SGM Herbert A. Friedman (Ret.)

Note: This article served as reference for the article: “The history of U.S. Psychological Operations: Precursor in the Great War” published on In 2017, the Israeli history magazine SEGULA ("Virtue") requested the use of this article as a reference source. A Polish researcher used portions of this article to create an article on Wikipedia titled “Wojna Psychologiczna,” (“Psychological Warfare”), a selected topic in the “Digital Olympiad” in which he participates.

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Wartime psychological operations (PSYOP) are documented as early as The Old Testament. Gideon used light-bearers to fool the Midianites into believing his forces were many time larger than they actually were. Such tactics were also used by Alexander the Great, the tactician Sun Tsu who wrote The Art of War, Genghis Khan, and other military leaders to aid in their conquests.

Both the British and American Colonists used such tactics in the Revolutionary War. The Americans offered land to British and Hessian soldiers who deserted. Five thousand Hessians, one-sixth of their total force did defect. Thomas Paine's Common Sense has been called "the book that won the war." Meanwhile, the British counterfeited Colonial currency in an attempt to destroy the American economy and end the war quickly.

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WWI Printing Press

Still, most authorities consider World War 1 as the start of modern psychological operations as we know them. This was due in large part to the availability of mass communication media like radio, modern printing presses, and the innovative and expedient means to deliver the message to the target audience. Some of the means of media transmission were the new airplanes, special artillery rounds, leaflet mortars, hand grenades, and even specially modified leaflet balloons.

A brief word about references. I have looked through over 150 publications in my bookcase to put this short article together. Four stand out. One is Flugblautter aus England 1914-1918 (Leaflets out of England 1914-1918) by Klaus Kirchner. The second is Flugblautter aus Frankreich (Leaflets out of France) 1914-1918, also by Klaus Kirchner. The Third is the combined publications of the Psywar Society, an international association of psychological warfare historians and collectors of aerial propaganda leaflets. The Fourth is the Sandler book mentioned further along in this article. Stanley Sandler's general history of U.S. psychological operations is a wonderful book that needs to be in every psywarrior's library. I have used a great deal of his data in this article.

For readers who want to study WW1 PSYOP in detail I recommend Secrets of Crewe House, Sir Campbell Stuart, Hodder and Stoughton, 1920,  Allied Propaganda and the Collapse of the German Empire in 1918, George Bruntz, Hoover War Library, Publication No-13, Stanford University Press California, 1938 and Adventures in Propaganda: Letters from an Intelligence Officer in France, by Captain Heber Blankenhorn, Houghton Mifflen Company, Boston and New York, 1919.

It is only by the greatest of luck and the habit of soldiers and civilians to collect souvenirs that we know what the British did in the way of propaganda during WWI. The unit in charge of British aerial propaganda was M17(b) and at the end of WWI they destroyed all their files on the principal that they “would have been too incriminating.” Secrecy was so closely maintained that the members of MI7(b), in the best traditions of the British spy-craft remained silent about their work. Curiously, in WWII, British propagandist Ellic Howe was ordered to burn his files but he hid many of his leaflets and notes so that he could later write a book called The Black Game. Because I was a top collector of wartime propaganda, Howe flew to my home in the USA from Great Britain to photograph some of his leaflets that I had managed to save for use in in his book.

World War I

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Archduke Franz Ferdinand

World War I started with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austria- Hungarian throne, in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914 by a member of the Black Hand, a Serbian nationalist secret society.

Austria-Hungary's reaction to the death of their heir was three weeks in coming. It issued an ultimatum to Serbia, which demanded that the assassins be brought to justice. Serbia had Slavic ties with Russia. In order to protect itself, the Austria-Hungarian government sought assurances that Germany would come to her aid should Russia declare war on Austria-Hungary. Germany, itching to use its military muscle, readily agreed.

Things moved quickly thereafter. Austria-Hungary, unsatisfied with Serbia's response to her ultimatum declared war on Serbia on 28 July 1914. Russia, bound by treaty to Serbia, mobilized its vast army. Germany, allied to Austria-Hungary by treaty, viewed the Russian mobilization as an act of war against Austria-Hungary, and declared war on Russia on 1 August. France, bound by treaty to Russia, responded by announcing war against Germany and Austria-Hungary on 3 August. Germany promptly responded on 4 August by invading neutral Belgium to open a quick path to Paris. Britain, allied to Belgium declared war against Germany on 4 August. In just a little over a month all of Europe was at war. Japan, honoring a treaty with Britain, declared war on Germany on 23 August 1914. Italy was allied to both Germany and Austria-Hungary. She was first neutral, but in May 1915, she joined the British and French against her two former allies. The United States declared a policy of absolute neutrality on the same day Britain declared war, 4 August.

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The Zimmermann Telegram

The U.S. would remain neutral until 1917 when Germany's policy of unrestricted submarine warfare and the British interception of the Zimmermann telegram to Mexico forced President Wilson to declare war on 6 April 1917. The German foreign minister, Arthur Zimmermann, had sent a Telegram to the German ambassador in Washington to approach the Mexican government with an offer: if it was to join any war against America, it would be rewarded with the territories of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. The British had intercepted the letter, broken the code, and informed the United States.

The war went on for four bitter years and ended with the signing of an armistice on 11 November 1918. It is amazing to note that a single terrorist assassination set all these defensive treaties, meant to protect nations and keep them from going to war, into motion. Ironically, nations that had signed treaties to keep them out of war suddenly found themselves drawn into a 4-year bloodbath.

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Great Britain

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Briton wants you

Paul M. Linebarger discusses WWI British PSYOP in Psychological Warfare, Infantry Journal Press, Washington, 1948. He says:

If psychological warfare is considered in the broad sense, it seems plain that it was among the decisive weapons of 1914-1918. The political decency of the Allies, the appeal of President Wilson's Fourteen Points, the patent obsolescence of the Kaiser and what he stood for, the resurgence of Polish, Baltic, Finnish, Czechoslovak and South Slav nationalism—all these played a real part in making Germany surrender in 1918.

He adds:

The British had, in 1914, one of the world's finest news systems, a highly sophisticated press, and extensive experience in international communication for technical and commercial purposes, notably the undersea cable system, and they turned these to war use with considerable smoothness...The British, furthermore, had a diplomatic and consular service of superb quality; comparable German services included a much higher proportion of bunglers and enthusiasts.

In October 1946, The Propaganda Branch, Intelligence Division, based in the Pentagon, Washington D.C., published a report entitled A Syllabus of Psychological Warfare. It was prepared to give quick answers about Psywar to the press that wanted to know what the United States had done during WWII. In the report there is a brief mention of British psychological warfare in WWI, but it stresses political operations rather than leaflet techniques:

Against Turkey they rallied the Arab States, while rallying world-wide Jewish Zionist help to their side by promising the Jews a national home in Palestine. India was quieted in the face of German, Turkish and revolutionary propaganda by the Montagu Statement and the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms.

Jose Pedro Mataloto and Anselmo Melo Dias said about Great Britain in Psychological Operations in the Great War:

England conducted its propaganda activities through a War Propaganda Bureau established early in the conflict. The organization's initial objective was to distribute printed materials in neutral countries and even in Germany, when possible, with the help of sympathizers who were sent the products by Swiss or Dutch mail. In 1916, with Lloyd George as prime minister, the structure underwent a reorganization, and the Department of Information was established with the mission of conducting psychological actions targeted at the adversary's civilian population, contributing to demoralize their military forces.

It was not until the Great War that psychological action became a formal activity conducted by belligerents. Units specializing in propaganda were established to influence or change an opponents' perceptions and, on occasion, those of allies. Around this time, airborne leaflet propaganda began being dropped and distributed using balloons and even planes.

While a direct relationship cannot be established, reports suggest that psychological action contributed to increased desertions and surrender in the ranks, a testament to the usefulness and importance of this activity. The British Department of Information was aware of the effectiveness of postcards and printed over 90,000 postcards using 17 different photographs in 1917 alone, one of the most disseminated messages being the humane treatment of prisoners of war in England. In addition to other materials, such as reproductions of letters written by prisoners of war, leaflets or photographs, these eservices are estimated to have produced over 25,000,000 copies of psychological action materials.

