SGM Herbert A. Friedman (Ret.)

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United States of America

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Wake up America

The United States entered the war on 6 April 1917. American PSYOP relied heavily on the American press, considered second only to the British at the time. Although most of the combatants among the Allies and the enemy "Central Powers" practiced PSYOP of one type or another, the main protagonists were the British, the United States, France and Germany.

Field Manual 33-1, Psychological Operations, July, 1987, give a brief overview of the American campaign.

American military PSYOP centered on leaflet production, since radio did not exist as a means of mass communication and loudspeakers were still primitive. American leaflet propaganda concentrated on reducing enemy morale through the use of fundamental 'common sense' type approaches as basic themes. This tactic succeeded in causing many of the enemy to surrender. British and French leaflet distribution techniques were adopted or improved with balloons and airplanes used as primary methods of dissemination.

Morale leaflets incorporated antimilitarist, pro-democratic sentiments that were popular at the time. The autocracy and inefficiency of the German government provided an excellent target. These leaflets urged the common German soldier to rebel against his generals, nobles, and officials. Leaflets that attacked German nationalism targeted people from Bavaria and Alsace-Lorraine. This method was used because these people resented Prussian dominance of the German Empire. The leaflets were designed to demoralize enemy troops and included the following type messages: 'The U.S. is producing vast numbers of sophisticated weapons,' 'The U.S. Army has landed in Europe,' and 'German casualties and military setbacks are very serious'. The U.S. also produced some excellent leaflets with surrender appeal themes promising the German soldiers who surrendered first-class American food, humane care, guaranteed privileges under international law, the value of remaining alive, and the opportunity to eventually return to loved ones."

A Syllabus of Psychological Warfare adds:

American psychological warfare was based preeminently on the political warfare developed by President Woodrow Wilson. The United States entered the war in 1917 with a clear conscience, since the Kaiser’s government was plainly the aggressor. Immediately upon participation, the U.S. Government strove for the Fourteen Points. These assured both allies and enemies that the United States sought no new territory as a result of the war, that we stood for open diplomacy, that we believed in a “league to enforce peace” which would make further war impossible. They also promised democratic self-government to hitherto-suppressed nationalities of the Baltic and Central Europe.

The New York Times of 9 November 1918 mentions the American psychological warfare operation. The article entitled “Germans Impressed by our Propaganda” says in part:

WITH FIRST AMERICAN ARMY IN FRANCE: While our forces are sending high explosive and gas shells and machine gun fire into the enemy lines on the Argonne-Meuse sector, the American Army Headquarters is conducting a bombardment of printers’ ink on the foe…

Our propaganda outlet claims Wilson as its favorite author, his speeches and notes being included extensively, while matter regarding General Pershing is also considered good for German thought.

The Propaganda Department has a big printing establishment in Paris under the command of Captain Arthur Page of Doubleday, Page and Co., and the editorial work is under the direction of Walter Lippman, formerly of the New Republic

It would be exaggerating to say that desertions were frequent recently, due to the propaganda, but investigations shows that the campaign of publicity is having a desired effect upon German morale. One interesting subject discussed in our leaflets is the good food supplied to the German prisoners, not forgetting the excellent quality of our tobacco.

Dr. Alfred H. Paddock mentioned WWI PSYOP in a presentation at the Worldwide MISO/PSYOP Conference which I attended on 4 June 2012 He said:

During World War I, the Army established the Psychological Warfare Subsection of G-2 in the War Department, and the Propaganda Section in the G2 of General John Pershing’s Allied Expeditionary Force. Military tactical psychological warfare centered on the production of leaflets; radios did not exist as a means of communication and loudspeakers were primitive. Leaflets distributed by balloons and airplanes emphasized surrender themes to German soldiers: promises of good food and humane care, privileges under international law, and the opportunity to return to families.

Some leaflets related progress of the allied forces on various fronts, with maps showing the territory gained by the allies, particulars of German losses, and the rapid increase of the U.S. Army in the theater. The Army emphasized factual accuracy with its combat propaganda, thereby enhancing its credibility. General Ludendorff considered allied Psywar to be directly responsible for the collapse in morale of German soldiers.

However, from 1918 to 1941 no psychological warfare office existed at the War Department, and only one officer from WWI with experience in this field remained at the beginning of WWII.

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George Creel

In the United States, PSYOP was the responsibility of two groups. The Committee on Public Information was a civilian agency chaired by George Creel (and thus often called "the Creel Committee"). It was established less than two weeks after America's entry into the war. Creel was a close friend of President Wilson and as a result, his committee had a high priority of the national resources. The committee maintained a news bureau in Washington, which was used to disseminate American propaganda to both local and international news sources. Creel used posters, advertising, and even the new American film industry to put across his message. In October 1917, Creel established a foreign branch to point out the inequities in the central Powers and to explain America's postwar objectives. The American Commissioner to France was Mr. James Kerney who in June 1918 opened a headquarters in the Maison de la Presse (House of the Press). He was replaced by a Major James in late July. The French commission worked with the French propaganda bureau to inform the Germans about America's preparations for war.

Thomas C. Sorensen says about the Creel Committee in The Word War, Harper & Row, N.Y., 1968:

The fledgling propagandists had to learn while doing, and they made many mistakes. "When we started out," Creel recalled later. "it was as if the Babylonians were asked to invent the thrashing machine." But they learned fast. Though often flamboyant and amateurish, the Creel Committee played a major part in making Wilson and the U. S. war aims widely known and appreciated throughout the world.

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Germany’s Confession

During the life of the Committee on Public Information, it produced numerous publications supporting the U.S. policy for the war in Europe. Creel used writers and artists, and 75,000 volunteers to give 4 minute speeches to organizations in support of the War. They made more than 7.5 million speeches to 314 million people in 5,200 communities. Some of the printed publications from his Committee were small booklets ranging from about one to three dozen pages. Examples are:

The Kaiserite in America; One Hundred and One German Lies; Germany's Confession; The Lichnowsky Memorandum; The German Whisper; Friendly Words to Foreign Born (This pamphlet was printed in Bohemian, Polish, German, Italian, Hungarian, and Russian); The War Message to the Farmer; To the Workers of Free America and German Socialists and the War.

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Captain Heber Blankenhorn

The military agency was Captain Heber Blankenhorn's Propaganda Section, G-2D, General Headquarters, American Expeditionary Forces A.E.F.). It was established in early 1918. Heber was a former editor who had been promoted to Captain and put in charge of his one-man section. The section originally had the responsibility to study enemy propaganda and prepare counter-propaganda. In April 1918 it was renamed the "Psychologic" Subsection. Apparently, President Wilson hated the word "propaganda." In July, Blankenhorn and seven officers were sent to study the propaganda methods of the French and British. The official history of the G-2 (Intelligence) unit at General Pershing's headquarters states that they were mostly involved with printed material and leaflets in particular. Linebarger says:

The Americans at A.E.F. concentrated on morale and surrender leaflets. They did work that was superb from the point of view of common sense psychology...Balloons and airplanes were the chief methods for air distribution.

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Blankenhorn’s Letter of Commendation

Blankenhorn was quite a prolific writer. Many of his articles and letters are archived. He wrote a piece entitled "How America Shelled the German Lines with Paper" for Harpers Magazine, Volume CXXXXIX 1919. He says that his office was room 65, on the floor above General Pershing’s offices, in Damremont Caserne, at Chaumont, Haute-Marne. Some of his more interesting comments are:

When America waged propaganda, as when it waged war, it avoided the German way. Our leaflets were as bitterly honest as our bayonets. With every consignment of leaflets in German went printed English versions, so that our troops might know what they were handling.

