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I am constantly searching for new PSYOP themes to write about. Sometimes I think I have covered just about everything possible, and then something new is brought to my attention. My good friend, researcher Lee Richards, recently depicted a WWII propaganda leaflet that had a photograph of an enemy city before and after an Allied bombing raid. I mentioned to him that I had seen a few more and so had he. I have written about the use of the heavy bomber as a propaganda theme in the past, but never about the actual bombing and the destruction that it caused. We realized that we had an interesting theme that had not been discussed before and could be illustrated by a sizable number of leaflets. It was too much to resist so here is my attempt at talking about the rare propaganda theme, "The threat of Allied Bombing." I first wanted to only depict leaflets with "before and after" photographs, but a few of the leaflets just feature the "after" result, so in some cases there may be just one aerial photograph.
The leaflets we will depict all show an enemy city or military territory after a bomb raid. The leaflets are all an implied threat: "This is what happens to those that oppose us." The enemy who finds the leaflet understands that he could be next and perhaps the best course is to end the war quickly to avoid death and destruction. The propaganda also acts as a "divide and conquer" tactic to separate the military and civilian population. The civilians will ask, "Why were we not protected?" In general, the military has no answer. Thus the civilian morale plummets. This sort of propaganda appears in many variations. We will not show them in this article, but the Allies regularly prepared leaflets telling the enemy of the cities to be bombed. The pilots hated this campaign, but in both WWII and the Korean War it was considered important to show enemy civilians that their air force could not protect them. There were also leaflet campaigns that asked "Where is your air force?" These were aimed at unprotected enemy ground forces who were being attacked by Allied aircraft. Finally, there were leaflets that depicted death and destruction; torn and mangled bodies caused by air attacks. We could do a short story on any of these themes, but here we shall only discuss the leaflets bearing aerial photographs.
WORLD WAR TWO PACIFIC
The Office of War Information (OWI) was an American civilian agency tasked with preparing propaganda for the enemy. They had headquarters in San Francisco, Honolulu and a forward base on the island of Saipan. To show the Japanese people the power of Allied bombing, leaflet 129 depicting the remains of fire-bombed Tokyo was prepared and air-dropped.
The leaflet features and aerial photograph of Tokyo after American Army Air Force General Curtis LeMay had it fire bombed. Slight damage to the Imperial Palace is visible. The leaflet is 5 x 8-inches printed in black on white paper. There is no text on the front. Text on the back is:
Raids over Tokyo
You must have heard the news of American planes raiding Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyushu and other areas. The picture on the other side was taken on one of those raids. Tokyo Station, Niju Bridge, and the Marunouchi [a commercial district of Tokyo] can be seen in the picture. Air raids will be continued until the Japanese leaders admit their defeat and negotiate for peace with us. To occupy your island would be easier than raiding Tokyo. Soon we shall demonstrate to you our astounding naval and air power. Then you will find out how much damage was done to Japan proper by our raids.
This leaflet is designed to develop resentment among Japanese soldiers toward their leaders. It tells the soldiers that they can be invaded at any time. I would think this would be insulting and make the Japanese soldiers more determined. The American psychologists and experts disagree and add, "This approach is psychologically much sounder to the Japanese than it appears to the American reader." The leaflet is 5 x 8-inches, printed in black on white paper. The leaflet depicts Naha City, capital of Okinawa before and after an American bombing. The title on the front is:
City of NAHA - Before and after bombing.
The back is all text:
Saipan is 3,300 miles from Pearl Harbor whereas your island is less than 1,000 miles from American bases. Therefore, it is obvious that we are able to take your island whenever we think the trouble worthwhile. We considered Iwo Jima, the Philippines, and Okinawa more important to us than this island and we took those islands first. The Japanese leaders know we are able to capture this island but they are going to repeat the same mistake as in the South Seas where they abandoned hundreds of thousands of your soldiers. They will sacrifice you in the same manner. Is it not unreasonable that you have to obey those leaders who are going to repeat the same mistake?
Since they are responsible for having started this war, don't you think they ought to resign in favor of new peace-minded leaders?
