Conversations with a Master Forger

By SGM Herb Friedman (Ret.)

This article was originally published in Scott's Monthly Stamp Journal, January 1980. It was written for philatelists who had an interest in espionage forgeries and propaganda parodies of postage stamps. I have done some minor updates to the story to correct some comments where further information has surfaced, but it is still over 35 years old. It is embarrassing to see how excited I was about talking to government forgers at the time, but the reader should understand that in those days all of this forging and parodying work was very secret. Readers should understand that much of the information is dated and the text should be considered a starting point for further research, not a conclusive reference work. I have updated some of the article to bring it up to date.

Author Dmitriy Litvak used portions of this story in his book, UNCLES KRUGER’S MONEY.

I have studied the propaganda stamps, currency, and leaflets of World War II for over fifty-five years and published well over two hundred articles on the subject in newspapers, magazines and on the Internet. For forty years I searched for the British master forger who directed Britain's philatelic forgery operations during World War II. I was always fascinated by the forged and parodied stamps produced to attack the enemy's economy or ridicule his leaders.

The realization that philatelic research can be a very difficult undertaking will come as no great shock to the advanced collector. Facts are often hidden in out-of-print books, classified documents, dated magazines, worn letters, or tattered newspapers. When we attempt to study wartime forgeries and propaganda parodies, the problem becomes even more acute. The fact of the matter is that few governments are willing to admit that they ever counterfeited or parodied the stamps of another sovereign nation. Even when faced with incontestable proof, these governments refuse to admit that they could have been guilty of so heinous a crime as forgery.

Sefton Delmer
(Courtesy the Delmer estate)

We do have a number of literary admissions. In 1962, the Viking Press published a book entitled Black Boomerang. To my knowledge, this was the first book written by a former government official to admit that stamps had been forged and parodied during World War II. The author, Sefton Delmer, was a highly placed operative in the British "Special Operations Executive" (SOE). In the book he mentioned Armin Hull, a printer who had made a study of German typography and printing techniques. Hull had "an unrivalled knowledge of where to look in Britain for the printing types we needed in our operations." Delmer admitted that he had asked Hull to produce a German postage stamp with the face of Adolf Hitler replaced by that of Schutzstaffel (SS) Leader Heinrich Himmler.

The British Himmler Parody - German Hitler original left, H.388 middle and H.279 right.

Delmer made numerous errors in his statement about the Himmler stamp. He said, "We had a set of German postage stamps which depicted a portrait of Himmler instead of Hitler." In fact, there was no "set" of stamps. There was just the 6-pfennig denomination. Delmer actually told me, "I could swear that there was also a stamp in green." There was not. Delmer also said in Black Boomerang, "Himmler's head was engraved in exactly the same way as Hitler's head on the usual German stamps." This comment is incorrect. Hitler is facing left on the genuine stamp while Himmler looks out at the viewer on the parody. I think this kind of error occurs (and Butler made the same mistake - see Witzleben below) because these individuals are agents and not philatelists. They simply don't have an eye for the small details that most stamp collectors have.

The original British parody of the Himmler stamp was poorly drawn. A 16 December 1942 memorandum entitled "Reference H.279 Himmler stamp" says, "The forgery makes Himmler look as if he has erysipelas [a skin disease] but I expect these blemishes will be removed from the stamps in their final form." Howe reported on 7 January 1943, "H.279 Himmler postage stamp. This was submitted to SOE for quantity order on 19 December. They seem to be taking rather long to make up their minds." Another memorandum dated 5 April 1943 is entitled, "Material for the Himmler stamp posting job for Stockholm." It details the consignment of 400 Himmler stamps, postmarks, censorship strips, and rubber stamps from the United Kingdom to Sweden for propaganda purposes. The Himmler stamp was later corrected. The blemishes were removed from Himmler's face and the new project was coded H.388. I later wrote about the Himmler parody in depth in The American Philatelist, February 1970, "A Philatelic View of Heinrich Himmler."

A year later, in 1963, W.W. Norton and Co. published Amateur Agent by Ewan Butler. In this book, Butler, another SOE operative, mentions that London had provided him with a stamp showing Field Marshall Erich von Witzleben in place of a Nazi storm trooper.

Butler said, "After the failure of the plot against Hitler's life, on July 20, 1944, and the subsequent execution, by slow hanging, of the principal conspirators, London provide us with another set of forged stamps. These bore the head of Field-Marshal von Witzleben, who headed the military element in the plot, recorded the date of his execution, and a slogan originally devised by the Nazis to honor those who fell in the Munich Putsch of November 1923, 'And despite all, you were victorious'." Notice that Butler errs in stating that he was provided with a "set" of forged stamps. The Witzleben parody was a single stamp printed in small sheets of twenty. The Psychological Warfare executive (PWE) delivered 5000 sheets of the Witzleben stamp to the SOE on 7 December 1944. The project was coded H.1227. I wrote about the Witzleben parody in more depth in an article entitled "More Propaganda Parodies," The Society of Philatelic Americans Journal, June 1976.