Garth S. Jowett and Victoria O’Donnell discuss the British techniques in Propaganda and Persuasion, Sage Publications, London, 1986. They say in part:

The British took the lead in propaganda activities because they were forced to think seriously about it earlier than any of the other belligerent powers…There was a widespread pressure to remain neutral…The Germans unwittingly settled this internal dissension when they decided to invade Belgium…The Germans miscalculated that the British would not go to war over a “mere scrap of paper,” but when Belgium actually resisted the “dreaded Huns,” the British became united in their resolve to defend “brave little Belgium.” The circulation of atrocity stories coming out of Belgium signaled the first major propaganda salvo, and had an immediate impact on British public sympathies.

The first official propaganda organization in Britain was the War Propaganda Bureau, which concerned itself initially with the distribution of printed material inside neutral countries, and eventually inside Germany itself, which it did through sympathizers using the mails from Holland and Switzerland. When Lloyd George became Prime Minister in 1916…he reorganized the War Propaganda Bureau and created the Department of Information. This agency concentrated on enemy civilian psychological warfare outside of Britain….

Philip M. Taylor says in British Propaganda During the First World War 1914-1918, about the content of British propaganda:

Images of the bloated 'Prussian Ogre' proudly sporting his pickelhauber, the ‘Beastly Hun’ with his saber-belt barely encompassing his enormous girth, busily crucifying soldiers, violating women, mutilating babies, desecrating, and looting churches, are firmly implanted in the consciousness of the twentieth century. Evoked repeatedly by Allied propagandists during the First World War, the British stereotype of the ‘Hun’ or the French stereotype of the 'Boche' came to personify a particular perception of the quintessential immorality of ‘Prussian militarism’ for causing the war and for its more inhumane excesses. 'Prussian militarism' provided Allied propagandists with the essential focus they required to launch their moral offensive against the enemy at home and abroad, and amongst their own troops. They personified and pictorialized a German society based upon militarist principles to bring home the terrifying consequences of defeat and thereby to sustain the will to continue the struggle until victory was secured. Neutral countries would be left in no doubt as to where their sympathies should rest. During the early stage of the war, it was important for British propagandists to apportion blame to the enemy for having caused the conflict and to prove that he had deliberately let loose the dogs of war upon peace-loving nations. The very fact that Belgian neutrality had been violated in the process of the attack upon France, combined, with Germany’s subsequent admission that she had knowingly flouted international law, provided the British government with the. moral casus belli it required to justify intervention. For the next four years, official British propagandists exploited this theme ceaselessly and tirelessly and, if not actually fabricating atrocity stories themselves, then encouraging their distribution as a means of sustaining the level of moral condemnation of the enemy.

The lurid reputation which British propaganda gained for atrocity stories during the First World Warmust go to Wellington House. Given that its initial concern was for propaganda in neutral countries, it was natural for Wellington House to exploit the German violation of Belgian neutrality as an atrocious act of war. Such a theme, however, was not inexhaustible. to keep the Belgian issue alive, British propagandists sought to exploit any material that would help to sustain the moral condemnation of the enemy. Much of this material related to the actions of the Germans during the initial invasion, but the continued occupation ensured that the issue remained alive throughout the war. The character of the charges levelled against the occupying power was typical of all wars throughout history. The German army was accused of various crimes against the civilian population ranging from the massacre of innocents to the rape of nuns and virgins.

Not only did the British prepare their own material but also undertook the distribution of French propaganda. In August 1915, the French established their own "Service de la Propagande Aerienne" which compiled "La Voix du Pays," a newspaper designed for occupied France. The French asked the British to undertake aerial distribution of their material in the area occupied by British forces such as Lille.

My good friend and excellent researcher on propaganda Stamps, Wolfgang Baldus, mentioned general Allied propaganda in his booklet British Propaganda Forgeries of WWI, and he describes some of the total numbers of British propaganda sent to the enemy.

60 million leaflets in eight languages as well as 112 different newspapers with a total print run of 10 million copies were circulated in Austria-Hungary between May and October 1918. Apart from dropping this propaganda by air – propaganda against Austria was distributed from Italy and could always be disseminated, in contrast to the western front, by aircraft – there were different procedures for distributing propaganda, for instance by so-called contact patrols. These “consisted mostly of deserters who were able to hand their material over to their comrades in the Habsburg regiments with wonderful success.” Therefore, distribution by mail could also have been thought of. Prepared letters that were franked with Austrian postage stamps had only to be posted in mailboxes or smuggled into the post by agents. On 9 November the War Office informed Crewe House to cease at once all propaganda activities.

The British took an immediate lead in the shaping of opinion. They convinced the world that they were broadcasting and publishing truthful news, while the German information was painted as lies and propaganda.

The funny part about this is that the British were so untruthful and their propaganda was so full of lies that when WWII was on the horizon the United States leaned toward neutrality because they remembered WWI and did not trust anything they were told by the British. Scot MacDonald mentions this further in Propaganda and Information Warfare in the 21st Century, Contemporary Security Studies, 2007:

Atrocity stories with little or no foundation in truth were spread in magazines and newspapers. British atrocity stories included, among many others, U-boat crews shooting women and children in lifeboats, German soldiers mutilating nurses, ripping the tongues out of British POWs, chopping the hands off a Belgian baby, crucifying a Canadian officer, bombing hospitals and instituting germ warfare. Truth was indistinguishable from lies, so soon most of the public believed little, if any, news, even if it was true. Propaganda exaggerated victories and minimized defeats, unlike during the Second World War, when the British, especially, sought credibility through telling the truth. The British policy of truth was, in part, a reaction to the lack of credibility propaganda had attained by the end of the First World War.

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Viscount Northcliffe

The British Foreign Office created a War Propaganda Bureau in 1914. It concerned itself with the distribution of leaflets, pamphlets, and other material in Allied and neutral countries. A number of patriotic groups and some military units started producing their own propaganda, so to centralize the effort the British government created the Department of War Information. By the end of the war, they had a number of distinct propaganda agencies. For instance, the Ministry of Information under Lord Beaverbrook was in charge of civilian PSYOP outside Britain while the National War Aims Committee was responsible for patriotic civilian PSYOP within Britain and was independent of the Ministry of information. Both military and civilian agencies produced wartime propaganda against enemy military forces. In February 1918, Viscount Northcliffe was appointed Director of Propaganda in Enemy Countries. The department consisted of two Branches. Mr. Wickham Steed and Mr. Seton-Watson were in charge of the Austria-Hungary section, and Mr. H.G. Wells supervised the German section. Austria-Hungary was by far the psychologically weaker of the two and the leaflets against them met with success. Prime Minister Lloyd George wrote to Lord Northcliffe (director of the Division) in May 1918, "It seems to me you have organized admirable work in your Austrian propaganda...I trust you will soon turn your attention towards German propaganda along the British and French fronts." Northcliffe was first headquartered at Adastral House. In July he moved his headquarters to Crewe House, the town mansion of the Marquis of Creweand brought Slav, Croatian, Polish and Czech patriots to assist in the production of hundreds of thousands of leaflets calling upon the various minorities in the enemy armies to desert and become free.

In 2022, about 15 years after I wrote this article, Dr, Jared M. Tracy wrote a book titled VICTORY THROUGH INFLUENCE, Texas A&M University Press, College Station, that discussed the history of Psychological Operations in WWI, WWII, and the Korean War. He gave some of the totals for leaflets and messages and covered the subject so well that I will add a bit here on what he said about the British campaign:

[The American propagandists] learned about a special propaganda balloon. A nine-foot paper onion charged with hydrogen gas and carrying four pounds of leaflets. [about 600 sheets] on a fuse set to burn them loose at intervals.ť The team admired the procession of balloons, fourteen in the air at once...Improvements were made by mid-1918. One type of balloon carried 20 pounds of leaflets, traveled at an altitude of six to eight thousand feet, and dropped one-quarter pound of cargo every fifteen minutes.

