SGM Herbert A. Friedman (Ret.)
Note: A modified version of this article appeared in both the International Banknote Society Journal, Volume 21, No. 3. 1982
and COINS of November 1966. This article was reprinted with permission, in the summer 2014 issue of the magazine The Watermark, the Journal of the International Banknote Society's Netherlands Chapter.
United States Military Payment Certificates
Regarding the military banknotes depicted above - Although this article is specifically about propaganda currency, the American Military Payment Certificates (MPC) of the Vietnam War are very popular and collected at great expense by many veterans. For that reason I feel the need to warn collectors that reproductions abound. For instance, a militaria store in Australia offers Vietnam MPC Series 641- Seven notes issued August 31, 1965; Vietnam MPC Series 661 Eight notes issued: October 21, 1968; and MPC Series 681 eight notes issued: August 11, 1969. The price for each set is $6.95. The actual cost of these genuine sets is in the hundreds of dollars. Buyers beware! Know your seller.
The Surprise Currency Exchange
Artist Phil Fehrenbacher
The MPC was a kind of temporary money issued to control the local economy and also to assure that American greenbacks were not accumulated by the enemy. The Vietnamese and especially those playing in the black market and money changers would accumulate vast amounts of this military money through various illegal deals. To try and prevent these illegal profits, the Americans would select a day in secret, then close down the base and exchange all of the legal money the soldiers had for a brand new series of banknotes. In just hours all of the illegal MPC outside the gate were worthless. The Vietnamese who kept close watch on the bases would know when this exchange was taking place and come by the fences, trying to entice GIs to buy their money or exchange it for the new banknotes. It was a time of sheer panic in the villages.
It is difficult to say just when the United States government first involved itself in Vietnam. Some might select the latter days of World War Two when Office of Strategic Services (OSS) Major Archimedes Patti worked closely with Guerrilla leader Ho Chi Minh. Others might pick the years shortly after the end of the war, when the United States financially supported the French attempt to regain control of their former colony. Another choice might be 1959, when the Central Executive Committee of North Vietnam voted to change its strategy in South Vietnam from political to armed struggle. Whatever date one selects, it is certain that by 1975 the North Vietnamese were victorious, and the world watched in amazement as Americans climbed to the roof of the U.S. Embassy to flee Saigon by helicopter.
During the Vietnam War, propaganda leaflets were used continuously in an attempt to win the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people. The use of propaganda in warfare is a tradition that dates back to Biblical times. The use of forged, parodied or overprinted currency to be the medium of that propaganda, for the most part, is a phenomenon of the twentieth century. During the Second World War, the United States, Great Britain, Japan and Germany all produced and disseminated propaganda leaflets in the form of banknotes. The reason for this popularity is obvious. Even the most law-abiding citizen or soldier who would never think of reading the enemy's poison will stoop to pick up a banknote on the ground. Almost without realizing it, he will read the message and become an unwilling recipient of enemy propaganda.
The use of forged currency in warfare is also well documented. The Germans forged millions of British pounds during World War Two in an attempt to undermine the British economy. During the Vietnam War, currency was produced that combined these concepts. These notes were both propaganda and counterfeit, of a quality that could have conceivably made a shambles of the economy of the Democratic Republic of (North) Vietnam.
When the United States involved itself in the Vietnam conflict, it was quickly realized that propaganda would be a major part of the battle. In the attempt to win the friendship of the populace, American aircraft dropped 400 million leaflets in Vietnam in the period between April 1965 and November 1966 alone. The total number of leaflets of all types produced for use during the war was about 50-billion, over 1500 for every person living in both the north and the south.
First, a brief look at the PSYOP system in place in Vietnam. It changed radically as the war progressed so this is a broad overview. We start with a general look at military black propaganda. Military activities were officially described as providing assistance to the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN). Within the Military Assistance Command Vietnam, the Studies and Observation Group (MACV-SOG) was charged with conducting unconventional warfare, including black propaganda. MACV-SOG's efforts were organized around six sections that were assigned responsibility for clandestine Operations Plans (OPLANs). OP-33 was the PSYOP Branch, patterned after the World War II Morale Operations Branch of the OSS; In 1968 it was redesignated OP-39, the Psychological Studies Group. All black propaganda and currency counterfeiting emerged from OP-33.
4th PSYOP Group 7th PSYOP Group
U.S. Military white propaganda. The original military psychological operations unit assigned to Vietnam was the 1st PSYOP Detachment (Provisional), which arrived early in 1965. Later in 1965, a small unit of the Okinawa-based 7th PSYOP Group arrived in Saigon. By early 1966, Army psychological operations were being carried out by the 6th PSYOP Battalion stationed in Saigon. Demand overwhelmed capability, and in December 1967 the 4th PSYOP Group was formed from the existing PSYOP battalion and its companies. Because of the increased need for psychological warfare support, the 4th PSYOP Group was constituted in the Regular Army in Vietnam on 7 November 1967, and was activated on 1 December 1967 with headquarters in the Saigon Rail Yards (later moved to the Tan Son Nhut Air Base near Saigon). The 6th PSYOP Battalion became the 4th PSYOP Group; the four companies currently operating in the Corps Tactical Zones became battalions within the 4th PSYOP Group. The 4th PSYOP Group departed Vietnam on 2 October 1971.
Printing of propaganda by the 4th PSYOP Group was done in Vietnam at Group headquarters in Saigon, and in facilities at each company and battalion headquarters. For large printing jobs, the 4th PSYOP Group used the offshore services of the 7th PSYOP Group. The 7th PSYOP Group had its headquarters in Okinawa from 29 October 1965 until 29 June 1974. It replaced the U.S. Army Broadcasting and Visual Activities Pacific unit, which provided strategic support in the East Asian and Southeast Asian regions. Although the 7th PSYOP Group was never assigned to Vietnam, it provided PSYOP support to U.S. and Republic of Vietnam forces throughout the war by assigning personnel on temporary duty (TDY) to Vietnam (many in the 244th PSYOP Detachment in Saigon). For printing of white propaganda, the 7th PSYOP Group used the Regional Service Center (RSC) of the United States Information Agency (USIA), located in Manila. They may have also used the privately-owned Lithographia de Carmelo Y Bauermann (Carmelo and Bauermann Printing Press) plant in Manila though this is unsure. Additional printing was done in Okinawa and on high-speed multicolor presses at the Adjutant General's printing plant in Japan.
The PSYOP operation in Vietnam involved complex civilian and military arrangements, and was enormous in scope and confusing in structure. In addition to JUSPAO, MACV, and the 4th and 7th PSYOP Groups, other American units conducting PSYOP operations in Vietnam include the U.S. Embassy Mission PSYOP Committee, Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support (CORDS), the U.S. Army-Vietnam (USARV), force commanders and senior advisers, U.S. Naval Forces-Vietnam, III Marine Amphibious Force (who held original responsibility for I Corps), and the 7th U.S. Army Force. Psychological operations in Vietnam were sometimes termed "a many-splintered thing."
Despite the confusion and complexity of the allied PSYOP operations, the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong became targets of what would prove to be the largest psychological operation in history.
Before we discuss the actual leaflets, some comments by pilots and airmen who flew the missions.
First Lieutenant Woody Harrington was a co-pilot on a B-52G assigned to the 69th Bomb Squadron of the 42nd Bomb Wing at Loring Air Force Base, on temporary duty to
AndersonAir Force Base, Guam. The squadron regularly flew missions against in 1972. When on a currency mission, the B-52G was configured for about twenty CBU 27B Chemical Warfare Cluster Bomb canisters that each held approximately 25,000 banknote leaflets. The canisters were delivered on a flatbed tractor trailer. The canister was six-sided and once dropped from the aircraft it would come apart and disseminate the fake money. The canisters arrived with a vertical and horizontal band to hold them together and the bands were cut as the canister was installed into the multiple ejector racks. First the vertical bands were cut, and then the horizontal bands as the canisters were pushed up into the racks. Vietnam
Airman First Class Sam McGowan was a loadmaster assigned to the 35th Troop Carrier Squadron on Naha Air Force Base, Okinawa, from February 1966 to August 1967. His duty was flying classified missions against
as part of Operation Fact Sheet. He says: North Vietnam
Soon after my arrival I took part in a FACT SHEET mission which was directed against
. These missions operated out of North Vietnam . The leaflets were prepared by the Armys 7th PSYOP Group and delivered in cardboard boxes. Da Nang, Vietnam
Normally, a C-130 troop carrier crew consisted of five men two pilots, a flight mechanic or flight engineer, a navigator and a loadmaster. For the leaflet drops, the normal crew was augmented with an additional navigator and four additional loadmasters. Because the drops were made from high altitude, two other medical airmen were part of the crew.
The leaflet missions were classified and so were the leaflets, so only the aircrew was allowed on board the airplane from the time the leaflets arrived at the airplane. If the mission was a FACT SHEET, the crew would takeoff and fly to
Da Nang, or to after the spring of 1966, where the crew would rest and make the drop the following night. Ubon, Thailand
Drops were made from high altitude, usually 25,000 feet, which meant that the entire crew had to be on oxygen. The FACT SHEET missions werent particularly dangerous, even though the crews operated in North Vietnamese airspace. Drops were made from high altitude, which put the airplane well above most anti-aircraft, and the missions were flown at night.
The contents of the boxes werent generally known by the crews, other than that they were leaflets. The boxes were sealed and designed so they didnt break apart until the box reached the end of the static line and the leaflets thus deployed behind and below the airplane.
A pilot adds:
The C-130A's at
Nahahad several different missions dropping PSYOP leaflets in Vietnam, North Vietnamand Laos; and counterfeit currency in . All of the leaflets were printed in North Vietnam Okinawa. I heard a rumor that on one unmemorable occasion the shipments got mixed up; with the result that a load of phony North Vietnamese currency got seeded in . I've always carried in my mind a picture of some North Korean holding some forged dong banknotes and wondering just where he was supposed to spend it; or perhaps thinking, crazy American Imperialists. North Korea
Charles J. Zoerb of the U.S. Armys 15th Psychological Operations printing branch talked about printing both Banknotes for Vietnam and leaflets for Korea in an article entitled Vietnam-era veteran counterfeited, legally, to make life hard for the enemy written by Lou Michel in The Buffalo News of 19 February 2017. Some of his comments are:
With a top secret security clearance, he arrived on the Pacific island of Okinawa on 18 February 1966, assigned to a fully furnished print shop that operated nonstop Under the guidance of U.S. military brass and South Vietnamese officials, Zoerb and 29 other printers produced counterfeit money and propaganda leaflets During one eight-hour shift, one of those off-set presses could produce close to 180,000 bills, just to give you an idea of how much money we were printing. We also had two sheet presses and they were quite a bit slower, but one of them could print 80,000 bills in a shift The counterfeit operation occurred on the midnight shift for security purposes. During the day and evening shifts, printers churned out the propaganda pamphlets.
Airman Pete Brown says:
I was flying Frantic Goat missions over
with F-4 and RB-66 support between 1969 and 1971. We had an intervalometer rigged in the back of the airplane which would flash a light every so-many seconds, and the Loadmasters would kick out a box or two. It seems to me we mostly dropped money on Hanoi . Hanoi
The 1969 document Employment of U.S. Army Psychological Operation Units in Vietnam discusses Frantic Goat. Notice that it mentions economic prosperity but it quietly avoids mention of the propaganda banknotes:
The Frantic Goat Campaign accounted for about 20 percent of the leaflet program [At that time]. This program was conducted outside of the Republic of Vietnam with a mission of disseminating news and facts to the North Vietnamese audience. Themes used on these leaflets included the social and economic prosperity of the Republic of Vietnam. The North Vietnamese reader was asked to compare this with conditions in the North. The campaign attempted to counter the false or misleading propaganda produced by the North Vietnamese government and to provide information which was not ordinarily received by the North Vietnamese public. To give news to families of prisoners, one leaflet listed NVA soldiers who were held in POW status in RVN
One of the earliest American propaganda leaflets in the form of currency was a parody of a Democratic Republic of (North) Vietnam 50 Dong note of 1948-49. The North Vietnamese Affairs Division, Joint United States Public Affairs Office, United States Information Service, American Embassy, Saigon, Republic of Vietnam, prepared the leaflets used in this series. This leaflet was dropped during Operation Fact Sheet, later changed to Operation Frantic Goat, directed against North Vietnam from 14 April 1965 until the bombing halt in 31 March 1968. In the formerly-classified top secret MACVSOG Command History Frantic Goat is described as a high altitude leaflet drop along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, Laos and Cambodia (SOG 32). The code indicates that the Studies and Observations Group organization assigned to the task was the Air Studies Branch. Another aspect of the Frantic Goat program was to raise the level of leaflets dropped in the North from about 60 million per month to 100 million with 60 million directed at the Red River delta. The early drop dates of the 50-dong leaflet are as follows: 120,000 on 12 Jul 65 over Tri Dong, 120,000 on 15 Jul 65 over Yen Bay, 140,000 on 29 Jul 65 over Tranh Hoa, and 180,000 on 20 Sep 65 over the Vinh-Tranh Hoa area. Another two million banknote leaflets were dropped at later dates.
Genuine 50 Dong banknote
50 Dong Propaganda parody
The genuine note depicts the Communist leader Ho Chi Minh on the front. The back depicts a group that includes a farmer, a worker, a woman and two children. This note is printed in a pale green ink on a poor quality cream colored paper. The United States produced a propaganda parody of this banknote that is of higher quality than the original. Using darker green ink on a bright, white paper, they reproduced the back of the genuine banknote showing the group of Vietnamese citizens. Serial numbers on the American leaflet are "XM019" and "BD047". The propaganda leaflet is slightly larger than the genuine note, measuring 156 x 89 mm instead of 150 x 80 mm. When turned over, in place of Ho Chi Minh's portrait, there is a propaganda message in black ink on a white background. The Vietnamese text begins, "Hay tham gia ba san-sang..." The title is, "PARTICIPATE IN THE THREE READIES." Beneath this, in three vertical columns are:
1. Ready to end the invasion of South Vietnam advocated by the Lao Dong Party.
2. Ready to retain the rice that the Lao Dong Party takes to exchange for weapons from Communist China.
3. Ready to oppose all hardships that the Lao Dong Party imposes upon you to support the war of invasion of South Vietnam.
The Lao Dong Party is the Worker's Party, the name used by the Communist Party in North Vietnam.
North Vietnamese students took pledges known as the "three readies" to prove their patriotism and dedication. The actual three readies pledge is:
1. Ready to fight and fight valiantly, ready to enlist in the armed forces.
2. Ready to overcome all difficulties, to stimulate production work and studies, under any circumstances, whatsoever.
3. Ready to go anywhere and perform any task required by the Motherland.
Although the leaflet is not coded, my records show that it was number 12 of the 151 leaflets that were dropped on North Vietnam during Operation Rolling Thunder. It was probably printed in early 1965, since we know that leaflet number 22 quotes President Johnsons speech of 28 July 1965. My records show that the banknote leaflet was dropped on 12, 15, and 29 July 1965; 20 and 22 September 1965; 11, 12, 13, and 30 October 1965; and 10 November 1965.
