SMHS visit: Aspidistra propaganda radio station and nuclear bunker

14 Apr 2010

The Society arranged two visits to the site of Aspidistra on the Ashdown Forest at Kingstanding near Crowborough in April 2010.

Aspidistra was the name given to what was then the most powerful radio transmitter in the world installed here in 1942 as part of a black propaganda campaign run by the Politcal Warfare Executive, directed by former journalist Sefton Delmer.

The transmitter's name name was taken from the popular song of the time The Biggest Aspidistra in the World sung by Gracie Fields.

The transmitter was able to drown out German transmissions, allowing the RAF from 1943 to impersonate German nightfighter controllers, but also allowing Delmer to subject the German people to propaganda broadcasts, the nature of which left doubt as to whether the radio station was actually in Germany itself.

German radio transmissions shut down in areas whilst the Allied bomber force was approaching to prevent them being used for navigation. From 1945, state-of-the-art technology allowed detection of when the break in transmission came so that Aspidistra could take over the frequency, firstly by re-broadcasting the original programme from an unaffected German station without a pause, only for it to be faded out and substituted for the propaganda broadcast.

It was not only German civilians who were subjected to Delmer's ingenious propaganda campaign though; the armed forces were also targeted by programmes such as Gustav Siegfried Eins and Soldatensender Calais. Atlantiksender was successful in helping to demoralise U-Boat crews.

After the war, Aspidistra was used by the Foreign Office's Diplomatic Wireless Service and the BBC. Transmissions from Kingstanding finally came to an end in 1982.

From 1984 to 1986, the underground part of the site was gutted and refitted to be used as a regional seat of government in the event of nuclear attack. The Home Office closed the site down in 1992, whereupon it was taken over as a training facility by Sussex Police, in whose possession the site still remains today. A full survey of the site was published in 2000 by Ron Martin of the Sussex Industrial Archaeological Society. Ron is also a member of SMHS.

SMHS made a donation towards the upkeep of this historic site.


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