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News as a Weapon: Air-dropped Leaflet Newspapers of the Twelfth United States Army Group, Western European Theater of Operations

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Facts — the true facts — have been considered the prime weapon of Psychological Warfare. The enemy in the line and the enemy population at home was the target of the truth during the months of operations — by radio, leaflets and newspapers and loudspeakers.

12th Army Group began its Psychological Warfare operation from a cow pasture outside St. Sauveur de Lendelin seven weeks after the advance elements of the Headquarters attached to First Army produced the first combat leaflet of the war.

That first leaflet was written on a wheelbarrow, run off on a mimeograph machine, loaded into six shells and peddled, with difficulty, to batteries of the 82nd Airborne Division.

The first combat loudspeaker laid down its first verbal barrage in the hedgerows approaching La Haye de Puits, also in support of the 82nd Airborne Division.

The first tactical radio program, from an SCR 399, was broadcast to the enemy in the vicinity of St. Lo.

Frontpost - News for German soldiers. Publisher: American troops in West Europe

Frontpost - News for German soldiers. Publisher: American troops in West Europe Frontpost's motto: "The Strong Need Not Fear the Truth"

The first issue of the 12th Army Group newspaper for German troops, Frontpost, appeared under the date, 14 August, 1944, and carried the headline: "100,000 Prisoners in France." Publication was suspended with the first May issue, 1945, after official announcement of the German surrender.

The Nazi policy of suppressing or distorting news for its own people, including of course the troops, gave Allied propaganda the opportunity of filling the gap and playing up to the news-hunger of the Landser, the ordinary German soldier. From innumerable statements of prisoners of war we know that tens of thousands of German soldiers, with the passing of time, came to rely on Allied sources for their information on what was going on in the world and on their own front.

Frontpost, April 1944, Nr. 55 - Vorstoß auf die Elbe

Frontpost, No. 55, April 1945, "Advancing on the Elbe" (Front and rear pages)

Supplying German troops with well-edited, well-written and attractively made up publications was not, of course, a gratuitous service. Every printed line was calculated, no matter how indirectly, to contribute to the basic aim of all Allied propaganda: weakening the enemy's will to resist, emphasizing the hopelessness of his position, undermining his faith in his own cause and leaders, bringing about a mental attitude conducive to surrender. These factors, in turn, were calculated to save the lives of Allied soldiers and hasten the end of the war.

With their sights on these targets, the propagandists of the Psychological Warfare Detachment of 12th Army Group went to work with news as their ammunition and a newspaper in German as their weapon. The first issue of the Frontpost (the name means the same in German as in English) was written and edited in the operations tent in a field near St. Sauveur in Normandy. The news, the raw material out of which the final product was fashioned, at that time was supplied by a field monitoring unit operating in a truck.

There being no adequate printing facilities in the vicinity of the camp, it was necessary to print the first issue of Frontpost at Rennes, in Brittany. The content and make-up of the paper was determined at St. Sauveur, two men were dispatched with the copy, headlines, art work and layout to Rennes, where they turned the material over to the printers, proof read, made up the paper, and watched it through the printing and off the presses. Last minute news was written at Rennes from the monitoring reports of the French paper printed at the same plant. The printed issues were then loaded on jeep trailers or trucks and brought back to the camp for packing into leaflet bombs.

Der YANKEE spricht - The Yankee speaks

Der YANKEE spricht - The Yankee Speaks

The first issue of Frontpost was a single sheet, 35.5 by 25 centimeters, printed on both sides. Under the title of the paper was a line which was retained for all subsequent issues: "News for the German soldier, Publisher: The American Troops in France" (later "The American Troops in Western Europe.") The Frontpost was made up and written like a newspaper, not a leaflet. It contained news, a map of the western front, features, a news picture, a column, a bit of German sport news, a riddle — but no propaganda harangues, no editorializing, no overt preaching. The first issue also contained a feature which continued in every subsequent copy and later was transferred with success to the radio: a column called "Der Yankee Spricht" — "The Yankee Speaks." This was designed to be the voice of an ordinary American soldier talking to the ordinary German soldier across the lines. The tone was informal and chatty, but not friendly. The column provided an opportunity for man-to-man appeal on a more informal and intimate level than most of our propaganda media allowed for. Later, when the radio phase began, the "Yankee" column always concluded with a joke. But here, too, the idea was not merely to amuse the German soldier, but to make a propaganda point in the most palatable and readily acceptable form possible. The joke, in other words, was as funny as it could be made, but it invariably contained a political point, a jab at the Nazi leader­ship, a comical comment on the plight in which the German soldier found himself.

The "Yankee" column is indicative of the whole method emp­loyed in publishing the Frontpost and, later, the Feldpost. It was felt by the editorial staff that a publication containing nothing but news which, from the viewpoint of the German soldier, was depressing, discouraging and hard to take would soon arouse a feeling of hostility and revulsion. Every effort was made, there­fore, to produce a paper which, while directed as a whole at the objectives above, would be eminently readable. To this end all the devices learned through journalistic experience on two con­tinents were employed. These devices ranged through the sober, factual presentation of major news stories in the manner of the "N.Y. Times" through the eye-catching tricks and human in­terest appeals of the Hearst press and the boulevard papers in Europe. It was felt that any and all of these devices, so long as the basic rule of truth was not violated, were justified as being methods by which propaganda shafts would easily and certainly find their targets.

