Tag Archives: Nazi

The Post Office and the Blitz

Our archive and museum collections could tell a billion stories. In our latest podcast Assistant Curator Vyki Sparkes reveals some of them as she uses diary extracts and official documents to show how postal workers and buildings were affected by the Blitz.

New Cross Exchange, damaged by two High Explosive bombs which fell close to the building on 4 October 1940. (POST 56)

New Cross Exchange, damaged by two High Explosive bombs which fell close to the building on 4 October 1940. (POST 56)

Between September 1940 and May 1941 Nazi bombers targeted important infrastructure in the British Isles, including General Post Office (GPO) buildings such as sorting offices and telephone exchanges.

Many GPO staff showed great courage and determination to keep mail moving and telecommunications services functioning. Amongst them was Frederick G. Gurr who led the GPO Rescue and Salvage Squad, a small group of men who rescued mail, money and supplies from Post Offices and letterboxes bombed in the City of London.

To find out more about Gurr and other GPO World War 2 heroes download The Post Office and the Blitz podcast from www.postalheritage.org.uk/podcast or subscribe to our podcast with iTunes.

Colossus and D-Day

65 years ago today General Dwight D. Eisenhower and his staff met to discuss the Normandy landings, or D-Day. The landings had been planned for some time and their success depended on good weather for the crossing and landing, and minimal resistance from German troops so that the Allies could gain a foothold.

Weather conditions had been too poor for a landing in early June 1944, but chief meteorologist James Martin Stagg forecast an improvement on 6th June. This weather forecast is usually cited as the deciding factor in Eisenhower’s decision to set D-Day for 6th June. However, Eisenhower is said to have received another piece of information during that meeting which was just as crucial, and he had the skill and inventiveness of the Post Office Research Station, Dollis Hill to thank for it.

Post Office engineers re-wire a telephone exchange after an air raid. Post Office telephone engineers developed the first programmable electronic computer during the 2nd World War.

Post Office engineers re-wire a telephone exchange after an air raid. Post Office telephone engineers developed the first programmable electronic computer during the 2nd World War.

Before the war Post Office engineer Tommy Flowers and his team at Dollis Hill had worked in switching electronics, exploring the possibilities for electronic telephone exchanges. But by the early 1940s they were helping the British code-breaking team at Bletchley Park. Colossus, later recognised as the world’s first programmable electronic computer, was their greatest achievement.

Colossus was primarily developed to decipher the Nazi Lorenz codes, high-level encryptions used by senior personnel, rather than the more famous Enigma codes used by field units. Computer technology was in its infancy in the 1940s and when in early 1943 Flowers proposed the machine, which would run on 1800 valves (vacuum tubes), there was great scepticism that it would work as until that point the most complicated electronic device had used about 150 valves.

But by December 1943 Colossus Mark 1 was working and it was soon moved to Bletchley Park, where it was able to break German codes within hours. An improved version, Colossus Mark 2, using 2400 valves, was unveiled on 1st June 1944, four days before Eisenhower made his decision about D-Day.

An essay by Flowers published in Colossus: The Secrets of Bletchley Park’s Code-breaking Computers describes the crucial meeting between General Eisenhower and his staff held on 5th June 1944. During that meeting a note summarising a recent Colossus decryption was handed to Eisenhower. It confirmed that Hitler was aware of troop build-ups in southern England, but would not be sending extra troops to Normandy as he was certain that Allied preparations were a hoax. This information was said to have convinced Eisenhower that the Normandy landings should take place the next day.

But whether it was the weather forecast or the Colossus decryption which tipped the balance in favour of 6th June, Flowers and the Post Office Research Station team made a remarkable advance in computer technology. By the end of the war 10 Colossus Mark 2 computers were in use at Bletchley Park, providing vital information to Allies forces, which certainly reduced the length of the war. After the war Flowers and his team returned to their work in switching, later pioneering all-electronic telephone exchanges. Their ingenuity was only recognised in the 1970s when restrictions on the Colossus project under the Official Secrets Act were lifted.

Proposed stamp issues for Jersey during Nazi occupation

by Adam Reynolds, Project Archivist (Stamp Artwork)

Proposed penny stamp for Jersey during Nazi occupation

In undertaking my work for the Stamp Artwork Project, I came across two items of interest in connection to the German occupation of the Channel Islands during the Second World War. On 27th July 1940, just weeks into the occupation, the German commandant, Hauptmann Gussek, instructed that all British postage stamps be overprinted in black with a swastika design and the inscription ”Jersey 1940”.

On the same day, penny stamps to be overprinted with the swastika were approved by Gussek, and a sheet of 30 stamps was submitted on 2nd August.

Proposed swastika overprint design for Jersey stamps

Proposed swastika overprint design for Jersey stamps

The stamps were never issued, and of the four sheets printed only two have survived. In the recollection of the Bailiff of Jersey, Sir Alexander Coutanche, the German Commandant could not sanction the use of the stamps “because they contained a reproduction of the Imperial Crown”.

Following protests from Coutanche, the decision to overprint stamps with the swastika was abandoned, reputedly so as not to antagonise the local population.

For further information on this in BPMA archive, the following files may be of interest;

Post 102/10: Channel Islands stamp issues during the German occupation

Post 33/5790: Channel Islands: stamp issue during occupation

Post 33/5586: Channel Islands: occupation and liberation, restoration of postal services, Parts 1 – 2

Post 56/32: Report regarding Post Office services during and immediately following the German Army’s occupation of the Channel Islands