Catalogue description Political Warfare Executive and Foreign Office, Political Intelligence Department: Papers

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Details of FO 898
Reference: FO 898
Title: Political Warfare Executive and Foreign Office, Political Intelligence Department: Papers

This series contains papers relating to the formation, functions and activities of the Political Warfare Executive and also a small number of Political Intelligence Department papers. The series includes a complete set of leaflets, etc., dropped by air over Germany, Italy and the occupied countries of Europe.

Date: 1938-1973
Separated material:

For weekly intelligence summaries of the Political Intelligence Department see FO 371

For files of the Political Intelligence Department's Prisoner of War Division see FO 939

Held by: The National Archives, Kew
Legal status: Public Record(s)
Language: English

Foreign Office, Political Intelligence Department, 1939-1946

Political Warfare Executive, 1941-1946

Physical description: 559 files and volumes
Access conditions: Open unless otherwise stated
Immediate source of acquisition:

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Administrative / biographical background:

The Political Intelligence Department was established as a secret Foreign Office Department at the outbreak of the Second World War, and provided cover for the Political Warfare Executive when that body was formed in 1941. In its early years the department was much occupied with the production of weekly intelligence summaries, but in April 1943 that work was passed to a newly-created Foreign Office Research Department, which also took over the Foreign Research and Press Service where similar work was already being undertaken for the Foreign Office, under the aegis of the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House).

After the collapse of Nazi Germany in 1945 the Political Warfare Executive was gradually run down and its remaining duties were passed to the Ministry of Information and the Political Intelligence Department. In 1946 the Political Intelligence Department was itself wound up, its work being progressively transferred to the Foreign Office Research and Library Department and the Control Office for Germany and Austria.

The Political Warfare Executive was formed in August 1941 to undermine enemy morale and resistance by various forms of propaganda. It was constituted by an amalgamation of parts of the European sections of the BBC and of the Foreign Publicity Department of the Ministry of Information with Special Operations 1, part of the Special Operations Executive which was subordinate to the Ministry of Economic Warfare. Special Operations 1 had itself been preceded by Department EH, which had included a Department of Publicity in Enemy Countries responsible for propaganda by means of leaflets dropped from the air.

The executive was a secret department operating under the cover of the Political Intelligence Department of the Foreign Office, with which it had close links. It was directed by a standing ministerial committee consisting of the Foreign Secretary, the Minister of Information and the Minister of Economic Warfare and, below them, by an executive committee of officials responsible for the co-ordination of propaganda policy. The department was organised into two separate parts; a number of regional directorates based at Woburn Abbey dealing with intelligence and operations in different territories, and a central organisation consisting of functional departments and based mainly in London.

A major reorganisation took place in March 1942 when the ministerial committee was dissolved, with the Foreign Secretary becoming responsible for policy and the Minister of Information for the administration of the executive. The executive committee was replaced by a director general, who was assisted by an advisory committee known as the Propaganda Policy Committee and, from early 1943 as the 'director general's meeting'.

From August 1942 there was a Directorate of Plans and Propaganda Campaigns to initiate, supervise and revise plans for the conduct of political warfare and direct propaganda campaigns, subject to the control of a Planning and Policy Committee. In 1941 the intelligence organisation of the department was divided on regional lines, but centralisation was reintroduced with the establishment of a Directorate of Political Warfare Intelligence early in 1943.

In the later stages of the war the work of the executive in relation to particular countries gradually passed to the Ministry of Information as those countries were liberated, and the London and country staff were amalgamated when the war in Europe came to an end. The executive was finally wound up in 1946.

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