The North Vietnamese press mentioned these banknote parodies in a the newspaper Hoc Tap, September 1967, in an article entitled "Resolutely Defeat the Psychological Warfare of the American Imperialists.":
Using airplanes and ships to fling leaflets and counterfeit money into the North is an important psychological warfare trick of the American imperialists. According to them, the American imperialists from April 1965 to the end of 1966 dropped in the North more than 400 million leaflets of all kinds, the contents of which were intended to distort our Partys struggle line of resisting America and saving the nation, to distort the "three readys" movement of our youth, to distort the policies of our Party and Government, to divide our nation from the fraternal nations, to invent stories of troop movements to the South which are based with sickness and death, to create an impression of terror in the face of the destruction by American airplanes, to boast of "American airpower," to praise the false prosperity in South Vietnam, to propagandize the deceptive "peaceful negotiation" schemes of Johnson, etc.
Another propaganda banknote is a United States parody of National Bank of (South) Vietnam five dong note of 1955. This leaflet was authorized by the Ministry of Defense, Joint General Staff, Tan Son Nhut, Vietnam, and printed by the U.S. Army Psychological Warfare Office (US-MAAG), Saigon, Vietnam from 1964 to 1966.
Genuine 5 Dong leaflet
The genuine banknote depicts a farmer with a buffalo working a rice paddy on the front. The back depicts a peasant's thatched-roof cottage surrounded by vegetation near a body of water.
5 Dong Propaganda Leaflet
The propaganda leaflet has a back similar to the original but there are a number of changes in the text and design. For instance, at the top of the genuine banknote is "Vietnam," while the parody reads "Vietnam Cong-Hoa" ("Vietnam Republic"). Another change appears in the center of the vignette. Both the genuine and the parody depict a peasant cottage, but the parody places a woman waving and holding a small child in front of this cottage. This is an attempt to cause homesickness in the Viet Cong deep in the jungle far from home and family. Additional text has been added below the vignette in Vietnamese, "Return to reunite with your son and family, live in peace and happiness." At the bottom of the note, "NAM DONG" has been changed to "NGUON SONG MOI," ("New life"). This is a high-quality propaganda leaflet and three plates were made, one for each color of the note.
5 Dong Safe Conduct Message
The Leaflet has a safe conduct message on the front that begins, "Can bo cac cap quan dan chinh " The message is printed in black on a white background. It is:
Military, civilian, and government cadres. This leaflet has the value of a passport. Military and administrative agencies, public and private associations, and people of all walks of life are requested to absolutely assist the bearer of this leaflet with means, food, and medicine, and guide him to the nearest Chieu Hoi (Open Arms, or Welcome-Return) agency of the government, which will take care of all procedures so that he can return and be united with his family. (Signed) Major General Nguyen Khanh, Chairman of the Revolutionary Military Council.
The parodies are smaller than the genuine banknotes. The propaganda leaflet measures l20 x 63 mm, while the banknote is 126 x 64 mm.
Major General Nguyen Khanh
Nguyen Khanh was a general in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. In January of 1964 he assumed power and installed himself as Premier. He was a poor politician but a strong anti-Communist, which made him popular with the American government. Khanh was ousted in February of 1965 and went into a self-imposed exile in Palm beach, Florida. Khanh claims that in late 1964 he secretly opened negotiations with the Communist National Liberation Front to end the war. He maintains that General Maxwell D. Taylor, the U.S. Ambassador, found out about the negotiations and cabled Washington on December 31, 1964. Two months later, Khanh was gone. This could be true or it could be self-serving revisionist history.
The U.S. printed five million of these safe conduct passes. Aircraft dropped the leaflets and patrols carried them into Communist held areas. Troops left bundles of them wherever the enemy might pass or congregate. This operation, code named "Bogus Money," reached its peak during the Tet Lunar New Year period of 1966.
First Lieutenant Rick Caplin was in Vietnam as executive officer of Special Forces Detachment A-321 from June to November 1964. He had a specimen of the 5 dong note in the small collection of propaganda leaflets that he brought back from Vietnam. He believes that he was disseminating them in the Mekong Delta at the time, although his recollections from five decades ago are hazy.
A problem arose when some of the finders of these leaflets began passing them off as genuine money. The five dong parody was so good that many storekeepers accepted it without question. This greatly troubled South Vietnamese small businessmen. An Army Special Forces officer told me that the leaflet was an extremely successful safe conduct pass. Many VC turned themselves in. The Special Forces liked the note so much that they offered to make up the small-business losses from their budget if the note were kept in use. An article entitled "How the bogus money backfired" appeared in the April 1965 issue of Coins. The unnamed author said "The bogus money started showing up in the South Vietnamese economy, going from hand to hand and gaining a certain amount of acceptance by storekeepers and merchants, presumably on the supposition that Uncle Sam or some other kind spirit would make them good." Eventually, the complaints were too numerous and the leaflet was withdrawn for political reasons.
There is a second variety of this safe conduct pass. It is a poor copy of the parody with a faded, washed out look and fuzzy printing. It is more red than brown and appears to be a photographic reproduction of the original leaflet parody, but on a cheaper, thinner paper that allows some of the propaganda message on the back to show through. There is no evidence to indicate if this second variety is a privately made forgery or simply a second version of the safe conduct pass produced with inferior paper and production values. Many leaflets were produced in the field under combat conditions and it is possible that both versions are legitimate. Except for the quality, the notes are identical. Perhaps a field unit wanted to use the successful five Dong safe conduct pass and decided to reproduce it themselves. 2,500,000 copies of this second printing were prepared. A merchant seaman that shipped in and out of Saigon during the Vietnam War said that the first variety was available for a while, though in short supply. It then became impossible to find. Soon afterwards, the second variety was available for sale in great quantities. During a conversation with a military printer on the subject of the difference in quality of the notes, I was told that the first notes were probably produced on sheet-fed presses which feed one sheet at a time and tend to produce high quality products. The second leaflet might have been printed on roll-pass presses which are designed for speed, up to 40,000 sheets an hour. There seems to be some truth to this supposition because recently another source told me that the second faded variety was printed on Web Fed presses using only one plate and one color instead of the three plates of the original parody.
There is also an unofficial use of the first variety of this leaflet as a party favor. The safe conduct text is replaced by "Good for one war story (unadulterated). This Chieu Hoi leaflet and a 5˘ piece entitles you to a war story from Colonel Jim (Paddy Rat) Keirsey concerning his exploits in South Vietnam / March 1964-March 1965." 150 copies were produced to give to attendees at a farewell party for the colonel upon his departure as commander of the 21st ARVN Division's advisory team. This note is illustrated and discussed in Vietnam Military Lore 1959-1973, R. A. Bows, Bows & Son Publishing, Hanover, Mass., 1988, pages 566-568.
In 2016, facsimiles of this banknote leaflet appeared. The seller seemed to want to warn buyers, but he did not place the word reproduction on the actual item. There is a design at the lower right but this is only for the sale photograph, it would not appear on the actual reproduction. Instead, he said:
THIS IS A REPLICA, A REPRODUCTION, A FACSIMILE . . . A COPY
WE OBEY SERIOUSLY EBAY POLICY: You can list one-sided copies of paper currency as long as you clearly indicate that the item is one-sided. You can also list paper currency reproductions (color or black and white) if the item is less than 75% or greater than 150% of the size of the original item being reproduced, and this is clear in your listing.
In April of 1972, the
renewed the bombing of United States . At the same time, they began dropping leaflets in the north as part of Operation Field Goal. Among the many leaflets that were dropped is a set of three banknote parodies. The North Vietnam wanted to take advantage of rising prices and inflation that was rampant in U.S. . Robert W. Chandler tells us that the plan backfired in War of Ideas: The U.S. Propaganda Campaign in Vietnam, Westview Press, Boulder Colorado, 1981. He says: North Vietnam
The ploy boomeranged when Hanoi responded with a burst of specious charges that the U.S. was guilty of forgery and attempts to undermine North Vietnams economy. Domestically, the government said inflation was due to the bogus dong notes flooding the country.
While looking through a large lot of genuine Vietnamese banknotes at a New York City auction several years ago, I found no less than ten 1 dong notes bearing the serial number RE 412887 in pristine condition. The propaganda message had been neatly trimmed away and both the original owner and the auctioneer had been fooled. They were offering the notes as genuine. In 1973, a collector working in the Far East informed me that in many of the small stalls used by currency dealers in Manila, North Vietnamese one dong notes with the propaganda removed were being openly offered and sold as "United States counterfeits".
At any rate, the propaganda banknotes that were produced in the greatest number and are certainly the most famous are the parody-counterfeits of the 1, 2 and 5 Dong notes of the Democratic Republic of (North) Vietnam. It would seem that "parody-counterfeit" is impossibility since the former must bear a message or a change of some kind so the holder realizes he does not have the genuine item, while the latter demands that the document be nearly perfect so as to fool the finder. How can these diametrically opposed concepts be brought together?
U.S. PSYOP experts produced North Vietnamese banknotes that would pass most casual inspections, but placed a tag off to the side bearing a propaganda message. The United States government approved mass production of North Vietnamese currency, but was always able to answer critics who stated that the notes were counterfeit with the comment "We don't counterfeit the currency of another nation. We just print propaganda parodies."
The United States Military Assistance Command was responsible for producing about sixty million of the propaganda banknotes in the years 1965 through 1972. According to knowledgeable sources, the banknotes were first produced, under contract, in a Japanese printing house in Tokyo. In the latter stages of the campaign, the printing was moved to an American run printing plant in Manila and the finished banknotes shipped from there to the Defense Department's psychological warfare command in Okinawa. The final destination was, of course, Allied airfields in Vietnam, where the leaflets were bundled and loaded on aircraft to be dropped over enemy territory.
PSYOP specialists called these notes "The inflation series." The campaign was meant to convince the Vietnamese that the cost of the war would lead to the destruction of their economy. American propagandists, when questioned, stated that this was not a form of economic warfare, and was in fact, simply another in a long line of PSYOP operations. They were quick to point out that the propaganda notes were just a shade lighter in color, the paper just a fraction thinner, and the length of the bill just a bit smaller than the original. In fact, measurement indicates that the forgery may be as much as 3/32 of an inch shorter than a regular banknote, hardly enough for the average person to notice. The fact that a message was added off to the side of the note was enough to allow them to say that no attempt had been made to counterfeit North Vietnamese currency. Within the letter of the law, they are correct in that statement. However, Secret Service agents who investigated a number of the banknotes which had the propaganda message removed, confiscated the bills on the premise that these were counterfeits and would have been accepted as regular currency by the Vietnamese people.
This was not the first attempt by the
United Statesto ruin the economy of . Air Force Colonel Edward Lansdale was sent to Saigon by the Central Intelligence Agency to gather intelligence on the Communists and do everything possible to disrupt Ho Chi Minh's organization of the populace of North Vietnam . In a remarkable black operation Lansdales psywar team distributed leaflets purported to originate from Communist headquarters instructing the population in North Vietnam Tonkinof projects planned for the following month. One of the plans was a money reform. The Vietnamese thought this meant a devaluation of their currency and the value of their money plummeted 50% in the days following the operation.
Major Marcus S. Welch, mentions Lansdale in his Command and General Staff College thesis: Irregular Pen and Limited Sword: PSYWAR, PSYOP, and MISO in Counterinsurgency. He says about Lansdale and his techniques:
Lansdale held a commission in the US Army and the US Air Force but at some point in the early 1950s became a field operative for the CIA. He never attended flight training and never held an Air Force command yet became a Major General before retiring from the Air Force in 1963
Use psychological warfare to trick, harass, and confuse an enemy, to raise his fears, to expose his weaknesses. It is an important component of any campaign against insurgents. Be willing to try the unconventional. An army must comport itself not only with military alertness but with psychological insights
Another example of propaganda was executed by one of Lansdales subordinates, Rufus Phillips. This incident, Dongs for Piasters, utilized the agit-prop notion as well. In early 1955, the division between South Vietnam and North Vietnam was in process. Due to the establishment of the two peer governments and the banking industry being largely controlled by the French, the value of the South Vietnamese piaster was influx. During the period, the Viet Minh had also established a currency, the dong.
At some areas, the value of the dong greatly outweighed the value of the piaster. To exploit this condition and incite anti-Viet Minh sentiment, Phillips used Lansdales technique to produce a Viet Minh pseudo-leaflet offering to exchange dongs or piasters on a one for one basis. After being disseminated, the pseudo-leaflet did incite a riot of angry labors who could not exchange their piasters as promised, eroding credibility and support for the Viet Minh.
The Viet Minh pseudo-leaflet was not hastily prepared but was a product of detailed intelligence and analysis. Former Viet Minh proclamations, paper, type face, and writing style were all analyzed to recreate credible reproductions.
Note: Agit-prop is derived from agitation and propaganda, and describes stage plays, pamphlets, motion pictures and other art forms with an explicitly political message. The term originated in Soviet Russia
North Vietnam complained about American counterfeiting of their currency on a number of occasions, once stating that they had confiscated and gathered enough of the currency forgeries to completely fill a room. For instance:
The Hanoi International Service in English dated 9 October 1972 published an article attacking the American banknote propaganda entitled, Vietnamese Lawyers condemn Nixons Money Counterfeiting. Some of the comments are:
Vietnamese lawyers have strongly condemned Nixon who recently perpetrated a new crime of a particularly cowardly character against the Vietnamese people by counterfeiting banknotes of the State Bank of the DRV and introducing them into North Vietnam.
In an article carried in the Sunday issue of the
daily Quan Doi Nhan Dan (Peoples Army), Lawyer Do Xuan Sang and Lawyer Pham Tranh Vinh wrote: Hanoi
In order to avoid condemnation by public opinion, each false bank note carried a stub on which are printed calumnies against the DRV. This counterfoil can of course be easily separated from the counterfeit note itself.
Nixons machination betrays his perfidy. Unfortunately for Nixon, international law, as studied and practiced in the main countries of the world does not tolerate his deceit.
Nixons crime of money counterfeiting is not an isolated crime. It is part of the overall policy of Nixon with regard to the DRV, the Vietnamese people and other Indochinese peoples.
The making and introduction of false money obviously is a new rung in Nixons escalation, an attempt to sap the finances and monetary system and a grave violation of the economic life of
. North Vietnam
The declassified USAF secret report entitled Psychological Operations against North Vietnam: July 1972 to January 1973 added:
The leaflet containing the North Vietnam one piaster note drew a sharp response from the North Vietnamese media. These leaflets were first dropped in late August and reaction from the NVN followed in a radio broadcast on 6 October. Radio Hanoi reported:
The Nixon Administration recently counterfeited banknotes of the Vietnam State Bank and smuggled them into a number of areas of our country. The Nixon Administration has committed another vile and despicable crime by making and smuggling counterfeit banknotes into the northern part of our country, plotting to upset the Democratic Republic of Vietnam's financial and monetary system and economic life, and at the same time intensify psychological warfare against our people. But our people, with intense patriotism, profound hatred for the enemy, and high revolutionary vigilance have collected these banknotes and turned them over to the administration as evidence for denouncing the Nixon administration.
The funny part about all of these North Vietnamese protests is that they were counterfeiting American currency about the same time. A captured document dated 12 November 1969 states in part that the Region Party Committee orders that individuals named Hao and Co are to continue counterfeiting US currency until further instructions are received because an all-out plan to disrupt the enemys economy is being formed.
