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volume 16
april 2013

An offshore station against Hitler

 





  The radio station of the German Freedom Party
by Martin van der Ven
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  In 1938 the "Deutsche Freiheitspartei," a small political counter movement acting against Hitler, tried their luck with offshore radio, broadcasting their appeals for resistance to the population of Germany. The daring operation lasted only for just three months and a few days. Martin van der Ven here recollects the short history of the "Sender der Deutschen Freiheitspartei" and the people involved.
 
1 Left: Carl Spiecker (1948)

Carl Spiecker and the German Freedom Party. When offshore radio experts are asked about German speaking people involved with stations broadcasting from international waters, they usually remember Rudi Kagon (Mebo II engineer for Radio Nordsee International), both RNI DJ's Axel and Hannibal (later known as Ulf Posé), Dennis King (manager of Radio Caroline), and Johnny Jason (Radio Caroline deejay, real name Rüdiger von Etzdorf). The Swiss Elke, Edwin Bollier, Erwin Meister, Urs Emmenegger, Bruno Brandenberger, Kurt Baer, Victor Pelli and Eva Pfister (all of them also with RNI) are household names for many people, along with the Austrians Horst Reiner (RNI) and Manfred Sommer (from 1965 till 1968 engineer of Radio Caroline's MV Fredericia). But who remembers Jakob Altmaier (23-11-1889 to 8-2-1963), Ernst Langendorf (15-12-1907 to 7-12-1989) or Carl Spiecker (7-1-1888 to 18-11-1953). We have to go back 75 years in time, because then the first European, and the one and only German offshore station was broadcasting for a few months (apart from the brief experiment "Offshore 98", operated by a group of German radio freaks at Easter 1999).

  January 1938 — for five years Hitler had been ruling in Germany. And for five years, journalist and centrist politician Carl Spiecker had been living in exile in France and England. At the end of 1936 he founded along with Otto Klepper — while in exile — the DFP (Deutsche Freiheitspartei — German Freedom Party) against Hitler's dictatorship. Besides his journalistic activities, Carl discovered the medium of wireless for his resistance against Nazism. From early 1938 he made use of the ship 'Faithful Friend', registered in Lowestoft (Suffolk — UK) from where broadcasts were made against the Nazi regime.
  The 'Faithful Friend', a steam fish cutter of 110 gross and 38 net weight registered tons, was built in 1913 by the Crabtree and Co shipping company in Great Yarmouth (27.8 m long, 6.2 m wide and 3.2 m draught). She belonged to Gilbert and Co Ltd in Lowestoft, registered as 135743, LT 33. The cutter sailed under the British flag in the international waters off the Dutch and North West French coast. In her offshore days, 8 crew members were on board: the captain, a cook, 4 sailors and stokers (all of them fishermen from England), plus a German journalist who at the same time was acting as 'radio maker' and a Dutch broadcasting engineer.
  Spiecker's station 'Sender der Deutschen Freiheitspartei' (Station of the German Freedom Party) was supported by two experts from VARA of Hilversum. They made use of a short wave transmitter, with an output of just under 5 KW. The broadcasting equipment had been improved by British engineers. The preparation of the project happened in great secrecy whereby the British Government wasn't (at least officially) informed. The frequency was 7842 kHz on 38.26 meters. A Gestapo (Geheime Staatspolizei — Secret Police) report of the end of April 1938 stated: "'The 'Freedom Station' on 29.8 and 38.25 meters was heard several times during the past month." The reception on 29.8 meters obviously means a mix-up with the 'Deutscher Freiheitssender 29.8' broadcasting on short wave from Spain.
  From our sources we can conclude that Carl Spiecker himself wasn't on board; apparently he wrote his scripts in Paris. From there they were taken to a mailing address in an appropriate harbour where the 'Faithful Friend' would tie up. Very often Spiecker got a phone call from his collaborators, as soon as they came on land. British authors speculate on the financial and secret services' backgrounds of the project. Until today nobody knows, because Spiecker has always been very reticent. Even his family was only partly aware of his activities, whilst in exile. He had after all to provide food and beverages, to pay the wages of the ship's crew, and he had to finance the coal for the ship's engine and the petrol for the generators, as well as the broadcasting equipment. He had many contacts in British underground organisations. Sir Campbell Stuart had probably helped with the financing of the offshore project, whose office in the Electra House Department, managed the Cable and Wireless Company. Commander Kenneth Cohen of Colonel Claude Danseys's secret 'Z' organisation of the British Secret Service 'SIS' must have been of great help for Spiecker.
2 Right: Cutter "Faithful Friend" (1938) (Foto: Archive Stefan Appelius)