Frontpost, April 1944, Nr. 55 - Vorstoß auf die Elbe

Frontpost, No. 55, April 1944, (inside pages)

It may be of interest to list some of the journalistic devices used. In the first place, there was the elementary newspaper device of fashioning layouts which caught the eye and were as newsy and interesting as possible. With that went the routine business of writing provocative and telling headlines, and clear, concise stories unencumbered by useless details and extraneous comment. In addition, the Frontpost printed significant items from inside Germany itself to give the Landser an idea of what was happening behind his back. Secret documents, supplied by the 12th Army Group Psychological Warfare Intelligence Section, were played up for the purpose of showing (1) inefficiency, in­adequacy and general desperation in high Wehrmacht circles, and (2) corruption, ruthlessness and bungling in the Nazi leader­ship. These secret documents were sometimes printed under a standing heading "Geheim!" — "Secret" — to give the German soldier the feeling that he was getting a peek into matters not intended for his eyes, as in fact was the case. Such documents were always printed with exact dates, names, place and designation numbers so as to overcome any feeling that we had perhaps in­vented them. Many of them were of such a sensational nature that this suspicion could readily arise.

Since the publications were distributed to German troops directly opposing units of 12th Army Group, every effort was made to accentuate tactical material. Psychological Warfare in­telligence was combed daily to ferret out every possible tactical item which could be used. These items were usually printed in regular columns entitled either: "Aus der Kompanie" (Company Items") or "Streiflichter aus der Wehrmacht" ("Sidelights on the Wehrmacht".) These items were regarded by the Editorial Section as among the most useful and effective material used. Their appeal and effect were based on the following factors:- they had a pure gossip-scandal appeal, since they dealt with per­sonalities and situations of the sort which interest fighting troops and which are repeated and discussed; it was known from inter­rogations that these items aroused surprise and often dismay at the intimate knowledge of what went on inside the German Army; some of the items were merely amusing, but the vast majority indicated inefficiency, desperation, inadequacy of supplies and leadership, and all of them accentuated the usual soldier's dissatisfaction with his lot and, in the case of a losing Army, the friction between officers and men.

An interesting, if isolated, reaction to this type of intelligence material used journalistically came from one prisoner of War who told an interrogator that he had read in Frontpost a secret order to German troops which was read to his own company ten days after publication in our paper.

With the advance through France, it became necessary to change the publication site of the 12th Army Group publications. In addition to the thrice-weekly Frontpost, which was regarded as the major 12th Army Group publication, leaflets were also written and produced by the Editorial Section as the tactical situation required. Much of this work was done at the Rennes plants, as for example a leaflet for the St. Malo garrison, the appeal of Field Marshal von Paulus to German troops, the leaflet directed to Major General Ramcke at Brest, the leaflet announcing the Allied landing in southern France, and others.

The next publication site was Paris. The paper announcing the fall of Paris was, of course, printed in Rennes, but soon after the first Allied troops had entered the city, a Paris newspaper plant was working on a Frontpost under two members of the Editorial Section. The 12th Army Group editorial men were in the city before the first tank columns had made their entry.

The first Paris issue was the sixth Frontpost, and it appeared under the date of 31 August, 1944. Due to the printing situation at the new plant, the Paris issues were somewhat smaller in size than the Rennes issues, but the make-up, style and content followed the pattern which had been set. Nine issues were printed in Paris.

The 15th issue was printed at the plant of the "Luxemburger Wort" in the city of Luxembourg, which the Editorial Section also entered on the heels of the liberating troops. The 15th issue, dated 22 September, 1944, (headline: "Brest Surrenders — 40,000 Prisoners in the Fortress") began a long and active publication period in Luxembourg where a schedule of four radio programs a day was also undertaken by the Editorial Section.

Frontpost, No. 25, 20 October 1944 "16 bis 60 einberufen!"

Frontpost, No. 25, 20 October 1944 "16 bis 60 einberufen!"

In November it was decided to switch the Frontpost schedule over to publication once weekly, but in four pages. The first four-page issue was No. 33, dated 13 November, 1944. (Headline: "Roosevelt Re-elected").

The four-page format gave the editorial staff greater play in the matter of feature and picture presentation. The news pages were not altered; they continued to be presented as spot news, hot off the wires, and there was no change over to the "weekly" style of presentation. But inside, several features intended to add to reader interest were used. Cartoons appeared more frequently; quotations of undelivered letters from and to the front were used, together with long lists of addresses of such letters; Page 3 of almost every issue contained a special report or feature, com­plete with appropriate photographs — a layout of captured phot­ographs of the wives and children of German soldiers, designed to stimulate nostalgia; a story based on the last letters written by German soldiers from a Metz fort before its fall; the story of the failure of the Heydt paratroop mission; the reunion of a prisoner of war with his wife and family, made possible through American military authorities; layout and story on how sick and injured prisoners of war are treated in American hospitals, and so on.