Butler also mentions smuggling British agents into Germany and says, "Among the small items of equipment which each man took with him was a sheet of postage stamps of 20-pfennig denomination. These were sewn into the collar of a shirt or the lining of a jacket, and their discovery by the Gestapo would have had deadly consequences for their bearer. For these stamps, although at first glance identical with those, which could be bought at any German post-office, differed from any others in Germany in one important respect. They bore an effigy of Himmler instead of Hitler's portrait." Notice that Butler thinks the Himmler parody was a 20-pfennig stamp. He errs. It was a 6-pfennig stamp. Butler concludes, "These beautiful forgeries had been sent from London to all neutral posts which operated lines into Germany."

I had tried to gain further knowledge over the years by writing to the authors mentioned above, as well as others that I had reason to believe were involved with the production of forged stamps. The British Government's "Official Secrets Act" was my greatest obstacle, effectively stopping any free flow of information on the subject of forgeries or parodies.

British Master Forger Ellic Howe
aka "Armin Hull"

I also spent a considerable amount of time trying to track down the elusive Armin Hull. His "cover" and code-name seemed impossible to break. All inquiries were returned with the same general reply; Hull was dead and his documents destroyed. Through some good luck and a lot of devious detective work I was able to determine that Hull was alive and living under his true name, which was kept secret at the time. I was unable to make contact with him. All correspondence to him was returned with an explanation that he was deceased and his papers were either being catalogued or studied and edited prior to publication. It seemed to be the end of the road for this area of research.

You can imagine my surprise when I answered the telephone one day and a mysterious voice said, "I am the man who was in charge of Britain's forgery operation during World War Two." It was Armin Hull, whose real name I protected at the time I originally wrote this article in 1980, but who I can now identify as Ellic Howe. I told Sefton Delmer on one earlier occasion that I had identified Armin Hull as Ellic Howe, and he became rather angry. In various correspondence with former British agents, one mistakenly wrote “Howe” in place of “Hull,” and it was quick work to figure out who the forger was from that slip up.

The Black Game

Ellic Howe was in this country on a brief research visit. He was about to write a book about his wartime activities, which was later published in 1982 by Michael Joseph, London, as The Black Game. He told me that just two days after the end of the war, he had been ordered to destroy all of the files in his office. An incredible amount of irreplaceable material on the subject of wartime philatelic operations had gone up in smoke. Now, certain officials in Her Majesty's Government were unwilling to let him study his own archived official reports and memoranda, which were still classified. As a result, he was having a difficult time documenting all of the work he had done.

It is possible that Howe lied to me about the destruction of his propaganda material. Many years after his visit, British researcher and propaganda expert Lee Richards told me:

Howe wasn’t being entirely honest since there is evidence that he himself arranged for four sets of black leaflets to be preserved by the PWE archivist at the end of the war. The sets weren’t entirely complete but contained most of his productions. He himself also secretly kept several more complete albums for himself.

If that is true, the question is why did he visit me with a request for my research on his wartime products? The only reason that I can think of is that as a forger he knew about his stamps and how they were printed, but probably knew nothing about their tactical use. Why would he? He was not an agent; he was a printer. Perhaps he needed those dozen articles I had written that detailed the use of the propaganda during the war for his book. We will never know for sure, but apparently, he had something up his sleeve. He reproduced several of my photographs of stamps and envelopes in his book but credited them all to the Imperial War Museum. That is also very strange. At any rate, that is all old news now but there may be more of my work in his book than I expected.

After searching for the master forger for twenty years, he was here to gather the information from me that I had hoped to obtain from him. I gave him about a dozen articles I wrote on the subject of British forgeries and parodies and nine photographs of his wartime work. Ellic Howe was kind enough to acknowledge my efforts by stating in his book, "I am grateful too, to Mr. Herbert A. Friedman for lending me copies of the American philatelic publications in which he so carefully described and analyzed some of our more exotic productions."

It would be nice to report that I was able to discover many new and exciting facts about wartime forgeries and parodies. In fact, most of our time together was spent cataloguing philatelic productions of Great Britain, Germany, and the United States for his book. I did discover that this scholarly-looking gentleman had been a sergeant major in the British Army during the early war years. Curiously, I also obtained the rank of sergeant major in the United States Army.

Howe said that since he had been a professional printer before the war with both forgery and type recognition as a hobby, he had approached his superiors with suggestions about the proper way to produce anti-German propaganda. "I was in exactly the right place at the right time" he said. At that moment the British government was looking for an expert to train counterfeiters to produce documents for agents going behind enemy lines.

SS Major Bernhard Kruger

We talked of the German forger, SS Major Bernhard Kruger who was Hull's opposite. Kruger had been ordered to produce British postage stamps with various anti-Semitic and anti-Bolshevik symbols in an attempt to imply that Britain was under the influence of Judaism and the Soviet Union. Kruger's forgers were a mixture of imprisoned Czechoslovakians, Poles, Norwegians, French, Dutch, Danes, and German Jews.

I asked Hull about his forgers. Did he have any prisoners released from jail for patriotic reasons, any criminals or counterfeiters referred from Scotland Yard? "Heavens no" he answered. "My staff was entirely respectable. We wouldn't have known how to act around that sort."

