Background: Signal was a twice-monthly propaganda publication by the Nazis that appeared in numerous languages. This interesting article appeared in August 1944 and reports conversations with English and American POWs in France. The standard German argument was that the superior quality and will of German soldiers, however outnumbered they might be, could overcome the greater numbers and equipment of the Allied forces. This article reinforces the point, suggesting that almost all Allied soldiers were ignorant cannon fodder with no idea what they were fighting for.
The article has photographs of seven POWs, with a quotation from each. I include one page with four of the photographs.
The source: “Bei den Kreuzfahrern aus dem Westen,” Signal, #15, Early August 1944.
With the Crusaders in the West
A central theme of Anglo-American propaganda: “The invasion is a crusade for the liberation of Europe.”
German soldiers are not facing English and American armies for the first time in this war. Without doubt, however, the English and American elites are being used in France. The army is following a plan for which it has long been trained in England. And not only militarily, but also politically and morally, as numerous English and American magazine articles report. During the long months of winter before the beginning of the invasion, the English and American military leadership made clear to their soldiers that at the moment of their landing in France they would become part of a kind of crusade. We were eager to learn what these Americans and English thought as they fought their way through a hail of heavy German artillery on the mainland, suffering bloody losses.
The first impression was surprising. As we went through the transit camp established in an old Norman palace, we were not surrounded as we expected by English and American soldiers who were among the leading examples of their race. Even the elite regiments used in the invasion were comprised of a peculiar mixture from all the ruling countries. It would not have been difficult for us to find a collection of only Poles, Yugoslavs, Indians, and other subject peoples of the English and Americans. That, however, was not our goal. We attempted to find ten typical types from the captured Anglo-American invasion army for our Signal readers, men who both in their outward appearance as well as in what they had to say would give a truly objective cross-section of the mentality of this invading army. We took into account that a captured soldier is in a difficult psychological situation, even when involved in an open and unforced conversation.
We wanted to know what these English and American soldiers thought and what meaning they see in this war. Depending on their level of education, we were particularly interested in what each of them though about the Bolshevist allies of the English and Americans. We encountered stubborn silence only in a few cases. Mostly, we received extensive answers during these conversations.
The result was more interesting than we could have expected. During our conversations in the palace garden we heard many contradictory opinions. By the second day of our visit to the transit camp, we realized that there was no common opinion among these English and Americans. Each one had his own goal for the war, which contradicted those of the others. The ten officers and soldiers that we selected for this Signal article are typical of the larger group of prisoners that we talked with. There were professional officers, including an English lord, civil servants, attorneys, students who were reserve officers, a Jew from Philadelphia, and common workers from England and New York.
We encountered the opinion that England and America had to fight National Socialism because otherwise their rich homelands could not live in peace and in quiet. Some thought that National Socialism probably was no better nor worse that what they had at home. Others said they were fighting only because they had to, and that they wanted to go home as soon as possible. Only one wanted to remain in Europe to “democratize” it. A large number did not even know where Germany was. As many openly favored Bolshevism and said that the war would soon lead to a revolution in England that would sweep away the ruling class. Others even believed that the landing in France was the first stage of a third world war between the Anglo-Americans and the Bolshevists. That was only the view of a few officers from the English upper class. We encountered a confusion of views, opinions, hopes, and faiths. When at the end of our conversations these American and English soldiers and officers were shipped to POW camps in Germany, we concluded that this complete intellectual confusion seemed typical for the Anglo-American invading army. We also concluded that the US-American officers, and even more so the English officers, had no idea of what their soldiers actually thought. The gap between the upper class represented by the higher officers and the common soldiers, the English people, must be far greater and deeper than we had previously thought.
What they are fighting for: A dock worker, a lord, an attorney...
Take, for example, the carpenter and dock worker Fred Coutoure, born in London in 1921. He is typical of the hundreds we spoke with, and we can confidently assume, of tens of thousands of others. Three is certainly not a philosophic mind underneath his messy head of hair. The not-yet 23-year-old says that says that he learned everything from his earliest days on the docks in London and Bristol, not influenced by any party doctrine.
As we asked him about the Bolshevists, he said word-for-word: “Together with the bolschevichs I will fight England and his government any time [sic].”
We were startled by this comment, which he made in the first minutes of our conversation. No, he assured us, he was not a member of the Communist Party. He really was interested only in sports. However, he had known for a long time that the English government was waging war against National Socialism only because it hated any form of socialism. He did not hate the Germans, but thought that National Socialism made a mistake in limiting socialism to the German people. Like many similar working class prisoners, Fred Coutoure speaks only of conditions in England. From his point of view, the meaning of the war is only that it will lead to revolutionary changes in England. He has entirely fantastic views of Bolshevist Russia, like of a distant fairy land. And he hates the Americans as much as his own government. He can give no reason for that. He tells long stories about fights, mostly involving a girl. We finally conclude this discussion, since we have heard the same old song often enough. In the end, however, Fred Coutoure knows in astonishing detail what he wants.
