SGM Herbert A. Friedman (Ret.)


Almost every imaginable method of psychological operations (PSYOP) leaflet dissemination has been tried -- balloon, airplane, floating bottle, grenade, artillery shell, kite, bomb, and, during WWII, the German revenge and terror weapon, the V1 rocket.

For instance, The 5th PSYOP Group’s undated Smart Book for Psy-Operations says:

The three methods of dissemination are surface delivery, ground-to-ground delivery, and air-to-ground delivery. Surface delivery uses line crossers, patrols, and agents. Ground-to-ground delivery uses artillery (105mm howitzer only), mortars (81mm), static-fire mortars, leaflet landmines, and sea floats. Air-to-ground delivery uses leaflet bombs, fused packages, loose airdrop by hand, static line box or bomb (high altitude), and balloons.

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SGT ROCK comic book "Paper Bullets" in Vietnam

Even the adventure comic books understand the value and importance of leaflets. The DC Army at War - SGT. ROCK issue of June 1967 features a Vietnam War story entitled “Paper Bullets.” The story tells the story of a lieutenant who drops leaflets but does not understand their importance. At the end of the story he is surrounded by Viet Cong, and then rescued by South Vietnamese farmers who have read his leaflets and decided to fight for their freedom. The first page shows a helicopter dropping leaflets and the pilot saying:

My brother’s copter and every other whirly bird and jet job is flippin’ lead bullets and steel bombs! But all we’ve got to throw at the Charlie guys are these surrender leaflets—paper bullets!

Leaflet dissemination is a vast topic, and aerial dissemination in particular has been the subject of extensive research. In this article, we will take a brief look at each medium used to distribute PSYOP printed materials, and illustrate and discuss some selected methods of dissemination and military operations.

Printed matter is used in all types of operations and in all intensities of warfare. It employs persuasive, informative, and directive printed matter. Printed matter may appear as leaflets, letters, posters, banners, signs, pamphlets, magazines, newspapers, books, or objects with messages placed, written, or printed upon them. Leaflets are the most popular form of printed PSYOP and as a result we will concentrate on their distribution. At a later time we may include the dissemination of other forms of PSYOP audiovisual mass media such as loudspeakers, radio, television and movies.

The Second Mobile Radio Broadcasting Company 


Unit Organization 


The Second Mobile Radio Broadcasting Company was organized on 29 December 1943 at Camp Ritchie, Maryland. It was the first propaganda company to reach England, the first to land on the French Coast. And the first to bring in prisoners during the Normandy Campaign.  


Production of a wartime leaflet

Preliminary estimates of the company’s accomplishments show that its members printed more than 10,000,000 tactical leaflets and produced more than 100 different leaflets in German, Polish, Russian, and French.

Samples of Various Leaflet series prepared by the Company’s Printers

The Company distributed over 25,000,000 leaflets by shell and bomb; caried out several hundred combat and rear area and consolidation loudspeaker missions; edited dozens of editions for newspapers for German soldiers and civilians; and from Cherbourg, Rennes, Lorient, and Luxembourg broadcast radio programs to the people of Europe. Although the name sounds like the company specialized in radio, the chart above shows that it was involved in every phase of psychological warfare to include Intelligence, loudspeakers, the printing, preparing, and delivering leaflet shells to the artillery, and of course, radio.

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Leaflet drop over Afghanistan

The U. S. Army psychological warfare lesson on aerial leaflet dissemination states:

The leaflet is a means of mass dispersal of a product to areas that are difficult to reach.  Billions of leaflets have been dropped in past leafleting operations with varying degrees of effectiveness. Leaflet dissemination planning begins after target analysis, and determines leaflet drop suitability, the density required, and the frequency of delivery. Successful leaflet drop operations place leaflets into the hands of the designated target audience. Leaflet drop calculations are critical for successful leaflet drops.

Some of the specialties that the soldier must master for successful dissemination are:

The density desired (10 to 30 leaflets per 100 square meters depending on terrain and population of target area); the size and weight of leaflet; the type of platform; the target location, the target size, and the wind speed and azimuth around the target area.

SPECIAL OPERATIONS: Army Air Force Aid to European Resistance Forces 1943-1945 mentions WWII dissemination of Leaflets.

Dropping propaganda leaflets by aircraft was one of the more effective means of waging psychological warfare during World War II. This method of delivering messages, information, and propaganda to friend and foe in enemy-occupied areas was used in every theater with considerable success; but western Europe with its many large centers of population and concentrations of Axis troops promised the greatest returns from this activity. Allied leaflet operations were initiated by the British early in the war. British artillery fired special leaflet shells into enemy positions, and British aircraft dropped the propaganda during regular missions. In every area of the European theater, from North Africa to northern Norway, from the Channel Islands to eastern Germany, from Pantelleria to Yugoslavia, Allied aircraft flew thousands of sorties to drop billions of leaflets. The British. skilled in the coinage of military slang, called these leaflets "nickels," and the process of delivering then by aircraft became known as "nickeling.” 

After D-day. when tactical and Strategic factors were even more important than political considerations. most of the leaflets were produced by the Psychological Warfare Division of Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces (PWD SHAEF) which was a special section of General Eisenhower’s staff commanded by Brigadier General Robert A. McClure.

In Volume I of the Department of Defense contracted the Final Report Psychological Operations Studies – Vietnam, Human Sciences Research Inc, 1971, Drs. Ernest F. and Edith M. Bairdain mention the value of leaflets during the Vietnam War.

In regard to the best means for disseminating the Allied message among the Viet Cong, members who rallied to the government stated that 99% saw propaganda leaflets, 100% heard airborne loudspeakers, 98% saw radio sets, 34% saw newspapers, 13% saw magazines, 9% heard ground loudspeakers, 7% read posters, 4% saw television sets and just 1% saw PSYOP novelty items. Of the enemy who saw the leaflets, 81% of the VC and 97% of the NVA actually read them. Of the enemy who heard the airborne loudspeakers, 89% of the VC and 98% of the NVA actually listened to the message. The authors point out that this demonstrates that leaflets, airborne loudspeakers, and radio are the best methods to reach Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army personnel.

The Psychological Warfare Division Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force – An Account of its operations in the Western European Campaign 1944 – 1945 gives some of the total numbers in regard to WWII leaflets:

The largest single operation of PWD/SHAEF against the enemy was in the field of leaflets. Largest, that is, in terms of continuing day-by-day tasks and in day-by-day production of materials. The first step toward PWD coordination in the British and American leaflet efforts was the establishment of a joint layout, printing, and production section to serve PID and OWI. By May of 1945 when Germany surrendered, and leaflets operations as such came to an end, the Anglo-American leaflet operation was utilizing exclusively more than 80% of the total offset printing capacity of the United Kingdom. A total of approximately 5,997,000,000 leaflets were distributed over the Continent by aircraft based in the United Kingdom during the leaflet operation in the European Theater.

PWD also published three newspapers on a regular basis:

Nachrichten für die Truppe (Messages for the Troops) was a daily leaflet newspaper, at first of two, and then four sides, which was dropped continuously on or behind the German Western front from 25 April 1944 until the German capitulation.

The WWII Confidential booklet Psychological Warfare Branch Combat Team prepared by
the 5th Mobile Radio Broadcasting Company mentions the propaganda newspaper Frontpost.

Frontpost (Front Postal Service) was a weekly semi-tactical newspaper produced by the Twelfth Army group for dissemination by fighter-bomber and medium bomber.

Frontbrief (Front Letter) was a weekly newspaper published by the Seventh U.S. Army team under field conditions.

In regard to dissemination and special operations the final report says:

Through the agency of the Special leaflet squadron, approximately 80% of all leaflets disseminated in the areas of the Anglo-American armies were by the 8th Air Force. Approximately 10% was done by the Royal Air Force, approximately 5% by the fighter-bombers of the Tactical Air Force, and approximately 5% by artillery. A total of approximately 5,997,000,000 leaflets were distributed over the Continent by aircraft based in the United Kingdom during the leaflet operation in the European Theater.

There were a number of special PSYOP operations performed by the PWD. Some of the more notable were:

Operation Huguenot: An attempt to convince the German High Command that Luftwaffe pilots were deserting to the Allies with their aircraft.

Operation Nest Egg: The use of psychological warfare to cause the German garrisons on the British Channel Islands to surrender.

Operation Braddock II: The airdropping of small incendiaries to be used for sabotage by foreign workers in Germany.

Operation Clarion: The use of propaganda along with raids on the German transportation system to frighten repair workers and demoralize civilian and military personnel.

Operation Capricorn: A mixture of black radio and white propaganda leaflets stating the Germany had already lost the war and was fighting on needlessly.

Operation Aspidistra: Propaganda radio on German frequencies giving false orders and news reports to cause chaos among the people and government.

We should note that not everyone was so enamored with the leaflet operations.

The Operations Research Office (ORO) of the Johns Hopkins University published a 1950 booklet entitled The Value of Propaganda Leaflets Disseminated by Aircraft. Authors Kenneth W. Yarnold and Jean Marie Dady attempted to evaluate the leaflets dropped by aircraft in northwest Europe from 1944 - 1945 compared with other propaganda media. Since this is clearly impossible, and there is no way to evaluate the number of leaflets with the specific results, the author's state:

The techniques used did not demonstrate that airdropped leaflets had any positive value.

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Words are Weapons

During WWII there were some commands, both on the ground and in the air that thought leaflets were a waste of time and energy. The Office of War Information published a 4-page booklet explaining the important of leaflets and why the missions must be supported. We depict two pages from that booklet here.

If we can be facetious for just a moment we should note that leaflets can be an offensive or defensive weapon of war. In one of our articles we mention an unopened box of leaflets acting like a bomb. There is one report of leaflets driving off a Luftwaffe fighter during WWII. The News Chronicle of 2 April 1940 tells of a British Whitley bomber being chased by a Messerschmitt fighter. The fighter had lined up behind the bomber and was ready to open fire when the bomber crew released their leaflets:

The Messerschmitt was right in the paper slip-stream and got plastered. It must have given the German a nasty fright. At least, we never saw him again

The first problem we faced when writing this article is how to arrange the sections. Leaflets have been disseminated by every conceivable type of apparatus. Webmaster Ed Rouse suggested that we use the four forces of nature; Earth (Actions taken by troops on the ground), Wind (Various methods used to disseminate leaflets from the sky), Fire (weapons used to shoot leaflets by various explosive techniques), and Water (various methods using floats).

Face-to-Face Dissemination

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PSYOP soldier distributing reward leaflets during Operation Iraqi Freedom

The reader will wonder why we mention face-to-face in this time of sophisticated delivery systems. The fact is that this is the oldest and in some ways the most effective means of transmitting information. When I was a tactics instructor I always told my student soldiers that whenever a field manual (FM) or Army regulation (AR) mentioned "the best" or "the worst" way to do anything they should make a note if it. That was important information and sure to be on the test. I quote the following from a very old military Introduction to Psychological Operations text published by the J.F.K. Special Warfare Center and School:

Face-to-face communication is the oldest and most effective medium. This medium ranges from confrontation of two individuals in informal conversation to planned, persuasive communications among several individuals. The personal touch inherent in face-to-face communication plays an influential role in conveying the PSYOP message. 

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A Vietnamese soldier on Patrol hands a passing civilian woman a propaganda leaflet
Employment of US Army Psychological Operations Units in Vietnam

The Department of the Army Contact Team in Vietnam Study entitled Employment of US Army Psychological Operations Units in Vietnam, dated 7 June 1969 says:

One of the most effective means of disseminating printed propaganda material is through hand-to-hand delivery combined with face-to-face communication. Military units on ground patrols can distribute propaganda material as a part of tactical operations.

The PSYOP Newsletter, 13 November 1967 adds:

Because of the certainty of delivery, hand distribution of leaflets is one of the most effective means of accomplishing face-to-face communication. For this reason, all units should consider having every patrol carry leaflets. Some psychological operators have even been providing a leaflet packet containing an assortment of leaflets.

I saw one recommendation that every combat soldier carry 10 leaflets at all times to be handed out when time allows.

We find this concept mentioned over and over in PSYOP texts. For instance, PSYOPS in Vietnam – Indications of Effectiveness. JUSPAO Planning Office, Saigon, Vietnam, May, 1967 mentions such a case as "Anecdote No. 36:

The success of the Chieu Hoi (Open Arms) program has been documented and is generally well known to most observers. There is a tendency, however, to think of the program in terms of mass appeals measured in terms of millions of leaflets and hours of loudspeaker mission that yield Hoi Chanh (ralliers to the Government of Vietnam). This approach is important, but direct face-to-face communication is for the most part the most effective and sure means of conveying an idea.

The Special Operations Research Office of the American University (SORO) published the classified A Short Guide to Psychological Operations in the Republic of Vietnam in 1965.  Authors Jeanne Mintz, Herbert Silverberg and James Trinnaman report that even the Viet Cong understood the value of this method:

The Viet Cong place great emphasis on face-to-face contact with the individual peasant, where this is possible. In less secure areas they use leaflets, but only as a last resort. Normally they attempt to infiltrate a five-man team into the village. The team stays overnight, circulating from house to house, holding mass meetings, and distributing printed matter. 

Sometimes the VC would just stop at a meeting place and give an impromptu lecture. An example of such a face-to-face encounter occurred in the Country Club of the An Loc Plantation on 5 May 1967. A classified intelligence document states that five Viet Cong found four Frenchmen and one Vietnamese when they entered the club. The VC leader who carried a Thompson submachine gun asked the Vietnamese guest to interpret. He said that he just stopped by to talk and that the United States would never win the war and Vietnam would soon be one free Communist nation. Having finished his brief lecture, the VC leader led his men out of the club.

The 1969 Vietnam PSYOP booklet entitled “Face to Face Communications” says:

The best way to convince a man that he should support the Government of Vietnam and oppose the communists is to discuss it with him face-to-face. This approach is vital in Vietnam, especially in remote areas where there are no newspapers, few radios and no television sets. It is in these very areas where the communists are working hardest to reach the people with their false promises and threats.

A 1967 Military Intelligence report on the political attitudes of the Vietnamese civilian indicates that the Viet Cong face-to-face propaganda is much more effective than the newspapers and television of the Allied forces:

A large percentage of the population, especially in Saigon, is almost totally indifferent to the war except in cases where it helps or hurts them financially. The average Vietnamese reads very little and is more inclined to believe what he hears by word-of-mouth than what he reads in the papers or sees on television. Since the Viet Cong word-of-mouth propaganda is much more effective than that of Free World Forces, a majority of the Vietnamese still thinks that the Viet Cong will eventually win and that the United States will finally get tired of the war and negotiate on Viet Cong terms.

An example of the power of personal communication is found in the “Studies of the Chieu Hoi Program” Viet Nam Interview by the Simulmatics Corporation coded CH-15. The interviewee is a 15-year old Viet Cong member who was a member of an Entertainment Group, singing patriotic songs to villagers. The young girl admitted hearing loudspeakers in her village and seeing leaflets but said that the message was not clear. It was only when a Hoi Chanh (rallier) came to her village and told her about the Chieu Hoi (Open Arms) program that she decided to come back to the Government.

Chewing Gum Cards

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Russians Dump Propaganda in Poland
A Pre-WWII Chewing Gum Propaganda Card

A good example of the face-to-face dissemination of propaganda from one person to another is a card set issued by Gum Incorporated Company of Philadelphia War News Pictures starting in 1938. Conceived as a 240 card set about The Chinese-Japanese War, the Ethiopian War and the Spanish Civil War, the set proved so popular that an additional 48 cards were added about Germany and the beginning of World War II. The very valuable card shown above is card number 101 entitled “Russians dump Propaganda in Poland.” The cards were designed to bring the collector a brief view of the events leading up to World War II. Some have beautifully drawn artwork fronts; others have black and white photos of actual events.

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Surrender or Perish Chewing Gum Card

This card number 116 is entitled “Surrender or Perish.” The card depicts Fascist aircraft dropping leaflets on fleeing Spaniards during their civil war. Some of the text on the back is:

As rebel planes carried on their terroristic bombing of Barcelona for the third consecutive day, on March 18. 1938, they accompanied their deadly missiles with demands for immediate surrender. One plane showered the city with leaflets which read: “Surrender or Perish.” Terrified citizens hurried to the mountains which close Barcelona in on the sea. Trusty mules helped the aged and families get away…  

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Chinese Bombers drop Leaflets on Japan

This card numbered #223 was produced in 1938 as part of the “Horrors of War” set. It depicts a Chinese Air Force bomber dropping leaflets over Japan. The text says in part:

Yellow leaflets urging the Japanese people to oppose the invasion of China were dropped from two big American-made bombing planes flown by Chinese crew in a 2500-mile flight to Japan on May 19, 1938. The green-lighted planes paid a visit to Nagasaki , 470 miles from Shanghai, and Sasebo, naval base 40 miles to the north from which many Jap transports and warships put out for China, in the longest non-stop flight ever made by Chinese fliers! The leaflets were of four kinds: those addressed to farmers, laborers, the Japanese Foreign Office, and small merchants…

Patrol (Covert) Dissemination

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Operation Sauerkraut

This WWII sketch by German POW Willy Haseneier depicts German members of the American OSS-led Operation Sauerkraut team placing propaganda proclaimations on trees behind enemy lines.

Besides face-to-face, soldiers working behind enemy lines often place leaflets in areas where the enemy is known to pass or congregate. In WWII, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) sent German and Italian prisoners of war behind the lines to leave propaganda in those places frequented by enemy troops. These operations were named Sauerkraut and Ravioli.  In Vietnam both U.S. and enemy Viet Cong and North Vietnamese regular troops left countless leaflets along trails where they believed the enemy would move or camp. 

Examples of these actions are discussed in the military text Propaganda Dissemination, published by the J.F.K. Special Warfare Center and School:

A ground patrol is capable of delivering a limited amount of printed matter behind enemy lines. Posters, leaflets, pamphlets, kits and novelties may be placed or scattered by patrols and reconnaissance elements. Departing troops may distribute leaflets, posters, and other types of propaganda products by leaving them behind during retrograde movements. Infiltrators, line-crossers, sympathizers, and special agents can also disseminate printed propaganda material behind enemy lines.

The British also disseminated leaflets behind the lines during WWII. One British training document states that the Psychological Warfare Executive (PWE) had had distributed 220,000 leaflets behind the lines by patrols by 31 August 1943.

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Operation Sauerkraut

In this Haseneier sketch a German officer is shocked to find an anti-Nazi OSS leaflet on a tree within his perimeter.


Automobile Tire Leaflet Dispenser

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Top view of tire leaflet dispenser

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Side view of tire leaflet dispenser

This is a method of dissemination that was first publicized in 2007. According to the source that offered this “tire dispenser” it was placed on an automobile tire and the leaflets were clandestinely released as the automobile drove through the target neighborhood. This dispenser and a number of other items were from the estate of former OSS member who served in the China Theater during WWII.

Apparently there is a renewed interest in this device, since in late 2007 I was contacted by a member of a NATO Psychological Operations Battalion who wanted to know where he could read more on the method of dissemination, when was it used and by whom, if it is still in use today or was it used in the past by US PSYOP forces, and do I know more details how that system works – How many leaflets in the dispenser, the extraction mechanism, etc. Perhaps the tire dispenser has not seen its final action.  

The Spare Tire Cover

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Coalition vehicles with spare tire covers of wanted personnel

In 2008, as Operation Iraqi Freedom slowly continued on, there were still many wanted criminals that the Coalition searched for. Here, an innovative way was used to advertise the search. Coalition vehicles that mounted a spare tire on the back had covers made that showed the wanted person and the phone number for the TIPS line to turn him in. We believe that 12 different covers were made, each with a different wanted Iraqi. This campaign did not last long because it became apparent that vehicles with this spare tire cover were being shot at more often than those without the cover. I was told that the PSYOP people had to be very creative in the product code for this series. It does not quite fall into any normal category. A similar design was also used in a Positive Messaging campaign.

The Clandestine distribution of Leaflets

There were several strange methods of leaflet dissemination tried from time to time that don’t easily fit into any categories. If a rogue government wants to distribute leaflets secretly, there are ways to do it quickly and quietly to protect the agents assigned the duty of dissemination. This was discovered in South Korea when North Korean leaflets were discovered in piles or stacks on the roofs of high-rise buildings in and around Seoul, South Korea, about the same time as the leaflets were found on the ground in nearby areas. It was determined that someone, very likely Communist agents, had slightly moistened the stack of leaflets along one edge. The stack was then frozen and placed on a high building. As the temperature slowly rose the ice holding the leaflets together along the frozen edge would thaw and there would be a fairly constant “dribble” of leaflets as the wind carried them away to the street. The freezing process could be speeded up by the use of dry ice. If they preferred the leaflets to disperse all at once instead of slowly, they put a piece of plastic on top of the leaflets and then a chunk of dry ice. As the dry ice sublimated (changed from solid to CO2 gas) the leaflets, now free of the weight, were carried away by the wind. If the operation was such that they didn’t have the time to thoroughly freeze the edges, they just dampened one edge and allowed the moisture to hold the leaflets together until they dried and blew away.

A somewhat similar operation is suggested by the CIA Chief of Station in Guatemala in 1954. In a declassified secret document entitled “Suggestions for Propaganda techniques” he says:

Take a board of wood, cardboard or the like and put it on the edge of a house top, of the girder of a bridge, the balcony of a meeting hall or the like so half the board stands free. Put on the free half of the board a staple of leaflets, preferably in an open container such as a cardboard box. Put on the other half of the board (which rests on the house, bridge or the like) a container filled with water, heavy enough to keep the board in place. Bore a little hole in the container, near the bottom, so that the water will slowly leak out. After a while, the container with water will become lighter than the box with leaflets at the other end, the board will skip and the leaflets will scatter down. It is easy to regulate the water so that it will give the man who sets it up sufficient time to escape – or that the leaflets will come down only at the desired moment, for instance in the midst of a parade, after the start of a meeting, etc.

Paper and Plastic Bags as a Medium of Propaganda

The propagandist is always looking for a new method to place his PSYOP message in front of the public. One way that was tried on several occasions in Vietnam was placing the message on plastic or paper bags. In the first case it was the ammo wrapper of the M16 rifle. The bags were discarded after use so why not add a PSYOP slogan?

In other cases carrying bags and shopping bags were utilized. There is some question about the value of these bags. I have heard criticisms that most Vietnamese were not in the habit of carrying their items in bags so would tear them up and use the paper to wrap their purchases. I can’t say how successful the campaign was, but there are about a dozen items known, most of them with Chieu Hoi messages.

The 4th PSYOP Group talks about printing shopping bags in 1968:

The IV Corps PSYOP Campaign "Grocery Bag" was completed on 4 September 1968. Small paper bags, printed with PSYOP messages, were disseminated to market place vendors. The objective of this campaign was to convey PSYOP messages into Viet Cong controlled and contested areas. The following themes were stressed in support of the campaign: Chieu Hoi, Support the National Police, and Join and Support Self-defense. Reports from provinces were favorable. No province reported resistance by vendors to having Chieu Hoi materials in their possession. In Dinh Tuong Province, Cultural Drama Team members handled the distribution of the grocery bags and reported the merchants received the bags with enthusiasm. All indicators point to a very successful campaign.

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M16 Ammo Bag

The climate of Vietnam was hot and wet. M16 ammunition was sometimes packed in a plastic waterproof bag that was discarded after use. A Chieu Hoi message was placed on the bag so that it could be left along the trail for the VC to find and read. The text is:

Returning Chieu Hoi will help you to again see your parents and family in a peaceful and democratic South Vietnam.

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We miss you

This paper shopping bag was issued by JUSPAO in May 1968 coded 2619. The bags were made by a private contractor and funded by the unit requesting them. The vignette depicts a Vietnamese father, wife and daughter. The text is:


We miss you at the evening meal.

We miss you at every evening meal; your mother, your child and I are waiting for you.

Return to the Just Cause and be reunited with your family.

According to the Operations Report ­ Lessons Learned Headquarters 4th Psychological Operations Group for the period ending 31 July, 1968,  the Shopping Bag Campaign produced 60,000 bags, with 20,000 for each theme. The three themes are: “Cooperate with national Police”; “Chieu Hoi to a better way of life” and “Encourage participation in civil defense organizations.” Small paper bags were overprinted with propaganda themes and disseminated in market places. Foods purchased from these vendors were placed in these bags.    

More information is found in the Department of the Army Contact Team in Vietnam Study­ Employment of US Army Psychological Operations Units in Vietnam, dated 7 June 1969. It states that the IV Corps PSYOP shopping bag campaign was completed on 4 September 1968. Small paper bags printed with PSYOP messages were disseminated to market place vendors. Reports from provinces were favorable. No province reported resistance from vendors to having Chieu Hoi materials in their possession. In Dinh Tuong province Cultural Drama Team members handled the distribution of the grocery bags and reported the merchants received the bags with enthusiasm. All indicators pointed to a very successful campaign.

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Friends with the Viet Cong

This paper shopping bag is coded 2620 and uses an image that is also found on a propaganda leaflet. It depicts a Vietnamese family longing for their son who has joined the Viet Cong. The bags were made by a private contractor and funded by the unit requesting them. Other paper bags were coded 2621 and 2622. The text is:


Friends with the Viet Cong!

Return to your family!

They miss you and need you.

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The House is our House

JUSPAO also produced waterproof plastic bags. The bags were made by a private contractor and funded by the unit requesting them. This first bag, coded 2679 was part of a “Patriotic School Kit.” It depicts the flag of Vietnam in the center at text at the bottom:

This house is our house, our fathers worked hard to establish it; their grandchildren continue to preserve it, long life to our homeland.

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Chieu Hoi

The final plastic bag coded 2274 was produced out of the country by commercial contract for JUSPAO and as usual the cost was borne by the organization requesting them. A Chieu Hoi symbol was in the center and text below.

Please ask your relatives to return, so you can stop worrying about their lives.

Postal Dissemination

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Artist rendering of P-38 from the 14th Fighter Group attacking German mail train

The use of sending propaganda leaflets through the mail goes back to WWII. Both the Axis and the Allies made great use of neutral countries to send their propaganda to the enemy. In one of the most interesting operations, a project called Operation Cornflakes, the mail was dropped on German mail trains after strafing and bombing by American fighter aircraft in the hope that the efficient Germans would police up the area and forward the mail to the addresses on the forged envelopes.

During the Vietnam War, the Military Assistance Command Vietnam - Studies and Observations Group (MACVSOG) was a highly classified multi-service U.S. Special Operations Unit which conducted covert unconventional warfare. The 1970 MACVSOG Documentation Study states that it had a printing Press that that could produce 500,000 leaflets per shift. In addition, a deception mail operation produced 200 fake letters per month of various types to be mailed into North Vietnam.

As the war progressed the black letter output went from 3,993 in 1965 to 6,000 in 1966 and 7,550 in 1967. The letters were mailed from Singapore, Paris, Hong Kong, Bangkok and Tokyo, allegedly from North Vietnamese living outside the country. There were nine general themes for the letters: Weakness in Communist ideology; Revision in North Vietnam; Chinese imperialism; North Vietnamese mismanagement; Peace; Free Enterprise; Free society; Resistance movements and the Chieu Hoi program. The letters were coded according to type:

Special: High level hard sell propaganda (400 letters per month).
Vulcan: High and medium level with a revisionist point of view. (50-60 letters per week).
Thor: A personal letter with soft sell and human interest. (15 letters a week)
Mars: To next-of-kin of battlefield casualties. (10 letters per week)
Luna: Exploitation of captured Viet Cong letters. (as available)

The black letter program was constantly being fine-tuned:

We plan to use notional leftist organizations abroad as originators of the letters, but are beginning with a true leftist Japanese  fishing organization. In line with this, we are soon going to use a Paris-based Vietnamese, pro-Hanoi student organization’s magazine to infiltrate subtle anti-Communist propaganda into North Vietnam by making slight changes in some of the articles…

We will experiment in the printed media field, for example; calendars, fishing hints, and tide tables are presently being obtained. Varying paper stocks are now being used.

Signs, Slogans, Graffiti and Billboard Propaganda Dissemination

Signs, painted slogans, graffiti and billboards were a popular medium of propaganda since WWII. There are numerous photographs of patriotic pro-Nazi internal propaganda signs among the rubble of bombed German cities. In every war since then one side or the other has taken to the streets to paint propaganda messages on walls or hastily erected signs.

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An Anti-Japanese sign in the Philippine Islands

The sign was obviously put up to motivate the Filipinos to hate the Japanese. Here a Japanese soldier stops to look at the sign that shows Japanese troops abusing women, looting homes, dictating news to the press and working Filipinos to death.

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Victory or Chaos


Germany was being bombed by the Americans by day and the British by night and the enemy was advancing on all sides. Yet, some "true-believers" still thought that the loss of the war would end in Chaos.

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Johnson's dollars…

A Viet Cong guerrilla paints an anti-American message on a sign that will be left where it can be read by the Vietnamese people and the South Vietnamese Army. The text is:

Johnson's dollars are the blood and tears of American soldiers

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The Vietnamese People are firm…

During the Vietnam War both sides used billboards to depict their propaganda. The Pro-Hanoi sign above was placed in the city of Vinh in 1965. The text is:

The Vietnamese people are firm in their decision to defeat the American enemy, to defend the North and to liberate the South.

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Fire Support Base Washington Signs

American soldiers at Fire Support Base Washington, two and one half miles north of Tay Ninh City, awoke in December, 1968, to find a group of Viet Cong propaganda signs just outside their wire. The infantry company commander from the 24th Division ordered his men to take them down and bring them inside the base. The picture was given to me by Sergeant John Clark and Specialist 4 Chris Woelk. Some of the messages are interesting. The one front center says:

Don’t be the last man to die the worthless death in the last battle in Vietnam.

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U.S. Servicemen!

This small sign is depicted in front of a sandbag wall in the 4th Infantry Division area. It says:

U.S. Servicemen!

Your parents, wife and Children long to see your back home alive, but not in a coffin with a death allowance and medal bestowed by Johnson warmongers.

C-Rations Box Sign 

Some enterprising Viet Cong with beautiful handwriting wrote this propaganda message on an open C-rations box he found in the bush. The sign was found in 1968 near Chu Chi, famous for its miles of tunnels. Someone, possibly an American has written “Dangerous Mine” on one side of the box. The other side is clearly written by a VC with some education; note the use of the word “bellicose.” The message at the top is in English; below in Vietnamese.

U.S Servicemen

Servicemen of US and Satellites Army! Don’t be so dumb as to fight and die for the US Bellicose ringleader band.

Brothers: Soldiers from the US and their vassals are not so naive as to die for the American warmongers.

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Korean billboard

In June of 2004, the governments of the People’s Republic of (North) Korea and the Republic of (South) Korea agreed to dismantle the electronic signboards and painted billboards on both sides of their contested mine-infested border, known as the Demilitarized Zone. Electronic and painted signboards and any other forms of propaganda will be removed along the 248-kilometer long border. South Korea has 100 propaganda billboards along the border and North Korea has 200.

The North posted signboards along the mountainous terrain, which read “Let's Reunify Under the People's Own Power,” “Yankee go Home,” “Come to the Socialist Paradise” and “Great General Kim Jong-il.”

The South's towering electronic billboards beamed daily news, including weather reports and current events, as well as signs reading “Peace, Reconciliation, Cooperation,” “Freedom, Richness, Happiness,” or “Free Democratic Society.”

After North and South Korea made a PSYOP peace in 2006, the signs were either turned off or changed to friendly messages. The International Herald Tribune says that the signs and billboards now say things like “Peace” and “Reconciliation.”

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Anti-terrorist billboard along Route Irish in Iraq

Billboards were used heavily in the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan after Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. After the victory of the NATO armed forces, a great deal of money was spent trying to capture the hearts and minds of the local people. The Strategic Studies Institute and U.S. Army War College Press published an article by Steve Tatham in December 2013 entitled U.S. Governmental information operations and strategic communications: A discredited tool or user failure? Implications for future conflict. The author said in part:

In NATO's mission to Afghanistan, it is perhaps best exemplified by the twin and long standing projects of roadside billboards and newspapers. Across Afghanistan, there are some 296 centrally funded billboards, maintained at a cost of U.S. $4.9 million per year, which are used to promote the government of Afghanistan and the notion of "good" governance. However, this centrally funded figure is just the tip of the iceberg; in Wardak and Logar provinces, for example, there were 150 different billboards paid for by at least four separate Department of Defense actors in 2009-10; so too in Helmand and Kandahar, all created, printed, and maintained at considerable expense.

