Tuesday, September 08, 2015
World War II Began With a Radio Broadcast
During the mid 1930's, political events on continental Europe began to focus on expansionism, until ultimately in 1939, it became very evident that a major war was on the horizon. Historians tell us that World War 2 began over the first weekend in September (1939) when massive German air and land forces crossed the border into neighboring Poland on several fronts.
A radio station on the edge of the city of Gleiwitz (German) or Gliwice (Polish) featured in the events leading up to the invasion, and this is the story of what happened.
The city of Gleiwitz was first mentioned as a town in the year 1276, and at the time it was ruled by Silesian dukes. Over the years, it was sometimes part of a neighboring dukedom, and there were times when it was an independent entity in its own rights.
In the 1300s, Gleiwitz became a possession of the Kingdom of Bohemia, and two hundred years later it was absorbed into the Austrian Hapsburg Empire. Subsequently, the city was absorbed into the Prussian province of Silesia, and in the late 1800s during the unification of Germany, Gleiwitz was recognized with the status of a Stadtkreis, a city with its own urban district.
During the development of the industrial era in continental Europe, Gleiwitz became a center for heavy industries and mining. At the time, there was strife between the German and Polish inhabitants, and under a plebiscite administered by the League of Nations, a vote of nearly 80% ensured that the city would remain as an integral part of Germany. However, after the end of World War 2, the city of Gleiwitz was mandated to Poland; and this prosperous and modern city of two million citizens remains Polish to this day.
Along with many other countries throughout the world, the radio revolution of the 1920s was evident in Germany, and their first radio station in Gleiwitz was inaugurated on November 15, 1925. At the time, this small station served as a relay transmitter for the programming from the Silesian radio station (callsign GPU) located in the neighboring city of Breslau.
This original radio station in Gleiwitz was located on Raudener Strasse in suburban Petersdorf and it radiated with 1½ kW on the medium wavelength 251 meters (1195 kHz). The aerial system was a center fed T antenna, mounted on two steel towers standing at 245 feet high. In 1928, the power of the station was increased to 5 kW and the frequency was adjusted to the nearby channel 1184 kHz.
Work commenced in August 1934 on a new station on a nearby country property amidst a pine tree forest on Tarnowitz Road, on the edge of Gleiwitz city. At the time, this location was still inside Germany some four miles from the border with Poland.
Several new buildings were constructed, including a new three storey transmitter building, together with a new high self standing tower; and new electronic equipment that was manufactured by the Lorenz, Siemens and Telefunken companies was installed.
The new tower, standing at 365 feet high, was constructed entirely of Larch timber, a tree that is related to the pine tree with a very durable quality. The timbers in the high tower were fastened with more than 16,000 brass bolts. This new radio broadcasting station was inaugurated just before Christmas in the year 1935, on December 23, still with 5 kW on another new though nearby channel, 1231 kHz.
Close on four years later, the Gleiwitz radio station was suddenly and unexpectedly thrust into an ignominious prominence as a pretext for the launching of a massive invasion of nearby Poland. The Gleiwitz incident was one of twenty-one provocative border incidents that occurred on that same evening, and they were intended to create the appearance of Polish aggression against Germany in order to justify the subsequent invasion of Poland.
As revealed in the best available documents, this is what happened. Shortly before 8:00 pm on the night of August 31, 1939, two cars drove through the entrance gateway to the station and stopped outside the entrance to the transmitter building. The small contingent of German troops in these two cars, six men with 26 year old Major Alfred Naujocks as their unit leader, were all clothed in Polish army uniforms.
The soldiers stormed the radio station building and quickly overpowered the two security guards at the entrance doorway and the three radio engineers on duty. Major Naujocks fired a few shots into the air to intimidate the radio personnel, and all, except Engineer Nawroth, were led to the basement with their hands tied.
The Gleiwitz radio broadcasting station was a slave relay station, carrying the programming from the mother station in Breslau, and at the time of the incident, a music program was on the air. There was no production studio here in Gleiwitz, and a microphone was inserted into the transmitter circuitry only for the broadcast of local weather and for occasions of emergency, if needed.
Engineer Nawroth was ordered to connect the microphone. It is stated that they were unable to use the main transmitter and that they used a second transmitter. This seems to be an non-technical way of describing the use of the inserted microphone; there is no way that a standby transmitter back then could be spliced into service so quickly.
One of the German soldiers, Karl Hornack, grabbed the microphone and attempted to make a clandestine broadcast in Polish. The broadcast lasted no more than part of a sentence before they were cut off the air by Engineer Nawroth who surreptitiously pushed a button, effectively putting the station off the air.
A multitude of local citizens heard the botched broadcast, but apparently it made little impact upon them. During an interview just last year, 85 year old Joachim Fulczyk in Gliwice recalled that he, his mother and her sister heard the broadcast and they were puzzled as to what was happening.
On the previous day, an unmarried 43 year old Catholic farmer was arrested on suspicion of partisan sympathy with the Poles. This man, Franciszek Honiok, was brought by car from a local encampment to a pre-arranged location near the station. He had been injected with a lethal drug and was unconscious.
Honiok was shot and killed and dragged into the doorway of the station. There are reports that other unconscious or dead people were brought in and shot and laid at strategic locations to indicate supposed evidence of a Polish attack.
This raid on the radio station at Gleiwitz was a sufficient pretext for a massive onslaught into Poland; and so that radio broadcast was the beginning of World War 2.
And so, what happened to them all afterwards?
Due to the realignment of international borders after the war, Gleiwitz and the surrounding areas of Silesia became part of Poland, and the city adopted the Polish name Gliwice.
The radio station survived the war without damage. On October 3, 1949 the frequency at Radio Gliwice was changed to 737 kHz, and then on March 15, 1950, the transmitter was re-tuned to 1079 kHz. At this stage, it was in use only as an emergency backup transmitter for the mediumwave station at Ruda Slaska.
In 1955, this medium wave station at Gliwice was withdrawn from service, and the facility was used for jamming Polish programming from Radio Free Europe. These days, the tower is in use for the transmission of 50 or more mobile phone systems, and a low power FM station. The transmitter building was turned onto a museum in 2005, and the tower is now a tourist attraction. It is the tallest wooden tower in the world, and the only wooden tower that is still in use for radio transmissions.
The Polish partisan Franciszek Honiok was killed at the radio station and he was buried in an unmarked grave, the location of which is forever unknown. He is listed officially as the first casualty of World War II.
Major Alfred Naujocks survived the war and he became a businessman in Hamburg Germany; he died in 1966.
We would presume that Engineer Nawroth who put the station off the air during the surreptitious broadcast, continued in service at the station.
Nothing more is known about the German army man who spoke both German and Polish, Karl Hornack; he was the temporary announcer who made the short broadcast over Radio Gleiwitz.
Last year, (2014) 75th anniversary celebrations of the Gleiwitz Incident were conducted at the radio station, with representatives attending from both Germany and Poland.
And that’s the end of the story: the radio broadcast that began World War II.