Our patrols, stealthily visiting points near wire, which they knew would be traversed by enemy patrols, had put down little piles of leaflets weighted with stones to prevent their blowing away. Revisiting the spots the next night, our patrols found the papers gone and in their place hand grenades, left not as traps, but like a sort of receipt.

When the silence fell (the signing of the Armistice) we had put three million leaflets over German lines.

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American pilots prepare for a propaganda leaflet mission

We noted above that the British had ceased dropping leaflets from aircraft after Germany threatened to shoot the pilots. Two British officers, Captain E. Scholtz and Lieutenant H.C. Wookey were shot down and captured near Cambrai on 17 October 1917. They were charged with "the distribution in September 1917 of pamphlets detrimental to German troops." They were tried, found guilty of treason, and sentenced to 10 years at hard labor. The British government threatened severe reprisals against German officers, so in April 1918 the pilots were pardoned by the Kaiser and sent to a regular POW camp at Karlsruhe. According to Blankenhorn, the Americans, "fully aware of the enemy threats, made it a point to fly defiantly low as possible and drop their leaflets directly on German positions." This so embarrassed the British that they returned to the airplane for leaflet drops in the last weeks of the war. He also states that some British pilots burned the leaflets in their hangars to avoid carrying them over enemy lines.

Neil Leybourne Smith’s History of 3 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps, RAAF adds:

February through to March 1918 involved the Squadron in many photographic missions around the Armentieres area where fighting was intense. Some flights were assigned to drop propaganda leaflets over enemy rest camps well behind the front line. Their purpose was to unsettle the enemy by letting them know that good food and warm billets awaited them if they choose to surrender. However these missions were discontinued after it became known throughout the Corps that pilots brought down in enemy territory while dropping leaflets were treated brutally by the enemy.

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General Lawrence directive no leaflets were to be dropped by aircraft

Dr. Philip M. Taylor, author of Munitions of the Mind - A History of Propaganda from Ancient World to the Present Day, Manchester University Press, Manchester and New York, 1995, discusses the legal issue in more depth:

For most of 1918, the principal method of distributing enemy propaganda was leaflets not airplane. This was because at the end of the 1917, four captured British airmen were tried by a German court martial for ‘having distributed pamphlets containing insults against the German army and Government among German troops in the Western Theatre of War.’ Although two of the accused were acquitted due to lack of evidence, and although the court itself questioned the ruling about whether this act was a violation of international law, two officers were sentenced to ten years imprisonment. When news of this punishment reached the war office in January 1918, all leaflet dropping by airplane was suspended. Reprisals were threatened, resulting in the pardoning of the two British officers, who were returned to their camps and treated as normal prisoners of war. But the Air Ministry remained reluctant to commit its men and machines to leaflet raids and the suspension order remained in force until October 1918, barely a month before the end of war.

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23 page booklet written in German by the 'Friends of German Democracy'

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Friends of Democracy leaflet

John C. W. Field mentions American civilian leafleting in Aerial Propaganda Leaflets, Francis J. Field Ltd., Sutton Coldfield, England, 1954.

An American propaganda group called The Friends of German Democracy produced leaflets which were forwarded to the Service de Propagande Aerienne and the A.E.F. Intelligence Section. Because the leaflets were disseminated mostly by the French, they were coded with French internal numbers. The highest number I am aware of is 74. The numbers given below are all internal French codes.

To emphasize the American help, The Friends of the German Democracy informed the Germans that 1,500,000 American troops had arrived in France, while many more were ready to come over. Leaflet-postcard 46 says in part, "THE AMERICAN HELP. 1,500,000 American soldiers are in France; more than twice that number is being trained in America. One single draft call in a single month gives almost as many recruits as a year in Germany. A fleet of 5 million tons, which can carry more than 13 million tons a year. A fleet which together with the English fleet would form an endless supply of steel, copper, explosives, grain, petroleum, and munitions....the cliques in Germany are struggling against these powers. (Signed) Friends of German Democracy in America.

Although an American leaflet, it was the French that disseminated 500,000 of them over the Germans in September 1918.

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Feldpostkarte leaflet

Linebarger illustrates an American leaflet in Psychological Warfare and says, "Surrender Leaflet from the AEF. Although this American combat leaflet from World War I copies the original form of the German Feldpostkarte (field postcard)...It is not black propaganda since neither source nor intent is concealed. "When you are taken prisoner by the Americans, give this to the first officer who checks your identity. The prisoner is ordered to fill in his own battle-order history. By marking appropriate items, he indicates whether he is hurt or not and can explain that he is well cared for and fed "beef, white bread, potatoes, beans, plums, genuine bean coffee, milk butter, tobacco, etc." Notice that the first three American leaflets all have food themes. The food fed to the German enlisted soldiers was so bad that they often complained that kommisbrot was prepared from the sweeping of military bakery floors.

Wolfgang Baldus mentions the card in depth in Schwarze Propaganda. He says:

The right side of the card has the word ‘Feldpostkarte’ with the addition ‘For German soldiers who are taken prisoner by the American Army.’ The sender had to fill in the following personal data: ‘rank, name, number of the regiment, battalion, department, company, battery, squadron, other formations, etc.’ The propaganda on the back said, ‘Keep this card. Fill in the address of your family, and when you are taken prisoner by the Americans, hand it over to the officer who takes your personal data. He will consider it his duty to mail it and thus reassure your relatives. Do not write on this side. Delete where inapplicable. I am imprisoned / slightly wounded / seriously wounded / unharmed / do not worry about me. The war is over for me. I am well supplied with food. The American Army provides to its prisoners the same food as to its soldiers: beef, white bread, potatoes, beans, plums, real coffee, milk, butter, tobacco…

Leaflet 8 says, "BROTHERS! The world is in great need. You and you alone can end this need rapidly. We are American citizens of German descent. We know you and trust you. We beg you to trust us. The great German nation is the barbarian and the breaker of trust in the eyes of the world. You can recover your good reputation only if you overthrow this government, which has made German intelligence and German industry a danger to the world. Take the determination of your destiny into your own hands.... If you will do this, the world war will end. In the name of America we give you our word that the new Germany will be taken up as an honorable member of the society of nations. Your intelligence and industry will once again be a blessing to humanity, instead of a curse.... Arise for a struggle for a free Germany! In the name of Americans of German descent. UNION OF FRIENDS OF GERMAN DEMOCRACY New York, March, 1918"

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Leaflet 74

Some of the other known titles are leaflet 30 - a brochure entitled "America and the World Wars," leaflet 27 – "More than one million Americans…" and leaflet 74 – Men and Women of the German People…

The most active units for distributing propaganda were the 104th Squadron of the 5th Army and the 99th Air Squadron. Later, small balloons with a diameter of 3 1/2 feet and a carrying power of 1 1/2 pounds were used. A larger balloon that carried a tin container holding 10,000 leaflets that could remain aloft for from 600 to 800 miles was also employed. There was even an attempt to use kites, but this was disapproved because the wires were a danger to allied aircraft.

American morale leaflets attacked the German monarchy and militarists and echoed the democratic views of America. Other leaflets told of the vast amount of men and materiel that the United States could bring to Europe and pointed out recent German losses and retreats. The surrender leaflets offered good American food, medical care, safety and a guarantee that the prisoner would return to Germany after the war.

Stanley Sandler discusses the American effort in Cease Resistance: It's Good for You: A history of U.S. Army Combat Psychological Operations, 1999. He says:

...The technological innovations of the later 19th and the early 20th centuries now made truly mass psychological warfare possible: Information could be sent instantaneously via cable or telephone, rotary presses could print up tens of millions of leaflets and photographs on cheap paper, and the product could be distributed quickly by rail and motor truck to the front and then behind enemy lines by aircraft, balloons and artillery.