This is rather a strange leaflet to drop on Japan because it depicts the effect of an Allied bombing on the German city of Essen. The Germans were the allies of the Japanese so this leaflet is saying in effect, "what we did to your allies we can do to you." Like leaflet 2079 below, it uses an old Japanese proverb as part of the propaganda. The proverb is: "What happens twice will happen three times." The leaflet is 5 x 8-inches, brown ink on white paper. The front depicts the bombing of German war plants in Essen. The text is:
The Great Industrial Area of Essen, Germany
The back is all text and says:
What happens twice will happen three times
You should know the strength of American air power. This same power is causing your partner Germany to surrender. Our bombers will return, not only once or twice or three times, but many times as long as your militarists continue this war.
In 2015, one of these leaflets was offered for sale from the estate of a Navy veteran who wrote on it "Souvenir of Saipan - 1945." These leaflets were prepared on Saipan by the Office of War Information. However, the sailor obviously did not read Japanese because he also wrote on the leaflet, "Tokyo - Before & After B-29's." Right war, wrong theater.
The same general image of Naha city before and after an American bombing depicted on OWI leaflet 131 was used on leaflet 2079. The leaflet was printed in black on 5 x 8-inch blue paper. This leaflet was designed to create a desire in Japan for peace. The message is built around a well-known Japanese proverb: "Before falling seek the assistance of your cane." It points out that the War is lost and Japanese industry is being destroyed. To allow this to continue is disloyal and cowardly.
The text on the front is:
Naha City of Okinawa Prefecture before the bombing - After bombing
The back of the leaflet depicts a B-17 bomber attacking railroad yards and surrounding buildings. Some of the text is:
BEFORE FALLING SEEK THE ASSISTANCE OF YOUR CANE
The bombing so far has destroyed only a small part of the Japanese industry. However, as time goes on the degree of destruction will be multiplied and Japan will become a ruin. It is not loyal to your country to sit and watch its destruction without doing anything. That is an attitude taken by cowardly persons.
Save your country! Stop resistance! Seek the assistance of your cane before falling!
WORLD WAR II EUROPE
The Political Warfare Executive (PWE) was a British civilian organization tasked with preparing propaganda leaflets for occupied Europe. PWE was established in the summer of 1941 to coordinate all psychological warfare to enemy and enemy occupied countries. As well as the production of leaflets, it directed the European Service of the BBC and ran its own clandestine radio stations. British leaflet G.13 ("G" for "Germany") uses sarcasm to point out how the mighty German air force bombed an unprotected civilian city, and then explains what the British can do against fortified cities. The leaflet was first dropped on the night of 29 March 1943 and last dropped on the night of 20 April 1943.
The front of the leaflet depicts two photographs of the bombed Dutch city of Rotterdam. The text says:
The Greatest Success of the German Luftwaffe - Rotterdam - 14 May 1940
This is what the German Luftwaffe was made for: to intimidate weaker neighbors, to pounce upon them with lightning speed, to overpower them by terror from the air. With the threat to lay Prague in ashes Czechoslovakia was made to submit, Poland was conquered by a lightening attack and the same terror was used successfully against the small countries that were too weak to defend themselves: Denmark, Norway and Holland.
This kind of one-sided war was what Hitler and Goering had planned for. For this kind of war their two-engine bombers and their primitive tactics were adequate. That is how they achieved their greatest success; in one afternoon the Luftwaffe leveled to the ground the entire center of the open town of Rotterdam.
The back of the leaflet shows the bombing of the Krupp Works in the German city of Essen. The text says in part:
The Greatest Success to Date of the Royal Air Force
The Krupp works at Essen 5 and 12 March 1943. This is what the RAF was built and trained for: to destroy the most important armament centers of a strong well-prepared enemy; to saturate the strongest ground defenses; to overcome the air defenses even of the best protected nerve centers.
Hence the giant four-engine bombers. Hence the tactic of the concentrated attack. Hitler and Goering has nothing to match this.
Here is the greatest success to date of the RAF; in two nights the Krupp works of Essen, the armament centers of the German Reich has been most seriously hit...
In each of these two attacks, an average of a thousand tons of bombs was unloaded on the target.
