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Monday, 9 September, 2002, 20:02 GMT 21:02 UK
Was WWII mystery a fake?
Reconstruction of body washed up at Shingle Street
Rumours persist of bodies washed up on the beach

A World War II mystery over a "failed Nazi invasion" at a remote beach in Suffolk may have been manufactured by Britain's head of propaganda, a BBC documentary suggests.

The BBC East Inside Out team investigated the events of 1940 at Shingle Street for Monday night's programme.

The programme suggests that Sefton Delmer, a former Daily Express journalist who organised Britain's "black" propaganda unit, may have spread rumours of a failed invasion to boost morale.

The rumours may have have even been used to cover up the loss of lives on a British naval destroyer.

Photomontage of Shingle Street and oil on fire
Could oil have been set alight?

Since 1940 there have been continuing rumours of a sea on fire and a failed invasion attempt at Shingle Street, near Woodbridge, Suffolk.

Mike Paintin said that his father, a soldier during World War II, told how he was called out to pick up dead bodies from Shingle Street. "My father and the rest of his colleagues were called out to pull bodies from the sea," he said.

"The common link was that they were all in German uniforms and were all badly burned.


I would not put it past Sefton Delmer to deliberately ignite a few hundred gallons of petrol somewhere off the coast where he knew it would be seen

Phillip Knightly, investigative journalist

"If he said there were dead bodies, my father had no reason to lie to me."

Investigative journalist Phillip Knightly told the BBC that Mr Delmer, who lived near Bures in Suffolk, could have been involved in concocting rumours of a failed invasion.

"I would not put it past Sefton Delmer to deliberately ignite a few hundred gallons of petrol somewhere off the coast where he knew it would be seen," he said.

"And to make cetain some of the bodies that came ashore had signs of burning.

"Maybe even a few local people and some hearses leaving Shingle Street and going off into the countryside somewhere."

Phillip Knightly
Phillip Knightly says the invasion could have been faked

Thomas Waterhouse was part of the 20th Destroyer Flotilla called out to a report of enemy invasion barges off the coast of Denmark.

"The enemy were in the area, possibly invasion barges, and that put a different picture to us," he said.

"However we ran into an enemy minefield. So there were two destroyers, one sunk waiting for a rescue."

Many of the survivors were brought ashore on the East Anglian coast and it was thought to have been hushed up.

Mr Waterhouse said: "We were unable to know what happened to our casualties but it would be quite believable that for local consumption people had said they were the results of a failed invasion attempt.

"People didn't want bad news and they were prepared to go along with any cock and bull story to keep their spirits up."

Mr Knightly said this incident may have been used by the Government for propaganda purposes.

"Delmer and his colleagues in the Political Warfare Executive managed to incorporate this into the Shingle Street story to give added authenticity to the main story," he said.


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29 Aug 02 | Americas
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