Blankenhorn complained bitterly that the French and British were dropping millions of leaflets over their fronts, but the Americans had none. General Pershing apparently found this satisfactory because it gave the Americans the freedom to write and distribute their own leaflets without foreign assistance. Eventually, Pershing divided the propaganda sub-section into two sub-divisions. One was based in Paris under Walter Lippman and tasked with the collection, printing and forwarding of propaganda material. The second, under Blankenhorn was at general headquarters in Chaumont and responsible for the distribution of leaflets to the respective armies, corps, and Airfields.

In July 2017, the U.S. Army’s 4th PSYOP Group published a book entitled Psychological Operations – a History. The book mentions Blankenhorn and American PSYOP:

Between 28 August and 11 November 1918, the Propaganda section printed some 5.1 million leaflets of nearly 20 different designs and arranged to have more than 3 million of them disseminated...Historians have estimated that that in total some 340,000 Germans surrendered to U.S. and Allied forces between 18 July and 11 November 1918. The removal of a third of a million German soldiers from the battlefield undoubtedly sapped the enemy’s fighting strength and saved American lives in the path to eventual U.S. and Allied victory.

Drew Brooks wrote about U.S. WWI leafleting in the Fayetteville Observer of 1 August 2018. He said in part:

On Wednesday, at Fort Bragg’s John F. Kennedy Auditorium, officials from the Special Warfare Center and School, 1st Special Forces Command and U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command came together to celebrate that mission. The school trains all of the Army’s psychological operations soldiers. While 1st Special Forces Command also based at Fort Bragg, is home to the Army’s two active-duty PSYOP Groups. For the kick-off event of PSYOP centennial, leaders started where it all began with remarks from Jared M. Tracy, the psychological operations branch historian at the U.S. Army Special Operations Command.

Dr. Tracy gave slightly different numbers for the different types of leaflets printed:

By war’s end in November 1918, more than 5.1 million leaflets were printed, with 18 designs, including some based on interviews with German prisoners. More than three million leaflets were delivered in those final months of the war, and the increasing number of prisoners captured with the leaflets spoke to the effectiveness of the campaign, which set the stage for a similar effort on a much greater scale during World War II.

In a 1918 letter to General Churchill, Blankenhorn says:

I go down to the front to prison cages and with my German speaking lieutenants hold long confabs with officers and privates and argue the war with them until we know what arguments hit them the hardest. We find out what papers they read and what Reichstag spokesman they believe and then we go back and put our information with what Merz gathers in London and Lippman's ideas and draft a leaflet which goes to General Nolan (G-2 Chief).

Garth S. Jowett and Victoria O’Donnell discuss American propaganda in Propaganda and Persuasion. They say in part:

American military propaganda activities concentrated on morale and surrender leaflets because radio loudspeaker techniques did not exceed the power of a megaphone by much at that time. Therefore, most communications with the enemy had to be by one of the most basic forms of all – the printed leaflet. The British and French had pioneered in this form of propaganda, but the Americans developed some of their own inventions, and balloons and airplanes were the chief methods of dispersement, but later special leaflet bombs and mortars were also used very effectively.

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General Pershing’s Order 106

The first American leaflet was dropped in August of 1918. It was an edited version of General Pershing's order 106, dated 1 July 1918, which mandated proper treatment for prisoners of war. This theme was selected because Colonel Joseph V. Stillwell (later to be "Vinegar Joe" in WWII) said that Germans were afraid to surrender because they had been told by their officers that they would be killed if captured by the Americans. In addition, knowing that many of the German troops were hungry, a list of the rations fed to POWs was placed on the leaflet. Many Germans asked for those rations immediately upon surrender. Their American captors often were forced to explain that they had not eaten for twenty-four hours.

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I want to take a break from the story right here and note that the United States Army 4th PSYOP Group prepared an image on 1 August 2018 that proclaimed 100 YEARS OF PSYOP HISTORY. They seem to be using the first American leaflet as a starting point for all American PSYOP. Since we mention that first leaflet directly above, this seems the perfect place to show the image. We now return to our WWI article.

George Bruntz adds:

Perhaps the most ingenious scheme for getting for getting the enemy troops to desert was used by the Americans. Our propagandists dropped a "prisoner leaflet" over the German lines, which contained an extract from the orders prescribing the treatment to be accorded by the A.E.F. to the prisoners of war. Appended to it was a list of rations issued to the American soldier and prescribed for enemy prisoners. More than a million copies of this leaflet were sent over to the enemy.

Major Harold E. Porter of the United States Air Service in WWI mentions a similar leaflet in the book Aerial Observation – the Airplane Observer, the Balloon Observer, and the Army Corps Pilot, Harper and brothers, NYC, 1921:

On 15 October 1918, Erwin started on a patrol and propaganda dropping expedition with some other members of the squadron. Having no particular mission except to drop the leaflets, on which was printed the bill of fare of the American prison camps and other inducements for the hungry Huns to surrender, he and his observer…decided to distribute their “Food Will Win the War” literature among the Huns....

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Adventures in Propaganda

Captain Heber Blankenhorn mentions his first visit to the front on 28 August 1918 in Adventures in Propaganda: Letters from an Intelligence Officer in France, Houghton Mifflin and Co., Boston and New York, 1919. The letter is heavily censored: 

There strode into General Headquarters a certain officer from a certain front line Division in a certain well-known sector. He was in a hurry. He said: “I’m told you run propaganda. I want some propaganda – quick. We’ve got opposite us the “umpth” and “umpty umpth” divisions and we’ve had some deserters from them and I want some more. I don’t know much about propaganda. I believe in it – I don’t think it will win the war and all that, but if anything is going to get those deserters over its propaganda, and I want those deserters for information…They are afraid to come over because they believe that Americans kill all prisoners…

 We produced a copy for a leaflet to fit the case…but we had to get approval and the General was busy and the officer had to go…I sent the copy in with a memo. Finally it came back with a big blue scrawl across it, “Excellent…” I phoned and tomorrow night the first American made propaganda goes over the line. 

The shop isn’t even open yet but we sold propaganda over the counter like so much meat…Tonight I rammed ahead, arranging to print our leaflets by the thousands, writing a new leaflet to puncture the first Austrian division to turn up on the Western Front…trying overnight to build a great machine.

The second leaflet was similar, but mentioned the rations in detail. Entitled "Daily Rations of American Soldiers - The German Prisoners of War receive the same rations," it has text such as, "Beef - 567 grams, Potatoes or other fresh vegetables - 567 grams," and "Coffee Beans - 31.75 grams."

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Leaflet number 4 - St. Mihiel Map leaflet

Blankenhorn came up with the concept of a leaflet depicting a map of the American gains in the San Mihiel salient. He says in Adventures in Propaganda, Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston and New York, 1919, "Every soldier wants a map. American propaganda provided one, which carried its own lesson. Dropped over the German lines after 13 September 1918." We called the leaflet "The Meaning of St. Mihiel." The text was, "The salient, where the Germans had defended themselves for four years, was taken in 27 hours by the Americans." Beneath the map, "The shaded line is the front on the morning of 12 September. The dotted line is the front on the morning of 13 September. 390 square kilometers were gained. The number of prisoners amounts to 15,000." Blankenhorn’s commanding officer told him, "Telegraph that text to Paris. Print half a million." When Blankenhorn asked the American air commander Brigadier General Billy Mitchell to have his crews drop the leaflets, he was told, "Propaganda is all right, but it has no place during operations. Come back in the winter" Blankenhorn said later that some American pilots had been happy to drop the leaflets after a suitable honorarium.


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Gen. John J. Pershing

General Pershing described the results of the battle in Final Report of Gen. John J. Pershing, Washington, D.C, Government Printing Office, 1919:

the material results of the victory achieved were very important. An American Army was an accomplished fact, and the enemy had felt its power. No form of propaganda could overcome the depressing effect on the morale of the enemy of this demonstration of our ability to organize a large American force and drive it successfully through his defenses. It gave our troops implicit confidence in their superiority and raised their morale to the highest pitch...

