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"The Enemy Calling"

William Joyce
William Joyce, after his capture, 1945 (Imperial War Museum, United Kingdom)

“Lord Haw-Haw,”  “Axis Sally” and “Tokyo Rose” were names familiar to millions during World War II. They were the English-speaking Axis propaganda radio voices whose main objectives were to upset, confuse and demoralize the Allied forces on the worldwide battle fronts.

Who were these people?

Using the Lord Haw-Haw handle from 1939 to 1945, William Joyce was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1906 to an Irish father and an English mother. As a three-year-old, Joyce moved to Ireland with his parents, then to England on his own when he was 15, where, as an adult he joined the British Union of Fascists. He was a rough character with a short temper. An understudy to BUF leader Oswald Mosley, Joyce felt comfortable behind a microphone giving dynamic speeches in favor of Nazism, discrediting the Jewish influence around the world and especially in Europe. Later, due to a falling out with Mosley, who thought his student too radical, Joyce formed his own group: the National Socialist League.

Escaping the British net for his beliefs, Joyce and his wife fled to Germany on August 26, 1939, days before breakout of war. There, he took up with the Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda who hired him for Nazi German on-air propaganda. Many Brits listened to him, finding his show informative (although laughable most times) because their own radio programs were highly censored. Before long--according to British stats--he had six million regular and 18 million casual listeners in the UK alone.  

Joyce would open each program with “Germany Calling! Germany Calling!” in a nasally, upper-English accent with a prominent speech impediment brought on by an unfixed broken nose he had sustained in a street fight as a young boy in Ireland. Using threats and misinformation, such as phony Allied battlefront losses, his favorite target was the “Jewish International Finance.”

With Allied forces closing in on Germany, Lord Haw-Haw gave his last broadcast April 30, 1945, a week away from war’s end. A month later, he was captured by British forces in northern Germany near the Denmark border. Tried and convicted for treason, his last words to the press before he was hanged were: “In death, as in life, I defy the Jews who caused this last war, and I defy the powers of darkness they represent.”

Mildred Gillars mugshot
Mildred Gillars mugshot, 1948 (U.S. Public Domain)

Axis Sally was actually two distinct women. One broadcasted out of Berlin to the Allied forces in Europe; while the other one used Rome, Italy for the benefit of Allied troops in Italy and North Africa. However, the more famous of the two was Mildred Gillars, the Berlin “Axis Sally.”

Born Mildred Elizabeth Sisk in Portland, Maine in 1900, she took the surname Gillars when her mother remarried. With dreams of acting, Gillars studied dramatic arts in France and Algiers, then settled in Nazi Germany in the late-1930’s, where she took music in Dresden, before becoming an English teacher in Berlin. In 1940, German State Radio hired her for propaganda purposes.

In her sophisticated voice calling herself Axis Sally, she wasn’t taken too seriously by most soldiers and airmen, but they loved her great swing music. Her most popular show was Home Sweet Home Hour, which opened with the sound of a piercing train whistle, before she went into her usual taunting of Allied troops telling them to go home to their wives and sweethearts who were cheating on them. Another was Midge-at-the-Mike, where she played her popular music and criticized the Jews and American president FDR. On GI’s Letter-Box, she took advantage of the wounded and captured Allied airmen by naming those who had been shot down over Germany, to supposedly strike fear into the families back home.

She made her last broadcast two days before Germany surrendered in May 1945, then disappeared into the migrant population. Found and arrested a year later, Gillars was flown to the United States in 1948 to stand trial. Convicted of one count of treason in 1950, she paid a $10,000 fine and served 11 years at the Federal Reformatory for Women at Alderson, West Virginia, until released in 1961. She died of colon cancer in Columbus, Ohio, 1988.

Rita Zucca
Rita Zucca (US Public Domain)

The Rome “Axis Sally” was cross-eyed Rita Luisa Zucca, born to Italian immigrants in New York City in 1912. Her father owned a popular restaurant in Manhattan called Zucca’s Italian Garden. In between working in the family business, she spent most of her teenage years at a Florence, Italy convent school. Returning to Italy for good in 1938, she worked as a typist until the war started, and for a short time after. By mid-1943, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini wanted to have his own Axis Sally, so he hired the smooth-talking, English-speaking Zucca to broadcast from Rome.

