In 1936 a British military mission was heading to Russia to observe manoeuvres at Minsk. It consisted of General Wavell (better known for his time in the desert in 1940, and then in Burma), Lieutenant General Martel (the famous British tank officer and engineer, also commanded the British forces at Arras) and a Major Hayes. The Air Force was represented by Wing Commander Wigglesworth.
To get to these manoeuvres they travelled via Berlin where they met Colonel Hotblack, who won a DSO in the First World War. He had a background in reconnaissance and intelligence and spoke fluent German. Col Hotblack was the lead military attaché to the Berlin embassy, over dinner he entertained his guests with a recent occurrence in the German Army.
|Hitler is confused!|
And so, somewhat predictably Hitler decreed that the Germans should try to install a British sense of humour into the German army, only they did it in a very German way. First they tried to teach jokes by numbers. You'll never guess what, that plan failed miserably.
So undeterred they tried a new approach. The idea was to let the soldiers soak up the humour naturally. So they took a number of Bruce Bairnsfather's cartoons (creator of the "if you know of a better hole" cartoon) and translated the jokes directly into German. Every week a new poster would be displayed in all the barracks across the German Army. Col Hotblack asked if he might view the first trial carried out by the Germans, which the Germans happily agreed to.
|The cartoon selected for the first German trials.|
With a straight face Col Hotblack stood aside and the first unit of Germans were marched, turned to face the poster, and ordered to read the writing so they might absorb the British humour. After they had dutifully done so, they were marched out. Not one of them had so much as smiled.
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There is one other incident about German Army humour. They did try again 73 years later in Afghanistan, putting this t-shirt on sale on German Army bases.
|Nope, can't see how this will go wrong...|
However the German soldiers tried again with another t-shirt. This one read “My Grandpa never got this far east!”. Looks like the German army finally deployed humour!