Aboard the 'Faithful Friend'. The reality on board the small and uncomfortable radio ship, caused substantial hardships and extremely hard living conditions for the crew who faced the truth with unprecedented bravery, idealism and civil courage. Jakob Altmaier and Ernst Langendorf, two social democrats, were editors and moderators on board of the radio ship. Both men had fled from Germany in the thirties and lived in exile. The first broadcasting day, in early 1938, of the 'Sender der Deutschen Freiheitspartei' is unknown. The station's call was 'Hier spricht der Sender der Deutschen Freiheitspartei!' (You are listening to the Station of the German Freedom Party!) Programmes were believed to be broadcast daily from 7.30 p.m. till 8.00 p.m., and from 10.00 p.m. till 10.30 p.m. Weather and circumstances permitting the programmes were repeated several times a night. In the event of storms the ship couldn't leave harbour, and broadcasts were cancelled. The programmes featured world news, but mainly focused on Germany, followed by political comments and an international press review, as well as appeals for resistance against the Hitler regime. They wanted to inform the German people about the 'real nature of the NSDAP' and its war plans. (NSDAP = Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeitspartei — National Socialist German Worker's Party).

  April 1976, Ernst Langendorf in an interview: "The first 'editor' and broadcaster was Jakob Altmaier, but after a few days he gave up, as the working and living conditions aboard the dirty, primitive coal-fuelled ship in the stormy January seas were altogether too much for him... I arrived in Dieppe in mid-January. Despite the strong seas, which had confined the whole fishing fleet in Dieppe to harbour, we left Dieppe next afternoon for the open sea. But after a few hours I was soaked to the skin by the waves breaking over the ship and quite hors de combat from sea-sickness. Ready to die I took to my small cabin. The captain turned the ship around and we ran for harbour. In the night the storm died down and by the following afternoon the sea had calmed down sufficiently for us to put to sea again.
  "This time everything worked. The Dutch technician from Radio Hilversum got the apparatus ready to broadcast (electricity was provided by a petrol-driven motor). We broadcast on 38,25 metres short wave. At 7.30 p.m. I sat at the microphone and read the announcement: 'This is the radio of the German Freedom Party.' Then followed news, a press review (of the international press), a commentary and various items of information. Broadcast period thirty minutes interrupted regularly by the announcement, 'This is the radio of the German Freedom Party', with the wave length and times of the broadcast (daily from 7.30-8.00 p.m. and from 10.00-10.30 p.m.). This continued for several weeks, in fact for three months altogether (I can't remember the exact dates). A few times the broadcast period had to be shortened or the broadcast completely abandoned as a result of my sea-sickness. We only touched land when we had food or newspapers to collect. I took the news for the daily broadcasts from monitoring German, English, French and Swiss broadcasts. I wrote the commentaries with the help of the literature I had brought on board. Whenever we put into port, I telephoned Dr Spiecker in Paris who gave me further tips, information, advice and references. I provided myself with newspapers and journals."
3 Only a few German listeners. Now and then the 'Faithful Friend' was shadowed by a French warship to prevent her sailing into French national waters during broadcasts. The French Government would have carried out bearings regarding the exact location of the transmitter. During her stays in harbour the French authorities left the 'Faithful Friend' unhindered, although they were obviously well-informed regarding the actual task of the ship.
  Ernst Langendorf continued: "Dr.Spiecker had asked me if I was prepared to go on board this ship, and to broadcast news and comments in German for the people of Germany. I found it a great idea: to do something meaningful and at last tell the Germans what they had done with Hitler, and that Hitler would sooner or later start a war, which he had to lose. That was my motivation: to do something against this regime. It's very hard to assess if there was any reception in Germany. But I know for sure that the Gestapo was monitoring, because in the military archives of Freiburg, there are reports about a monitored broadcast of this station which was called by its full name. Dr. Spiecker also had connections in the Scandinavian countries, and asked them to inform him how reception was over there. But of course, this doesn't say anything about listening figures in Germany, which were surely limited."
  Around 1937/1938 the German radio industry produced some 3.4 millions of rather cheap 'Volksempfänger' (People's radio set), a genuine propaganda instrument of the Nazis. These sets had, deliberately, no short wave reception. The German spoken BBC programmes were however broadcast on medium wave too (the war was not on yet!), and regularly DIY guidelines were broadcast helping listeners to convert their 'Volksempfänger' into a world radio receiver. In the early days auxiliary apparatus was on sale at radio fairs, and amongst them a short wave device for the 'Volksempfänger'. It was however illegal to tune in to 'enemy broadcasts' and already by 1933 Germans who had listened to the German spoken programmes from Moscow, had been sent to detention centers. Let's be realistic, the 'Sender der Deutschen Freiheitspartei' must have had few listeners in Germany. The few reception reports came from the Baden region.
4 Left: Jakob Altmaier