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

How about housing? Kruger's forgers were based in Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp located near Oranienburg bei Berlin. His men were segregated in two cellblocks isolated from the other prisoners. Howe told me that his men lived in normal surroundings and were given total freedom. His printing was done at "Fanfare Press" on Saint Martin's Lane in London. I asked Hull about those special things that a stamp producing company might be able to do with greater efficiency. What about watermarks, perforations, etc.? "We used Waterlow and Sons when special problems occurred in the production of the forged stamps." What about the Thomas de la Rue Company? Author Murray Teigh Bloom says in his book on currency counterfeiting, The Man Who Stole Portugal, that both Waterlow and de la Rue forged stamps for the British government in the First World War. "To my knowledge," Howe said, "only Waterlow worked for us in the last war." However, Marion Mcfadyean, who was in Howe's Unit in 1944, said that they were used. When historian Lee Richards contacted de la Rue, they claimed that all of their WWII stamp records were conveniently destroyed. Which goes to show how the passage of time can affect the memory and the spectre of the British Official Secrets Act blur the facts.

How about quality control? "Our work was excellent, very few problems." Sefton Delmer agrees in Black Boomerang. Talking about the Himmler stamps he states: "But no one noticed the stamps. The trouble was that Hull's counterfeit was far too good, the Himmler stamp much too similar to the Hitler stamp, and the public - including the philatelists - far too unobservant."

German "This is a Jewsh War" stamp error

Unfortunately, Kruger's German quality control had serious breakdowns. On his parody of the Silver Jubilee stamp, Kruger had replaced the head of King George VI with that of Josef Stalin and changed the inscription to "This is a Jewish War." However, the vowel "I" was left out of "JEWISH." I once questioned Kruger about this, trying to find out if some patriotic Jewish anti-Nazi forger had purposely sabotaged the operation to embarrass the Germans.

Oh no, it was just a terrible error. The mistake was spotted after the stamps had been forwarded to the distributors. We attempted to stop their distribution but it was too late. We halted production. The error was not considered particularly important since the stamps were only meant for propaganda. The engravers were responsible. The designers had properly translated the words but the engravers omitted the 'I'.

Kruger had problems with dissemination. Many of his agents began to sell the stamps to dealers in neutral countries. Since it was obvious to their superiors in Berlin that the dealers could identify these operatives at a later time, the orders came down to cease immediately. Kruger told me that when his superiors heard of the agents selling the stamps to dealers abroad they ordered the men to return and face charges of neglect of duty. Since these same agents were in the process of spreading millions of pounds in forged British banknotes throughout Europe to destroy the British economy, there really was not much that could be done to punish them. Actually, Kruger had never wanted to produce the stamps, considering the entire operation a waste of time and valuable resources. After all, he was producing excellent forgeries of British 5, 10, 20 and 50 pound banknotes at the time. He would soon be ordered to counterfeit American banknotes. The stamp project was time-consuming and took up valuable man-hours and materials and was of little value.

Forged stamp with Kruger's annotation
"By order of Himmler - B. Kruger."

During one of my conversations with Kruger I gave him a set of six margin copies of the British definitives that his crew had parodied in Sachsenhausen as a gift. I thought he might enjoy having some of his old products as souvenirs. By surprise, he wrote a brief different saying on each of the six margins and returned them all to me. The stamp above says in German, "By order of Himmler - B. Kruger."

A German Counterfeit of the British 5 Pound Note

I later talked to Kruger about his counterfeiting of the British and American banknotes. This seemed a sensitive subject to him. He did not like his workers being called criminals and hated the fact that one author stated that they got rewards and medals. He said in part:

My duties within the context of psychological and economic warfare were limited to the currencies of the British Pound and the US Dollar. Both currencies take the lead in international payments. Therefore, the numerous other currencies were not interesting enough. You certainly know that the allied secret services also forged currencies but in a lesser degree than Germany. For instance, the German Reichs credit certificates Reichskreditkassenschein)) that circulated as a means of payment in the territories that were occupied by German troops.

The German 50 pfennig Auxiliary Payment Certificates for the German Armed Forces

H.692B

I am a piece of Hitler’s ass-paper.

Nobody accepts me because nobody can buy anything with me.

These quatrains were allegedly written by ex-Berliner Peter Seckelmann, who had left Germany upon Hitler's rise to power. Working under the code-name “Paul Sanders,” he broadcast to Germany on PWE's clandestine radio station, Gustav Siegfried Eins.

Note: There were four banknotes parodied by the Allies, each with a propaganda message on the back. As a result, these cannot be called counterfeits.

By the way, there were two different varieties of the forged 20 RM (Reichsmark) notes. Unfortunately, I cannot infer from your letters on what grounds several forgers have allegedly received rewards during the war. This is incorrect as far as the forgers of my group are concerned. This is a spoof created by journalists who were eager to produce a sensation.

If I don’t err, your knowledge is based on the book “Unternehmen Bernhard” by Dr. Wilhelm Höttl of Oberaussee, Upper Austria who publishes under the pseudonym Walter Hagen.

The press as well as the TV stations reproduced, without verifying the truth, the related passages of the above-mentioned book. The same did the journalists who were interested in the subject. That went well until some forgers of Operation Bernhard who lived in Vienna took legal action against these allegations. The two accused journalists tried to justify themselves by referring to the passages in Dr. Höttl’s book. Therefore, the author Dr. Höttl aka Walter Hagen was heard as a witness before the court of Vienna. This resulted in Höttl’s admission that he had never and at no time had anything to do with the Operation Bernhard. This admission and the statements of the accusing forgers led to the fact that there were never medals, awards, or prizes for the forgers. Furthermore, another result of the judicial proceeding in Vienna was the conclusion that the forgers were not criminals, like Dr. Höttl absurdly and untruthfully had stated in his book. According to Hitler’s order only individuals of Jewish descent were allowed for the work who were not imprisoned due to criminal activities but only (imprisoned) because of their religious confession. There is only one exception, a forger who was not a Jew but a criminal. He was a professional forger of US dollar notes and became known only in 1944 with Operation Bernhard. Your question how the Jewish prisoners got along with the others is therefore obsolete, although there were problems among themselves.