Billboards are a cheap and efficient way to show your messages to thousands of people a day. Attached you will find some photographs of billboards that the 8th PSYOP Battalion produced and put up on the infamous Route Irish in Baghdad. All the images at one point started out as handbills. It was common to replicate messaging across multiple products. This billboard image was taken directly from handbill IZG-918. It asks the Iraqi people to choose. An Iraqi in silhouette looks at his country. He sees terrorists, a burning car and death at the left and at the right he sees happy children, valuable oil depots and a prosperous Iraq. The message is:

The Iraqi people have two options

Either choose the way to peace and prosperity

Or the way to violence and fear

The second billboard depicts heroic Iraqi soldiers ready to defend their country against all enemies. The text is:

Let us stop the violence and fear. Report criminals to Iraqi Security Forces.

Take a stand and inform on them!!

The third billboard depicts a map of Iraq with a golden border. Eight photographs depict the life of the happy citizens now members of a democratic government under the protection of loyal and faithful military dedicated to their welfare. The text is:

Together we can build a secure and prosperous Iraq

Most of the billboard feature happy Iraqis going about their business. They are upbeat and motivating. Some of the billboards. Like number 4 above, is just the opposite. It is more threatening and depicts terrorists, wounded Iraqi adults and children, and even a bombed vehicle. The text is:

Enough terror...

This billboard also features terrorists. At the left we see a peaceful Iraqi with citizens going about their daily business, free of worry. On the right we see a scene of terror where the citizens have been the victims of a terrorist bomb and lay dead on the street. The text is:

It is a simple question: What do you believe in?
Your country, your choice, stopping the violence.
Please report criminals to the nearest local authorities, or call:
From within Baghdad: 778-4076
From outside Baghdad: 01-778-4076
From outside Iraq: 0964-1-778-4076

This image was a real bombing site that originally had several Humvees and soldiers strewn about. When producing the image, the Military occupational specialist 25M (Multimedia illustrator) digitally removed them to give the illusion that the local authorities were handling the scene to legitimize the local police as a capable institution.

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Ecuador 1970

The U.S. Army’s 1st PSYOP Battalion’s area of responsibility is Latin and South America. They work with local governments in the fight against drugs, terrorism and other problems that might occur. In a 1970 anti-drug campaign they designed and placed billboards attacking drug use in many cities through the nation of Ecuador. In this case, “white gasoline” could be used in the preparation and purification of cocaine and thus it was outlawed in Ecuador. This billboard says:

Protect our environment. Call the 1800-drugs 376-427.

Your identity will be protected. Denounce the illicit traffic of white gasoline


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I did not know what else to call the category of this North Vietnamese propaganda message. This photo is a reconnaissance photo taken by a North American A-5 Vigilante American carrier-based supersonic bomber from Reconnaissance Attack (Heavy) Squadron 13 on the USS Kitty Hawk, 24 May 1967. It is certainly a ridge in North Vietnam and they have somehow made an anti-American propaganda statement from rocks or paint:

Our Entire Population Is United in the Fight to Defeat the American Aggressors

If you look carefully, behind the main text there is a small text in a smaller size so that those people living on the back of the ridge can also see the patriotic message. After much research, the ridge was identified as Karst Ridge just to the southwest of Phu Ly. Harrison Salisbury, the anti-Vietnam War reporter visited Nam Dinh and Phu Ly. Both had been heavily bombed. Shortly after Salisbury testified before Congress in February 1967, this statement appeared on the Ridge. Once again, the North Vietnamese used the American leftists as a source of their propaganda. The statement was meant to encourage the villagers that had moved to the other side of this ridge to escape the constant bombing. The text was made out of lye as it had washed away from rains after a few months. If you look closely, you can see the anti-aircraft emplacements atop the ridge to defend the road juncture.


Photo Courtesy of John Roosen

This photograph was taken by pilots flying from USS Oriskany and CVW-16 flying over North Vietnam during their 1967-68 deployment. The propaganda message is:


There was quite a debate over exactly how to translate the phrase. That is common among translators. One Vietnamese added:

This motto was shortened from the "All for the front line, all for victories" during the Vietminh "Countering the Navarre Plan Offensive" in Winter 1953 - Spring 1954 against the French, ended by the victory at Dien Bien Phu.


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The American invaders…

Banners are cheap to make from paper or cloth and can be hung anywhere that people pass and spread a propaganda message.

Banners were very popular among the Communists during the Vietnam War and we show several of them here. The first two anti-Government banners were found by United States Army Lieutenant (later Captain) James T. Dean Jr. of the 199th Light Infantry Brigade in an enemy base in 1968. Dean served as a field artillery forward observer in III Corps and the “Iron Triangle.” The text is:

The American invaders are losing; the puppet government of Thieu-Ky is collapsing. Come back to the people; turn your weapons around to shoot the Americans to save the country, your families, and yourselves.

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Brother soldiers…

Brother soldiers of the 25th Division, regional forces and popular force; it's time for the Americans, Thieu and Ky to pay for their crimes. If you are still hesitating, you will certainly be punished by the uprising force.

Note: The ARVN 25th Division was formed in 1961 as part of a program to increase regular army strength by 15,000. It completed training and was ready to go into the field on 1 April 1963. Regional and Popular Forces are South Vietnamese National Guard-type units. Regional Forces were company-size and protected district areas. Popular Forces were platoon-size and guarded their home villages.

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Exemplary Cadre…

Phil Fehrenbacher was with the 519th Military Intelligence Battalion from February 1968 to April 1969. From April 1969 to October 1969 he was the Intelligence Sergeant for the Combined Document Exploitation Center. He said about this woven banner:

This was a captured 6-foot woven banner written by the enemy and translated by our Vietnamese translators at the document center.

The banner has the text:

Through exemplary cadre we shall strive to achieve victory in every battle

We test each other - Wherever we strike, we win

The panel’s body is made up of a certain kind of reed (tranh) that grows in the Mekong Delta. The Vietnamese often used the reeds to make a 3 x 6-foot sleeping bag (cai nop) that could be rolled into a tight bundle for travelling.

The Sound Bomb

I have never heard of this device and question if it ever existed. At the same time, I have heard of sound bombs used in Afghanistan and Turkey (small devices that make lots of noise but cause no damage) so perhaps this was the first use of the propaganda weapon. According to Psychological Warfare Theories and Applications, Huang and Chen, Chi Hsing Press, Hong Kong, 1953, this weapon was used in Korea. They claim it was an American weapon that consisted of a sound recorder, a small vacuum amplifier, a big amplifier, and a battery. They were placed in a cylinder one foot in diameter and two feet in length. They weighed about 25 pounds and could be built for about $50 US. It was attached to a medium-sized balloon which could expand or contract according to need. They were dropped from aircraft, and could maintain their floating position. The authors say:

The enemy forces fighting continuously day and night could not sleep because of the bomb. They were constantly harassed by terrible voices in the air. Some soldiers deserted their rank and surrendered.

In one of the battles of the Korean war the following short speech was broadcast by a sound bomb – “Listen…here is a friendly voice to persuade you to surrender…unless you lay down your arms with which you have been resisting us, we will use our super weapon to exterminate you…you are numerically superior to your rulers. Do not obey their unreliable commands! Surrender!

Stencil Propaganda

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The use of a stencil to place crude propaganda on a wall quickly has a long history among Third World nations and Guerilla movements. They often do not have the time or expertise to produce professional-quality illustrated leaflets or posters, or the money to buy paper or pay for a means of dissemination. The stencil is an easy answer to the problem of mass communication at almost no expense. The stencil can be cut anywhere in the form of a text or illustration. It takes just seconds for a single person to hold it against the wall, spray it quickly with a small easily hidden can of spray paint, and move on. This has not been an American tradition in the past, but according to the Year in Special Operations 2006 Edition, Faircount LLC, Tampa FL, 2006, American PSYOP teams are using the method in Iraq. One photograph depicts Sergeant Bill Whitaker of the 361st PSYOP Company stenciling “anti-terrorist propaganda” on the wall of a building in Mosul with a stencil and spray paint. Stenciled propaganda, like graffiti, cannot be easily removed from a wall and it would require someone to actually paint over the stencil.

We find references to previous stencil use in declassified OSS files from WWII. One such reference states:

These have been especially designed for clandestine work and are small enough to be concealed in shirt or coat pockets…A special paint brush combination is designed for use with the stencils also small enough to be carried in the pocket. No special paint container is necessary…Any paint can be used, old or fresh…it is necessary to carry a rag with which to wipe the back of the stencil…

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OSS Parole Heimat stencil

Little risk is involved in the use of stencils, and a sign can be painted in 7 seconds, with implements concealed immediately. This method of spreading propaganda has a special appeal to the young who can have little other part in the action against the enemy.

In the case of the OSS stencil Parole Heimat, (Password Homeland) we know that it was approved on 7 July 1944. 300 stencils were delivered on 9 August 1944. It is unknown who they were sent to behind German lines and if they were used by Partisans.

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German WWII propaganda painted on the wall in an occupied Netherlands Town:

Long Live the Fuhrer!
Long Live Germany!

As long as we are talking about paint on the wall, we should mention that the Canadian 2004 Joint Doctrine Manual B-GJ-005-313/FP-001 Psychological Operations Mentions Graffiti as a form of propaganda dissemination:

Graffiti is a unique visual medium for PSYOP purposes with its own dissemination methods. The most effective use of graffiti is in military operations other than war. Graffiti is suitable for only short themes, messages, or symbols and is most commonly used by individuals who lack other means to express themselves. It may proclaim support for existing policies, conditions, or pending events or express dissatisfaction with current events, policies, or perceived injustice. Graffiti is often used by opposing factions or adversaries to claim territory or control in specific areas. It is also used by groups opposed to established forces or agencies as a propaganda tool to emphasize popular support. Its advantage lies with the perception that it is an “act of the people.” Another use of graffiti is to disseminate symbols associated with PSYOP themes in specific areas, implying support of or agreement with the theme. In selected areas, it can reinforce other visual media effectively. PSYOP personnel should avoid the use of graffiti where it is considered vandalism. Obvious places to put graffiti include fences, sides of buildings, and opponent visual media. PSYOP personnel should discourage graffiti on historic, religious, or private structures.

Graffiti requires no planning beyond that of any other visual media. Some common ways to disseminate graffiti are with paint, large felt-tip markers, or any other permanent marking method. PSYOP personnel who support graffiti operations can easily provide the necessary items to indigenous personnel. They can also encourage these who disseminate graffiti that supports existing, ongoing PSYOP.

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Another way to eliminate graffiti is to cover it with Coalition PSYOP flyers

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One can also simply cover the graffiti with paint - Tikrit, Iraq, April 2006.

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Slobodan Milosevic’s Ethnic Cleansing

Starting about 1989, Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic set out to rid his “greater Serbia” of all minorities, including Bosnians, Croats, and all the non-Serbian people of the old Yugoslavia. Above is a house that has been ethnically cleansed and bears the graffiti cross and three letter “C”s that represent Serbian nationalism.

Propaganda Painted, Burnt or Carved into Trees

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I have seen propaganda disseminated in just about every way you can imagine. I have seen it painted or placed on the wall as graffiti, or pasted on a wall like a poster, but never painted, burnt or carved into a tree. Many such trees were found around Viet Cong base camps when overrun by American troops. Above we depict several examples found in a camp near Song Be. The first alludes to the propaganda showing Americans setting fire to Vietnamese huts and says:

Don’t burn our house, Peace for Vietnam

The second asks that the soldier:

Require to be sent home

It does not explain exactly how the soldier is to do that. Specialist Five Dave Berry of the 2/28th Infantry “Black Lions” said that the combat photographer who took that photo, Specialist Four Verland Gilbertson, was killed in the battle. The film was recovered afterward.

Operation Foster, a search and destroy mission – 18 November 1967.

A Marine reads a sign posted by the Viet Cong saying:

Refuse to fight, pass over to the liberation army side. You'll be warmly welcomed and sent back to the U.S.A.

The sign was found on Operation Foster six miles northwest of An Hoa near Da Nang.

Bow and Arrow

I wish to God I had an image of the leaflet arrow, but all I have is a report by the Australian Military Forces Weekly Intelligence Review from the years 1943-44 that states:

The Japanese had a Special Services Group doing propaganda work in Burma. About the middle of August 1943 draftees were sent to form a second company. For a short time both companies underwent intensive training, consisting of lectures on the Indian National Army, the art of disguise, world history, the “national struggle for independence,” and map reading. The greatest stress was however laid on work in the front line, and on propaganda, espionage, and sabotage in the rear of our troops. Two interesting features of the training were instruction in the use of loudspeakers in the forward areas, and the use of bows and arrows to shoot propaganda leaflets amongst our forward troops.

Leaflet Balloon Dissemination

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WWII - Preparing leaflets for balloon launch

One of the first mention of leaflets from balloons occurred in 1794 with the formation of the Compagnie d'Aerosters in France. Among their tenets was the suggestion that unmanned balloons should be used to disseminate leaflets.

In 1870 the French were dropping leaflets over the Germans from manned balloons. Cassell's History of the Wars Between France and Germany (1870-1871) says:

The balloons were for the most part, made of strong calico, covered with two or three coatings of linseed oil and oxide of lead, and inflated with ordinary gas. Some were manufactured at the Northern, others at the Orleans railway station and at the former the pieces were sewn together by machinery.

Mr. Tissondier started from Paris, and arrived at Tours on 1 October 1870. When passing over Versailles he observed a camp of Prussians, and dropped amongst them great numbers of government proclamations, which had been printed in German for that purpose.

"Paris defies the enemy. The whole of France rallies. Death to the invaders. Foolish people, shall we always throttle one another for the pleasure and proudness of Kings? Glory and conquest are crimes; defeat brings hate and desire for vengeance. Only one war is just and holy; that of independence."

Is this a case where leaflets were disseminated from tethered observation balloons? The following comment is open for interpretation. Edward J. Erickson says in Defeat in Detail: the Ottoman Army in the Balkans, 1912-1913, Praeger Publishers, Westport CT, 2003:

At the beginning of hostilities, Bulgaria did not consider the use of aircraft as a serious deterrent in combat. Bulgaria used balloons and aircraft to some effect, for aerial observation, bombing and leaflet dropping, during the Balkans Wars.

Does the author imply that leaflets were thrown from observation balloons or aircraft? It is unclear, but something to consider.

Balloons were used to carry propaganda again in WWI. In fact, when the Germans threatened the death penalty for British flyers dropping leaflets from aircraft during the First World War, the British used balloons almost exclusively for a time afterwards. They have been used in numerous wars since then, and even in the (first) Persian Gulf War were used to drop leaflets on the occupying Iraqi troops in Kuwait during the defensive buildup known as "Desert Shield." Both sides used them during the cold war period, and balloons were regularly sent back and forth between the East and the West all along the Iron Curtain.

Some of the early WWI balloon dissemination methods were mentioned in a 12 March 1918 report entitled “Aerial Propaganda methods of Distribution,” by Captain P. Chamlers Mitchell. According to Lee Richards of the report says in part:

For some time experiments have been made with balloon distribution as other methods were considered impracticable on the Western Front…So as to give a weekly output of 1,200 for the Western Front. These balloons carry a load of 2 pounds of propaganda and are useful for distribution up to a range of about 20 miles from the liberation point. Experiments with balloons to carry a larger load for the same range of distribution are in progress, but in practice paper balloons are so fragile to fill and discharge that it is expected that the limit of useful capacity will not be much more than three or four pounds.

The type now being made and used with success is made of sections of doped white paper pasted at the edges and with a short tubular mouthpiece of oiled silk…The balloons are circular in section in the horizontal plane and the height is about one and a half times the diameter. The circumference at the centre is 20 feet and the height ten feet.

The “Release” consists of a board 9 inches long by 4½ wide to which the fuse is attached. The fuse is a piece of orange-colored tinder similar to that used in pipe-lighters and burns at the rate of one inch in five minutes as attached to the board and in the open air. The propaganda is attached to the central or terminal part of the fuse in 8 bundles of four ounces each. The attachment is by threads which pass through the fuse and through holes in the board. The threads are half an inch apart so that the bundles are released successively at intervals of 2½ minutes.

As the object of the paper balloon distribution is to reach a definite area and then to drop the propaganda within it, it has been found useful both by us and by the Germans, to fold the sheets in a particular fashion. Each sheet should have the length to the width in the proportion of five to four; and suspended in bundles by a thread passed through a punched hole. Heavier folded matter can also be attached in the same way…Hydrogen is used for inflating the balloons…The balloon is inflated to about two-thirds of its cubical capacity during which time it gradually rises and has to be steadied by the supporting strings…As the balloon rises it expands and becomes quite taut; if filled too full it would burst soon after ascending.

Early leaflet balloons were small. They carried a very limited load and the leaflets were attached by a fuse placed inside a small hole punched in a corner of the paper. As the fuse slowly burned, it released the leaflets over the enemy.

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German soldier preparing "Wanted for Murder" Churchill leaflets for balloon launch

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Churchill "Wanted for Murder" leaflet

Modern long-range balloons have a floating altitude of 80,000 feet and an approximate range of 6,000 miles with a 400-pound payload. They are always at the mercy of prevailing winds, so it is important to be mobile and have the ability to quickly go where the wind is blowing in the right direction. They are especially useful in unconventional warfare situations. Since guerrillas seldom have the ability to drop leaflets from aircraft, the balloon serves as a viable alternative.

A British WWII Ministry of Home Security booklet entitled Air Raid Precautions Training Bulletin No. 4 mentions German leaflet balloons and parachutes.

A section entitled "Pamphlet-dropping Balloons" describes a leaflet carton with a clockwork mechanism. The leaflets are placed on all four sides of the mechanism. At a predetermined time a small bag of flash powder releases the leaflets.

A similar British booklet entitled Objects dropped from the Air mentions two types of German leaflet carrying balloons; one khaki, one silver. A leaflet carrying box is slung underneath. The box is the same as the cardboard carton mentioned above.

Air Force Major Norman D. Vaughn discussed the use of balloons for leaflet operations in My Life of Adventure, Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, PA, 1995.

Psychological warfare and leafleting were under the same command. We had a mobile printing press that we pulled with a trailer, printing thousands of leaflets right in the field. For a year and a half, I worked with different kinds of balloons. Because of their size and shape, we referred to them as pillow balloons.  We loaded them with leaflets, perhaps a thousand sheets of paper, and then added the helium. The pillow balloons, like all the balloons we used, were open at the bottom. When the balloon reached one thousand feet, the gas would expel from the opening. This helped it drop to a lower altitude. Then it would rip open and dispense its leaflets. The more we helium-filled the balloons and lightened the loads, the further they would go. Our average target was ten to fifteen miles away to reach enemy soldiers on their way to the front and to educate village people everywhere we could.

During that same time, a specially chosen group from our squadron went to France to launch pillow balloons for Radio Free Europe.

Author Richard Cummings believes that the major erred in his last sentence since there is no record of Radio Free Europe balloons being flown from France. He told me:

I think he confused France with Germany, assuming that a group of Air Force personnel were sent to Germany for the “Winds of Freedom” balloon lofting in August 1951.

There are several publications on the subject of leaflet balloons. One is entitled Handbook of Leaflet Dispersion via Balloons. It is undated, but there are "Leaflet Computation Form Sheets" in the book dated in the early 1960s so I assume that it was in use during the Vietnam War. It's chapters are; Characteristics of Leaflet Descent and Dispersion Tables, the J-100 Balloon Delivery System, the 170F Balloon Delivery System, and the J-9-10-300 Balloon Delivery System.

A former PSYOP officer who was deeply involved in the program adds:

The handbook of leaflet dissemination by balloons was originally a project of the CIA and was almost entirely based on the Johns Hopkins study (Low, Medium, High) that was re-printed by the 7th Group and then the 4th Group. The formulas for leaflet calculations given in this book are wrong. A sergeant and I worked out the correct formulas just before the gulf war in 1991, to within around 99.991 percent accuracy of the tables in the book. Consider that a modern computer can do lightning fast calculations to 2600 decimal places while the book only lists one decimal place. You get an idea of how far things could be pushed. The calculations for leaflet dissemination have been fully automated first with GW-Basic and now with Excel combined with the FalconView program. One problem we ran into was that the Air Force weather forecasts were only giving out wind direction in tens of degrees in their forecasts.

High-altitude leaflet drops required supplemental oxygen for aircrew personnel
Pictured is Tech Sergeant Beck during a PSYOP mission.
Photo courtesy of Dave Sammons

Here are the corrected formulas: VC = variation coefficient.  Determined by “calibrating” the leaflet to find the Ground Rate of Descent (the median velocity in feet per seconds that it takes the leaflet to fall from a given height), I found that if you average the fall rate from around 25 feet for 25 drops you get a good stable ground rate of descent.   The formulas are given in “computer” style language.  Solving this problem was a major hurdle.  Who would imagine that the formulas given on page 5 of the Low, Medium, and High Altitude Leaflet Dissemination Guide did not conform to the data given in the tables (pages, 90 and 91).  When I first discovered this I was dumbfounded.  I first consulted with the math department at the University of North Carolina and they gave me a general formula that matched the curve I was plotting from the data in the tables.  Then got some good advice from a SP4 who was a Bachelor of Science in applied math; hard to find in the US Army.  I built a data file with the tables on page 90 and 91 then tweaked the formula based on the University of North Carolina math department and fine-tuned them based on the advice of the Specialist.   I ran the program overlapping the plots from the formula and the raw data in the tables after many, many tries I got an exact fit for the Auto-rotators and a very close fit for all but one of the non-auto rotators. I then found some software that made the fit even better.

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The J-100 balloon cardboard carrier partially loaded with leaflets

This Handbook of Leaflet Dispersion explains that the J-100 balloon is a short-range system designed for targets less than 250 miles away. As it passes through regions of successively lower air density, the gas in the balloon expands and stretches the balloon film. Finally, the film stretches to the point of rupture and releases the payload to drift down separately and disperse over the ground. The maximum load for the J-100 balloon is about six pounds.

The "pillow" balloon has a mid-range capability of 250-650 miles. The J-9-10-300 balloon is the big brother of the J-100. It can fly higher and has a range of from 250-400 miles. It carries a payload of up to 10 pounds.

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The 170F system – Four containers holding 22 pounds of leaflets each

The 170 and 180 balloons are long-range systems designed to distribute leaflets up to 1500 miles away. The 170 balloon was designed to carry a payload of 88 pounds of leaflets and distribute them in any one of selected patterns.

A Chinese psywarrior from Taiwan who was involved with the preparation of the CIA - American University study that later became the handbook of Leaflet Dispersion via Balloons stated that they had dropped leaflets from balloons at 50,000 feet. Because of the extreme altitudes involved, the study took place over the American plains states.

The second book is entitled Balloon Leaflets. This is a 1958 handbook of technical aspects of balloon leaflet operations to Eastern Europe carried out by the Free Europe Committee during the Cold War. This committee delivered leaflets and booklets behind the Iron Curtain using as justification the fact that there was a lack of free exchange of information between the East and the West. From spring of 1954 to November 1956, Free Europe Press sent aloft 590,415 balloons, which carried over three hundred million anti-Communist leaflets. As a result, official protests were made by Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Poland.

The Free Europe Press (FEP) printed millions of leaflets and used different types and sizes of helium filled balloons from round to pillow shaped. Pillow balloons used dry ice. Cartons filled with leaflets were attached to the bottom of the hydrogen-filled balloons. The loosely-covered cartons were held upright through the use of envelopes containing dry ice. As the dry ice evaporated, the cartons tipped over, thus dropping the leaflets. Three major launching sites were constructed in Bavaria to launch the balloons in round-the-clock operations in good weather.

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Radio Free Europe (RFE) Czech banknote

PROSPERO was the code name for the RFE balloon program in the summer 1953, when in four days, 6,500 balloons with over 12,000,000 RFE leaflets were launched into Czechoslovakia. The balloon launching started approximately at midnight on 13 July in the Bavarian town of Tirschenreuth. This was the first time balloons were launched in conjunction with specific radio programs. RFE attacked the regime's new currency reforms and dropped a leaflet in the form of a banknote and an aluminum replica of a newly-introduced Czechoslovak coin bearing the Freedom Bell and the inscription, "All Czechs and Slovaks for Freedom--all the Free World for Czechs and Slovaks." The propaganda banknote text is:

MEN CALL THIS THE HUNGER CROWN - GIFT OF THE SOVIET UNION. It is a symbol of regime desperation, of five year failure. It is a challenge to fight, to meet weakness with strength to resist, as you know best. The other captive peoples are uniting and will join you in your struggle. The free world is with you. All power to the people!

The text at the upper left on the back of the note is:

CZECHOSLKOVAKS, KNOW THIS! Power lies with the people and the people stand opposed. With unity and courage, organize your strength! Down with the collective! Insist on workers' rights! Demand concessions today; freedom tomorrow!

Richard H. Cummings mentions the campaign in the book Cold War Radio: the Dangerous History of American Broadcasting in Europe 1950-1989, McFarland & Company, Jefferson, North Carolina and London, 2009. He says in part:

The regime responded to Prospero by using military aircraft and anti-aircraft weapons along the border to shoot down the balloons the day after the first launching…Police cars in Prague and elsewhere used loudspeakers ordering citizens to turn in all the leaflets…Because of the violent reaction and the media attacks, RFE inadvertently discovered that the balloon program was more successful than first planned.

He also discusses balloon technology and says in part:

There were three different types of balloon technology.  One relatively simple but effective technique used a remarkable timing device: dry ice. Cartons filled with leaflets were attached to the bottom of the hydrogen-filled balloons. The loosely covered cartons were held upright through the use of envelopes containing dry ice. As the dry ice evaporated, the cartons tipped over, thus dropping the leaflets.

Curiously, in 1951 you could purchase a RFE balloon as part of a fund raising drive in Wisconsin. A Crusade for Freedom advertisement in a local newspaper says:

Help expand Radio Free Europe – broadcasting costs are $12 a minute – and begin similar truth broadcasts to Asia; Buy a rubber Freedom Balloon for $2.50; Buy a plastic “pillow” Freedom Balloon for $5.00. You may (may not) use my name on a freedom message to be sent by balloon through the Iron Curtain.

Balloons were also launched from South Korea to North Korea and from Taiwan against the Chinese mainland during the Cold War. At one point the South Koreans operated four launch sites employing 109 men (which included the overall control group). They operated for about six months. During that period they put up 3,000 pounds of leaflets. To give an example of the difference between balloons and aircraft, that is what was dropped on the very first American C-47 leaflet mission. Later, the American C-130 Hercules aircraft dropped 20,000 pounds of leaflets per flight. In Korea, the hydrogen cylinders were loaded, trucked to the ship, on to Pangyong Island, offloaded, delivered to the launch site, filled less than three J-100 weather balloons, and returned for refill. A thousand cubic feet of air weighs about 81 pounds. A thousand cubic feet of hydrogen weights about five pounds and provides 76 pounds of lift. A thousand cubic feet of helium weights eleven pounds and provides 70 pounds of lift. The cylinders are heavy and bulky and require a minimum of two men to handle one. The Chinese on Taiwan had one launch site that was supplied with Waste hydrogen that is normally burnt as it is produced. That operation was relatively cheap and efficient because there was no need to move large cylinders in and out of the site.

The 7th PSYOP Group headquartered on Okinawa had a two-man Taiwan Detachment located in Taipei and responsible for maintaining liaison between the 7th PSYOP Group and the Republic of China. During the Cold War, the Red Chinese on the mainland and the Nationalists on Matsu and Quemoy regularly sent leaflets to each other by balloon. Lieutenant Colonel David Underwood of the 7th PSYOP Group told me about a leaflet PSYOP class he taught:

I presented a three week course of instruction to the Chinese on Taiwan (as requested by the CIA) on leaflet development and dissemination (via balloon). I was able to show the defect in their program that allowed the balloons to end up in such places as Okinawa, India and Laos.   (I was in Laos when one came down there.  

The group I taught was a collection of people involved in leaflet operations.  It included printers, artists, weather forecasters, etc.  They were a sharp group.  The launch site had a pipeline from an oil processing plat that piped hydrogen to the sight.   They then filled conventional tanks and arranged them in a bank where they were able to open all valves and fill huge balloons without stopping. 

Some of the Nationalist Chinese leaflets attacked Mao; others depicted the happy life of the Chinese on the island of Taiwan or pictured defectors from Communism living a rich and secure life.

When one studies declassified documents of the Vietnam War we find constant requests for the use of balloons against North Vietnam, and in almost every case this is denied. For instance, there are numerous comment in the 1970 MACVSOG Documentation Study. We quote some pertinent comments found in the 178-page report:

Balloon delivery of leaflets into North Vietnam from both Laos and from PTF’s in the Gulf of Tonkin should be tested…

The problem of penetrating the heavily populated areas of North Vietnam with PSYOP material is a major obstacle to a successful psychological campaign today. Restrictions of cargo aircraft reduce the population which can be reached with this delivery system to about 20%, among which very few key-opinion formers are included. The use of high performance aircraft does not appear cost effective nor is this means of delivery a credible system for use by a dissident group. In attempting to resolve this problem, SOG recommends the launch of low cost, short range balloons, with PSYOP material from naval vessels operating close to the red River Delta coastline. Alternatively, ground launch sites in Laos were recommended…

At present, only wind drift techniques with leaflets and air drop-water float methods with floatable items are possible. Even these methods  (by cargo aircraft) are restricted to areas which are not protected by anti-aircraft fire. The net result is the denial of all of the principal population centers to SSPL penetration. Balloon delivery is the most promising system yet uncovered to solve this and presently we are awaiting CINCPAC approval of balloon operations against the North…

During the Spanish Civil War the Communists often used balloons to disperse propaganda leaflets over Franco's fascist forces. The balloons were bound with a lighted wick so that when the "spark reaches a knot which holds the leaflets, this breaks and releases them."

A November 1941 WWII circular to the Danish Chief Constables describes the British balloons. It points out that the leaflets are batched and held by cords beneath the balloon. A burning fuse cuts the cords and the leaflets are released over a period of time. Some selected comments are:

The propaganda balloon consists of envelope, carrying strings, carrying plate with shield and percussion tube with fuse. When fully inflated the balloon envelope is bell shaped with a diameter of about 3 meters. Filled with pure hydrogen it can carry a weight of about 9 kilos. The fire from the fuse will burn through one cord after another, thus releasing bunch after bunch of leaflets.

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Modern leaflet balloon

The Nationalist soldiers on Taiwan and Quemoy often send gifts of clothing and sweets by balloon to mainland China. Over 200 million leaflets were sent by balloon in 1971. By 1974 the number was 1.6 billion leaflets.

In 1976 the Nationalists sent balloons bearing humanitarian aid of rice, medicine, sugar, powdered milk, noodles and propaganda leaflets to the earthquake-devastated area of Tangshan. The Chinese balloons can carry up to 400 pounds. They fly at altitudes of 40,000 to 90,000 feet. There were reports of Chinese MiGs trying to shoot down the humanitarian balloons.

At the height of their propaganda war, the North Koreans had 11 balloon launch sites and launched 500,000 balloons a year southward in an attempt to disrupt South Korean society, show the godlike stature of the leader, and stress various anti-American themes. A typical leaflet might show photographs of Kim Jung-Il on the front and back in full color and bear text such as:

A great leader, General Kim Jung-il who is the sun of our nation and who will unify the nation.

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Park Sang Hak

North and South Korea made what amounts to a PSYOP peace in 2006, promising to stop attempting to propagandize each other. However, that has not stopped some private parties from continuing the war. The International Herald Tribune mentions that Park Sang Hak and his fellow North Koreans who live in the South regularly travel to the border of North Korea where they release balloons carrying 10,000 “freedom dove” leaflets that soar to 8,000 feet and say:

Kim Jong Il is a greedy womanizing despot with a protruding belly.

