What’s the best way to spread propaganda against Germany during the Second World War? Just use the German postal service. This is exactly what the Allies did, and the operation was called “Operation Cornflakes.”
Operation Cornflakes (1944-1945) was a World War II Office of Strategic Services (OSS) Morale Operation (MO). Operation Cornflakes involved tricking the German postal service, Deutsche Reichspost, into inadvertently delivering anti-Nazi propaganda to German citizens through mail.
Propaganda was a favorite tool of the Office of Strategic Services during the war, but the usual method of distributing it, airdropped leaflets, had major drawbacks. They had to produce a lot of material without being sure that it would reach their audience. So the best way to remove the risks from the operation was to hand the propaganda right to the Germans.
The operation involved special planes that were instructed to airdrop bags of false, but properly addressed, mail in the vicinity of bombed mail trains. When recovering the mail during clean-up of the wreck, the postal service would hopefully confuse the false mail for the real thing and deliver it to the various addresses. The German government would wind up bringing the Allies’ propaganda right to its own citizens every day. And during that time, the German communications and transportation sectors were pretty chaotic, which would make it easier for the Allies to accomplish the operation.
It was called the Operation Cornflakes because the mail was usually delivered just as its targets sat down for breakfast. The Allies had to learn the inner working of the German postal system, so they interrogated the POWs who had been postal workers about everything from postal cancellation markings to the ways mail bags were supposed to be packed and sealed. Spies were already working on gathering samples of stamps, postal cancellations and envelopes while names and addresses were pulled from the German telephone directories.
The Allies succeeded at replicating the German postal system in every aspect, with small changes. The standard stamp with Adolf Hitler’s face was manipulated to show the Fuhrer’s exposed skull. Other stamps had their country tag on the bottom changed from “Deutsches Reich” (German Empire) to “Futsches Reich” (Ruined Empire). These stamps were known as the “Death Head” and were usually placed in the letter with other subversive materials.
The OSS also produced a newspaper that claimed to be the voice of a growing opposition party within Germany. German soldiers weren’t spared from the propaganda. Letters were sent to them by the “Association of Lonely War Women” saying that it’s common for the women left at home to have casual sex while they are away. This was supposed to weaken their morale. Somehow the German postal workers discovered the propaganda because of one misspelling. They opened the envelopes one by one and discovered the propaganda. Operation Cornflakes was shut down because of a typo.
No one is sure if Operation Cornflakes had any significant effect, but from a strategic standpoint, Cornflakes was very successful. It is quite possible that the Allies caused serious damage to the German postal system and to the morale of the German people.