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Lusitania medals (front and back)

During the war years, the Germans struck a number of commemorative medallions to advertise their victories and attack and humiliate their enemies. An example of a terrible propaganda blunder that backfired was the medallion commemorating the sinking of the Lusitania. The British were able to use that medal to show the world the bestiality and lack of consciousness of the German nation. Germany also produced a medallion attacking the hated British propagandist Lord Northcliffe. One side shows Northcliffe sharpening his forked quill pen with a nearby ink pot labeled "Propaganda ink." The other side shows Satan feeding a blazing globe with the Times, Daily Mail, and other organs of Northcliffe's press empire.

Meanwhile, Brigadier General Sir George Cockerrill directed the War Office’s Directorate of Military Intelligence (M.I.7.b). The official History of M.I.7b (March 1916 - December 1918) lists their productions:

Reproductions of German prisoner of war letters and postcards...showing the good treatment of prisoners in England. Reproductions of photo postcards of prisoners of war...Prisoner of war photo books...Leaflets of an inflammatory and socialist nature, produced by MI7b urging German troops to surrender and stop the war. Leaflets designed to give the German troops information that had been withheld from them by their own authorities. The weekly Courrier de l'Air (Mail of the Air) designed to encourage the inhabitants in occupied territory.

The distributions for 1917 were as follows: 594,000 reproductions of 88 prisoner of war letters and 7 postcards; 90,000 reproductions of 17 photo postcards; 85,000 large edition and 25,000 miniature edition and 20,000 photo sheets of prisoner of war photo books; 888,200 leaflets and surrender notices; and 250,000 copies of 50 weekly numbers of Le Courrier de l'Air. The total number of leaflets, prisoner of war letters, cartoons, etc., handled by M.I.7b from the start is 25,986,180. The total number of balloons supplied by M.I.7b is 32,694

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Preparing balloons to drop leaflets on the Germans

Early in the war when the Germans threatened to put leaflet-dropping pilots before a firing squad, the British mastered the art of dropping the leaflets and newspapers from unmanned balloons. The leaflet balloon was invented by Mr. A. Fleming who stated that 48,000 were produced. He treated the paper in such a way that the balloons could stay afloat for three days when filled with hydrogen.

Captain L. C. Pittmann tells more about the balloons in an article entitled "Propaganda by Balloon" published in The Royal Engineers Journal, April 1919. Some if his comments are:

"In March 1918, the Royal Engineers took up the supervision and manufacture of these balloons and releases…the balloons dispatched to France two to three times a week (a staff of nearly 100 girls was specially employed on this work). During the period of Match, 1918, to the signing of the Armistice, over 35,000 balloons and 20 million leaflets attached to releases were dispatched from France. As many as 400 balloons, each carrying 500 to 1,500 leaflets, have been sent over the lines in a single day.

The Germans did their utmost to prevent the circulation of the leaflets, and as much as five marks was offered for each leaflet brought to headquarters, but many Germans were captured with leaflets in their possession…"

The Times added in their issue of 20 October 2017:

When the Germans caught two British flying officers with the leaflets they were sentenced to ten years of hard labor. The British stopped the flights. In October 1917, tests began on unmanned balloons, which were far safer as well as cheaper. The best design was a balloon more than 8 feet high made of paper treated with varnish and filled with hydrogen gas. Each balloon could carry hundreds of pamphlets suspended by threads, released at intervals by a burning fuse. The balloons were launched from northern France and could stay aloft for three days, long enough to reach the enemy. Crucial to the success of the missions were meteorologists, who could forecast favorable winds.

By March 1918 the balloon operation was in full operation, with as many as 400 launched each day. By the time of the Armistice on November 11, more than 35,000 balloons had been launched and more than 20 million leaflets dropped. The propaganda included messages such as the failure of the U-boats and Zeppelins, terrible living conditions in Germany and how German troops were used as cannon fodder.

The leaflets were printed on single or double sheets of various sizes, and were all punched with a 1/4-inch hole in one corner to enable them to be threaded upon the tags, and were left unfolded.

Captain P. Chalmers Mitchell discussed WWI propaganda balloons in a 23 February 1918 report entitled “The Aerial Distribution of Propaganda to the Enemy. He says in part:

In October 1917, the Air Inventions Board was consulted with regard to the use of paper balloons and other modes of aerial distribution. It was ascertained that the Munitions Inventions had the matter under consideration and the request was made that the Munitions Inventions should communicate with the War Office as soon as their experiments had led to some practical issue. In early February 1918 the Munitions Inventions informed the War Office that they now had some paper balloons and a new form of release ready for trial at the Front.

At the present time the Munitions Inventions have carried beyond the experimental stage two types of balloons made of doped paper, respectively of 16 and 20 feet diameter and carrying loads of one and two pounds. They can be inflated with hydrogen or with gas, the former giving a lifting capacity of more than one and a half times that given by the latter, but not being so suitable for long distances as it diffuses through the doped paper more rapidly than does coal gas.

Experiments are in progress with larger types of paper balloons carrying heavier loads, four and eight pounds being-aimed at. It is expected that these types will have passed the experimental stage in a few weeks.

Chalmers Mitchell mentions balloons in this postwar report written for Encyclopedia Britannica:

By the end of 1917 it became clear that the use of paper balloons was the only method which would encounter no opposition, and attention was therefore concentrated on producing them on a large scale and on applying the experience gained in other directions to them. By far the largest bulk of propaganda distributed by the Allies on the western front was released from balloons, and it may therefore be of historical interest to describe their final form. The propaganda balloons were made of paper cut in longitudinal panels, with a neck of oiled silk about 18 in. long. Their circumference was approximately 20 ft. and their height when inflated 8 feet. They were liberated inflated nearly to their full capacity - from 90 to 95 cubic feet of hydrogen. The weight of the balloon was less than one pound, the load of propaganda four pounds.

The leaflets were attached to a fuse of treated cotton, similar to the tinder of flint pipe-lighters, and burning at the rate of an inch in five minutes. The string of propaganda was tied to the neck of the balloon, and just before liberation a slit was cut in the neck to permit the escape of gas, and the end of the fuse was lighted. The weight and lift were adjusted so that the balloon could rise several thousand feet into the air before the loss of gas due to expansion would have caused a state of equilibrium. At this point the first bundle of leaflets was set free, and the process was continued until, at the end of the run, the last bundle was released. The total time length of the fuse and the attachment of the bundles to it were calculated according to the area which it was desired to reach and the strength of the wind. Experimental improvement of the “dope,” by which the rate of diffusion of the gas was lowered, and the manufacture of balloons of double the standard capacity, had made runs of upwards of 150 m. practical, before the Armistice suspended operations. But the bulk of the propaganda was actually scattered over an area of from 10 to 50 m. behind the enemy lines, rest camps and villages occupied by the troops being made the chief targets. Each distribution unit at the front consisted of two motor lorries which carried the balloons, hydrogen cylinders, and personnel to convenient positions, generally from 3 to 4 m. behind the front line.

Early in March 1918, the method of balloon distribution was in full working order, and the War Office Propaganda Section resumed the active preparation of material. The reproduction of selected letters written by prisoners of war was resumed, and Le Courrier de l’Air was enlarged and improved by the introduction of direct propaganda. A series of leaflets, known as the A.P. (Aerial Propaganda) was begun. The first of these, sent to France in March, was a complete German edition of the British Prime Minister’s speech on British War Aims. This had been incompletely reported in the German newspapers, and in the new edition attention was directed to the portions which had been taken out by the German censorship; copy for other leaflets was selected from German and Austrian newspapers, was contributed by G.H.Q. (France); by the War Aims Committee, by the Ministry of Information, and by the new Directorate of Propaganda in Enemy Countries which had been established under Lord Northcliffe. But the whole series was selected, revised, edited, and produced by the War Office, and a very large proportion of the actual leaflets were prepared by the officer-in-charge. The first of the series was sent to France on March 16, the last, number 95, on September 4; of the whole series over 12 million leaflets were sent to France.

What did the British have to say about their own balloon leaflet program? Researcher Lee Richards found an official 1918 report on British Balloon Propaganda. One of the first facts it discloses is that German soldiers turned in less than one of every seven Allied leaflets dropped, even though they were promised cash rewards and there was punishment for keeping the propaganda leaflets. That indicates that they were believed and treasured by the enemy.

