RedState’s Water Cooler 1/9/17 – Open Thread – Operation Cornflakes

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My latest contribution to the RedState History Department — and my very first Water Cooler of 2017 – marks one of the more bizarre anniversaries in our military history.

On January 5, 1945, American aircraft of the 15th Air Force carried out the first phase of “Operation Cornflakes“, a special propaganda project of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS).

That day, Allied planes attacked a German mail train near Linz, Austria. The train was derailed, and a follow-up flight then dropped a special payload into the wreckage. The cargo was mailbags – each containing 300 letters, properly addressed to a German home whose owners had lost a soldier in the war.

The result? Allied propaganda inside the sealed letters was hand-delivered by the German mail service.

The OSS started its campaign by pumping German prisoners of war for information:

Operation CORNFLAKES began with OSS officials collecting any and all German POWs that had experience with the German postal service, or Reichspost. These POWs were coerced with meals in exchange for information in collection, sorting, canceling and delivery of the mail.

As a result, the OSS was able to make near-perfect copies of German mail bags, which they then stuffed with letters printed at its offices in Rome.

By this time, the Battle of the Bulge was starting to peter out in the West and the Red Army had encroached into German territory. The July 20, 1944 Army bomb plot against Hitler’s life had failed and Germany seemed ripe for defeat. Adding propaganda into the mix, the theory went, might just topple the German government.

As the Daily Mail reported some years later, previous propaganda efforts had been less than effective, so the OSS got creative:

Previously, leaflets had been airdropped over German, Austrian and Italian cities but heavy winds, rain or Nazi intelligence had resulted in the diversion of many before they could reach their intended audience. With Operation Cornflakes – so called because the subversive materials would usually be delivered at breakfast time – the Allies would use the Reich’s postal system itself as a means of distribution.

 The OSS even used master forgers to re-create German postage stamps, with a rather  frightening difference:


From “German Empire” to “Ruined Empire”
(Wikimedia Commons).

 The “Death’s Head” stamps are among the most rare in philately, with some sources claiming that forged copies of the stamp exist — which is, in itself, a forgery.

So, how well did the OSS do? Sources indicate that as many as 96,000 pieces of Allied propaganda reached German homes through Operation Cornflakes. There were drawbacks, however: by that time, Allied bombing raids had physically destroyed many of the addresses to which mail was sent, making delivery impossible; and the German terror regime made keeping Allied propaganda a highly dangerous practice. Many of the letters went unopened.

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On a lighter note, today is also the generally accepted date of another anniversary — in 1835, the United States Government was declared free of national debt for the first, and only, time in its history.

The new American government owed $75 million to creditors in 1791, a figure which rose to $120 million after the War of 1812. Yet, several Presidents, capped off by Andrew Jackson, saw that the debt was paid off down to the last dime.

Jackson, who is the only Democrat to appear on widely-circulated American paper money, hated debt in any form (which means he’d never last in today’s Democrat Party, of which he is considered the founder). On this date in 1835, a party was held to celebrate paying off the debt. At that event, Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton proclaimed:

“The apparition, so long unseen on earth, a great nation without a national debt stands revealed to the astonished vision of a wondering world.”

The zero-sum lasted for more than one day, but not much longer than that. The Panic of 1836 erased the government’s good work, principles were forgotten, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Enjoy today’s open thread!

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