Genuine 1 Dong Leaflet
Although the "inflation series" consists of just three denominations, there are a number of variations within the set. In fact, there are six different versions of the United States "Inflation Series" parody of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam 1 dong note of 1959 with attached propaganda messages in Vietnamese. The genuine banknote was authorized by the State Bank of Vietnam in Hanoi and printed by the Central Printing Factory, Shanghai, People Republic of China. The front depicts the War Memorial topped with the national flag. The back depicts farmers planting rice.
Parody Serial # TO 309592
The first variation of the one dong propaganda banknote is different from all the others in that the propaganda message tag is at the right of the front of the note. The parody bears the serial number TO309592 on the front, and shows a code "50" on the back. The 50 is proof that this banknote was dropped during the first bombing campaign against North Vietnam, Operation Rolling Thunder, from 1965 to 1968. A total of 151 different leaflets were dropped on the North during this campaign. In the first seven months of the operation 57,656,000 leaflets and 15,000 gift packages were dropped on North Vietnam. A Joint Chief of Staff document says about this operation in part:
The overt strategic leaflet campaign conducted by the United States and the Republic of Vietnam against North Vietnam accompanied the bombing campaign which operated under the code name Rolling Thunder. The leaflet operation was launched in mid-April 1965 and continued until the total bombing halt was announced by President Johnson early in November 1968.
William Lloyd Stearman headed the North Vietnamese Affairs Division of the Joint U.S. Public Affairs Office from December 1965 to September 1967. He states that when he arrived he was the only officer in the Saigon mission that had actual experience with Communist affairs. Stearman mentions the propaganda banknotes in his book: An American Adventure, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD, 2012. He says:
The most popular leaflet we ever dropped over the north was a very good reproduction of a one dong note with a message attached. We soon got reports that many were picking up these leaflets, cutting off the message and passing them off as legitimate currency. This prompted me to come up with the brilliant idea for throwing their economy into turmoil by dropping large numbers of much larger denominations with serial numbers and all the hallmarks of real money. Somehow the U.S. Treasury Department got wind of my scheme and killed it off decisively with the warning that, war or no war, the U.S. Government never gets into the counterfeiting business.
Two things are really interesting about this story. The first is that Stearman was never told that the US was counterfeiting currency to be carried by clandestine agents to the North, and the admission that he thought he could destroy the Communist economy. The US has always claimed that there was no intention to attack their economy and these were just propaganda leaflets. We now know that at least one JUSPAO official thought that attacking the Norths economy would be a good idea.
Stearman told me that the 1 dong leaflets he had printed were dropped in 1966 and 1967. As far as the counterfeiting scheme, he felt that all was fair in a war with a totally unscrupulous enemy.
This leaflet may have been dropped in mid-1966 since leaflet number 56 mentions the September 1966 elections.
The message on the tab at the right front begins, "Dong tien cang ngay cang mat gia..." ("Money is worth less and less. As the war goes on, there will be less and less to buy. Prices will go higher and higher. Your savings will become worthless paper.") The text on the back translates "Beware of another monetary reform such as that of 1959. You may lose all of your wealth, fruit of your sweat and tears." The banknotes were printed in vertical sheets of 5. The parody is a close reproduction of the original.
Looking through some of the old newspaper files that were collected at the time by the PSYOP Group I note one from Reuters dated 20 August 1966. It says in part:
United Statesyesterday showered 1,620,000 imitation banknotes over the communist state. Besides the facsimile of a one dong note there was a message saying, Money is worth less and less North Vietnam
A second article from the Associated Press in
Enough paper to reach more than twice around the Earth at the Equator has been dumped on
by American planes. More than 400 million propaganda leaflets have been dumped over the Communist-controlled North since April 1965. North Vietnam
To cripple Communist savings, Counterfeit North Vietnamese banknotes are dropped along with the message, As the war goes on, there will be less and less to buy :
The Washington Post added on 28 August 1966:
More than 300 million leaflets have been dropped on the Panhandle south of
. No one seems to know how many people live in the Panhandle Many North Vietnamese live there and many of the regular army units are bivouacked there before heading south to join their Viet Cong comrades. The banknote drop was meant to bring home to the Panhandlers the facts of a worsening North Vietnamese economy. Hanoi
Author Orr Kelly mentions the propaganda banknotes in From a Dark Sky the Story of U.S. Air Force Special Operations, Presidio Press, Novato, CA, 1996. He says in part:
One of the most demanding and dangerous leaflet-delivery missions was performed by a unit of Combat Talon MC-130s stationed at Nha Trang, in South Vietnam, in the late 1960s. Their job was to drop propaganda leaflets over major population centers in North Vietnam. It was strictly a single-ship operation. We would file a flight plan for Da Nang. Going into Da Nang, we would cancel our instrument flight plan and go tactical. Instead of landing at Da Nang, they would drop down to about 500 feet off the water and head north. Depending on the strength and direction of the wind, the crew would take up position and climb to 20,000 feet where they would drop the leaflets.
The leaflets were cleverly designed to attack both North Vietnam and its economy. The propaganda message was printed on a tab attached to a skillfully counterfeited piece of North Vietnamese currency. The assumption was that those who found the leaflet might or might not pay any attention to the propaganda message, but they would certainly pocket and spend the money.
Parody Serial # RE 412887
A second variety of the same banknote is uncoded, and bears the serial number RE412887. This is the only one of the six 1 dong notes that lacks documentation. There is no way to say if it was dropped during the first or second bombing campaigns, or sometime in between. It bears no code number so it is impossible to determine when or where it was used.
The message on the tab at the left front begins, "Tam anh mot dong..." ("The picture of this one dong note is printed on this leaflet to remind the people of the North that it is the aggression of the Lao Dong Party that is destroying the prosperity of the country and your welfare.") The longer text on the back translates "Please carefully observe your storage jar of rice. This year your storage jar of rice is perhaps only half of last year's storage jar of rice because now the open market price is high, while the rice sold at the official price is insufficient. The Lao Dong Party continues its aggression against the south, which has made your country and you poorer." The parody is a close reproduction of the original. The color of the parody is red-brown, closely matching that of the original. However, the serial number is printed in the same red-brown color, whereas the serial number on the original is printed in red.
These two one dong propaganda banknotes are of a higher quality than the remaining four, and there is reason to believe that they were used early in the war. We will discuss this in greater depth below. It is now known that banknotes were dropped on the north during the first bombing raids, then used again during the second series of bombing many years later.
1 Dong banknote with Error - Code # 4540 Horizontal
1 Dong banknote with Error - Code # 4543 Horizontal
The third and fourth varieties of the 1 dong propaganda parody are coded 4540 and 4543 (horizontal). These notes were both reprinted with a vertical code number because of an error. The original leaflet description sheet is dated 20 July 1972. We now know that these banknote leaflets were printed in the Regional Service Center in Manila at the request of the 7th PSYOP Group and dropped during the second bombing of North Vietnam known as Operation Linebacker from 9 May 1972 to 23 October 1972. The two banknotes were printed in a slightly different size because their drift pattern when dropped from an aircraft would be slightly different, covering a bit more ground. 4540 is about 74 x 190 mm (The US 7th PSYOP Group data sheet says 7.5 x 2.13/16 inches). 4543 is about 71 x 190 mm (The US data sheet says 7.75 x 2.13/16 inches). There will be very slight differences due to the paper cutting process. The designer of the leaflets told me:
My task was to take different sized currency notes and design a leaflet, or combination of leaflets, (remember that there were also 2 dong and 5 dong parodies), that would fall in the same general area from a single release point or route. That was no small task.
The theme is "Hardship of war Survive the War inflation." The rationale is "To cause the target audience to think about the adverse effects of war upon the economy." The error was discovered and the leaflets were printed again with the same code numbers, but now vertical instead of horizontal. In the original incorrect text we find the words cuoc cai tien te The text was corrected to cuoc cai cach tien te...
The intended text on the front is "Hay coi chung mot cuoc cai cach tien te nua. Cac ban co the mat tat ca tai san, cong lao mo hoi nuoc mat cua ban." ("Beware of another money reform. You may lose all your wealth, fruit of your sweat and tears.") The intended text on the back is "Dang thi vung-phi tien cua dong-bao vao mot cuoc chien-tranh tuyet-vong. Khi chien-tranh con tiep-dien thi tan-pha que-huong dong-bao. Tien dong-bao de danh se tro nen vo gia-tri." ("The Communist Party is spending your money on a hopeless war. If the war goes on, there will be nothing for you to buy. The war is destroying your country. All your savings will be worthless.")
In To Hanoi and Back: The United States Air Force and North Vietnam 19661973, Air Force History and Museums Program, Wayne Thompson adds:
Operation Linebacker made only feeble attempts to reduce the ability of the North Vietnamese authorities to govern their people. The Air Force did drop more than half a billion leaflets on North Vietnam. C130s and B52s dropped the bulk of the leaflets; many were released over the Gulf of Tonkin in an often vain hope that they would drift against the prevailing wind and reach the Red River Delta. F4s and drones were the only leaflet-carriers flying over Hanoi in 1972, and they could not carry anywhere near as many leaflets. Some inflation leaflets counterfeited North Vietnamese currency; captured prisoners reported that they had been able to spend this fake currency for a while in the evening, but its washed-out color did not pass muster in daylight.
Corrected 1 Dong Banknote - Code # 4540 Vertical
Corrected 1 Dong Banknote - Code # 4543 Vertical
Two errors in the Vietnamese dialect crept in one detected and corrected at an early stage, and one that somehow escaped detection for over 30 years! The first error is the omission of the word "cach" between "cai" and "tien" in the first sentence on the front of the 1 dong with horizontal code numbers. This omission renders the sentence meaningless, and was corrected in the 1-dong notes with vertical code numbers. The second error, at best ambiguous, is the presence of "vo-gia" instead of the correct "vo gia-tri" at the end of the text on the back of all the notes. "Vo-gia" translates to "priceless" instead of "worthless," thus changing the meaning of the last sentence to "All your savings will be priceless." Discussions with native Vietnamese and Vietnamese-speaking Americans reveal that, although Vietnamese would understand the intent of the message and would accept the error with mild amusement, the error would have been an embarrassment to the Americans had they known of it. Perhaps this explains why the error has not been reported earlier.
A Vietnamese told me:
An interesting propaganda message but so very out of touch. First of all, the people of North Vietnam were dirt poor with little material wealth to worry about, compared to their counterparts in the South. Secondly, the propaganda machine in the North was extremely effective so none of them would have believed in these leaflets. On the contrary, they truly believed that the South was being enslaved and robbed by Americans and they had the duty to go liberate their countrymen. They finally realized how poor they were only after the war ended when they came south to occupy the newly conquered territories.
How do these errors occur? Several American PSYOP officers in Vietnam during the war spoke of the impossibility of knowing exactly what their Vietnamese counterparts were writing on propaganda leaflets. A former Army Captain who was assigned to MACVSOG from February to August in 1964 said:
Are these people [Vietnamese nationals working with the Americans] on the other side really with us or against us? You never know that and I never knew, I dont have any idea personally other than we tried to double test so-called known people that belonged with us but they were still Vietnamese. Id write up the leaflets in English and take them over and get translated, and theyd say that means this, but did it really? I dont know and the people back in Washington will never know.
A former Army Major assigned to MACVSOG OP33, which provided staff supervision to OP39 (PSYOP) from June 1969 to June 1970, adds:
However, since neither we nor the US civilians in OP 39 were proficient in Vietnamese, the content, context, and scope of the various PSYOP products (radio broadcasts, leaflets, mail, etc.) were always suspect, in my mind. We really didnt have a way of ascertaining the quality of the product that was being put out or the nuances in a political sense.
Jim Foster in front of his bird - Anderson AFB Guam in 1972
USAF Lieutenant Colonel (retired) Jim Foster flew B-52 PSYOP missions out of Anderson AFB, Guam, during the latter stages of the Viet Nam War from July 1972 until early December 1972, and possibly some final missions in January 1973. He was the Co-pilot with the rank of Captain at the time, assigned to a 6-man crew out of the 340th Bomb Squadron, Blytheville AFB, Arkansas. His mission involved a single B-52G bomber assigned to the 72d Strategic Wing, Anderson AFB, Guam, dropping leaflets and other items from an altitude of 33,000 to 35,000 feet off the coast of North Vietnam south of Hanoi but North of the DMZ. When the wind was right his crew dropped the leaflets using a Hayes Dispenser, (AKA CBU-27/B), a huge boxlike aluminum contraption made up of 24 rectangular cells, which could be filled with bomblets or leaflets. Two such dispensers can be fitted into the Bomb bay of a B-52 bomber and drop 25,000 bomblets or millions of leaflets on a single bombing run. On some missions he dropped Propaganda banknotes of North Vietnam, on other missions he dropped small transistor radios that were tuned to the Voice of America. All of the propaganda banknotes he dropped are depicted in this article below, the 1, 2 and 5 dong banknotes coded 4540, 4541 and 4542. Among some of the other leaflets that he saved from his leaflet missions was the Nixon re-election leaflet 4609 depicted below.
He told me:
The route of flight was direct from Guam to an orbit 15 to 30 miles off the coast on North Vietnam over the Gulf of Tonkin in the vicinity of Dong Ha South of Vinh. The drop took less than an hour, followed by return to base. The 11-hour mission was always flown over water when the winds were blowing from off-shore so that the PSYOP material would be blown over the coast and onto land. The leaflet drop was carefully timed so that a canister was released about every 15 to 30 seconds. A few times we had fighter escort, but most of the time we were alone. We dropped propaganda leaflets, North Vietnamese banknotes, and small transistor radios. We always flew at night. The banknotes had a propaganda message off to the side that could be cut off. We were told some Chieu Hoi defectors were actually found using the money to help make their way to surrender points.
It is interesting to note that instead of dropping leaflets directly over Hanoi and other targets, Foster dropped from far out at sea, a method known as standoff that had already been used by the 7th PSYOP Group in a top-secret mission named Jilli (Truth), to disseminate propaganda on targets in North Korea from 1964 to 1968.
The declassified secret document Psychological Operations against North Vietnam July 1972 January 1973 adds:
The B-52 proved to be a good platform for standoff leaflet delivery. Using a device I called a Hayes dispenser, it could either deliver the leaflets close to a target or use the wind drift technique. The problem in using the B-52 was that it required a sophisticated support package. Because of the limited availability of air resources, Seventh Air Force often had difficulty providing the support package, and on occasion could not provide it. Once these PSYOP missions were integrated with ARC LIGHT bombing strikes over the North, this problem disappeared.
It is interesting to note two instances of individual reactions as well. In September 1972 a captured NVA private said he had seen the inflation leaflets, but largely ignored them since he felt that they were useless as money because they had faded. Another source picked up the inflation leaflets near his home in NVN. Although he reported that the one piaster leaflets were pink where they should have been red and all of the serial numbers were the same, he was able to use the notes to make purchases after dark. He was able to use them for approximately two weeks until local NVN officials ordered all of the notes destroyed under penalty of jail. The source stated that he would have liked to have found more of the leaflets because there were many items that his family needed but could not afford. Also, had the notes been of the correct color, he would have been able to rake purchases during the day when all of the market stands were open.