Field Marshall Paul von Hindenburg admitted that the balloon propaganda reached the people in Germany through letters from the front. He said:

They bombard our front, not only with the drumfire of artillery, but also with the drumfire of printed paper. Beside bombs that will kill his body, his airmen throw down leaflets which are intended to kill his soul. Unsuspectingly, many thousands consume the poison. The enemy knows it will not win the war by conventional warfare and that is why he is trying to poison our will to fight.

General Erich Friedrich Wilhelm Ludendorff added:

The Army was literally drenched with propaganda leaflets. Their great danger to us was clearly recognized. The Supreme Command offered reward for such as was handed over to us, but we could not prevent them from poisoning the heaarts of our soldiers.

Decades later, German Fuhrer Adolf Hitler who fought in WWI stated:

This persistent propaganda began to have a real influence on our soldiers in 1915. The feeling against Prussia became quite noticeable amongst Bavarian troops. In this direction the enemy propaganda began to achieve undoubted success from 1916 onwards.

Hindenburg admitted that the balloon propaganda reached the people in Germany through letters from the front. He said, “Unsuspectingly, many thousands consume the poison.” German prisoners admitted to being moved by propaganda leaflets which mentioned: the Failure of the U-boats; the Failure of the Zeppelins; the miserable conditions existing in Germany; the use of German troops as mere “cannon fodder;” ill treatment of German enlisted soldiers by their officers and N.C.O's and negative extracts from the German Press.

The following leaflets were especially powerful: the map of the British advance on the Somme (there are dozens of map leaflets so it is impossible to say exactly which one they mention); A.P. 71 “Loss or Gain?” – a leaflet on German casualties, (I don’t show it because it is all text); “Needs” A leaflet on the bombarding of Paris on Corpus Christi day when Cologne was spared; A.P. 70 (depicted in this article) and A.P. 36 (depicted in this article).

There is direct evidence that leaflets have encouraged men to desert in cases where they were already dissatisfied. In this connection it is particularly interesting to note the comments made on the facsimile Prisoner of War letters. These appear to have been received with more skepticism than any of the other leaflets. The following criticism, however, suggests that it should be possible to make them more credible: “Prisoners of War letters are not believed as they are thought to be exaggerated.” Another prisoner stated that “if only troops could be convinced that such letters were genuine they would be ready to desert.” Much doubt still seems to exist in the minds of the German troops as to the treatment which they will receive as prisoners. An Alsatian stated that “many Alsatians would desert if leaflets assured them that they would not be shot if taken prisoners.” According to another prisoner if this fear were removed “desertions would be more frequent and resistance less.”

Of course the Germans retaliated. They told the troops that if taken prisoner they will be beaten and very badly treated; that they will be shot; that they will be handed over to black troops and killed by them. They are told that the Prisoners of War letters are inventions or that they are written under compulsion. They are even told that the leaflets are infected with germs.

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A.P. 70 British Morale Leaflet

This leaflet shows an injured German soldier watching well-dressed rich civilians at a party. The title is "Thanklessness." This leaflet numbered A.P.70 was disseminated in August 1918. There is no record of the number of leaflets printed.

Some totals of British leaflet production are known. For instance, 1,689,457 were dropped in June of 1918, 2,172,794 were dropped in July, 3,958,116 in August, 3,715,000 in September, 5,360,000 in October, and 1,400,000 in the first 10 days of November, just before the signing of the armistice. It appears that there were two basic types of British leaflet. The first was coded "A.P." The highest number known for the A.P. leaflets is 95. They have themes such as Germany’s responsibility for the war, the failure of the submarine blockade, the coming of the Americans with their manpower and materiel, Wilson’s 14 points and the hopelessness of the German military situation. P. H. Robbs lists the known British leaflets in Falling Leaf number 4, winter 1958. He says:

The most effective leaflets were those of the ‘A.P.’ series. As they were all dispatched by small free balloons, delivery depended upon favorable winds and in some cases appears to have been spread out over a period, so that the leaflets were not necessarily dropped in numerical order. The earliest seem to be from the end of 1917 and the latest just before the Armistice. R. G. Auckland compiled The Catalogue of British Leaflets Ballooned to German Troops 1917-1918 for the Psywar Society. He says, "The A.P series were the most effective of leaflets. The meaning of A.P. is not yet clear. Suggestions such as "Aerial Post,","Aerial propaganda," "Air Post" and similar have been made.

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Leaflet A.P.10

This leaflet has a modern look to it. Although U.S. policy is not to feature dead and injured soldiers on leaflets, during WWII and Vietnam many such leaflets were printed and disseminated. Here we see dead German soldiers in their destroyed trenches. The leaflets were certainly designed to demoralize the enemy. There are two photographs of dead soldiers on the front and two on the back, both sides having the same one line of text. The leaflets were disseminated in June of 1918. The text below the photographs is:

Effects of the British Attack

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Leaflet A.P.17

Leaflet A.P.17 depicts a German mother sending her young son off to war. Pictures on the wall draped in black tell us that his father and brothers have already been lost at the front. They are labeled "Fritz," "father," "Hans," and "Wilhelm." The leaflet has "BY BALLOON – Durch Luftballon" at the top and the title in the body of the leaflet, "The Last." Text at the bottom is:

You rob me of my children, Joseph is not here anymore, Simeon is gone, now you want to take Benjamin. This is too much for me.

Ironically, considering the anti-Semitism of the German propaganda in WWII, the text is a quote from the Old Testament, 1 Moses: 42, 43. The British disseminated the leaflets in June 1918. The number produced is unknown. Official descriptions of the A.P. leaflets 1 through 43 are archived in the Public Records Office in London. They are found on a document dated 11 May 1918 with copies to "D21951/1" and "No. 10" (Downing Street, I presume). The comment on A.P.17 is:

A cartoon sent by G.H.Q. France. A German mother says good-bye to her last boy, now called up, all his brothers having been taken from her and killed.

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Leaflet A.P.18 depicts the Kaiser walking on parade with his six sons, in full dress uniform, with feathered caps, leather boots, and medal-bedecked topcoats; They smartly traverse a pathway flanked by thousands of black figures of death. This ghastly horde is stretching arms towards the proud family. The leaflet has "BY BALLOON - Durch Luftballon" at the top and at the bottom the text:

One family which has not lost a single member.

The British printed 100,000 of the leaflets and they were disseminated in June 1918. Public Records Office comment about A.P.18:

Cartoon from 'Life' magazine, caricature of the Kaiser and his sons.

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Leaflet A.P.31 has "BY BALLOON - Durch Luftballon" at the top and depicts a stylized skull drinking from a glass labeled "Deutschland." The title of the leaflet is "The Dregs." The British printed 100,000 of the leaflets and they were disseminated in June 1918. The Public Records Office comment about A.P.31:

Cartoon. From a drawing sent by G.H.Q. France. Shows Death drinking a health.

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Leaflet A.P.35

Leaflet A.P.35 depicts the sun rising over a skull casting a shadow on a field of graves. The words "BY BALLOON - Durch Luftballon" are at the top along with the title, a quote from Kaiser Wilhelm II, "A place in the sun." Text at the bottom is:

Your rulers demand a place in the sun; but where will you find your place?

The British disseminated the leaflets in June 1918. The number produced is unknown. The Public Records Office comment about A.P.35 is:

Cartoon. A place in the sun. From a drawing sent by G.H.Q. Shows a German graveyard as the 'place in the sun’, which the German soldiers will attain.

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This leaflet is interesting because it could have been dropped today. Using aerial photography to show the enemy the true state of the war is very common and now a standard form of propaganda. 300,000 copies of this leaflet were disseminated in June and July of 1918. The text on the leaflet is:

Photograph of Zeebrugge by an English Flying Machine

The Zeebrugge Raid occurred on 23 April 1918, and was an attempt by the Royal Navy to block the Belgian port of Bruges-Zeebrugge. The British intended to sink obsolete ships in the canal entrance, to prevent German vessels from leaving port. The port was used by the Imperial German Navy as a base for U-boats which were a threat to Allied shipping. The photo depicts the canal and the British ships HMS Thetis, Intrepid and Iphigenia, which were filled with concrete. The block ships were in the wrong position when sunk and only managed to obstruct the canal for a few days. However, the British apparently were proud enough of the attack to send leaflets showing the canal to the Germans.