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President Woodrow Wilson

The Americans often published excerpts from President Wilson's speeches. Leaflet number 5 was entitled "The Way to Peace and Justice" had quotes from Wilson's speech of 27 September to the League of Nations. A number of leaflets were thereafter prepared which consisted of Wilson's replies to German armistice entreaties. Blankenhorn wrote to his wife, "all I have to do these days is publish to the Boche what Wilson says: he writes all our leaflet news." Other such leaflets were number 15 – “Wilson’s answer.  No armistice, as long as…” and  number 19 – “President Wilson’s note of 23 October 1918.”

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Speaking of President Wilson, I have this large 4-page propaganda newspaper that is positively sterile. It has no printer’s imprint and no identification of who made it. All we know about it is that the text is in English, French and German. There are six photographs on the inside depicting scenes such as the U.S. infantry training and on maneuvers, and American warships being launched and in action. The back has a map of the United States and a big artillery piece being produced. This was found in the papers of an American propagandist who was stationed in London for a brief time during WWII so it could be either American or British.

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Growth of Army Leaflet

Leaflet 6 shows the continual monthly growth in US troop arrival in France starting In July 1917 with 1,718 and ending in September 1918 with 311,000. The title of the leaflet is "More than 1,900,000 American troops are now in France, and more than ten times as many stand ready in America." Some of the text at the bottom is, "The yearly increase of the American Army in France: From 76,000 men to 1,800,000 men. The picture above shows the monthly arrivals of American troops."

Leaflet 14 was entitled "Official numbers. Between 1 and 30 September…" and asked the Germans a number of difficult demoralizing questions such as, "Will you ever be as strong as you were in July, 1918? Will your opponents grow stronger or weaker? Have you the slightest hope of victory in the future?"

There are just over 20 American leaflets known. Some of the other titles are number 10 – "Official numbers…" number 11 – "Inquiry of the German government…" number 16 – Czechoslovak!..." and number 20 - To the German soldiers. Turkey…"

Leaflet 18 - "The German withdrawal of the 15 July to the 21 October 1918" updated the war map to 21 October and mentioned 210,000 German prisoners taken in just 50 days.

Both Creel and Blankenhorn took credit for the vast number of demoralized Germans who either were captured or quit the war. Creel said, "Eight prisoners out of every ten captured by the Americans had our stuff in their pockets…" Blankenhorn said, "by the end of the Argonne campaign the bulk of prisoners were found to have our leaflets on their persons."

The Official history of the AEF says that 75% of all German officers thought that the leaflets were laughable and had no bearing on the morale of the German soldier. On the other hand, when surveyed, 75% of the enlisted soldiers said that they believed the American leaflets.

In the last three months of the war in 1918, the Americans dropped about three million leaflets over enemy lines. Most were disseminated by aircraft, some by balloon and a very few by shell. President Wilson approved the sum of $76,000 for propaganda balloons. There was talk of 10,000 such balloons with a range of 600-800 miles. However, they were not favored by American commanders who preferred to keep the expensive hydrogen gas for observation balloons. As a result, the great majority of American leaflets were disseminated by aircraft. The AEF apparently used very few leaflet artillery shells or grenades although they were very popular with the British and French. The British constantly experimented with better means of dissemination. They experimented with a trench mortar. It worked well, but the idea of picking up leaflets during a mortar attack was deemed unlikely.

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A Patriotic French Wartime Label

The WWI French civilian patriotic label above is one of the earliest images to depict an aircraft dropping propaganda leaflets over the countryside. This label is one of many thousands produced by Gaston Fontanille, also known as “Delandre.” He was a famous con-man who was in and out of jail his entire life. With the onset of World War I, he set up shop to produce and market stamps for the various units of the French Army. When military censors refused to allow him to distribute the stamps to soldiers in the field, Delandre sold them to the general public. The text is:  

Soldiers!..Swear by:

This seems to be a reference to the Biblical 3rd Commandment, “You shall not take The Name of The Lord your God in vain..." It appears that instead of saying “Nom de Dieu!” (By God!) when attacked by the Germans, the soldier is being asked to say “Nom de Boche” (By the Germans).

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This is an interesting French trick card that can be folded to show several different scenes. When closed it bears a simple message:


Enough blood has poured!

Let us be brothers, work for peace and for human progress. So speaks the fat Germania, crowned with a symbolic olive wreath, and squeezing a horn of abundance upon her broad chest.

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It can be unfolded one way to show the fat Germania marching with German soldiers holding her veil behind and clutching olive branches of peace. The text with that picture is:

THE PEACE that they seem to offer us

When folded another way we see a fat German officer overlooking French citizens enslaved and whipped by German soldiers. The text is:

What it would be in reality

As soon as France entered World War One the government took control of the communications media. No news concerning mobilization or military movements that might reflect unfavorably on the army could be published by the French press. Three days after the start of the war Foreign Minister Viviani appropriated 25 million francs for propaganda purposes. However, this money would not be spent until 1916 when the French got serious about PSYOP. For the most part the French leaflets are all text with no illustrations. Some, like the newspaper leaflets have a touch of color in the masthead, but the great majority of leaflets are rather plain. Few of the French leaflets have the punch-hole used to tie the leaflet to a balloon. We therefore assume that most of them were either dropped by aircraft or taken behind the lines by agents or patrols.

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French Balloon Propaganda

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Leaflet of President Wilson's speech

French soldiers balloon leaflets reprinting President Wilson's speech of 2 April 1917 to the Germans. These photographs first appeared in the Paris newspaper Le Miroir (The Mirror), 20 May 1917. The text is, "Small balloons carry the complete text to the enemy. On 2 April, in Washington before Congress, President Wilson gave his famous speech that will go down in history. The newspapers of the whole world published the complete text. The German newspapers were the only ones to cut and edit it. To correct this lack of information, we sent the complete text of the message over the enemy lines. The paragraphs originally omitted were printed in red. They are indicated here by vertical lines." The newspaper depicted the leaflet in question and certain paragraphs were marked to show those portions that the Germans had censored and the French had reproduced.

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Open letter - From a German Prisoner of War to his Comrades

This leaflet was produced by the French in July 1915 and tells of the good life to be had as a French prisoner. Waitz mentions this leaflet in his book:

The “Open Letter of a German Prisoner,” printed in September, 1915, inaugurated a series of German publications which were very successful. A broad band of black, white and red, printed at the top, pointed it out to the attention of the German soldiers. In the course of October 1915, we dropped about fifty thousand copies over the German front . The limited means available at the time allowed us to drop no more.

The German press was furious. On 30 October, the “Vossische Zeitung” published an article with rage in every line: this was, said the German newspaper, “Of methodical vileness, carefully elaborated; and written in a very good German. While shaming and despising this document, “Vossische Zeitung” warned the German soldiers against the call for desertion.

In October 1914, the Germans were at the gates of Paris. They were drafting Frenchmen to dig their trenches and build fortifications. The French government tried to motivate the French civilians to resist. It dropped the following leaflet over Lille on 13 October, "TO THOSE WHO LIVE AROUND LILLE! In refusing to execute the military works prescribed by the enemy, you are within your rights and in so doing you fulfill your duty a Frenchman. The Hague Convention, ratified by all the civilized nations, gives you justification. The worthless citizens who accept work of immediate or remote military interest will become most guilty to their native country. In addition, they will expose themselves to the rigors of the law when the French flag flies again over Lille. That moment is not far away. The Allied forces unceasingly increase. Those of the Germans, to the contrary, exhaust themselves as time goes on. Soon they will no longer be sufficient. Everything tells you to hope. Have courage and confidence always.