Genuine North Vietnamese 2 Dong Banknote
North Vietnamese 2 Dong Banknote Propaganda Parody Code # 4541
Genuine North Vietnamese 5 Dong Banknote
North Vietnamese 5 Dong Banknote Propaganda Parody Code # 4542
The United States "Inflation Series" parodies of the North Vietnamese 2 dong is coded 4541 vertically and 5 dong is coded 4542 vertically. These leaflets are only known with the corrected text and only one variety of each exists. The propaganda text is the same as the one-dong notes 4540 and 4543. The 7th PSYOP data sheets state that the size of leaflet 4541 is 7.5 x 3-inches and 4542 is 7.5 x 3 1/8 inches. As mentioned above, the difference in size would cause the leaflets to fall in a slightly different pattern covering more ground.
All the leaflet banknotes are close reproductions of the originals. The inking of some of the details in the central vignettes on front and back is deeper in the parodies, obscuring some of the fine detail in the originals. The parodies show a background of faint, closely-spaced wavy lines in the vignettes on both front and back. This corresponds closely with the 1 dong and 2 dong originals, but differs from the 5 dong original, which has no background.
Recently some technical questions arose about how these propaganda parodies were printed. An international forgery expert was interested in the techniques that were used. Retired Colonel Joseph Boling studied his own collection and replied:
All are printed by line lithography (not four-color-process), including the serial numbers. I presume that every note on a sheet had a different serial, but I don't know how many notes were placed on each sheet.
The first two leaflets are pretty simple. The code 50 note (serial TO 309592) is brown with a red serial and no tint. The back is the same color as the face. The uncoded leaflet (serial RE 412887) is brown on a yellow-green tint, with the serials in the main plate (not red). The back is the same colors.
The other four leaflets are much closer to the originals in coloration, although there is no intaglio process and the serials are still lithographed. The lithographic tints (the underprints) are in two colors; one is uniform across the note and the other simulates the variegated nature of the original notes by using thicker lines in some portions of the note. Both sides of each note are the same colors.
The 1 dong leaflet is dull red on a green and orange tint, with red serials. Both text varieties are the same. The orange tint is more prominent in the center. The original (genuine) note used as a model is dark red intaglio on a dual tint. The green tint is a uniform shade across the note, but the second is variegated, tan-orange-tan. The original serials are red letterpress.
The 2 dong leaflet is dark blue on green and orange tints, with the green tint less prominent in the center. The genuine note (model) is dark blue intaglio on a green tint and an olive-orange-olive variegated tint. The back is the same.
The 5 dong leaflet is dark brown on blue and orange tints, with the blue more prominent in the center. The genuine note (model) is dark brown intaglio on a yellow tint and an olive-blue-olive variegated tint. The back is the same.
The leaflets are all on unwatermarked paper. The original notes are on paper watermarked with repeating black and white stars.
An airman told me in regard to the banknote leaflets:
I was stationed at
AndersonAir Force Base, Guamin early 1972 where I worked in the Munitions Maintenance Squadron where we received, stored and assembled bombs that were loaded on the B-52 bombers stationed there. One night we got a call on the midnight shift to assemble some special drops that we called B.S. Bombs which had 2 and 5 Dong currency leaflets with the writing on the sides. I still have a couple of the bills (folded in half) in the same envelope I put them in during my stint on Guam. I have rarely taken them out of the envelope and the color is still vivid like they were new.
The son of Master Sergeant William Leonard McReynolds, who was First Sergeant of the unit assigned to load the leaflet bombs onto B-52s on Guam showed me about four dozen of the Vietnam propaganda banknotes and told me:
My father and our family were stationed at Anderson AFB, Guam from 1970 thru 1973. During his tour he was the First Sergeant of the company loading bombs on the B-52s. He brought home these 1, 2 and 5 dong leaflets and told us what they were for. He also had some transistor radios with mini parachutes they dropped over Vietnam but they have been lost over the years.
The Machinato Printing Plant Okinawa
SP4 Jeff Truesdale of the 14th PSYOP Battalion of the 7th PSYOP Group
(December 1972 to June 1973) sent us these photographs of the Machinato Printing Plant on Okinawa.
Printing Press Number Two - Machinato Printing Plant
SP4 Jeff Truesdale on the night shift - Machinato Printing Plant
Jeff Truesdale told me:
In December 1972, I arrived in Vietnam as an Army Private First Class assigned to the 7th PSYOP Group, Military Occupational Specialty 83F20, Offset Pressman. My printing press was a Hancho Web; and we printed leaflets 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, operating 3 shifts. My unit printed the banknote leaflets on temporary duty to Guam. I did not receive orders to Guam. Our barracks were located at Sukiran, Okinawa. By the time I left the military I had made Specialist 5.
Why would the men be sent to Guam? That was where the B-52 bombers were stationed that would drop the banknotes over the north. It appears someone wanted the printing closer to the bombers to save time and effort. We seem to have discovered that the banknote leaflets were printed in at least three locations, Okinawa, the Philippines and Guam. They were apparently thought to be an important weapon.
Although this phase of the project occurred in 1972, there is reason to believe that it actually started much earlier. This information is still classified in part, and the following information has been gathered from private conversations. It appears that the banknote propaganda project originated in 1968 with the 4th PSYOP Group in Saigon. It was sent to the Pentagon for approval, funding, and execution. Samples of the parodies were sent back and forth between the Pentagon and Saigon until details of form and Vietnamese dialect were worked out. The Pentagon authorized printing to commence at the Regional Service Center in Manila, and the leaflets were warehoused until used at the Machinato Base on Okinawa.
7th PSYOP Banknote Leaflet Description Sheet
These official sheets depicted the actual leaflet, gave the English-language translation and other information such as the size and sometimes the paper weight.
I spoke to a former officer of the 7th PSYOP Group who was involved in the 1973 banknote operation. He said:
In 1972-1973, I returned to Vietnam on extended TDY to run strategic leafleting operations throughout Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. There were three banknote leaflet denominations, the 1, 2 and 5 dong, with a message printed at the end of the leaflet on the front and back. Design and layout graphics wanted the back of each leaflet to have the printed message. I told them that was not what we wanted. The drop requirement was to come up with three leaflet widths to accommodate the three note widths, and at the same time have them fall in the same general area. The length needed not only to accommodate the note, but leave a space for an inflation message at the end.
Someone from the 7th PSYOP group hand-carried the packet to RSC-Manila. They printed up some samples, and considered them too damn good. They bundled them up and stuck them in the safe. They were released and printed after the Secretary of State sent a message to RSC and said print them. I think RSC were the only ones to print the leaflet. Had Group printed it, I would have had an uncut sheet. Once RSC-Manila got on board, they made as many serial numbers as they could by moving around the digits of the three original notes.
The timing and placement of the airdrops were determined by units under the 4th PSYOP Group in Saigon, so it would appear as if the operation were completely under the control of local operatives in Vietnam. The parodies were good enough so that when the propaganda tab was cut off the remainder could be passed as genuine, as intended by the producers. The North Vietnamese complained to the U.S. that the fakes were causing inflation, and the issue was debated in the United States Congress, where some congressmen objected to this method of fighting a war. However, the program continued until Senator Edward M. Kennedy became involved, whereupon the program was abruptly stopped. (This may have coincided with President Nixon's decision in 1969 to cease bombing of the North.). There is evidence in the left-wing press of the earlier drops and it is likely that the first 1 dong note, code 50 is the item that was dropped.
The Counterfeit Currency Becomes Collectable
It is strange how items that are clearly fakes can sometimes become more valuable than the genuine items that they pretend to be. In WWII the American OSS parodied a Hitler birthday stamp sheet. The actual German sheets cost a few dollars, but stamp collectors so wanted the very rare fake sheets that they sold for as high as 30,000 dollars. The United States counterfeited Philippine currency and the Germans counterfeited the British pound in WWII. In both cases the rarities are much scarcer than the genuine banknotes and thus sell for much more than the originals. In Vietnam the U.S. reproduced North Vietnamese dong notes and dropped them from aircraft. In theory, as currency they have no value. Yet, above we see that a dealer has sent the leaflet banknote away to a professional firm to be guaranteed and the quality of the paper and printing has been evaluated and it is being sold in 2017 as if it were a genuine note, although it is clearly a fake. I am not sure why anyone would go to the cost of sending a leaflet off to be inspected and evaluated like a fine banknote, but I suspect this leaflet will sell for many times more than the propaganda banknote picked up off the ground and sold. These parodies usually sell for a few dollars each, but I see that another dealer has the same note without all the fancy evaluations on sale for $36.
Pacific Stars and Stripes 18 September 1972
A letter from the President of the Bank of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in Hanoi dated 6 October 1972 says in part:
We condemn the Nixon administration for making and smuggling counterfeit banknotes in the territory of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. With a view to saving its strategy of Vietnamization of the war in South Vietnam which is going to complete defeat, since early April, the Nixon administration has made frenzied extermination air raids against many cities, provincial capitals and population centers, and against dykes, hydraulic centers, schools and hospitals. Recently, it has committed another crime, very dirty and despicable, against the Vietnamese people by counterfeiting banknotes. The making and smuggling of counterfeit banknotes by the Nixon administration is a wicked and cowardly act designed to upset the financial and monetary system and the economic life of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam The Nixon administration had defamatory statements printed in the margin of each counterfeit banknote .
One official reply to the Communist complaint was sent from the U.S. Mission in Saigon:
This is part of a continuing Psychological warfare operation over North Vietnam, and the leaflets are similar to ones used several years ago during the first full-scale bombing campaign. This is not counterfeit money. It is facsimile money that could not be mistaken for real currency. The leaflets carry a message telling the North Vietnamese that the economic dislocations that they are undergoing are attributable to their Communist Party leadership. The purpose of using an illustration of money was to catch the attention of potential readers.
There seems to be evidence of the banknotes being stockpiled prior to 1972. About 1985 a large cache of the banknotes suddenly came on the market. There were so many that some of us who specialize in such things started to make lists of the known serial numbers, which eventually turned out to be about 40 different for the 1 dong, 19 different for the 2 dong, and 17 different for the 5 dong. It was believed at one time that the serial numbers might have some significance and indicate the area that the notes were dropped. This could be used to show where a Vietnamese had been if he were found with such a propaganda forgery. However, this was never proven and is probably just idle conjecture. I only mention this sudden surge in the availability of the propaganda notes because there was a rumor going around at the time that Vietnamese peasants were digging through trash piles and the burn sites of old US bases and finding these counterfeits buried in sacks. This sounds like one of those old war story anecdotes so I never thought any more about it.
However, in October 2004 I received a letter from a former airman who had taken part in burning some of the banknotes. Former TSGT Bob Remel of the 35th Civil Engineering Squadron, 35th Tactical Fighter Wing, recalls what it was like to burn the propaganda leaflets at Phan Rang Air Base in Spring 1971. He was a member of the Base Fire Department and Crash Rescue team. He says:
As an Assistant Fire Chief I was in charge of a detail to destroy hundreds of thousands of the propaganda leaflets. They were packed in tight bundles and were extremely hard to burn. We dumped them in a large pit and used a 5000-gallon JP-4 jet fuel tanker truck to soak them. The fury of the fire and the wind caused a lot of loose leaflets to blow all over the area. I managed to run down several of them and sent them home to my wife.
Three of them were very interesting. They are counterfeit copies of North Vietnamese paper money in uncirculated condition with some kind of message on one end. All it takes is to cut off the message and you have real North Vietnamese money. All three have serial numbers with denominations of 1 dong, 2 dong and 5 dong.
When I mentioned this rumor of the Vietnamese digging up the leaflets to (now) CMSGT Bob Remel (retired) he agreed that it was possible. He said:
That is possible. We didn't as good a job as we might have. There were just too many bundles tightly packed and prepared to be dumped out of our PSYOP aircraft. The PSYOP troops were out there with us to be sure of the destruction of the notes and they thought everything was fine, but I knew there was no way all of it would be destroyed. There were just too many. I would guess that perhaps one third was unharmed and buried under the pile. After we were done burning a bulldozer covered up the pit.
It's hard to explain how large Phan Rang Air Base was. There were about 10,000 U. S. Army and Air Force and a South Korean artillery unit. There was even a compound of Viet Cong who had gone "Chieu Hoi," (come over to our side). The Vietnamese Air Force had two squadrons of AC-119s and we had two squadrons of newer model AC-119s. [Note: those 119s were often called "Flying Coffins" because they had an enormously big body and what looked like little tiny wings]. We also had five squadrons of F-100 Super Sabres. The Australians had Canberra bombers. I would say several hundred South Vietnamese worked on the base and no doubt knew where we burned the several hundred thousand counterfeit notes. We were out there almost all day. After we filled up the pit, we kept throwing more bundles into the fire, because the pit could not hold everything at one time. That's when I chased my souvenirs down. The wind blew them all over the area.
It seems that the banknote leaflets were buried in Guam too. I heard from retired U.S.A.F pilot Lieutenant Colonel Ron Gambrell, stationed in Guam during the war, who told me:
I was stationed at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, from 1971 to 1973. I was a First Lieutenant pilot assigned to the 54th Weather Recon Squadron flying WC-130 aircraft.
These are the leaflets that were mixed with the banknote parodies. All were aimed at the North Vietnamese and all were printed in mid to late 1972.
4492 - North Vietnamese Troops Mothers and Wives.
4609 - North Vietnamese Military and Civilians.
During my assignment I would often visit the base garbage dump to obtain scrap lumber from shipping crates that had been discarded by the Air Force. Any kind of lumber on the island was extremely expensive and saving money from my paltry salary was a must. The dump was located at the approach end of one of the Runway 06. I do not recall if it was runway 06 Left or 06 Right. On one visit to the dump I noticed that North Vietnam money leaflets were being blown by the wind all over the surface of the dump. Further examination revealed that they were one and two Dong notes with a propaganda parody attached. I found them to be very interesting and collected a few thinking they may someday have some historical value. Most of the notes were found in clumps of 25-50 notes and a good many were single notes just being carried by the wind. I attempted to find the original air drop canister for the leaflets but only was able to find empty ones. The canisters were made of a thick aluminum foil material, boxed shaped with a mechanical timer attacked to the bottom. It appeared to me that the canister could hold upwards of 100,000 notes. It was obvious that the Air Force had attempted to destroy the leaflets and the ones I found were just the lucky survivors from thousands upon thousands of notes that were dumped there. It appeared to me that the primary destructive method was burying them since I observed no evidence of burning. I also discovered a few propaganda leaflets with a photo of President Richard Nixon. Also found were about six leaflets bearing a crying mother and child with a North Vietnamese soldier in the background. I have since retired from the Air Force and had completely forgotten about the leaflets until I cleaned out my storage shed this past May. As a participant in the Southeast Asia War games and a second place recipient, this incident brings back a lot of memories, some good and some bad. I hope my story is the catalyst to bring back only the fond memories of my fellow soldiers.
The Reporter Dispatch, November 18, 1966 reported that "To cripple Communist savings, counterfeit North Vietnamese banknotes are dropped along with a message...Most are dropped in the Red River delta near Hanoi." In an East German cold-war polemic, Falschgeld als Waffen der USA, Ostsee Zeitung, Rostock, DDR, 9 December 1981, page 51, Dr. Julius Mader reports that the first use of the banknote leaflets was August 1966, when 1.6 million leaflets were dropped. In eight airdrops between August and December 1966, 16,765,000 leaflets were dropped around Vinh, Ha Tinh, Tien Song, Nghi Loc, Linh Cam, Hanoi, Tran Hoa, and Hai Phong.