Leaflet A.P.47 depicts the Kaiser riding his horse through a ruined landscape while spirits and skeletons point at him and one holds a hangman’s noose. The text is, "The King of Prussia goes to meet his death." 50,000 of the leaflets were printed and distributed in July 1918.

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Leaflet A.P. 36

50,000 copies of leaflet A.P. 36 were disseminated in July 1918. It depicts the difference in Germany between 1914 and 1918. In the upper picture the Kaiser and his general ride in a fine chariot piloted by “Germania,” their steed (the German people) tempted forward by a fat carrot labeled “Victory.” In the 1918 picture “Germania” is all skin and bones from the British boycott of the German ports, the steed’s ribs show through his coat, and now civilians sit in the chariot with the carrot described as “false victory.” I don’t recognize the civilians but they may be profiteers who have become rich from the spoils of war. The leaflet was delivered by balloon.

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Leaflet A.P.49 has no text at the top and depicts Hindenburg and the Kaiser surrounded by munitions being carried on the shoulders of wounded and injured German soldiers and emaciated women. Hindenburg says to his leader. "Your Majesty, the people are depressed and are murmuring constantly." to which the Kaiser replies "Why do they murmur? We feel no burden." The British printed 50,000 of the leaflets and they were disseminated in June 1918.

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Leaflet A.P. 50

Leaflet A.P.50 has no text at the top and depicts a small dog with an enormous bone in its mouth marked "German profits" trying to get into a small doghouse labeled "peace." The British printed 50,000 of the leaflets and they were disseminated in July 1918.

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Leaflet A.P. 59 - Kain

250,000 copies of leaflet A.P. 59 were disseminated in August 1918. This leaflet depicts a Socialist thug holding a club and standing over a dead body identified as “Russian freedom.” It uses the Biblical theme of Cain and Abel. The meaning is unclear, but perhaps the British are implying that German socialists financed the rise of Russian Communism to take Russia out of the war. The leaflet was delivered by balloon. Text on the leaflet is:

Kain (“Cain”)

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A.P. 62

Leaflet A.P. 62 depicts the road to Paris strewn with dead German soldiers. The text at the top of this leaflet is, "To Paris!"


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My favorite British leaflet of WWI is A.P.74. The words "BY BALLOON - Durch Luftballon" are at the top. The leaflet depicts a long line of American "doughboys" stretching from the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor to France. The title at the bottom is "The first million." This symbolism of this leaflet must have given the German soldier second thoughts about his ability to win the war as limitless hordes of fresh American soldiers entered the battlefield. The British disseminated the leaflets in August 1918. The number produced is unknown. The British regularly updated these "Americans are coming" leaflets. For instance, A.P.84 produced in September 1918 gives the latest numbers. "American troops arriving in Europe: 117,212 in April, 224,345 in May, 276,372 in June." Leaflet 1016 printed in October 1918 gives the total number of American troops in Europe; 100,000 in 1917, 1,750,000 in 1918, and a prospective 3,500,000 in 1919. Later in the same month leaflet 1025 raised the 1919 number to 5,000,000 American troops. It is no wonder that the German soldier became disheartened.

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A.P. 84

A similar morale leaflet telling the enemy of the arrival of American soldiers is all text with no image, but the message must be chilling to the citizens of the Central Powers who see that despite all of the headlines about their vaunted submarines, hardly any of the American soldiers have been kept from reaching Europe. The text is:


Arrival of American troops in Europe

April – 117212

May – 224,345

June – 276372

Total during three months: 637,929

Total of American troops present in France: 1,000,000

Lost in crossing the sea: 291

Leaflet 2 – German Song of Victory

Propaganda music is popular in every war. This one is from WWI. One side sends a song to the other side that reeks of loneliness and defeat. 250,000 copies of this song leaflet were dropped over the Germans in September 1918. There are four long propaganda paragraphs on the back but I am only interested in showing readers a typical propaganda song produced by the British.

(Melody – “That's how we live.”)

This is how we win, this is how we win,
this is how we win every day.
In the most victorious warfare,
from the North Sea to the shores of the Volga.
There we bear the fright,
and conquer from land to land.
Deeper and deeper into the muck.

That's how we win, that's how we win,
that's how we win every day.
In the most victorious warfare
that's how we win the whole fight.
On the sea, on the air, on land,
and we're always just ready.
And win to shame.

This is how we win, this is how we win,
this is how we win every day.
In the most victorious warfare.
we win always and forever.
The bread is always scarce,
and we will soon win into the fifth year.
And we will win to death.

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Truppen Nachrichtenblatt leaflet 1013,
100,000 disseminated in October 1918

Auckland also mentions a news leaflet.

The Truppen Nachrichtenblatt ("Troops Message Sheet") leaflets were disseminated in the closing months of the war and were printed about three times a week with a 'pull' of 100,000 copies. They were termed priority leaflets as they gave up-to-minute news and were dispatched by balloon to German troops promptly as against the stock A.P. leaflets, which could be allowed delay before ballooning. They were given the code number of 1000 and about thirty different types are known used over a period of ten weeks. The size of the leaflet is about 21 x 13 centimeters, both sides of the paper were printed on and on the obverse of some are maps showing Allied military gains.

The Truppen Nachrichtenblatt was a small leaflet that contained such pointed headlines as, “Foch Leading New Attack,” “Entente Armies Press Forward on another Wide Front,” or “Turkish Army in Palestine Destroyed.”

In regard to the Truppen-Nachrichtenblatt, The London Times History of the War, 30 December 1919 adds:

In the beginning of August 1918 it became important to increase the speed of distribution, particularly because early news of the military successes of the Allies, concealed by the Germans from their own troops, became valuable propaganda. It was therefore arranged that the leaflets should be divided into two categories; 'stock' leaflets, with the contents of which would not lose their value by a little delay and 'priority' leaflets containing matter of urgent importance. It was agreed that the latter should be printed three times a week, each leaflet being of uniform length and printed in an edition of 100,000 copies. The issue and rapid dispatch of these leaflets continued from August until the signing of the Armistice.

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Map Leaflet

One such map leaflet is entitled "The victories of the Allies." It shows the front lines from 8 August to 16 August 1918 and shows the number of Germans captured rising from 7000 to 34,000. This was the first of 7 uncoded leaflets with the same title but changed maps as the Allies continued to advance. The leaflets were disseminated near the end of August 1918. There is no record of the number printed. This leaflet is particularly interesting because there is an error. The word "Alliierten" is spelled "Allierten." The later versions spelled the word correctly.

R. G. Auckland compiled The Catalogue of Airdropped Facsimile Postal Stationery World War I 1916-1918 for the Psywar Society. He mentions the background of the postal propaganda:

A British soldier of the time recalls that "also dropped into Germany were copies of uncensored letters written by prisoners of war in England. They were designed to impress upon the German people what a fine time prisoners had in England. The letters and addressed envelopes would be written by the prisoners, and then duplicated and the duplicated letters, enclosed in the duplicated envelopes were dropped for the pickers-up to forward to the addresses on the envelope".

Colonel W. Nicolai, chief of the Service, states in his book The German Secret Service that 'forged letters from German war prisoners in France and England, and illustrations of the alleged enviable treatment of German prisoners in both countries, were designed to persuade German soldiers to desert or to depress their spirits.

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British Picture Postcard H/6

The card depicts 20 uniformed German soccer
players in a British prisoner of War camp in France.

George Bruntz says in Allied Propaganda and the Collapse of the German Empire in 1918, Hoover War Library, Publication No-13, Stanford University Press California, 1938:

The British also made use of the German prisoners by encouraging them to write home describing conditions in the English Prison Camps. Toward the end of 1916, German prisoners upon arriving at British Camps were handed letter sheets, with instructions on them for their use. These German prisoners were especially well fed. The Germans, grateful for their fine food and good treatment, would write home describing in glowing terms their life in the British camps. These letters were reproduced and sent over the German trenches.