As in the case of all the Allied powers, the French growth toward an efficient propaganda service was slow and uneven. In 1914 the French government organized a "Bureau de la presse et de l'information," ("Office of Press and Information"). Minister of War Millerand formed a "Service de la Propaganda aerienne" ("Aerial Propaganda Service" sometimes called "SPA") attached to the 2nd Bureau of the Army General Headquarters. In 1916, the French government established the "Maison de la Presse" in a six-story building of some 200 rooms in Rue Francois Premier in Paris. One section of the Maison de la presse was the SPA. It was composed of Professor Tonnelat and Jean Jacques Waitz, the Alsatian artist code-named "Hansi." In 1916, Raymond Schuhl joined the team. Schuhl is of particular interest because he crossed the border into Switzerland after the German invasion of France in WWII where he did exactly the same thing that he did in WWI. This time, he secretly designed leaflets for the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS) using the code-name Salembier right under the eyes of the very suspicious, nervous, and neutral Swiss. I wrote about Schuhl years ago in a magazine article about OSS Berne and said; "The OSS mission had early established contact with a Frenchman, known under his cover name of 'Salembier,' who had been one of the French Deuxieme Bureau's chief propaganda artists in World War I. He knew his trade and was set up in business, operating from Geneva, by OSS and OWI jointly."

Waitz talked about his time writing propaganda for the French in WWI in his 1922 book Through Enemy Lines. I am not going to quote him exactly and will edit his long passages down to brief comments. He said in part:

A small table in the corner of an information desk and, in a cabinet, books and a few German newspapers, was, towards the end of August 1915, the installation of the French “Aircraft Propaganda Service” which was ordered to organize and methodically disseminate propaganda leaflets beyond enemy lines. Our staff was a single interpreter who was, on his own, to endeavor to destroy the morale of two or three million German soldiers who were intoxicated with their early success.

Our “Propaganda Service” always remained modest. From November 1915, Professor Tonnelat and I were a team and shared the rather heavy work of drafting, printing and the dispatch of leaflets. In 1916, the presence of Third interpreter became necessary; Mr. Raymond Schuhl then joined us. Two secretaries and some handlers gradually complemented our team. The total number of persons employed never reached ten members.

The new service had to prove itself. We were regarded with skepticism. What naivete! “The Boches only understand one thing: Force!” General Headquarters regarded with incredulity our first consignments of “Trench literature” to German soldiers. But Captain Ladoux was gradually able to remove the obstacles to our propaganda. It is thanks to him and to General Valantin, the deputy chief of the Army General Staff, that aerial propaganda was able to finally succeed.

The Germans, at the same time, were already powerfully equipped. They had at Charleville a good printing press that published the Gazette des Ardennes; The Gazette of the Ardennes was not only intended for the unfortunate inhabitants of the invaded regions. The German Command intended to use it also to demoralize French soldiers and the population of the interior. At the end of 1914, the newspaper was distributed by post, balloons and aircraft.

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The proclamation du Generalissime Francais aux Alsaciens

Paul Villatoux wrote an article entitled "The Allies and the Leaflets War in 1914-1918" published in The Falling Leaf, winter 1999. He mentions a very early use of leaflets, "On 9 August 1914, a proclamation by General Joffre to the Alsatians was dropped by airplane above Mulhouse." The text is, "PROCLAMATION of the French Commander in Chief TO THE ALSATIANS. Children of Alsace. After 44 years of painful expectation, French soldiers are treading again the soil of your noble country. They are the first workers of the great task of REVENGE. What emotion, what pride is theirs! In order to complete this task they give up their lives! The French nation unanimously urges them on, and the magic words 'right' and 'liberty' are inscribed in the folds of their flag. Long live Alsace! Long live France! The French Commander in Chief, Joffre. Delivered by the French squadrons from Mulhouse."

Villatoux continues, "General Joffre, Commander in Chief of the French Army suggested in July 1915 that France "centralize the diffusion of news and documents spread in the invaded regions and in enemy territory by a specific organization which would be answerable to the Central Service."

In the years between 1914 and 1917, a number of unofficial civilian political and religious agencies were formed to produce propaganda for specific groups. By March 1917, there were some 30,000 societies with more than eleven million members banded together in a Union des grandes associations contre la propaganda ennemie, ("Union of Big Associations Against Enemy Propaganda").

In March 1918, The British and French met to coordinate propaganda and from that grew a new French agency, the Centre d'action de propaganda contre l'ennemie, ("Center for Propaganda Action Against the Enemy"). The French therefore had two propaganda agencies working until the end of the war. The Maison de la presse was mostly involved in atrocity propaganda, religious propaganda, and propaganda in neutral countries. The Centre d'action de propagande contre l'ennemie worked to tear down the morale of the enemy, weaken its will to resist, and induce enemy soldiers to desert.

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The French Facsimile of the German Newspaper Field Post - Number 6, December 1915

Waitz mentions this production in his book. He says in part:

From October 1915, we printed a German newspaper regularly, eventually totaling almost 300 pages. The first twelve issues were titled “Die Feldpost,” but the leaflet was so carefully demonized and policed by the German military authorities that it was necessary to change its name. From number 13 onwards it was entitled: “Kriegsblatter fur das deutsche Volk” (War Pages for the German People). The newspaper became known as “Das freie deutsche Wort” (The Free German Word), until the end of the war.

Many of the French techniques were similar to what the British were doing. They prepared leaflets that copied the letters of German prisoners of war, telling of the wonderful conditions in the French camps. They distributed large newsletter-leaflets entitled Grusse an die Heimat - Briefe deutscher Kriegsgefangener, (Greeting to the Homeland - Letters of German War prisoners) profusely illustrated with many pictures of happy German POWs and to their loved ones. Eleven such leaflet-newsletters were printed, the first in December 1916, the last in May 1918. Another similar series of 14 large leaflets was entitled Briefe aus Deutschland (German letters) were distributed from October 1916 to October 1918. Once again the leaflet was filled with letters from German prisoners of war.

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The War Torch

This is a French reproduction of a German wartime newspaper called War Torch. Several of the stories are dated 25 July 1914 so I assume it was printed about that time.

The French produced a number of fake German newspapers and disseminated them over the enemy. Among them are Die Feldpost, (The Army Postal Service), Kriegsblatter für the deutschen Volk (War sheets for the German People), Die Wahrheit (The Truth), Strassburger Post, Frankfurter Zeitung (the Frankfurt Newspaper), Die Freie Zeitung (The Free Newspaper), Lepzig Volkszeitung (The Lepzig People’s Newspaper), and Der Kampf (The Battle).

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Die Freie Zeitung and Der Bund Newspapers

Die Freie Zeitung was printed in Paris every Wednesday and Saturday. The French propagandists attempted to smuggle or mail Die Freie Zeitung into Germany inside regular Swiss newspapers such as Der Bund (The Alliance). Other issues of the newspaper were dropped by aircraft.

The first issue of Die feldpost appeared in October 1915, the last issue was number 12, dated March 1916. The first issue of Kriegsblatter für the deutschen Volk was number 13 dated March 1916. The final issue was number 30, dated November 1916. There were 42 editions of Das freie deutsch Wort (The Free German Word), The first dated January 1917, the last disseminated in Novermber 1918.

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A French fake of the German Kriegsblatter für das deutsche Volk - Number 15, April 1916

Hansi's Service Aerienne published a newspaper called "Die Luftpost," ("The Air Mail"). (Note: The allies would publish and disseminate a similar newspaper over the Germans in World War Two). This paper stressed the joys of home life, the love of a wife and children. It attempted to destroy the morale of the German frontline soldier. The newspaper was later renamed "Kriegsblatter für das deutsche Volk" ("War-sheets for the German people"). It title was changed again in late November 1918 to "Das Freie deutsche Wort," ("The German Free Word"), and in this resurrection was much more revolutionary in nature.