Closedown and after. The closedown of the station occurred after a little bit more than three months, the night of 12-13 April 1938. Ernst Langendorf recalls: "Everything ran well until the beginning of April. On docking I rang Dr. Spiecker who said that we should stay in harbour, he would arrive there the next day for an important discussion. On his arrival he told us that as a result of changes in Paris he expected difficulties over our broadcasting; his contact at the Quai d'Orsay had advised him that it would be a good idea to disappear from French territorial waters until the situation had become clear. After some discussion we followed the advice of the Dutch technician, who recommended we should go to the Dutch port of IJmuiden."

The remaining crew in Cherbourg complied with Carl Spiecker's instructions and sailed to IJmuiden. Langendorf: "When we moored there early in the morning, the ship was thoroughly inspected by the customs and later taken control by a crowd of harbour police." There was speculation galore in the Dutch newspapers! De Telegraaf: "The odd thing of the whole affair is the fact that this old, patched up fishing trawler has brand new broadcasting equipment. Now and then a crew member comes out of the cabin, sweeps the deck and looks at the harbour. Then he disappears silently." Eventually the authorities put a seal on the broadcasting equipment and took control of the crew's papers and passports.

  Langendorf was taken to the guard post where he stood in front of a silent German functionary, wearing a NSDAP badge on his lapel. Langendorf: "He was given permission to inspect me, didn't ask me anything and disappeared quickly." The German Embassy had obviously been informed and called in.
  Langendorf was candid with the Dutch officials and granted them leave to inspect his broadcasting documents. Langendorf: "It took some hours before I was called back to the guard post, where the officer in charge received me unusually friendly and informed me that they believed everything and I was free to go." The authorities however made it clear that the ship could stay only for a short while in IJmuiden. The ship sailed back to England and the broadcasting equipment was stored in a Boulogne-sur-mer warehouse. On 16th April (Easter Saturday) Langendorf went to Paris, where he heard that Carl Spiecker had mustered a comfortable motor launch which had to be equipped in Boulogne-sur-mer as well. During her maiden trip the launch caught fire, when petrol was spilt in the galley. The ship was a total wreck. Frustrated, Spiecker gave up his offshore radio project.
  The Deutsche Freiheitspartei existed till early 1941. There has never been an official dissolution. From 16 May 1940 to 15 March 1941, Spiecker and his brother-in-arms Hans Albert Kluthe were to be heard on another 'Freiheitssender' from Woburn, near Bletchley, North-West of London, on short wave between 30.2 and 30.6 meters. In June 1941, Carl Spiecker went to Canada, and later returned to Germany in 1945 where he was involved in politics till his death in 1953. Jakob Altmaier lost 30 relatives in the concentration camps, and returned to Germany after the war. From 1949 until his death in 1963, he was involved in politics too. Ernst Langendorf went to the USA in 1941. A year later he enrolled in the US army and became an American citizen. In 1945 he came back to Germany with the allied forces, and from 1953 he was press officer for Radio Free Europe in Munich. He died in 1989.
   
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  This article has been been adapted and translated by Boudewijn Dom from Ein Seesender gegen Hitler. Der Sender der Deutschen. Freiheitspartei that was published on this site in October 2012.
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