The son of the Deputy Speaker of the House of Lords
It is astonishing that tank lieutenant Lord William Arthur Cranley, captured at Villers-Bocage two days after his 31st birthday, apparently has no idea of the views of thousands of British soldiers like Fred Coutoure. We first thought he was playing games with us. Gradually we realized that this young viscount and professional soldier seemed to know nothing more about what moved his own countrymen than what he read in the newspapers. As soon as he realized that he was speaking with people who understood political matters, he said in his reserved tone that England had to wage war “to re-establish the balance of power that Germany had willfully destroyed.” As we reproached him with the fact that it was a crime before history that English had brought the Bolshevist Moloch down on Europe that now threatened all the peoples of the Continent, he replied that it was only foolish propaganda to speak of the English alliance with Moscow in this way. Bolshevism was no danger to England. It could only take root among poor peoples: “England is much too rich and even the poorest worker lives too well for Bolshevism to find fertile soil.”
Since we are not missionaries for English public enlightenment, we saw no reason to make Lord Cranley aware of the views of soldier Fred Coutoure. After talking with enough English soldiers who openly expressed their hatred of their government, we listened to Lord Cranley tell us that there were no communists in the English army, and that Stalin himself was not a communist. He would strictly adhere to the Teheran agreement, and was therefore an appropriate English ally.
The young lieutenant colonel is as charming as most of his class work hard to be. We were, however, struck by the narrowness and stubbornness of his completely stereotypic views. From a reference work we found, we have since discovered that the father of Lord Cranley is none other than the deputy speaker of the British Upper House, the Earl of Onslaw, whose oldest son and heir stood before us. The Earl of Onslaw has a palace on St. George Square in London, and ancient palace and estate near Guildeford, and an enchanting summer house on the Island of Scilly. In 1918-1919 he was a member of the British peace delegation in Paris, and later Undersecretary of State in the War Ministry and president of countless British and international commissions. We had here no outsider, but a particularly typical representative of the British upper class.
For the first time in five years, we were able to converse again with a man of this sort. We remember the tiresome discussions we had at English country houses with Lord Cranley’s peers during a visit to England in the spring of 1939. We concluded that five years of war have not taught this sort anything. With unparalleled egotism, European peoples are seen as poor wretches that might fall victim to Bolshevism. With absolute stubbornness, the lord maintains that for English it is only a question of expediency, since there is no problem with communism in his own country. Of course, Fred Coutoure will probably not speak to the lord and lieutenant colonel with the frankness that we so appreciated.
There was an amusing incident at the end of our conversation with the son of the Earl of Onslaw. We asked him what he thought of his American allies. We noted an uncertain expression, but then came the prompt answer that they were splendid lads and there would forever be warm relations between the allies across the broad ocean. Unfortunately, it was the task of the interrogating officer to be indiscreet, since we had in our hands a letter from Lady Pamela Cranley from King’s Lynn in Norfolk to her husband. On 29 May 1944, she wrote that she had met three American pilots at a gathering who had bad manners and a rough appearance. She added: “What barbarians they are!” That is the only point on which our friend Fred Coutoure and the Honorable Lady Pamela Cranley, the daughter of the 19th Viscount Dillon, seem to agree on.
A member of the British middle class
Besides the lord and the dock worker, we were interested in the views of the English middle class, expressed most clearly by the Scottish attorney Captain James Manson Dunlop, born in 1913.
The conversation with him was one of the longest we had, since we first had to work through piles of preconceived opinions with which the captain was stuffed full. We talked for a long time, for example, about the origins of the war. He first tried to present England as the disinterested friend of the Poles, until we could make it clear to him that Churchill and Eden were giving over their Polish allies to the Bolshevists. There was no point in repeating scratchy gramophone records. Finally, Captain Dunlop’s own views came to expression. The Lord God, he thought, had arranged for rich and poor peoples, and Germany has the misfortune to belong to the poor ones. It was, therefore, an offense against God’s natural order for Germany to oppose the rich peoples.
One can grant that that is a simple philosophy. It is probably typical of those in the British middle class who during peace time had no other interests than their business and the court and society columns of the British press.
It was, therefore, surprising when Captain Dunlop suddenly turned to the Jewish question, assuring us that the Jewish problem in England during the war had become more acute than anyone outside the island could realize. We encountered this opinion often enough afterwards from prisoners who, like Captain Dunlop, were filled with prejudices, even hatred against Germany by the hateful songs of the British press. That may say something.
Mr. Finkelstein and an Indian
The American soldier M. M. Finkelstein, a bookkeeper for a small Jewish firm in Philadelphia who was born in 1924, is not worried about anti-Semitic sentiments in his country.