I pulled the Höttl book, Which in English was titled Hitler's Paper Weapon out of my library to see what so angered Kruger. Höttl says in part:

Kruger rang me up in my office in Berlin to ask for my help in an application for military decorations. He had applied to Schellenberg for some, as a reward for good work on the part of his staff and had been refused although it was only a question of the most modest awards. To the best of my recollection, it was 12 good service medals and six good service crosses of the 2nd class…Naturally I was glad to do Kruger this service. Kruger was delighted, but it did not turn out so well for me. Only some of the decorations were for the members of the SS and the civilians employed by Kruger. The good service medals were bestowed on deserving prisoners in the Concentration Camp…Three of them were Jews. The Commandant of Oranienburg almost had a stroke when he was confronted by the proud display of decorations during an inspection…Kaltenberger had a sense of humor, He congratulated me on having been the first to award military decorations to Jews.

I asked Kruger if he has saved any of his products, the stamps, and banknotes of Great Britain, as all the Allied Propagandists had done. He had a few, but not all the exotic overprints of the British definitive series. He said:

As I that you have a wonderful collection of forgeries and parodies. I would like to see it. Your question as to why I don’t have a collection like this is easily explained. I was in French captivity until May 1949. After my release I was ill for a long time due to the conditions during captivity. Afterwards I had no income for quite a while. I therefore had neither the time nor the financial resources to build up a collection of this kind. Later, it was not worth the trouble because of the high costs due to the rising demand. I do own a complete collection of my own falsifications. However, I do not have all overprint varieties in view of the different colors. In this regard the procedure was arbitrary. Especially regarding “Liquidation of Empire”. The fact that you don’t have such overprints as the “the bomb” and “Political Extremes” is due to the later production of these overprints. Today 5000 copies each of the 9 million forgeries that were produced still exist. The rest was burned in my presence in April 1945. It would be too difficult to explain here. Writing down this story is a task I hope to accomplish because the truth demands it. There are other questions that must be answered too.

We then talked about the high price of Nazi regalia, medals, knives, and anything SS. He replied:

Regarding “wartime material” of the Wehrmacht and the SS, the mentioned prices astound me very much. One could have a dozen Wehrmacht and SS daggers. I have none in my possession. I lost my whole property when my flat in Berlin was looted after the arrival of the Red Army. But it is possible that I might get some of these things. Certainly, there are still owners who could be found and addressed. However, this requires time and patience. The Germans do not trade these things among themselves. But they sell to members of the U.S. Army, etc.

I asked him if he had thought about parodying more stamps. He did not:

Concerning your question in regard of the specimens I used for copying the British postage stamps I can tell you that it really was only the eight you know about. The six definitive from the King George definitive issues in the values of ½; 1; 1 ½; 2; 2 ½; and 3 plus the two special issues. Other values were not copied and there was never any consideration of copying them.

I hope my statements are of interest for you. I have yet to decide if I will write a book about my wartime experiences during my retirement.

Unfortunately, to my knowledge, Bernhard Kruger never wrote the book of his wartime experiences.

Allan Dulles - OSS Berne

Howe was rather proud of his forgeries and counterfeits. Of course, he had good reason to be. While digging through some old Office of Strategic Services official radiotelephone transmission dispatches recently, I found one dated 10 June 1944, numbered 155, from Allan Dulles in Berne to Director Donovan in Washington. It says in part:

Some months ago I reported briefly about the mysterious Himmler stamp, which has turned up here in Switzerland. Since then, I have had someone investigate some stamp dealers in regard to the situation with this stamp and the mystery deepens.

The Stamp Collector's Journal, published here in December, 1943, had a brief article with regard to this stamp, with a facsimile and a full description. The next issue printed in 1944 had a further article about the stamp and stated that it was not an official issue of the German Post Office. As far as I can tell, pressure was brought to bear on the editors of this stamp journal by the German authorities to play the matter down.

It may have been a trick pulled by some of Himmler's enemies to make trouble for him, or it may be that some enthusiast in the Ministry of the Interior thought that it might be nice to honor Himmler in this way, possibly in connection with some charitable drive. In any event, the mystery of the stamp has not been cleared up.

What is particularly interesting here is that the American agent preparing this report had no inkling that the stamp is a British production. He believed the "Himmler for Fuhrer" operation of the SOE that failed to fool the Germans. It also gives us fair idea of the cooperation between the British and the Americans in regard to clandestine operations.

British “Face Shot Away” and “Himmler” Parody Stamps  

About Himmler, another interesting fact recently turned up. I have often written about the "Winter help" stamps produced by Great Britain to parody the German Winterhilfswerk semi-postals. In The American Philatelist, February 1970, I illustrated all the various Himmler parodies in my article, "A Philatelic View of Heinrich Himmler." At that time I had mentioned the second in a pair of stamps as showing a Nazi soldier with half his face shot away. I didn't know much about that particular stamp at the time. In fact, some specialists said that it was a caricature of Reich propaganda minister Goebbels "talking his head off." Continued research has led to some information about this parody that will interest readers with a mind for the curious.

