THE "FALLING LEAVES" LEAFLETS

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By SGM Herbert A. Friedman (Ret.)

Propaganda leaflets have been called many things over the years. During WWII, they were called "nickels." The 77 Royal Air Force Squadron Association publishes a newsletter called The Nickel Leaflet. They have been referred to as "Paper Bullets" and a book on the subject of propaganda leaflets by Leo J. Margolin bears that title. They have also been called "falling leaves." In fact, the Journal of the Psywar Society (an international association of psychological warfare historians) is entitled The Falling Leaf. There are multiple meanings to the word "Leaves." Besides being the "flat, thin, expanded organs, usually green, growing from the stem or twig of a plant," Webster's New Twentieth Century Dictionary tells us that it can also be "a sheet of paper, especially from a book, with a page on each side."

In this article, we are going to combine those two definitions and illustrate and translate propaganda leaflets, pieces of paper, in the actual form of leaves that might fall from a tree. Very few leaflets fall into this category. Less than a dozen different types are known. They are all rare and treasured by those specialists and researchers lucky enough to possess them.

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Nazi Autumn Leaf Leaflet

The first of the so-called "leaf leaflets" was dropped by the Germans during the phony war period just before their attack on France. The leaflet is in the form of a maple leaf and has the brown appearance of an autumn leaf. The Germans depicted a skull in a French Army helmet at the bottom of the leaf. Text above it is:

AUTUMN

The leaves fall. We fall like them.
The leaves fall because God wills it,
but we fall because the English will it.
In the coming spring,
nobody will remember the dead leaves
any more than the dead soldiers.
Life will pass on over our graves.

The Germans printed 500,000 copies of the maple leaflet, and the Luftwaffe dropped them over the French lines in late November to December 1939. The back is blank. The code, if any, is unknown. The Falling Leaf, Volume 2, No. 6, adds, "Some propaganda experts have considered this the most effective single propaganda leaflet ever dropped." Margolen says in Paper Bullets, "This Nazi leaflet was one of the most effective leaflets ever dropped and did more to break France's will to resist Germany than any other single piece of propaganda."

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Second Nazi Leaflet dropped over France and Belgium

In early 1943, Churchill announced that the Allied invasion of Europe would take place during the year. At the end of 1943, with Germany still controlling the continent, the German propagandists produced a leaflet that was disseminated in occupied France and Belgium. It is very similar to the first German maple leaf leaflet, but lacks the depiction of a skull and has a shorter message:

I fell out of the tree, oh Churchill!
Where are you? Where are your soldiers?

In reality, The Allies changed the 1943 invasion of Europe (Operation Round-up) to the invasion of North Africa (Operation Torch). The Allies would not have had the manpower and materiel that they had in 1944, but the German defenses would have been weaker. Some historians believe that holding off the invasion of Europe for one year lengthened the war.

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Third Nazi Leaf Leaflet

The Germans dropped a third leaf image leaflet in 1944/45 over North West Europe. The leaflet number is 981144/11. The English text on the leaflet is:

When the leaves fall..

When you pick this up war ought to be over. Because this is what you were promised. And your leaders do keep their promises, or don't they?

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The Germans produced a second almost identical leaflet, except that instead of a maple leaf, an oak leaf was depicted. Once again the leaflet number is 981144/11. The English text on the leaflet is:

When the leaves fall..

When you pick this up war ought to be over. Because this is what you were promised. And your leaders do keep their promises, or don't they?

Not only did they produce two different 981144/11 "leaf" leaflets with different leaves, they also prepared a third leaflet with the same code number, this one with the title:

You shouldn't see this picture!

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A German leaflet to the French depicts a bust of Winston Churchill wearing oak leaves in the tradition of an Olympic victor. The back depicts a tree with all the leaves falling to the ground. The text is:

Before the leaves fell…

Churchill promised the“Liberation”

And then the leaves fell!

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British Leaf Leaflet - Front

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British Leaf Leaflet - Back

In late 1941, the British retaliated. They dropped a leaflet in the form of an oak leaf on Germany. As in the previous case, the leaflet has an autumn brown color. The leaflet has the masthead of a newspaper on both sides, with added text above and below. The British might have copied the newspaper headlines from a genuine German newspaper, but more likely, it is a propaganda text meant to embarrass the Nazi hierarchy and show them to be liars. The newspaper depicted is the Münchner Neueste Nachrichten (Munich’s latest news) Vol. 93, New Years´ issue, No. 366, Munich.  