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British letter sheet

There were four distinct types of stationery. Plain postcards first appeared in 1916. They are inscribed "Feldpostkarte" and are uncoded. Letters enclosed in addressed envelopes first appeared in 1916 and continued through 1918. Some envelopes are inscribed "Prisoner of war. No stamp required." After December 1917, they have the inscription "By Balloon. Durch Luftbaloon." Picture postcards were first used about December 1917. Some are inscribed "Post Card" or "Carte Postale" and some "By balloon. Durch Luftballon." Letter sheets were usually inscribed "PRISONERS OF WAR. No stamp required" on the front and "Nicht hier schreiben!" ("Do not write here!") on the back. They were first used early in 1917.

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British Letter sheet

Uncoded letter sheet from Karl Scholz to his wife Josepha in Peterwitz. Disseminated in February of 1917, it bears a fake red rubber stamp with text "Prisoners of War – B.E.F. – Passed by Censor No. 3."

John C. W. Field wrote about this propaganda theme in the Forces Postal History Bulletin of Great Britain, republished in The Falling Leaf, Number 22, summer 1963. He mentions British propaganda in the form of postcard stationery, envelope stationery, and letter sheet stationery. He mentions that with the exception of one such leaflet dated 1917; every one that he has seen was dated 1918.

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La Voix du Pays

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The Symbol on Early Newspapers – Later Removed to save Space

The German Press called this a French paper bearing the symbol of France as a swollen rooster trying to look frightening.

The French were publishing a propaganda newspaper, La Voix du Pays (The Voice of the Country). In January 1917, the Belgian Army (in Britain) began publication of La Lettre du Soldat (The Soldier's Letter) for the Germans occupying Belgium.

Bernard Wilkin mentions La Voix du Pays in Aerial Propaganda and the Wartime Occupation of France, 1914–1918, Routledge, London and New York, 2017:

The French War Minister and General Joffre both agreed on a newspaper designed to counteract enemy psychological warfare and asked the Aerial Propaganda Service to work on a periodical. They finally approved a bimonthly newspaper named the Voix du Pays during summer 1915. Printed for the first time at the end of September 1915, this periodical provided a straightforward answer to the lack of French propaganda in the occupied territories. The singing cockerel featured on the masthead, emphasized the French nature of the publication. In December 1915, lists of French refugees appeared for the first time inside the periodical. This new addition was not dissimilar to a strategy used by the German Gazette des Ardennes to increase the readership. The French introduced atrocity propaganda in the first issues of the Voix du Pays. The first articles revolved around the death of civilian passengers of ocean liners following Germany’s decision to wage unlimited submarine warfare.

By the end of 1915, the Aerial Propaganda Service sent 50,000 copies of the Voix du Pays from Paris to the Second Aeronautics Supply Reserve based in Versailles-Mortemets. From there, propaganda newspapers left for the Aeronautical Service and the Bombardment Groups through the air bases. The Voix du Pays was then finally given to the squadrons for distribution.

Bernard Wilkin and Maude Williams say in German Wartime Anglophobic Propaganda in France, 1914 - 1945 published in Wartime History:

German propaganda was considered so influential in the occupied territories that the French government acted. At the beginning of 1915, the war minister created an aerial propaganda unit (Service de la propagande aerienne) serving inside the Etat-major de lâ armee under the direct supervision of the government. Its main mission was to fight the demoralizing influence of the Gazette des Ardennes in the invaded regions of France with the help of an aerial newspaper called La Voix du Pays. French propagandists designing the paper identified Anglophobia as a priority. They systematically promoted cordial relations with their main ally by advertising the British war effort. The British, who also monitored morale in the occupied territories using interviews of refugees, knew that they had much to gain from this initiative.56 They offered the assistance of the Royal Flying Corps to distribute the Voix du Pays in the densely populated sector of Lille "Roubaix" Tourcoing. The British thought that German propaganda would create durable resentment against them in Belgium and France.

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Le Courrier de l'Air, 11 July 1918, No. 61

The Allies prepared a host of newspapers for the enemy. In March 1915, the British began the airdropping of the leaflet newspaper Le Courrier de l'Air for civilians in German-occupied France and Belgium (this newspaper would be revived in WW2).

Wilkin and Williams add:

The British encouraged the French to increase the amount of Anglophile articles in the Voix du Pays. Politely turned down, they created their own newspaper in April 1917. Le Courrier de l'Air became the official voice emphasizing the role of the British army in the occupied territories. It lasted until November 1918.

A Major C. J. C. Street mentions Le Courrier de l’Air in Cornhill Magazine, November 1919. He says:

An early function of M.I.7b was the establishment of Le Courrier de l’Air. The needs of the invaded districts had long been felt, and it was realized that a newspaper of Allied tendencies, aerially distributed, was the best way to meet that need. The first issue of the Courrier was produced in the form of a single sheet, some eight inches by six. It was a memorable production, destined to be the first regular aerial newspaper of the world. It bears the date of 6 April 1917, and carries in the leading column an exhortation that most admirably sets out its aim and scope: This weekly paper will be distributed every week by airplane among our brave Belgian and French friends living in the unhappy territory now in the occupation of the enemy. It has for its sole object the dissemination of the truth about the war… Finally, the motto of the Courrier de l’Air will always be: Truth, the whole Truth, and nothing but the Truth!

Carl Berger mentions the newspaper PSYOP during WWI in: An Introduction to Wartime leaflets, The American University Special Operations Research Office, Washington D.C., 1959. He says:

One of the most Useful modern propaganda techniques has been the leaflet newspaper, dropped on either enemy or friendly targets. The very first such newspaper in history was aimed at the latter group. This was Le Courrier de l'Air, a British production, whose first edition, dated April 6, 1917, set out the purpose and scope of the newspaper for the friendly peoples of Belgium and France behind the German lines:

This weekly paper will be distributed every week by Allied Aeroplanes among our brave Belgian and French friends living in the unhappy territory now in the occupation of the enemy. It has for its sole object the dissemination of the truth about the war. To you, who have so greatly suffered for your country, truth can bring only the assurance that the day of deliverance is at hand. I, who fall from the skies, have no idea of deceiving you, as the Boche deceives his own people, with fine promises and with vain hopes, false dreams that can never come true. On the contrary, if I seem optimist, it is because at the present time every event, military or political, assures me that the fortunes of Germany are on the wane. The whole world, from China to the United States, arms itself against the barbarous enemy of civilization. Might is powerless before Right. Truth triumphs over lies.

During that first World War the British also devised a Trench Newspaper, written especially tor the German soldier. It resembled a German publication and had the head of the Kaiser on the title page. 250,000 copies a week were dropped over the German lines. A similar frontline newspaper produced by France, called DIE FELDPOST, had as its chief purpose the intensification or the war weariness of the German soldiers. In addition, the French published a small news leaflet called TRUPPEN NACHRICHTENBLATT. Still another World War I Allied newspaper was a four-page publication, LA LETTRE DU SOLDAT, prepared by the Belgian Army headquarters in Britain for distribution to German-occupied Belgium.

Street says that the last issue of Courrier was dated 7 November 1918.

Edward Heron-Allen was the editor of Le Courrier de l’Air. He wrote about his operation in a series of notes dated 15 November 1918:

Le Courrier de l’Air was as its title denotes, a propaganda newspaper, planned by Captain Chalmers Mitchell to be distributed over the parts of France occupied by the Germans, and over Belgium, with a view to giving the inhabitants of those areas accurate news of the progress of the war from the point of view of the Allies of the Entente. In addition to this, it contained extracts from German papers, which were suppressed by the government when the contained matters reflecting upon adverse conditions in Germany, and accounts of German defeats and losses. The average number of copies distributed weekly was 5,000.

The paper was distributed by hydrogen balloons, which were sent up from our side of the fighting lines whenever the direction of the wind was favorable. It was threaded in bundles of a hundred upon a silk paper fastener, which was passed through a 20-inch length of tinder yarn such as is used for lighting cigarettes and cigars, at intervals of about three inches. The tinder was strengthened and supported by a strong wire running through it by which the who mass of bundles – called a ‘release’ – was firmly twisted on to the neck of the paper hydrogen balloon. Before letting it go the tinder was lit at the top and as the ‘smolder’ reached each paper fastener it burnt away and a bundle of papers flew away falling all over the country. Each balloon carried about 15 pounds of paper, in all about 2000 copies, and it took from twenty minutes to half an hour to distribute its load.