The Luftwaffe in its attack on Coventry unloaded one hundred and eighty-five tons. The parts of the photograph with red circles round them show destroyed or damaged objects. In all, one hundred industrial and administrative buildings were either destroyed or made unusable. Gas, water and power were put out of commission....
The Americans also bombed Germany. This allied leaflet was prepared by the American/British Psychological Warfare Division (PWD) of the Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Forces (SHAEF) as a tactical leaflet. It was first dropped on the night of 30 March 1945 and last dropped the night of 26 April 1945. In all, 9,113,382 leaflets were printed and disseminated. The Allies hoped to shed less blood by having German cities surrender rather than fight to the death. In Dürwiss, the Germans attempted to defend the city, causing its destruction. Here the Allies make an example of the city in a leaflet and warn other cities not to make the same mistake.
This was Dürwiss, an erstwhile peaceful German village in the district of Eschweiler near Aachen, which need not have been brought to ruin. Fanatics made a strongpoint out of Dürwiss. Thereby it became a military target for Allied bombers. Within one day, the town was smashed to pieces by heavy bombers, fighter bombers, artillery and flame-throwing tanks.
War-important targets continue to be attacked by the Allied Air Force, with increasing fury. But those who do not live in areas of military targets can prevent their home towns from becoming military targets.
If Dürwiss was a minor city, the German port of Hamburg was a major city. This 1943 British leaflet to Germany shows the damage caused by British bombing raids. This leaflet was first dropped on the night of 27 August 1943, last dropped on the night of 24 February 1944. The text says in part:
THIS WAS HAMBURG.
"From now on we shall bomb Germany on an ever increasing scale, month by month, year by year, until the Nazi regime has either been exterminated by us or, better still, torn to pieces by the German people themselves."
Churchill, 14 July 1941.
Some of the text on the back says:
The fronts are closing in.
The nights are becoming longer.
The RAF grows more powerful from day to day.
The Luftwaffe is helpless.
German towns lack protection.
Every night the hands of destruction move on.
Every industrial town is threatened with the fate of Hamburg.
It is only a question of time.
The war is lost.
Hitler can only prolong the war.
He is fighting for time.
Time to destroy Germany.
Leaflet F.133 (The "F" indicated "France") told the occupied French people of the results of Allied bombing against the Germans. The leaflet is folded into four pages and measures 13 x 21.5 centimeters. The first dissemination of the leaflet was the night of 6 November 1942, the last airdrop took place on the night of 15 January 1943. Eight photographs depict the damage caused by Allied bombing to Sarrebruck, Mayence, Lubeck, Osnabruck, and Cologne. Some of the text is:
INTERPRETATION OF AERIAL PHOTOGRAPHS
Extracts from R. A. F. surveys
The repeated R.A.F. bombings have been successful. Goering has admitted as much and aerial photographs taken by British reconnaissance planes bear witness to the extent of the damage caused in Germany.
At first sight these photographs, of which several are reproduced in this leaflet, may not appear to be clear.
They are usually taken at a height of approximately 8,000 meters from a plane flying at a speed of from 480 kilometers to 640 kilometers an hour.
The camera is equipped with a remarkable lens and with special devices for preventing frosting over by the intense cold which prevails at that height.
Because of the height at which these photographs are taken, the view at first sight may be confusing because one merely sees a plan of the rooftops and streets of the town.
Here are a few indications which will enable you to realize the results obtained by R.A.F. bombers.
First of all, when examining aerial photographs one should take one's time. Look at the photograph carefully and slowly; only then will their striking features stand out.
Only rarely do the craters made by the explosions of the bombs in built-up areas appear visible. But on the other hand, where the plan of rooftops and streets is blurred, one can be sure that damage has been done.
The following points will help in interpreting aerial photographs:
1. Place the photograph in such a way that the shadows thrown on the table are going in the same direction as the shadows on the print. In this way the buildings and the ground will stand out.
2. Roads and railways are easily picked out. The latter make relatively large curves, whereas the former have more marked and sudden turnings. (See the photographs of Osnabruck).
3. Forests and vegetation usually stand out in dark masses. The roads, harvests and grassland are of a slightly lighter tone.