The text at the top and bottom on the front of the oak leaf leaflet is, "The leaves are falling. The promised final victory fails to appear" The newspaper headline is, "1941 Shall be the year of final victory." The left column is "The New Years order of the Führer to the Wehrmacht," and the right column is "The year of the Hercules." There is a small boxed insert, "The world at the turning point."

The text at the top and bottom on the back of the leaflet is "In Russia fallen leaves cover fallen soldiers. And snow covers the leaves which cover the fallen soldiers." The newspaper headline is "Into the year of the final victory 1941." It is probably supposed to be "In the year of…" which would read "Im Jahr des Endsieges 1941." The text is not good German grammar. The left-most column is "Orders of the day to the Wehrmacht departments. General field marshal von Brauchitsch. To the Army!" The center column is "Order of the day of the Führer and Supreme Commander to the Pan-German Wehrmacht. The year 1941 will bring the completion of the biggest victory of our history." The column at the right is "Appeal of the Reichsführer SS"

The Political Warfare Executive (PWE) prepared the leaflet. It was given the code number EH.527. The secret British propaganda organization "Department EH" was located in room 207 of "Electra House,” (the Imperial Communications Center on London's Victoria Embankment), in early 1939. It was the source of the "EH" leaflets. The British government mobilized the department on 25 August 1939 and moved it to Woburn Abbey for greater secrecy and safety. The PWE replaced Electra House in August of 1941. Curiously, the name of the early department head and chief forger was Ellic Howe,  (codename Armin Hull) also an "EH."

The oak leaf leaflets were first dropped on the night of 30 November and last dropped on the night of 29 December 1941. The number of leaflets produced in unknown but it is known that the Allies dropped them on Kiel, Wilhelshaven, the Hauge, Frankfurt, Dusseldorf, Saarbrucken, Aachen, Bremen and Koblenz.

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Black tablet version of Kiri Leaflets Front & Back -

The United States prepared and dropped a very realistic looking "kiri" tree leaflet on the Japanese in 1943 and 1944. The Kiri tree is known as "Royal Paulownia." It is native to the Orient. It is also called the Chinese Empress tree and the Princess tree. The early fall of the kiri tree leaves is considered a bad omen in Japan.

According to one Alaskan official U.S. document the translation of the front and back of the leaflets is:

A falling Paulownia leaf is the unlucky omen of the inevitable destruction of the military power of Japan. As these leaves scatter about they do nothing but pile up sorrow and bad luck.

Before spring comes a second time, American bombs, falling like Paulownias falling from far away, will bring disaster and bad luck.

Life magazine of 9 July 1945 mentioned American psychological operations and the kiri leaf in a pictorial story entitled: “Leaflets dropped on home islands attack Nippon’s militarist caste.” Some of the story said:

Last week Japanese civilians were told that they must help defend the Jap home islands when the Americans invade and were warned that they must “not allow themselves to be taken prisoner or die dishonorable deaths.” If obeyed, the order to commit suicide rather than surrender would produce a terrible holocaust. The Americans are trying to crack the core of this credo by deluging Japan with propaganda leaflets and broadcasts.

Along with factual leaflets, the Americans drop one that is shaped like a kiri leaf which capitalizes on the peculiarly Japanese obsession with the poetry and omens of death. Every B-29 raid on Japan now drops about 750,000 pieces of propaganda on Japan…The Japs are urged to fight against the U.S. leaflets with “strong nerves” and warned of severe penalties for failing to turn in the leaflets to the nearest police station.

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White tablet version of Kiri Leaflets Front & Back -

The American Air Force dropped the leaflets in a number of locations. A New Delhi newspaper mentions:

Planes shower 'Leaf of Death' on Jap Troops. The 'leaf of death' is falling in North Burma, dropped by Allied planes. This is a reproduction of the kiri leaf, which appears in a famous Japanese drama as a symbol of death (Note: "The Kiri Leaves Fall" is the name of a famous Japanese play by Tsubouchi Shoyo. At the end of the play, kiri leaves fall, symbolizing the end of hopes of the main characters that had tried to seize power). With the 'leaf of death', the Allied planes are dropping imitations of Japanese newspapers reporting the fall of Japanese strongholds and the expulsion of the Japs from 1,000 square miles of Burmese territory. These 'leaves' are falling as the British open their attack on the Japs on the Imphal-Tiddim road, along which the main enemy effort against India is directed.

