon and during World War II, both the Allies and the Axis Powers used tactics to try and undermine the morale of citizens. One covert operation created by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the American spy agency during World War II that later became the CIA, became known as "Operation Cornflakes." Sounds delicious, doesn't it? A Kellogg's campaign during which you get a knock on the door in the morning and someone hands you a bowl of cornflakes? Well, it's not.

One of the stamps, issued by the Germans was the Hitler head series. So what did the OSS do? They took the stamps (specific values and you will soon understand why) and forged them! Instead of the usual Hitler head, the fakes showed Hitler's head as a skull or "death head." One of the stamps printed the name of the country as "Futsches Reich" which means "ruined empire" instead of "Deutches Reich".

With permission from SGM Herbert A. Friedman

Just as matter of interest, it is documented that Hitler was paid to be able to use his portrait on postage stamps. It was paid for by something called a Cultural Fund. This is also where he was paid the money from hi book, "Mein Kampf"

Our OSS friends led by General "Wild Bill" Donovan, had to learn everything about the German postal service. So what did they do? German Prisoners of War who were former postal workers, were interrogated on every slither of information, from the postage stamps to methods of packing and sealing mailbags. For this work, they received benefits like tastier meals and so on. Anti-Nazi spies and residents, collected samples of cancellers, postage stamps, mailbags and envelopes. They even took German phone books with addresses of the residents. Today with our smartphones, who remembers the piles of phone books next to our telephone that was connected to a wall!

Now they have addresses, fake stamps, mailbags, knowledge of methods, so what's the next step? Writing the letters themselves. The letters were written, full of anti-Nazi propaganda, to as many citizens as possible, using the forged stamp and fake postmark. In each letter they placed the Hitler skull parody stamp. But they then encountered a problem. Without asking anyone, and without informing the OSS, the Germans changed the laws and only allowed mail from legitimate businesses. No problem, the sender's address will carry the addresses of legitimate businesses that they of course took from the phone number. In the interim they duplicated the mail bags and every other detail of the German postal service. What an operation.

The question now is how to insert these letters into the German postal service? After much thought they came to the conclusion that the best way is to bomb mail trains from the air. Once the bombers managed to stop the train, they had to drop the false mailbags into the rubble. Thus, the Germans would find the mailbags and assume that they belonged to the damaged train and transferred them for further treatment and thus reach their destination. This type of propaganda is called black propaganda. Black propaganda is a type of propaganda designed to create the impression that it was created by someone who is supposed to discredit it.

A beautiful story, no? So speaking of letters, why was it called Operation Cornflakes?

In those days, in the United States, cornflakes was a very popular breakfast food and in Germany the mail was delivered at breakfast, so the Allies felt that if German citizens received their demoralization propaganda at breakfast, they would feel that the German Reich was indeed "falling apart." A covert operation named after food!

On February 5, 1945, a German train traveled to the city of Linz. The Mail Car held mail delivered to several towns in northern Austria. Suddenly, Allied planes attacked, dropped bombs, and dropped the mailbags. Eight mailbags hit the ground around the train with a thump. Inside each bag were about 800 propaganda letters, all directed to homes and businesses along the train route and properly addressed. When the train was discovered, German postal workers exchanged bags and forwarded the letters without knowing anything about their contents or origins. The operation had begun.

During the operation, 20 missins of counterfeit mail, with about 320 mailbags and over 96,000 propaganda letters were dropped. Although there was a considerable amount of mail, I have not seen many for sale. A friend sent me a photograph as an example, and it is depicted below.


What is interesting about the story is that the items are relatively difficult to obtain, and therefore there are forgeries on the parody, so you need a certificate to show that it is genuine. Can you imagine a forgery of the forgery? Before you start looking for letters like, remember one thing, the stamps on the letters were not the ones with the skull because people would immediately recognize that it was not real, but most of the time they were inside the letter with the propaganda page. Remember, this is black propaganda!

No one knows how successful the operation was but at least it gave us something to enjoy. The story is based on an article by another colleague of mine. And here's a link.

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Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Whiskey Mail

Our story, this time, is particularly interesting, as are all of them in my own humble opinion, and I am telling it because of a previous story and you will soon understand why. Remember there was a war of survival in Israel in 1948? So the city of Safed, which is located somewhere in the north of the country, is not exactly a new city and the fortress in the city was actually built by the Crusaders. For religious Jews, it is one of the four most important cities in the Holy Land and people who study Kabbalah, the Jewish mysticism, like the singer Madonna or Esther for you, tend to visit it, both publicly and secretly, well it is hard to do anything secretly in the modern world i.e. Facebook.