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Letters from Germany

This French leaflet is a facsimile of a German newsletter and contains a number of letters and is entitled: Letters from Germany - pages on the study of the economic situation in the warring lands.

Villatoux adds, "Propaganda leaflets made by the SPA between 1915 and 1918 were diverse: printed sheets, sometimes illustrated, newspapers, booklets and documents of all kinds edited in the language of the adversary were determined to sap his morale and convince him that the cause he defended was bad and gave him information, true or false, which the censor hid from him."

The SPA leaflets concentrated on a number of specific themes. For instance, the "occupation" of Alsace-Lorraine by the Germans. Some leaflets promised that the Alsatians would soon be liberated and once again be French. Other leaflets were aimed at the Bavarians and Poles in the German Army and stated that they were treated as second-class citizens and their Prussian masters were wasting their lives. Some leaflets spoke of the sacrifices being made by the soldier's families back home, while others threatened the Germans with the terrible new weapons of the French. As the war went on, the leaflets began to point out the weariness of the German people. With the coming of the Americans, an entirely new campaign was put into play. Some leaflets were anti-Monarchy and pro-democratic in nature, but the French had to tread lightly because their allies the Tsarist Russians were still a monarchy at the time. America had the same problem in WWII when its propaganda leaflets talked about ending dictatorship and bringing democracy to Europe at the same time that it was allied to the Russian dictator Josef Stalin.

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The actual booklet J’accuse! and disguised French copy of the booklet.

A major project was the reprinting in miniature of Grelling’s book J'accuse ("I Accuse"). The booklet J'accuse was first produced in September 1915. The booklets were often disguised with fake covers in the German colors or depicting an Iron cross and the title Die Wahrheit (The Truth). This book argued against the German lie that they were fighting a defensive war and pointed out that the Germans Had started the war and were seeking to build a militarist empire. Bruntz points out in the book that the former director of the Krupp works (Authors note: The Krupp iron works in Essen was the biggest munitions factory in Germany, producer of the famous "Big Bertha" railroad gun)gave a scathing indictment of the whole political, social, and moral structure of Germany. Grelling said that the government was repressive to individuals, freedom of speech, and independence of thought. He said that Germany had forced war on Europe. Naturally, the book was banned in Germany. The French reproduced it as a miniature 50-gram 432-page edition. In late 1915, the French dropped 20,000 copies of the books behind the German lines. This result was achieved by using the very fine and resistant paper used by Bibles for holding the Old and New Testaments in one volume. Despite the small size of the Volume, the text remained very readable. So that the volumes dropped behind the lines would not be exposed to deterioration, each copy was placed in a strong paper envelope. And, for the little package to attract attention it was placed in an envelope decorated with German colors.

The French also reprinted portions of the book in the Zeitung für die deutschen Kriegsgefangenen, ("Newspaper for the German War Prisoners") that was printed for German prisoners in French POW camps.

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The French caricatured the enormous German losses at Verdun with a leaflet distributed in May 1916. It depicts piles of dead German soldiers near a marker "VERDUN." The text quotes Friedrick von Shiller from Wallenstein: "You can go to this point, Wallenstein, and not a single step further."

Why did the French quote Shiller? The author wrote the Wallenstein trilogy based on the Thirty-Years War. During that religious war, populations were torn apart and neighbor exiled, beat, or slaughtered neighbor. The cause was the Lutheran versus the Roman Catholic faith. The Hapsburg Emperor Ferdinand II said, "Better a desert than a land full of heretics." Did the French seek to compare Wilhelm with Ferdinand, a butcher willing to see his own populations decimated?

During the Thirty-Years War, both armies had the right to loot and steal. They confiscated all they could carry in the many small principalities we now know as Germany. Count Albrecht Wallenstein joined his troops in taking part in atrocities and raids for booty. After many years of war, he planned to make a separate peace with the Swedes against the will of the Emperor. He says, "You will never live to see the fighting end. This war will swallow up each one of us. Austria desires no peace, so I must fall, because I go in quest of peace. What is it to Austria if this long war destroys the armies and lays waste the world?...You see, I have a heart, I have compassion for the German people...It never stops. The Swedes and Germans, Papists and Lutherans! Not one of them will yield to any other. Every hand is raised against the other." Wallenstein desired peace but it was not to be. The Emperor had the general assassinated. The war continued.

We assume that the French saw the current war in the light of the Thirty-Years War, with a mad Kaiser willing to destroy his own people and unwilling to consider peace.

We might also ask, why mention Verdun in a leaflet? Verdun was the worst battle of the First World War, possibly the worst battle in history.

In early 1916, the Germans attacked the French fortress city of Verdun. Their aim was to "bleed the French Army white" by inflicting so many casualties, that France would quit the war. They failed. Waves of Germans advanced into the Verdun meat grinder. The Germans sent the equivalent of 82 divisions against Verdun, more than a million and a half men. The Germans unveiled a new weapon, flamethrowers. Two hundred eighty-two thousand men, 18% of German losses in World War I, are estimated to have died at Verdun. Total casualties have been estimated at 434,000. Field Marshall Hindenburg said "The Battle of Verdun exhausted our forces like a wound that never heals."

The French poured sixty-six divisions into the battle. Three hundred-seventeen thousand are estimated to have died there, 23% of the total French losses for the entire war. Total casualties are estimated at 542,000. Twelve million artillery shells were fired during the eighteen months of fighting. One of every four deaths and injuries in World War I were at Verdun. Estimates differ, but some say that over 600,000 died and over two million more were wounded, injured, or poison-gassed on the Verdun battlefields.

The French considered the Battle of Verdun a great victory. Their battle cry was On ne passe pas (They shall not pass), and truly, the Germans did not pass. However, Verdun was a Pyrrhic victory. As Greek King Pyrrhus said after his victory at Heraclea and Asculum in 279 BC, "One more such victory and I am lost."

Different methods were used to get the leaflets to the enemy. Early in the war, hand grenades were used. However, the French soldiers were not happy about standing up in front of a German sniper to throw a grenade filled with paper. In 1915, the French began to use airplanes. The Lafayette Flying Squadron and the Escadrilles des Armees were tasked with dropping leaflets. Twice a week these units dropped propaganda on the enemy. Many of the leaflets were prepared by the American "Friends of German Democracy." The French also dropped speeches by American President Woodrow Wilson, and when the French went on the offensive in 1918, they dropped maps showing their advance all along the German trench line.

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Another leaflet shows the Kaiser and Crown Prince talking while sitting on the ground with their feet in a ditch. A group of German officers huddles in the background. The Kaiser asks, "What do they say?" The prince answers, "They say we are lost."

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With God for Emperor and Homeland

Perhaps the most pictorial French leaflet depicting the German as a barbarian is one entitled "With God for Emperor and Fatherland." The leaflet depicts the Kaiser and grandson standing before two crucified women identified as Bavaria and Prussia. The text is: "You see, little grandson, the only thing I wanted is their good fortune." The implication is that the Kaiser started the war with the idea of enriching and glorifying Bavaria and Prussia, but instead has caused it pain, suffering, and death.

Villatoux says "The number of leaflets distributed by the allies in the course of the First World War is estimated at 66 million of which 14 million were just for the month of September 1918.

In August 1916 the French produced a series of all-text leaflets telling the Germans about Russian victories.

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Prison Camp Aurillac – Nursing.

In September 1917 the French produced a series of 13 illustrated propaganda postcards all showing German prisoners of war enjoying their captivity behind the French lines. The cards show the Germans well dressed, doing useful work, medically treated, and even playing cards and chess.