The Japanese poet Basho (1644-1694) wrote the haiku:

Won't you come and see
loneliness?
Just one leaf
from the kiri tree.

The kiri leaflet was also dropped on Japanese troops in the Aleutian Islands. In June 1942, Japanese forces occupied the islands of Attu, Agattu, and Kiska. Attu was recaptured by the U.S. Army Seventh Infantry Division in May 1943. The battle to reclaim Attu lasted three weeks. 2,351 Japanese soldiers were found dead; only 28 surrendered. 549 out of 15,000 US soldiers were killed; 1,100 were wounded. 60,000 of the kiri leaflets were dropped over Attu and Kiska before troops landed on Attu in May 1943. The American Air Force regularly bombed and leafleted the Japanese garrisons. The Alaska Defense Command G-2 (Intelligence) pamphlet American Propaganda Leaflets (Aleutian Campaign), 25 October 1943 says:

The Eleventh Air Force bombers frequently mixed leaflets with the bombs they dropped on Kiska after August 1942. Later, when the Japanese reoccupied Attu, bombers delivered small quantities of leaflets there also.

According to my old friend Tom Mahoney writing in American Legion Magazine, May 1966: 

The leaflet was first intended for the Doolittle raiders to drop over Tokyo in April 1942, but was never used.

A sailor mentions in correspondence that he received a kiri leaflet from a pilot. It was given to him while he was in the Aleutian Islands, at the Cold Bay Naval Air Station. He says a pilot came in one day with a stack of leaflets, and said something like, "this is what we're dropping on the Japanese these days." He does not remember the exact date. However, he was stationed at Cold Bay from July 1943 through January 1944. The time frame checks out since both the Army Air Force and the Navy were at Cold Bay in 1943-1944. Army Engineers under the command of Col. Benjamin B. Talley began the construction of the air base, soon to be called Fort Randall, in early 1942. By 1 June 1942, American military strength in Alaska stood at 45,000 men, with about 13,000 at Fort Randall on the tip of the Alaskan Peninsula. The Eleventh Air Force, commanded by Brig. Gen. (later Maj. Gen.) William C. Butler consisted of 10 heavy and 34 medium bombers and 95 fighters, divided between its main base, Elmendorf Airfield, in Anchorage, and at airfields at Cold Bay and on Umnak. Cold Bay was also used by the Navy and the Attu attack force sailed from there on 11 May, 1943.

The color of the leaflet is an autumn brown and the text is in a black or a white tablet surrounded by a green border in the center of the leaf. A second translation of the text on the front and back of the leaflet is:

The kiri leaf falls. Its fall is the ill omen of the inevitable downfall of militarism. With the fall of one kiri leaf come sadness and bad luck.

Text on the back of the leaflet is:

Before fall comes again the raining bombs of America, just like the kiri leave fluttering to the ground, will bring sad fate and misfortune.

Infantryman Bernard Bergmann picked up some of the leaflets in Gertrude's Cove at the south end of Kiska one day after the invasion of the island. He said:

The leaves are die cut and each one bears in natural color the likeness of a real kiri leaf.

All of the information mentioned above was discovered by individual research. In late 2004 the actual data sheet for the leaflet’s distribution in the China-Burma-India Theater of Operations was found. It verifies all of what we have said and even goes into greater detail in some areas:

U. S. Office of War Information
Psychological Warfare Team
Attached to
U. S. Army Forces C.B.I.
APO 689

March 9 1944

Leaflet: Kiri Leaf

Language: Japanese

(Prepared in New York. Distributed by PWT, APO 689)

English Translation

Among the Japanese it is regarded as misfortune when the leaves of the kiri (the Paulownia Imperialis) tree fell prematurely.

This leaflet makes use of that superstition.

Form and color of the leaf have been checked by the Brooklyn Botanical Garden.

"The Kiri Leaf Falls" Is a famous play in Japan. At the end of the play a leaf does fall, a symbol of the end of the hopes of the characters who tried to seize power for themselves.

This leaflet plays on the superstitiousness of the Japanese.

Translation:

In Large Letters:

THE KIRI LEAF FALLS

Its fall is the ill omen of the inevitable downfall of militarism. With the fall of one kiri leaf comes sadness and bad luck.

On reverse side:

Before spring comes again the raining bombs of America**, just like kiri leaves fluttering to the ground* will bring bad fate and misfortune.

Explanation:

** Furu Americano bakudan…a pun on "falling rain" (furu ame) and America, and is a line quoted from a well known Japanese poem.

* Flutter to the ground…a direct quote from the play.