4. A path leading to a wood can reveal a camouflaged gun emplacement or a field post.
5. Aerodromes are often camouflaged but are nevertheless easily detectable. Runways and sheds are difficult to hide. Similarly the edges of an airfield can easily be picked out.
6. A magnifying glass is useful when examining damage in detail.
It must not be forgotten that all damage is not visible. It can only be seen when the roofs have been torn off. But more often the blast of bombs destroys the interior of buildings making them uninhabitable or useless.
It is therefore probable that most of the buildings in the neighborhood of the greyish patches which mark the spots where explosive bombs have fallen, are destroyed inside although the roofs seem to be intact. (See photograph of Saarbrucken).
Damage done to buildings by incendiary bombs is revealed by the black and empty squares and rectangles. (See photograph of Mainz).
Bearing the above in mind, a close study of the photographs reproduced inside and on this page will confirm that the intensive bombing of German towns has had a cumulative effect on the Reich's war effort, slowing down production and interfering with the transport system whose vulnerability constitutes one of the weak points of the enemy's military organization.
Lübeck one of the principle German ports on the Baltic, was attacked during the night of March 28th-29th 1942. Approximately 40% of the total area of the town was devastated by high explosives and incendiaries. Nothing remains - no roofs remain in the districts in the vicinity of the docks.
Osnabrück. Docks district of Kanalhafen, a) before, and, b) after the attack of August 17th, 1942. Warehouses, petrol reservoirs and port installations have been destroyed.
Cologne was attacked on the night of May 30th-31st by 1,000 bombers and despite anything Goering may say, more than 250 factories and workshops were destroyed or seriously damaged. In the foreground, examine the damage done to the dockyards. Below a view of these same docks taken in October 1942. The work of clearing up has not yet been terminated. Barges lying alongside the quay are loaded with debris, rubble and quarry stone from the demolished buildings.
Saarbrucken was attacked on the night of July 29th-30th. The two gray patches show the effects of the explosions of two heavy bombs. Hundreds of houses, of industrial buildings and factories are without roofs.
Mainz was attacked on the night of August 11th-12th. This view of a section of the town resembles a honeycomb. The results of the explosive bombs are clearly seen: nearly all the roofs have disappeared. Note: the white spots around the ruins which mark the sun's rays passing through holes which were once windows.
On August 10th 1939, at Essen, Goering stated:-
"We will not expose the Ruhr to a single bomb dropped by enemy-planes."
On September 9th 1939, he promised the workers of the Rheinmetall-borsig-Werks:
"Above all, I shall see that the enemy is not in a position to drop a single bomb."
On October 4th, 1942, Goering stated in groaning tones at the Sportpalast:
"I will do everything humanly possible to alleviate the sufferings of the people in bombed territories and to prevent aerial bombardment."
The P.W.E. also dropped leaflets on German-occupied Norway to bolster their morale. This leaflet was first dropped on the night of 16 April 1943 and last dropped on the night of 17 August 1943. The front of the leaflet shows numerous photographs and maps of Allied victories on land and sea in North Africa on the Eastern Front. The back depicts a massive British bomb and photographs of the remains of the German city of Essen. Some of the text is:
Blow after Blow
In Tunis the German and Italian forces are encircled on all sides. American, British and French forces are advancing from the south and west. Allied air forces roar through the skies, and on the sea are the Allied navies...
The East Front: During the last five months alone the Germans have suffered heavy defeats on the Eastern Front. Here are some of the most important places that the Russians have retaken: Maikop! Mozdok! Voroshilovsk! Rostov! Stalingrad! Voronesh! Kursk!...and the siege of Leningrad has been lifted!
The text over the aerial photographs of the bombed city says in part:
The West - Bombing of the Krupp Works on 5 and 12 March 1943
The hardest blows yet were struck at Germany's war industry... when the British attacked the Krupp works in Essen. Over 400 bombers, mostly four-engines, took part in both attacks. On each occasion more than 1000 tons of bombs were dropped. Thirteen main buildings were destroyed and damage was observed on 40 other factory buildings, sheds and workshops...