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Prison Camp Barcellonette – Room of the Crew

Two cards show the very comfortable living quarters of captured officers. Some of the titles on the front of the postcards beneath the photograph are "Prisoner’s Camp Blaye – Administration of the Uniform Store," "Prisoner’s Camp Saint-Nazaire – playing cards," and "Roll call of the sick in a prisoner’s camp behind the front."

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The Bulgarians Surrender

This Allied leaflet to German troops facing the French was dropped to tell them of the surrender of their ally Bulgaria. The text is:

The French Military Commander of the Allied military forces in Macedonia met with the Bulgarian representatives, Mr. Lieptcheff, Radeff, and General Loukoff today on 30 September. An armistice was reached under the conditions set by the Entente. The war between Bulgaria and the Entente powers is over.

[Note] We use the Allied spelling of the names of the participants in these comments. The actual spelling of the individuals is different in Bulgarian. The Bulgarian group sent to the surrender talks was made up of M. Lieptcheff (Minister of Finance), M. Radeff (former cabinet member) and General Loukoff (Chief of the Bulgarian General Staff). The armistice was signed on 29 September 1918, and the peace took effect at noon on the following day. The armistice decreed that the Bulgarians must evacuate the occupied territories of Greece and Serbia, demobilize the army except for three divisions which would be assigned to defend the borders and guard the railways, surrender war materials and horses, and return military materials taken from the Greeks.

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For the War Loan

In February 1918, the French produced a propaganda parody postcard where they caricatured an actual German postcard. The Germans had published a card showing a little angel with a German flag around his waist holding a helmet filled with coins. The text was Für die Kriegsanleihe! ("For the war loan"). The French reproduced the card but instead of a helmet the angel now holds a chamber pot. The message is clear. If you give to the war effort you are just ‘pissing away" your money.

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Banknotes for the War Loans

Waitz produced this propaganda poster himself. He printed it about the time of the German war loan. It depicts the various banknotes of the “loan funds” and the German debt securities. They were reproduced on this poster in their normal size and with their actual colors. This of course is a reduced photo of the poster in black and white. The poster measured 27 x 37 cm.

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Gazette des Ardennes

On 1 March 1916, the French printed a forgery of the German Gazette des Ardennes. It was fully illustrated, and had paper, format, and font that were so similar to the German newspaper that it was difficult to identify as a French fake. Once again the German newspapers were furious. One picture that really drew their ire was an illustration in which a German soldier holds a French baby lovingly whom he feeds. The photographer says to him that it is a touching scene, to which the German soldier replies “I killed the mother.”

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Italian leaflet to the Austria-Hungarians dated 26 June 1916

“Austria-Hungarian Soldiers! Over 200,000 of your comrades have fallen in the mountains of South Tyrol, have sacrificed their lives in vain. The Italians have launched a vigorous offensive…”

Not much is known about the makeup of the psychological warfare organizations in Italy. Italy was first to engage the airplane in military operations, using them for reconnaissance flights in its 1911 Italo-Turkish war in North Africa. The Italian airmen became the first bombardiers in the same conflict on November 1, and the following January dropped the first propaganda leaflets from an airplane. We have mentioned already that after waiting to see which way the wind blew, Italy came in on the side of the Allies 23 May 1915. Some Italian leaflets are dated as early as 17 July 1916, so it is clear that they quickly realized the value of propaganda. P. H. Robbs says in The Falling Leaf, summer 1960, "In April 1918, an inter-Allied Propaganda Commission was established at the Italian General Headquarters… Famous nationalists like Dr. Ante Trumbitch of Yugoslavia, Dr. Stefanik, Dr. Eduard Benes and Professor Masaryk of Czechoslovakia helped in the composition of the pamphlets, whilst the Italian poet and patriot Gabriel D'Annunzio not only composed leaflets, but personally flew from Padua to drop them over Vienna." The painting at the top of this article depicts the D'Annunzio raid. The caption for the painting is, "Thousands of leaflets in the colors of Italy rained down on the Austrian capital, urging the Viennese to surrender. A squadron of Italian S. V. A. 5's pursuit planes circled the city, dropped more propaganda and raced off toward the Adriatic. At their lead was Major D'Annunzio. The Italians had scored one of the greatest victories of WW1. The mission was flown 700 miles."

D’Annunzio’s first leaflet flight was over Trieste on 7 August 1915. He dropped tricolored flaglets and leaflets. Some of the text is, "Courage brothers! Courage and endurance! Fight without respite to hasten your release…"

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The WWI Italian Leaflet Drop over Vienna

On 9 August 1918, he made his famous flight to Vienna where he dropped thousands of leaflets with the text:

Viennese! Learn to know the Italians! We are flying over Vienna and could drop bombs by the ton. We only drop a salutation, tricolored, with the three colors of liberty. We do not wage war against children, or the aged, or against women. We wage war against your government, the enemy of national liberty, against your obstinate, blind and cruel government that gives you neither peace nor bread, and nourishes you on hatred and illusions. Viennese! You are starving for the truth. Why have you donned the Prussian uniform? Henceforth, you perceive, all the world is against you. Do you desire to continue the war? The continue it. It is your suicide. What do you hope for? A decisive victory promised by the Prussian generals? Their decisive victory is like the bread of the Ukraine. One dies waiting for it. People of Vienna, realize the truth. Awaken! Long live liberty! Long live Italy! Long live the Entente!

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Italian Map to the Germans
Italian leaflet 330

Italian map leaflet to the Austrians. Dropped in 1918, code number 330. The title is "A Graphic view of the gains of the big Entente offensive in France from the 9th of August to September." It pictures the battle lines as of 9 August and shows the French gains by 1 September. Some of the text is "The material results of the Entente offensive of 15 July to 31 August. In this offensive the Allies captured 128,000 German prisoners of war, 2,674 officers, 2,069 artillery pieces, 1,734 flamethrowers, 1,383 machine guns and an extensive amount of ammunition, equipment and other material."

Italian leaflets against Austria-Hungary featured a divide-and-conquer theme. One was dropped after an Austrian defeat at Trentino and the Russian victory at Galicia is written in Ruthenian, Polish and Croatian. It asks in part, "Why do you still fight and die for hated Austria?" It tells the Croats, "Your great Mother Russia, our powerful ally, has taken 270,000 soldiers of the Austrian Army prisoner. Why are you fighting against us? We who are the allies of your Imperial Mother."

As the German Army took greater control of its ally’s military campaigns, the Italians continued to try to cause division among the enemy. A leaflet in Croatian, Hungarian, Czechoslovakian, Polish. Romanian and German said in part, "We are all against the Government. Czechs, Slovaks, Poles, Ruthenians, Italians and South-Slavs. All want their freedom. Italy is already in complete agreement with the Yugoslavs. Those who oppress you are the Germans and Hungarians."

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Belgium PSYOP

After the German Army occupied Belgium, a mysterious service appeared in Britain claiming to be the official organization of Belgian propaganda. The name of this organization was the "Service de Propagande Belge" ("S.P.B."). They prepared and printed propaganda documents and are most noted for two series of postcards that were produced in England and airdropped over occupied Belgium.

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Leaflet postcard number 4 – "We will get them!"

The first series consists of six postcards that all depicted various morale-building portraits or scenes. They were allegedly dropped by British seaplanes over Belgian coastal areas early in the war. The cards have text in both Flemish and French. The cards are known both with and without text on the address side. The cards with text on the back are more rare and were printed in October of 1917. Because there are numerous mistakes in the Belgian and Flemish text, some believe that the S.P.B. might have been a British black operation.

Card 1 - British Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig (161-1928), and text "Have courage! We are thinking of you...."

Card 2 - Women at work in a factory, "Liberation is near...."

Card 3 - British infantryman, "Have courage, until we meet again...."