The remaining materials were warehoused in Okinawa until the program was resurrected by JUSPAO in 1972, when bombing of the North resumed. According to the designer of the leaflets, the 1 dong code-4540 leaflets are 190 x 71 mm and were designed to drop 1.4 feet per second, with a dispersal of 17% of the drift distance; leaflets would take nearly 5 hours to descend from 25,000 feet. The 1 dong code-4543 leaflets are 195 x 72 mm and were designed to drop 1.7 feet per second, with a dispersal of 26% of the drift distance; leaflets would take about 4 hours to descend from 25,000 feet. Thus the shorter leaflets drifted further, but were designed to overlap with the drift pattern of the longer leaflets. In order to achieve an even coverage on the ground, about twice as many of the longer notes were dropped in a mission. Massive numbers of 1, 2, and 5 dong parodies were dropped in 1972.
Nola Express, No. 121 (22 December 1972 - 4 January 1973), reports Hanoi as saying that drops occurred on 19, 21, and 26 October 1972. Total production of the 1 dong parody from 1965 through 1972 was about 60 million. The New Republic of March 31, 1973 said that 60 million banknote leaflets were printed in the USIA's plant in Okinawa between the years of 1965 and 1972. The article stated that the banknote leaflets were originally printed in Tokyo, Japan, later at the USIA Regional Service Center plant in the Philippines and in Okinawa. Covert Action, July-August 1979, Said that the Regional Service Center in Manila is the CIA propaganda plant that was the source of counterfeit Vietnam piasters that were airdropped in Vietnam. In private conversation an officer of the 7th PSYOP agreed. He said, "The dong notes were printed in the Regional Service Center (RSC) in Manila. Some of them could have been printed elsewhere. Okinawa controlled the printing at RSC and the Army Adjutant General Printing Plant in Japan. We produced a thousand tons of different leaflets a month at our peak." A U.S. Embassy official said when asked about the banknote leaflets, "The leaflets are similar to ones used several years ago during the first full scale bombing campaign." The Vietnam News Agency quoted Vu Thien, the director of the North Vietnamese State Bank who said that millions of the counterfeits had been dropped over the north during August and September of 1972. He called President Nixon an "international counterfeiter" who was trying to sabotage the North Vietnamese economy.
Reproduced banknotes on EBay
We need to stop at this point in our discussion to point out that excellent reproductions of these notes exist and have been offered on the auction site EBay with the comment, All items are reproduced copies of the originals. All have an old aged look and have original stains and marks.
In this case the producer of the fake banknotes has added the word "reproduction." It is certain that within a short time the notes will be offered without the word, just as reproduced unmarked banknote leaflets from Desert Storm were offered by at least two different dealers after that conflict. I advise anyone purchasing such banknote leaflets to study them carefully, make sure they are guaranteed by the seller, and preferably to buy items offered by veterans as bring backs from
Did the United States produce any additional propaganda banknotes? The answer seems to be almost. Bob Fulton was the Executive Officer for Regional Service Center (RSC) in Manila, part of the United States Information Agency (USIA) from 1967 to 1970. He told me that on one occasion he was asked to produce parodies, but thought that the idea was so bad that he forwarded it to his superiors:>
During the time we were setting up leaflet production in 1967, both JUSPAO and the 7th PSYOP GROUP provided us with copies of all the leaflets and other materials they had produced to that date. Included were copies of the banknote leaflets printed and dropped in 1966, which engendered a discussion. We were told that use of these leaflets had been suspended, indefinitely. It was indicated that the idea had originated within JUSPAO and been approved by the US Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. and General Westmoreland, but had been ordered stopped after Washington heard about it. We were given the impression that it was highly unlikely these particular leaflets would ever be resurrected.
In the spring of 1969 I was contacted by an Army Major with 7th PSYOP GROUP in Okinawa. He indicated that they had a special leaflet they wanted us to print for high-altitude air drops, but that it was of a highly confidential nature and only those with a Secret or higher security clearance could be involved in its production. My memory is hazy, but I believe they were 20 and 50 Dong notes. The leaflet was two-sided with an extended white area on both sides, each with a propaganda message.
This raised a number of red flags with me:
1. As far as I knew air drops of banknote leaflets were still curtailed.
2. Putting these in the parody category, regardless of the easily removable propaganda extensions seemed to be tortured logic and a stretched defenseit looked and the look and smell of counterfeiting.
3. The objectives took it into a different policy realm. It was political warfare, not battlefield propaganda.
Early the next morning, before reconvening the meeting, my boss called the Director of JUSPAO in Saigon and asked whether they were aware of the leaflet plans and/or had approved it, and to ascertain whether the suspension of banknote leaflet dissemination had been lifted. Zorthian expressed surprise and gave negative answers to all three questions. In the meeting that followed, my boss related his conversation with JUSPAO, backed my decision, and stated that if they wished to appeal it they would have to refer the request back through MACV to JUSPAO and USIA. In other words, we were digging in our heels and would only produce the leaflet if ordered to do so through our chain of command. A few days later we got a call and were told the plan was dead and a courier was being dispatched to pick up the artwork.
So, it appears that if Fulton had been amenable there would be at least two additional banknotes to add to this article.
We should mention that with all the talk of these notes being propaganda parodies and not counterfeits, that the United States government was counterfeiting Vietnamese currency at the very same time. Forgeries were prepared by OP-33, and were disseminated to the North by OP-34 and OP-35. The forgeries were prepared in Okinawa under the codename Benson Silk, which was a comprehensive propaganda campaign that included the placing of false radio messages into North Vietnamese radio broadcasts and the forging of currency.
The Author with MSG Howard A. Daniel III (Ret.) in 2016
Howard Daniel, a former SOG member with 6 tours in Vietnam and author of several articles and books on the currency of Southeast Asia such as Republic of Vietnam Coins and Currency, Democratic Republic of Viet Nam Coin and Currency, and Lao Coins and Currency, adds in correspondence:
Operation Benson Silk was not just a counterfeiting operation of NVN currency but one that counterfeited the first series of Ho Chi Minh Trail scrip.
And curiously, although it may be a complete coincidence, John Stevens Berry says in Those Gallant Men, On Trial in Vietnam, Presidio Press, Novato, CA, 1984, that there was a U.S. agent by the name of Ralph Benson that was detailed from the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment to work with the CI group as an undercover agent. He was ordered to investigate or infiltrate a Filipino counterfeit ring and find out where they were printing counterfeit American military payment certificates. We wonder if this Ralph Benson was an expert on counterfeiting and if he was somehow involved in the counterfeiting of the North Vietnamese currency under the codename Benson Silk.
We should mention that the American Embassy in Saigon reported in January 1968 that counterfeit ten dollar
U.S.military payment certificates had been found around Saigonand Tan Son Nhut. The Embassy stated that the counterfeit was fair but should not pass a close inspection. There is no comment on whether this MPC note was forged by the Viet Cong or some private entrepreneur.
The United States Air Force Special Operations Squadrons used the code name Stray Goose for the penetration of North Vietnamese air space, dropping agents and Supplies behind enemy lines, and disseminating leaflets. They participated in the Fact Sheet program dropping 77 million leaflets and 15,000 gift kits over the North. The operations were all top secret and one of their missions was the dropping of the banknotes. During these operations the MC-130 Combat Talon planes flew unescorted to drop leaflets and North Vietnamese currency over
and Hanoi . The program was active for several years, starting in late 1966 and ending in 1969. Four Stray Goose aircraft called blackbirds were first deployed to Haiphong and then assigned as Detachment 1 of the 314th Troop Carrier Wing at Nha Trang AFB, Taiwan , as part of Operation Spear. In March 1968 the unit was renamed the 15th Air Commando Squadron. In November 1968 it became the 15th Special Operations Squadron. Vietnam
The forgery operation was so secret that even the MACVSOG Command History, Annex B 1971-1972 describes it as a program where the Psychological Studies Branch blanked out the NVA radio frequencies and inserted false information. They use the term "scripts." It was "script," but not the kind they imply. The description is:
North Vietnamese Army script inserts (discontinued August 1970)
I have a suspicion that this was a code within a code and script was a code for scrip. What are scrips? They can be defined as a certificate whose value is recognized by the payer and payee. Scrip is any substitute for currency which is not legal tender and is often a form of credit. Scrips were created as a means of payment in times where regular money is unavailable, such as occupied countries in war time.
Combat Magazine defined Benson Silk in a feature on Military Terms of the Modern Era. They said:
Benson Silk is the codename for clandestine introduction of counterfeit North Vietnamese money into enemy territory; said funds were accountable, and were signed-out prior to each mission. The intent of this project was not to destabilize the North Vietnamese economy (which was already quite artificial and extremely vulnerable), but to plant a sum of money, in a camp or on a corpse, large enough to create mistrust, engender suspicion, and demoralize the soldiers.
The "Military Terms of the Modern Era" Website adds:
The money was only a TRIGGER for PSYOPS. The allegation that this counterfeit currency was introduced to wreck the communist economy by devaluation is pure fantasy; since the triple digit inflation of NVN could not be checked by any external influence, and
Socialist of Republic 's money has remained among the world's three least valuable currencies for the past forty years. Vietnam
Vietnamese agents under the supervision of the CIA took the forgeries into the North. The literature reports three missions to the North involving the forged currency: In 1961 an ARVN major refused to carry the forged notes because they would unduly compromise his cover. In June 1963, a large container containing 4 million dong in forged North Vietnamese currency was dropped with an infiltration team; the container and the money were captured by the North Vietnamese. In August 1963, 4 million dong in forgeries was included in the supplies of a seaborne attempt to infiltrate; the North Vietnamese were waiting in ambush for the agents. No samples of these forgeries have surfaced, and little is known at present of these operations. The currency forgery component of the Benson Silk project was top secret, and was not even mentioned in the SOG's official history. The project was discontinued in August 1970.
The forging of North Vietnamese currency is mentioned in three books. The first is SOG: The Secret Wars of America's Commandos in Vietnam, John Plaster, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1997. The author says:
SOG also continued a long tradition of damaging an enemy by counterfeiting his money It wasn't very difficult to forge North Vietnamese paper money, which lacked modern counterfeiting safeguards. Indeed, North Vietnamese currency designers thought there was little likelihood anyone would duplicate their money since, like other Communist money, it has no value beyond North Vietnam's borders. In addition, the Party stringently controlled internal printing presses, leaving only the real threat from SOG or the CIA.
Cutting technically perfect plates and printing North Vietnamese "funny money" proved a snap for Okinawa-based experts who'd mastered their craft duplicating all sorts of foreign documents and credentials. For those running recon, the top-secret counterfeit currency most often inserted was code-named Benson Silk, an NVA scrip, or kind of occupation money. Mostly it was carried as a secondary rather than a primary mission, with our intelligence officers instructing, If you get a chance, plant some of this stuff. Benson Silk was tightly controlled, signed out on a hand receipt and usually carried only by the One-Zero. It was planted mostly to confuse the enemy: A North Vietnamese intelligence officer coming upon a small fortune on a dead NVA soldier would have to ask, How had he acquired all this money? Was he a thief? No. Then he had to be a U.S. agent and therefore this wasn't an ambush but a prearranged meeting that went bad! How could the comrades in his squad not have known - unless they, too, were traitors? and so on. The enemy was meant to chew this over and over and never be quite sure. And insidiously, even if the enemy determined this money was counterfeit, his paranoia was aroused all the more: How much other money was counterfeit, too? Interestingly, Hanoi did not complain publicly about these money games, though certainly its leaders realized SOG was counterfeiting North Vietnamese currency; a defector reported Hanoi could throw no stones because the North Vietnamese were duplicating South Vietnamese money on an even larger scale.
For those who wonder about the term One-Zero, this indicates the team leader of a SOG cross-border reconnaissance team. He was called One Zero because that was his radio call sign. The One-Zero designation became a prestigious title. It was only awarded to men who had shown extreme skill and bravery and they were expected to be able to outwit the enemy behind their lines even though greatly outnumbered. Some of their exploits are Special Operations legends.
Plaster briefly mentions the counterfeit currency again in SOG, A Photo History of the Secret Wars, Paladin Press, Boulder, Colorado, 2000. He says in part:
SOG also wreacked havoc by counterfeiting North Vietnamese money, although
U.S.policy limited its use to intelligence and psychological purposes rather than destroying 's economy. Recon teams frequently inserted "Benson Silk" counterfeit NVA occupation money that drained the enemy's tiny PX (stores) system in Hanoi Laosand . Other counterfeit money was planted to confuse the enemy and make it appear that some NVA were traitors secretly working for the Americans. Cambodia
The author later told me that the counterfeits were classified top secret, and he had to sign a "classified document control hand receipt" each time he was issued the banknotes. This is one of the rare acknowledgments by any American officer that he actually handled counterfeit currency. The forgeries are also mentioned in Secret Army, Secret War, Sedgwick D. Tourison Jr., Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland, 1995 and Hazardous Duty, Major General John K. Singlaub, Summit Books, New York, 1991. Singlaub's report includes the following:
Psychological warfare operations were supervised by OP-33 of Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, Studies and Observation Group (MACV/SOG). The commander of the group was LTC Tom Bowen. His shop specialized in ingenious deceptions that ranged from counterfeit North Vietnamese currency....
We know very little about Tom Bowen but we did find out that Major James H. Spear ran MACVSOG OP 33 operations from 1967 to 1969 under Tom Bowen and General John K. Singlaub, a highly-decorated former OSS officer and a founding member of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Richard H. Schultz mentions the banknotes in The Secret War Against Hanoi, HarperCollins, NY, 1999. Talking about SOG missions against
he says: North Vietnam
Other activities included a variety of black radio operations; insertions of leaflets in gift kits; fraudulent letters mailed to North Vietnamese officials and citizens from third countries; forged North Vietnamese currency; and booby-trapped items planted in
He seems to contradict himself later in the book when he says:
Finally, there was a limited counterfeiting project. However,
had serious anxiety about going too far with it. According to Bob Andrews, I know forged currency was discussed, but higher headquarters told us, Dont do that, That was a political no-no. Washington
Of course, it is quite apparent that
might have said it was a bad idea, but clearly, North Vietnamese currency was forged and disseminated. Washington
The book Running Recon, Frank Greco, Paladin Press, Boulder, CO, 2004 mentions other currency forgeries under Operation Benson Silk. He says:
North Vietnamese Army Ho Chi Minh Trail money. Another PSYOP program involved the counterfeiting of various enemy currency, code-named "Benson Silk." These counterfeit bills were intended to be used in the enemy's supply systems in Laos (their version of the PX and commissary), somewhat like our military payment certificates.