The photograph of the mutilated Nazi originally appeared in a 1924 German anti-war book Krieg dem Kriege! ("War Against War!"). The photograph is identified as "Das ganze Gesicht weggeschossen" ("The entire face shot away"). Curiously, the photograph was reprinted after the Great War in Great Britain with acknowledgment to the original book.

In World War II, the British used the image twice. The Political Warfare Executive (PWE) produced a series of stickers in late 1942. They were in the form of Winterhilfswerk or "WHW" ("Winter help") labels. This German organization supported the poor during the cold German winters. The WHW sold various items to raise money to be used for charity. The British produced five gummed stickers in the form of a WHW labels. One of these labels used the image of the soldier with his face shot off. Another label showed Himmler holding a pistol and demanding money for the charity. The code number of all five labels is H.235. The code does not appear on the labels; it was found in declassified British wartime records.

Howe used the image a second time when he designed a pair of very realistic looking postage stamps in late 1942 and early 1943. These were coded H.292. The stamps were prepared in booklets of two sheets of 10 stamps, twenty stamps in all. Once again, one stamp showed Himmler, the other stamp showed the man with no face. Behind him are two happy Germans, sometimes described as Julius Streicher (editor of the anti-Semitic newspaper Der Sturmer) and Hermann Goering (Reichsmarschall of the Luftwaffe). They are smiling and holding champagne glasses. The message is clear. The Party bosses drink and have a good time while the front-line soldier is killed or mutilated.

German "Face Shot Away" Leaflet

 In February 1945, the Germans dropped a leaflet on the American troops on the Western front coded 9802 45/91 that showed the the profile of a face with everything missing from just below the eyes to the lower lip. A first glance one assumes that this is a photograph of a dead body. However, the text on the leaflet states:

This picture is taken from LIFE. It shows how excellent medics can work. Maj. Gen. Norman T. Kirk, Surgeon General of the Army, reported to the annual meeting of the Association of Military Surgeons that 60,000 World War II American soldiers live today, although, had they received the same type of injury in the last war, they would have died.

The soldier on the picture probably is one of those 60,000 'lucky ones.' But take one more look at the picture. We don't want to belittle the skill of modern medics, but what good is it for this unfortunate human being?

And what happened to him and 59,999 others may happen to you. Then people will read 'one more wounded' and will perhaps think of six weeks in a hospital, a furlough, and a Purple Heart. But they will not know of some broken hearts.

Of course, the Germans were lying. The photograph had originally appeared in a 1924 German anti-war book Krieg dem Kriege! ("War Against War!"). The photograph is identified as “Das ganze Gesicht weggeschossen” (“The entire face shot away”).

Curiously, the photograph was reprinted after the war in Great Britain with acknowledgement to the original book. The Germans liked the photograph so much that they designed the above leaflet around it in WWII.

You may have noted that I have not mentioned the United States or the Soviet Union insofar as propaganda stamps are concerned. This is because both superpowers refuse to admit that they ever did such a thing.

For example, when questioned about forged stamps and postcards the official Soviet reply states:

In reply to your letter of so-called forged German postcards I wish to advise you that the policy of the Soviet Union in issuing stamps and postcards excludes any forging of any kind. I am not aware of any forgeries.

  

Russian Propaganda Stamped Postcard

This is all very well, but during World War II the Russians often bragged of their operations in Soviet War News. For instance, in the issue dated January 7, 1942, they described how Soviet planes dropped parcels behind the German lines, containing millions of leaflets and picture postcards bearing German stamps, all ready for soldiers to send home. The picture on one of them shows a field with wooden crosses, and crows fluttering above them. In the foreground lies one lone helmet. The caption reads: "Lebensraum in Osten" ("Living space in the East").

Another card shows a fir tree. Beneath it, almost buried in deep snow, lies a German soldier frozen to death. The inscription reads "Oh Tannenbaum! Oh Tannenbaum!" (Oh Christmas tree! Oh Christmas tree!").

The United States Government is less helpful. Back in November 1978, I wrote a short piece for the Society of Philatelic Americans, "A Spy Hunter's View of Wartime Philately." I briefly mentioned my difficulties with our government at that time. If I might be more concise, let me start by saying that in April 1977, I wrote the Central Intelligence Agency under the Freedom of Information Act, asking for any data in their files on the production of propaganda stamps. Several weeks later I received a reply that said "As you may know, the heavy volume of Freedom of Information requests received by the Agency has resulted in processing backlogs."

A week after receipt of the CIA letter, I received material from the Department of the Army on the distribution in China of the stamp produced by the United States to mark the fifth anniversary of Chinese resistance to Japan. Nice information, but not exactly what I had asked for.

In June I wrote the CIA again asking about progress on my request. They answered in July: "while the Agency has diverted considerable resources into answering these requests, a serious backlog developed nevertheless. Rest assured that I will notify you just as soon as the search is completed." Shortly afterwards, I received eight documents. One half dealt with the distribution of the Chinese commemorative stamp mentioned earlier. The others were on the subject of surveillance of stamp dealers as possible foreign agents. I later wrote this fiasco up for Scott's Monthly Stamp Journal, June 1980, in an article entitled "How They Read Your Mail."

