Now Hear This: Radio War Propagandists

The following is an article from the book History's Lists from Uncle John's Bathroom Reader.

During America's wars, they were considered entertainers more than harbingers of fear to U.S. troops. But sometimes media stars like Tokyo Rose and Hanoi Hannah broadcast strategic information that there's no way the enemy should have known.

As radio propagandists transmitting from enemy capitals, their job was to undermine the morale of opposing troops in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. Uncle John examines the careers of seven infamous enemy broadcasters of the 20th century.


Iva Toguri was born in Los Angeles in 1916 and graduated from UCLA with a zoology degree; she was visiting Japan when war broke out in 1941. She was hardly a household name in World War II -until the name given her by Allied forces in the Pacific made her an international celebrity.

Wartime Activities: Tokyo Rose played American music and used American slang during her 20-minute daily newscast on Radio Tokyo's "The Zero Hour" while she predicted attacks, identified American ships and submarines, and even peppered her conversation with the names of prominent individuals. Listeners thought she was uncannily accurate, but she had little impact on the offensive juggernaut that first isolated and then defeated Japan.

Postwar: After the war, Toguri was arrested, convicted of treason, and imprisoned; she was released for good behavior in 1956 after serving six years. Upon moving to Chicago, where her family ran a store, she insisted she had always been a loyal American. She claimed that she was forced to make the broadcasts, and Allied POWs who worked with her confirmed her story years later, convincing president Gerald Ford to pardon her in 1977. In January 2006, she received the Edgar J. Herlihy Citizenship Award from the World War II Veterans Committee; she died in September of that year.


The British gave the nickname "Lord Haw-Haw" to a collection of announcers on the English-language propaganda broadcasts from Hamburg, Germany, during World War II. But it was William Joyce, who claimed to be a British citizen, who came to symbolize Lord Haw-Haw as the chief Nazi sympathizer. Born in the United States and raised in England and Ireland, Joyce was a member of the British Union of Fascists and was about to be arrested when he fled to Germany in 1939.

Wartime activities: From 1939 to 1945, his radio broadcasts to England on the "Germany Calling" program were designed to undermine the morale of the English, Canadian, Australian, and American troops, as well as the citizens of the British Isles. Joyce reported Allied ship losses and planes shot down, and bragged about Nazi secret weapons with the goal of demoralizing the Allies.

"Lord Haw-Haw" was originally the nickname of James Brudenell, the 19th-century British general who led the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade. A British radio critic borrowed the moniker and, whether or not he was specifically referring to Joyce, it stuck to him because he was the most popular announcer on "Germany Calling." The radio critic noted sarcastically, "He speaks English of the 'haw-haw, dammit-get-out-of-my-way' variety." The name stuck and his fame grew to the point that even the Germans introduced him on the air as "William Joyce, otherwise known as Lord Haw-Haw."

Postwar: Joyce was captured by British troops, who got the last "haw" when the war ended. He was tried and hanged for treason in early 1946.


A native of Dubuque, Iowa, Frederick Wilhelm Kaltenbach was on a bicycle tour of Germany after his high school graduation in 1914 when he was detained due to the outbreak of World War I. He liked Germany well enough, but after his release a few months later, he returned home and went to college. He joined the U.S. Army in 1918 but stayed stateside for the duration of the war, after which he earned his master's degree in history from the University of Chicago. As a schoolteacher in Dubuque, he founded a Nazi-style club for boys in 1935 that was so controversial, the school board fired him. Kaltenbach promptly returned to Germany to work for Joseph Goebbels' propaganda ministry as a broadcaster.

Wartime Activities: Kaltenbach' thick Midwestern accent became familiar to British listeners, who dubbed him "Lord Hee-Haw" to differentiate him from "Lord Haw-Haw." Kaltenbach's reign on the air came to an end with the collapse of the Third Reich.

Postwar: He was under indictment in the United States for treason, but the Soviets got the last "hee." They arrested him in Berlin in 1945 and refused to release him to American forces. The broadcaster died within a year in a Soviet prison.


British and American GIs on the march through Italy in the last months of World War II were familiar with the radio voice of "Axis Sally." Rita Luisa Zucca, born to a Manhattan restauranteur, called herself "Sally" while broadcasting propaganda first for Benito Mussolini's fascist government and then for Nazi Germany. She was a regular voice on the "Jerry's Front" program that aired from Rome. She'd come to Italy before the war to look after her family's estate and was forced to renounce her American citizenship to keep the property from being expropriated by Mussolini's government. She was 30 when she was hired as a radio announcer in February 1943.

Wartime Activities: Her theme song was "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" and her signature sign-on was "Hello, suckers!" She mixed pop music, news of Allied troop movements, and appeals to the British and American troops to surrender.