Greco depicts 2, 5, and 10 Xu Truong Son military commodity coupons. Howard A. Daniel III mentions the background of these coupons in Democratic Republic of Viet Nam Coins and Currency, The Southeast Asian Treasury, Dunn Loring VA, 1995. Some selected comments of the author are:
During the Indochina and Viet Nam Wars, the People's Army of Viet Nam (PAWN) moved south and north on an extensive networks of trails and paths, which was named the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The trail went directly through the DMZ into the south, and west of it into Laos, then Cambodia, and at many points across the western border of the Republic of Viet Nam and well into it. The trail effectively followed the Truong Son mountain range, which was geographically considered as the "backbone" of Viet Nam. The PAWN Group 559 building and maintaining it was named the Truong Son Corps.
As more and more personnel were stationed for longer and longer tours along the trail, there was a need to give them an opportunity to buy personal items. Nothing fancy and usually very primitive, but some of the rations and rest stops had small stores built within them and the personnel started being paid part of their pay in military coupons.
Ho Chi Minh Trail 1 Xu Commodity Coupon
Ho Chi Minh Trail 2 Xu Commodity Coupon
Ho Chi Minh Trail 5 Xu Commodity Coupon
Ho Chi Minh Trail 10 Xu Commodity Coupon
The coupons depicted above were issued by the Ministries of Finance and Defense, Hanoi. It is believed that they were used between 1962 and 1966. Howard Daniel and Roger Urce wrote about these coupons in an article entitled The Coupons of the Vietnam Wars Ho Chi Minh Trail, in the International Banknote Journal, Volume 51, Number 4, 2012. They say in part:
Hanois troops in the South and populated areas were paid in South Vietnamese currency while those on the trail and in remote area needed something else. The something else was a series of coupons introduced in June, 1965
The coupons are uniface and printed with the denomination and the word Truong Son which is the name of the mountain range along which the trail ran. They also bear the words Phieu Back Hao (Commodity Coupon) and That Hak Ton Phuc Vu Tot," which translates to Good, Honest and Modest Support.
The coupons were not worth much but Hanoi kept the prices down and their fighters could buy cigarettes, stationery, candy and snacks with them. After Hanoi discovered that the Americans had captured some of the coupons in Laos and Cambodia, They realized they could be used to prove Hanoi was operating in those countries while their propaganda insisted on the contrary. So, a new series was created without any wording on them.
Daniel says that American troops stuffed counterfeit coupons into the backpacks of dead North Vietnamese soldiers. The Trail workers would find the stuffed packs, believe that the soldiers were profiteers or black marketeers and suffer low morale as a result.
Second Series Ho Chi Minh 1 and 2 Xu Trail Commodity Coupons
A second set of four coupons was used from about 1967 to 1969 possibly in part because of the American counterfeiting operation. They are similar in appearance, bear the same denominations but are without the Vietnamese text and in different colors. In 2010, Howard Daniel reported seeing four fakes of the second set of Ho Chi Minh Trail coupons in downtown Saigon. They were newly printed souvenirs to be sold to the unwary and are printed on a thin beige paper. The printing is not as precise as the originals but they were good enough to fool someone who has never seen one of the genuine coupons.
The Third Series Ho Chi Minh Trail Commodity Coupons
About 1970, in order to safeguard their trail coupons from American counterfeits, a diagonal stripe was added to the coupons and all notes without the stripes were withdrawn. The Americans also changed their Military Payment Certificates in Vietnam from time to time in order to guard against black-marketing and profiteering. For instance, all their MPC currency was withdrawn on 28 August 1968 and again on 11 August 1969. After the conversion, the old MPC notes were worthless. This third series of Ho Chi Minh Trail coupons remained in use until about 1973 when Hanoi no longer felt the need to keep secret its troops in Laos and Cambodia.
These coupons are very scarce today and in excellent condition can sell for well over $100. Clearly, if the U.S. was able to distribute massive amounts of the counterfeit coupons among the PAWN moving south during the war they could have destroyed the entire system built up along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
A former operator says:
Yes, Benson Silk was a MACVSOG PSYOP that counterfeited NVA scrip. It was a minor mission, which as I recall, was carried out by regular SOG recon teams. On occasion the team was given handfuls of the phony scrip, and if they had an opportunity to plant it on dead bodies or in caches they stumbled on, they did so. It was apparently meant to confuse the enemy rather than to have any lasting effect on the Communist economy. Hope this helps. There is not much about the program in the documents--probably not because it was so secret but because it was so minor.
Army Special Forces NCO who was a trail watcher has stated that he still has samples of the 1, 2 and 5 Xu counterfeits of the first series. US
35 years after the end of the war there still is an official reluctance to talk about forged currency. The
United Statescertainly forged the currency of during the war, but claims ignorance when questioned. When the CIA official who directed the MACVSOG Psychological Operations Group (OP-39) in the closing years of the North Vietnam portion of the Vietnam War (1970-1971) was asked about counterfeits, he said: U.S.
I dont know if we ever did that or not. Theres some international regulation or law that prevents you from doing it. I dont know whether they did that or not but I heard they were toying with the idea but they couldnt very well do it because of the international monetary fund or something like that. I thought that they couldnt do it because of the international cry that would arise for doing something like that.
U.S. Army Sergeant Charles Cook served in Headquarters Company and later B Company, 7th PSYOP Battalion in Da Nang City as the Battalion Photographer from January to December 1970. He says:
We had a work compound in the city close to camp Tien Shaw (an old French fort taken over by the Navy). We provided psywar support for all Army and Marine combat units in I corps. We also supported ARVN combat units in I corps. We worked with Civil Operations and Rural Development (CORDS) providing support for Medical Civil Action Programs (MEDCAPS), and numerous other programs. For operational purposes we were directly under 5th Special Forces Group in Nha Trang.
Cook had some knowledge of the forged banknotes. I must point out that he was a photographer and not a currency expert so we cant be sure if this was North Vietnamese currency or Trail money though he believes it was the former. This is what he remembers about the counterfeit money he briefly saw 40 years ago:
The 9th SOS (Special Operations Squadron) at Da Nang Airbase was used for air support, making leaflet drops, and special missions all over I Corps. At the north end of Da Nang Airbase were about 100 Conex containers that were filled with leaflets and counterfeit currency. We had one container that was filled with boxes of counterfeit currency that were so real that even North Vietnamese officials had a problem telling the difference. Of course, there are always problems. I was told that right after we filled one container North Vietnam changed their money rendering that container worthless, and useless. If I remember correctly we were told that the watermarks on the Counterfeits were either wrong or had been changed. I am not an expert on currency so really don't recall exactly what the problem was. We eventually burned the contents of that Conex.
Back in the 1970s a lot more counterfeit money was available than most people think, although it was tightly controlled. Every bill was accounted for 24 hours a day. This was the only item that was never pilfered. If anyone got caught with any of it you could expect nothing less than a court martial and serious time behind bars. From time to time another member of the unit and me were sent on leaflet runs to Quang Tri and Phu Bui. One time my partner and I took a jeep 40 kilometers north of Quang Tri Combat Base, followed by an American civilian who we did not know in another jeep. Our jeep carried 5 or 6 boxes which we were told were filled with currency, but marked Hoi Bin (peace).
SGT Cook would seem to be very close to the DMZ with North Vietnam. One would suppose that the counterfeit currency was about to go over the border into the North.
With all the talk of counterfeiting it is interesting to note that the CIA used another method to acquire money to use in their operations. Orrin DeForest says in Slow Burn The Rise and Fall of American Intelligence in Vietnam, Simon and Schuster, NY, 1990, that Vietnamese officials were so corrupt that they sent suitcases of cash to Hong Kong to be hidden in secret accounts. Enter the CIA:
The wives of South Vietnamese political and military figures regularly deposited huge numbers of piasters in the Crown Colony. Carrying diplomatic credentials to avoid searches, they would transport the cash in suitcases and boxes, deposit it (losing about 50% in exchange), then have it transferred to accounts in Switzerland and France Unable to close off the flow, the Agencys finance officers found a creative way of using it. The ocean of South Vietnamese piasters owned by the Hong Kong banks could be bought at half price. And this the Agency did. It was a fine, cut-rate way of financing operations. In essence, we were taking money back from the South Vietnamese leaders who were stealing it. And so we bought billions, stacked up in great big boxes that came into Bien Hoa and the other bases and used the money to finance operations.
It was not only counterfeit banknotes that were prepared and disseminated. The SOG Psychological Operations Appendix C says in part:
Project SANITARIES was the use of a redemption coupon leaflet. The leaflets were distributed in small numbers in or near selected villages by pinpoint air drops, by fishermen couriers, or by STRATA teams. They were designed to convince the North Vietnamese security elements and people that the SSPL efforts were extensive, have popular support and to entice the people to conceal the coupon for possible reward.
The STRATA teams penetrated
24 times 1968. SSPL is the Sacred Sword of the Patriots League, a covert operation that pretended to be an anti-Communist movement based in North Vietnam . This indicates that SOG also created coupons or chits that had some alleged value and distributed them to make the North Vietnamese security forces think that there was a secret anti-Government group trading and making financial purchases among the people. This operation ended in 1968. North Vietnam
Allied government agencies prepared and printed almost all of the propaganda banknotes of the Vietnam War. However, one small combat unit overprinted a captured banknote as a souvenir of its Vietnam service.
On 29 April 1970, a Joint American and Vietnamese force took part in a 63-day cross-border incursion into Cambodia. 6000 ARVN soldiers launched an attack into the Parrot's Beak area of Cambodia, supported by U.S. warplanes and artillery. The plan was to catch the Viet Cong by surprise, disrupt their military operations, and capture their Central Office for South Vietnam (COSVN). This mobile headquarters was located somewhere in the corner of Tay Ninh Province near the Cambodian border. COSVN, under the leadership of the Lao Dong (Communist) Party, was in charge of all Viet Cong activities.
During the incursion, the Allies found and confiscated large concentrations of weapons, ammunition and documents. They also discovered a large cache of banknotes. Among them was a stock of the unissued Central Committee of the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam 50 xu banknotes, printed in the Central Printing Factory, Shanghai, People's Republic of China, for use in areas under Viet Cong Control. The National Liberation Front intended to issue the banknotes after the successful Tet uprising of 1968. However, Tet was a military disaster for the VC and the people's popular uprising never took place. Tet cost the Viet Cong its best shock troops. The final count of Communist dead is unknown; there are published estimates of 38,794 with another 6991 captured.
Although ARVN forces made up the majority of troops involved in the Cambodian raid. American helicopters provided air transportation, liaison, medical evacuation, and close fire support. One of the aviation units was the 173rd Assault Helicopter Company (AHC). The 173rd AHC was attached to the 11th Aviation Battalion (Combat) for the Cambodian raid. The 173rd took part in 14 campaigns. It received 8 battle decorations including the Valorous Unit Award, Meritorious Unit Commendation, Republic of Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with palm, and Republic of Vietnam Civil Action Honor Medal. The radio call sign of the 173rd AHC was "Robin Hood."
Viet Cong Banknote
Printed in China for the National front for the Liberation of South Vietnam
Viet Cong Banknote Overprinted by "Robin Hoods"
Members of the helicopter company "liberated" some of the banknotes confiscated during the raid and overprinted them as souvenirs with the text "Compliments of / 173rd AHC / The Robin Hoods." They might have been simply souvenirs of the raid, or they might have been used in some cases as "calling cards" to be placed on the bodies of dead Viet Cong. Whatever their use, they are the only known type of propaganda banknote prepared by a small unit in Vietnam.
Military Payment Certificate Training Notes
When military paymasters are in training they are tested in various difficult situations. Banknotes go missing, soldiers or civilian employees try to pass through the pay line more than once, people are paid too much or too little and other problems that their instructors think will be beneficial to the paymaster's career. The notes above are a front and back of a training banknote series used in Vietnam dated August 1964 to help train paymasters that might be involved in paying U.S. Troops or Vietnamese guerillas. The U.S. Army Finance Corps insignia is depicted at the lower right on the one dollar note. The code to the side of the note indicates: Army Field Printing Plant, work order 974, August 1964, 15,000 copies.
Viet Cong 1000 Dong Public Bond - Front
Viet Cong 1000 Dong Public Bond - Back
Our South Vietnamese allies also produced propaganda. They parodied a Viet Cong 1000 dong Public Bond. In Democratic Republic of Vietnam Coins and Currency, Howard A. Daniel III, says that the issuing authority for the genuine bond was the "Ministry of Finance, and National Liberation Front Central Committee." The front of the genuine bond is printed in brown and depicts a group of Vietnamese peasants planting rice. The back is printed in blue and has a map of Vietnam and two Vietnamese in a small boat on a river.
Daniel says that the back of the bond is printed in blue and has a map of Vietnam and two Vietnamese in a small boat on a river. I am not sure where he got that information because as you can see, the back is basically blank with just a propaganda message printed in brown. These bonds are known by different names such as Troop support bonds, Viet Cong treasury bonds, and Promissory notes.
ARVN Parody 1000 Dong Public Bond - Front
ARVN Parody 1000 Dong Public Bond - Back
These "receipts" were used as payment for rice taken from Vietnamese peasants. Barry Zorthian, director of the Joint United States Public Affairs Office (JUSPAO), told me that the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) prepared the propaganda parodies. He added:
Incidentally, it is somewhat difficult to maintain an accurate record of all leaflets published in Vietnam. Each military command has the authority, and most of them have the resources to publish their own leaflets according to the tactical situation. We in Saigon are aware of those which are published for national dissemination, but we do not always have all those on file which have been used by individual commands or local Vietnamese Information Service offices. The troop bond is a case in point.
Chandler agrees. He says in War of Ideas:
In spite of some lower-level coordination, the Americans and South Vietnamese conducted their own private communications programs with only minimal and superficial integration and cooperation.
The parody has a registration number H/05320 on the front. The back is all text with a propaganda message in Vietnamese beginning "Tien Ho Chi Minh. Cong phieu nuoi quan cua Viet Cong..." The propaganda text is:
Ho Chi Minh money. Viet Cong troop support bonds are but worthless trash.
Do not use Ho Chi Minh money. Boycott Viet Cong troop support bonds to safeguard your own interests and property.
Down with the Viet Cong's plot of looting the people's money and property by the use of troop support bonds.
Both the genuine and parody measure 125 x 60 mm, are dated "1964," and have an additional 40-mm data tab at left for entering information acknowledging receipt of a "contribution" (tax) of rice. The tab asks for Name, Address, Province, District, Village, Value of 10 kilos of rice, and date sold.
The status of the original Viet Cong "bond" has been a source of confusion, primarily because the word "phieu" can be translated as bond, coupon, receipt, ticket, etc. All text on the original and parody is in Vietnamese. The original appears to be a receipt for rice, and has no value as currency despite the deceptive claim on the back of the bond that:
In the event of loss of a bond, please immediately inform the local Front Committee of the name, registration number, the value, and the place in which the bond was purchased, so that it can be considered for redemption.
Price of ten kilos of rice____
Address of bond purchaser ____.
This technical data was reassuring, but the Communists never redeemed any of these so-called "bonds."