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Two Anti-Communist Balloons soar Skyward

On 10 October 2008, Park Sang Hak, and members of the Fighters for Free North Korea launch huge helium balloons containing leaflets condemning North Korean leader Kim Jong Il during an anti-North Korea campaign on a boat in water near Yeongjong Island, South Korea. The letters on the balloons read:

Down with the dictator Kim Jong-il!

Fighters for Free North Korea

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Noth Korean defectors prepare leaflet balloons for release

Propaganda balloons were still used on the Korean peninsula as late as 2008. Although the propaganda war between North and South Korea has cooled since a historic inter-Korean summit in 2000, a group of North Korean defectors sent helium balloons carrying some 60,000 leaflets condemning North Korean leader Kim Jong Il to their homeland in April of 2008. The message attacked the policy of Songun, or “military-first.” The balloons were launched from Ganghwa Island on the west coast of Korea and also contained Bible verses and $1 bills. Two million leaflets have been sent by the defectors to the North via balloons since 2005. It is unknown if this action is sponsored by the government or a private undertaking. Some of the text on the leaflets is:

Freedom is not free. Let us topple Kim Jong Il's 'songun' dictatorship and liberate North Koreans…

According to North Korea In & Out, Issue 5, a newsletter issued by the Network for North Korean Democracy and Human Rights, in late 2008 the North Korean authorities spread a rumor saying that the leaflets sent from South Korea by the defectors were radioactive and would make people go blind.

Curiously, about the same time I was approached to help the organization that sent the anti Kim Jong Il leaflets with tactics and strategy:

I believe their projects would benefit from the advice of seasoned PSYOP professional, especially one with knowledge of and or the capability to get information on successful tactics for balloon and water-borne leaflet and radio operations in Korea.

FM 33-1-1 Psychological Operations Techniques and Procedures says about the use of balloons:

In addition to leaflets, balloons can drop food, toys, household goods, and daily commodities to the selected target audience. Drops for harassment can include national flags and passport-like safe conduct passes that permit would-be defectors to cross over opposing lines. This type of pass was sent by balloon From the Republic of China to the People's Republic of China and aided in the defection of former Communist airmen, journalists, and red Guards.

Psyop units supporting deception operations can use balloons to drop equipment such as parachutes or other evidence, such as food and ammunition, behind opponent lines to indicate the presence of strike or reconnaissance forces. Balloons may be made of paper, rubber, or polyethylene.

U.S. PSYOP current doctrine concerning balloons states:

Balloon delivery systems have not been used by the United States in recent years. Balloons can drop leaflets, novelties, gifts, and deception equipment such as parachutes and other indicators of presence. Their use requires detailed climatological information that is essentially a leaflet drop in reverse. Their range is out to 2,400 kilometers (1,500 miles) with a payload up to approximately 10 kilograms (about 20 pounds). Balloons are made of paper, rubber, or polyethylene. The weather, wind, air currents, and gas pressure determine flight patterns. This method is used extensively by German and South Korean allied PSYOP forces.

All the talk of PSYOP peace along the Korean border ended in March 2010 when North Korea torpedoed the South Korean warship Cheonan killing 46 sailors. South Korea resumed propaganda broadcasts airing Western music, news and comparisons between the South and North Korean political and economic situations. South Korea also threatened to install dozens of propaganda loudspeakers and towering electronic billboards along the heavily armed border between the two Koreas to send messages enticing communist soldiers to defect to the South. North Korea’s military warned that it would fire at any propaganda facilities installed in the Demilitarized Zone.

In October 2010, after six years of quiet along the border, South Korea reinstalled 11 sets of psychological warfare loudspeakers along its border with North Korea. In addition, Minister Kim Tae-young said that the south had switched its transmitters to the easier-to-receive AM band and was ready to send thousands of AM radios and propaganda leaflets across the border using helium balloons. Mr. Kim also said the ministry had readied plans to add more loudspeakers and install huge video screens along the border.

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I was interviewed by Kang Hyun-kyung of the Korea Times in June 2010 and pointed out the danger of uncensored news to an enslaved society. The cartoon above was part of that story. I pointed out:

The more the programs are realistic, the more effective they are. It is very important that the radio messages be authentic. If they are broadcast by people who have not lived in the North, who do not have the proper accents, or who do not understand the way the people think, the broadcasts will be laughed at and considered nonsense.

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U.S. Dollars and Chinese Yuan sent with propaganda leaflets by balloon

The propaganda balloon war got hot again in January 2011, when it was reported that North Korea had executed two individuals who were found with South Korean propaganda leaflets. A high ranking military officer was executed for pocketing dollar bills sent with the leaflets to make them more desirable to pick up. A 45-year-old North Korean woman was executed for reading a propaganda leaflet. North Korea reportedly forced about 500 people to witness the executions of the two. It was reported that six members of the families of the two victims were then sent to a political prisoners' camp.

In March, 2011 South Korean activists started to bombard North Korea with propaganda material that included footage of Middle East protests and urged rebellion. The Seoul-based Fighters for Free North Korea said it would send about 200,000 propaganda leaflets, 1-dollar bills and USB flash drives carrying videos on the wave of uprising against authoritarian rulers in Egypt, Libya and other Middle Eastern countries. The group has sent about 3 million propaganda leaflets toward North Korea every year since 2004. South Korea's military has also floated balloons carrying about 3 million leaflets containing news about Egyptian and Libyan protests as well as daily necessities like soap, underwear, medicine and radios toward the North since 2010.

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“Arab Spring” revolutions leaflet

On 19 December 2011, after the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, 10 leaflet balloons were sent to the North. They contained hundreds of thousands of leaflets with news of the “Arab Spring” revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. The leaflets showed graphic pictures of former Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi's battered corpse and described his gruesome death. The leaflets said in part:

Rise up people. Fight bravely like the Africans to end the third-generation succession.

Kim Sung-min fled the North in 1992. During military service in near the border in the 1980s and 90s, he saw many propaganda flyers and goods sent from the South. In the 1980s, North Korean officials gathered South Korean goods such as cigarettes, lighters, pantyhose, cookies, and candies, as well as flyers, and burned them. He said:

There are no better channels than South Korea's leaflets that deliver accurate news into North Korea's controlled society. In North Hwanghae Province where I served as an Army officer in the 1990s, there were so many propaganda leaflets that they were heaped up like snow every day. Only soldiers who'd collected more than 1,000 leaflets were allowed to eat breakfast. Continuous delivery of outside news will provide momentum for change there some time in the future.

After a year of Quiet on the Korean peninsula, on 27 July 2012, North Korea sent balloons containing thousands of leaflets denouncing the South Korean government across the Demilitarized Zone. Officials with the Ministry of National Defense said South Korean troops found approximately 16,000 leaflets scattered between the border cities of Paju and Yangju between July 21 and July 24. The 10 versions of the leaflets tell stories of North and South Koreans who allegedly have fled the South, including the story of a well-known North Korean defector who allegedly returned to his home country in the spring, a defense ministry spokesman said. Ministry officials said little about North Korea’s possible motives for the leaflet drop, though one official said the North may be trying to disrupt South Korea’s political system. A presidential election in the South later in 2012 will be crucial in determining whether it adopts a more conciliatory or aggressive stance toward the North.

Leaflet Kites

One of the earliest known uses of leaflets was 549 A.D. when a besieged Chinese city sent out messages of distress by means of kites.

As early as the Napoleonic Wars, the British experimented with propaganda kites. British Admiral Thomas Cochrane was ordered to distribute propaganda leaflets along the French coast. This was very dangerous for the seamen asked to row ashore. The captain of the Pallas had no intention of risking his crew. He ordered that the leaflets be brought on deck, split into small bundles and tied with string. The string was then attached to kites. When the wind was blowing in the right direction, slow matches were attached to the retaining string and set alight. The kites drifted toward France, releasing their leaflets as the string slowly burned away.

Admiral Cochrane used kites again between 1808 and 1814 to establish contact with a besieged city in Spain.

British Intelligence published a 1918 WWI report on the experimental use of kites for propaganda. The method of use is different than what one might think. The leaflets were not attached to the kite as it was flown. Instead, the kite reached a certain height and then a "conveyor" carried the leaflet up the cable to the kite where they were released. Some selected comments from the long report are:

The general idea of the method is to carry quantities of propaganda to a sufficient height in the air, in suitable winds, and to release them so that the wind may carry them over the enemy lines. The method has great practical possibilities. From a height of less than 5000 feet, in wind so light that there was great difficulty in getting the kite into the air, a distribution of propaganda leaflets ten miles from the kite was obtained. The propaganda is sent up in loose sheets attached by a simple clip. Loads of 5 pounds, which is to say between 500 and 600 leaflets, were sent up successfully in the experiments.

Mitchell also discusses the use of Kites in his WWII report. He warns that kites present a danger because their lines can interfere with aircraft flying over the battlefield:

The method requires box kites weighing from 7 to 10 pounds each. These can be sent up in a light to strong wind by two men where there is a stretch of from 20 to 100 yards free ground available. The kites are attached to a wire cable paid off a winch. Light power winches with suitable brakes such as are used by the Naval Meteorological Department are required. The kite can be used for liberating propaganda as soon as it has reached a sufficient height, which in the experiments was found to be from 3,000 feet upwards, nearly 10,000 being attained. The propaganda is sent up by Gamage’s Automatic Kite Conveyer, a hinged framework of canvas with spread of about fourteen square feet. This is mounted on a runner which passes up the cable leading to the kite on grooved wheels. The runner has a trigger device and when the Conveyer has been taken by the wind up to a stop fixed on the cable near the kite, the trigger comes into action, releases the propaganda sheets and folds down the wings of the messenger. In light winds, loads of five to seven lbs. were found quite easy to take up. The messenger takes several minutes to attain an elevation of 4,000 feet and rather less to come down. In a very moderate wind, propaganda sheets liberated at a height of about 4,000 feet were picked up on the ground ten miles away.

During the Cold War the Red Chinese sent propaganda leaflets to the Nationalist island of Quemoy using paper kites.

Kite Experiments at Ft. Bragg

Some independent experiments at using a kite to disseminate leaflets went on at Ft. Bragg. The use of a pulley to carry leaflets up to a small civilian commercial kite where they could be released was first tested. The pulley system was found to work. Tests verified that that a pulley system and a long loop line could alternately haul up a dump bag full of leaflets to the kite. A simple trigger made from wire would cause the dump bag to release its load. A second dump bag could be filled and the trigger set and the line would be reversed hauling the full dump bag up and the empty one down. Once it was determined that the system was viable, a larger kite with more lift was needed to increase the leaflet load.

The next tests used ram-air parachute systems. Some individuals had experimentally used them as kites in the past. The ram-air chutes were rigged so that they would fly more level (ram-airs are normally canted with a downward (negative) attack angle). The kites have a tremendous lifting power so they were tied to trees for testing. The system was found to work, but it was never used operationally in combat. Another concept was to use a GPS system to guide a ram-air system which would allow leaflets to be safely dropped very precisely on a target. The technology is still available and awaiting the call to arms.

Air-Drop-by-Hand Dissemination

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The Evolution of Leaflets

This poster was created in 2010 by Specialist Carl Barker of D Company, the 3rd PSYOP Battalion, to be placed in the hallway of the Media Operations Center at Ft. Bragg, NC. It depicts leaflets starting with the Revolutionary War, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Desert Storm, Panama, Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.

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This interesting WWII British postcard depicts Propaganda Minister Goebbels buried under British leaflets. He holds an “SOS” flag calling for help and aims a 6-shooter at the Royal Air Force planes overhead. Goebbels talked propaganda day and night and apparently it has “boomeranged” on him and now he is buried in it.

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Now give us a Leaflet Bert

In this postcard the British are making fun of their Bomber Commander’s belief that the only thing a propaganda leaflet is good for is toilet paper. A crewmember in the back of the aircraft is about to drop a present on the Third Reich and asks for a leaflet for the obvious purpose.

The Vomit Comet

The name above, of course, is regarding an aircraft used to train astronauts. But it seems to work well here too. A small aircraft, probably a “bird Dog” is flying low over the enemy and dropping leaflets. Unfortunately, the “kicker.” Airman Second Class Laycox has a touch of airsickness and is not only dropping leaflets but is vomiting on the Viet Cong who clearly are not happy. Never say that propagandists have no sense of humor.

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WWI Pilot throwing leaflets

The use of the airplane for combat missions in WWI also allowed for the rapid distribution of great amounts of propaganda over a large distance in a short time. Before there were fancy leaflet bombs and mechanical systems, the pilot or his gunner simply threw the leaflets over the enemy by hand. Although this method sounds simple, there were problems. A pilot in a combat aircraft might suddenly find his cockpit full of swirling leaflets at a time that he was flying over the front-line trenches and in danger from attack by enemy aircraft. Sometimes the leaflets were thrown in sacks or bags that were supposed to open in the air. Often they did not, and the leaflet sack became a mini bomb that hit the ground without dispensing its cargo.

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Hiddessen's flight over Paris

Such a case occurred in WWI when a German Lieutenant von Hiddessen flew a mission over Paris. As the flight crew prepared his Taube reconnaissance aircraft, they placed a rubber bag full of sand and printed leaflets in the cockpit. Hiddessen dropped four bombs, and then threw the leaflet bag from his cockpit. It had a six-foot long forked banner in the German national colors trailing behind. The bag never opened, no leaflets were disseminated, and pedestrians who found the bag on the ground immediately took it to the local Prefecture of Police.

Mitchell discussed airplane dissemination in his 1918 report:

Single leaflets thrown out from an aeroplane at a height of from 5,000 to 10,000 feet will drift from ten miles upwards before reaching the ground. In suitable winds therefore leaflets may be thrown out loose from aeroplanes flying parallel to the enemy lines at a distance of several miles from these lines, according to the strength of the wind. When the aeroplanes fly over the enemy lines, the matter to be dropped, unless it consists of relatively heavy pamphlets, should be tied in bundles which will disperse only when they have nearly reached the ground.

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The above postcard was prepared to commemorate the Exposition “War Leaflets” in 1994. It depicts a British “Spitfire” dropping the aerial propaganda newspaper Le Courrier de l’Air (The Air Mail) over the German-occupied city of St. Laurent, France.

William Wofford mentions the drops over Laos in Air America, Christopher Robbins, G. P. Putnam & Sons, NY, 1979:

The drops were made from 800 to 900 feet. You varied your aiming point up to fifteen to twenty feet before an average wind, or fifty feet if it was a good strong wind. As the plane reached the drop zone, the pilot rang a bell and a kicker would begin to push a load toward the open door. One fellow drops back just as the load is at the door and about to leave, and the other fellow continues right out the door pushing the load all the way. The guy has a strap tied around his hand which is foreshortened just to the right length so that as he goes out the door it jerks and pulls him back in. The first time I went on a drop, I was in the back watching the process and I damn near had a heart attack when I saw that kid run out the door with that load.

In the case of leaflets being tossed from the back of planes there are numerous horror stories of the leaflets being caught in gusts of winds and the crew finding themselves in a paper storm inside the aircraft.

An Army psychological specialist and a Marine load master watch leaflets
fall off of a KC-130 Super Hercules over southern Afghanistan, Aug. 28, 2013.
(Sgt. Demetrius Munnerlyn/Marine Corps)

Former General Monro MacCloskey mentions such a case in Secret Air Missions, Richards Rosen Press, NY, 1966.

I will never forget the night we were over Lyons, France, on one of those special leaflet missions. With the waist gunners' windows open and the dropping hatch uncovered, the wind whistled through the plane with gale force. As the dispatchers were preparing to drop the leaflets, one of the packages burst open. For several minutes the inside of the ship was the worst mass of flying propaganda that could be imagined. Visibility in the waist was near zero in the paper storm. The ground crew was picking leaflets out of the plane for the next week and made highly uncomplimentary remarks about those "awkward blankety-blank dispatchers."

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Leaflet 4-F-8

This is one of my favorite World War II psychological Warfare Branch leaflets used against the Japanese. The code tells us that it was produced by the U.S. Eighth Army to be disseminated among Filipinos. It is called a “distribution leaflet” and is to be placed in a 1 to 20 ratio with regular leaflets dropped on the Japanese military. The leaflet was prepared on 10 February 1945 in English and Visayan. The front depicts U.S. aircraft dropping leaflets that were already known in the Philippines. I see numbers 6-J-1, 36-J-6, 10-J-8, 11-J-8 and 13-J-8 from the U.S. First, Sixth and Eighth Army among others.

The text explains to the Filipinos:

These leaflets and newspaper written in Japanese are to let them know the growing peril and hopelessness of their situation. The Jap officers do not want their men to believe these truths that we sell them. It is best they should know. It will hasten the day they are cleared from your land. Assist by placing the papers and leaflets where they will be found by the Jap.

Eleanor Sparagana mentions another technique in her doctoral thesis entitled, the Conduct and Consequences of Psychological Warfare: American Psychological Warfare Operations in the War against Japan, 1941-1945:

Five hundred leaflets are tied together by a string one-fourth of the way from the edge of the leaflet. Four of these bundles are made into a package with a loop string attached as a rip cord. The package can be tossed over the side of the plane and, by holding the rip cord; the paper will be ripped off. The leaflet will begin to disperse as soon as they hit the slipstream.

Major Norman D. Vaughn mentions such open-door drops in My Life of Adventure:

In Korea, during the war, we also dropped loosely tied leaflets from low-flying C-47s, the two-engine cargo planes. These flights were made at night from low altitudes. We tied the leaflets with weak twine, and when the packages flew out of the planes into the slipstream, the twine broke, the packages opened, and leaflets filled the air.

On these trips, we took out the door, put it on the floor, and rode on top of it for protection. We received a lot of rifle fire, but the ground soldiers never hit anybody. After we returned from one flight I was on, we counted seventeen bullet holes in our fuselage and wings. None had entered the cabin or cargo space.

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Leaflet drop by Hand over Korea

This 18 November 1952 photograph depicts U.S. Army Lieutenant Albert D. Ackley of an Eighth Army PSYWAR Unit taking on bundles of string-tied propaganda leaflets to be dropped over the North Korean Communist enemy.

In another operation where the mission was to drop propaganda banknotes in Vietnam from the back of an aircraft such a problem arose. The operation did not go smoothly and the plane returned with thousands of the banknotes scattered all over the cargo area. The local airport security spotted the banknotes as the plane opened its cargo doors and immediately assumed that they had discovered a currency smuggling operation and placed the crew under arrest. It all got smoothed over of course, but better mechanical methods were clearly needed.

A C-47 "Gooney Bird" aircraft from the 5th Air Commando
Squadron drops thousands of propaganda leaflets over South Vietnam
Photo courtesy of Bob Cutts, Stars and Stripes, April 1968

Robbins mentions a similar calamity in Air America. The pilot, William Wofford, is on a mission to drop CIA-forged banknotes over Laos:

They were just in paper bags and had these devices the kicker pulled which ignited a small charge and blew the bag apart. When we got back to Vientiane, we had to spend two hours cleaning the airplane because some of the bags burst before we could get them out and we had counterfeit money from one end of the airplane to the other.

Captain Charles V. Nahlik also ended up with a mess in his aircraft one day:

A funny incident happened in Saigon when one of our planes was being loaded with leaflets featuring a portrait of Ho Chi Minh with a propaganda message that had been developed and approved by the Military Assistance Command – Vietnam.  In the manhandling of the leaflet boxes, a worker dropped one that broke open and leaflets started flying around the base. The workers and the Officers were not aware that the aircraft was being loaded with these anti-Communist leaflets and thought that they were Viet Cong leaflets being disseminated by VC agents or sappers.  It caused quite a panic.

Worse than a mess was loss of control of the aircraft. Colonel Joe Celeski mentions such a case in Special Air Warfare and the Secret Air War in Laos: Air Commandos 1966 – 1975:

Dropping leaflets [by hand] had its own dangers. From January to June 1972, Project 404 1st Lieutenant Darrel Whitcomb served as a Raven FAC in MR-II, flying his O-1 Birddog with a call sign of Raven 27. He experienced the difficulty of dropping leaflets during one of his first trial and error attempts: “We were given boxes of leaflets, and told to go fly over specific areas and release them. We did that a number of times. The first time I did that, we were flying along, and then throwing them out. They had a fuze squib igniter on them that blew the twine wrapping the bundles, and the leaflets would blow around. Sometimes they were just loose, and we threw them out the window. I got done with the leaflet drop mission and was flying back to home base. I was trying to climb to get some altitude, and the stick wasn’t working. We looked back and the tail, on both sides, was covered with leaflets. I had to shake the plane and the tail around to get enough off so I had control—learning the hard way! 

The Thomas L. Ahern, Jr. declassified “Center for the Study of Intelligence” secret publication Undercover Armies – CIA and Surrogate Warfare in Laos 1961-1973, discusses the hazards of using a firecracker to open a sack of leaflets:

Even the most routine mission could provide moments of genuine fright, as when a giant M-80 firecracker, intended to open a sack of leaflets being dropped from the air, blew back into the aircraft before it exploded.

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Somebody help that Trooper!

Blowback is always a problem. We know of cases where the leaflets blew into the aircraft and other cases where the planes following the leaflet aircraft was buried in leaflets. We know of no aircraft that have been brought down by leaflets in their engines. In the 2017 picture above, a lone Iraqi propagandist over the ISIS-held city of Mosul attempts to manhandle a box of leaflets to his aircraft door. It appears he is doing a better job leafleting his aircraft than the countryside.

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Perhaps one of the most amazing use of an aircraft for propaganda dissemination was the ANT-20 Maxim Gorky. It was the largest plane in the world when it debuted over Red Square in Moscow on 19 June 1934. When completed, the Maxim Gorky measured 112-feet long and possessed a wingspan of just over 206 feet. It was equipped with eight engines, three on each wing with two mounted in tandem above. It was designed as a bomber but it was ponderously slow at just 138 mph. Instead, it was used as a propaganda platform. It was equipped with a powerful radio transmitter (the “Voice of the Sky”), a printing press, a photographic laboratory, and a projector to screen films for isolated rural audiences. Rows of lights located underneath the wings enabled the crew to display electronic text messages to spectators on the ground.

Specialist Fifth Class Mario Villamarzo told me about his leaflet operations in Vietnam as part of the 245th PSYOP Company in 1966-1967:

When I was with the Pleiku Detachment I would assist in cutting the leaflets which the detachment printed and then assisted packing them in boxes. We had to cut the leaflets to a certain size and use the correct paper weight in order for the leaflets to float to the target. We had two blades in the detachment for our paper cutter and I remember going to Saigon 2 or 3 times with the blades to have them sharpened. I would take the milk run (C-130) from Pleiku to Ton Son Nhut AFB in Saigon. I would take the blades to the offices of a Saigon newspaper that would be paid to sharpen our blades.

I did it all, loaded leaflets on C-47 of the 5th Air Commando Squadron and flew as a non-crew member dropping the leaflets from the aircraft. I got a letter of appreciation from the Commander of the 5th Air Squadron on 10 September 1966 for my selection and coordination of targets and appropriate leaflets and my supervision during the transporting and loading of the leaflets in proper sequence.

I also flew in U-10s on loudspeaker and leaflet missions. The aircraft would come from Nha Trang where the 5th Air commando Squadron was stationed and I would wait for it the airfield in Pleiku. I would load the U-10 with my leaflets and put my recorded tape in my cassette player and hook it up to the speaker on the aircraft. Once I got us to the target area we would fly in a circle around the target dropping leaflets and playing the loudspeakers. I would select the target beforehand and instruct our guys what I wanted to say on the leaflets. Mine were tactical leaflets specific to the operation that I was assigned to. Of course I requested clearance for the leaflets from the officers since I didn’t have the authority to make demands of the illustrators, varitypists and printers. I guess my credentials with my commanding officer were established by the fact that I was a school-trained intelligence analyst and a JFK Special Warfare trained psywarrior. Few in the detachment were school trained in PSYWAR or PSYOP.

Selecting targets and specifying the type of leaflet was where our training as Intelligence Analyst 96B20 came in to play. Before the U-10 missions I would meet with the intelligence folks of the division and read through their Intelligence Summaries (INTSUMs) and Periodic Intelligence Reports (PERINTREPs) plus I would meet with the G-5 and S-5.

Dick Elgin flew leaflet and loudspeaker missions for the 196th Light Infantry Brigade with a PSYOP Captain and some enlisted men who dropped leaflets from his light observation helicopter. He told me:

We called those drops the Bullshit Bomber missions. We also loaded huge speakers in the back of my LOH. I flew way out in Bad Guy country and through a radio link some Chieu Hoy sitting back on LZ Baldy tried to bring his buddies over from the Dark Side. In his tonal, sing-song language he'd talk over the radio/speaker system at way too many decibels. I really did not like those missions; I always came back with a headache.

Aircraft wing flap dissemination

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Leaflets between Wings and Flaps

I have read about this method several times, and generally the safety issue is mentioned because the leaflets are jammed up under an aircraft’s flaps, and in theory this could make the aircraft unstable or impossible to fly. This technique was tried on some American fighter aircraft with mixed results.

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The Macchi C.205V

On 8 September 1943, the Italians signed an armistice with the Allies. On 6 October 1943, three Italian fighter pilots flew their Macchi C.205V Veltro (Greyhound) aircraft from Brindisi over German-occupied Rome and dropped leaflets telling the people that they would soon be liberated. The photograph at the top of this section was published by Acme Photo of New York City, dated 5 November 1943, and depicts British Royal Air Force personnel inspecting one of the aircraft used for the leaflet bombing raids. Notice the leaflets between the wings and the flaps. When the planes are over their target the pilot lowers the flaps to release the leaflets. It seems a very risky technique.

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Royal Laotian Air Force T-28 Trojan

During the Vietnam War the Royal Laotian Air Force dropped leaflets on the Pathet Lao and the Vietnamese troops by tucking the leaflets into the dive brakes of their North American Aviation T-28 Trojans. The pilot would identify the target, fly directly over it and open the dive brakes to scatter the leaflets.

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The British Hawker Hunter over Aden

In May 1964, Hunter jet fighters of the RAF 8 and 43 Squadrons were used extensively during the Radfan campaign in Aden against insurgents attempting to overthrow the Federation of South Arabia. Both squadrons continued operations with their Hunters until the UK withdrew from Aden in November 1967. Besides bombing and strafing, the Hunters were occasionally used to fly propaganda missions. Ray Deacon recalls:

As best as I can recall the missions were flown with the leaflets stuffed into the aircraft flaps and then dropped over potential targets.

The 8 Squadron website points out that this odd method was used by the earlier Venom jet fighter too:

The leaflets could be carried in the split flaps of the Venom, the ribs being at foolscap spacing.

For our American readers I should point out that “foolscap” is a standard British large paper size, about 13 x 17 inches.

In the section entitled “The Hunter Years 1960-1971” the 8 Squadron website continues:

During the first quarter, over fifty operational sorties were flown; consisting of flag waves, leaflet drops and live strikes…Flight Lieutenant Swain was killed when he crashed into a hill during a leaflet drop….

Aircraft Chute Dissemination

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As the use of the airplane grew in popularity, better systems were invented. They included leaflets being dropped through aircraft doors or ports or into specially fabricated chutes. The aircraft would circle the target area at a low altitude and the crew would shove handfuls of leaflets down the chute, covering the countryside with propaganda.


Crew Members using Leaflet Chute

This picture was allegedly disseminated by England in 1940 to show they were leafleting Germany. However, the title of the picture is “At the airport.” This would seem to be a picture shot for propaganda purposes and not showing an actual leaflet raid. This is implied by the German translation of the photograph. It says:

A picture disseminated by England to show leaflets being dropped over Berlin. The neutral journalists working in Berlin determined that nobody had seen the slightest bit of leaflets or heard the flak shots from inside...

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A British bomber crew on a 800-mile mission to drop leaflets over
German-occupied Poland drops leaflets down an internal chute in World War Two
British Pathe

The chutes were often fabricated locally and consist of two major parts, a smooth, round, lightweight tube of at least 6-inch diameter and a box. The tube is outside the aircraft with one end attached to the dissemination box inside the aircraft. One man dumps leaflets into the dissemination box while the other man pushes them through the tube in a steady flow. Two men can dispense thousands of leaflets per minute using the leaflet chute. Air-drop-by-hand and chute dissemination are effective means to support tactical and counter-insurgency operations.

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LT Robert Harvey and his team from the the 25th PSYOP Detachment of the 245th PSYOP Company drop leaflets along the tri-country border (Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia) in an attempt to reach infiltrators coming down the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Notice the confusion; the leaflets on the floor of the C-47 aircraft and the empty boxes everywhere.

Lt Harvey said about the mission:

They installed square sheet metal ducting in one of the window holes on the right side of the aircraft. When we upended the boxes into the duct, the vacuum sucked the leaflets out. When we got back to Pleiku, the base Commander raised Hell because of all the leaflets wrapped around the tail surfaces. Seems they collected in the fence and got pulled into the A-1 Skyraider engine cowls on preparation for takeoff. This caused aborted missions and rapid returns to the air base due to overheating. We fixed the problem by stalling the C-47 in the air before returning to Pleiku to clear the tail prior to landing. It worked fine.

Since we were usually over desolate jungle, we often tossed the empty boxes out the door. The door was normally removed and stowed inside the aircraft to allow cooling on hot days and also because the big loudspeaker array was attached to the door frame

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Cessna 0-1 “Bird Dog”

Buck Martin was an USAF Medic who was stationed at Pleiku Airbase from May 1966 to March 1967 and took part in Medcap missions in Vietnam. He worked with Montagnards who he considered great friends and fierce fighters. He treated the “Yards” for everything from an infected toe to malaria to appendicitis. On rare occasions he would be assigned leaflet missions. That is an odd assignment for a medic but apparently they just needed someone to dump them into a chute and he was an available body. He flew in an older aircraft similar to the Cessna O-1 “Bird Dog” Forward Air Controller plane. He told me about an average leaflet mission:

I sat in the co-pilots seat next to an Air Force Captain and when he told me to get ready; he was going in low and slow over this village I had to turn around, get on my knees and start grabbing all of these bundles of leaflets and start shoving them out of a chute that was built in to the plane right behind the co-pilots seat. It felt like we were only going about 30 to 40 Miles per hour but after I pushed the last bundle down the chute I leaned back and looked out the side of the plane and I could see the leaflets spreading over a vast area in the air. I don't remember what was on the leaflets, but I know it had to do with the Chieu Hoi program. I would ask the Captain where we were and he would usually say “along the Cambodian border” and on a couple of occasions “the Laotian border,” or so he said anyway.

If memory serves me right, we would drop leaflets on 8 or 9 villages some days. On rare occasions we took a little fire. On one mission we took some ground fire and the pilot told me he was going to set it down and check the plane out and I believe we landed at Dak To for a while.

I should mention that the chute had purposes other than just dumping leaflets. Sergeant Chad Spawr mentions a mission in a U-10 Helo Courier in his book, 614 Days: Memories from my Time at War

Before the engine start, the pilot gave me his briefing, which included instructions about dealing with enemy fire, not touching any controls, and, most fittingly, what to do if I suddenly became nauseated in flight.

We departed the airbase for a mission along the Dong Nai River north and east of Bien Hoa. There had been increased enemy activity in this area, and our leaflets were focused on these local guerrillas. He signaled that we were approaching the target area; I turned around and leaned over the seat, opened the boxes, and once signaled, began throwing leaflets down the chute. It was a lot of leaflets and a small chute. It was a very small space in which to work. As we transited the target area, the pilot made sharp turns to reverse course. As he had mentioned, I became nauseous and tried to hold it down, but was suddenly unsuccessful. I was able to follow his instructions to the letter and barf down the leaflet chute, hitting nothing but air. A few more leaflets cleaned up the sides of the chute.

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Cessna L-19 Bird Dog Model that drops leaflets

Looking through a hobby story one day I was shocked to find a balsa wood model of a Cessna Bird Dog that was designed to drop propaganda leaflets. What an amazing find. I assumed this was a later or improved version of the O-1 since was called the L-19, but a bit of research indicated that it was the exact same plane. 3,200 L-19s were built between 1950 and 1959, entering both the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps inventories. In 1962, the Army L-19 and Marine Corps OE-1 was redesignated the O-1 (Observation) Bird Dog and entered the war in Vietnam.