Postwar: Sally was captured by the U.S. Army in Milan on June 5, 1945, with her newborn baby. Tried in Italy for collaboration with the enemy, she was convicted and sentenced to four and a half years in prison. Released after nine months, she lived the rest of her life in obscurity in Italy.


Mildred Gillars, who was born in Maine, dreamed of being an actress but instead wound up as radio announcer "Berlin Bessie" for Radio Berlin in World War II. After dropping out of Ohio Wesleyan University, she left the United States in the 1930s for Dresden, Germany, to study music. She was working as an English teacher at the Berlitz School of Language in Berlin when war broke out across Europe in 1939.

Wartime Activities: Radio Berlin hired her as an actress and announcer in 1940. The Allied soldiers called her a variety of names: "Berlin Bessie," "Olga," and "The Bitch of Berlin." Introducing herself on air as "Midge," she tried to convince listeners that their wives and sweethearts back home were being unfaithful. Between American tunes, she made anti-Semitic remarks and criticized president Franklin D. Roosevelt. She stayed on the air until Berlin fell in 1945.

Postwar: Gillars tried to blend in among the thousands of displaced Germans, but she was captured and flown to the United States in 1948 and charged with treason, convicted, and imprisoned until her release in 1961. She took up residence in an Ohio convent and later earned her degree from Ohio Wesleyan in 1973. She went on to teach French and German at a prep school, and died of natural causes in 1988 at age 87.


During the Korean War, a Methodist missionary from Lawrence County, Arkansas, became the North Korean radio announcer better known a "Seoul City Sue." Born in 1900, Anna Wallis Suh graduated from the Scarritt College for Christian Workers in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1930 and undertook a mission to Korea. After marrying Korean schoolteacher Suh Kyoon Chul, she dropped out of the missionary service of the Southern Methodist Conference and became interested in Korean politics.

Wartime Activities: When the Korean People's Army captured Seoul in 1950, Anna went to work as a radio announcer on Radio Seoul. Her programs featured names of American soldiers captured or killed, and threatened newly arrived soldiers and ships sitting off the coast. She also taunted African-American soldiers for their lack of civil rights in the United States. She delivered all this in a monotone against a backdrop of soft music. American soldiers dubbed her "Seoul City Sue" after the 1946 pop tune "Sioux City Sue."

Postwar: A few days before the U.S. forces retook Seoul from the North Koreans, the Suhs evacuated to the north. Anna lived there until her death in 1969.


Trinh Thi Ngo, born in Hanoi in 1931, was a Vietnamese radio personality who became the voice of anti-American propaganda during the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s. She was the daughter of a prosperous factory owner and learned English because she loved American movies like Gone With The Wind. By age 25, she was an English-language news broadcaster on Vietnam's national radio in Hanoi.

Wartime Activities: Trinh made as many as three radio broadcasts daily in an attempt to demoralize the American troops who were defending South Vietnam from an insurgency from the north. To the GIs, she became "Hanoi Hannah" and "the Dragon Lady." She played antiwar songs popular in the United States, and read the names of soldiers who had recently been killed or imprisoned. U.S. forces were impressed with her military intelligence, which included details about where individual units were deployed.

Postwar: After the war, Trinh and others revealed that their wartime information came from the American military newspaper Stars and Stripes. Today, she lives in relative obscurity with her husband in Ho Chi Minh City (the former Saigon). In the United States, her voice can be heard on the computer game "Battlefield Vietnam."


The article above was reprinted with permission from Uncle John's Bathroom Reader History's Lists.

Since 1988, the Bathroom Reader Institute had published a series of popular books containing irresistible bits of trivia and obscure yet fascinating facts.

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I never really got the point of Haw Haw and his like. Surely the only people who would listen to him were Nazi sympathisers. As such he was preaching to the converted. A waste of effort and money.

If you didn't want to hear it you wouldn't listen.
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Iva Toguri was proven to actually help American POWs in Japan during the war and helped get messages out during her broadcasts. She did not wan to take the position, but Americans encouraged her to. Many women did broadcasts during the war--Tokyo Rose was the name used for all of them. She was innocent.
Her family store is still there and she worked in till 1-2 years prior to her death. I know this for she waited on me, from the age of 13. I never knew her history till, the last year she worked the store.
The store is a skeleton of its former glory-since the Chicago Japanese population moved to the burbs -starting 15 years ago. The over store like them, closed in 1999.
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The US itself was only slightly touched by the war in regards to infrastructure. Europe was completely devastated.

You can understand why those captured by non-US forces faced a grim fate.
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"his radio broadcasts to England on the “Germany Calling” program were designed to undermine the morale of the English, Canadian, Australian, and American troops"

What about the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish troops? Were they immune?
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