While resting in an Italian based camp prior to the launch of Operation Dragoon, CPL Charles E. Pugh of the 596th Parachute Engineer Company, tuned in to Radio Berlin on a hot and humid August afternoon.
“Axis Sally” was playing a record of Sentimental Journey, a popular American ballad of the time.
Sentimental Journey concluded, and sexy-voiced Axis Sally came on the air. “Hey, all you good-looking guys in the 517th Parachute Regiment outside Rome,” she cooed, “you won’t have to paint your face black like you did yesterday when you come to southern France.”
Mildred Elizabeth Gillars, nicknamed “Axis Sally” along with Rita Zucca, were American broadcasters employed by Nazi Germany to disseminate propaganda during World War II.
In 1940, Gillars obtained work as an announcer with the Reichs-Rundfunk-Gesellschaft (RRG), German State Radio.
By 1941, the US State Department was advising American nationals to leave Germany and German controlled territories.
However, Gillars chose to remain because her fiancé, Paul Karlson, a naturalized German citizen, said he would never marry her if she returned to the United States. Shortly afterwards, Karlson was sent to aid the German war effort in the Eastern Front, where he was killed in action.
Gillars’ broadcasts initially were largely apolitical. This changed in 1942 when Max Otto Koischwitz, the program director in the USA Zone at the RRG, cast Gillars in a new show called Home Sweet Home.
She soon acquired several names amongst her GI audience, including the “Bitch of Berlin,” Berlin Babe, Olga, and Sally, but the one most common was “Axis Sally”. This name probably came when, asked on air to describe herself, Gillars said she was “the Irish type… a real Sally.”
Gillars’ main programs from Berlin were:
Home Sweet Home Hour, from December 24, 1942, until 1945, a regular propaganda program aimed at making U.S. forces in Europe feel homesick. A running theme of these broadcasts was the infidelity of soldiers’ wives and sweet-hearts while the listeners were stationed in Europe and North Africa. She questioned whether the women would remain faithful, “especially if you boys get all mutilated and do not return in one piece”. Opening with the sound of a train whistle, Home Sweet Home attempted to exploit the fears of American soldiers about the home front. The broadcasts were designed to make soldiers feel doubt about their mission, their leaders, and their prospects after the war.
Midge at the Mike, broadcast from March to late fall 1943, in which she played American songs interspersed with defeatist propaganda, anti-Semitic rhetoric and attacks on Franklin D. Roosevelt.
GI’s Letter-box and Medical Reports (1944), directed at the U.S. home audience in which Gillars used information on wounded and captured U.S. airmen to cause fear and worry in their families. After D-Day (June 6, 1944), Gillars and Koischwitz worked for a time from Chartres and Paris for this purpose, visiting hospitals and interviewing POWs, falsely claiming to be a representative of the International Red Cross. In 1943, they had toured POW camps in Germany, interviewing captured Americans and recording their messages for their families in the US. The interviews were then edited for broadcast as though the speakers were well-treated or sympathetic to the Nazi cause.
Following Gillars’ capture in post-war Berlin, she became the first woman to be convicted of treason against the United States. In March 1949, she was sentenced to ten to thirty years’ imprisonment. Released in 1961, she passed away at the age of 87 in 1988.
Her partner in crime, Rita Luisa Zucca, was an American-born Italian propagandist to Allied troops in Italy and North Africa.
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