Canned Goods

​Also sometimes referred to as Operation Canned Goods, Operation Himmler was a so called ‘False flag’ project, aimed at creating a ‘Casus Belli’ (an excuse or justification to go to war) with Poland. It was designed to create the impression of Polish aggression towards Germany. The fact that the international community may not believe it was largely irrelevant. Hitler – ever the gambler – was counting on the inaction of the West to guarantee its success.

All he needed was a provocation as an excuse to attack. The fact the Poland had no plans to give one mattered not – the Nazi’s would create on themselves.


Sturmbannführer (Major) Alfred Naujocks, who led the attack on Gleiwitz radio station.


Much of what we know about the Gliewitz Inicident comes from his testimony at the Nuremberg  Trials which took place at the end of the Second World War.

In the months before the invasion, the Nazis had ensured that the media had whipped up a frenzy of hostility towards the Poles, with lurid tales of Polish mistreatment of ethnic Germans living in Poland.

With the German public now believing tales of Polish hostility towards Germans, the stage was now set.

Gliewitz in 2020

Canned goods

​On 31 August 1939, the plan was executed by German agents dressed as Polish Soldiers, led by Alfred Naujocks, a German SS-Sturmbannführer (Major). They pretended to attack border buildings, fired indiscriminate shots, carried out acts of vandalism – generally cause a lot of fuss and noise without actually causing much actual damage. However, in order to add to the authenticity of the scheme, several unfortunate prisoners from concentration camps were sacrificed. 

Dressed in Polish uniforms, they were given lethal injections before their corpses were then shot to give the impression they had died in combat. (The name ‘Canned Goods’ came from this aspect of the operation due to the condemned prisoners being referred to as ‘Konserve’ – i.e canned goods.) 

Plaque at Gliewitz which commemorates the incident.

The main part of the operation was the attack on the German radio station at Gleiwitz, but several other incidents formed part of the operation, including ‘attacks’ on the German customs station at Hochlinden and the forest service station in Pitschen.

Unsurprisingly, the Nazis limited press coverage of the incident, only allowing journalists from the USA to visit the scene but no detailed investigation of the incident was allowed. However, despite the Nazi’s efforts, the international media largely disbelieved the Nazi’s version of events. 

Acting suitably outraged by this ‘incident’, Hitler made the following speech on the 1 September 1939:

The radio station at Gleiwitz.

Additionally, thousands of ethnic Germans living in Poland had been preparing for the forthcoming invasion, ready to carry out acts of sabotage and guerrilla warfare and assisted by the by the Abwehr (German Military Intelligence); These German agents assisted the invading German forces during the invasion of Poland, leading to some reprisals by the Poles, which were then in turn highly exaggerated by the German Nazi propaganda.

Bloody Sunday

​A notable example of this was the Bydgoszcz ‘Bloody Sunday’ (the term ‘Bloody Sunday’ was created and promoted by Nazi propaganda officials). An instruction issued by the Nazi Ministry of Propaganda for the press said:

​After an exchange of fire between Polish troops and ethnic Germans in the town of Bydgoszcz during the invasion, it was reported that the captured Germans were captured and executed on the spot with others being summarily lynched. A German army investigation of the event concluded that the incident was caused by confusion and alarm amongst the Polish troops. (An investigation in 2004 estimated that 30 – 40 Poles died and around 100 – 300 Germans).

​In retaliation, the Wehrmacht carried out - according to Polish historian Czesław Madajczyk: 

However, to this day, there is still disagreement amongst historians as to the exact number of victims of Bloody Sunday.

Foreign journalists at the site of the alleged Polish atrocities.


​It soon became apparent to the rest of the world that a major incident had occurred. German media sources were spinning the incident as a Polish attack.  The BBC reported: 

​The next day – September 1st 1939 – the Second World War started.


Archives of the Avalon Project at the Yale Law School. Address by Adolf Hitler - September 1, 1939 (
(James J. Wirtz, Roy Godson, Strategic Denial and Deception: The Twenty-First Century Challenge, Transaction Publishers, 2002) ​
A. K. Kunert, Z. Walkowski, Kronika kampanii wrześniowej 1939, Wydawnictwo Edipresse Polska, Warszawa 2005, ISBN 83-60160-99-6, p. 35.

Jeanette Lamb ​Fake News is Nothing New: 5 'Black Propaganda' Operations From the 1930s and 1940s (
Lock, Stock, and History — The Gleiwitz Incident A false flag operation is a... (

U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, item number CW-004
How a False Flag Sparked World War Two: The Gleiwitz Incident Explained | History Hit