ARVN Propaganda Leaflet depicting Viet Cong Bonds - Front
ARVN Propaganda Leaflet depicting Viet Cong Bonds - Back
The South Vietnamese also produced a an aerial propaganda leaflet that depicted three such Viet Cong "bonds" on the front, including at top the 1000 dong Public Note number H/05320 described above, a receipt for a loan in the center, and at bottom a receipt for a loan identified as a "receipt for 100 GVN piasters cash donation (to the revolution) by a province front committee." The back has anti-Communist propaganda. The leaflet bears the code number DV158AH301165. "DV" is thought to represent Quan-Doi Viet Nam Cong-Hoa (Army of Republic of South Vietnam); the "1165" probably indicates that the leaflet was prepared in November of 1965. The leaflet is printed on poor quality paper, measuring 130 x 203 mm. The certificates depicted at the center and bottom of the leaflet each have a receipt section attached to the main note; both sections of the notes bear an official People's Liberation Army seal for Province Binh Dinh, and both sections of each note displaying the same text. The texts for the certificate in the center of the leaflet translate "South Viet Nam Liberation Army. Loan Certificate. The People's Liberation Army of Province Binh Dinh certifies that Mr., Mrs. ____ residing at ____ Village ____ District ____ has lent the People's Liberation Army the mount of _____ to use in the process of liberating Viet Nam. When Viet Nam is liberated, the amount owed will be paid in full." The certificate at bottom has texts that translate "South Viet Nam Liberation Army district 5. Donation Certificate to the Liberation Army. Certified that Mr., Mrs. ____ Address ____ Village ____ District ____. Amount donated to the People's Liberation Army: 200 dong. Day of ____ Month ____ Year ____. No. 3184."
The back is all text:
Who still believes in the Communist paradise?
Who still believes in the beauty of the principal of Communism?
There are many forms of evidence of fellow countrymen brutally deprived of properties for which they have labored hard with their sweat and tears. Examples are:
* Feed the Army notes
* Cards of Approval of Communism
Notes which depend on whether the people are rich or poor, and other things. The Viet Cong have openly robbed their countrymen of food and clothing.
Here is the paper evidence that they openly robbed people. Down with the Viet Cong.
A Genuine Viet Cong Tax Receipt Bond
The Viet Cong Code states that I will never take anything from the people, not even a needle or thread. So, how were the people compensated when the VC came to their village with weapons in the middle of the night and took their rice and livestock? The people were paid with receipt bonds that were to be bought back by the Communist government after the glorious revolution. The bonds were very attractive and colorful, but worthless. This method of payment allowed the Viet Cong to take what they wanted from the people but pretend that they were buying products. There are about a half dozen different such bonds known. In all cases, the Viet Cong would carefully fill in the information on how much was taken, its worth, and then sign the form. He kept the stub; the farmer kept the bond. Of course, the farmer quickly hid it because South Vietnamese troops finding it would believe that the farmer was voluntarily helping the Viet Cong. The poor farmer was in a lose-lose situation.
The receipt bond above was issued by the Ministry of Finance and National Liberation Front Central Committee. It is referenced in Howard Daniels Democratic Republic of Vietnam Coins and Currency. I show a similar bond in my article on the National Liberation Front . The bond was printed by the National Liberation Front Printing Company from Lithograph plates in the 1960s. Daniel adds:
The receipt is extremely difficult to locate in uncirculated condition. No specimens, counterfeits or overprints are known at this time.
The text on the bond is:
Receipt No. 04793
Contribution to the Liberation Bond Fund
Day Month Year 196
Received by .
National Liberation Front Committee
Contribution to the Liberation Bond fund
Day Month Year 196
On behalf of the National Liberation Front Committee
Economics and Finance Section
Another Viet Cong Tax Receipt
I am aware of at least four types of tax receipts, three fancy and in color like the first one above, and one very plain and just text on white paper like the one we depict here. When the Viet Cong showed up in the middle of the night to collect their tax from the farmers they gave this receipt, issued by the Ministry of Finance, National Liberation Front, Quang Ngai Province Liberation Front Central Committee. These receipts were printed by the Quang Ngai Province Printing Company starting in 1960. In theory, they could be redeemed for hard cash once the revolution was won.
The text on the left side of the receipt is:
Quang Ngai NLF Committee - Mr. Mrs. ....of ....village, ....district,
Quang Ngai Province voluntarily contributed ... to the province support the troops fund.
For the Quang Ngai NLF Committee
The text on the right side of the receipt is:
Quang Ngai NLF Committee Support the Troops Fund No, 4453
Mr. Mrs. ...of....village,....district,...Quang Ngai Province
voluntarily contributed....to the province support the troops fund.
For the Quang Ngai NLF Committee
Stamped Seal outer and and inner circle:
South Vietnam Quang Ngai Province
National Liberation Front Committee
Both of the red stamps are the official seal of the province NLF Committee that was stamped on all official documents. The term province support the troops fund could also be translated as province feed the troops fund - the term used, nuoi, means to feed, house, clothe, etc. (it is usually used in the context of raising children), but the communists used it to describe what the people did to feed and support their troops. In the communist (VC and PAVN) units, this nuoi was used in the job title of a units cooks.
Parody of North Vietnamese 50 Dong National Bank of Vietnam note
One of the most interesting and mysterious banknote leaflets is an alleged propaganda parody of North Vietnamese 50 dong National Bank of Vietnam note of 1951 with the front replaced by a line drawing of a peasant squatting and wiping himself with a genuine banknote and a scalloped text "Cong dung duy nhut cua giay bac ho-chi-minh" ("The only use for the paper money of Ho Chi Minh"). The front of the genuine note depicts Ho Chi Minh at right, and this is vaguely discernible in the note the peasant is holding. The back of the genuine and parody shows the bank name and a view of peasants working the fields. If a genuine wartime item, it is certainly "black," and possibly was produced by the South Vietnamese Army.
A 101st Airborne Division Banknote
The Genuine Republic of Vietnam 500 Dong Note
This very mysterious propaganda banknote turned up in 2013. On the front it would appear to be a regular Republic of Vietnam 500 dong note of 1966. The original is deep blue, printed by Thomas de la Rue of England, and depicts Tran Hung Dao (12281300), an early Vietnamese military leader who defeated two major Mongol invasions in the 13th century. He is regarded as one of the most accomplished military tacticians in history. The back of the genuine banknote depicts Tran Hung Dao on a a ship's bow in Ha Long Bay where he won a great victory against the Mongols, killing 80,000 and capturing many more as well as destroying 400 enemy ships. This banknote was extensively counterfeited during the war and at least two distinct types of counterfeits are known. This propaganda leaflet was printed by the 245th PSYOP Company in 1967. The 245th PSYOP Company served II Corps initially from Nha Trang, and later from Pleiku. The leaflet is coded 245N-158-67.
The front of the banknote leaflet is a fairly accurate reproduction of the genuine banknote in black and white except that the symbol of the 101st Airborne Division Screaming Eagles has been added at the right. The back is all text.
Do you want lots of money?
You can receive a lot of money and have a safe life in a very easy way. The government of the Republic of Vietnam and US soldiers who wear the eagle insignia will reward you with money. They will give you money for information on the Viet Cong and the North Vietnam Army. Tell them who the VC are, where they have hidden weapons, and where they are hiding. Where have they hidden uniforms and food? You will receive money for even the smallest bit of information. If you want money, turn in this leaflet or contact a representative of the Government of the Republic of Vietnam, ARVN soldiers, or US soldiers who wear the eagle insignia. If you want, you and your family will be resettled to the location of your choice and can live in peace and prosperity.
Perhaps even more mysterious is a banknote that nobody has ever seen. Former Major Nelson Voke did two tours in Vietnam, one with the 6th PSYOP Battalion 1966-1967, and the second in 1970-1971 as a Senior Advisor with the Vietnamese Army. He told me about a propaganda currency leaflet that nobody I know has ever heard of. Voke says about this unknown leaflet:
I never heard about our printing presses being used to print money. One exception is when there was concern about the recovery of downed allied pilots and aircrews. Sometime subsequent to the blowing up of the Battalion Headquarters at the Kinh Do Theater (1 December 1966), we were visited by an Air Force officer who said the Air Force wanted to increase the number of their downed personnel recovered (both dead and alive); they were offering a reward and had a sample reward message they would like to use in a leaflet. Could we help? We were asked to prepare a leaflet that offered a reward in gold taels for those returned to our side. I had a two-man liaison team who knew their way around and did interesting and clever things. We thought that a leaflet that looked like currency on one side would attract people to pick it up. Our people went to the South Vietnamese Government and got a nice crisp sample of what was supposed to be an obsolete pale blue or pale green banknote; I do not recall the denomination. We changed the color of that banknote to distance ourselves from an accusation of counterfeiting. We reproduced the banknote on one side and placed the reward message on the other.
I was told that the leaflets were printed and disseminated. Later, we were told that the leaflets were being used as currency in some of the more remote western areas of I and II Corps (the two most northward of the four Corps areas in South Vietnam). We checked and it turned out that the sample banknote we had copied was not obsolete. It was still valid for use. We were worried that we might be accused and charged with counterfeiting, but nobody at higher echelons ever brought up the subject.
[Note: I have never seen or heard this banknote leaflet. I wonder if it was disseminated. I suspect the story of its use by civilians actually refers to the 5 dong South Vietnamese note which was printed and then stopped because of complaints of it being used by civilians to purchase goods (see my comments on the 5 dong note above). If the leaflet was printed I assume it was a high value banknote and of course it needed to be old and pale green or pale blue. The banknotes that best meet those criteria are the 200 and 500 dong National Bank of Viet Nam banknotes issued prior to 1966 Readers that want to know more about reward leaflets and see an actual offer of gold taels click here.
Who is That Woman?
This is a rather strange story that may or may not be a propaganda campaign. The National Bank of
issued a 1000 dong banknote in 1972. It was printed by Thomas de la Rue Company, Vietnam . The banknote features London on the front and three elephants with handlers on the back. There are two security factors, a vertical metallic thread and the face of a Vietnamese woman in the clear area left blank for a watermark. Independence Palace
Retired Sergeant Major Kevin T. Rowan asked me in 2009 about the identity of the unknown woman. He was stationed with the Military Assistance Command
Vietnam(MACV) in 1972 in Saigon and remembers seeing posters about the woman nailed to telephone poles throughout Saigon. She had allegedly sheltered government soldiers (ARVN) in her home while the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong temporarily occupied her village during their 1972 Spring Offensive. Later, when ARVN troops liberated the village, her story of bravery became known and her picture was placed as a watermarked cameo on the 1,000 Dong note by President Nguyen Van Thieu. Rowan adds:
The story appeared in flyers that were tacked up on utility poles throughout
Saigonin late 1972. I took a military bus just about every morning from my off-post billets and saw these flyers daily. I was in Saigonat MACV, on my third tour, from 20 July 1972 to 21 February 1973.
The most respected American authority on these banknotes is my buddy retired Master Sergeant Howard Daniel, author of
and Currency. I asked him about this story and he immediately answered: RepublicVietnam Coins
The image is a young Mrs. Thieu, the former presidents wife. It was a rumor when the note was issued and I heard it during 1972 in
. But it leaked out from Viet Nam Englandjust a few years ago and probably after the former President Thieu moved to and passed away. Boston
So, at first glance the story would seem to be false. Thieu's wife was a Catholic woman who converted Thieu to her faith and they were married in 1951. So, if that young girl in the watermark was his wife it would seem to be a very old picture. But, if SGM Rowan is correct in his recollection, then perhaps Thieus wife Nguyen Thi Mai Anh was part of a propaganda ploy against the Vietnamese Communists or to hide the truth from his political enemies. Such things have happened.
For instance, during
Operation DesertStorm, to get the Americans incensed and sell the war to them, the Kuwaiti Ambassador to the secretly had his daughter claim to have witnessed Iraqi soldiers throwing premature babies on the floor of a hospital so they could steal the incubators. It worked. Americans listened and clamored for war against United States . Iraq
Howard and I discussed this rumor in greater depth and he said in part:
When I was in
I believe I heard a rumor that the image was of a young Mrs. Thieu. There was quite a fuss but it eventually quieted down after it was officially denied. Sometime after he passed away I seem to remember that information came out of Viet Nam that identified Mrs. Thieu as the woman in the watermark! The policy of the banknote printing community is to keep things secret until no one can be harmed by the information. England
The story that was reported to you about the posters is probably very true and very likely a propaganda campaign by President Thieu to stop the gossiping about the young Mrs. Thieu being the watermark image. I suspect President Thieu did it to end the fuss. I guess it worked.
Would Thieu make up a story of a heroine to protect his family name and confuse his political enemies? I dont know. The readers are encouraged to write with their comments.
Genuine Laotian 200 Kip Banknote
Pathet Lao 200 Kip Propaganda Banknote
The Laotian government may have also printed a propaganda banknote, but it is more likely that the C.I.A. is the source. As the communist guerillas in Laos slowly gained ground in their battle against the government forces, they issued their own banknotes for use in the occupied areas. These notes are found in denominations of 10 and 20 dong, and 50, 100, 200 and 500 kip. The 200 Kip depicts soldiers and transportation of war material on the front. The back shows a textile factory and the That Luang Temple. The genuine 200 Kip note is handsomely produced, deep green in color with serial numbers at the lower left and right front side in red. Shortly after these notes appeared, another similar note was found printed just a shade lighter green and without serial number. What made this new note especially interesting was that on the back, in place of Lao Temple, a portrait of Ho Chi Minh was substituted. When these notes first appeared, it was believed that they were genuine Pathet Lao notes. Another story surfaced in 1977 when the Bangkok Post headlined a short article "Ho banknotes were faked". The story explained "The Laotian 200 kip note bearing a portrait of the late Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh that was published in the Bangkok Post of June 16th was actually counterfeited by the former Vientiane government to mislead the people in the liberated areas, Mr. Kach Kitthavong, Charge d'Affaires of the Laotian Embassy, said yesterday." The Royal Lao government printed these notes in an attempt to convince the Pathet Lao that they were fighting for Vietnam and not for their own cause. It is reasonable to assume that the Lao people might have reacted negatively to a Vietnamese leader prominently placed on their revolutionary currency.
Persistent rumors have identified the CIA as the originator of this parody, although the report mentioned above placed responsibility with the Ex-Royal-Laotian government. Possibly both parties collaborated. In a March 1992 Public Broadcasting system Nova program, "Making a dishonest buck," William Wofford, a pilot of Air America, the unofficial CIA airline, displayed two notes that he dropped in 1970 on the Laotian city of Xam Nua (Samneua), where, in limestone caverns, the Pathet Lao housed their national headquarters, a munitions factory, and a cadre training school. Nova asserted that the notes were probably of CIA origin. One of these notes was the 200 kip parody with Ho Chi Minh. Wofford told me later that he flew one such currency flight about 1969-1970, which originated in the CIA's super secret Long Tieng base. The complex, designated Lima Site Alternate (for Laos) was known as LS-20A. The pilots routinely alluded to it as "Twenty alternate." The currency drop occurred on the way back from a regular mission over northern Laos. Wofford flew a DeHaviland DHC-4, designated by the USAF as the C7A Caribou, a two-engine propeller-driven utility transport capable of a 7000-pound payload. He said that several hundred pounds of banknotes were dropped. A "kicker" pulled a lanyard to start a fuse which would blow the bags of money apart in midair. Christopher Robbins mentions the plot in Air America, G.P. Putnam's Sons, NY, 1979. He says:
Another top secret Agency project involved dropping millions of dollars in forged Pathet Lao currency in an attempt to wreck the economy by flooding it with paper money.
Genuine Laotian banknote dropped over
North Vietnamby aircraft U.S.
