During World War II, the Allies and the Axis powers made heavy use of radio for propaganda purposes. Most of this spin was aimed at their own populations, but some was tailor made for consumption by enemy soldiers and civilians. Both sides recruited native speakers to broadcast radio messages to the opposition in the hopes of spreading disinformation and sowing discontent. These mysterious radio personalities became minor celebrities during the war, and some were even arrested and branded as traitors when the fighting ended. Find out more about six World War II broadcasters who used the radio waves as a weapon.
1. Axis Sally (Mildred Gillars)
Several American Nazi sympathizers worked as broadcasters for German state radio, but perhaps none was as famous as Mildred Gillars. Born in Maine, Gillars was a former Broadway showgirl who moved to Berlin in 1934. She remained in Germany after the war broke out, and eventually became one of the Third Reich’s most prominent radio personalities with “Home Sweet Home,” a propaganda show directed at American troops. Gillars broadcasted under the radio handle “Midge,” but American GIs soon gave her a more infamous nickname: “Axis Sally.”
Gillars’ Axis Sally spoke in a friendly, conversational tone, but her goal was to unsettle her listeners. One of her favorite tactics was to mention the soldiers’ wives and girlfriends and then muse about whether the women would remain faithful, “especially if you boys get all mutilated and do not return in one piece.” Prior to the Allied invasion of France, she also starred in a radio play, called “Vision of Invasion,” as an American mother whose son needlessly drowns during the attack. Like a lot of propaganda, Gillars’ radio shows rarely had their desired effect—many GI’s only listened because they found them funny—but she was still considered a traitor by the U.S. government. When the war ended, the voice of Axis Sally was arrested and eventually spent 12 years behind bars.
2. Lord Haw Haw (William Joyce)
Beginning in 1939, millions of Britons regularly tuned in to a German propaganda broadcast hosted by a smug Nazi sympathizer nicknamed “Lord Haw Haw.” Several men were identified with the name, but it was most famously associated with William Joyce, an American-born fascist who had spent most of his life in the United Kingdom. Joyce was an outspoken acolyte of Adolf Hitler who had fled to Berlin at the beginning of the war. He soon joined the state broadcasting system, where he found an outlet for his particularly fiery brand of rhetoric.
Speaking in a clipped, cosmopolitan British accent, Joyce’s Lord Haw Haw dished out taunts and pro-Hitler rants intended to break the spirit of his beleaguered listeners. In between chastising Jews and the British government, he would gleefully report on the most recent casualties of the Blitz, often warning his audience to expect further punishment from the German Luftwaffe. Joyce’s influence waned in the later years of the war, and he was eventually captured near Flensburg, Germany in 1945 after occupying British troops recognized his famous voice. Found guilty of aiding the enemy, Britain’s most famous turncoat was executed by hanging in January 1946.
More than a dozen female Japanese broadcasters were dubbed “Tokyo Rose,” but the nickname was most famously linked to an American named Iva Toguri. A native of Los Angeles, Toguri was stranded in Japan after World War II broke out while she was visiting family members. She eventually took a job at Radio Tokyo, where she found herself ushered into a role as an on-air presenter. Using the handle “Orphan Ann,” the smoky-voiced Toguri soon became a legend of the Pacific Theater. By late 1943, thousands of GIs regularly tuned in to “The Zero Hour,” a radio show where she played pop music in between slanted battle reports and put-downs aimed at U.S. troops.