Operation Cornflakes 6-Pfennig Forgery Sheet

Nowhere did I find material on the subject of the thousands of German postage stamps that the United States forged and parodied. I was tempted to send the Agency some of my material since I obviously have better files than they do. One document in my possession is the final report of production and distribution from July 15, 1944, to May 15, 1945. This Office of Strategic Services document tells us that "Hitler Heads" were produced in the number of 1,138,500. There were 70,000 "Sex cards and envelopes," 726,550 "German stamps," and 6,500 "numbered stamps."

Operation Cornflakes 12-Pfennig Forgery Sheet

Another interesting document sadly missing from the OSS files is a booklet giving the complete background of "Operation Cornflakes." Robson Lowe of London auctioned off this document several years ago. He explained its origin thus: "I have absolutely no doubt about the validity of any of the papers. The tenant of the apartment from whom I obtained these two volumes apparently found them in the attic. The apartment had been used by American officials since the occupation of Rome and it would appear that one of the predecessors left these two volumes together with a third volume in the attic. My guess is that the owner was one of the main officials in the report."

Operation Cornflakes Hitler-skull Parody Sheet

The "Cornflakes" booklet was a printed report of "a complicated operation devised by Morale Operations to bring subversive propaganda to the German breakfast table through the infiltration of the German mail system." Some of the actual propaganda mounted in this report included complete sheets of the American forgeries of German 6 and 12 Pfennig stamps and a complete sheet of the Hitler-skull parody. I first wrote about this operation in The Society of Philatelic Americans Journal, February 1972, entitled "Poison Cornflakes for Breakfast." The article was reprinted by the German Postal Specialist in February 1973. Readers who want to read a more current report should peruse my Operation Cornflakes article on the Internet.

Corey Ford also described this operation in his book Donovan of the OSS. Ford did not mention the classified name "Cornflakes," but he told how "Fake German mailbags were prepared and filled with subversive letters stamped, postmarked, and inscribed with real addresses from local directories. These bags were dropped by the fifteenth Air Force in strafing missions over marshalling yards and railway stations, in the hope that they would be picked up as stray mail pouches lost from wrecked railroad cars, and would be sent on by regular mail."

At the same time the OSS Morale Operations team was forging stamps and documents in Rome under Operation Cornflakes, another team was producing Nazi Party dues stamps and leaflets under an operation called “Sauerkraut.” The man in charge of the forging in that group was Ed Linder. I once asked Linder if he considered himself a forger and he said that he did not. The products were actually printed by Corporal Egidio Clemente who ran the OSS Rome print shop Stabilimento Aristide Staderini and later worked as a detective for Senator Joe McCarthy. That seems odd since McCarthy was far to the right politically, and Clement was a socialist activist most of his life. Egidio Clemente donated his papers to the University of Illinois at Chicago in January 1971.

Eddie Linder prepares forged documents at the front lines

The charcoal sketch above was drawn by German prisoner-of-war and volunteer Sauerkraut agent Willy Haseneier, captured 4 June 1944. An artist and graduate of the Düsseldorf Art Academy, he was used by his OSS handlers to forge identity papers, passes, credentials and signatures. Linder called him “the resident graphic artist.”

Linder said in regard to this picture:

I prepared German Army travel orders for my men, using homemade rubber stamps and other gimmicks and gave them identity cards and other documents which matched the day’s frontline intelligence.  In order to be up to date I would open my trusty field desk and concoct what was needed right on the spot, with rubber stamps and all, right up at the frontlines before infiltrating the boys across the lines. The stuff was not an artistic master achievement, but it was good enough to fool the dumb German Feldpolizei.

Eddie Linder

Declassified documents show that Edmund Friedrich Linder was an Austrian born in Vienna 11 May 1908. His father was an American citizen working for Republic Steel in Cleveland, Ohio. After the Germans entered Austria, Linder first went to Switzerland and later Belgium while awaiting papers to allow him to enter the United States. He tried to join the American military but was turned down as an alien. He eventually joined the American OSS assigned to the Algiers MO section on 1 August 1943. An October 1944 letter to the Chief of Morale Operations describes Linder using his code name and says in part:

Eddie Zinder, Austrian, is now applying for American citizenship... Eddie is a remarkably versatile young man, having written many leaflets, acted as a doctor at various times and is the supreme master of briefing, preparation of documents and preparing prisoners of war for infiltration.  

Willy Hanseneier charcoal sketch of Eddie Zinder

I once asked Eddie Linder (also known as Eddie Lindner, Eddie Zinder and "Blitzkrieg Eddie,") if Rome produced propaganda parodies of German postage stamps. He answered:

We in Rome were concerned with postage stamps that could be used legitimately in the German postal service which we thusly infiltrated. The stamps were applied to pre-addressed envelopes and we even stamped over them the appropriate cancellation of the post office, just as such letters would ordinarily go into the big mail bags. Our letters, of course, contained subversive materials which had been printed in Rome. We did not share our engraving plates with anyone and we didn't use anyone else's plates.

As far as Hitler skulls are concerned, we did use original "skull art" for underground leaflets of various types. No stamps though. They would have been inappropriate.

Ration stamps were not needed for our operation, so we didn't do any. You see, forgery was not our game. We forged only what was needed to fulfill our particular Morale Operations strategies… to demonstrate that there exists an active underground movement, freedom fighters to liberate Germany from the oppression of the Nazis.