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Super Cessna 0-2A Skymaster

The Super Cessna 0-2A Skymaster used a chute system during the air war in Vietnam. It was modified in small numbers to wage psychological warfare. Cessna equipped them to carry leaflet dispensers and a loudspeaker system for broadcasting propaganda to enemy forces below. A slot with a chute was installed in the floor for dropping propaganda leaflets. Thirty aircraft modified in this fashion for psychological operations missions were delivered and designated as the O-2B.

Helicopter Chute Dissemination

Dropping leaflets from helicopters could be dangerous. The swirling air current from the overhead and tail rotors could cause the leaflets to swirl anywhere and it could even bring the ship down if the leaflets got into the various air vents. Major Mercer, Commander of the 8th PSYOP Battalion in 1968 complained that his men routinely threw leaflets from helicopters but frequently the rotor wash drew the leaflets into the rotors and occasionally they were chopped up by the tail rotor.

According to a report entitled DA Army Contact Team in Vietnam Study – Employment of US Army Psychological Operations Units in Vietnam, 7 June 1969, leaflet operations in the Republic of Vietnam were conducted at an accelerated rate with up to half a billion leaflets dropped monthly from low altitude aircraft. A particular problem existed in in leaflet dissemination from helicopters. Leaflets were thrown out in small handfuls, which required considerable exertion to get them clear of the rotor wash. This difficulty led to the development of the “Hurricane Hustler” leaflet disseminator, a device which permitted the placement of leaflets into the mouth of a chute where they were sucked from the aircraft into the slip stream below. Major Clarence A. Barkley, Commander, 6th PSYOP Battalion, adds in Operation Report for Quarterly Period Ending 31 January 1968, dated 6 February 1968 that a disperser consisting of a hopper and chute which fit into the sockets for the jump seat on a U1-H1 “Huey” increased the speed of dissemination and provide increased safety. The crew member dropping the leaflets was able to remain seated with his seat belt fastened. The chute extends out the door and below the floor level of the aircraft, thus eliminating leaflets being sucked into the aircraft blades, tail rotor or back into the aircraft. 

Helicopter Paper Bag Dissemination

The Paper Bag Dissemination Process

In 1970, as the United States prepared to pull out of Vietnam under a plan called “Vietnamization,” the 10th PSYOP Battalion was still working on ways to improve leaflet distribution from helicopters. In one of the strangest experiments, they found that paper bags worked quite well. Leaflets dropped from helicopter gunships in contact with the enemy were an excellent PSYOP weapon as they reach the target audience while they are receiving fire, or when they were confused and disorganized immediately after an attack. Paper bags containing 1,500 leaflets were found to be an excellent delivery method for dropping leaflets from a gunship. The bag would tear if grasped properly when it is dropped. A box of six such bags provided an adequate supply of leaflet without adding excess weight to the helicopter.

The 10th Battalion coordinated with the l64th Combat Aviation Group to carry Chieu Hoi leaflets on all helicopter gunships. To properly cover small targets from the altitudes involved, while avoiding the weight of a large quantity of leaflets, a new system of dissemination, utilizing paper bags, was developed. The concept was to put a limited number of leaflets on an enemy position immediately following an attack by gunships. A new system of dissemination, utilizing paper bags, was developed. Experiments proved that a 16-pound paper bag containing 1,500 leaflets is an ideal means of leaflet dissemination from a helicopter. The aviation group has been provided pre-packaged leaflets for every gunship.

Bundle or Box Dissemination

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Image from the inside cover of the 7th PSYOP Group's
Leaflet Dissemination Guide published in 1967

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Box of leaflets on tether rigged for air-drop

As aircraft science advanced and the airplanes got bigger with the ability to fly longer distances at higher altitudes, a system was needed to accurately place leaflets over a target area. At high altitudes, the use of leaflet bundles or boxes opened by a static line is effective.

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The Problem with leaflet bundles

Captain John C Lyons discussed the advantages and disadvantages of Leaflet bundles in an undated report that appears to have been written right at the end of the war in Europe, about 1945.

The oldest – and simplest – form of packing for distribution from aircraft is the ordinary leaflet package, wrapped in tough paper and fastened at either end with gummed paper tape. If one end is torn before the package is thrown from the plane, the item will disintegrate when it strikes the slipstream. For distribution from bombing aircraft, it was found, in the Mediterranean Theater that 4000 of the standard size leaflets (5” x 8”) made a package of the size and weight most easily handled by the air crews. For distribution from fighters and fighter-bombers a much smaller package is indicated; in the MTO packages of 500 leaflets were used in this type operation.

The two major problems with the bundle were:

The bundles often break in handling inside the aircraft, littering the interior of the plane and making leaflets additionally unpopular with the airmen. Or, packages burst as they are thrown out of the plane; the leaflets are caught in an updraft, and blown back into the interior

When the packages are made too stout – other problems arise. Solid packages have sometimes been caught in a strong wind current and slammed back against the plane, causing dents in or other damage to the wings or framework of the aircraft. There are many cases on record where packages fell to the ground undisintegrated, thereby defeating the whole purpose of airborne scatter.

In the case of leaflet boxes, through the use of rollers on the deck of the aircraft, boxes can be ejected with minimum exertion. This process uses the prevailing winds to carry leaflets in volume to targets many miles away from the drop point. The leaflets, dropped from aircraft flying prescribed routes at altitudes up to 50,000 feet, are carried to their target by prevailing winds. I remember a PSYOP Colonel telling me during the Cold War that he could fly over international waters well out to sea and drop leaflets on North Korean Leader Kim il Sung's doorstep each morning. He might have been bragging, or, he might not. Some of his comments are:

We operated C-47 aircraft with 3,000 pounds at altitudes up to 15,000 feet.  The second year, C-130 aircraft were used carrying 20,000 pounds up to altitudes of 25,000 feet, once in a while up to 25,500.  I got the bends at that altitude over North Vietnam - twice. Against North Korea, we prevented that problem by pre-breathing pure oxygen.  In Vietnam, we launched from Danang and were over the target area before we had a change to purge our system of nitrogen.

Against North Korea we had a fixed flight path just south of the DMZ. It extended west of the DMZ out over the water. We put leaflets in Pyongyang with the closest aircraft approach of 110 miles. 

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Leaflet box instructions

The preparation of the leaflet box is simple. It is first cut and weakened so that it will open easily under stress. It is then lightly held together using strips of masking tape. The box is filled with leaflets and the static line placed inside attached to a webbing holding the contents together. The box is then lightly taped closed. The static line can vary according to aircraft, but is often about 15 feet long. As might be expected, when the box is dropped from the aircraft it is pulled away violently and the static line splits the box open. The leaflets fall away followed by the empty box. This method required a lot of manpower.  Later in the war the military contracted with a box manufacturer on Okinawa to provide fabricated boxes with perforations where the box was to be cut.  It eliminated the worst of the manpower burden and saved a lot of time and masking tape. This method is an excellent way to drop large quantities of leaflets accurately from a great distance. However, it requires long-range planning and preparation to insure prompt reaction to favorable wind conditions. The advice of skilled, meteorological personnel and experts in leaflet descent principals is essential throughout the planning and execution of this type of operation.

The modern preparation of a leaflet box is discussed in Russell Snyder’s, Hearts and Mines – A Memoir of Psychological Warfare in Iraq, iUniverse, Bloomington, IN, 2011. Apparently, not much has changed in 40 years:

“You have a knife? Cut slits in the bottom, like this.” He deftly sliced four cuts in the bottom edge of the box. “Then use your engineer tape and put it through like this.”

Munoz routed two pieces of white fabric tape through the holes to fashion a makeshift harness and turned the box over.

“Leave your ends out. And then just put the leaflets in.”

Munoz twisted and riffled the edge of the stack [a “brick” of newly printed leaflets] to break it apart, and threw the leaflets into the box. Munoz stirred the full box with his hand and fluffed the contents. “Okay, when it’s full, you tie the ends together and hook up the static line like this.”

He attached a yellow nylon line of the type normally used to deploy a paratrooper’s parachute to the white cloth tape harness and taped shut the lid of the box. With another piece of tape he fastened one of the leaflets to the outside of the box as a label.

“And that’s it! We only have to do, oh, about twenty more.”

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Warrant Officer McHugh and his U-1A Otter

Chief Warrant Officer 4 Pete McHugh (call sign Darkhorse 43) told me:

I was in Viet Nam in 1967-1968 and again in 1971-1972. My first tour was in an Army fixed wing unit (U1-A Otters) in the III and IV Corps Area of Responsibility. We frequently were assigned missions to drop Leaflets. The mission was to load the aircraft with cardboard boxes packed full of leaflets, usually from Bien Hoa, take the rear passenger door off, fly to a designated target area, and at an altitude of from 3,000 to 5,000 feet the crew chief would slice each box with his survival knife as he kicked it out the open door. The slipstream would disperse the leaflets and we could cover large areas in a short time, then return to base to pick up another load.

The U. S. Army psychological warfare lesson on aerial leaflet dissemination states about Static Line boxes:

They can be dropped from all fixed and rotary wing cargo/utility aircraft. They can be any size box that when loaded weighs no more than 49.90 kilograms. It is essentially a box attached to a standard static line. When dropped from the aircraft, the static line is designed to turn the box inside out. “Meals Ready to Eat” (MRE) boxes can hold approximately 10,000 leaflets and are readily available in most places.

Trash bags can also be used for static line drops although they are non-doctrinal. They are best suited to rotary wing aircraft. They should be 1/2 to 2/3 full of leaflets. The static line should be secured to the knot on top of bag. Small holes should be torn in the bottom of the bag. On command, the bag is thrown from the aircraft. After ensuring that the leaflets are away, the bag and static line are retrieved.

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Rigging a Leaflet Box

There have been problems with past leaflet dissemination. In the U.S. Army Broadcasting and Visual Activity, Pacific booklet Leaflet Printing and Dissemination Guide, the author states:

A study of past leafleting practices shows that past formulae for leafleting were not based on sound criteria, but arose out of the judgment of individuals of varying degrees and fields of experience. The release methods used in leafleting missions resulted in grossly excessive leaflet concentrations and grossly insufficient target coverage. Four to sixteen times as many leaflets as were required to do the job were used on most missions. This paper has been prepared to aid the operator in overcoming these problems.

The booklet depicts some interesting ways to prepare a leaflet bundle. In one case a piece of wood is cut to the same size as the leaflet and drilled with a hole where a M80 firecracker is placed. Leaflets are then stacked above and below the wood. The fuse is split and a match head is placed in the cut. Apparently the match is struck just as the bundle is thrown from the aircraft. The text explains that an average village cannot be covered with leaflets by one pass of the aircraft.  It states that John Hopkins research has shown that it requires 18 leaflets for 1000 square meters of target. A village 1 kilometer long by 1/2 kilometer wide requires at least 9,000 leaflets.

The booklet mentions three methods of release. The first is the single cluster release method where one bundle is dropped on a small target. The second is the distributed cluster release method where several bundles are dropped on a medium sized target. The final is the hopper release method, which we have already discussed.

A member of the 7th PSYOP Group takes a moment to read a leaflet as he prepares the leaflet boxes on Okinawa. The picture is not too exciting, but I thought it interesting that on the wall directly in front of the soldier there is a poster showing him step-by-step how to prepare the box. They needed to be prepared just right to open properly.

Staff Sergeant Steve Jones of the 15th Physiological Training Flight discusses dropping leaflets over South Vietnam, North Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia between 13 March 1972 and 9 January 1973. He was assigned to medically support the C-130 aircraft crew during high altitude drops above 10,000 feet. As the war winded down he flew first from Cam Ranh Bay Air Force Base, then Tan Son Nhut Air Force Base, and finally Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand. He says:

Pallets loaded with boxes (each box about 30” x 30” x 18”) piled about 6-feet high were loaded onto the C-130.  Each box had a ripcord coming out of the top.  There were usually 5 of us in the back of the aircraft working the boxes.  7th PSYOPS would have already figured the saturation they wanted; the wind direction and speed were accounted for; and the altitude was set to accomplish the drop.  The only variable was the interval at which boxes were sent out of the plane.  As each box was taken off the pallet, the ripcord was attached to the static line.  When the green “jump” light came on (controlled by the Navigator with the time supplied by 7th PSYOPS,) we would send the box down the rollers and out of the opened back of the plane.  When the box reached the end of the ripcord, the cord would rip the box open and the pamphlets would disperse into the air.  The Loadmaster then had to pull the ripcord back into the plane.  This would continue until all boxes were gone.  The longest interval I experience was a day when we were dropping over the entire country of South Vietnam.   We would fly from the DMZ to the Delta and back; again and again, for the entire day.  We would drop a box every one-half hour.  The shortest intervals were when we were over Hanoi or Haiphong (always at night).  We were given a solid green light and would go as fast as we possibly could! 

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The 7th PSYOP Group Leaflet Dissemination Guide

The reader might ask, "how do you determine where a leaflet will fall from 50,000 feet 20 miles out over the ocean." There are a number of formulas and books on that very subject. A good friend of mine is the individual who wrote much of the early data. The 7th PSYOP Group then in Okinawa "liberated" much of his work and published a booklet entitled Low, Medium, and High Altitude Leaflet Dissemination Guide. It was first published as a draft in 1967 with an introduction letter signed by the Group commander COL M. W. Lundelius, later distributed as a document about 1969 with the letter signed by new commander COL Harold F. Bentz Jr. The booklet contains 31 chapters and is highly illustrated with drawings, diagrams and charts. A short quote on the theory of leafleting from the booklet:

If the falling rate of the leaflet is known and the wind speed and direction is known, it stands to reason that the distance the leaflet travels before coming to the ground can be computed with reasonable accuracy. For example, if a leaflet is dropped from 10,000 feet and falls at such a slow rate that it takes one hour to strike the ground, in a 10-knot wind, the leaflet would travel in the direction of the wind for 10 nautical miles. If the wind were blowing twice as fast, or 20 knots, the leaflet would travel twice as far or 20 nautical miles.

The "rule of thumb" for leaflet dispersion is that actual impact may vary from the predicted impact by as much as 10 percent of the distance the leaflets travel. That means that for a point or specific target 100 miles away, the center of impact could be as much as 10 miles away from the predicted center of impact. However, that does not necessarily mean failure of the attempt because the dimensions of the leaflet pattern itself will be large enough to assure substantial coverage of the chosen target provided proper leaflet selection has been made.

Air Force weather forecasters considered accuracy of forecast at the time to be plus or minus ten percent in wind speed forecast, and plus or minus ten degrees in wind direction. Even with more modern forecast methods and equipment, there is no reason to believe that the "rule of thumb" has improved to any great extent.

Errors in speed can be overcome by leaflet selection, and errors in direction can be overcome by a continuous release at right angles to the target area. This method insures target area coverage, but with extended coverage around the general target area.Leaflet density on the ground is determined by the area coverage and quantity dropped. Increasing the quantity dropped only increases the density, not the size of area covered.

The CIA used 500 pounds bundles from 500 feet.  One or two pounds would have done the same job. They lost at least one aircraft and crew in such an operation.,

What is proper leaflet selection? Let’s say for example that there is a leaflet that would spread 111 miles along the direction of the wind, when the center of the leaflet mass strikes the ground at 100 miles distance. The fast falling leaflets would start falling on the ground at about 45 miles from the release point and continue out to a distance of approximately 155 miles.

During the Vietnam War, two B-52 s were specially fitted for leaflet distribution. The internal bomb racks were removed and leaflet racks were installed. This was done in part to insure that the Air Force would not "steal" these dedicated PSYOP aircraft for regular bomb runs. The racks held aluminum boxes that were about 1 foot square. The boxes could be set to discharge their leaflets at a preset altitude.

The operation seems to have been more difficult than it sounds. Retired Colonel (then Captain) Charles V. Nahlik told me he had recommended the use of B-52 bombers for leaflet drops about 1966 without success:

The study involved examination of some sort of box compartment within the bomb section and attempting to get leaflet containers of some sort in there that would release the leaflets and not have any straps remaining outside the plane. The plan was rejected because they could not have loose material inside and because we could not come up with a way to eliminate the static lines that would pull the boxes of leaflets inside out.

During the Persian Gulf War, the Coalition dropped approximately 20,000 leaflets using static line boxes.

Problems with Leaflet Boxes

Leaflets are loaded onto a C47 in Vietnam
Photo courtesy of Bob Cutts, Stars and Stripes, April 1968

Sonetimes the leaflet box did not work exactly as designed. Pat Carty mentions some of the problems in Secret Squadrons of the Eighth, Ian Allen Ltd., London, 1990. A Colonel Wallace from VIII Bomber Command wrote regarding to the use of the box at high altitude:

We are not getting satisfactory results…the slipstream causes the bundles to open up directly below the aircraft, which means that leaflets destined for Paris end up in North Africa or Turkey.

Carty says that on one occasion the 60mph winds at 30,000 feet were so strong that leaflets destined for Paris were dropped over Brussels. Another problem was the bundle failing to open. Carty adds:

The Manchester Guardian reported that one bundle fell solidly on a small German barge, went through the bottom, and sunk it. Another bundle crashed through the roof of the Notre Dame Cathedral.  

CPT Charles V. Nahlik had a similar problem over Korea:

Once over Korea, one of the leaflet boxes shipped from Ft. Bragg did not open properly.  We had already released about 50 boxes so there were lots of static lines hanging out the back.  The weight of the box dangling out behind the plane made it impossible to pull the lines back in.  They attached an additional static line around me and with oxygen mask pumping away; I crawled out under the lines, foot, legs and hands until I could reach the line.  I took out a knife and cut the box loose to fall into the ocean below--- fortunately we were not over land so we didn't have to worry about messing up the roof of a South Korean family home. We kept several of the boxes on board so we could check them when we got back to Okinawa and found out that the static lines were not properly wrapped around the box. 

In spring of 2004 the United States Army published a "lessons learned" book on the second Gulf war entitled On Point: the United States Army in Iraqi Freedom. The book describes an interesting action in regard to psychological warfare and the use of the leaflet box. According to the authors, in the early hours of active combat, an Iraqi soldier was killed during a PSYOP operation:

The cause of death was a box of leaflets that fell out of a Combat Talon aircraft when a static line broke. The box impacted on the Iraqi guard's head, and the 9th PSYOP Battalion may have achieved the first enemy "killed in action" of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

A similar death occurred on 23 June 2009 when a Royal Air Force C-130 Hercules transport plane accidentally killed a young girl in Afghanistan by dropping a box of leaflets on her. According to the BBC, the leaflet box was supposed to open in mid-air, spreading pro-coalition propaganda over rural Helmand province, but the container failed to break apart, landing on top of the girl, who died later in the hospital. The RAF said it deeply regretted the incident and has launched an investigation into how the box, which could have weighed up to 40lb, hit the girl.

There were other problems with dropping the boxed leaflets during the early WWII bombing raids. For one, the leaflet aircraft had to fly at the end of the formation because it was feared that the leaflets would block the air intakes of the motors of any bombers flying behind them. That made the leaflet aircraft particularly vulnerable and sometimes not fully protected by the massed guns of the bomber formation. Along with the accuracy problems caused by dropping bundles at high altitude in high winds, this led to the determination that some kind of leaflet bomb was needed that would allow the aircraft to fly within the protective bomber formation and drop leaflets with far greater accuracy.

Curiously, this problem went all the way back to WWI. Bernard Wilkin mentions leaflets in engines in Aerial Propaganda and the Wartime Occupation of France, 1914–1918, Routledge, London and New York, 2017.

To reassure its pilots, the French Army tried to make aerial distribution safer. Engineers designed new mechanisms to avoid the suction of paper by aeroplane engines. The Inventions Service adopted two different devices, Pineau and Maurice, following several trials. These new release mechanisms improved the quality and the safety of propaganda distribution. The Inventions service also investigated several alternatives to aeroplane distribution to make propaganda more independent of military pilots.

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Heinkel 111 bomber

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Leaflet “Stick” Dissemination.

The Germans used different methods to drop leaflets but here we see what they call a Leaflet stick. The leaflets are bound together in a vertical pile several feet long. In this picture the leaflets are being loaded on a Heinkel 111 bomber to be dropped on Soviets on the Eastern Front in the summer of 1942.

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Leaflets being dropped through floor openings

CopterBox Dissemination

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The 2008 version of the leaflet box is the CopterBox, a lightweight, disposable air cargo delivery system that can deliver up to 100 pounds of emergency supplies from a wide variety of aircraft with drop speeds of up to 140 knots. The corrugated paper box employs three rotor blades that use the principle of autorotative lift to slow it and its payload to a gradual descent prior to ground contact. The CopterBox consists of a hexagonal container constructed of corrugated paper and other disposable, lightweight materials. An array of hinged rotor blades deploy when the system is dropped from an aircraft, causing CopterBox to rapidly decelerate as it descends to the ground similar to that of a helicopter in autorotation.

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CopterBox Kit

The CopterBox does not require Parachute Riggers to prepare the loads for airdrop and is a disposable vehicle so the logistical costs involved in fielding this product are reduced. The CopterBox does not require specially outfitted aircraft for transportation to the release point.   It does not require military static lines for deployment.  These factors allow non-standard aircraft to be used, thus freeing military airlift assets for their heavy airdrop and transportation roles.

Although the company’s literature does not mention the dissemination of leaflets, its founder, Chuck Warren, a retired U.S. Army colonel, says that Army Special Forces troops have been using CopterBoxes in Afghanistan to drop leaflets. He told me:

We have a version of CopterBox in the development stage called ScatterBox. We have test flown it a few times with paper and electronic leaflets.  We are starting a test program for USSOCOM now to actually put a guidance package on the box so it can be programmed to go to a coordinate, like smart ammo, and release the payload precisely where you want it.  Upon release, the centrifugal force of 8-10 Revs per Second will automatically unload it. Fifty pounds exactly where you need it is better than five tons of toilet paper drifting down the wrong valley.

Leaflet Bomb Dissemination

I must admit that I am not a "bomb" person. My specialty is paper. Having confessed, I will now try to bring the reader up-to-date on the history of leaflet bombs. If any specialist cares to write in and correct any errors in this chapter, I welcome your correspondence.

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M129 leaflet bombs

One of the great advances in the distribution of aerial leaflets was the invention of the leaflet bomb. There have been numerous types used since WWII, probably the most famous the Monroe Bomb invented by an American airman.

Air Bomb Methods

The History of the Second Mobile Radio Broadcasting Company mentions the use of leaflet bombs in several places and above we depict some photographs from their booklet:

If the leaflets were for air bomb dissemination, they would be delivered to the bomb loading depot where the bomb depot officer would have his civilian crew load them into modified flare bombs and deliver them to the appropriate airfields in the vicinity as directed by the Air Corps liaison officer at Headquarters.

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Captain James Monroe sets the fuse on a Leaflet Bomb

The Twelfth United States Army Group European Theater of Operations book Publicity and Psychological Warfare mentions the use of the Monroe leaflet bomb in WWII:

Heavy bombers flying at 30,000 feet over northwest Europe had to allow for a 60 mph wind. This meant that leaflets destined for Paris had to be tossed out of the plane somewhere near Brussels.

The T-1 Monroe Bomb being loaded.

The chief advantage of this cheap and locally constructed leaflet bomb was that it could be easily
hung in the bomb racks of the B-17 and B-24 heavy bombers without modification of the shackles.

On the night of 19 April 1944 a lone B-17 Flying Fortress winged over the North Sea on its way to Normandy. In its belly is carried a new type of bomb, subsequently known as the T-1 or Monroe Bomb after its inventor, Major James Monroe of the Psychological Warfare Department, Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF)

As the fortress neared Oslo, the bomb bay opened and ten cardboard containers, each packed with 80,000 leaflets dropped earthward. A barometric fuse exploded the containers at 2,500 feet.

From that day, quantity distribution of leaflets to the enemy was insured. Each B-17 Flying Fortress of B-24 Liberator could carry ten of the T-1 bombs (800,000 leaflets per mission). The Special Leaflet Squadron set up by the Eighth Air Force, operating with a maximum of 12 planes, carried almost 1,000,000 leaflets each night that weather permitted.

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Loading the Monroe leaflet bombs

This bomb is made from the lightweight case containers for the M17Amiable Cluster Chemical Bomb. The container is a laminated paper cylinder of great strength 47 inches in length and 16 1/2 inches in diameter. It is capped on each end with a cardboard cap, which encases the tube for a vertical distance of seven inches, and is fastened in place by masking tape.

When I started this article I said that I was not an expert on bombs, and I am not. Still, as I was doing research I was amazed to find that I wrote an article entitled "The Monroe Bomb - World War Two Workhorse," forty years ago in the September 1965 issue of The Falling Leaf. Some of my comments:

The Monroe bombs were first made at the Sharnbrook Ordnance Depot, a small unit consisting of about 43 men. At the same time, a packing unit was formed near the Globe printing plant at Watford. The mission was soon given to the 500-man 8th Air Force Ordnance Depot at Melchborne Park, Bedfordshire. This unit produced 75,277 Monroe bombs by the end of the war. About 50,000 were actually used on leaflet missions at a rate of about 4,000 per month.

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T3 Leaflet Bomb

The T3 (M26) Leaflet bomb was converted from the American M-26 Hooded Flare for use by both British and American fighter and fighter/bomber aircraft. The first large-scale use of it was made in 1944 in connection with D-day in southern France. Its first operational use was in July 1944. The bomb was of light metal construction. The cylinder was 50-inches long, 8-inches in diameter, weighed 64 pounds and could hold between 14,000 and 15,000 standard sized leaflets (8.5" x 5.25"). Bundles of leaflets were secured inside a wooden frame, which was inserted into the bomb. The British called the T3 the Mark I and Mark II.

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M-26 MkII leaflet bomb

The bomb was an American weapon so the British used a special brass adapter that was threaded into the nose fuse packet. The adapter is internally threaded to receive the 860 Mark II fuse. In the base of the adapter is a charge of G.12 gunpowder. The bomb had American lugs so British aircraft had to be modified to carry the bombs. On all-leaflet missions 17 can be carried in the bomb racks of a B-25 or B-26. The device can be used either in the racks of bombers or under the wings of fighters or fighter-bombers.

A U. S. document mentions the testing of the M26 propaganda leaflet bomb. The report states that the M26 flare bomb works best as a leaflet bomb at altitudes over 2000 feet. The report recommends that one aircraft in the formation carry all the leaflet bombs. Because the trajectory is different from high explosive bombs, only one crew would need to be briefed on the special circumstances of the drop.

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Loading Leaflets

The Flugblattstange system
Photo from Ortwin Buchbender - Das toenende Erz

Researcher Nick Smirnov told me that the Germans did not have a dedicated leaflet bomb.

They used vertical systems where the leaflets were piled high called Flugblattstangen (Leaflet Sticks) to drop leaflets from Heinkel He 111 bombers. They also used what they called Flugblatthullen (leaflet envelopes) to drop leaflets from Junkers JU-88 “Fast-Bombers.”

Der Wehrmacht features a Leaflet Mission

In the 21 October 1942 issue 22 on Die Wehrmacht, there is an article titled “100 million leaflets for the city of Stalin” by a photo-correspondent Zend. The photographs in the article depict aircraft, the packaging of leaflets, a mission briefing, and the dropping of the leaflets. The leaflet bundle weighs 40 kilograms. Some of the captions say in part:

A group of three aircraft has dropped their leaflets at an altitude of about 4000 meters - the area of leafleting above the enemy's positions near Stalingrad.

Propaganda and within it - the leaflet - is also an important weapon in this war. For example, over 100 million leaflets were dropped over Stalingrad in just a month.

The first leaflet package fell from the aircraft and its contents are flying.

Stephen Pease mentions the leaflet bomb used by the United States during the Korean War in his book Psywar - Psychological Warfare in Korea 1950-1953:

The bomb was known s the M16-A1 cluster Adapter of WWII origin. It held 45,000 four-by-five-inch leaflets or 22,500 five-by-eight-inch leaflets. The bomb carried a time delay separation charge. After release at 15,000 to 25,000 feet, the bomb halves separated at 1,000 to 2,000 feet to concentrate the leaflets over a specific target area.

Pease apparently used a declassified 3 January 1951 working paper entitled "Leaflet Dropping in Korea by the Far Eastern Air Force" as his source. In that paper William Daugherty interviews flight crews and reviews the dissemination of leaflets up to that date.

Up until 10 December 1950 the Far Eastern Air Force (FEAF) had assigned just two B-29 bombers for two sorties a week for leaflet operations. As of 12 December 1950 the Special Projects Branch had printed and disseminated over 147,000,000 leaflets. 88% of those leaflets were dropped by B-29s of the 98th Bomb Group stationed in Yokota, Japan. The B-29 carried a maximum of 32 of the cluster bombs, each carrying 22,500 leaflets measuring 5 x 8 inches, or 45,000 leaflets measuring 4 x 5 inches.

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An Army instructor  describes  the leaflet delivery methods of the 500-pound M105A1 leaflet bomb.

On 19 December 1950 FEAF agreed to assign one B-29 that could fly a sortie a day. The medium of distribution by the B-29s was the WWII-era M-16 500-pound bomb (cluster adapter) fitted with the M-111-A2 fuse. There were a number of problems with the leaflet bomb. It tended to tumble when released, often losing its tail and thus its accuracy, the casing frequently came apart in the bomb bay, and faulty fuses caused the bombs to split open early, or remain closed all the way to the ground. Because of these faults that became apparent at Aberdeen Proving Grounds and Elgin Air Force Base, two improved bombs were in development. They are the M-105 and the M16A-1.

Daugherty concludes that the M16 bomb is ineffective and inefficient and that if there is a better leaflet bomb in the inventory, then someone needs to motivate the logistics people to get those bombs forward to where they are needed. He also states that the B-29 bomber is a poor medium of dissemination. He recommends other aircraft, artillery dissemination, or troops on the ground be used to distribute propaganda leaflets.

M16A-1 and M-105 bombs loaded with leaflets

A Fully Loaded 500-pound Leaflet Bomb

The film titled PSYCHOLOGICAL WARFARE IN ALASKA was found in the National Archives and depicts a PSYWAR unit in Alaska in the 1950s. It is short, about ten minutes, but does a good job of explaining leaflets, leaflet artillery and bombs, and loudspeakers both on the ground and in the air. We believe the unit depicted is the U.S. 6th Radio Broadcasting and Leaflet Group.

The film depicts a 500-pound leaflet bomb being loaded. The leaflets are first spread in a metal template 4-inches high and 13-inches in diameter. The finished rolls are tied with string so they keep their shape and can be placed inside the bombs. Each roll can contain as many as 6,000 leaflets, a fully loaded bomb can hold up to 30,000 leaflets. The M155 fuse is usually timed to explode at 1000 feet above the ground, but it can be set anywhere from 5 to 92 seconds.

As long as we are on the subject of the Korean War we should mention that at least one B-26 Medium bomber was fitted with a canister that could pump out over a ton of leaflets in just a few seconds.  It could also be set to dribble out leaflets at a much slower rate.

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Soldiers loading M129E2 leaflet bomb

Other bombs have been used since WWII, most notably the M129 leaflet bomb. We quote once again from the military text Propaganda Dissemination:

The M129E1/E2 leaflet bomb was developed to fill USAF requirements for an efficient propaganda leaflet bomb. This leaflet bomb was used extensively in Southeast Asia in conjunction with strategic long-range interdiction bombing missions. The bomb is designed for external and internal carriage on fighter-bomber or bomber aircraft. It is an Air Force item obtained through Air Force ordnance channels.

A U. S. Army psywarrior involved in that action believes the above statement to be incorrect. He is critical of the Air Force operation. He says: 

MACV-SOG used the leaflet bombs in the early 1964-1965 period.   Its use was limited.  They approached me to help them empty their warehouse that had become backlogged with leaflets.  I took ten tons out on the first Vietnam high altitude mission.  When the pressure was on to leaflet Hanoi, the task was given to the Air Force using leaflet bombs. Their mission afteraction report was “mission accomplished.”  Later they provided me with drop location, opening altitude and wind conditions.  When I did the calculations it was clear that they not only missed Hanoi, they missed the Red River Valley.  Most of the leaflets landed in China.  You do not take leaflets designed for high altitude stand-off delivery, and then open the bomb in the area of the Target.

