Important Role of former Nazis in Eastern Germany." 

November 21, 1950
Central Files Decimal Number 762B.00

Psychological Warfare and Propaganda in World War II: Air Dropped and Shelled Leaflets and Periodicals

Date Range: 1939-1945 (predominantly 1942-1945)
Content: 9,730 pages
Source Library: McMaster University Library

Description

The use of airborne leaflets was a way for World War II enemies to psychologically attack one another in a different way previously unavailable during earleir conflicts.  Distribution of airborne leaflet propaganda was used by both allied and Axis forces in the Second World War.  Airborne leaflets printed during WWII were “factual, in the main truthful, and served to create a reputation for reliability both in supplying information and refuting German accounts which were said to be untruthful."

Although leaflets were seen as being an effective tactic in manipulating troops when morale was low, it's been found that psychological warfare was not effective when distributing surrender leaflets to an enemy with high morale amongst its troops. Despite the pitfalls to airborne leaflets ineffectiveness on opposing sides with high morale, enemies used this tactic “to cause the men to begin talking to each other about their poor military position, their desire to stay alive for their families’ sakes, and the reasonableness of honorable surrender”, which often were reasons for men deserting their troops.

Air drop operations began when the Royal Air Force dropped leaflets over Kiel on September 3-4, 1939, and continued on an increasing scale until the unconditional surrender of Germany in May 1945. During this time, the objectives and methods of this leaflet distribution underwent considerable changes in order to keep pace with the developments of war.

Psychological Warfare and Propaganda in World War II: Air Dropped and Shelled Leaflets and Periodicals consists of over 1,000 air dropped and shelled leaflets and periodicals created and disseminated during the Second World War. The majority of items in this collection were printed by the Allies then air or container dropped, or fired by artillery shell, over German occupied territory. Many leaflets and periodicals have original publication codes and were printed in over 10 languages. Only shelled leaflets, Germans to Allies (115 items), are in English.

There are several reasons why these leaflets are prized today: 

  • Due to heavy strain on these papers during airdrops, many were destroyed or heavily damaged. Think about strong winds, rain, snow and other weather conditions. But also antiaircraft gunfire destroyed many of the leaflet;
  • Shelled and rocketed leaflets were especially heavily stressed. Huge forces came to work on the paper sheets when firing the artillery gun and when expelling the leaflets from the shell or rocket with an explosive charge;
  • Large numbers nevered reach the intended targets. When being dropped out of a plane from great heights, leaflets tended to fall in places where nobody would be able to find them-- lakes, rivers, rural areas etc.;  and
  • In the early years of the war, a German spreading these enemy propaganda items on to others could be heavily punished. In the later years of the war, Germans were not even allowed to pick up a leaflet from the ground. So it is understandable that many Germans did not keep leaflets when found. Instead, they often read them quickly, and then, just like the German laws wanted them to, turned them in to the Nazi police after marking the leaflet with the word “Feindpropaganda” (“Enemy Propaganda”).

Psychological Warfare and Propaganda in World War II: Air Dropped and Shelled Leaflets and Periodicals provides a wealth of information necessary for research in Military history, European Studies, Political studies, German Studies, Conflict Studies, and World War II Studies

An intuitive platform makes all collections within the Archives Unbound platform cross-searchable by subject or collection.

Help us create