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During World War II, the Political Warfare Executive (PWE) was a Britishmarker clandestine body created to produce and disseminate both white and black propaganda, with the aim of damaging enemy morale and sustaining the morale of the Occupied countries.

The Executive was formed in August 1941, reporting to the Foreign Officemarker. The staff came mostly from S.O.1, which had been until then the propaganda arm of the Special Operations Executive. The organisation was governed by a committee initially comprising Anthony Eden (Foreign Secretary), Brendan Bracken (Minister of Information) and Hugh Dalton (Minister of Economic Warfare), together with officials Rex Leeper, Dallas Brooks and Robert Bruce Lockhart as chairman (and later Director General). Roundell Palmer (the future 3rd Earl of Selbourne) later replaced Dalton when he was moved to become President of the Board of Trade. Ivone Kirkpatrick, an advisor to the BBC and formerly a diplomat in Berlin, also joined the committee, while Leeper left to become British Ambassador to Greece.

PWE included staff from the Ministry of Information, the propaganda elements of the Special Operations Executive, and from the BBC. Its main headquarters was at Woburn Abbey with London offices at the BBC's Bush House. As the Political Warfare Executive was a secret department when dealing with the outside world PWE used the covername Political Intelligence Department (PID).

The main forms of propaganda were in the form of radio broadcasts and printed postcards, leaflets and documents. PWE created a number of clandestine radio stations including Gustav Siegfried Eins, Soldatensender Calais and Kurzwellesender Atlantik. In order to deliver its subversive messages, PWE also disseminated reliable news and information on events in Germany and the occupied countries, gathering intelligence from other services and agencies, including POW interrogations, and newspapers obtained from occupied countries, and bombing raid photo analysis. This latter source was used to broadcast lists of streets (and even individual houses) that had been destroyed and on occasion to mock up faked "real time" reports of actual raids.

After D-Day most of PWE's white propaganda staff transferred to the Psychological Warfare Division (PWD/SHAEF) of SHAEF

At the end of World War II PWE were tasked with the re-education of German Prisoners of War. As with different types of propaganda, PWE used the same 'white', 'grey', and 'black' classifications for German POWs. Prisoners classed as 'black' were considered dangerous ardent Nazis, with anti-Nazis classed as 'white' and regular non-political soldiers classed as 'grey'.

See also


  • The Secret History of PWE - Political Warfare Executive 1939-1945, (St Ermins Press, 2002), David Garnett. ISBN 1-903608-08-2
  • The Fourth Arm - Psychological Warfare 1938-45, (Davis-Poynter, 1977), Charles Cruickshank. ISBN 0-7067-0212-3
  • The Black Game - British Subversive Operations Against the Germans During the Second World War, (Michael Joseph, 1982), Ellic Howe. ISBN 0-7181-1718-2
  • British Propaganda to France, 1940-1944: Machinery, Method and Message, (Edinburgh University Press, 2007), Tim Brooks. ISBN 978-0-7486-2519-2

External links

  • OSS - The Psychology of War: Over 2000 images of OSS documents show an unknown side of World War II, revealing many programs not written about in any history books.
  • PsyWar.Org - Black Propaganda and propaganda leaflets database: A website with various articles on black propaganda and psychological warfare. The site has an extensive library of propaganda leaflets from WWI to the present day.
  • The PsyWar Society: The website for the PsyWar Society - an international organisation for psychological warfare historians and collectors of aerial propaganda leaflets.

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