The attack on Berlin on the night of 27 March 1943 was the heaviest attack yet made on the capital of the Reich. About 900 tons of bombs were dropped...Among the bombs were many two-tonners and four-tonners...The British Air Force is now the mightiest in the world, with more and better planes than any other country....
We should mention that a 1943 leaflet with the same title and a similar message was prepared for Germany and coded G.14. Some of the text of that leaflet is:
WESTERN FRONT: ESSEN-KRUPP WORKS MOST SEVERELY DAMAGED
The pictures reproduced here show part of the Krupp Works after the two air attacks of the 5 and 12 March, 1943. Red circles indicate destroyed or damaged buildings. In each of these two attacks an average of a thousand tons of bombs were unloaded on the target. The Luftwaffe in its attack on Coventry unloaded 185 tons. In all, 100 industrial and administrative buildings were either destroyed or made unusable. Gas, water, and power were put out of commission....
I believe we have depicted a good representation of WWII leaflets that feature aerial bombing photographs. This same concept was used in later wars. A Korean War leaflet that used the same theme was printed by the 1st Radio Broadcasting and Leaflet group coded 1206 and dated 10 July 1952. It depicts an explosion caused by aerial bombing. It was part of the campaign named "Plan Strike." To the right of the explosion is:
YOU WERE WARNED!
The back is all text except for the top where a pair of hands is depicted manacled between two hammer and sickles. Some of the text is:
COMMUNIST MILITARY TARGETS DESTROYED
The United Nations Command warned you that targets in this area would be destroyed.
Many of them have been destroyed. Others will continue to be destroyed...
Where is the Communist Air Force? Did the rulers send their airplanes to protect you? Or, is their talk of an air force just "so much wind?"
Here is another warning. Some of the bombs dropped in the raid will not explode immediately. They are set to go off hours and days later.
Do not go near the danger area. You will only risk your life.
As the war went on, more and more leaflets used the theme of Allied air power and the futility of trying to win the war when opposed by UN air supremacy.
During the Vietnam War, the Joint U.S. Public Affairs office printed several such leaflets. The Communists used the Ho Chi Minh Trail through Laos and Cambodia to supply their troops in South Vietnam. Here the Americans drop a leaflet that shows the truckers what they can expect as they drive southward. It depicts a number of trucks that have been bombed and strafed along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Text on the front is:
This is a picture made from an allied airplane high in the sky after a North Vietnamese Army truck convoy was bombed in Laos. See the bomb craters around the trucks!
The back is all text and says in part:
DID YOU HEAR ABOUT THE HEAVY BOMBING?
The trucks in this picture will never carry their supplies to you, the fighting soldier who needs them desperately.
The few other trucks which avoid bombs are being stopped by strong Republic of Vietnam armed forces raids into Southern Laos, cutting off your supplies!
The same photograph of the shadow of an American F-101 Voodoo over a bombed Vietnamese bridge appears in about a dozen Allied leaflets. The Tactical Air Command and Strategic Air Command had three squadrons operating the Voodoo during the Vietnam War; all of them flying reconnaissance missions doing bomb damage assessment and taking photos of potential targets. Another leaflet identifies the target as the My Dac Bridge located 30 kilometers north of the 17th parallel, attacked and destroyed on 22 April, 1965. The text on the front of Leaflet 4569 is:
Bombing to Continue
Destruction of bridges and other lines of communication such as the one in this photograph are to reduce supplies going to the North Vietnamese invaders of the Republic of Vietnam. Work to repair damage like this will be negated by future air strikes. Only when the Communist leadership stops its aggression can peace return and the repair work continue uninterrupted.
OPERATION DESERT FOX
In December 1998, Saddam Hussein refused to let United Nations inspectors into Iraq to search for weapons of mass destruction. In retaliation, American Air Force, Naval, and Marine aircraft, the British RAF, and Tomahawk cruise missiles were launched against military targets in Iraq. Along with the weaponry, 11 aerial propaganda leaflets were prepared. Of those, five were actually disseminated. Of the 11 leaflets, four depicted low-level aerial photographs of bombed Iraqi war materials. I chose to show the bombed bridge above because it is the closest to what we might expect from an aerial photograph. The text on the front and back is:
You cannot advance one more step. Allied forces have destroyed the bridges in front of you.