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M129E2 Leaflet bomb

The M129E1/E2 Psychological Operations Leaflet Bomb is a device used for dropping large quantities of propaganda leaflets from high flying aircraft, to insure their reaching their targets with a minimum of drift caused by air currents. The leaflet bomb is made of fiberglass and consists of a body, M129E1, and tail section, M148. The M129 dispenser is 7.5 long and 16 inches in diameter. Its empty weight is about 115 pounds and when loaded with leaflets, approximately 225 pounds. It is split longitudinally into two sections held together by four latches on each side. The bomb can carry about 30,000 5 1/4 x 8 inch machine-rolled leaflets printed on 16-pound paper stock. The bomb can hold as many as 60,000 to 80,000 smaller standard sized leaflets. The method of loading is to place six 14 1/2 inch diameter rolls and one 12 1/2 inch diameter roll inside the dispenser. Before the leaflets are placed in the bomb a detonating cord is placed in the seam between the two halves. When the bomb is released, the fuse functions at a predetermined time detonating the primer cord, separating the two body sections, detaching the fins, and releasing the leaflets. The M129 is dropped from fixed wing aircraft including B-52s, F-16s, F-18s and A-6s. The Air Force has been using the 200-lb. M129 leaflet bomb for many years, but the canisters are aging and the inventory is being rapidly depleted.

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U.S. Army and Air Force personnel load a 750-pound M129 E2 bomb canister with MISTF-C leaflets to be dropped by B-52 Stratofortress aircraft. After the M129 is dropped, a time fuse detonates the primer cord between the bomb’s two sections, blowing it open and releasing its contents on target audiences within the Combined Joint Operations Area (CJOA). (Photo Courtesy Veritas magazine,)

SP5 Paul Merrell of the 8th PSYOP Battalion talks about loading the bombs:

The leaflet bombs had the same dimensions as a standard Air Force 750-pound bomb but each was two fiberglass shells joined by Allen head bolts. Our task was to disassemble each pair, install a detonator in the nose, string detonation cord from the detonator along the lip of each side of one half shell, fill the bomb with leaflets, reassemble the shell halves, install a tail assembly, then transport each loaded bomb to a separate revetment at the airbase.

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MK129A Leaflet bombs

The bomb requires two to four 37F MOS Soldiers to assist in loading of PSYOP leaflets. Leaflets may be machine-rolled, hand-rolled, or stacked and placed inside the bomb. U.S. Air Force personnel are responsible for loading the bomb on aircraft and fusing it. The M129E1/E2 can be used only on aircraft requiring forced ejection for release from a bomb shackle. F-16, B-52, and FA-18 aircraft can carry the M129E1/E2. PSYOP staff planners and U.S. Air Force personnel are responsible for bombing calculations.

More recent doctrine as taught in the psychological operations aerial leaflet dissemination course after Operation Enduring freedom states that the Mk-129E/1 & Mk-129E/2 Leaflet Bomb is the approved method of dissemination of leaflets from high-speed Ground based aircraft and is only approved for use on the A10, F4, F15, and B52 aircraft. The Army loads leaflets, the aircrew sets the fuse.

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Soldiers loading leaflet rolls into bomb during the Gulf War

There were problems with the M129 E1/E2 leaflet bomb. Constructed of fiberglass, the M-129 canister limited the mission flight performance capabilities of the aircraft carrying it. Also, the M-129's use of a primer cord to separate the canister's two halves tended to burn up many of the leaflets before they ever reached the ground. A newer and more efficient leaflet delivery system was needed.

There were other problems with the M129 bomb. After the Vietnam conflict US fighter aircraft did not just "drop" bombs but shifted to "Forced Ejection" which literally had the aircraft push the bomb away from the aircraft to avoid damage to the aircraft. This necessitated modification of the M-129 with a metal plate to absorb the force of this ejection process. The bombs used in the gulf war were these type, same capacity, same fuse, but with the plate.

A former PSYOP officer stated in regard to the loading of the bombs:

We experimented with several types of devices to roll the leaflets. We actually had a $50,000 leaflet rolling machine. I found that I could do as well with a 5 or 6-inch strip of cardboard from a MRE box. The rolls produced were functionally the same although machine rolled them a bit tighter. We were constantly experimenting. We would flare out the leaflets so that they were spread out like a magician spreads out a deck of cards. These flared out stacks were then laid on edge against the outer wall of a cardboard form. A banding strap about a meter long was then coiled up to form a ring that pressed the stacks out from the middle against the cardboard frame. As you jammed in more stacks the spring gave a little until the form was filled up sufficiently to remove the coiled up spreader. The cardboard frame was held together with gutted 550 chord tied to notches cut in the edge of the cardboard. We printed leaflets of different colors to show which leaflets had been rolled on a $50,000 machine and which were hand rolled. The rolls were then packed into the leaflet bombs and dropped to see if the dispersion patterns were the same. We were pleased to note that the machine and hand rolls performed the same.

The Use of Flare Containers as Delayed Action Leaflet Bombs


Loading flares, inflight Blind Bat operations, onboard C-130, Ubon, Thailand, Spring 1967

A "Secret" Project CHECO (Contemporary Historical Evaluation of Combat Operations) report titled Psychological Operations by USAF/VNAF in South Vietnam was published on 18 September 1968. It mentions the use of the flare container as a leaflet bomb:

Different Delayed Opening Leaflet System (DOLS) techniques have been developed by personnel at Ubon and Nakhon Phanom in Thailand. The BLINDBAT personnel have discovered a method of utilizing rejected flares, which can be very effectively deployed by the flare system in the BLINDBAT aircraft. [The Blind Bat mission lasted six years, from mid-1964 to mid-1970. Initially, flights originated at Da Nang, South Vietnam, and routinely overflew the North looking for trucks moving at night. If successful, fighter aircraft would be called in to attack the vehicles].These flares would normally be destroyed at the base. The DOLS is made by opening the end of the flare, removing the parachute, replacing the chute with leaflets, and replacing the end cover. When the DOLS is dropped and the timer fires, the explosion, which would normally open the parachute, deploys the leaflets. Approximately two thousand 6 x 3-inch leaflets can be placed in each DOLS. Since the DOLS has the same appearance as a normal flare, it is color coded to allow identification. A simple mechanical release is used to drop the flares or leaflets from the rack. One useful, but unforeseen, feature of this DOLS technique is that the flare candle is not removed and normally lights when the timer fires. When the flare hits the ground, it can usually be seen, showing whether the drop was on target or not.

 Here is enlisted Specialist Fifth Class Mario Villamarzo’s experience loading leaflet bombs in Vietnam:

While with the headquarters & Headquarters Company (HHC) in Saigon several of us loaded leaflet bombs in Bien Hoa. We loaded a deuce and a half [2 ½ ton truck] to the hilt with boxes of leaflets then we headed to what I think was the largest napalm bomb assembly place in Southeast Asia. Usually it was about 4 or 5 guys that went accompanied by an E-6 or a 2nd lieutenant. We would spend the entire day, sometimes six or seven days in a row loading the fiberglass bombs with leaflets. We didn't roll the leaflets as the training manuals said, that was too slow. Instead we stacked the leaflets in the bombs. The empty shells of the bombs would be waiting for us every morning. We had an air compressor and an air powered ratchet to split the bombs into two halves. We would load one half and then place the other half over the loaded half. Then we would place detonation cord in a groove along the edge of the half we loaded. We would bolt the 2 halves back together with the use of the air tool. Every day we would prepare dozens of bombs and all the bombs would be gone by the next daylight. Black and white leaflets were printed by HHC in Saigon. The color leaflets were printed on Okinawa. We didn't have color printing capabilities in Vietnam.

A former PSYOP lieutenant from the 10th PSYOP Battalion in 1968 corrects Mario's last comment:

Never saw the leaflet bombs though we tested the 5 lb bomblets with a timed fuse release that we tossed from the U-10. Gotta take issue with the "no color capability in Vietnam". We printed 3 colors in Can Tho. I think he meant the presses that ran colors simultaneously and he would be right. We had to run them one color at a time.

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Remnant of an M129 E2 leaflet bomb
Note the damage to the cannister

The United States Air Force's Information Warfare Battle Lab has examined more than 270 information warfare concepts since 1997. About 8% of the new initiatives are associated with psychological operations. The Air Force knew that the 200-pound M129 leaflet bombs were aging and the inventory was depleted. At the same time, older cluster munitions were being phased-out of operational use. Modern American cluster bombs, generally known as "cluster bomb units" or "CBUs," are organized around several general canisters that can be filled with a variety of different sub-munitions.

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The "SUU-30" canister is 7 feet 9 inches long and 16 inches in diameter, and opens like a clamshell. The acronym "SUU" stands for "Suspension Utility Unit" or "Suspension Under-wing Unit." There are a few standard combat configurations for each type of canister. The SUU-30 canister can be field-configured to carry leaflets and other payloads. The LBU-30 (leaflet bomb unit) consists of the SUU-30 cluster dispenser modified to deliver leaflets. The older CBU-52, CBU-58 and CBU-71 cluster munitions were being phased-out of operational use, freeing up thousands of SUU-30 dispensers that could be modified to deliver leaflets. The SUU-30 can carry more leaflets than can be packed into the M129 bomb. Because the weapon had already undergone testing, what the Air Force calls "Seek Eagle," it was fielded quickly. The LBU-30 completed flight testing at Eglin AFB, Florida in 2000, when the weapon was successfully dropped from an F-16 flying at 20,000 ft. The Air Force Battle Lab then decided to retrofit the SUU-30H/B cluster bomb canister for leaflets as a substitute for the M-129. The SUU-30 canister doesn't suffer from the M-129's operational limitations. However, there were problems with the SUU-30 too. The safety precautions required to remove the SUU-30's cluster bomb munitions made the demilitarization cost prohibitive.

The Air Force Battle Lab continued to search for a better leaflet bomb and found the MK-20 Rockeye II munitions canister. The Rockeye is 6 feet 11 inches long and 13 inches in diameter. Like the SUU-30, it is a "clamshell" that splits in half to release its payload. The MK-20 Rockeye II canister was both better suited for leaflet missions and offered better aircraft performance than the SUU-30.

The retrofitted Rockeye canister (SUU- 76C/B dispenser) first flew in November 2001 over Eglin AFB, Florida, with that base's 40th Flight Test Squadron. Similarly, the Navy conducted its own certification drops as well as catapult and trap tests for carrier operations.

We should add here that the U.S. Navy is taking PSYOP quite seriously. They now have the ability to print and launch leaflets from ships at sea. The Navy Tactical Task List includes psychological operations and states:

To conduct planned operations to convey selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of foreign governments, organizations, groups, and individuals.  This includes:   (1) Identifying afloat reproduction and printing capabilities available for development of approved psychological operations (PSYOP) products to include handbills, leaflets, and posters, (2) Identifying delivery capabilities to include air, ordnance, and electronic means, (3) Conducting support to joint PSYOP plans, and (4) Maintaining, deploying, and identifying shortfalls in PSYOP support equipment not available afloat.

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Demilitarization and modification of the Rockeye II canister-type bomb now re-designated the PDU-5/B as a leaflet delivery system began in earnest in January 2002. It is used to drop leaflets from high-performance aircraft such as the F-16 and FA-18. Each PDU-5/B can deliver about 60,000 leaflets.

The M129E1/E2 leaflet bomb posed acute operational employment problems. The weapon had airspeed and maneuvering limitations when loaded onto high performance aircraft. Fighters were forced to operate and maneuver at lower speeds to prevent unintentional M129 separation during flight. The PDU-5/B maintains the same general flight characteristics as the M129 without the flight restrictions. The “PD” is Air Force nomenclature for a leaflet weapon. “U” means the weapon is suspended. The “5” signifies design number five in the series. The “B” describes the unit as aircraft installed and expendable.

The PDU-5/B was employed extensively both in Afghanistan and Iraq as part of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. The first propaganda leaflet bomb dropped on Baghdad that released 60,000 leaflets in March 2003 was the PDU-5/B leaflet bomb. An early statistic shows that after four dozen missions the PDU-5/B had delivered more than 36 million leaflets over hostile territory.

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Navy crew members on the U.S.S. John C. Stennis load a PDU-5 leaflet bomb prior to a PSYOP exercise to test leaflet dispersion pattern and timing. 80,000 leaflets produced in the Stennis print shop were later released at 5,000 feet from an F/A-18C Hornet flown by Lt. Dave Kneeland of Strike Fighter Squadron VFA-25 (Fist of the Fleet) in October 2004

The advantages of the PDU-5/B are that psychological operational planners can now prepackage their leaflets for rapid shipment to the weapons load point. The ground crews can quickly load the prepackaged tubes into PDU-5/B canisters without modification. And financially, both the Air Force and the Navy saved more than $20 million by not having to develop an entirely new leaflet delivery system.

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USAF Master Sergeant Charles Doig Autographs the PDU-5/B Leaflet Bomb

Master Sergeant Charles “Chuck” Doig of the Air Intelligence Agency’s Psychological Operations Division submitted the leaflet bomb concept to the Air Force Information Warfare Battlelab in January 2000. The Battlelab first tested the SUU-30H/B cluster bomb canister as a leaflet dispenser, but determined it would be cost prohibitive to demilitarize. The Mk-7 Rockeye canister was then tested and dropped successfully from an F-16 on 30 November 2001. It was certified as the PDU-5/B leaflet delivery system in January 2002. The story is told in an Air Force brochure entitled Leaflet Bomb – Taking PSYOP to the Enemy.” In the above photo Chuck signs the leaflet bomb as the “Project Originator.”

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A Navy F/A-18F Super Hornet drops a PDU-5 cannister filled with leaflets

The most recent doctrine as taught in the psychological operations aerial leaflet dissemination course says that the PDU-5/B Leaflet Delivery System (LDS) is the approved method of dissemination of leaflets from high-speed Carrier based aircraft. It is approved for use on FA-18 and F16 aircraft. The Army loads the leaflets, the aircrew sets the fuse.

All members of a psychological warfare task force are expected to understand the 12 steps of loading of the leaflet bomb. Some of the steps are:

Load leaflets rolls into cardboard tube half, ensuring that all rolls weigh approximately 7.5 pounds, for a total tube weight of 150 pounds (plus or minus two pounds). Cut the brown protective band on each leaflet roll two-thirds of the width of the roll. Use a grease pencil to write the leaflet product number on the top of the cardboard tube and both ends. Place the cardboard tube far forward inside the bomb. Write the product number on the bomb body. After fitting the tail, write the product number on the tail fin of the bomb.

Other items in the current inventory are the PAU 6/A (external) leaflet dispenser.

The U.S. inventory also contained the M104 45.4 kilogram leaflet bomb and the M105 227 kilogram leaflet bomb.

In Vietnam the 7th PSYOP dropped leaflets in canisters (metal boxes costing $41.00 each) with a timed opening device from very high altitudes against Hanoi.   The leaflets dropped on Hanoi were released from B-52 bombers 93 miles distance. 

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B-52 drops leaflet bombs over Point Mugu and Edwards Air Force Base

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A B-52 loaded with eight PDU-5/B leaflet bombs underneath the left wing.

It seems the U.S. Air Force never gets tired of testing leaflet bomb dissemination. In July of 2017, a 419th Flight Test Squadron B-52 dropped eight PDU-5/B leaflet bombs over the Point Mugu Sea Test Range and eight more over the Precision Impact Range Area on Edwards.

According to the Air Force, PDU-5/B canisters can deliver about 60,000 leaflets and were deployed in Operation Iraqi Freedom before any Air Force munitions began hitting targets in Baghdad, Iraq. The dispenser bomb can be dropped from helicopters and fighter jets, and now the 419th is trying to see if the B-52 fleet can be used as well.

The South African Leaflet "Bucket Bomb"

This interesting dissemination device was used by young Communists to spread anti-apartheid information in South Africa. It was used in the late 1960s and early 1970s by young white British men and women. The leaflets were placed in a small packet and placed in a "bucket bomb" which was designed not to injure anyone when exploded. The bombs were strategically placed in popular locations in five different cities and at a specific time all were ignited. 60 recruits carried out 50 missions during this campaign. A documentary film called London Recruits on the secret propaganda war will be released in 2024.

Leaflet Pneumatic Dispenser Dissemination

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Leaflet test using pneumatic system

The U. S. military is still searching for a faster and cheaper method of dispensing a large number of leaflets safely and accurately. The U.S. Navy has partnered with Raytheon Corporation to explore a modular structure that can hold as many as four easily loaded trays of leaflets that can be instantly disseminated by use of pressurized gas. One advantage of this system is that no leaflets are burnt or destroyed by the explosive devices used to blow the leaflet bombs apart.

The two types of candidate structures are the CNU-188 Baggage Container and the MXU-648 Cargo Pod.

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Artist diagram of CNU-188

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F-14 loaded with a CNU-188

The CNU-188 is 183 inches in length, 26.5 inches maximum diameter, and can carry 234 pounds. This container can be carried by the F-18, F-14, S-3, AV-8B, EA-6B and A4 aircraft.

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The MXU-648 is 130 inches in length, 18.75 inches maximum diameter, and can carry a 300 pound payload. The pod can be carried by the F-16, F-15, A-10, and AV-8B aircraft.

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Artist conception of pneumatic dispenser and pod

The concept is to have a dispenser inside the pod structure that can quickly distribute the leaflets over a selected target by pneumatically firing entire selected trays instantly. The structure must be reusable and contain multiple dispensers. The leaflets should be stored in stacks inside trays that are both quick loading and quick ejecting.

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Pneumatic dispenser

The power source for the ejection during the test phase was the LAU-127 nitrogen bottle. The bottle can supply 500 pounds per square inch (PSI) pressure. The containment tube holds 17,500 leaflets that are tray loaded. The tube doors are locked or unlocked by in-flight personnel.

The experimental system met all performance goals during initial testing. A pressure of 500 psi was reached, the tubes could be loaded in under 10 minutes, and 100% of the leaflets were dispensed undamaged in 100 milliseconds.

Drone Aircraft Dissemination

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Vietnam era drone

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Vietnam era drone in flight

Drone aircraft using chaff dispensers with the chaff replaced with leaflets were "piloted" along routes of communication in North Vietnam with small packets released at relative low altitude.

The AQM-34L reconnaissance drone was developed from the earlier BQM-34A jet-powered, subsonic target drone first produced in 1960. The AQM-34L Compass Bin (Firebee II) It is one of a series of remotely piloted vehicles (RPVs) used for combat reconnaissance during the Vietnam War. The AQM-34L was air-launched and controlled from a DC-130 director aircraft and flown on low-level photographic missions over North Vietnam. After a mission, the RPV was directed to a safe recovery area where its parachute was deployed. The Firebee was then either retrieved in mid-air by helicopter or recovered from land or water. Recovery and clean-up from salt water was estimated at $100,000 per mission. During the Vietnam War over 3,435 sorties were flown by the remotely piloted vehicles. Other variants of the drone were the AQM-34G, AQM-34H, and AQM-34J. The Teledyne-Ryan AQM-34H (Model 147NC)is of particular interest because it was modified for propaganda leaflet dissemination, which earned it the USAF nickname of “Litter Bug” and “Bullshit Bomber.”

The Ryan Corporation talked about their drone in more depth:

The Ryan Model 147 Lightning Bug is a jet-powered drone, or unmanned aerial vehicle, produced, and developed by Ryan Aeronautical from the earlier Ryan Firebee target drone series.

Beginning in 1962, the Model 147 was introduced as a reconnaissance RPV (Remotely Piloted Vehicle, nomenclature of that era) for a United States Air Force project named FIRE FLY. Over the next decade — assisted with secret funding from the recently formed National Reconnaissance Office along with support of the Strategic Air Command and Ryan Aeronautical's own resources — the basic Model 147 design would be developed into a diverse series of variants configured for a wide array of mission-specific roles, with multiple new systems, sensors and payloads used, modified, and improved upon during the operational deployment of these drones in Southeast Asia. Missions performed by the Model 147 series RPVs included high- and low-altitude photographic and electronic aerial reconnaissance, surveillance, decoy, electronic warfare, signals intelligence, and psychological warfare.

The Model 147NC, which entered service in 1969 with the 11th Tactical Drone Squadron was generally like the Model 147NA, with the addition of endplate auxiliary fins on its tailplane. It had been designed a few years earlier to fly at medium altitude carrying AN/ALE-2 chaff dispensers under each wing to counter enemy radar systems. The Model 147NC had originally been intended to support bombing raids over North Vietnam under Compass Bin and Combat Angel, but air strikes on North Vietnam were scaled back in March 1968 and stopped completely by November so the 147NC was not deployed in its intended role. When bombing resumed in 1972, chaff was dropped by piloted F-4 Phantom fighters instead. Model 147NCs did get into action during the "political offensive" of 1972 by dropping propaganda leaflets. The project was codenamed Litterbug. Variants are the 147NC: Chaff / leaflet dispenser variant and the AQM-34H (leaflet dispensing).

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The Drone Chaff Dispenser

Retired Lieutenant Colonel Dave Underhill of the 7th PSYOP Group told me:

If you have a low flying drone aircraft, such as was used by the Navy against North Vietnam, a 6x3-inch leaflet on 24 pound paper provides the greatest spread factor for the drop. It has a rather impressive ground rate of descent of 1.8 feet per second allowing it to drift deep into an enemy, friendly or neutral target with an impressive spread factor, .54 to the center of the leaflet mass. The aircraft dispensed the leaflets along lines of communications where the heaviest foot traffic might be found. Leaflets were placed in small packets and dispensed via chaff dispensers.

Another USAF paper says:

The best known United States UAV operations were those conducted by the United States Air Force during the Vietnam War. Ryan BQM-34 “Lightning Bug” drones were deployed to the theater in 1964. From the start of operations in 1964 until missions were terminated in 1975, 3,435 operational drone sorties were flown in Southeast Asia by the Strategic Air Command’s 100th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing. These air-launched UAVs flew both high (above 60,000 feet) and low (below 500 feet) altitude missions. Mission durations were as long as 7.8 hours. The types of missions included photo reconnaissance, leaflet dropping, signals intelligence collection, and the laying of radar confusing chaff corridors to aid penetrating strike aircraft.

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US troops test drones at Chu Lai in Vietnam
Image by © Christian Simonpietri/Sygma/Corbis

Psyop Digest mentioned the use of drones in an article entitled "Remotely Piloted Vehicles." The author stated that drones were used by the United States Air Force in December 1969 to drop leaflets with Nixon's plea for peace over North Vietnam. One of the special operators said about the operation:

Right before Nixon restarted the bombing a major drone operation for leaflet drops was put together for North Vietnam, basically explaining why the bombing was resumed.

Former United States Army Captain Bill Forgey tells the story in greater detail:

A meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was held immediately prior to the resumption of the bombing at which the action plan was activated to use the drones due to the increased antiaircraft missile capability the North Vietnam had put into place during the bombing lull. The drone mission was top secret as it would have given away the bombing commencement.

I was assigned to DCSOPS at the Pentagon, International Affairs Directorate, which handled PSYOPS, UW, CI etc. I was made the action officer on the drone project by Mr. Harold Cotner, DA Civilian, who was the primary point of contact for the Army at the Joint Chiefs meeting. My immediate superior was LTC John Morgan. The Army was to provide leaflet printing, boxes, and box packing. The Air Force was to provide the drones and would fly them. The Navy was to help with shipping the drones from one port to another.

I received the assignment on a Friday, as I remember. The company that made the drone dissemination boxes was in NYC. I do remember finding the owner at home and telling him we needed those boxes delivered to La Guardia within 36 hours. He got them there; the 7th PSYOP Group in Okinawa did the printing, and loaded the boxes (the boxes were delivered to them by a charter flight). The boxes were specially designed to fit into the drones. The boxes dropped and then were ruptured -- I presume by a small charge. This was a very expensive operation. This project was classified as the leaflets had to be set up and dropped immediately prior to the resumption of the bombing. In fact they were dropped simultaneously with the resumption.  The Air Force delayed the drone deployment due to various problems on their end for a few days. Mr. Cotner had a great chuckle at their distress because they had acted so glib during the meetings about their ability to handle the project. Army did its job on time and did it well.

An unidentified newspaper clipping from 24 July 1972 titled “U.S. Drones Drop Leaflets – Bombs Could Be Next,” says in part:

Saigon (UPI) – Planes without pilots are being used for the very first time to drop American-produced propaganda leaflets over North Vietnam, U.S. sources said Saturday. The Air Force is studying results of the leaflet drops by the supersonic drones to determine whether to use them for bombing missions, the sources said. The drones have been used in simulated bombing runs on test sites in the United States but have never seen actual warfare.

The pilotless planes, guided from a specially outfitted "mother ship," were originally designed to carry cameras on reconnaissance missions over North Vietnam and China and have been used successfully in this role since the early 19605, the sources said.

Air Force officers developed special equipment to enable the drones to drop the propaganda leaflets. Use of the small, sleek planes allows the United States to dump millions of leaflets on major population centers with no risk of having a pilot shot down. After taking pictures or dropping leaflets, the drones are guided back to Thailand, where Air Force helicopters pluck them from mid-air and carry them to where they are readied for another flight.

Author David Axe published a book in September 2021 titled Drone War Vietnam. I will quote some of the passages that mention leaflets:

The Ryan Aeronautical Model 147 Lightning Bug subsonic drone, a mainstay of the Vietnam air war, launched in mid-air from a DC-130 mother plane, navigated along preprogrammed checkpoint, at the end of its mission, popped a parachute and floated toward the ground. A helicopter buzzed in to retrieve it.

Drones played an important—and today largely unheralded—role in the bloody, two-decade U.S. air war over Vietnam and surrounding countries in the 1960s and 1970s. Drone aircraft spotted targets for manned U.S. bombers, jammed North Vietnamese radars, and scattered propaganda leaflets, among other missions.

The Air Force wanted to complement its lethal raids in 1972 with intensive propaganda efforts. The service for years had been scattering paper leaflets—millions of them—across North Vietnam to win hearts and change minds. Some of the early leaflets were just long statements from President Johnson extolling the reader to choose peace. Others depicted American warplanes and the damage they could inflict. Some mocked communist leaders. Some included photos of North Vietnamese dead.

Operation Field Goal, which ran between July 1972 and January 1973, involved F-4 fighters, C-130 transports, B-52 bombers, and Model 147 drones dropping 94 million leaflets per month for a grand total of 661 million scraps of paper. Tactical Air Command’s chaff-dispensing Model 147NCs were perfect for the role. The command simply swapped out radar-foiling metal strips for paper leaflets. The “bullshit bombers,” as the Lightning Bug team called the leaflet-dispensers, flew 29 missions between July and December 1972.

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Jet Powered Unmanned Air Vehicle Proteus

On 24 February 2005, Northrop Grumman Corporation successfully demonstrated the ability to release a weapon from a medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) demonstrator during flight-testing over Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. The drop of the 500-pound inert weapon from Proteus addresses the medium-altitude endurance UAV requirements.

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Proteus releasing bomb

Based on Proteus, the government's new Model 395 UAV will be able to perform a variety of missions ranging from traditional intelligence gathering to weapons delivery. The jet-powered Model 395 is a cost-effective, multi-role, multi-mission UAV with the altitude, speed, endurance and payload capacity to perform tasks that meet most air operation requirements. A family of modular payloads will allow it to be optimized quickly for a variety of missions including signals intelligence, psychological operations, communications relay and area surveillance. In addition to its 900-pound internal payload capacity, Model 395 will be able to carry external payloads of up to 6,500 pounds. It also has more than 100 cubic feet of unused internal volume.

In 2022, during the Russian invasion into Ukraine, Russian forces
used the above drone to dissminate leaflets on the local population.

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LRAD 300X loudspeaker mounted on a helicopter UAV

In 2013 the LRAD 300X loudspeaker was mounted on a helicopter UAV. The UAV was flown approximately 1km from the house being targeted with excellent word recognition. The LRAD 300X is a compact, lightweight solution for use on small vessels. LRAD 300X produces nearly 100% intelligible voice transmission over 88dB of background noise beyond 350 meters and beyond 1500 meters in a benign environment. LRAD 300X operators have the ability to issue clear, authoritative verbal commands, followed with powerful deterrent tones to enhance response capabilities. The extended frequency range of LRAD 300X ensures voice commands will be clearly understood.

AHAD System

In 2021, a Navy engineer developed a new non-lethal device designed to render targets incapable of speech by turning their own voice against them, according to a new patent application. Invented by Christopher A Brown of the Naval Surface Warfare Center –and patented in late June, the so-called ‘acoustic hailing and disruption’ (AHAD) system is elegant in its simplicity. The device records incoming voices, amplifies them, and plays them back in two distinct sounds, one “nearly simultaneously” with the original speech and one on an ever-so-slight delay. The result is what’s called delayed auditory feedback, which refers to the delay between speech and hearing one’s own voice. Normally, the human body is used to the phenomenon, but when deployed at the right interval by the device, the delayed auditory feedback “alters the speaker’s normal perception of their own voice” and confuses the speaker — not unlike, say, the disorienting experience of trying to talk over on the phone while someone else talks over you. “Due to the delayed auditory feedback effect, the target speaker’s concentration will be disrupted, making it difficult for them to continue speaking,” according to the patent application.

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A People’s Republic of China Propaganda Drone

In 2018, the China News prepared a short TV production on the PSYOP tools of the Chinese Army. A small drone is depicted dropping leaflets. There has been some worry among terrorist specialists that such small drones could be used as weapons by attaching explosives to them. There have also been numerous uses of such small personal drones for smuggling drugs, cell phones and the like into prisons.

In April 2020, Turkish drones dropped leaflets over Idlib province in Syria, calling on residents to help the Turkish army restore calm and peace in the region. The leaflets said:

Our dear brothers in Idlib, the Turkish army has always been with you, has always harnessed all its capabilities for you and gave many martyrs to preserve the lives and property of the people of Idlib. Turkey is working hard at all levels to ensure lasting stability and to stop the flow of innocent blood and to maintain your safety in the region. Our goal is to prevent any invasion or military action on Idlib, returning civilians who have been forced to flee their homes and revive economic life in the region by opening the M4 and M5 roads.

And we wish you would help the Turkish army, which works for you so that you can live safely and peacefully in your area, do not believe the lies of those who are disturbed by the calm and peaceful environment that we provide in Idlib, those who want to deceive you and spread sedition among brothers, and we will work to bring security and peace to the region.

May God be with us all, God bless you.

A drone is deployed to drop leaflets during the Han Kuang military exercises in Taoyuan

One might think that by 2022 all this Chinese propaganda activity was a thing of the past. It is on rebound. In 2022, Russia decided to take back Ukraine, one of its former possessions, and the rest of the world helped Ukraine to fight for its independence. U.S. President Biden strongly backed Ukraine and in conversation said that he would also defend Taiwan should Red China try to invade and take that island nation that it had always claimed. On 28 July Biden spoke to President Xi Jinping of the People’s Republic of China for two hours. About Taiwan, President Biden underscored that the United States policy has not changed and that the United States strongly opposes unilateral efforts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.

Soldiers prepare a drone for a mission to drop leaflets in a psychological warfare drill in Taoyuan Thursday.
CNA photo July 28, 2022

On the same day, Taiwan decided to hold war games that used various techniques of psychological warfare. Focus Taiwan reported:

Taiwan conducts psychological warfare drill with broadcasts, leaflets: During the drill in Taoyuan, a psychological warfare task force from the Political Warfare Bureau dispatched a drone to scatter leaflets, while its trucks broadcast video and audio propaganda to boost the morale of Taiwanese soldiers in the scenario of an invasion by China. Meanwhile, a military truck blared sound effects of fighter jets flying by, shells dropping, and tanks rolling, which were all meant to distract and confuse the enemy on the battlefield, the Ministry of National Defense (MND) said. According to the ministry, cognitive warfare, disinformation campaigns, and rumor spreading have become a major part of modern warfare, alongside conventional kinetic warfare. The Political Warfare Bureau's special task force can create and broadcast audio and video propaganda material and drop leaflets within 30 minutes of receiving an order to do so, according to the ministry.

Massed small Computer-Controlled Drones

The use of large numbers of computer-controlled drones to form pictures in the sky is also being studied. During Vietnam there were broadcasts of the wandering souls of dead Viet Cong walking the Earth. Above we see a giant skull as part of a drone light show performance by Dead and Company at Oracle Park in San Francisco on 17 July 2023. Images like this might be effective against a superstitious enemy.

