In the concluding months of World War Two, on 5 February 1945, one of the more bizarre and audacious Allied propagandistic operations began functioning. A German train carrying cargo, including a consignment of mail bags destined for the Austrian town of Linz, was derailed following an aerial strafing attack by Allied fighter planes. Following the bombardment, a sortie of Allied bombers dropped an unusual payload; eight mail bags, each containing 800 letters, sealed, stamped and ready for delivery, unbeknownst to the German authorities and the Deutsche Reichspost (German postal service) that subsequently delivered them. Operation Cornflakes and das Futsches Frühstück [ruined [sic] breakfast] had begun.
In previous attempts, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) had devised methods of airdropping leaflets and anti-Nazi propaganda directly over centers of civilian habitation. The inherent problem with this sort of strategy, however, was the number of variables associated with such an operation. Huge quantities of materials were required, heavy winds would affect drops and German counter measures would often result in the Allies failing to distribute their material to German citizens effectively.
These problems could be solved, therefore, through the implementation of a scheme similar to that of February 5. It would ensure that efforts to undermine German morale were targeted more cost effectively and would help to disrupt both German morale and infrastructure alike. Literately tricking the Deutsche Reichspost to deliver propaganda leaflets directly to thousands of households en masse, without initial detection as they sat down to enjoy their breakfasts – Operation Cornflakes achieved just that.
In order to implement such a mammoth undertaking, members of OSS had to gather a large amount of intelligence concerning the German postal system and the intricacies of infrastructure involved. German prisoners of war with a background in the Deutsche Reichpost were earmarked for their knowledge concerning postage marks, delivery bags and processes. OSS agents acquired samples of stamps, stamp marks, delivery sacks and envelopes as well as a mail list of German households in each given principality. These details were replicated exactly, albeit with some minor alterations. The embossed profile of Adolf Hitler was modified on many stamps to depict his exposed skeletal face. The country tag beneath was modified to read “Futsches Reich” instead of “Deutsches Reich” [Ruined empire and German empire respectively]. Once all the details had been arranged, special bomb casings were designed to accommodate the ersatz German mail with special detonators to control the height at which mail could be dropped. These munitions were provided for the 15th Army Air Force, filled with propaganda leaflets and letters and then dispersed over Germany and territories still under German occupation.
Das Neue Deutschland, OSS anti-Nazi newspaper Verein Einsamer Kriegerfrauen (VEK) ‘Lonely Hearts’ letter
The contents of these letters varied in each mail drop. An OSS-published newsletter entitled, Das Neue Deutschland, was an apparent outlet for the underground opposition movement in Germany itself. There were other letters apparently commissioned by high-ranking German officials, with Erich Koch commenting on Hitler’s poor state of health and various generals voicing defeatist sentiments. Letters from the fictitious Verein Einsamer Kriegerfrauen (VEK) purported to demonstrate that back home, soldier’s wives, girlfriends and sisters were engaged in casual sex and adultery:
Dear frontline soldier!
When will you have leave again?
When will you be able to forget your arduous soldier's duties for a while, for a few days of joy, happiness and love? We at home know of your heroic struggle. We understand that even the bravest gets tired sometime and need a soft pillow, tenderness and healthy enjoyment.
We are waiting for you:
For you who must spend your leave in a foreign town; for you whom the war has deprived of a home; for you who is alone in the world without a wife, fiancée or a flirt.
We are waiting for you:
Cut our symbol from this letter. In every coffee shop, in every bar near a railway station, place it on your glass so that it can be clearly seen. A member of our VEK will soon contact you. The dreams you had at the front, and the longings of your lonely nights, will be fulfilled... We want you, not your money. Therefore, you should always show our membership card (to anyone who may approach you). There are members everywhere, because we women understand our duties to the homeland and to its defenders.
We are, of course, are selfish too - we have been separated from our men for many years. With all those foreigners around us, we would like once more to press a real German youth to our bosom. No inhibitions now: Your wife, sister, or lover is one of us as well.
We think of you and Germany's future. Which rests - rusts.
Association of Lonely War Women.
Naturally, this sort of material was designed to evoke depressing, even defeatist, sentiments amongst the German population. Coupled with the fact that this material came from supposedly respected and apparently genuine outlets such as the Wiener Giro-und Kassenverein, a central securities deposit, Operation Cornflakes proved to be a formidable propagandistic apparatus.
Ultimately, however, despite the efforts made and the measures undertaken to devise and execute Operation Cornflakes, the OSS propaganda mission stalled before it could make as big an impression as was desired. After recovering several mailbags from a derailed train, the Deutsche Reichspost stumbled upon numerous mistakes found on the letters themselves. German postal workers noticed the misspelling of “Cassenverein” as opposed to Kassenverein. Noticing these blunders, the German authorities soon discovered the cache of propaganda hidden in their midst. This scant attention to detail signaled the end of Operation Cornflakes, the efforts of OSS being undermined by a simple spelling error.
All in all, the sum amount of mail dropped over the Third Reich equated to 20 loads, totaling 320 mailbags containing over 96,000 individual drafts of propaganda material. The effect of this operation, in terms of psychological impact, was negligible. Certainly, there were those disheartened German soldiers who more assuaged to reading the material, though many were demoralized at the first instance by the long years of an increasingly spiraling war. In terms of strategic effect, Operation Cornflakes fulfilled its mission of disrupting German infrastructure, clogging the mail service with ersatz post and buckling rail transportation and vehicles. Although not enough to disrupt the German war and civilian effort on its own, Operation Cornflakes certainly had a success in unsettling the home front, spoiling thousands of breakfasts and ruining the friendly occasion of a visit from the postman.