When the UN announced their Partition Plan in 1947, everyone knew there would be a war for our survival in the country and we knew it because the Arab countries said so, several times. Too bad we did not know about Daniel Webster then. Actually the war or at least the skirmishes, started in early 1948 and there were many. It was the war of the roads.

And this brings us back to the events of Safed. In 1929, in one of the riots of Arab residents, about 20 Jewish residents were murdered and since in 1948, there were 6 times more Arabs than Jews in the city, and quite a few of the Jews were old men, the Jewish residents knew they were in trouble. So what could they do? Pack up and leave? No! Stay and everything will be fine, or not. Most of them stayed and it began, and hard. Already in early January, Arabs attacked the Jewish Quarter, and in February, they attacked a Jewish bus on its way to Safed and many other incidents.

In early February, Arab forces killed a Jew at the entrance to the post office in Safed, and the British immediately closed the post office on the grounds that it was too dangerous for them and everyone else. The British army controlled Safed but did not raise a hand to stop the attacks on Jews. This meant that there were no postal services for the residents, at least not for the Jewish residents. There was some contact with the neighboring city of Rosh Pina, that Palmach soldiers came by foot through Mount Canaan to fetch mail, after all there was no WhatsApp at the time and they still had to get messages. Of course the amount of mail was limited.

In March, Jewish traffic on the Rosh Pina road - Safed Road, was attacked and as a result the road to the east was closed. From the west the road passed through two hostile Arab villages and Jews could not travel on it. So the Jewish community was under siege, difficult to enter and difficult to leave. They were dependent on the good will of the British soldiers and anyone who knows history, then and today, knows that they were never very fond of us.

Suddenly on April 15 The British announce that they were leaving. They offered to evacuate Jewish elders and women and children with them, but no one wanted to, after this was their home for centuries. "We are staying put!" The British thought the Jews would last maybe two hours after they left.

Is this the end? of course not. Palmach forces arrived to replace the British but the amount of Jewish soldiers was far less than the Arab forces and of course they had much less weapons. The Arab forces approached the Jewish Quarter and the residents felt they were in trouble. The Jewish Quarter being under siege, lacked basic products such as flour and water and more. What do we do?

As we mentioned in one of the previous newsletters, no one wanted to sell us weapons, so either we bought, steal or make our own. One of our inventions was a mortar called the "Davidka" or "Little David", so named after its inventor, David Leibowitz. Her missiles were noisy, very noisy, and very inaccurate and therefore of little value. But what to do, there are no other weapons so started using Davidka and bombing the Arab quarter in the city. The terrible noise so frightened the Arabs that they just ran away. They abandoned the city, and Safed fell to us.

Mahmoud Abbas, who was born in Safed in 1935, says that they fled in 1948 because they thought the Jews would slaughter them. Probably ran away because of the Davidka.

Well I told you a bit of the history and you may be asking yourself or not, what has this going to do with philately apart from the Davidka stamp? So, I told you that from February there was been no post office in Safed, after the British closed it, and I told you that Palmach soldiers managed to deliver some letters. But in Safed there were merchants and banks, and there was one bank, Klinger Bank, which had a local branch. That branch was attacked in the Arab riots of 1929 and twenty years later chaos returned!

The postal service was important to conserving the day to day business of the bank. How can they continue to function and communicate with the outside world, even with Rosh Pina, without orderly postal services? But what could they do, there was none, the British stopped it lock, stock and barrel.

Mr. Klinger took advantage of his good relationship with some of the higher ranks of the British military who controlled Safed and got their permission for British soldiers, who travelled freely on the road between Rosh Pina and Safed, would bring mail bags in their trucks. Knowing that they were returning home in a few months, an order from above did not mean that they would carry it out. Why take unnecessary risks? Mr. Klinger found a nice way to motivate the soldiers. I hope my managers are reading the blog right now, he promised a bottle of whiskey to every soldier that completes his task, meaning delivers the mail bag. A bottle of whiskey per bag mail that they delivered and this time the purpose of the whiskey was for drinking and not for washing hands or disinfection. Message to my boss, Blue Label is appeals to me, hint, hint...

All letters that arrived in Safed during the British Mandate between March 1 and 16 April, are known as "Whiskey Covers".

The story is taken from the book of Postal History of the Transition Period of Israel, 1948 Part I.


I don't have one in my collection. The item depicted here was in an auction of Tel Aviv Stamps.

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