Personal Drone Dissemination

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A Personal Drone

The use of small personal drones to drop propaganda leaflets may have first been used by a civilian individual that hated the American press. Drones have already been used to drop drugs and cell phones into prison yards, but this may be the first case where they dropped political leaflets. How long before the military takes notice?

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A drone operator was arrested on 26 November 2017 for allegedly flying over two football stadiums in California and distributing anti-media leaflets. Most leaflets did not reach the people, but were carried away by the wind. The leaflets had a large red X on the front, an American flag and the text:

The Red “X” Society - 1st Amendment S.O.S.

A message on the back about free speech and his belief that television stations are corrupt said in part:

For more than 20 years prostitutes and felons have been infiltrated into America’s newsrooms and local municipal politics. Over 150 persons have been identified as directly complicit in this information from the Sacramento region of California involved in prostitution and have been placed in newsrooms as reporters, anchors and political positions…

The drone enthusiast broke a number of laws by flying the device over the stadiums. It is illegal to fly a drone within five miles of an airport and local laws in Santa Clara ban any drones within 500 yards of a facility, according to the police chief.

Model Airplane Dissemination

An un-identified Civil Air Patrol crewmember working on an OQ-2 near Rehoboth Beach.
Photo courtesy of Delaware State Parks Cultural Resources Unit.

The model airplane might be mistaken for a drone, but rather than fly straight according to a pre-arranged flight path, it is controlled by a human that can make it do acrobatic tricks or whatever he can think of. U.S. Army model airplanes were used in WWII. A former soldier and actor named Reginald Denny realized that small radio-controlled planes could be used for target practice and began designing and demonstrating radio-controlled model airplanes to the U.S. Army, and in 1940 secured a contract. His design was called the Radio-plane OQ-2, and nearly 15,000 were produced during WWII. By 1952, units like the 208th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Target Group were flying drones over AAA training sites.

Years ago, I was teaching at some base which I do not remember now, I think it might have been Fort Devens, MA, and I heard that the dusters, anti-aircraft vehicles with multiple guns were practicing out in the woods. I went out to watch them and got to talking to a pilot who flew a model airplane about 6-feet in wingspan. He flew it overhead, doing sharp turns and loops and the gunners never got close. I asked him if they ever hit the plane and he told me, “If they treat me nice and are friendly, and maybe give me some C-Rations and a can of soda I might fly it straight and level for 15-20 seconds and then they sometimes knock it out of the sky.”

He then told me a tale that might or might not be true. He said that he had been told by another soldier that flew such aircraft that he had been drafted by an agency (that cannot be mentioned) in 1995, shortly after the end of Operation Desert Storm to fly leaflet missions using a similar model aircraft over Iraq. To ensure that the aircraft was not followed back to its source, after each mission he dove it into the nearest body of water. 

Soldier launches model plane with attached payload

U.S. PSYOP teams of 3 to 5 men Team were there from November 1994 until late 2002 to support continued leaflet drops to explain to the Iraqi people why they were being bombed. This was before Iraqi Freedom, but the Kurds were having a civil war and the United States was enforcing certain no-fly zones. The Leaflets were considered almost a legal requirement since there was no current war. The Coalition would fire on some missions when an enemy radar would go on and it was obvious that they were being tracked by the Iraqis. The U.S. dropped leaflets using standard equipment like the Mark 129E2 leaflet bombs, or the PDU5 and PDU5B cases which were bought from the Air Force and reconditioned into Leaflet bombs.

Leaflet Parachute Dissemination

The Germans dropped leaflets by means of parachutes during WWII. The bundles were secured by a simple wire device which was broken open by a small explosive charge. The diameter is approximately 24 inches, and if stretched out from top to bottom the parachute is about 33 inches long.

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Leaflet parachute

The United States used parachutes on a 15,000 gift packet drop against North Vietnam on 24 December 1965. It was the last aircraft to leave North Vietnamese airspace in connection with a temporary bombing halt at Christmas time. The Army quartermasters made the parachutes. The operator on board told me, "I was expecting a hanky with four lines. Instead, they made a very fancy eight shroud-line parachute."    

The United States has studied parachute delivery systems in recent years. The increased use of U. S. forces in operations other than war and low intensity conflict exposes U.S. aircraft and crews to attack by shoulder-fired and other types of surface-to-air missiles. Current methods for delivery of psychological operations leaflets sometimes require manual dissemination over a target at low altitudes. The U. S. military has evaluated a Leaflet Delivery System (LDS) developed by Mist Mobility Integrated Systems Technology (MMist) of Canada to determine whether it meets the USSOCOM requirement for safer and more accurate delivery. The LDS provides automated aerial parachute delivery over long distances and high altitudes.

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SnowGoose Parafoil Delivery System

In 2003, the U.S. Special Operations Command bought five SnowGoose aerial cargo delivery systems from MMIST. The SnowGoose, officially designated CQ-10A by the Department Of Defense, is an application of MMIST's Powered Sherpa self-propelled autonomous GPS-guided parafoil delivery system. The CQ-10A can be air-dropped from numerous cargo aircraft including the C-130, C-141, CH-47 and C17, as well as launched from the ground from a modified HMMWV vehicle. Maximum combined cargo/fuel weight is about 270 kg (600 lb). An industry standard laptop computer is used to program the flight plan and upload it into the UAV's guidance system before launch. The SnowGoose conducts its mission completely autonomously, and can be programmed to either land at its destination point or drop supplies from the air and return to base. The vehicle can travel about 300 kilometers at 33.5 miles per hour.

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SnowGoose disbursing leaflets

The system was mentioned in the March 2006 issue of Army. The contract stated:

USSOCOM desires a materiel solution to address the Psychological Operations forces requirement to accurately deliver PSYOP products (leaflets) to a variety of targets and threat areas with minimal risk to aircrews/aircraft/delivery system. The desired solution must be usable across the spectrum of conflict and during peacetime operations. Candidate systems must be able to transport leaflets via autonomous flight to a designated release point (latitude/longitude at specific altitudes and grid coordinates). The system must also monitor wind conditions while in flight and modify calculations, if needed, to solve for a proper release point within the indicated tolerances; automatically release the leaflet cargo; and proceed to a predetermined destination for recovery.

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Leaflet parafoil (WSAD-LDS)

The one problem with almost every manned dissemination system is the requirement that the aircraft must appear over the drop target and the crew is placed in danger, what the Air Force calls "stand-off." The parafoil system eliminates that danger in that the pilot can be miles away, or the craft can be controlled by computer. The U. S. Army Natick Soldier Center has experimented with a Wind Supported Air Delivery System – Leaflet Deliver System (WSAD-LDS) that uses a guided or programmed self-guided powered parafoil that can deliver leaflets with great accuracy to a target audience. The body of the UAV has six cargo bays that contain fuel and leaflet bins. Each bin can carry up to 100 pounds of payload.

Current PSYOP doctrine states in regard to the Wind Supported Aerial Delivery System (WSADS):

The WSADS is the PSYOP remotely piloted vehicle (RPV).  RPVs are capable of conducting a variety of combat missions, including leaflet delivery, surveillance, reconnaissance, electronic warfare, and strike. The remote pilot is able to detect and identify targets, change the course of the RPV, and make decisions to initiate and terminate operations in the target area.  Pinpoint accuracy is possible. RPVs can be flown into enemy territories where the gun and missile antiaircraft defenses are very intense and the losses of manned aircraft might be unacceptable. RPVs can be fitted with modified wing pods, providing a large leaflet capacity per mission.

The leaflet parafoil can fly for 18.8 hours with a maximum range of 942 kilometers at from 47-55 kilometers per hour. It can carry a payload of 573 pounds if launched from the ground and 540 pounds if launched from the air. It can be deployed from C130, C141 and C17 aircraft as well as from a HMMWV on the ground.

Although this system is still experimental, the military is already working on a more advanced system that can carry a bigger payload with greater accuracy and precision. The new system is known as the Air Launched Extended Range Transporter (ALERT). It will stay in the air a bit longer at 20 hours, and carry a slightly larger payload at 700 pounds. It will have separate central possessing unit (CPU) for payload control. This will allow for more mission and greater accuracy.

Leaflet Artillery Dissemination

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The Krauts ain’t got time…

Bill Mauldin was an American editorial cartoonist who won two Pulitzer Prizes for his work. He was most famous for his World War II cartoons depicting two American soldiers, “Willie and Joe,” weary and bedraggled troopers who stoically endured the difficulties and dangers of duty in the field. These cartoons were widely published and distributed in the American army, abroad and in the United States. One Stars and Stripes cartoon showed the two GI’s firing artillery and saying and giving the cannon-cocker’s opinion of firing leaflet shells at the Germans:

Tell them leaflet people the krauts ain't got time fer readin' today.

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The WWI French Leaflet shell

Perhaps the earliest use of artillery to disseminate propaganda occurred in WWI when a French Captain Naud developed an artillery shell capable of disseminating leaflets. Doug Ewell mentioned this shell in The Proper Gander, The official publication of the PSYOP Regimental Association. He explained that the projectile was fired from the French 75 mm Model 1897 field gun. The shell body had a solid base that contained an explosive charge. The chamber above the charge contained about 160 leaflets rolled around a hollow tube. Once fired, the fuse would detonate the base charge and blow the nose cover clear and allow the leaflet roll to be ejected from the shell and dispersed. The maximum range for this projectile was about 5,000 meters. Naud's first order was for 50,000 shells and was to be delivered by the end of October 1918.

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105mm leaflet artillery round - P for Propaganda

According to the most recent FM-33-1-1, Psychological Operations Techniques and Procedures, PSYOP units may use either of two types of leaflet artillery rounds (LARs) - the 155-mm LAR (XM951) or the 105-mm LAR (M84). The 155-mm LAR is preferred for use in PSYOP because it was specifically designed to deliver leaflets. The 105-mm LAR is actually a modified smoke round and is less safe than the 155-mm shell.

The 155-mm LAR accepts a leaflet roll 4-5 inches in height, with a 1-inch inner and 4-inch outer diameter. The number of leaflets will depend on size and paper weight, but a standard load is 2000 leaflets (four rolls of 500). The round can travel up to 20,000 meters and separates in flight to release the leaflets.

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Soldiers during WWII loading leaflet artillery rounds

The 105-mm LAR leaflet roll is 10 1/2 inches in height with an outer diameter of 3 inches. The maximum range is 11,500 meters and the desired burst height is 27 to 46 meters. The accuracy of these shells is not very good because the weight of the leaflet-filled round is so light that standard firing tables do not match the ballistics.

Dissemination of Leaflets by artillery. August 1950, classified “Restricted.

This Psychological Warfare Branch Korean War Intelligence booklet explains the use of leaflet shells, how to load them and the formulae to fire them. For instance, the introduction is:

For disseminating leaflets, artillery has the following capabilities:

Artillery can distribute leaflets with pin-point accuracy.
Artillery can rapidly distribute leaflets written on the spot from local intelligence that fits the tactical situation.
Artillery can disseminate leaflets with reasonable accuracy regardless of weather conditions.
Dissemination of leaflets by artillery fire permits close coordination between PSYOP campaigns and combat operations of a tactical unit.

For disseminating leaflets, artillery has the following limitations:

Artillery has limited range and cannot reach troop concentrations deep in the enemy’s rear areas.
One artillery round has a limited carrying capacity for leaflets. Many rounds are necessary to cover even a small area.

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The 1st Radio Broadcasting and Leaflet Group fill 105mm Rounds in Korea
Photo Courtesy of Lee Richards (

Not much changed between the wars. The trusted 105mm round is still being used to disseminate leaflets in this November 1952 Department of Defense photograph. Notice the men are stenciling the leaflet designation on the shells. It would not do to try and fire high explosive artillery at the enemy during an attack only to discover that the shells contained just paper, no explosives. That mistake could be fatal.

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The standard Passierschein Allied safe conduct pass disseminated by Artillery

The old smoke markings must be removed from the shell casings and projectiles. A large "P" for PSYOP is stenciled on the shell. Each shell could hold upwards of 1,500 leaflets, and by the end of June 1944, 900 of these shells had been fired at the Germans in the 1st U.S. Army sector alone. Many of the leaflets are crushed during setback, burned by the ejection charge, or torn during emission. The standard Passierschein Allied safe conduct pass depicted above is a good example of the problems with artillery dissemination. Notice the crinkled effect of the paper caused by the force of the emission blast. Notice also that the top of the leaflet has either been blown off or burned away by the force of the explosion. Although this is an extreme example, artillery leaflets are quite commonly found in this condition.

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Loading artillery shell with leaflets

According to Leaflet Operations in the Western European Theater, 1944-1945, published by the Psychological Warfare Division of SHAEF:

The employment of artillery for leafleting can be traced back to the French use of the 75mm field piece for propaganda purposes on the Western Front in 1918. In WWII, the idea was first put into practice with the British 25-pounder during the Tunisian campaign of 1942-43.

A British Gun Crew Firing Propaganda Leaflets in Italy
U.S. National Archives

Although experiments were made with the propaganda use of other artillery weapons, the 105mm in the U. S. Area, and the 25-pounder in the British, were the mainstays of the artillery leafleting effort. Limited use was made of the 155mm smoke shell. However, when firing it at ranges over 5,000 yards it is generally impossible to observe where shells burst except by aerial observation, which is often unavailable. This is somewhat of a drawback to the use of longer-range weapons than the 105mm.

Publicity and Psychological Warfare mentions artillery leafleting in WWII

The basic weapon used for the purpose of firing leaflets in the American Army was the 105mm Howitzer M2 or M2A1 and the shell used was the 105mm shell, Smoke M64 or M2A1. This shell was drawn by psychological warfare personnel and modified by them for leaflet use. The M84 BE Smoke shell was equipped with the M54 fuse capable of 25 seconds time of flight which corresponds approximately to a range of 8,000 yards. At distances greater than 8,000 yards the M 67 fuse which has a time of flight of 75 seconds was tested. This utilizes the maximum range of the 105mm Howitzer, approximately 12,000 yards.

A limited use of the 155mm Howitzer smoke shell was made in the European Theater, but despite the fact that three times as many leaflets may be placed in the 155mm than in the 105mm, ordnance officers concerned with the supply of ammunition believe it is more efficient and cheaper to fire 3 rounds of the 105mm in preference to one round of 155mm.

Arthur T. Hadley mentions the problem of finding the shells in Heads or Tails: A Life of Random Luck and Risky Choices. He says the biggest problem he had as a member of the Fifth Mobile Radio Broadcasting Company in support of the 12th Army group in 1944 was finding smoke shells. He would send his men out to scrounge for smoke shells and then they would seek shelter where they could remove the smoke canisters and insert the leaflet rolls. This problem was never solved.

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Sketch of 105mm leaflet round

A U.S. Department of Defense paper entitled Dissemination of Leaflets by Artillery mentions some facts that must be considered when planning a leaflet artillery mission:

To insure maximum leaflet dispersal, a maximum of 25 rounds must be fired into an area 500 x 500 yards. Early hours of morning or just before dusk are the best hours for firing leaflets. Restricted visibility allows the enemy soldiers to pick them up with the least fear of retaliation from their officers. Leaflets fired into open fields on the front lines are seldom picked up due to the obvious danger of being observed. In dense woods, best distribution is obtained by firing all rounds on impact, thus avoiding high loss of leaflets which would tend to cling to the foliage of trees.

The paper then lists firing tables for the Howitzer, 105mm, M2 and M2A1; shell 26.4 pound M84 (leaflet). For example, at 5000 yards with charge 5 the elevation in mils should be set at 256.7 and the fuse set for 16 seconds. With charge 7 the elevation is 147.3 with a 12.8 second fuse.

The Operations Research Office (ORO) of the Johns Hopkins University published a 1950 booklet entitled The Value of Propaganda Leaflets Disseminated by Aircraft. Authors Kenneth W. Yarnold and Jean Marie Dady believed that artillery rounds were the most effective in regard to cost.

Artillery disseminated propaganda was one of the cheapest forms of PSYOP when compared against military advances. A small expenditure of propaganda shells was needed to produce important results.

The tactical leaflets dropped by aircraft in northwest Europe in support of the First, Third, Seventh and Ninth Armies, sometimes amounted to an expenditure of leaflets as high as 28 million per month produced no effect on the tactical situation that could be detected by the techniques of analysis used in the present report. This contrasts high effectiveness for leaflets disseminated by artillery and probably value for propaganda put out by loudspeakers in certain circumstances.

Some entire series of American leaflets were fired by artillery. For instance, the American First Army CT series. On D-Day + 6 they were firing leaflets packed inside 105mm shells at the Germans.

Corporal Larry Sitney was in Battery A of the 356th Field Artillery Battalion of the 94th Infantry Division near Lorient, France, from early September 1944 until the end of December 1944.  About late October, his unit fired some black and white tactical leaflets into the German positions at Lorient from a 105mm Howitzer battery. One such leaflet was coded “MD 213.” At the time Sitney fired the propaganda shells the war had passed the unit and the 94th Infantry Division was attached directly to the 12th Army Group.

The code “MD” most likely signifies “Mobile Davidson.” The Davidson press was the workhorse of the American PSYOP specialist and the 12th Army Group had two of them. Their equipment chart states:

Printing equipment including 2 each Davidson Duplicator press, complete with Beatty Process Camera, Accessories, spare parts and tools, installed in printing equipment truck as indicated in Signal Section on special list of equipment for 1st Mobile Radio Broadcasting Company, dated 18 April 1943.

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MD 213

Leaflet MD 213 is entitled Passierschien (Safe Conduct) and explains how to surrender in German, French and English on the front. The English text is:


For individuals or groups

German soldiers carrying this safe conduct are using it as a sign that they have decided to cease fighting. They are to be treated fairly, according to the Geneva Convention. No matter whether captured by American or French soldiers, they are to be removed from the zone of battle as soon as possible and conducted to an American Prisoner of War camp.

All troops in this sector operate under American orders and must follow strictly the provisions of the Geneva Convention.

It appears that the Germans did not want to be captured by the French who they had brutalized all through the occupation and the Americans had to reassure them that they would be eventually placed in American captivity. The back of the leaflet is entitled “How to surrender” and contains six steps that the soldier must take when approaching Allied lines. Examples are:

Hold your hands over your head, palms forward.

If possible, wave this leaflet or anything white to indicate your intentions to surrender.

The leaflet ends with a reminder that the Americans are broadcasting to the Germans:

News from the Battlefields in France, Belgium Holland and Germany is brought to you by the American field radio station near Lorient. Daily at 1400 and 2130 o’clock on 423 meters.

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A Circular Artillery Leaflet

Every now and then we discover a particularly interesting leaflet that is a bit different from the usual. This leaflet was prepared as a round paper disk to fit inside a British artillery shell during WWI. Usually such leaflets are rolled, but this seems like a very efficient use of the available space. The disk is 2 1/2 inches in diameter with text in three concentric rings reading from the outside to the center-most.  There is text on both the front and back of the disk. The front text is depicted below. The center portion says “safe conduct” in German, French and English:

The dead do not come home
But those captured remain alive to see their homeland again
Laissez passier - passierschein - safe conduct

German leaflet artillery shells are mentioned in Klaus Kirchner’s Leaflets from Germany for American Soldiers in Western Europe 1945. The German shell was painted red and white and the title of the field manual for their use is:

For official use only!
Instructions for Loading the 10cm White-Red Shell
For light howitzer 16 and light field howitzer 38
24 June 1940

Kirchner adds that the shells are reliable, and he has never heard of a dud. The leaflets were relatively undamaged with just a light crinkling. The disadvantages were a high production and administrative cost, and the tight rolling of the leaflets had to be performed on a special machine often far from the front lines. The shell held about 500 leaflets and the range was from 6 to 7 kilometers.

Early German and Experimental leaflet Shells

An Early German Propaganda shell

In WWII, the German launched leaflets from something like a mortar. A 1944 Moscow military manual titled The German Army's Pyrotechnical Ammunition Guide to teach their troops about the German weapon called them Propaganda bombs. I think a better name for it would be Propaganda shell.

Nick Smirnov told me about these propaganda weapons:

They were launched also from a cardboard tube with a wooden bottom. This construction was deemed unfit for usage at the front because of the limited range and the position of the launcher being easily identified because the firing charge was gunpowder and created much smoke. And by the middle of 1942 these leaflet shells were no longer used on the front.

These German Leaflet shells were excavated in Russia about 2010. They were filled with German OKW/WPr leaflets of the Üb series.

German author Klaus Kirchner wrote about these leaflet shells in Flugblätter aus Deutschland 1941:

The so-called "propaganda bombs" with a diameter of 12 centimeters, were cardboard balls that were filled with flyers and fired into the area of ​​the enemy with the help of a small powder charge. Shortly before the end of the trajectory, the paper ball burst and the propaganda leaflets floated freely to the earth. The capacity of the propaganda bombs and their firing range of around 500 meters, however, were far too small for the required effort. Since the sparks and smoke also drew the enemy's attention to the launch site when it was fired, the operating staff was at risk.

The Russians called this a mortar (as I am tempted to do) and mention the German use of it for firing signal shells. I assume for firing leaflets it would be at about a 45-degree angle.

Mortar for signal shells

1 - Cylinder Tube
2 - Wooden block
3 - Steel circle
4 - Spike

Loading of the mortar for high-powered signals

Firing the mortar with a signal shell with a flash tube

Propaganda Shell “GREIF” with Ejection Charge

Sometimes German frontline troops invented leaflet shells by themselves. For example, there is a shell called Greif, found in documents of the 50th army corps. According to that document, it was invented and produced at frontline workshops of the 122nd infantry division on the Leningrad front about February 1942.

The document depicts something that looks like a big shotgun shell. It was difficult to translate due to its age and the many abbreviations of German military equipment. The casing of the cylinder or shell is called “a special container” and has a top glued on. The bottom two-thirds has another glued ring, I assume for support. The top three-quarters of the cylinder is empty and identified as “Space for propaganda items.” At the bottom of the leaflet section is a cardboard lid and directly below it, packed in sand is a paper bag containing 80 grams of black powder. This explosive part of the cylinder is reinforced by more cardboard and adhesive tape. There is another lid and below it a thin layer of sand. The bottom of the cylinder is the major charge with 250 grams of black powder. A 6-centimeter fuse runs from the short charge to the larger charge. A 25-centimeter fuse is taped at the bottom of the large charge and runs to a charging handle.

Looking at the German diagram it appears that after the cylinder is carefully aimed, the charging handle is pulled, exploding the large charge, and lighting the smaller fuse. The cylinder or shell containing the leaflet travels a certain distance through the air until the small charge ignites, distributing the leaflets.

Russian Researcher Nick Smirnov told me more about this exotic home-made propaganda shell. He has studied the German documents in great detail. He said:

I think the German soldiers wanted to create a cheap and simple propaganda shell and wanted to reuse parts of munition covers for their 105mm howitzer rather than trash them. The Propaganda shell Greif was launched from the 105mm tube. The tube is not shown in the sketch above.

The leaflet-container is made of the cylinder cardboard cover of the powder charge for the 105mm howitzer le.Fh.18. The cap at the top is glued. The top three-quarters of the cylinder is empty and can be packed with about 400-450 leaflets 105 x 148mm in size. At the bottom of the leaflet section is a cardboard lid (gas seal) and directly below it, packed in sand is a paper bag containing 80 grams of black powder. That is the actual shell.

The Munition Containers the Greif was made From

This shell is put onto the cap of the howitzer munition container, which is filled with 250 grams of black powder, and held together with gummed tape. The 6-centimeter fuse, going from the shell, is plugged into the black powder. The Germans called this part the breech-loading cartridge. There is a 25-centimeter fuse going outside the cartridge and a detonating fuse model Anz.29/Ausf.H.

The Anz.29/Ausf.H. Fuse

The bottom half of the shell is re-enforced by an external cylinder of gummed paper, and all this construction is loaded into the cartridge cover Number 6 of the le.Fh.18. This is the Germans call “the directing body.”

The sand in the shell is used to protect the leaflets from the flame, while the sand in the directing body is used to make it heavier and therefore increase the firing range. The small additional weight helps to overcome wind resistance. The directing body is used to direct the flight of the shell. The sand in the bottom also absorbs the shock of firing.

When the 25-centimeter fuse burned out after about 35 seconds, the powder exploded, and the shell was thrown into the air. The flight time was about 7.5 seconds, the time it took for the 6-centimeter fuse to burn, then the powder in the shell exploded, and leaflets were distributed. The optimum altitude should be about 20-30 meters. The firing range is about 400-450 meters. It can be changed by changing an angle of slope the launching tube. The optimal angle is 40-45 degrees. If there is a head wind, the angle should be decreased, if there is a tail wind, the angle should be increased.

Later Wars

Stephen Pease mentions the artillery shell used during the Korean war:

The 105mm howitzer shell held 400 four-by-five-inch leaflets. Usually, an empty smoke shell was used; smoke shells were easily modified in the field into leaflet carriers.

During the Korean War artillery was the most accurate means of delivery. Between June 1950 and July 1953 the Eighth U.S. Army delivered over 100 million leaflets by artillery, with over 15,000 shells a month being fired at the enemy during peak periods.

Canadian Signals Officer Frank Sorensen recalls his introduction to the leaflet shell during the Korean War:

One evening some of my artillery friends came in with several empty artillery shells and a cardboard carton, asking whether they could work in my winter dugout. It had a wooden floor, improvised stove, a hung ceiling and electric lighting in addition to my telephone. They had emptied smoke shell canisters and planned to stuff them with leaflets that they would fire as an airburst over the enemy. Their first attempts to fire a shell had poor results, and I suspected the leaflets were probably burnt by the base charge that ejected them. So I suggested a better way that would avoid damaging the leaflets.

We rolled up a bundle of the leaflets, wrapped it tightly with a string, and then pasted a paper band around the roll. The roll was made just right for a snug fit into the shell casing. It was lowered into the shell casing; the string was then pulled to tear the paper band so the bundle wouldn’t be ejected as a lump. Three such rolls filled it quite snugly.

I don’t know just how many were in each, but we filled several shells that evening. I did not see the burst but they said they fluttered down like snow, just as we had hoped. At the end there were still many leaflets left over so I kept a wad, which I used to give out as mementos back home.  

Historically, the Red Chinese and Nationalist soldiers stationed on Quemoy regularly fired leaflet artillery shells at each other all through the cold war.

First Lieutenant Winston Groom talks about his introduction to the leaflet shell in early 1967 Vietnam with the 245th PSYOP Company. He was supporting the 1st Brigade of the 4th Division at the time:

One day the Operations Officer (S-3) told me that the artillery dump had received a shipment of several hundred propaganda leaflet shells, apparently left over from the Korean War. The S-3 had a half dozen of them delivered to the artillery firebase and I went down with one of my sergeants and picked them up. The artillery people didn't know the first thing about them, except how to fire them out of a 105 howitzer.

I didn't know much about artillery, but my sergeant claimed that he knew enough to open the shells up, but I stood a long ways away when he did it. Inside of the shell where the explosive would be was a long wood dowel with round wood base and top plates, sort of like one of those devices that holds up paper kitchen towels, but larger. The shells were already loaded with Korean-language leaflets, so we removed them and I ordered some new leaflets from Nha Trang.

The leaflets had to be rolled into a wad around the wood dowel in a kind of corkscrew fashion, so they were in there tight. Then, just before firing, the dowel was carefully removed. Anyway that’s how the ones in Korean had been done. When the shell arrived at its projected spot four or five hundred feet above the target area, the fuse was supposed to propel the leaflets out in a wad, which would then separate they could flutter to the ground.

The captain who ran the artillery didn't seem very happy about having to fire his guns with these things, because, he said they were damn near shot out already, but he agreed to fire one for us. The gun captain had his men load the leaflet shell into the howitzer, which had been aimed at a hamlet a few hundred yards behind the stand of palms and banana trees on the far edge of the paddy. This hamlet had been known to contain Viet Cong at some point, and there was no good reason to suspect that they were still not there. Anyway, this was just a practice run.

The gun captain gave the order and the gun went off, and the shell, leaflets, and everything, came tearing out of the barrel in a huge flaming wad that arced across the rice paddy toward the village and kept on going. The artillery captain was watching through his binoculars, but the shell and burning wad went right on out of sight, trailing white smoke behind it.

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Gulf War leaflets disseminated by 155mm artillery rounds

Two hundred 155mm leaflet artillery shells were taken to the Persian Gulf in 1990. Because of the speed of the Coalition advance, only nine were actually fired against the Iraqis during Operation Desert Storm. An old friend was one of the U. S. Army explosive ordnance disposal specialists assigned the task of disarming the shells at the end of the war. It was a rush job because the Saudis wanted all American military out of their country by the high holy days of Ramadan. The Warrant Officer opened some of the 155mm shells out of curiosity and later told me that mixed in the rolls were just three different black and white leaflets. He said that the contents were all safe conduct passes; "Cease Resistance - Be safe...", "The V Corps of the Multi-national forces is heading in your direction...", and "Follow these procedures to cease resistance...."

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Leaflet Artillery Round Planning Chart from Desert Storm

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The Ampulomet

We mention leaflet artillery above and this appears to be a WWII anti-tank weapon used by the Russians that was also used to fire leaflets at the Germans in glass globes. It could fire eight rounds a minute with a range of about 820 feet. The weapon weighed approximately 44 pounds and required a three-person crew.

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The Glass Globe

My friend Doug Ewell; a very advanced PSYOP collector introduced them to me:

The weapon is the ampulomet, named for the Greek ampoule, or “sealed glass capsule,” and “metainie,” meaning throwing. It was used by the Soviets for about one year during WWII. It was primarily used against tanks and buildings by firing a 125 mm projectile made of spherical glass filled with an incendiary fluid. They were also used to spread propaganda leaflet bundles. In the Battle of Stalingrad, the glass globes were emptied of incendiary and filled with leaflets for the Germans. I have two variations of the types of globes used.

A More advanced Globe launcher

Nick Smirnov added:

The ampule-launcher ("Ampulomyot") initially used tin-globes. But later it was resolved to use glass globes because they broke open easier. The globes were filled with a KS-mix (Russian napalm). In the above photo you can see the result of the improvisation and improvement by the troops at the front.

Self-propelled Guns

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The 2S1 Gvosdika self-propelled Howitzer

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The Syrian Arab Republic amnesty leaflets

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The Red Propaganda Leaflet Shell

Self-propelled guns have also used their main gun to spread propaganda leaflets. The vehicle firing the leaflets in this case appears to be The 2S1 Gvosdika self-propelled Howitzer, deployed in large numbers by the Soviet Army During the Civil War in Syria.

The Syrian Arab Republic forces of President Assad used both self-propelled guns and Mi-8 helicopters to disseminate leaflets over the suburbs of Damascus. From the self-propelled guns, the leaflets were distributed by special 122-mm “Red shells - Propaganda.” Each projectile holds up to 1000 A6 (4.75 x 6.5 inches) leaflets. The leaflets, fired by the tank or dropped from the air were the same; both declare and amnesty and surrender guarantee:

The Syrian leadership confirms its commitment to President Bashar Assad's decree of 2016 No. 15, in which he guarantees amnesty for members of the insurgency who voluntarily surrender their weapons and switched to the side of government forces. Those who are not ready to receive amnesty and become a law-abiding citizen of the state can leave the surrounded area with their families along the provided humanitarian corridor.

The reverse of the leaflet demands a signed commitment and declaration of loyalty.

I declare that I refuse military operations against the army and ask them to grant me amnesty. Amnesty is guaranteed by the supreme command of the SAA.

Print name and Signature.

You can enter your name and the names of four more people in the table.

Amnesty is guaranteed to the signer and 4 additional rebels who renounce armed resistance. This information was released by a Russian blogger named Alexey Pelevin and of course Russia and Iran have strongly backed Assad against the revolutionary forces.

Leaflet Grenade Dissemination

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German Gewehr Propagandagranate Leaflet Rifle Grenades

Most of the grenade data that is available mentions German weaponry. The Granatbuchse 39 grenade launcher fired the German Gewehr Propagandagranate leaflet grenade. In addition, the Schiessbecher 30mm cup type rifle grenade adaptor could be used on any German bolt action rifle firing 7.92mm ammunition. A special cartridge was required and each grenade type has its own cartridge. The range of the rifle adapter was about half that of the grenade launcher. At one time both the French and the Germans attempted to throw leaflet grenades, but they quickly realized that a soldier standing up to throw a propaganda leaflet grenade was an easy target for a sniper.

