Radio London and Resistance in Occupied Europe: British Political Warfare 1939-1943

Radio London and Resistance in Occupied Europe: British Political Warfare 1939-1943

Radio London and Resistance in Occupied Europe: British Political Warfare 1939-1943

Radio London and Resistance in Occupied Europe: British Political Warfare 1939-1943


This book examines British attempts to wage political warfare in the countries occupied by Germany in the Second World War. It describes the slow construction of political warfare machinery in London in terms of two twin difficulties: Whitehall politics and fundamental doubts about what asuccessful war should have as its purpose. It then examines how political warfare operated as a semi-detached adjunct of diplomacy, and how it engaged with the development of armed or "active" resistance in France, Denmark, Poland, and Yugoslavia. This is a study of British political imagination in a period when Britain still acted as a great power in control of her own decisions. The experience of near-defeat, however, left decision-makers with dilemmas about rhetoric and ideology as much as Author PackTheir refusal to resolve thesedilemmas until pushed by events meant political warfare lacked the consistency and definition that might have given it greater force.


This is a study of how the British understood resistance in occupied Europe during the Second World War. It shows how resistance was analysed in the middle reaches of the wartime state; it traces what 'London'—to use the Resistance abbreviation—imagined the opportunities to be; and it records how the BBC was used to speak to resistant Europe and unlock its potential. It is an account of interpretations, covert action, and propaganda known, collectively, as political warfare. The story is taken up to summer 1943, the period before the prospect of victory displaced the fear of defeat.

In 1939–40 Germany overran or intimidated most of Europe. The war Britain had accepted in haste in 1939 was lost. After Dunkirk Churchill had no plan but to save his country. The planners cast about for new strokes of warfare and political dexterity. Every unorthodox answer to Nazi military strength was suddenly more interesting. The claim that overwhelming Axis strength could be opposed had to be made vivid as ideas: hence 'America', strategic bombing, and resistance. If resistance was the least of these three hopes, it was not the least likely. Britain hoped to retie the threads of opposition to fascism that had snapped in Prague and Madrid, to recruit undefeated peoples in place of defeated states. 'Occupied Europe' was seized upon as a liability for Nazi Germany and as a strategic battlefield on which the war could be made to recommence. Resistance was a story, a meaning, which Radio London could transmit to others because the British told it to themselves.

The 'political warriors' knew their interventions were dangerous; the BBC walked a tightrope between irrelevance and adventurism. Yet there was too much at stake, during the war or afterwards, for inactivity to seem masterly. The great hope was to raise secret armies, but the work was worth doing for less. Resistance offered the enemy a portent of defeat: it was always, to use the American expression, 'psychological warfare'. Resistance was also politics. Force requires political translation: the importance of words, though suspended at one moment, can recommence the next. The Political Warfare Executive considered whether the Germans might as easily give up as be beaten, and they knew that politics never stops. Resistance might be a small battlefield advantage but a crucial political asset. The power of the resistance legend would be amply revealed in the post-war history of France, Italy, Yugoslavia, and even Poland.

There had already been low-level discussion about 'subversion' as resistance was then called. The foreign policy community was expanding. The senior departments—the Foreign Office, the armed service ministries, and SIS—all . . .

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