It appears that the second note that Wofford dropped could have been genuine Laotian currency. The
History of the 469th Tactical Fighter Squadron mentions a leaflet drop of 6 February 1966. It states that a flight of five F-105D's flew over the highway and railroad midway between the cities of Thanh Hoa and Thai Binh about 50 kilometers north of Hanoi. On this mission the fighter-bombers dropped canisters containing propaganda leaflets and genuine Laotian 500 kip notes. It is difficult to understand what purpose the dropping of the banknotes accomplished, unless it was to make sure that the local people looked for them out of greed, thus putting them in contact with the propaganda leaflets. Curiously, the Museum points out the fact that the banknotes depict American aircraft being shot down by antiaircraft artillery. United States Air Force Museum
During the Vietnam War US ground and air forces were covertly and overtly active in nearby Laos.
The United States prepared a number of propaganda leaflets to the Pathet Lao and Lao civilians depicting Royal Laotian currency and offering rewards for the return of American and Laotian pilots. The leaflets were mostly black and white but often had a touch of red where the symbol of Laos was depicted and rewards were mentioned. The notes were prepared in two sizes, standard 3 x 6-inch leaflets and 6.29 x 11-inch handouts.
Leaflet .31depicts the exact same banknote that the Lao government parodied. The front of the leaflet depicts the back of the Pathet Lao 200 Kip Propaganda Banknote in black and white with the propaganda text diagonally:
This currency is counterfeit and has no value it cannot be used
The back is all text:
The communists have printed this fake currency. This currency has no value at all.
It cannot be used in exchange for other currency.
The communists force people to distribute the fake currency for them.
People who are not educated and dont know the rules of law and are asked to deliver the currency. The government warns, Do not accept it or be tricked by the communists.
Anyone who receives or is asked to distribute the currency should notify the local Police Chief.
The whole Lao citizenry hates the fake money and the communists who print and distribute the fake money. The next generation will inherit the problem. [If the economy is destroyed because of the distribution of counterfeit currency].
Royal Kingdomof National Military Laos
Leaflet .110 (front)
Standard leaflet .110 (the larger size is coded .111) depicts a stack of 1000 kip banknotes with Laotian three-headed Erawan elephant national symbols from Hindu mythology at the left and the right. The national symbolism comes from the 14th century kingdom whose name translates to "Land of the Million Elephants and the White Parasol." The text is:
With wealth you can make wonderful things.
For information on Royal Laotian or U.S. prisoners of war or for assisting Royal Laotian Air Force or U.S. pilots back to the government.
Leaflet .110 (back)
Souvanna Phouma is depicted on the back. The text is:
Souvanna Phouma, Prime Minister, Royal Lao Government.
The Royal Lao Government promises to pay you:
100,000 kip for information on the location of Royal Lao Government or U.S. prisoners held by the Pathet Lao or North Vietnamese Army.
1,500,000 kip for assistance to Royal Lao or U.S. pilots returning to the government.
You need not keep this paper to collect the reward.
Leaflet .112 (front)
Standard leaflet .112 (larger size is coded .113) depicts a stack of 1000 kip banknotes with Laotian three-headed Erawan elephant symbols from Hindu mythology at the left and the right. The text is:
A cash reward will be given to those who provide information concerning U.S. and Laotian prisoners, or who assist Royal Laotian and U.S. pilots in returning to the government.
Leaflet .112 (back)
Souvanna Phouma is depicted on the back. The text is:
Souvanna Phouma, Prime Minister, Royal Lao Government.
The Royal Lao Government will give a reward of:
100,000 kip to those who provide information concerning U.S. or Laotian prisoners of the Pathet Lao and North Vietnamese Army.
1,500,000 kip to those who help Royal Laotian and U.S. pilots who are downed or being detained by the Communists to return to the government.
You need not keep this paper to collect the reward.
U.S. reward leaflet .114 for Laos
U.S. reward leaflet .114 for Laos is made up of two identical cartoons that appear on both the front and back. The only difference is that the text on one side is written in Vietnamese, the other side in Laotian.
The first illustration (at left) depicts a downed Allied pilot meeting villagers. The second illustration (at right) depicts the pilot and a friendly villager meeting a government officer who rewards the villager with a cash payment.
The text at top is:
1,500,000 Kip Cash Reward.
1,500,000 kip: A cash reward to those who help Royal Laotian and U.S. pilots who are downed or being detained by the Communists to return to the government.
100,000 Kip: A cash reward to those who provide information concerning U.S. or Laotian prisoners captured by the Pathet Lao and the North Vietnamese Army.
French Anti-Communist Overprints
The French prepared numerous forgeries and propaganda banknotes during their fight against the Viet Minh. They forged at least three different denominations and overprinted banknotes with at least four propaganda messages. Some of this is told in The French Secret Services, Douglas Porch, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, NY, 1995. The author says, "In 1949 the Service de Documentation Exterieure et de Contre-espionage (SDECE) flooded the rebel zones with Ho Chi Minh piasters."
Anti-Communist overprints were placed on Viet Minh banknotes by French military forces and allegedly dropped by aircraft over Viet Minh forces. It is believed that they could be used as safe conduct passes. I described these in greater detail in "Propaganda overprints on the wartime currency of Viet Nam," I.B.N.S. Journal 26, No. 1 (1987).
Some of these overprints are in block letters in dark ink and can be easily read, others are very pale and difficult to read. The first is a four-line overprint.
I am standing by the door of our house at sunset. I am sad and lonely as I look at our Motherland. Since you went to the Maquis [French term for guerrillas] our home is desolate. Our old mother, our children and me, we think of you.
The Uncle Ho Banknote
A second five-line overprint warns of inflation.
I am Uncle Ho's note but I am very worried about my fate. I am valued at 100 dong but not worth 1 dong. My old friends, notes of Indochina, do you understand me?
The Maquis Overprint
A thin and light four-line overprint says:
Oh guerillas, soldiers in the Maquis, please return to your homes where your sad old mother, your wife, and your weak children have waited a long, long time.
The Nha Be River Overprint
A fourth four-line overprint has the text:
The water flows in two directions at Nha Be [River] for those who go to Gia Dinh or Dong Nai. Quickly return to a righteous cause [The Republic of Vietnam] and come home to reunite with your family so your aging mother will be at peace.
These banknote leaflets were used around Gia Dinh near Saigon, and the texts are from common songs and poems.
Other French pro-government overprints known on banknotes are:
Every credit note is a note of exhausted credit. The Viet Minh make them to cleverly exploit the people.
Do not rely on a louse, speak often (well) of Bao Dai.
Bao Dai, the Khai-Dinh, (Emperor of
Vietnam), was born in on 22 October 1913. Educated in Hue , Bao Dai succeed his father as emperor on 6 November 1925. In 1949, the French installed Bao Dai as Head of State. In October 1955, the South Vietnamese people were asked to choose between Bao Dai and Ngo Dinh Diem for the leadership of the country. It what is generally regarded as a fixed election, Diem was elected President. After his defeat Bao Dai went into exile and lived for the next forty years in France . France
Republic of Vietnam Overprint on South Vietnamese 10 Dong Note
Everybody Unite Against and Kill the Viet Cong
A fifth overprinted banknote was reported in 2009. This was allegedly produced by the
Republicof Vietnamon a 10 dong National Bank of banknote of 1962. Viet Nam
Colonial Troops out of American
Courtesy of former 1SG Garry Arva
It is hard to say exactly who prepared this propaganda overprint. Someone stamped a message on the back of a genuine U.S. five dollar bill that reads:
Colonial Troops out of American
The message uses the term American Indochina which would seem to indicate that the
United Stateswants to take over as a possession. I would expect Colonial Troops to apply to Vietnam U.S.soldiers colonizing . However, the message is not clear and I suppose one could twist it in such a way as to make this an anti-Communist message. I am going to assume it is actually anti-American, but I am not exactly sure what the text implies. Vietnam
The Christmas Bonus Overprinted Banknote
Like the previous banknote, this overprint was prepared by an unknown person or agency for an unknown reason. The Vietnam specialist Howard Daniel found this in June, 2010 and asked me if I understood the meaning of the overprint. I did not. I asked others and we all drew a blank. It is a common North Vietnamese Ministry of Finance and National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam 50 Xu banknote worth about Two to five dollars depending on condition. However, when the note is turned over there two overprints on the back! The upper left one is:
This year's Christmas bonus is cashable in Saigon - after the revolution.
Courtesy - LIFE, HongKong
The bottom overprint is:
The North Vietnamese, it seems, have both the time and the money
The first line seems to be a quote from somewhere, and allegedly is from Life (Magazine?) printed in Hong Kong. It implies that the Communists will win and the money will be valid in Saigon after that citys fall. I am not sure what the second overprint means, but perhaps it implies that the North Vietnamese have the time to wait for their eventual victory and the money (as shown by its use as the propaganda medium). If any reader can better explain the overprints, I would love to hear from you.
Front - Genuine Banque de Indochine 1 piaster
Front - French Communist parody of Banque de Indochine 1 piaster
Back - Genuine Banque de Indochine 1 piaster
Back - French Communist parody of Banque de Indochine 1 piaster
Curiously, there is also an anti-war banknote leaflet from France. This leaflet parodies the Banque de Indochine 1 piaster note printed for use in Indochina from 1942-1945. The original color of the banknote is violet. The French Communist Party produced a leaflet in Rouen which was similar to the banknote on the front, although the color is now a politically correct Communist red. The leaflet was mentioned in Bulletin Du Centre De Documentation Pour L'EtudeDu Papier-Monnaie, fourth quarter, 1953. The Bulletin says:
The French Communists had a reproduction of the Bank of Indochina 1 piaster printed, the type showing junks on the front and Buddha on the back. The leaflet is printed in red and black on white paper. It bears the serial number C 621981 and the front has few changes from the genuine banknote. The back (Buddha side) has text at the top, Who profits from this crime? Text at left and right of the leaflet is changed to We must put an end to the Indochina war and It is necessary to negotiate with Ho Chi Minh. At the bottom of the genuine note there is an anti-counterfeiting statement. The communists changed it to The penal code punishes whoever traffics in the blood of the people in a war against the (French) Constitution.
Is this worth the Slaughter in Vietnam?
There were other political groups producing propaganda banknotes with propaganda text against the Vietnam War. A British pacifist organization printed a parody of the United States $1 Federal Reserve note of 1963 with serial number L99678438A. The front of the note is unchanged, but on the back the large "ONE" in the central panel has been removed and replaced by the English-language text, "Is this worth the slaughter in Vietnam?" These political banknotes are extremely rare and exist in at least two variations.
Is this worth all the murder and slaughter in Vietnam?
I depicted one in 1970 through the courtesy of the United States Secret Service that had the text slightly changed and within a black border, "Is this worth all the murder and slaughter in Vietnam?" I wrote about this second variation in a Coins magazine article of February 1970, entitled "Political Propaganda Slogans Projected on Paper Money."
Three British pacifists managed to sneak into the Air Force Base at Wethersfield in the United Kingdom in summer 1966. The young men eluded the security officers at the Strategic Air Command base and commenced to hand out leaflets to the passing airmen. These handbills were excellent reproductions of United States one dollar bills. One hundred thousand copies of the fake banknotes were produced. The printer was found and charged with forgery. Ten thousand copies of the banknote were mailed to the United States but the Federal Bureau of Investigation intercepted the shipment and confiscated them all.
Viet Cong Overprint on Banque De L'Indochine Banknote
Long Live Ho Chi Minh
Viet Cong Overprint on Banque De L'Indochine Banknote
One Ho Chi Minh Government Vietnam
The Viet Minh retaliated by overprinting banknotes with their propaganda, Some of the overprints that I have held in my hands are:
An independent Vietnam - One Ho Chi Minh Government.
Vietnamese, spend only the Viet Cong notes
All for counterattack
Emulate to win the victory
Emulate to love country
Prepare for the general offensive
All people reunite against the invaders
Long live Ho Chi Minh
Down with Bao Dai, support Ho Chi Minh
Support the Ho Chi Minh government
Knock down the puppet government of Nguyen van Xuan, servant of the French colonialists
flag over-stamped on a French note Republicof Vietnam
Retired Master Sergeant Howard Daniel, one of the most respected authorities on
Vietnamcurrency sent me the above image which he stated was the first and only time he had seen the Democratic flag over-stamped on a French note as a propaganda device. Howard thought that it probably came out of the Republicof Vietnam Bo (Southern Region) Headquarters and was not a provincial or lower echelon rubberstamp. Nam
We have touched very briefly on this interesting subject of Viet Cong overprints. The overprinted banknotes alone probably number in the dozens. This should be considered nothing more than an introduction to the subject.
Hell Bank Note
There is a long tradition in the Far East of burning fake banknotes upon the death of a family member or friend to give the departed spirit money to spend on the other side. These notes are often very fancy and depict various world leaders as a form of prestige to the dearly departed. This Ho Chi Minh Hell Bank note is from such a set. We mention it only because it is often offered to collectors as a rare Vietnam propaganda note. It is nothing of the sort. Sets of 10-15 different notes could be bought at outdoor stalls all over Asia for just a few pennies. As an example of an incorrect description I note this one found on the auction site EBay:
ORIGINAL, VIETNAM WAR, ANTI-VIET CONG, HO CHI MINH Propaganda LEAFLET. This leaflet is designed to look like a BANK NOTE with a photo of HO CHI MINH on one side, and an Oriental Building with the English works HELL BANK NOTE and the number 1000000 on the other side of the leaflet. Most of these leaflets did not survive, as they were used to start camp fires and answer nature's call by both American and Vietnamese forces. Most of the surviving examples in this country came home as souvenirs in the wallets or bags of American grunts.
U.S. $100 Hell Money in Cambodia
It is interesting to note that even in modern times the practice still exists. In Cambodia, U.S. banknotes rule supreme. The New York Times reported on 8 April 2016:
At a Phnom Penh stall on the southern fringe of one of the citys oldest markets, Colonel Suon Sokhum bought four neat stacks of replica $100 bills. He paid for the presents in local currency, the riel, but said he would never consider offering riel to his ancestors. They, like ghosts and spirits throughout Cambodia, prefer dollars. I want a bigger note. If we give the big note, the ancestors can get a lot of money. If we give them small money, they will need so many notes that theyll go crazy carrying them around. Cambodians burned millions of fake United States dollars, much to the chagrin of the government.
Reward Label on Russian Banknote
Before we leave the discussion of propaganda banknotes in
, we should mention that even after the war was over they still appeared from time to time. Between the years 1987 and 1989 there were several attempts by POW/MIA activists to disseminate genuine banknotes in Vietnam and Laos either with handwritten, stamped or printed messages offering rewards for the safe return of an American prisoner of war.The currency was used as the media of propaganda because it was believed that as they were passed from hand to hand more citizens would read and possibly react to the reward offer. One message printed in English and Vietnamese on a gummed label placed on a Russian 5-ruble banknote is: Vietnam
$2,400,000 REWARD for American Prisoner of War delivered to International Red Cross.
We discuss this postwar operation in greater depth in our article Reward Leaflets of the
We have touched very briefly on this interesting subject. The overprinted banknotes alone probably number in the hundreds. This should be considered nothing more than an introduction to the subject.
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© 8 October 2004