OSS Counterfeit Nazi Party Stamp

The Sauerkraut group in Rome printed counterfeit Nazi Party stamps for use on Party membership cards.

The Sauerkraut printed material was prepared in two qualities; very good or very crude. The documents, hand-stamps, Nazi Party dues stamps and identification papers that the agents carried behind the lines had to be perfect. They had to pass inspection by the German military police. At the same time, the leaflets, gummed labels, and posters had to look crude. The plan was for the German soldiers to think that there was an underground anti-Nazi movement that existed all around them. If the stickers on the wall were too good, it would be apparent that they were of Allied origin. As a result, many of the leaflets had the appearance of crudely mimeographed sheets that had been produced in a basement on a hand-cranked machine.

The small Photograph in the Operations Sauerkraut Booklet

I first discovered the Nazi Party forgeries by carefully studying a photograph found in an official OSS wartime presentation booklet entitled The Story of the Sauerkrauts. In this nine-page document is a photograph that shows, much reduced, numerous forged identity documents and a perforated vertical strip of 5 stamps with top, left, and bottom margins.

It is interesting to note, in conclusion, that whether the government is British, German, Russian or American, they all agree on one point. Not one of them forged stamps. Each year the evidence becomes more and more overwhelming as former agents tell all and old spies put stamps and parodies up for auction that they have kept hidden for almost thirty-five years.

Will we ever make a clean breast of it? Probably not, for as one CIA agent told me, "the methods used to print and distribute our propaganda are as valid today as it was then. Why should we tell anyone what our methods might be tomorrow should we desire to mount another campaign against an enemy?" Then he said, "By the way, they had a great exhibit of wartime forgeries and parodies outside the main cafeteria at CIA Headquarters in Virginia. Too bad only company employees were able to see it."

Operation Cornflakes OSS Parody Hitler Birthday Souvenir Sheet

The CIA Collection
Everything you see in this display is a propaganda parody or espionage forgery.

When I first wrote this article decades ago, I was careful not to mention the names of the two CIA stamp collectors who displayed their propaganda stamps. I was still in that “Operational Security Secret” mode and did not want to mention any names that might put someone in danger. Now that many years have passed, I can go into more detail. The owners of the propaganda items were Gordon H. Torrey and Donald P. Avery. Back then I was called to a meeting at CIA Headquarters in Langley. Downstairs, near the cafeteria there was a small CIA Museum featuring hollow coins, miniature cameras, lots of propaganda leaflets and a full case of philatelic propaganda and counterfeits. The display consisted of four glass shelves of stamps, postcards, and newspapers. The highlight of the collection was a WWII OSS parody of a Hitler birthday souvenir sheet. These sheets have sold for well into five figures in the past. They are extremely rare. Other items on exhibit were full sheets of the OSS U.S. forged Hitler stamps, WWI British forgeries of German stamps, an OSS forged WWII German newspaper Das Neue Deutschland, British forgeries of various French stamps, The Himmler and Witzleben parodies, and German parodies of the stamps of Great Britain, and many more items.

Willis Calhoun Reddick

A Research and Development Department (Dirty Tricks) agent named Major Willis C. Reddick oversaw establishing the OSS printing office in a 100 x 100-foot former laboratory space at 25th and E Streets in Washington DC. His job was commanding the printers in charge of counterfeiting documents to be used by agents in the field. Reddick made friends with employees of the Bureau of Engraving and was able to pick draftees with printing experience from basic training units in the Army. He retired as a Lieutenant Colonel at the end of the war.

A brief description of the Washington D.C. printing shop is found in the OSS War Report:

An engraving shop was established in Washington to produce various types of European and Far Eastern documents. Identity cards, work permits, chauffeurs' licenses, etc., were meticulously prepared with appropriate regard for the enormous amount of detail necessary to provide the authenticity upon which the agent's life might depend. Through Operational Group’s, the French Maquis was supplied with all necessary documents for travel and activity in Germany, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Censorships and Documents was, of course, responsible for securing the intelligence necessary to the production of agent documentation, but Research and Development also secured a great deal of information from other sources and from its own personnel in the field. In fact, Research and Development and Censorships and Documents personnel worked together in many theaters on questions of documentation and camouflage, e.g., in London, where a joint office was set up. Such details as the size of type, kind of paper and ink used, methods of watermarking, etc., were of vital importance.

Reddick later was sent to London to be closer to the action. A 1 January 1945 classified “Confidential” report from Research and Development London to R&D Washington DC on it 6 months up until the end of the war says it part (edited for brevity):

The Documentation Plant is in 14 Mount Row and Special Equipment is at 59 Grosvenor Street. On 18 April 1944, Lieutenant Colonel W.C. Reddick arrived in London assigned the Chief of the R&D Branch, London. With him were two officers, and six enlisted staff were to arrive later. Soon afterwards, LTC Reddick requested additional staff for the Documentation Section including someone familiar with paper. Reddick was responsible for both the documentation and the clothing and equipment for agents.

The R&D Office

Secretary Julia Knapp, Chief LTC Reddick, Lieutenant Carl A. Strahle

In August and September 1944, Reddick made two trips to France to survey the possibility of moving R&D there. Because of security and supply issues, that move never happened. In October Reddick was in Italy to meet with the Chief of R&D, Washington. By 1 January 1945, Reddick oversaw the Documentation Section, Special Weapons Section, Clothing and Equipment Section, and Camouflage section.

