During the Second World War, the German Propagandakompanie (Propaganda Troops) was a branch of the Wehrmacht and the Waffen-SS. Its function was to produce and disseminate propaganda material, both for the fighting troops and the civilian population. These companies were the only news-reporting units in areas of military operation, as civilian news correspondents were not permitted to enter combat zones. They functioned both as soldiers and as reporters, writing from the front for the radio and newspapers. In the Luftwaffe, the PK reporters often flew together with the crew on missions and air raids.
Many young men started a journalistic career in the Propagandakompanie and later in life, after the war, became publishing authors and newspaper editors. During the war, the reporters’ names were frequently published with their articles, which was a fairly new development in German journalism. Previously, credits had usually been anonymous.
War reporter with microphone. Image from Bundesarchiv Bild 183-L15659
In December 1940, throughout the fierce Blitz over London, young reporters from the PK regularly flew out on raids over the Channel from Northern France, where they were based, and from where they typed reports of the missions in which they had participated. The goal was to convey the impression of success and victory over the enemy, and to reassure the German people that the Luftwaffe had conquered the fighting spirit of the English by destroying the foundations of their existence.
On December 10, young war reporter Erwin Kirchhoff led with the headline “London will remember December 9 forever”. Kirchhoff became a chief editor after the war but in 1940 he was a PK reporter flying in a bomber. “The skies are coloured blood red; our pilot expertly manoeuvres the Heinkel”, he wrote upon his return. “London should realize that it makes no sense to fight against this Great German Empire, unbroken in its strength. The German Luftwaffe, filled with unprecedented fighting spirit, attacked London this night!”
The same night, 27-year old Alois Bankhardt from Berlin flew in a plane captained by a highly-experienced pilot with 280 missions. At -38° C, Alois was freezing. Kneeling down at the back of the plane, he wanted to see London burning. “We could see whole rows of warehouses already in flames, blood-red tongues of fire reflected in the Thames”, Alois wrote. “The observer shouted ‘Bomb drop!’ and we saw our bomb falling against the light of the flames. The board mechanic leaned on my shoulder and we watched the impact. We were not bothered by the flak or searchlights”.
After the war, Alois enjoyed success as a photojournalist who became well-known for his artistic style and photos which captured moments in social history, such as the famous “Children Playing Airlift” in Berlin. He died in 1964.
War reporter Kurt Dürpisch was an editor at the German Press Agency after the war. But on December 9, 1940, he was in a Heinkel flying over London, in one of the first waves releasing flares to light up the targets for the subsequent bombers. “The fire will act as a good guide for our comrades in the planes behind us, ready to lead a new heavy attack against the heart of the enemy” wrote Kurt.
From the cockpit of a Heinkel He 111. Image from Der Führer, 9/1/1941
War reporter Hans Wendt was based in Stockholm during this period. Wendt was an author and artist working for the National Socialists and produced several books and illustrations during the war. He wrote prolifically for various newspapers. “Foreign observers announce a new period of war”, Wendt announced at the end of December 1940, following the new attacks on London after the perceived “Christmas break”. Even Reuters, which had tried before Christmas to desperately reassure Londoners, had to admit that this was “the worst blitz attack”. “Almost unceasingly”, they reported, “the enemy flew over the city. Flashlight and incendiary bombs followed highly explosive bombs. Bombshells caused damage to property and killed many people trapped in the ruins of buildings”.
Young Albert Klapproth of the Nordhäuser Zeitung joined an air raid mission to Liverpool on the night of December 29. Liverpool was the “pantry” of England, Albert explained, as it was the stockpiling area for foodstuffs, and currently the most important port in the country. “The Tommies don’t shoot badly”, Albert wrote, “but the plane still reaches its target. The red of the flames is reflected in the water and there is a massive fire in the south of the city. We fly into the fierce barrage fire and drop the bombs – glowing flames light up the 10km long port front along the river. Back home, we compare notes with the other crews. All attacks have been successful and one thing is clear: today’s attack must be seen as the heaviest disturbance on the foundation of the war economy”.
Georg Brütting,who died in 1997, was a pilot, author, headmaster and from 1970 to 1972 the Mayor of Coburg. As a 27-year old PK war reporter in 1940, he flew with the Luftwaffe and wrote for the National Socialist propaganda, including works of fiction. After the Second World War, he published several non-fiction books on aviation.
“How long will the heart of the island continue to beat?” Brütting asked on December 29, 1940. “Since September 7, the German squadrons have brought millions of kilograms of bombs over the Channel in retaliation for the British nightly attacks on the Reich. How long will the heart of the Empire be able to take these blows?”.
The bombs are described as being like a “thundershower”, reported the German newspapers on the attacks at the end of December 1940. The bombers flew in from different directions like an endless chain of wild ducks and the pattering of bombs made large steel buildings shake in their foundations. A tram carriage was lifted out of the rails and hurled 50 meters away. Even cable and radio connection with London was down for over 2 hours. The New York Herald Tribune reported that from Waterloo Bridge, the eastern horizon looked like a stage set from Wagner, from which St. Paul’s Cathedral rose powerfully from the low-hanging clouds.