Kiri hitoha, The Kiri Leaf Falls, is the title of a play by Tsubouchi foremost Japanese playwright of the Meiji era. It depicts the downfall of the house of Toyotomi immediately before the establishment of the Tokugawa regime of 1603.

The line under the big letters are connected with those characters and can be read as separate sentences or as a whole.

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American Propaganda Leaflets (Aleutian Campaign)

Curiously, the Japanese prepared an answer to the American kiri leaflet. It is mentioned in a 10-page report entitled American Propaganda Leaflets (Aleutian Campaign) prepared by Major Robert Y. Thornton of the Office of the Assistant to the Chiefs of Staff, G2 (Intelligence section), Headquarters, Alaskan Defense Command, dated 25 October 1943. The report depicts and translates a number of Allied leaflets, then mentions a Japanese leaflet that refutes the message:

“That which falls is the omen of destruction of the militarist. Before spring comes again, the falling bombs of America, like the leaves of the Paulownia, will bring tragedy and unhappiness.”

To my dear foolish American Propaganda chief:

I have duly acknowledged the above propaganda. The officers and men of the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy who possess a high devotion to their country and a sound patriot spirit are not tempted by the above propaganda which resembles elegant prose.

The bombs which fell like paulownia leaves expressed the fighting spirit of the American Air Force because they fell into the sea without leaving a trace of the attack. Not a bomb has been able to damage our position. What a laugh! What a laugh!

In conclusion, Oh foolish officers and men of the American forces. We have appreciated your kind deeds and the wonderful entertainment you have given us for nearly a year.

We will part with a promise of paying a visit to your homeland in the near future in order to express our gratitude and to say 'how are you?'

The report contains what appear to be all the leaflets used during the Aleutian campaign. The cover depicts a drawing of a Japanese soldier reading a leaflet with a “Death’s head” while American aircraft overhead drop additional leaflets. There are two samples of the “black tablet” kiri leaflets to show front and back. There is a small booklet entitled “Naizo’s Luck,” telling of the misfortunes of a Japanese soldier. It tells the story of his military career ending with his ashes being delivered to his home. There are two specimens of the leaflet entitled “The Graveyard of the Stupid North Pacific Policy” that depict a map of the Aleutians with an arrow showing the Japanese advance and the words “So Sorry” on the front. The back depicts a bomb and tells the Japanese that they are alone and without reinforcement and massive US forces are on the way. There are two specimens of the leaflet entitled “The guiding voice” (surrender leaflets), two security passes that explain how to use the pass to cross over the fighting lines, what they can expect as a Prisoner of War, how well they will be treated and the amount of food rations they will receive.The last item in the booklet is a pamphlet published by the United States of America that tells the Japanese of President Roosevelt’s unanswered letter to the Emperor Hirohito. None of the leaflets bear identification codes.

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Fall of Berlin, US Leaflet 26-J-1

Psychological Warfare Branch leaflet 26-J-1 was dropped over Japanese troops and civilians. The front of the leaflet depicts a large leaf marked "Berlin" falling from a Kiri (Royal Paulownia) tree. The leaf on the ground is marked "Rome" and a remaining leaf on the tree is marked "Tokyo". As explained earlier in the article, the falling of the Kiri leaf carries with it a feeling of doom to the Japanese. The message of this leaflet was that Berlin has fallen and the German Army was all but defeated with Japan being next. Translation of the Japanese text on the back is:

The great German army which once overran the entire continent of Europe, has been pushed back by Allied forces until their capital city, Berlin, has now fallen. The European war is in its last days.

What is going to happen to Japan now left behind in isolation?

Even now, after the fall of Berlin, your military leaders continue to force the people to greater sacrifices and privations by saying that they must fight to the very last, even at the expense of scorching their beloved homeland.

Do you think your military leaders are following the wisest road?

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Leaflet 28-J-1

This leaflet depicts a lone Japanese soldier sitting on a log and reading about the end of the war in Europe. Text on the front is:

A single leaf of the paulownia falls

And sad are the waters of Naniwa

The back is all text. Some of the message is:

The greatest European war in history, which turned the continent into a scene of carnage, is now over. The bells of peace are ringing far and wide.

The day is not far off when the soldiers, who have grown gaunt with hunger and disease in the front line and smoke of battle, will return to their own peaceful homes, longed for these many years. The dawn of a new era has come to them at last.