On her program Jerry’s Front Calling, she used the same Axis Sally moniker as Gillars and would sign off in her sexy voice by saying, “A sweet kiss from Sally.” She opened her programs with “Hello Suckers!” and promoted “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” as her theme song. She obtained most of her information from intelligence operatives inside the German embassy in Rome.

In 1983, a World War II bomber vet flying B-24 Liberators--pilot William Bruce from Buffalo, New York--recalled for me one of the Italian Axis Sally broadcasts while he was stationed at Pantanella, Italy in 1944 with 782 Squadron, 465 Bomb Group of the 15th Air Force. On the day before a bombing mission to Friedrichshafen, Germany on October 3, he spent a few hours playing poker with other officers in the nearly completed Officers’ Club.

The next day, after dropping their bombs and heading back to base, Bruce and his crew picked up Axis Sally’s radio broadcast, in which she commented on the Officers’ Club of the 782 Bomb Squadron near completion, and about the tight formation his group were flying. She went on to say that one day soon they could expect a visit from the German Luftwaffe. Minutes later, German fighters attacked the formation with devastating results.

“That night in the Officers’ Club, we were twenty men short.” Bruce said. “Five airplanes failed to return.”

As the Allied invasion forces moved north, Zucca fled with the German and Italian troops, eventually broadcasting out of Milan. When the war ended, she hid out in her uncle’s home until arrested June 5, 1945. The Allies chose not to prosecute her for treason because she had renounced her American citizenship prior to broadcasting. But the Italians put her on trial for collaboration charges. She was sentenced to four years, five months in prison, but was released after serving only nine months. Banned from returning to the United States, she lived her remaining years in Italy until she died in 1998.

Tokyo Rose plied her trade in another part of the world: the South Pacific. Her real name was Iva Toguri. Born July 4, 1916 in Los Angeles, California to Japanese immigrants, Iva was raised a Christian. A registered Republican, she graduated from UCLA with a degree in zoology in 1940.

Iva Toguri mugshot
Iva Toguri mugshot, 1946 (U.S. Public Domain)

In July, 1941 she sailed to Japan to visit a sick aunt. But the war intervened when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, leaving her stranded overseas.  Meanwhile, the Japanese secret police paid Toguri a visit and pressured her to forsake her American citizenship. She refused and was declared an enemy of the state, denying her any chance of obtaining ration cards. With no money, Toguri took a typist job first with Domei News Agency, then Radio Tokyo. In late-1943, she was hand-picked for a 75-minute-long program called The Zero Hour, in which she performed comedy sketches, introduced popular American music that the American forces thoroughly enjoyed, and gave news announcements. Her own average time was about 20 minutes each program.

Using the name “Ann” and later “Orphan Annie,” she made 340 broadcasts in all, and at no time did she call herself Tokyo Rose: the name was a GI invention. Her producer, a captured Australian Army officer who had previous broadcasting experience, and other captured Allied service men controlled the scripts and made sure Toguri did not say anything damaging against her home country, the United States.

Following the war’s end in the Pacific, Toguri was arrested September 5, 1945 in Yokohoma, but after a year in prison was released when American forces, including the FBI and the staff of General Douglas MacArthur, found no evidence of any treasonous activity on her part.  She then made arrangements to return to the US, but gossip columnist Walter Winchell created such a stink that others eventually picked up on. She was rearrested and transported to San Francisco in September 1948 to stand trial.

Found guilty this time on September 29, 1949, built on one very flimsy count of treason--a recorded broadcast she had made regarding a loss of US ships--was fined $10,000 and handed a 10-year prison sentence. Her lawyer, Wayne Mortimer Collins, was enraged, calling the verdict “Guilty without evidence.” She spent six years and two months in the same prison at the same time as Mildred Gillars, then was released in early 1956. She then moved to Chicago, Illinois.

On January 19, 1977, based on information revealed in 1976 that uncovered perjury and trumped-up charges against her almost 28 years prior, Toguri was granted a full and unconditional pardon by US President Gerald Ford on his last day in office. This returned her US citizenship which she had lost as a result of the trial.

Toguri lived the longest of all four radio propaganda voices, dying of natural causes at age 90 on September 26, 2006, a loyal American to the end who got a bad rap.


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