Wilken adds:

The motto contained in the masthead stated that the Courrier de l’Air was the ‘Weekly aerial newspaper for the truth.’ The British intended to use this periodical to discredit German propaganda and portray Anglophobia as a body of lies. The first editorial article used the word ‘truth’ (verite) no fewer than six times to warn French civilians about enemy publications. Despite this self-proclaimed obsession with the truth, the newspaper’s nature was unmistakably propagandistic. The first Courrier de l’Air was distributed at the beginning of April 1917, just in time to welcome America’s declaration of war.

In 1968, Edward Heron-Allen sold his personal complete set of Le Courrier de l'Air, number 1 (6 April 1917) to number 78 (7 November 1918). This was the only set known to exist outside of the British Museum. Besides the leaflet newspapers, the collection six official large War Office photographs of the preparation of the balloons, some original manuscripts, and part of issue 79 which was never published due to the end of the war. The collection was sold to an unknown buyer for $1080.

Sir Campbell Stuart mentions the actual balloon launch in Secrets of Crewe House. He says:

The unit for distribution consisted of two motor lorries, which took the men, the cylinders of hydrogen, and the propaganda loaded on releases to a sheltered position selected in the morning by the officer in charge after consultation with the meteorological experts. The vans were drawn up end to end, separated by a distance of about ten feet, and a curtain of canvas was then stretched on the windward side between the vans, thus forming a three-sided chamber. The balloon was laid on the ground, rapidly filled, the release attached and lighted, and the balloon liberated, the whole operation taking only a few minutes.

The load of the balloon was chosen according to the direction of the wind. If it was blowing toward Belgium, copies of Le Courrier d'Air were attached. If towards Germany, propaganda leaflets for the enemy troops.

The Falling Leaf number 2, April 1958, features an article entitled "The Great War – British Leaflets – Western Front 1914-1918." It mentions the first British leaflet dropped on the enemy in October 1914, "Notice. An explanation for German soldiers." The leaflet was privately designed and printed by  Colonel Swinton who had the leaflets prepared by the Continental Daily Mail. A repetition of this private PSYOP campaign was forbidden by higher authorities.

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Swinton wrote an excellent leaflet attempting to explain
to the German soldiers the reality of their position.



It has become known that German soldiers have been told that the British treat their captives inhumanely. That is a lie.

All German prisoners of war are well treated and receive the same food as their British soldiers.

The opportunity is now taken to enlighten the German soldier about some facts that hitherto have been kept secret from him. The German Army never reached or occupied Paris and has been retreating since September 5.

The British Army has been neither made prisoner nor beaten. It increases in strength every day.

The French Army is not beaten. Quite on the contrary, for it inflicted a heavy defeat on the Germans at MONTMIRAIL.

Russia and Serbia have so decisively defeated Austria that she no longer plays any part in the war. With the exception of a few cruisers, German shipping, the Merchant Marine as well as the fighting fleet, is no longer to be seen upon the seas.

The British and German Navy have both suffered casualties, but the German was the heaviest.

Germany has already lost several colonies and will soon lose what now remains to her. Japan has declared war on Germany. The British and the Japanese now besiege Kiauchau.

The report circulated in the press that the British colonies and India have rebelled against Great Britain is wholly untrue. Quite on the contrary, these colonies have sent to France large formations of troops and many supplies to help their Fatherland. Ireland is one with England, and from north and south is sending her soldiers who are fighting with enthusiasm alongside their English comrades.

The Kaiser and the Prussian War Party wanted this war against all the interests of the Fatherland. They prepared for this war in secret. Germany alone was prepared, which explains her temporary successes. We have now succeeded in checking her victorious advance. Supported by the sympathies of the whole-civilized world, which regards with horror an arbitrary war of conquest, Great Britain, France, Russia, Belgium, Serbia, Montenegro and Japan will carry on the war to the end.

We bring these facts to general notice in order to throw light upon the truth that has been hidden from you. You are not fighting to defend your Fatherland, since there was never any thought of attacking Germany. You are fighting to satisfy the ambitious war lust of the military party at the cost of the true interests of the Fatherland. The whole business is evil.

At first sight these facts will seem improbable to you. Now it is for you to compare the events of the past few weeks with the information manufactured by the military authorities.


Sir Campbell Stuart goes into greater detail in Secrets of Crewe House. He mentions that the leaflet was prepared with the aid of Lord Northcliff's Paris Daily Mail organization. He says that "the Army chiefs at that time did not show any enthusiasm for the innovation, and Colonel Swinton was unable to proceed with the project." Swinton personally paid the cost of printing the leaflet and was later repaid his out-of-pocket expenses by the British Army. What an inauspicious start to WWI PSYOP.

Major General Sir Ernest D. Swinton talked about his creation in Eyewitness, Hodder and Stoughton Ltd., 1932. He says:

I was persuaded that far-reaching results might be obtained if it were at all possible to shake their faith in the justice of their causes. Much might be done at small cost, with no great trouble, and with little risk. Acting on this conviction, I drafted a leaflet to counteract the false teaching that had for years been instilled into the whole German nation, and to reveal to the army facing us some of the real truth, or at least to plant the seeds of doubt… In order to make the most of the space available the message was printed on both sides of the paper, large Roman type being employed so that it might be easily read, and on paper of a bright arsenical green – suggestion of poison – to prevent it from being used for other purposes. (Authors note: toilet paper?). At my request, the Paris Daily Mail Press printed 25,000 copies for a nominal fee. These were handed over without delay to the Royal Flying Corps at Abbeville to be dropped behind enemy lines.

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Woolrich series leaflet "What ‘Tommy’ Gets to Eat."

There is another series of WWI British leaflets that is almost unknown. In spring 1988, a leaflet was illustrated in The Falling Leaf with the question, "Who can help with the WWI leaflet opposite? It is in the style and format of a British leaflet to Germany but its text appears to be 'black.' The serial number 32 is one that has not been seen before." The leaflet is entitled "What 'Tommy' gets to eat." The leaflet lists a number of 23 food items and shows the daily ration of the British soldier. Some of the items are, "Bread – 346 grams", and "butter – 28 grams." Nothing was known about this item until a member of the Psywar Society visited the Royal Engineers Museum at Bromptom Barracks in Chatham, Kent. The museum has a collection of WWI leaflets. One of the files was entitled "Propaganda by balloon," and contained leaflets from the "A.P." series, the "Belgian" series, and the "Woolrich" series. The leaflet in question was from that Woolrich series. The highest number in the museum file is 33, so we assume that at least that many were printed. Many of the leaflets are in the form of miniature newspapers with a masthead depicting Kaiser Wilhelm and titles such as:

Nr. 12 – "Autumnal sheets," dated September 1918.

Nr. 23 – "War newspaper," dated October 1918

Nr. 30 – "Army and Homeland," dated November 1918

There seems to be little data on the meaning of "Woolrich," but in a set of notes written by the editor of Le Courrier de l’Air we find the comment:

The copies for distribution were sent direct from the printers to Woolrich where they were made up into bundles on ‘releases’ and sent over to the Censorship and Publicity Section at General Headquarters near Montreuil in France.

One would therefore assume that "Woolrich" is a place, probably a military base or airfield.

There is also mention of a "Belgian series," although only three leaflets are mentioned. These leaflets were written in Flemish and French for the Belgian people. They were not coded but had a hand-written reference number. The first leaflet shows portraits of the King and Queen of Belgium. The second leaflet is a speech by a M. Coorman on 21 July 1918, and the third leaflet talks about the feeling of the people of London about the Belgian Sovereigns.