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Leaflet 139-J-1

This leaflet depicts a Japanese father digging a protective ditch for his wife and child to hide in. Paulownia leaves (an ill omen) are blowing around them. The official title of the leaflet is “A Candle in the Wind,” a Japanese saying that implies an extremely difficult situation. Some of the text is:

No longer able to conceal their successive defeats, the military is attempting to put the responsibility for defense on the shoulders of the people by ordering them to fortify their homes. The call upon the people to do what the Army, Navy and Air Force are unable to do. How can civilians perform a task that was too great for the trained fighting forces?

When the general attack on the homeland begins, there will be no chance to fight against such overwhelming might. The destruction will be terrible and complete.

The people cannot save Japan by sacrificing their cities, their homes and their lives.

The only hope for Japan’s future lies in unconditional surrender, enabling the people to return to their peacetime pursuits.

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Australian Leaflet J106

The Australians also used the concept of the falling paulownia leave as a symbol of Japanese defeat. The Far Eastern Liaison Office (FELO) was commanded by Australians and distributed over 69 million leaflets in the region in 14 languages and dialects. Leaflet J106 depicts a paulownia tree with a leaf depicting Mussolini falling to the ground while two depicting Hitler and Tojo seem about to fall. The Australian War Memorial says about this leaflet:

This leaflet was produced by FELO in August 1943. The message on this leaflet compares the resignation of Mussolini and the imminent downfall of Hitler and Tojo to falling leaves from a paulownia tree. The text on the reverse side also mentions the capture of 290,000 prisoners of war in North Africa alone and the landing of the Allies on Sicily.

Italian Tobacco Leaf
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A leaflet in the form of a tobacco leaf is depicted in the winter 1979 issue of Falling Leaf, the journal of the Psywar Society, an international association of psychological warfare historians and collectors of aerial propaganda leaflets. The origin of the leaflet illustration is unknown but believed to have been found in an Italian wartime magazine. The text on the tobacco leaf in a large Italian script is “You want to smoke?” The description of the leaflet (one supposes from the Italian magazine) is, “Here is a curious fascist propaganda document used in the territory of the Italian Social Republic.  It is in regard to the scarcity of cigarettes and informs the people that the tobacco had not been requisitioned by the Germans, but by the “Rebels,” that is the partisans.” The unknown writer points out that the document was obviously inspired by the Germans and says that there is also a frightening shortage of raw materials in the Great Reich (Germany).

On 25 July 25 1943, Benito Mussolini was ousted from power and replaced by a new government. On 8 September 8th, 1943, the Italian government announced an armistice with the Allies. The Repubblica Sociale Italiana (Italian Social Republic, sometimes called "RSI"), governed by Mussolini with the support of the German army, was founded 23 September 1943, and included the Center-Northern part of Italy in the beginning. As the Allied armies advanced, the territory was restricted to the northern regions situated near the Alpine Chain and to a part of Emilia and Tuscany. The Republic fell on 25 April 1945.

 

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Nationalist Chinese anti-Communist leaflets

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British propaganda leaflet collector Reggie Auckland
holds samples of the leaves from his collection

The final leaflets that fall into this "leaf" category are very rare and all we know about them comes from former president Reginald Auckland and Dr. Rod Oakland of the Psywar Society:

These are real magnolia leaves which have been subjected to a chemical process to remove all the juice and sap and leave only the skeleton veins. They have been colored according to the seasons, and overprinted with an anti-Communist slogan or message.

Airplanes of Chiang Kai Shek's Nationalist Air Force took off from bases in Taiwan and dropped these leaves in 1956 from a very high altitude over Red China. They were carried hither and thither by air currents until they touched down perhaps hundreds and hundreds of miles from where they were released.

The first leaflet is a reddish-pink. The illustration depicts a woman reading a letter, possibly from her relatives, now separated by the Taiwan Strait after General Chiang kai Shek was driven from the mainland with his Nationalist troops by the Communists. The text below the woman is:

Who separates our family?

The text implies that it is Chairman Mao who is to blame. (Note: If you click on the above picture it will enlarge and the Chinese Characters will be easier to read). The drawing and text is visible to the naked eye, but when photocopied or scanned in color is almost impossible to see.

A second magnolia leaf leaflet is colored green. It depicts a map of China (including Mongolia) with the flag of Taiwan superimposed. Text beneath the map is:

Who betrays our country and the people?

The author would appreciate hearing from anyone who can shed more light on this subject. Readers with comments or questions are encouraged to write to him at sgmbert@hotmail.com.

© 24 July 2004