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German soldiers prepare to fire rifle grenades

The United States War Department Handbook on German Military Forces of March 1945 describes the German propaganda grenade:

The German propaganda rifle grenade (Gewehr Propagandagranate) weighed 8 pounds when filled and was fired from a standard launcher. The grenade body is a cylindrical steel tube, closed by a loose-fitting steel cap. The propaganda leaflets are enclosed in two semi-cylindrical covers within the body and rest of a cup shaped platform. The tail element, with a pre-rifled base, contains the ejecting charge and a delay train. The propellant is contained in a blank cartridge, distinguished by a red band. The delay train is ignited by the flash from the propellant and detonates the ejecting charge. The platform, leaflets, leaflet covers, and ballistic cap are ejected during flight. The maximum range is approximately 500 yards.  

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German Propaganda rifle grenade

The German’s own grenade manual was entitled:

For Official use only!
Instructions for the Handling, Transport and Use of Rifle Grenades.
20 October 1942
Do not let this fall into enemy hands

Klaus Kirchner says in Leaflets from Germany for American Soldiers in Western Europe 1945:

General supply to troops was not intended. Grenades and leaflets were supplied by the Propaganda Abschnittsoffizer of army groups on demand only. This tiny and ineffective device was able to send only 30 small leaflets into enemy territory for up to a maximum of 450 feet.

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Siegfried Frontline Service Leaflet

Leaflets of this type were fired in grenades against the Allies by the Germans in 1945. The finder was to write a message not exceeding 15 words to his family at home and then safely wait out the war in a German POW camp.

Sparagana mentions an American leaflet grenade and says:

Another technique designed by the O.S.S. Research and Development section involved a rifle grenade that would contain only 10-12 leaflets and would thus be useful for issuing surrender leaflets to small pockets of resistance groups in the jungle.

Leaflet Flare Guns and Pistols

The German Flare Gun

The Germans also experimented with a German pistol leaflet-cartridge for the Leuchtpistole (flare gun). They were produced in autumn 1941 in limited numbers and delivered to the Leningrad-front (Headquarters North, 18th Army) for testing. Small leaflets like 152 RA (leaflets about the size of a matchbox) were produced specially for the grenades. They were sent to the 311th Infantry Regiment of the 217 Infantry Division for testing. The test must have been unsatisfactory because soon afterwards the program was dropped.

Standard Flare Gun Cartridges

Researcher-collector Nick Smirnov told me:

German documents show that on 24 November 1941, the 217th Infantry Division received a case of 100 of the flare gun leaflet cartridges was delivered from the Corps with the statement that this was a one-time delivery because the cartridges were no longer being produced. The grenades had to be shot at a steep angle from the ground for the cartridge to burst at the proper altitude. The grenades could only be fired when the wind was blowing in the correct direction and the range was 100 to 200 meters. 100 leaflet cartridges were sent to every German Corps.


Leaflet 152 RA

One million copies of this small Roten Armee (Red Army) leaflet were printed by Germany for the Soviets in September 1941. The leaflet depicts a Soviet soldier throwing away his rifle on the front and a standard German Passierschein (Safe conduct Pass) on the back. The text on front is:

You are encircled from all sides! Your situation is hopeless! Save yourself, who can!

The text on the back is in Russian and German:

This safe conduct is guaranteed for an unlimited number of officers and men of the Red Army, crossing over to the German troops. German officers and soldiers will treat the defector well, feed him, and take care of him.

The Pistol Leaflet Grenade

A German Soldier Fires his Pistol with a Grenade Attached

The Leningrad-front was the testing ground for new methods of propaganda organization and for new types of leaflet shells, cartridges, and grenades because that front was stable from autumn 1941 until January 1944.

Researcher-collector Nick Smirnov told me:

The leaflet pistol grenade was a converted German grenade M39. Some of them were found along the former Leningrad-front by archeologists. The leaflets inside did not survive the years in the ground with the rain and the snow. They were probably produced in 1942 in small numbers for testing at the front. At present, no German documents tell their story.


The Pistol Grenade

The pistol grenade had a hinge strap between the halves so it could be opened and loaded with leaflets. The fuse was covered by a 7.92 rifle casing. The 7.92 casing inside the grenade probably protected the fuse, but outside the grenade the launching tube was the same diameter as the pistol barrel.

Leaflet Rocket Dissemination 

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German soldiers loading leaflets into rockets before their use against the Allies on the Nettuno-Anzio front in Italy during the winter 1944.

Leaflets have been fired inside rockets since WWII. The Germans had a number of rockets that were designed to carry leaflets over enemy lines. Toward the end of the war they also used the V-1 rockets to carry leaflets on several occasions.

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German Pr Gs 41 Leaflet Rocket Launcher

German General Walter Dornberger stated that his department of the Board of Ordnance, Rocket Development (WaPruef II) designed and developed small solid-fuel rockets that could carry propaganda leaflets about 6-7 miles. The rockets had a container tightly packed with propaganda leaflets that were fired against front-line Allied troops in Italy.

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A German soldier prepares a Pr Gs 41 rocket launcher

The United States War Department Handbook on German Military Forces of March 1945 says that the 73mm Propaganda rocket launcher (Propagandawerfer) consists of a simple cage hinged to a framework base of tubular steel and supported at the front by an adjustable arm. The weapon is intended for close range delivery of paper propaganda. The rocket weighs 7.1 pounds and instead of a bursting charge or chemical filling contains 8 ounces of propaganda leaflets.

Dr. Max Kronstein, writing in The Falling Leaf of June 1962, adds, "These small rockets were called Flugblattgeschoose. In the Diary of a German Soldier, Wilhelm Pruller says, "We got a new gun today with a barrel made of cardboard. And it shoots too, as far as two kilometers. The bullets are propaganda bombs which comprise more than 100 leaflets."

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German propaganda rockets being fired at the Allies

A 1941 report on the German Propagandas Werfer 41 (Propaganda launcher 41) says:

The propaganda shell 41 is fired from the propaganda launcher 41. It is propelled by a rocket motor and travels at a speed of 250 meters per second. The propaganda shell contains 200 leaflets. The range of this shell is 3,400 meters. The exploding point is 100-150 meters above the ground.

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German WWII Propaganda Rocket

The rocket above is the German WWII P.Rg.41 propaganda rocket. It had a plastic nose cap and the leaflets were placed inside the top portion with a spring that would throw the leaflets in opposite directions once the ejector charge separated the top from the bottom (propellant) part of the rocket.

The German author Klaus Kirchner says that the rocket had an advantage over propaganda artillery shells because it could be loaded with the latest news right at the front. It was also light and mobile enough to be fired from just about everywhere regardless of the terrain. The Germans used this propaganda rocket from 1941 until the end of the war. Kirchner continues:

After World War II it was occasionally possible to find the “Pr Gs 41” leaflet rockets which had misfired and buried themselves in the ground. The rockets consist of the following parts: Rocket body; Bakelite nose cap; Tube with split case to accommodate leaflet roll and keep it from crinkling; Baffle plate to push the leaflet roll out of the rocket tube and Spreading spring to open the roll of leaflets after ejection.

The rocket body is about 16 inches in length, with a maximum external diameter of 2.9 inches and a weight of less than 7 lbs. The interesting parts are the base venting venturis, half of which are inclined to rotate and stabilized the rocket in flight.

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Another German Propaganda Geschoss 41 leaflet Rocket

This rocket was dug up after WWII and was offered for sale along with four propaganda leaflets used against the allied Americans during Christmas 1944 when they were fighting “the Battle of the Bulge” near Bastogne, Belgium.

An American wartime report on the rocket says:

The projectile consists of two steel tubes screwed into a central joint. The lower tube contains the rocket motor and the upper serves as a container for the leaflets. The projectile is spin-stabilized and is fired from a propagandawerfer.

The British “Projectile Development Establishment” prepared a November 1943 report on the rocket entitled “Foreign Ammunition – German 7.3 cm Propaganda Rocket.” It consisted of a complete breakdown of the size and weight of every rocket component. Some of the statistics are:

The weight of the complete round is 7 pounds 2 ounces; the overall length of round 16.1 inches.

During the Spanish Civil War the "Republicans" sometimes used small rockets to distribute propaganda leaflets over Franco's Falangist forces. The leaflets were in a compartment at the front of the rocket, an explosive charge close behind, followed by the gunpowder fuel. The newspaper Milicia Popular (Popular Militia) stated in September 1936:

For distances up to 800 meters the leaflets can be sent by means of rockets which on exploding release the leaflets in the air like a shower.

The use of rockets to disseminate political propaganda leaflets in Germany and even Berlin itself during the Cold War is well documented. Some examples from 1954:

On 23 February 1954 Communist agitators fired leaflet rockets over the West Berlin Fair Grounds. The leaflets contained anti-Adenauer messages.

On 22 December 1954 rockets were fired from the Tiergarten towards Friedrich Street. Leaflets were found in front of the Soviet Embassy.

There are literally hundreds of such cases where rockets were fired from both sides of the Iron Curtain.

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German V1 Rocket - WWII

In June 1944, Germany distributed leaflets over the Allies in Great Britain, Belgium, and Holland using their vaunted “Vengeance weapon,” the V1 rocket. The leaflets were placed in a small canister, which ejected automatically from a hole near the wing as soon as the engine turned off. The V1 was equipped with a revolution counter, which shut down the engine after a pre-arranged number of turns. The bomb then went into a steep vertical dive and impact was almost instantaneous.

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A number of the German leaflets simply showed the phrase "V1" on the front. Apparently the Germans believed that the very sight of such a phrase was enough to terrify the Allies. One such leaflet is coded AI-081-7-44. The "V1" is in red. The title on the back of the leaflet is "FACTS CONCERNING V NUMBER 1." There is a long 5-paragraph propaganda text below the title. The first two paragraphs are:

1. No AA barrage and no fighter planes can prevent the gigantic "Doodle Bugs," as the Londoners call them, from coming over. The "Doodle Bugs" travel at a tremendous speed making them invulnerable to attacks.

2. "V Number 1" does not depend on weather, time season, or visibility. It is an "all weather" and "round the clock" weapon of deadly nerve-wrecking regularity. It is robbing Britishers of their sleep, keeping them down in the shelters and away from their work benches and desks.

Of course, the Germans were very wrong in their estimation of the V1. In fact, once Churchill moved his anti-aircraft guns to the coast, a great number were shot down. The Royal Air Force also discovered that by stripping down their Spitfire and Hawker Tempest fighters they could catch the V1. At night, British Mosquitoes joined the fight. There was no need for radar because the flames from the V1 engine could be seen from 10 miles away. The pilots would sometimes fire on the flying bombs, other times use their wing to tip it over, causing the V1 to crash into unpopulated woods and meadows. Between June and mid-August 1944, the handful of Tempests shot down 638 flying bombs. By August 1944, the threat of the V1 was mostly eliminated by the sudden arrival of two electronic aids for anti-aircraft guns, both developed in the USA. The use of radar to aim the anti-aircraft guns, and the proximity fuse. Of the 30,000 V1s manufactured, about 10,000 were fired at England. Of these, about 7000 were "hits" in that they landed somewhere in England. About half, 3876, landed in the Greater London area. An almost equal number were shot down or crashed into tethered barrage balloons. 

The United States has experimented with leaflet rockets. In 1950 The Chief of the Ordnance Corps directed Redstone Arsenal scientists to determine the feasibility of a white phosphorus smoke rocket. The study resulted in a plan for two rockets, but Ordnance suspended the program in early 1952 because the Army Field Forces had no immediate need for such weapons. In March 1952, however, Ordnance instructed Redstone to adapt the rocket for propaganda leaflet dissemination. The arsenal delivered T229 rockets to the Psychological Warfare Center at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in June 1954.

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Thank you Stalin...

During the Cold War the two Germanys sent propaganda to each other through rockets, balloons, the mail and even by tossing leaflets off high buildings into the wind. You can seldom tell if a propaganda leaflet was actually sent by rocket, but in this case we know that the above leaflet was sent to the West by rocket in May 1955 because the Communist East Germans have been kind enough to print a small rocket at the lower right. The text is: 

The German Democratic Republic thanks Stalin for his confidence!

Landmine Dissemination

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Land mine leaflet dispensers were designed to dispense a packet of leaflets into the area near enemy base camps or along enemy used trails.  The mine was planted with a fuse, time delay device, or trip wire.  It was probably used by long range patrols in Vietnam.

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Leaflet Landmine

FM 33-5, Psychological Warfare in Combat Operations adds:

The leaflet landmine is similar to the static-fired leaflet mortar except that the leaflets are put directly into the canister above the propellant charge. A divider between the propellant charge and the leaflets is necessary in order to push the leaflets out of the canister without damage to the content.

The propelling charge consists of 10 to 20, 56.7-gram bags of black powder such as used in practice hand grenades. The charge, when detonated, propels the leaflets 10 to 15 feet into the air. The size of the leaflet pattern and distance from the mine depends to a large extend on the wind. In addition to being placed on the ground, the leaflet mine can be rigged in trees or in and around buildings. It can be fired be electrical means, trip wire or time delay fuses. This mode of dissemination is intended primarily for covert operations.

The wooden leaflet mine made to break up after firecracker blast throws leaflets into the air

Landmine leaflets armed with M-80 Firecracker

Looking through the files on the 7th PSYOP Group I found several photographs of the landmine experiments. They first tried to use a special non-electric blasting cap composed of C3 and C4. They note:

Excessive damage to leaflets

A Test of the Landmine - Leaflets seem well spread to the left and right

They then tried the old M-80 commercial firecracker - That went much better. They noted:

No damage to leaflets. All other tests with M-80 firecracker had similar results

Leaflet Mortar Dissemination

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81-mm mortar crew prepares to fire

The American mortar round originally used to disseminate propaganda was the Mark 112 81mm Leaflet Cartridge used only by the Mark 2 mortar. In general, mortar rounds come in either point detonating, proximity, or mechanical time fusing. The leaflet rounds were always mechanical time fused. It is now obsolete.

Very little has been written about the use of mortars for leaflet dissemination but the United States Pacific Fleet and Pacific Ocean Areas August 1944 booklet Psychological Warfare – Part One says:

It has been found that mortar shells can be used as a successful medium of dissemination. An 80-milimeter mortar shell can contain as many as seventy-five leaflets, and for short range purposes is more precise than bombing.

The Germans used a leaflet mortar during WWII. In the book PAPER WAR: Nazi propaganda in one battle, on a single day, Cassino, Italy, May 11, 1944, Mark Batty, 2005, the author discusses such a weapon firing leaflets against the Allies:

All fourteen of these propaganda pieces were fired by mortar from a launcher positioned on the Cassino side of the Rapido River.

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Reprinted by permission of Mark Batty Publisher, West New York, NJ, USA. From Paper War, Copyright 2025 by Mark Batty Publisher. All rights reserved.

Batty sketched the captured mortar in his notepad on lined paper. His notes are difficult to read but say in part:

Base plate 3 feet long. Four teeth to maintain firm base.

Four barrels are hinged along line AB (center line) of plate.

Highest barest elevation 50 degrees, lowest elevation 30 degrees. No traverse.

Each barrel consists of a framework only with a catch one-third the way down. The four bombs are loaded and the four catches can be pulled down simultaneously by a system of converged chains allowing the bombs to slide down and hit the firing pin at the base of each barrel.

Each barrel has a rough sight of its own.

The bomb has three screw portions; a detonator, explosive (cordite), and a propaganda casing.

The “shell” has a soft outer case.

The charge is just sufficient to blow the soft case off thus flushing out the leaflets which are scattered by a compressed spring.

Richard B. Holmsten mentions Communist use of propaganda mortars during the Korean War in Ready to Fire – Memoir of an American Artilleryman in the Korean War, McFarland and Company, Jefferson, NC, 2003:

Propaganda leaflets were shot at us in mortar shells. The paper they used was poor, yellowed stock. Much of the printing was blurred. The leaflets containing propaganda statements about how futile our situation was and how they would offer good treatment to us is we threw down our arms. We laughed, as them must have done when we fired our propaganda leaflets at them.

Colonel Jack K. Morris adds in his U.S. Army War College student paper Tactical Psychological Warfare:

The Communist Chinese forces in Korea used a Russian mortar shell to accurately disseminate leaflets to front line units.

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Russian 82mm Leaflet Mortar Shell

The above Russian 82mm leaflet mortar shell was offered for sale in 2013. It is unknown if this shell was used in WWII by the Russians or in the 1950s by their North Korean comrades during the Korean War.

The MACV-SOG History states that U.S. naval forces used 81mm mortars to distribute 2 million leaflets to North Vietnamese troops and the Viet Cong in 1966.

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Communist Leaflet Mortar

The 1971 photograph above depicts a North Vietnamese mortar team disseminating leaflets. The photograph was sent to Warsaw from Hanoi by radiophone where it was spotted by the Associated Press and forwarded to the United States. The text on the back of the photo is:

18 February 1971 – Propaganda Power – This photo from Hanoi monitored in Warsaw purports to show North Vietnamese in Quang Tri Thua Thien, South Vietnam, firing propaganda leaflets in mortar shells into a base occupied by Allied forces.

The PSYOP/POLWAR Newsletter of March 1969 adds:

Personnel aboard Navy swift boats have been successfully using 81mm mortar leaflet rounds to deliver PSYOP messages into VC strongholds during Market Time activities in the lower Ca Mau peninsula. This is considered an excellent method of accurately delivering small quantities of leaflets into hostile areas.

A 10 July 1970 MACSOG report on Maritime Operations adds:

OPERATIONS, 1965 – Summary: One hundred and seventy missions sortied from Danang over a period of 358 operational days during 1965. MAROPS missions effected the capture of 126 prisoners, the destruction of more than 50 enemy junks and damage to 19 enemy vessels, including three patrol craft. Forty-nine bombardment and 25 psychological harassment (PSYWAR) missions were considered successful; 13 deliveries of gift kits, radios and psychological warfare materials were fulfilled. One thousand radios were delivered, 28,742 gift kits dispensed, and l,124,600 leaflets dispensed by 81 MM mortar.

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A “Budget” Mortar to be left Behind

This “fire and forget” mortar was used by LRRPs (Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols) in Vietnam. They wanted to get in and get out without being detected. They would leave a mortar filled with leaflets and a timer so that the mortar payload would scatter long after they departed. Since the LRRPs lives depended on secrecy and stealth it would be very dangerous to be anywhere this mortar when it fired, drawing in hundreds of Viet Cong or NVA troops.

We also know that sabotage teams sent to North Vietnam carried one-use mortars to fire leaflets and then be thrown away and left behind. Mervyn Edwin Roberts III, B.A. Mentions this operation in his Master Thesis United States Psychological Operations in Support of Counterinsurgency: Vietnam, 1960 to 1965:

As part of the increased emphasis on the black propaganda campaign Secret Sword of the Patriotic League (SSPL), infiltration teams in the North began to assume a secondary mission of psychological warfare. The first dual mission team, code named EASY, parachuted into the North on 11 August 1963. While collecting intelligence, the team was tasked with spreading SSPL leaflets. Other teams carried special single-use leaflet mortars to disseminate product after their sabotage mission was complete.

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What a Viet Cong leaflet looks like after 50 years in a mortar shell

While conducting removal of unexploded ordnance in Vietnam in 2018 a technician came across a NVA or VC 82mm Propaganda mortar from 1968. He said it was the first time anyone could remember finding one that had not functioned. After taking care of fuse, he opened the mortar and removed the ejection charge. He then removed the leaflets. He said that most were so water-stained you could barely read them.

[Author’s note] I have no idea if this invention was ever created or used, but in John Lisle's The Dirty Tricks Department: Stanley Lovell, the OSS, and the Masterminds of World War II Secret Warfare they mention a modified bazooka to distribute propaganda leaflets.

Waterborne Dissemination 

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Examples of leaflet floats

One of the earliest recorded incidents involving the use of Propaganda floats comes from Vietnam. Generals Le Loi and Nguyen Trai while fighting the Chinese from 1417 to 1427, used grease or honey to write patriotic phrases on the large leaves of the forest trees. Ants ate the organic product absorbed in the leaf tissue and the words were exposed. Some of the leaves fell upon the waters of streams and were carried to adjoining areas. People noticed the perforated leaves and interpreted them as a divine message. They joined the Vietnamese forces and defeated the Chinese.

The American waterborne dissemination technique in the Vietnam war was comparatively simple and inexpensive. Propaganda material is placed in buoyant, waterproof containers and dropped from low-flying aircraft, ships, or boats at predetermined locations. Prevailing winds, tides and currents carry the floating containers to the target area along ocean beaches or riverbanks. The containers can be wood, bamboo, plastic, glass or similar materials.


According to The Propaganda Float in Leaflet Operations, printed by the 7th PSYOP Group on Okinawa There are four standard types of floats:

1. A relatively heavy, dense package riding low in the water. This package is influenced primarily by water currents.

2. A relatively lightweight package with about half of the volume exposed to surface winds. This package is influenced by both current and surface winds.

3. A lightweight package with most of the volume exposed to surface winds. This package is influenced primarily by surface winds.

4. An anchored float in which there is no movement. This float is positioned for discovery by members of the intended target group.

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Gulf War Marine Wave Leaflet


Probably the most famous use of the waterborne dissemination technique was the disinformation campaign used during Operation Desert Storm. Because of the heat, the military had an excess of empty water bottles. In order to convince the Iraqi forces that there would be a Marine invasion by sea, the Central Command printed a safe conduct leaflet with the text "Cease resistance - Be safe," that depicted the face of a snarling Marine in an ocean wave, holding a bloody Kabar knife. 10,000 plastic water bottles were floated up on the beaches of Kuwait from naval ships (some say that 12,000 floated along the Kuwaiti coast by a U.S.-paid smuggler from the United Arabs Emirates). Aircraft dropped another 90,000. The bottles washed ashore on January 14, one day before the January 15 deadline given to Iraq to withdraw their forces from Kuwait. The plan was a complete success. The Iraqi forces watched the ocean right up until Coalition forces from the western desert attacked them.


Waterborne dissemination of propaganda was discussed as early as the American Revolutionary War when Benjamin Franklin wrote to Colonel Thomas McKean and enclosed a number of Congressional resolutions translated into German. Franklin recommended that they be conveyed over the water to the Hessian encampment opposite the New Jersey shore. Since some of the literature was printed on tobacco paper, Franklin recommended that a little tobacco be added to the floats. He was far ahead of his time. In WWII the Allies airdropped cigarettes, matches, seeds, soap, coffee, and even tea bags to keep up the morale of the citizens of the occupied nations. 

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A sampling of OSS metal floats

During WWII the Office of Strategic Services Morale Operation Branch in Rome floated miniature copies of the propaganda newspaper Das Neue Deutschland (The New Germany) inside metal cylinders and food tins on various rivers leading into Germany or German occupied territory.

During the Vietnam War, psychological operations personnel in IV Corps sent over 250,000 float bags filled with propaganda literature and gift items to farmers and fishermen living along the waterways of the Mekong delta. The entire quarter-million floats were placed in the water in a single day. One helicopter pilot reported sighting a small wooden craft whose entire front end was filled with float packages. The boatman had systematically retrieved every float he encountered as he proceeded up the canal. I assume that he made a nice profit later selling the gifts in the local markets and street stalls.

One method for floating a propaganda radio ashore was quite complicated and used both floats and balloons to accomplish the mission. Two J-100 weather balloons were attached by a string to a chemical fuse. The fuse was attached by a string to a piece of wood. The radio was attached above the fuse. The duration of the fuse was measured in hours. The US Navy launched the whole package where it was blown to the North Vietnamese shoreline. It would bounce along the beach until the wood was lodged and acted as an anchor. Eventually the fuse would burn through releasing the two balloons with the radio. Released from the wood anchor, the balloon rapidly rose. Eventually, one would burst from expansion, and the other, being incapable of lifting the radio would settle down until the radio came gently to rest on the ground. The following morning, there would be balloons in the sky or all along the populated coastline anchored by the radios. The Vietnamese would be drawn to the balloon out of curiosity and thus find the radio.

Another Vietnam mission was carried out by the USS Benewah. The 9th Infantry Division's 3rd Battalion, 27th Infantry circulated leaflets by using toy sailboats. The leaflets resembling the Vietnamese national flag were attached to large spikes driven into foot-long pieces of two-by-four wood.

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Banana Stalk Floats

A popular game among young Vietnamese was to place messages in banana stalk floats and send them down a river or stream. During the Vietnam War, the South Vietnamese Culture-Drama Teams would use this same method to send propaganda leaflets to the Communist Viet Cong. The Van Tac Vu (Office of Literary Production) teams did this as part of their “Returnee Propaganda Tasks.” They taught the local children to take part in this returnee program too.

There was another operation where propaganda floats were dropped off the coast of North Vietnam by a United States Navy submarine. The clandestine Studies and Observations Group (SOG) directed that operation.

Robert W. Chandler mentions another Vietnam float project War of ideas, the U. S. Propaganda Campaign in Vietnam:

Marines placed a Chieu Hoi leaflet and a cigarette in plastic bags and floated them up the mouths of rivers during evening tides; similarly, plastic bags containing a washcloth, a half piece of elephant soap, needles and thread, and a leaflet were drifted into Viet Cong areas.


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Cold War Float to North Korea with pencils and a T-shirt

An example of waterborne dissemination is the float depicted above. This American container was used against North Korea. The float is a plastic jar with a bright red cap to draw attention. There are three items inside. First, a colorful child's shirt with an amusing design, next a pencil strategically broken in half so that it can fit inside the plastic jar and finally, a bright red parachute. This same type of float was used against Vietnam, released from offshore submarines.

Other types of floats used against North Korea were simple plastic bags containing Korean-language publications and/or nylon string that could be used by the fishermen to make nets, hang clothes, and dozens of other uses. In order to get the North Koreans to pick up the floats and hopefully read the leaflets, gifts were often placed inside the floats. The interrogation of North Korean fishermen determined that the gifts they most wanted to find in the floats were; cigarette lighters, cigarette cases, cigarette holders, nylon cord, sunglasses, and ball-point pens. Non-fishermen preferred various articles of clothing and cash. Other recommended items to be placed in the floats were; soap bars, rulers, and marbles for the children.

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Preparation of Floats

Republic of Korea Navy technicians with U. S. PSYOP specialist prepares float bags to be drifted into North Korean waters and along the shoreline as part of Operation Jilli (Truth).

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A Float Containing a PSYOP Radio

A U. S. - Republic of Korea Cold War float containing a radio in its protective package. The sea currents flow from North to South. The radio has been placed in a pillow-size inflated plastic bag that acts as a sail. The package is moved against the current using south-southwesterly winds where it is picked up by fishermen at sea, or people along the shoreline. Magazines, leaflets, book marks, chopsticks, fishing line and other gift items were sent to North Korea through this method of dissemination.

A rather dubious Air Force veteran and retired Foreign Service officer told me about one propaganda float mission that he took part in:

In the 1960s, I went out on a small patrol boat with the South Korean navy and watched them float thousands of Styrofoam-packed transistor radios ashore in North Korea. A friend of mine was the U.S. Army civilian who edited the magazine distributed in South Korea through an arrangement with the Korean National Police---an outrageous waste of my tax dollars. I never saw any evidence that any psychological operation had any impact at all.

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Assortment of riverborne leaflets

In 2016-2017, the Cold War flared up again between the two Koreas and anti-Communist activists sent propaganda to the North. In an Associated Press article dated 20 August 2017, entitled Fighting North Korea with Balloons, TV Shows and leaflets, author Tim Sullivan said:

Still, every year the activists send hundreds of thousands of leaflets across the border, and thousands of DVDs and thumb drives loaded with everything from Bibles to American sitcoms to South Korean historical dramas. Some are transported by hired smugglers via China. Some are sealed inside 2-liter water bottles tossed into the surf along the South Korean coast, then carried north by the current.

There were also Cold War operations where leaflets were placed in plastic resealable drinking containers and released off the coast of Red China by vessels from the Republic of Korea.

Captain Nahlik of the 7th PSYOP Group told me that he had recommended Submarines as a way to send leaflets into mainland China during the Cold War. The leaflets would be put into the torpedo ports and discharged when in the area where current would be flowing towards the mainland. The method was workable and liked but rejected because it would enable the Chinese to determine where our submarines had been patrolling by doing backward current studies.   

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Motorized Sampans

It wasn’t only floats that were sent along the waterways of Vietnams. There were “Patrol Boat, River” (PBRs) conducting riverine operations with loudspeakers and even motorized sampans. According to DA Army Contact Team in Vietnam Study – Employment of US Army Psychological Operations Units in Vietnam, 7 June 1969, a new PSYOP technique was tried in An Giang province, Vietnam. It involved the use of motorized Sampans to reach remote hamlets not serviced by roads. Each sampan contained a television set or movie projector and a Honda generator. The sampan moved to the target hamlet where the crew consisting of representatives from the province S5 (Public Affairs), the Vietnamese Information Service and Revolutionary Development disembarked and talked to residents of the hamlet. At night the television or movie was used for a PSYOP message to the hamlet audience. At the end of the operation four sampans were operating in the An Giang province.

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Equine Dissemination

This one is so silly that I did not want to add it, but it is also so silly that how I could I ignore it? According to Karl Ullrich, writing in Like a Cliff in the Ocean: The History of the 3rd SS Panzer-Division “Totenkopf,” J.J. Fedorowicz Publishing, 2002, The Russians used horses to distribute leaflets among the Waffen SS about January 1944. Ullrich says:

The Soviets also used some naive methods for distributing propaganda leaflets. They would tie a sack of them to a horse and chase it into no-man’s land. In the sack was a request for the local commander to distribute the leaflets. The loudspeaker propaganda urged us to end the war, depose our government and send our soldiers home.

Speaking of silly, we all know that babies are delivered by Storks. The London Review of Books tells us that the Germans in WWII considered using storks to deliver propaganda leaflets to the Boers of South Africa: 


It was wartime​, and propaganda fell from the sky like dishonest rain. Nazi planes dropped leaflets over British lines in Europe telling them that their wives were in bed with American soldiers, complete with drawings of said wives undressed. The Allied forces flew hydrogen balloons over Axis troops to scatter images of fields lined with German graves. But the scope of both planes and balloons was limited. So, when Himmler wanted to send propaganda to the Transvaal in a bid to win the support of the Boers, he ordered his scientists to investigate the possibility of using migrating storks as carriers. 


Test flights for the Storchbein-Propaganda began, until it was found that a thousand birds would be required for every ten leaflets that reached their target. The plan was abandoned. Others, on the Allied side, were more persistent. In 1940 a dead stork was found on a farm in the North Transvaal with a message on a piece of tape sewn around its leg, sent by the resistance in Nazi-occupied Holland: “To our South African brothers: we, the people of Bergen op Zoom, tell you that living under German occupation is just hell.”  

PSYOP Projection on Low-hanging Clouds

Although not part of leaflet dissemination, I want to end this report with what would seem to be one of the strangest methods of distributing a propaganda message. Lee Richards of first told me of a WWII Foreign Office document entitled:




RUSES DE GUERRE: Projection of Messages and images by searchlights on clouds.

Mr. Shaw reported…that in regard to the suggestion of an apparatus for projecting messages and images on clouds Brigadier Penney had kindly put him in touch with the principal producers of apparatus of this kind. It had not been possible to provide a comprehensive technical report for this meeting but he could state that it was possible with a special projector to throw messages or images on to clouds, though the messages must be short and the image simple. The cloud conditions required are cumulous at 2,000 to 3,000 feet and the visibility from one to four miles according to weather conditions. With these conditions operations can start half-an-hour after sunset at a distance of half-a-mile from the front line, when the letters of images would be projected on to the clouds over the enemy lines the right way up for the enemy troops to read or see. One five foot projector costing £2,500 - £3,000 can throw up to twenty letters. It would take three months to produce a projector. Trials could be arranged. If the Committee considered that the idea was practicable its possibilities could be further investigated and information supplied to the D.M.I. France.