Looking through my records I see six different British leaflets that start with "To." This leaflet is the seventh, but it is uncoded and I have no record of it. I do see the small hole at the upper right where one assumes a string holding it to a balloon was placed. The text on the front of this unknown leaflet is:


You Berliners should do something better than allow yourselves to be slaughtered for the Hohenzollerns. Frederick Wilhelm IV fed "Blue beans" to your grandfathers. Wilhelm II is threatening to serve you the same meal in an even better version. You know that the Kaiser told recruits that they might have to shoot both their mother and father, and you want to serve such a person as cannon-fodder? The people of Saxony should really be more intelligent; many of them threw away all of their equipment at the Battle of the Marne. Follow their example and keep yourself and your friends alive. You will need both when the time comes for Germany to settle the accounts with the exploiters, war-mongers and those who deceived the people.

Some Berliners who are fed up.

he text on the back of the leaflet is:

On the day the war started the Crown Prince drove in an open car through the streets of Berlin. He was smoking and very pleased with himself. Now he takes no responsibility. When things go wrong nobody wants it.

Note: This concept of killing your own mother and father does not seem to make much sense, but apparently at the swearing-in of recruits in 1891, Wilhelm told the men that they owed unconditional obedience to him as their Kaiser, even if he ordered them to shoot their father and mother.

British Propaganda and The Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman Empire joined the Central Powers to form the Triple Alliance in August 1914. The German military mission of 1913 had already organized the Turkish army and navy under German leadership. The Triple Entente, or Allied Powers, declared war on the Ottoman Empire on 4 November.

The British also dropped propaganda leaflets on the Turks. R. G. Auckland mentions this campaign in The Falling Leaf, Summer 1972.

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British leaflet 48/T to the Turks

On 15 July the Germans began an attack against the French. After 3-day fight the Germans, in spite of determined action, were unable to obtain their objective…

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British Aircraft drop both bombs and leaflets.

Auckland says that the British had four squadrons of aircraft in the northern Aegean Islands covering the Dardenelles approaches. They were the 220, 221, 222, and 223 squadrons. British aircraft were able to reach the old Turkish capitol of Constantinople (now Istanbul) and drop both bombs and leaflets.

The leaflet raids originated from the island base on Imbros, nearest to Constantinople. One leaflet is alleged to have text:

Cursed by Talaat, Enver, and Hairi. If a government does not act in accordance with the will of the nation, it deserves to die with all its sons...The whole Turkish Empire is in the hands of the government, who will surely bring about Turkey's end, and if Talaat and Enver, who sold the country, are allowed to remain in power we shall have no course open to us but to shed our tears awaiting our last days.

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Talaat Bey

Enver Pasha

The message makes little sense but probably has allusions to the Koran and perhaps some difficulties with the Turkish to English translation. Talaat Bey was the Grand Vizier and Minister of the Interior. Enver Pasha was the Minister of War. Hairi Bey was the Shiek-ul-Islam. Hairi mysteriously disappeared (probably murdered), and both Enver and Talaat were condemned to death by a Turkish Court-martial on 11 July 1919. Talaat Bey somehow survived and after the war he lived in Berlin, where he was assassinated by an Armenian student in 1921. Called by Russian foreign minister Sergei Sazonov "The most infamous figure of our time," Talaat's mortal remains were solemnly transferred to Istanbul in 1944.

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Enver Pasha

Another British leaflet to the Turks said:

Why are you always destroyed in war? Because Enver Pasha is conducting a luxury life with a lot of German money. Why has your sultan lost Baghdad, Mecca, Jerusalem, Basra and Erzerum? Because Enver Pasha leads Turkey into a useless war. Why are Turks sent to Romania in order to be killed there? Because Enver Pasha is being paid by Germany to send your brothers to war for German honor.

Why in Anatolia are your families dying of starvation? Why do they have only rags for clothes? Because Enver Pasha sold the wheat and wool of Anatolia to Germany. Ottomans, what do you expect from Enver Pasha? He has killed his commander Nasim Pasha. Enver lives a very good life in Constantinople while you are starving on the battle field and will be killed.

Who hopes to enter the Ottoman throne once the rulers are overthrown? Enver. Who ran away from Sari Kamisch letting down your death-threatened exhausted comrades? Enver. Who is promoting only his clique of friends? Enver. Who is treating the Sultan like a slave?

Enver. Who's fault is it that Turks have been dying for three years? Enver. Who is selling your land and animals? Enver.

Ottomans! What do you think about Germany, the Germans, and the German Kaiser? Who promised to support Turkey? Kaiser Wilhelm. How many Vilayets has Turkey lost since Wilhelm promised support to Turkey? 12 of your lands. How many Turkish soldiers have died due to sickness and wounds since the German generals arrived who were sent by Kaiser Wilhelm to organize the Ottoman Army? 800,000.

Note: Ismail Enver Pasha, commonly known as Enver Pasha, was an Ottoman military officer and a leader of the 1908 Young Turk Revolution. He became the main leader of the Ottoman Empire in both the Balkan Wars (1912–1913) and in World War I (1914–1918). The Vilayet is an administrative division of Turkey.

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Front and back of British leaflet to Turks – Well fed Prisoners of War.

The British dropped photographs showing cheerful well-fed prisoners on a "chow line" over Turkish troops in April 1917. The leaflets were dropped from seaplanes stationed at British bases on the islands of Thasos and Mitylene. The text in Turkish is:

You will gather from this photograph that stories concerning the maltreatment of prisoners of war by the British is without any basis. Those who surrender to the British are not only fed with white bread and delicious dishes of food, but they are also treated in a friendly manner. When you show this photograph at any British military station you will receive a courteous welcome and you will be sent to headquarters as a friend

Additional English-language text is:

The bearer should be taken to the nearest headquarters. He is friendly, should be treated well and allowed to keep this photograph.

Another raid occurred on 19 August. The operations report for the 25 August included a memo 'pamphlets dropped by DH9 machines." Auckland mentions a document which appeared to have been dropped over Turkey. The top half of the document is a letter from the Turkish War Minister Enver Pasha stating that Constantinople is not a military target and if the British persist in bombing it all foreign nationals will be interned. The bottom half is the British reply from Rear Admiral Lambert, Commander of the British Aegean Squadron, dated 18 September 1918. Lambert points out that the Germans have bombed such cities in France, Italy and Great Britain, and as long as the Turks remain allied to the Germans, the bombing will continue. He also threatens that any reprisals against civilians will just lead to increased bombing.

In 1916, the French Air Propaganda Service attacked the Germans for standing by while the Turks murdered the Armenians. To this day the Turks claim that they never committed genocide against the Armenian people. Although the French propagandists admitted that the murders were carried out by the Turks, they cleverly implied that the Germans were behind the slaughter. They pointed out that only Germany could have stopped the slaughter but they chose not to and never mentioned in their press that the Armenians were being slaughtered by their ally, the Turks.

Other leaflets, which are believed to have been dropped on the Turks, are in the French language. Each has a title in German, Kriegs-ausschuss der Deutschen Industrie Berlin ("The Berlin German War Industry Committee") indicating that the source of the text was Germany. The remainder of the text was in French and the known titles are "The Question of Alsace-Lorraine," The German War Economy, and "The Peace in the East." The last leaflet mentions the Central powers signing a peace treaty with the new Russian government at Brest-Litovsk.


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Take Comfort

During WWI it was important for Britain to propagandize its own people so that they would volunteer for the war and work longer hours and take less time off. An organization called the Parliamentary Recruiting Committee was authorized and located at 12 Downing Street in London. It produced hundreds of leaflets, brochures, cartoons and the like, all to convince the British people that it was time to volunteer and go to war on the battlefield and on the home front. The publications were all free and the person receiving the leaflets and brochures was asked to make sure that they were distributed carefully and effectively.

The leaflets had titles like “Why don’t I go?” and “5 questions for men who have not enlisted.” There were leaflets written by women and clergy supporting the war. Others were from politicians and labor movements. Since this article is really about propaganda images I show two leaflets from the committee that were first published in the British magazine Punch. The one above that depicts the figure of Liberty talking to a tragic figure representing Belgium. Liberty says:

Take Comfort. Your courage is vindicated. Your wrongs shall be avenged.

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You’ve lost everything

Another cartoon shows the arrogant German Kaiser talking to the King of Belgium. The German leader gloats, the proud Belgian refuses to be cowed:

So you see – you’ve lost everything.

Not my soul.

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