He once told me that they never did any counterfeiting in London, but we find in OSS Against the Reich: the WWII Dairies of Colonel David K.E. Bruce, the London branch chief of America's OSS in Great Britain:

A successful Illinois printer, Willis C. Reddick ran Bruce’s London counterfeit and forging operation.

Major Reddick told me about his experience with French stamps:

Our missions were the gathering of intelligence as well as the infiltration of spies and saboteurs behind the enemy lines in France and Northern Italy, usually by drops from aircraft. I was an officer in the O.S.S. and early in 1944 I was sent on a mission to Bari, Italy, from our headquarters in Algiers. On my return I was forced to lay over in Naples and billeted with one of our groups who was engaged in supplying all the necessary papers to the agents who were being dropped behind the lines. We produced everything needed, including identification cards and tax stamps for the documents that required them. The forgeries were a marvel of perfection and as far as I know, the Germans never caught on. On seeing the stamps, I asked for some as souvenirs. No dice - but after much wheedling and explaining that I was a collector, he grudgingly gave me just one specimen. I have kept it all these years.

 

The OSS Counterfeit 40-centimes French Fiscal Stamp

What do we know about the French stamp counterfeited by the USA? The 2000 edition of the French specialized catalogue of fiscal stamps, Catalogue des timbres fiscaux et Socio-posteaux de France contains the following paragraph (edited for brevity):

Forgeries for commercial use. During the Second World War forged fiscal stamps were used to provide false papers without alerting the collaborationist regime through the purchase of ostentatious quantities of such stamps. The following values have been noted: 40 centimes, 2 francs, 5 francs and 15 francs. These stamps, which appear to have been made one by one, all have the watermark ‘AT36’ and usually have irregular perforations at one or more corners.

The catalogue, which illustrates the forgeries, states that:

These values enabled the franking of false identity cards (15f or 3 × 5f), a false birth certificate from prior to 1933 (5f + 40c), a false certificate of residence from before 1939 (2f + 2f + 2f), etc.

Frederick “Bert” Johnston

If Reddick was in charge, who did much of the forging? That would seem to be Bert Johnson. He was born in Atlanta and at later the family moved to Tampa. His father was a photographer by trade and the family opened Johnston Lithograph and Engraving. After college he moved to Rochester and worked for Eastman Kodak. While at Kodak he worked with lithography, engraving, and photography and received several patents.

Bert joined the army during WWII, and as because of his knowledge of printing and engineering was invited to join the OSS. He worked in the documents section on the OSS in Washington D.C. during WWII. He was a master engraver and printer by trade, so his skills were used for counterfeiting passports, watermarks, stamps, Japanese propaganda notes, etc. He spent the war in Washington DC.

 

The OSS Counterfeit 5-franc French Fiscal Stamp

Johnston saved samples of many of the products that he had designed, photographed, and printed for the OSS but they were not kept in any order. It was never organized, and it was stored in different ways. Some items were loose, some taped down in scrap books, and some glued to poster board.

We believe that working with Johnston in Washington D.C. was Master Sergeant Francis Varacalli. He worked in intelligence and had been employed by the Truart Reproduction Company of New York City where he engraved letters or designs on printing plates. He had the ability to engrave a printing plate and was valuable in producing propaganda material.

I should mention here that it was not only stamps that were counterfeited. The OSS also counterfeited banknotes during the war. The United States counterfeited several currencies for the Pacific Theater of War, including four values of the Philippines, the 10 rupees Burmese banknote, at least three Chinese "puppet" banks, the Malayan 10 dollar note and three denominations of the banknotes of Thailand. Others were on order, such as Japanese military notes and French Indochina banknotes, but they were never delivered.

  

Forged Handstamps

The German government seems to have been fueled by various stamps placed on documents to guarantee authenticity. But they also needed those documents to be stamped by official handstamps of the correct shape, wording, and ink. A perfect forged stamp would not pass on the best documents if the handstamps were incorrect. Because of this the OSS spent a great deal of time counterfeiting the handstamps to use on their counterfeit documents. Here is a small collection of them showing many different countries and uses. Among the hand stamps I see Germany, France, Danzig (was Poland, about to become Germany), Costa Rica, and Belgium. I also see a group of forged signatures certainly intended to go on documents. I believe all these signatures are of officers of the administrative authorities who signed identity cards and passports etc. before adding the official seals on the documents.

Conclusion

Do the great powers forge postage stamps? Not according to them. I have already quoted the Soviets who publicly disclaimed all knowledge of postal forging at the same time that they were bragging about their fake stamped postcards in their internal propaganda magazines. Even Sefton Delmer who was Howe's boss and knew exactly what was being produced told me in early private correspondence, "SOE had no business to be producing forged stamps. We did not produce any Witzleben stamps. I would have refused to do so. No operational value. Just joke stuff." This from the man who oversaw the forging of German 3, 4, 6 and 8 Pfennig Hitler stamps, and the parodying of a number of others. About the same time, Howe wrote to me that, "It seems that we were very busy with philatelic nonsense at the end of 1942 and the beginning of 1943."

No, nations don't forge postage stamps. But their agents do!

Readers who care to comment on any aspect of this article are encouraged to write the author at sgmbert@hotmail.com.