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"Fifth Column" from Intelligence Bulletin, November 1942

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]  
The following report on the Axis Fifth Column was originally published in the Intelligence Bulletin, November 1942.

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department Intelligence Bulletin publication. As with all wartime intelligence information, data may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the text. Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]



Fifth Columnists have taken part in nearly every war in history, but the term "Fifth Column" originated in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War. The Rebel forces were converging at Madrid when General Mola, one of their leaders, remarked: "We have four columns here, but more important than any of these is our fifth column, which is in the city itself."

Although Germany and Italy had Fifth Columnists at work in probably every European country prior to the Spanish Civil War, it was during this conflict that the two nations used them for the first time on a major scale.

The Axis not only tested Fifth Column procedures during the Spanish war but also tested new ground and air force tactics. It is generally believed that Hitler and Mussolini purposely allowed the war to drag along for three years so that they could complete their tests.

The term "Fifth Column" has been defined to include all the forces, in a given country, acting on behalf of the enemy and waiting to cooperate with an armed invading force in conquering that country. Fifth Columnists aid the enemy's cause by every practical means. To this end, they employ all forms of corruption, treachery, and propaganda, as well as military weapons. Their organization usually is not a haphazard one but functions as part of a well-ordered military plan.


Intelligence Bulletin No. 1 carried a list of Fifth Columnist practices in behalf of the Japanese. The list below consists of additional Fifth Columnist tactics in behalf of all Axis powers. The agents engaged in--

a. Direct Aid to Enemy Operations

(1) Lied to the British about the proper trails to follow in the Malayan jungles;

(2) Prevented destruction of bridges in Holland by tampering with demolition charges;

(3) Neutralized electric mines in the Oslo (Norway) Sound by cutting wires or removing fuses--thus allowing German transports easy access to the harbor;

(4) Posed as the Norwegian Defense Minister and ordered three Norwegian warships not to fight the Germans;

(5) Caused the commander of Fort Horten, Norway, to surrender, although nearly all invading German ships had been stopped before reaching the area;

(6) Purchased homes and farms--with German money--on both sides of boundary lines separating Germany from Denmark, Holland, and Belgium in order to aid movement across the frontiers of spies, other Fifth Columnists, matériel, and finally troops;

(7) Started street riots in Rotterdam and The Hague to confuse the Dutch when the Germans crossed into Holland;

(8) Laid mines under Dutch military establishments when that country was invaded;

(9) Stole cars to assist Germans when they invaded Holland;

(10) Posed as French refugees during the battle for France in 1940;

(11) Made chalk or paint marks in front of their homes in Holland so that parachutists could recognize them;

(12) Dressed as French, British, and Belgian officers and gave faked orders to United Nations forces;

(13) Spread rumors during the Western Front Campaign of 1940 that German parachutists were landing or about to land at different places;

(14) Posed as tourists in Spain, and in Spanish and French possessions in Africa, so they could work to help the Axis powers;

(15) Carried food and water from the Liberian coast (West Africa) to German submarines anchored off the coast;

(16) Gave out false reports that German parachutists were dropping behind the lines in France, disguising themselves as nuns;

(17) Caused riots by German minorities in Poland and Czechoslovakia and killed army officers in those countries;

(18) Guided airborne troops to landing fields in Poland;

(19) Used radio or signals from behind Polish lines to give German forces the exact locations of Polish positions and installations;

(20) Shot sentries in Belgium when the Germans invaded the country;

(21) Concealed orders and directions for German troops on advertising billboards in Norway;

b. Furnishing Information to the Enemy

(1) Removed tiles from a roof in order to flash concealed light signals to Axis fliers;

(2) Sent information to Axis air forces on the exact location of dispersed and concealed planes at several airdromes;

(3) Used identity papers of prisoners in order to get behind United Nations lines;

(4) Peered through windows with field glasses to study United Nations equipment as troops marched by;

(5) Collected and sent to Axis forces accurate data for military maps;

(6) Entered the Norwegian Army in order to cause disturbances in the ranks and to collect intelligence information;

c. Sabotage

(1) Placed open cans of gasoline under parked trucks and attached slow fuses to explode the fuel;

(2) Mixed sand with grease in the journal-box of freight cars in order to create "hot boxes" by friction of the sand in the axle mechanism;

(3) Sabotaged railway engines in Iraq;

(4) Removed the steel plates, and nuts and bolts, which fasten railroad rails together;

(5) Laid bombs under rails to explode when the locomotive passed over them;

(6) Sabotaged a large quantity of gasoline by adding soap flakes to it;

(7) Placed obstacles in gas tanks of vehicles to stop the gas line, or to dissolve in part and then block the carburetor;

(8) Cut wires leading to spark plugs in truck motors;

(9) Short-circuited electric power lines by throwing ropes over two or more lines and pulling them together;

(10) Cut and sometimes removed large sections of telephone and telegraph lines;

(11) Derailed ammunition train at Alexandria, Egypt;

(12) Cut vital parts of life belts to render them useless;

d. Subversive Activities

(1) Spread rumors of big ship losses and other battle disasters;

(2) Spread rumors that General Wavell had died in India early in 1942;

(3) Reported false scarcities of food supplies;

(4) Tried to produce quarrels among various religious groups;

(5) Spread false stories of disorderly conduct of soldiers, including tales of rape, murder, and drunkenness--all of which were designed to cause unrest among the civilian population;

(6) Distributed phonograph records critical of the British in South Africa;

(7) Printed and distributed propaganda newspapers and pamphlets with money obtained from the Axis governments;

(8) Spread reports that British soldiers were stealing household goods from French homes as they retreated on the Western Front;

(9) Placed a bomb in a public gathering place used by American soldiers in Ireland--the bomb was found before it exploded;

(10) Helped to conceal German parachutists in Ireland;

(11) Stole arms and ammunition from military stores in Ireland;

(12) Attempted to blow up a war memorial in Cork, Ireland;

(13) Caused an epidemic of fires in Ireland;

(14) Promoted pacifism in France before start of the war and encouraged quarrels between political groups.


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