For this Finkelstein, war is merely a matter of calculation: “He who has more must win more.” He adds in Yiddish: “That is why God blessed our country.” When the war is over, he thinks, he will be able to travel throughout the world, and he may become a great businessman. In broken German he says: “I speak English, speak German, speak Yiddish, speak French, although I do not like it.”
In general, we find that ordinary American soldiers think that they were forced into this war against their will. The case of a Navaho Indian with the good American name Herbert Dale was a little extreme. The good lad told us that Normandy was part of Germany and that Hitler was a German general who was fighting the English general Rommel. Granted, that was an exception. On average, however, hardly one of these American soldiers had any idea why he had been sent here to die on the French coast. The most confusing things were said, and it became clear to us why so many American magazines are constantly demanding that the troops need more political training. The ordinary Soviet soldier we came to know in the East sometimes had more to say that these descendants of countless peoples and races that form the American melting pot. I doubt than any impartial European would not be astonished at the sort of people these much-praised Americans are. The nasty word “cannon fodder” is nowhere else so appropriate than when applied to the average American that we met in this prisoner of war camp. There is no shining goal for the average American soldier in this battle on European soil. He has no idea why he was sent here. He does know that he was not sent across the ocean to defend his fatherland. He does not think it is threatened.
There are, of course, exceptions. Among the officers, we find those who like the English have strong opinions as the result of propaganda. Lieutenant Colonel Nathaniel Hoskot, born in 1912, is an example. An American paratrooper, he was captured near Carentan. He talks out of the left side of his mouth in slang that is hard for us to understand. In striking contrast to the English lord, he puts on a self-confidence that only intensifies the arrogance of what he tells us.
Plainly and dryly he tells us that originally politically interested Americans were of the opinion that the war would end with America dominating the world. One adjusted to the fact that dominance would have to be split 50-50 with England. And astonishingly at the end, one had to realize that the Russians, despite their grave defeats, were back in the picture. The world must now be divided into three parts. The other peoples will have no role. Any thought of a league of nations is absolute nonsense. Which side the smaller peoples take seems to him entirely irrelevant. All will have to bend their will to the orders and desires of the three great powers, who defended them in this war and will greatly increase their power. That is how people in America see the coming peace.
He shrugged his shoulders when, for example, we asked about Poland. He is entirely indifferent to the fate of the eastern European peoples. He spoke with some resignation about the English, but did not think that there would be fundamental difficulties in relations between the Anglo-Americans and the Soviets. That seemed hardly possible to him, since there really were no relations between the two power groups. In his view, Moscow would get Europe, the North Americans would get South America and Africa.
Most American officers were not as overt and matter-of-fact about American imperialism as Lieutenant Colonel Hoskot. However, their views of Europe came down to this idea. Nothing about the “liberation” of the French, Italians, etc. They were simply seen as an object of future American power politics.
That is the mentality that led to Europe’s cultural monuments being destroyed by American bombs, that explains how the dull-witted Americans we met in the camp are led.
There was one exception: the views of Captain Lindley Wood, a reserve officer born in 1917 and a student of geopolitics. His views were perhaps the most interesting of all those that we encountered, since here was a man not blinded by prejudice and hate-filled pamphlets. In contrast to the mass of his countrymen, he had clear ideas about the deeper aspects behind this war. On the basis of extensive travels in the USA, he had concluded that only a very small circle in America was interested in the deeper causes of the war. He thought that Germany had some responsibility for the war. The Americans, however, had just as great a share. He did not disagree that Roosevelt rode on the war’s coattails. According to Captain Wood’s thinking, however, the main guilt lay with England, which had always earned money from political conflicts in Europe. Its senseless attitude toward colonies denied Germany any opening. As a result, Germany was the first country to undergo a great transformational process. This would continue, and economically-ruined England would certainly be next. In America, too, irresistible social questions would force decisive changes. The whole world is in a powerful process of transformation. This must lead to the continents respecting each other’s various ways of life. There is no sense in holding on to the familiar, as he saw during his long stay in England as the typical view, at least among British officers. He has come to respect German soldiers as outstanding fighters, and could only hope that the war did not end with crazy deeds of hatred, which would have consequences even worse than those of 1919.
Captain Wood’s clear views are apparently shared by only a very small minority of Americans at the moment. Still, it seemed significant that at least one of the prisoners has his own opinions and did not only speak in memorized phrases. At the end of our conversation we asked if Captain Wood realized that his views were in hopeless contradiction with prevailing opinion in the USA. He agreed that that was probably correct. We replied that if there was such a determined minority in every country, perhaps the outcome of the war would be different that imagined in the brains of ordinary politicians like Roosevelt or an English lord. Captain Wood agreed.
As we left the camp, the prisoners were being transported. We looked at the column marching out of the gate, lost in thought. The question of what these English and Americans were fighting for remained open. They themselves did not know.
Go to the Signal page.
Go to the 1933-1945 page.
Go to the German Propaganda Home Page.