The text on the back is:
All the roads that lead south have been cut. Your positions are nothing more than our targets. Your equipment faces destruction. Leave or face your fate.
We started this article with bombs falling from a plane toward the viewer. Let's end the article with a view from a bomber as it releases a bomb. Leaflet 536 depicts a bomb falling toward a Japanese city. The picture was taken from a bomb bay door since the bomb can almost be reached out and touched. The leaflet discusses the eminent disaster facing Japan and the hopelessness of the troops' position. The back of the leaflet depicts Japanese prisoners in American camps. Some of the text on the back is:
Far from being killed – In a Certain Prison Camp in America
The war has reached a high pitch. It has reached a point where the U.S. forces move on relentlessly wherever they choose to go. The inner South Seas, Okinawa, and the Philippines are under the control of the American forces. The Americans attack with superior weapons and explosives.
In spite of being isolated on this small island, and suffering from lack of food, you will either resist fiercely or attempt suicide at the last moment. However, think this matter over calmly.
Your motherland is facing imminent disaster due to the war brought on by your military leaders who think only of their own glory. The people live in fear of air-raids and are threatened by starvation.
How can you realize your dreams? It can be done by shaking hands with the U.S. forces.
Aerial photographs have been extremely important in changing the policies of governments or the way a war was fought. One of the most important might be the British spotting of a German missile on a launch pad during WWII. This told the British that the Germans were preparing rockets and led directly to the bombing of Peenemunde and the saving of thousands of Allied lives that would have been killed if Nazi Germany had the "Vengeance Weapons" ready months earlier.
During the 1962 Cuban missile crisis it was an aerial photograph of Soviet missiles aboard a ship heading for Cuba that nearly started WWIII. This led directly to a blockade of Cuba and both sides readying their missile and bomber forces for war. By the thinnest margins, cooler heads prevailed.
After the bombing of Hiroshima the Japanese government argued about whether it was an actual atomic bomb that destroyed the city. The Japanese decided to fight on. Thousands of lives were in jeopardy. The leaflet-newspaper was prepared to show the Japanese an aerial photograph as proof. The Mariana News was printed to give the Japanese homeland true news of Allied progress on all fronts. It was printed as a single sheet, 8 x 11-inches in size. This may be the most impressive single copy of the newspaper because it depicts the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. This leaflet-newspaper was produced by the OWI on Saipan. The fact sheet on the leaflet mentions some of the text and themes:
Japan's militarists reject peace terms. President Truman announces dropping an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Truman declares bomb only used when Japanese military leaders rejected Potsdam peace terms.
We should mention that in order to force Japanese action on the peace process, 5,500,000 copies of OWI leaflet 2107 were dropped on Japan on 31 July 1945. It informed the Japanese of the text of the Potsdam Declaration. This was considered one of the most important aerial leaflets of WWII.
OWI leaflet 2114 informed the Japanese of the new atomic bomb. It said in part:
Sixteen hours ago an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima, an important Japanese army base. That bomb had more power than 20,000 tons of TNT. It has more than 2000 times the blast power of the 11-ton British "grand-slam" which is the largest bomb ever yet used in the history of warfare... It is an atomic bomb. It is a harnessing of the basic power of the universe. The force from which the sun draws its power.
Aerial photographs are very important. They can be used for good or evil. They can terrorize an enemy or be used to convince that enemy to cease resistance and live. They can be used to flood the road with civilians to stop enemy military movements or to show enemy civilians the way to safety. They can be used to convince neutral nations of a neighbor's evil intent.
In this short article we have attempted to depict the use of aerial photographs on propaganda leaflets as a psychological warfare theme. If used honestly and truthfully they can be very powerful. An enemy soldier that has been told he is winning the war can be severely demoralized by a photograph of his home town razed to the ground by bombers. This is a propaganda theme that will be used again in the future. The side that owns the air will usually win the war. It has the ability to bomb with impunity and then is able to show the enemy the terrible results of that bombing.
Readers who wish to discuss this topic further are encouraged to write to the author.