It was agreed that the suggestion for apparatus to project messages and images on clouds should be pursued. Trials should be arranged by Sir Campbell Stuart’s Department, and, if successful, the suggestion should be taken up through Colonel Brooks with the D.M.I. at G.H.Q. France.

There is no record of this operation ever taking place, so perhaps the cost of the projectors or the inability to project a clear picture was the downfall of the plan. 

British Political Officer Peter Hinchcliffe was assigned to Aden during the Arab insurgency. He discusses his 1962 meeting with a psychological warfare team:

I was the Political Officer stationed in Ga'ar, in Abyan when a PSYOP team came to call. It was commanded by a very tall young Captain who positively dribbled with enthusiasm. We were having problems with a dissident sheikh in the Yafa' mountains and the team wanted to help. The Captain had a 'brilliant' idea. Get a helicopter, put a projector on board and project a war film onto the clouds above the sheikh's lair to show him the might of the British Army. He suggested that newsreel of the Battle of El Alamein with infantry going into action under covering artillery fire and escorted by tanks. Sadly for him this was the dry season. There was not a cloud anywhere-and the helicopter which went to have a reconnaissance returned with a couple of bullet holes! Nothing daunted the three-pipped genius. He decided to show the film to the locals anyway, but the projector broke down in the middle if the first reel-and he had not brought a spare bulb.

I found that comment about the missing spare bulb amusing because when I instructed tactics in the United States Army I would occasionally be inspected by a training officer. There were certain standards that I was required to meet. The class must start on time. My name, rank, subject of instruction and length of the class must appear on the blackboard at the upper right corner. Finally, my slide projector must be focused properly before the start of the class, and when the small port on the slide projector was opened, there must be a spare bulb. If I failed any of those standards I was “gigged.”

A Civilian Researcher and former Military PSYOP officer was told by the son of one of the last Royal Afghanistan Government Defense Ministers how the tribal groups had been shown a giant image of Chairman Mao using the searchlight on the clouds technique back in the 1970's, however the image was described as being in color and done with lasers. Given the area and time frame (late 1960's to early 1970's) it is unknown who was doing the projection, but certainly they were agents from the Peoples Republic of China. The Afghan thought that it was being done by the Chinese as a display of technological superiority but that may have been only an assumption.

The same military officer remembers a photographic type-setting system tested at Fort Bragg that used ideographic components for Chinese Characters that were stored in holographic plates. This device was used to build the Chinese Characters from their component parts (radicals). It was deemed impractical and not precise enough for use by the unit. He subsequently organized tests of a photo typesetting device that essentially had a template of each Chinese character in shadow on large glass plates. The output of this system was quite good but was unsuited for tactical employment. All of these systems were quickly outmatched by modern computer layout systems.

A second PSYOP Officer told me a similar story:


While in college I bumped into a real character that was from Afghanistan. He had seen a strange image of Mao played on the clouds above the mountains near the village he was in. He speculated that it was done with lasers. When I was at Ft. Bragg it seemed to be entirely possible. The 4th group had evaluated a laser scanning printing system for the Chinese language that used holographic storage and there was research that pointed to the use of lasers to transmit a light signal that would produce sound upon impact with a hard target (a laser acoustic coupler). I concluded that the Mao image was probably an attempt to make the Afghans afraid of the Chinese. Who would or could do this is an open question; Russia, India and the U.S. all seem like likely candidates.

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"Chieu Hoi" Searchlight

There were experiments again in Vietnam in 1968 where C-47 aircraft were used to project messages on the underside of clouds. Bill Tyner, former S3 (Operations) Air Liaison officer of the 10th PSYOP Battalion in Vietnam told me:

Everyone remembers the old Batman TV show from around the mid-1960s. Someone in our Propaganda Development Center thought that the idea of a “bat signal” was a good one that could be used in psychological operations. He thought that we might be able to take a transparency and place it into a projector, turn on the intense illumination and manipulate the focusing lens, and then project an image out great distances. He envisioned using such symbols as “Chieu Hoi” (open Arms) or the flag of the Republic of Vietnam.

Once the projector and transparencies were prepared and ready I had to obtain a power source to run to run the high-wattage projector lamp. An Army 3.5 kilowatt generator set was obtained and placed in our loudspeaker (Gabby) C-47 aircraft. The commander of the 5th Special Operations Squadron was unhappy about that extra power source in his aircraft, but eventually he went along with the experiment.

The ideal clouds would be a low-hanging “mattress” blanket cloud cover, but in the Delta they were not all that common. On a less than ideal night Gabby took off and flew a mission provided by our S3 shop. We usually targeted large Viet Cong formations and I believe this was a suspected VC battalion. The illumination unit worked and the image was projected, but there was no way of determining how well it was seen without a prisoner to interview.

The next mission was over Vinh Long and our field team witnessed the projection and reported that it was blurry and not very effective. The problem was the transparency of the cloud cover. It was not dense enough, and on that particular mission the cloud cover was so low that it was extremely dangerous for the aircraft and the safety of the crew. “Angels 3” was considered the nominal altitude for safe operation and the low cloud cover would bring Gabby within 1500 feet of the Viet Cong muzzles. That was simply not going to happen.  

Still, even under those poor conditions there was an image. We had proven that the system should work under perfect conditions and had proven that messages could be projected onto low-floating clouds with the use of a projector and portable generator.

The operation itself proved a failure. After the second mission, some members of our staunch allies, the Army of Vietnam (ARVN's) were seen running off with our generator set from what had once been a locked storage shed at Binh Thuy Vietnamese Air Force Base. Without the power source all further missions were cancelled. Those spotlight missions were innovative and showed a great deal of originality and imagination, but unfortunately it would take a lot more to defeat the Viet Cong insurgency.

Bill sends his conclusion of the entire operation:

1. Clouds did not present a good flat surface to reflect an image.
2. To find the best bank of clouds, the C-47 had to drop down to about 1500 feet which made the Viet Cong very happy.
3. Light leakage from the projector was a terrific reference for Viet Cong gunners.
4. The projector required 220 volts so a portable gas engine 5 Kilowatt generator had to be jury rigged inside the AC to power it. A very dangerous situation.
5. Additional testing in the Delta was terminated after some ARVN stole the generator. They broke into our locked Conex box.
6. Since no failures go unpunished, an Army supply officer spent the next month trying to get me to pay for the generator. He failed.

On the other hand, Second Lieutenant Winston Groom arrived in Vietnam in July 1966 as a member of the 245th PSYOP Company. He said about the searchlight:

At one point, the PSYOP team used a plane that played “spooky music” at the enemy or, on cloudy nights, projected a giant dragon onto the night sky. And that was supposed to scare the North Vietnamese. “The problem was they would shoot at the plane.

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The PSYOP-POLWAR Newsletter

The PSYOP Newsletter was printed by the United States Military Assistance Command to inform commanders, PSYOP personnel, and PSYWAR advisors of psychological operations in Vietnam and to exchange idea and lessons learned. Later Vietnamese POLWAR personnel were added and the name was changed to the PSYOP-POLWAR Newsletter. Looking through my copy from October 1967 I find the following comment:

The 4th PSYOP Group initiated a test of five Miltralux Image Projectors on 1 September 1968. They are commercial slide projectors much like the familiar 35 mm slide projector but using an 85 mm slide and a 1000 watt projector bulb. This give the projector the capability of using buildings, mountains and even low cloud banks as projector screens. The testing program will submit the projectors to many types of climatic and geographic characteristics found in South Vietnam.

Major Michael G. Barger says in his U.S. Army Command and General Staff College 2007 Master’s thesis Psychological Operations Supporting the Counterinsurgency: 4th PSYOP Group in Vietnam:

Lieutenant Colonel Beck [Commander – 6th PSYOP Battalion], in his Senior Officer Debrief, called the use of gimmickry, such as projecting images on clouds… as “more-or-less desperate attempts to find a quick solution” to show “solid evidence of positive results.” Beck asserted that effective PSYOP takes time and instant results are usually the result of other factors that predisposed a target audience to complying with a PSYOP argument. He also pointed out that units could not sustain trickery for long, and once the lie was revealed it would damage the credibility of PSYOP personnel. Worse, once gimmickry failed to achieve results, the commander who once overestimated the potential of PSYOP now was even more inclined to relegate PSYOP to an ancillary function rather than integrate it into his combat plans.

According to DA Army Contact Team in Vietnam Study – Employment of US Army Psychological Operations Units in Vietnam, 7 June 1969, the 4th PSYOP Group initiated a test of five Miltralux Projectors on 1 September 1968. These new commercial slide projectors were much like the 35 mm slide projector but used an 85 mm slide and a 1000 watt projector bulb. This gave the projector the ability to use buildings, mountains and even low flying cloud banks as projector screens. The testing program subjected the projectors to many types of climatic and geographic conditions. It was determined that the equipment in its present state of development was unsuitable for PSYOP use.

It seems that there were attempts at placing propaganda images in the skies over Laos too. The plan was to show Buddha and various religious images and warn the Pathet Lao that they had angered Buddha and the spirits. As far as I know this plan was never put into action.

It was rumored that such an operation was considered again in 1990 when there was some discussion of projecting hologram images over Baghdad to weaken or topple Saddam Hussein. The story appears again in 1994 with the codename “Operation Blue Beam,” then disappears from sight. There is a lot of conjecture, but no proof that such plans are on the drawing board at Ft. Bragg today.

A CBS News report entitled “Words as Weapons” stated that during Operation Iraqi Freedom:

One idea that was reportedly investigated by the Air Force called for a giant hologram of Allah to appear before the Iraqis, who would be ordered by their God to turn on Saddam.

Electronic Messaging by Drones and Satellites

The Singapore Drone Message

Just as searchlight can send a message from the heavens, drones have also proven able to send messages. The photo above is from Singapore when the drones projected a scannable QR code which allowed people to download a video game. How much longer before they are used to project a propaganda message?

The Start Rocket Satellite Concept

At the same time, a Russian startup company just revealed plans to use swarms of tiny, light-reflecting satellites to create sprawling billboards in space. The first of Start Rocket's space-based ads, shown in a new concept video released by the company last week, could go up by 2021. The ads, a bit like sky typing, only in low-Earth orbit rather than in the atmosphere, would be visible only at night but could be seen from just about anywhere on the planet. The ads would be created by an array of tiny satellites, each equipped with a reflective sail about 30 feet in diameter. They will orbit at an altitude of about 280 miles, sunlight would reflect off the sails to form luminous words or logos visible from the ground below.


If you thought that projecting images on clouds is an exotic form of PSYOP, what do you think of holograms? The University of New Hampshire and the University of Arizona have worked on what are probably Pentagon-funded projects. According to published reports, they have demonstrated actual moving holograms that are filmed in one spot and then projected and viewed in another spot. There is a bit of a time lapse with the image changing about every two seconds. The hologram is created by a suite of 16 cameras that use lasers to record data on “smart” plastic some distance away that, when hit by a special light, project the image in solid-looking 3D.

Columbia University is studying ways to beam the holo-data via the Internet, to allow 3D video chats or instantaneous transmission of holographic maps, blueprints or medical scans. Early holograms are already a fixture in military headquarters, according to a N. Y. Times article. A company called Zebra Imaging in Texas has been selling 2-by-3-foot plastic holographic maps to the Pentagon — its “main customer” — for $1,000 to $3,000 a pop. The military “sends data in computer files to the company. Zebra then renders holographic displays of, for example, battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan.” No 3D glasses required, just a custom-made LED flashlight that “activates” the image encoded in the plastic.

Zebra’s technology has other military applications, such as post-blast IED forensics, according to the company’s Website. “Analysts trying to understand the nature and construction of an explosive device … are able to understand the scene in 3D far better than the classic 2D ‘bird’s-eye view.’”

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One unverified document mentions the 5.6 Airborne Holographic projector. It says in part:

The holographic projector displays a three dimensional visual image in a desired location, removed from the display generator. The projector can be used for psychological operations and strategic perception management. It is also useful for optical deception and cloaking, providing a momentary distraction when engaging an unsophisticated adversary.

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The Laser-Induced Plasma Formation

This one is right out of a science fiction movie. The Pentagon announced in August 2019 that it was working on a powerful laser that creates a ball of plasma. Then, a second laser works to oscillate the plasma creating sound waves. These intense laser bursts can then perfectly mimic human language. Scientists say these laser-grams will soon be able to beam hundreds of miles away and project a warning like Stop or we’ll be forced to fire upon you.


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Frank Capra's Why We Fight

Motion pictures have been an excellent source of propaganda since WWII. They can be used to stiffen the resolve of the home population, or used to mold the minds of a target audience. During WWII Frank Capra prepared Americans for total war with the series Why we Fight while Hitler frightened neutral countries with his propaganda movie Triumph in the West. During Operation Desert Storm the U.S.-led Coalition showed neutral Arab countries The Nations of the World draw a Line in the Sand to let them know the onslaught about to hit Saddam Hussein. In almost every recent war PSYOP troops used motion pictures as a tool, taking their projectors and screens into the contested streets to show pro-government films. Oddly, in some cases the enemy quietly watched from the shadows, enjoying the spectacle. Of course, there have been cases where grenades were thrown into the audience or shots fired at the screen, but they seem to be surprisingly few.

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Mobile Audio Visual vehicle

Counterinsurgency in Modern Warfare states that during the very successful war against the Communist guerrillas in Malaya, the British mobile film units toured the native villages showing commercial films along with films specially developed by their propaganda film unit.

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PSYOP Team set up a projector in Vietnam to show a movie to the village

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PSYOP team member annouces information on a movie that will be projected from his vehicle in Vietnam

Specialist 5th Class Pasquale Vallese who was in Vietnam from November 1968 to November 1969 as part of the U.S. Army 7th PSYOP Battalion attached to the 3rd Marine Division told me about showing movies to the locals:

At night we would travel down Highway One towards Quang Tri, and get into those back-road villages for MEDCAP (Medical Civic Action Programs). We were just one truck with a movie projector, a generator, a screen, an interpreter, a reel of the latest Armed Forces TV show (usually “The Wild Wild West”), and a Vietnamese language film or two about good health practices. I have no idea how they knew what “James West” was saying, but the people really enjoyed watching our shows. 

A more modern 2008 example of the use of motion pictures is a joint Philippine and US military program that instills patriotism in children. The program dubbed as “Movie Night” highlights the learning of right values while having fun. Movie night is run by the Philippine military's Joint Task Force Comet (JTFC) and America's Joint Special Operation Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) in the province of Sulu, said to be a hotbed of the Abu Sayyaf guerrillas. The movie night begins with Philippine and US military volunteers escorting local children to the movie site. Before the movie starts, Philippine military volunteers talk to them about basic healthcare, their dreams, and various other topics intended to instill the principles of obedience, discipline, unity, patriotism, and other values. Children are shown short films that highlight the importance of unity and patriotism, plus the military's various humanitarian undertakings. Following the short films, the Philippine National Anthem is played, followed by a child-friendly movie.


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Tadokhiel, Afghanistan

The DA Army Contact Team in Vietnam Study – Employment of US Army Psychological Operations Units in Vietnam, 7 June 1969, discusses the use of television as a media of propaganda in Vietnam. It states that Audio-Visual Teams of the 7th PSYOP Battalion employed televisions in support of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Mobile) in I Corps. Mobile PSYOP HB (Audio-Visual) Teams were equipped with television sets and were sent to rural villages to conduct PSYOP on a person-to-person basis in conjunction with showing PSYOP television programs. These PSYOP television programs were transmitted from Da Nang and included news, music, and PSYOP messages to enhance the government of Vietnam (GVN) image. In addition PSYOP messages provided a quick reaction interpretation of the tactical and military developments to counter fear from rumors and VC propaganda. The PSYOP television drew crowds and was considered quite successful.

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Afghan villagers watched the terrorist jets flying into the Twin Towers

Television is being used in the War on Terror in Afghanistan. U.S. Army Psychological Operations units have traveled around Afghanistan trying to convince Afghans of the United States’ good intentions. The unit's “information operations” publish Dari and Pashtun-language newspapers and leaflets and produce radio broadcasts. In 2010, PSYOP produced a video complete with Dari and Pashtun-language voiceovers, graphics and Afghan music to explain why the United States is in Afghanistan. The villagers watched the terrorist jets flying into the Twin Towers. They watched firefighters hauling debris from the pile that the towers became. Most of the villagers had never seen a television. Few had ever seen pictures of New York City. Most knew only vaguely that something had happened on Sept. 11. No one is required to watch the video to receive medical treatment. Most Afghans watch it out of curiosity. The videos, which were produced by the 8th Psychological Operations Battalion also of Fort Bragg, North Carolina, are a high priority for U.S. operations around Afghanistan. PSYOP plans a children's version of the video, and the team intends to show the videos as much as possible in coming months.


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One source of propaganda dissemination that I do not believe was ever put into action was the air-dropped miniature phonograph. Mention of this device appeared in the Fayetteville Observer of 24 November 1955. In an article entitled “Gadget Psychology Studied by Psywar Research Board,” Mack B. Solomon said that the U.S. military at Ft. Bragg was studying the use of hand-held miniature phonographs that can be air-dropped in great quantities. The experimental gadget with four propaganda records cost about one dollar and fifty cents to produce and weighed less than 10 ounces.

The phonograph was invented by the Radio Corporation of American (RCA). The phonograph and records were packed in a cardboard box that could be air-dropped from low flying planes or dropped by parachute at higher altitudes. The phonograph is dropped unassembled and consisted of a plastic base with turntable and needle, a hand crank, a diaphragm and a “radiator” to radiate the sound. It could be easily assembled in three simple steps by the finder.

The advantage of the miniature 78-revolution per minute photograph was that it could be used in areas where the radio had been jammed by the enemy. It also allowed the finder to hear the message in a human voice rather than a written piece of paper and could be used by illiterates who could not read a propaganda message on a leaflet.

An 8 November 1968 letter from the 7th PSYOP Group stated that they had been conducting a test of the miniature 3 x 4-inch PSYOP record player. The initial tests had proven favorable. They could be used in Vietnam as gift items by hand distribution from Armed Propaganda Teams to children or the families of Viet Cong. Personalized messages could be recorded by the President of South Vietnam mentioning national objectives, particularly during the Tet Campaign. The cost was $123 each from Japan with three records. The price would be less if the Group made their own record. They could be dropped from aircraft if necessary. It was suggested that they might be possible to get the Military Assistance Command Vietnam, or the Commander-in-Chief Pacific Support Group, pay for them.

Video Compact Disks 

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About 2003 the United States military began using video compact disks in Iraq since the population for the most part had access to either DVD players or computers. Iraq uses the European-standard Phase Alternating Line or PAL. As a result, the disks are made in PAL rather than the North American-standard National Television System Committee or NTSC. The use of the video sound and picture compensates for the low literacy rate among some target audiences. On the other hand, the poor electrical system in Iraq means that there will be times when the disks cannot be played. Staff Sergeant Jesse W. Card mentions dissemination in the article “Delivering the message” in Special Warfare, Volume 21, Issue 4, 2008. He says in part;

VCDs are larger and more fragile than paper products, not to mention more expensive and time-consuming to create. Because they will never equal the target area saturation possibilities of a leaflet drop, it is necessary to determine during the planning phase how and where VCDs will be disseminated…VCDs will more naturally be copied or uploaded to the Internet…A few randomly placed as leave-behinds en route to or on the objective will help, but often the best way to disseminate them will be through trustworthy sources.

The Korea Herald of 28 March 2010 stated that Korean dissidents were sending propaganda DVDs into North Korea. The newspaper said in part:

Anti-Pyongyang leaflet campaigns have gone digital, with activists flying out balloons carrying DVDs across the inter-Korean border to show North Koreans what they may be missing. Lee Min-bok, a defector from the North who leads a group that started the leaflet campaign using balloons, said his group began sending propaganda DVDs along with paper leaflets this year. Like the leaflets, the DVDs describe North Korean leader Kim Jong-il as a dictator indulging in western luxuries or show North Koreans that their government may not be telling them the truth. Lee produced a DVD on Kim Jong-il's luxurious life. Contrary to what many might think, DVD players are common household items in the impoverished North.

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Afghan villagers watch the U.S. film “Why We Are Here” on a portable
DVD player that explains why the U.S. military is in Afghanistan

In 2011, there were reports of battery-powered handheld DVD viewers being given to Afghan leaders to explain why the United States was in Afghanistan. One of the DVDs was entitled “Why We Are Here.” It was produced by the U.S. Military Information Support Operations (MISO), formerly called “PSYOP.” The movie describes the events of 9/11, and in Pashtun a narrator explains that an Arabian terrorist group called Al Qaeda flew planes into two very tall buildings where thousands of people, including Muslims, worked. Al Qaeda launched these attacks from Afghanistan, where the Taliban supported them. The film explains that the United States entered Afghanistan to aid the Afghan people in defeating Al Qaeda and its supporters through training the national army and police, and helping the economy so that people are able to stand on their own feet and believe in themselves. Besides the movie, The village elders are given other films produced by MISO, some of them showing Taliban bombings and civilian deaths. At the time of the report in May 2011, about 1,200 handheld DVD players have been handed out in Afghan villages and urban areas around eastern Afghanistan, along with the DVDs. The campaign, called “Roll the Tape,” was launched in late 2010 because Afghanistan’s high illiteracy rate made pamphlets and posters an ineffective method of delivering information, and polling conducted in Afghan villages indicated some of them didn’t know about 9/11.

Social Networking

British Channel 4 announced on 3 June 2009 that the US military in Afghanistan was launching a Facebook page, a YouTube site and feeds on Twitter as part of a new communications effort to reach readers who get their information on the internet rather than in newspapers. The effort, which officials described as a way to counter Taliban propaganda, represents a change in how the military can communicate its message. Colonel Greg Julian, the top US spokesman in Afghanistan said:

There's an entire audience segment that seeks its news from alternative means outside traditional news sources, and we want to make sure we're engaging them as well. 

This new effort in Afghanistan is the first in an active war zone to attempt to harness the power of social networking sites as a primary tool to release information. US officials have long said that the military is losing the information war to the Taliban, which routinely makes false claims about how many US soldiers its forces have killed or how many civilians might have died in an air strike. Taliban militants often post claims on websites and spokesmen send text messages to reporters.

In August 2010 it was reported that North Korea had registered an account with the U.S. video-sharing site YouTube, uploading clips that praise the isolated regime and defend itself against accusations that it attacked a South Korean warship. At least 10 clips were found under the name of uriminzokkiri, which represents the North's Web site. The name in Korean means “On our own as a nation.” North Korea is also believed to be operating a unit dedicated to hacking foreign Web sites, including those of the United States and South Korea.

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Scenes from the You Tube video

In a brand new type of political PSYOP attack unknown South Koreans hacked the Twitter and YouTube accounts of North Korea on Kim Jong-un’s birthday, 8 January 2011. The Twitter account posted “tweets” which called for an uprising to overthrow Kim Jong-il and his designated heir, Kim Jong-un. The tweets complained to the 10,000-plus Twitter followers about profligate nuclear weapons spending and lavish Kim Jong Il drinking parties while three million people are starving and freezing to death.

The hackers then attacked the country’s YouTube page where they posted a video which was posted on the “Dear Leaders” page. The video consists of a crudely animated Kim Jong-un driving around in a sports car running down suffering women and children while talking to Kim Jong-il on the phone. The North Koreans quickly removed the offending material, but some people uploaded the video before it was deleted.

Curiously, the people of North Korea have no internet or computers and it is doubtful that many of them saw the YouTube message. It was clearly meant for the world outside of North Korea.

In the NATO air attack on Libya in 2011, The Globe and Mail reported that NATO officials admitted that social media reports contribute to their targeting process. A Twitter account with apparent links to the British military has asked users to submit the precise co-ordinates of troops loyal to Colonel Muammar Gadhafi. When one user said that a gas station was a temporary headquarters for Col. Gadhafi’s forces, the information was tweeted, asking NATO to “clean up” the government troops. Another user said he has already seen results from his Twitter activism. He was among the first to notice fuel tankers slipping past NATO warships and docking at ports controlled by Col. Gadhafi, which led to NATO interdictions. A user combing through satellite images noticed that a property listed as a commercial warehouse had a yard containing what appeared to be military vehicles. He published his observations; and allegedly 10 hours later, the spot was hit by a NATO air strike.

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Ahmed al-Jabari's Car after being hit by aerial bomb

In what may be the first war declared on social media, in 2012, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) launched operation Pillars of Defense by killing Hamas military leader Ahmed al-Jabari, hitting his car with an aerial bomb as he drove down a Gaza street. The IDF posted a tweet announcing its campaign, then posted a video, and followed with a warning on Twitter account:

We recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead.

Accepting the challenge, the al-Qassam Brigade, the military wing of Hamas, tweeted back:

Our blessed hands will reach your leaders and soldiers wherever they are - You opened the gates of Hell on yourselves.

Artificial Intelligence

In the Terminator movies the villain is the Artificial Intelligence (AI) program named Skynet. In the 2020 TV show Next, the villain is an artificial intelligence that has escaped into the Internet and is bribing people with intelligence and monetary gain while murdering those it considers enemies. Having said all that, the U.S. military Special Operations Command is working with an AI program called Entropy which studies the Internet and other news sources and provides the operators with summaries of trends based on the information. Part two of the Information Operations portion, which is still under consideration, would take the topics identified, feed them into a language model, and select messages for the human team to review and score. This would help train the algorithm to improve. Entropy seeks to facilitate military forces to compete in real time.

When I was in the Sergeants Major Academy I was compelled to take a speed-reading course to keep up with all the incoming information. I already read faster than their target speed, but the Army was insistent. That will apparently be done by computer programs in the future. The system is designed for Special Operations Command-Pacific and focuses on three languages: Tagalog, Mandarin and English. The Entropy project is part of the Joint AI Center’s newest concept, dubbed Joint Information Warfare. It is unclear where this new concept will lead U.S. Information Forces.

Cell Phones

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In recent years we have seen the use of cell phones as an immediate tactical form of propaganda. For instance, in 2009, the Islamic militant group Hamas sent threatening messages to random Israelis during the conflict over Gaza. It got so bad that Israeli commanders ordered that phones not be taken into combat.

The coalition mounted a major PSYOP campaign in Iraq both prior to and during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. One of the more innovative means used by Coalition PSYOPS in the build-up to Iraqi Freedom was the use of mobile phone text messaging sent directly to key decision-makers in the Iraqi regime. The start of the PSYOP campaign in Iraq started months prior to the March invasion and it consisted of a campaign of cell phone messages apparently telling Saddam's generals that if they did not fight, their positions would be assured after the Coalition victory.

In the Ukraine, the Russian occupying force and its collaborators has used cell simulators to send messages to all of the soldiers facing them in a specific area. The cell site simulators work by impersonating cellphone towers, allowing them to intercept and fake data. The LEER-3 is a Russian truck-mounted electronic warfare system that has a cell site simulator built into a drone that is capable of acting over a 6-kilometer-wide area and hijacking up to 2,000 cellphone connections at once. All the phones in a targeted area will ring at the same time and all the phones will receive text messages such as:

Ukrainian soldiers, they will find your bodies when the snow melts.

Leave and you will live.

Nobody needs your kids to become orphans.

Many are disguised to look as if they are coming from fellow soldiers. In 2015, Ukrainian soldiers were sent texts appearing to come from comrades claiming their unit’s commander had deserte

Our forces are being decimated. We should run away.

Computer Apps

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The “Air Drop” App as Propaganda

In 2019, the People’s Republic of China tried to force a law on Hong Kong that any anti-Chinese individual could be arrested and sent to China for trial. The people rose up and there were regular demonstrations against the Hong Kong and Chinese Government. The people did not have the power to drop leaflets (although I should point out that during the British occupation of Hong Kong protesters threw anti-British leaflets from the taller buildings), so they used the Air Drop app to get their message across. The app is a file-sharing feature that allows Apple devices to send photos and videos over Bluetooth and Wi-Fi to breach China’s Great Firewall in order to spread information to mainland Chinese visitors in the city. Leaving AirDrop settings open allows anyone in the vicinity to send files to your device. Photos and videos can be shared with AirDrop, as well as notes, URLs, Passbook passes, contact cards, iTunes Radio stations, app listings and more. AirDrop utilizes a combination of Bluetooth 4.0 and Wi-Fi technology when sharing files between devices, with Bluetooth responsible for device discovery and secure connections, and Wi-Fi used for handling the actual transfer of files for faster performance.

A protest held on 7 July 2019, had a clear aim: to tell people from mainland China about the city’s opposition to a hated extradition bill. But news of the protest has been heavily censored in mainland China, with any mention of the mass movement wiped off the Chinese internet. Hong Kong’s protesters have therefore turned to Apple’s AirDrop feature to get their message across to their mainland Chinese compatriots. That the messages are written in simplified Chinese, Showing that Mainland Chinese tourists were the intended target. Some AirDrop files even contained what looked like QR codes linked to Alipay and WeChat Pay, two major mobile payments systems used in China. People who scanned the codes thinking they would get free money instead received information on the dangers of the extradition law. Some messages:

Did you know? Over the past month, Hong Kong has seen three massive rallies, with as many as 2 million people taking to the streets. Don’t wait until freedom is gone to regret its loss. Freedom isn’t God-given; it is fought for by the people.

We wish you a pleasant journey. Feel the freedom of assembly along the way. This space for freedom is the reason why we fight.

Electronic PSYOP

In late 2009, the Special Operations Command authorized 10 million dollars to General Dynamics for projects that will require the use of XHTML, PHP, Java scripting, and flash development. The contractor will  incorporate into websites the use of web logs (blogs), streaming Video/Audio, moderated chat rooms, downloads of wall papers (inclusive of calendars) when directed by SOCOM. The contractor will, at a minimum, develop Internet-based marketing procedures such as use of Google AdWords and Search Engine Optimization to prioritize search result listing of the applicable websites. The websites will be controlled by managers reporting to SOCOM based in US regional command HQs around the world - managers holding US Top Secret/Secure Compartmented Information clearances, with “extensive public diplomacy, journalism, and media relations skills. The Government will require the contractor to provide “ghosted” websites that are protected by username and password and ready to go active upon approval by SOCOM

The Future of Leaflets

The paper leaflet has been a valuable PSYOP weapon since WWI. Because it is easy to produce and costs little in relationship to other media, it will probably always be a major weapon of psychological warfare. However, with the current advances in technology, new forms of media threaten to make the leaflet obsolete. The United States military has announced the need for air droppable, scatterable electronic media that could be adapted for military use. For instance, some of the items being explored are Internet-capable devices, entertainment and game devices, greeting cards, disposable wireless phones and phone and text messaging technologies. Other technologies are similar to the talking greeting card. There have been studies of a leaflet with an embedded chip that when picked up or squeezed actually produces a propaganda message. In 2018, this project came up again, a piece of paper, about the thickness of four ordinary sheets, infused with microcircuits that can store and replay a 30-second message. The prototype has a writable area of about 4 by 6 inches. The advent of new techniques to mass-produce graphene, a carbon-based nanomaterial that’s clear, highly bendable, five times as strong as steel and an excellent conductor of electricity, has made it much easier to shrink electronic circuits and embed them into fabric or other bendable materials.

A January 2019 report stated that Special Operations Command had managed to create a prototype talking leaflet, but the prototype is too expensive for mass production. As a result, SOCOM reached out to companies with a request for printable electronics incorporating flexible micro-circuitry, a flexible speaker, and super-thin photovoltaic batteries. The specifications require the leaflet to be printable in the field in order to be deployed or scattered across designated areas to broadcast information as well as provide feedback to assist in PSYOP planning and analysis.

Some cultures are functionally illiterate and they are normally targeted with cartoon-type leaflets that require no ability to read. The talking leaflet would be even more informative in such a scenario. CBS News reported that other plans for the future might include digital morphing, in which sound and pictures would be altered to put words in enemy leaders' mouths or make them appear as though they are faltering. Further use of the Internet is also being explored, but the prospect of creating PSYOP websites is complicated by the fact that the military is not allowed to target Americans, who might visit the sites.

As always, the author hopes that this article will open a healthy discussion. Readers who have information or photos of unusual methods of leaflet dissemination that they would like to share, and/or have added to this article, are encouraged to e-mail the author at

© May 17, 2004