Card 4 - British seaman. We illustrate leaflet-postcard number 4 from the first Belgian postcard set. The full text of the card is, "We will get them! One of the British seamen who risk their lives every day in the fight against German submarines. The British fleet has shown that it represents the protecting shield of the Allies. It gathered its troops from all the corners of the world to collect material and ammunition from beyond the seas to blockade the German fleet in its ports."

Card 5 - British airplane, "Good news...."

Card 6 - British Admiral Sir David Beatty (1871-1936), "We are holding them...."

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SPB number 5. "The Belgian heavy artillery."

The second series is much larger and consists of 26 postcards. Many of the cards depict Belgian soldiers in the field, but only one shows an actual battle scene. Some of the cards have Flemish and French text, others have Flemish, French, and English. The cards all show different variations of "S.P.B.", some with added numbers, some without.

This series was printed in 1917 and dropped by British and French aircraft in the summer and autumn of 1918.

I will not describe all the propaganda postcards, but the first four (S.P.B. No. 1-4) have the following titles: "A banner is handed over to the victorious Belgian troops," "The brave Belgians are marching to the front,' "The brilliant Belgian cavalrymen," and "The Belgian artillery in action." We also mention number 13 because it is "President Wilson delivering a speech before the U.S. Congress." We know that the British regularly quoted Wilson, and they were probably very influential in the subjects and pictures featured on these propaganda postcards.

Bernard Wilkin, seems to mention these postcards in Aerial Propaganda and the Wartime Occupation of France, 1914–1918:

The British also distributed bilingual postcards of British soldiers and generals in the occupied territories of France and Belgium. These illustrations were never identified but their distribution by the Royal Flying Corps and by Belgian squadrons suggests that they were another collaborative effort between Belgians and British propagandists.

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Hindenburg leaflet

On September 2, 1918, Marshall Hindenburg issued his famous address to the German people which was printed on a large placard and posted throughout the Empire. In this message von Hindenberg appeals to the German people to remain loyal and to pay no attention to the propaganda of the enemy and the revolutionists within Germany. Hindenburg also told of the attacks the enemy was making on the spirit of the German soldiers and people behind the lines.

We are in a terrible struggle against our enemies. If numbers alone decided the war, Germany would have been defeated long since. The enemy knows that the spirit, which prevails among our troops , is making us victorious. For that reason he has begun, besides the struggle against German military force, a struggle against German military force, a struggle against the spirit of the Germans. He wants to poison the spirits of the Germans and believes that our military force will cease when the spirit is destroyed. We must not take this plan of the enemy too lightheartedly....

However, the enemy is not content to attack our morale on the front lines. He also wants, before anything else, to poison the soul of the people in the homeland. He knows what a source of energy the homeland is for the people at the front. His planes and balloon cannot, it is true, carry the leaflets well into the interior of the country... But the enemy hopes that many a soldier will send home the leaflet, which arrived so innocently by air. At the house it will be passed from hand to hand, people will discuss it at the pub, in family circles, in the seamstress's workshop, in the factories and work-places, and in the street. Without even doubting it, thousands of people will absorb the poison. Thousands of people will find the burden of the war heavier and will lose the will to win and the confidence in victory.

Therefore, German soldiers and people, if one of these poisonous places comes to you in the form of a leaflet, or a rumor, remember that it comes, from the enemy....

Resist it, German people and soldiers!

(Signed) von Hindenberg
General Field Marshall

Carl Berger discusses the total number of leaflets dropped in An Introduction to Wartime Leaflets, Special Operations Research Office, The American University, 1959: "During the war France had the largest leaflet program, its earliest leaflets being disseminated in August 1914. By 1918, according to one estimate, 27,000,000 French leaflets had been distributed over German lines. British propagandists, who did not start large-scale leaflet operations until the final months of the war, produced and disseminated and estimated 18,000,000 in the short period before the Armistice. The Americans under General John J. Pershing, latecomers to both the military and propaganda campaigns, had disseminated only about 3,000,000 leaflets by November 1918."


The United States Army in the World War says, "It appears that propaganda, American and Allied, helped materially to create an atmosphere of defeat, which helped to lower the enemy morale." Blankenhorn said, "The leaflet effects, while uneven, contributed in considerable measure to creating an inescapable atmosphere of defeat with which the German Army was shot through at the time of the Armistice." The German High Command reaction is more interesting. General Eric Ludendorff described the propaganda disseminated through the air, "with such cleverness, and on such a large scale that many people could no longer distinguish between enemy propaganda and their own sentiment." He added in Kriegführung und Politik ("War and Politics"), Berlin, 1922, that "we were hypnotized by the enemy propaganda as a rabbit is by a snake." Field Marshall Paul Von Hindenburg said, "The soldiers read and discussed. The soldiers thought surely these could not all be lies, and permitted themselves to be poisoned and poisoned others." In Mein Kampf ("My Battle"), Adolf Hitler said, "In the summer of 1915 the first enemy leaflets were dropped on our trenches. They all told more or less the same story, with some variations in the theme of it. The story was that distress was steadily on the increase in Germany; that the war would last indefinitely; that the prospect of victory for us was becoming fainter every day.

RAFlectureLeaflet01Small.jpg (22494 bytes)

WWII RAF Pro-leafleting Pamphlet

During WWII the British Royal Air Force published a pamphlet entitled “A Lecture on the Value of Leaflet Operations” for their flight crews in an attempt to impress on them the importance of leaflet operations. It looks back to British successes in WWI. Some of the text is:

During 1918 leaflets were released in broad daylight over Vienna. The effect was immediate. Here is an extract from an official account of these operations:

“Unrest at once became manifest among the Austro-Hungarian forces. Deserters belonging to the subject races came over to the Allied lines. This was one of the chief causes contributing to the postponements of the Austrian offensive carefully planned for April 1918. Among the deserters were numbers of junior officers. These men were all led to come over by the prospect of liberation which the propaganda held out to them. It was noticeable that nearly all the deserters brought with them copies of the leaflets.... So great was the effect of this propaganda... that by July 1918 machine-gun sections had to be detailed by the Austro-Hungarian Army to deal with attempts at desertion en masse.... In September the Austrian Empire fell to pieces.”

This is what Ludendorff said about leaflets:

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

This is what Hindenburg said about leaflets:

“They bombard our front, not only with the drum-fire of artillery, but also with the drum-fire of printed paper. Besides bombs which kill the body, his airmen throw down leaflets which are intended to kill the soul.... Unsuspectingly many thousands consume the poison. Lloyd George rubs his hands.”

Colonel Robert L. Gleason says in “Psychological Operations and Air Power: Its Hits and Misses,” Air University Review, March-April 1971:

The science of PSYWAR and PSYOP was used extensively by both sides during World War I. This period saw the first practical use of airplanes for leaflet delivery. Balloons were also used as leaflet vehicles, although the time-fuse balloon technique was first used in 1870-71 by the French defending Paris during the Franco-Prussian War. Over one million leaflets were dropped over the German lines during the month of September 1918, shortly before the Armistice. This effort resulted in as many as fifty surrenders per day in certain sections of the front. One ponders the impact of this psywar effort on the surrender of the German armies two months later, especially since these armies, though somewhat mauled by the Allied summer offensive of 1918, were still generally intact. Not a single Allied footprint had been made on German soil, nor for all practical purposes had a single Allied bomb or bullet struck her territory. From all indications, the Germans attributed greater achievements to the Allied psywar efforts than did the Allies themselves. In one of the Germans’ last propaganda efforts they stated: “The enemy has defeated us not as man against man in the field of battle or bayonet against bayonet. No, bad content in poor printing on poor paper has made our Army lame.”

We have barely scratched the surface of the use of propaganda in WWI. This article is intended only to introduce the subject. Interested readers are encouraged to write to the author at