Since Frontpost was being dropped inside Germany, it began to publish material which, while primarily intended for the German soldier, also had its appeal for the civilian population. Stories and pictures were used on life in occupied zones, showing how order and normal life were being resumed in areas which surrendered or had been captured. "Was Wird aus Deutschland?" ("What's to Become of Germany?") became a regular feature. It contained news stories about reconstruction in the occupied areas and about Military Government, with the intention of answering one of the German soldier's most pressing questions, i.e., "If we give up, what will happen to Germany?" This was continued all through the SHAEF "don't evacuate" campaign, and was dropped when the policy was altered.

The editorial staff continually studied interrogation reports to ascertain the attitudes of the German soldier: What was keeping him going? What kept him from giving up? What could we tell him that would lower his morale and make him more susceptible to the idea of surrender? The Frontpost in its news and features offered material based on the answers to these questions, as far as they could be ascertained by the editorial staff. Concurrently, the Frontpost and the other 12th Army Group publications endeavored to offset the main German propaganda lines to the Landser without appearing to argue with Nazi propaganda. Another incessant theme was the overwhelming Allied superiority, contrasted to German supply weaknesses; this, of course, was one of our major contributions toward arousing in the German soldier the feeling. "What the hell is the use?" Another con­stantly repeated stunt was the phonetic English lesson for the German soldier, with unbroken emphasis on the two words "Ei Sorrender". This phrase was hand-lettered, made into a cliché and scattered as many as ten times through a single issue.

Up until December, 1944, the Frontpost had no difficulty living up to the motto printed in the upper right hand corner of the first page of every issue: "The Strong Need Not Fear the Truth." Since the inception of the paper, the news had been uni­formly good from the Allied viewpoint, and under such circum­stances it was of course no hardship to print the truth. With the outbreak of the German counter-offensive, however, the Frontpost faced its first test in the handling of news unfavorable to the Allies and encouraging to the Germans. This problem was met by simply printing the facts. The issue of 25 December, 1944, carried across all four columns the headline: "German Counter-Offensive." The lead of the story said: "The Wehrmacht has gone over to the offensive on a 100-kilometer front in the West. Strong German armored and infantry units are advancing in the area extending from south of Monschau to the German-Luxemburg border. The attacks are being supported by the Luftwaffe and in several places have gained considerable ground."

This headline and news story can fairly be characterized as frank, factual reporting of an event which the Frontpost would rather not have been forced to print. Subsequent issues continued in this vein: "Armored Spearheads in Belgium", was the next headline. The progress of the battle up to the liquidation of the bulge was reported the same way. However, the Frontpost never lost sight of the fact that they were propagandists first and jour­nalists afterwards. In other words, they did not regard it as their function merely to supply the German troops with news, but to score propaganda points through the printing of the news. Thus, along with the facts of the counter-offensive, the German soldiers read in Frontpost certain other facts which were intended to backfire when the counter-offensive was smashed. The stories emphasized that the counter-offensive was powerful, but that it was a last desperate effort. Von Rundstedt's Order of the Day which said that "everything was at stake" was used over and over again. This idea was built up so that when the counter-offen­sive collapsed, the German soldier would feel a profound discour­agement and a conviction that the offensive was, indeed, the last convulsive effort of the Wehrmacht, and that beyond lay little or no hope. Many interrogations support the assertion that this line corresponded to what many German soldiers actually did feel after the counter-offensive had been beaten back.

That the news treatment of the counter-offensive actually had the effect which it was intended to have is also indicated by the Intelligence Summary of 21st Army Group, Psychological War­fare, 6 February, 1945, which says in reporting prisoner of war reaction to Allied propaganda: "Enthusiasm for the (Rundstedt) offensive disappeared when the troops saw in Allied newspapers that no great progress had actually been made.

In this connection, the Frontpost practice, begun with the first issue, of printing accurate, sober maps of the fronts was especially effective, as interrogations revealed. The maps have frequently been the subject of comment by prisoners.

It may be noted in passing that during the counter-offensive the city of Luxemburg itself was under immediate threat by the enemy, was often under artillery fire, and that 12th Army Group personnel had been alerted for possible departure; not an issue of any of the publications, however, failed to appear as scheduled.

Feldpost - Published by the American Army in West Europe

Feldpost - Published by the American Army in West Europe

Early in November it was decided that the air-drop of Frontpost did not entirely fill the demand for getting news to the German troops facing us, since areas where a newspaper might be effective were sometimes not being reached by the air drop. To remedy this situation, it was decided to produce a leaflet-sized newspaper to be fired from artillery shells. The first issue of this leaflet-news­paper, called Feldpost, ("Field Post") appeared under the date of 5 November, 1944. It was first issued once a week, and later twice a week.

Feldpost, Nummer 12, Zweite Januar Nr. - Vorstoß auf Österreich

Feldpost, No. 12, Second Janary Edition
"Advancing on Austria"

Feldpost, Nummer 25, Zweite März Nr. - Amerikaner in Köln

Feldpost, No. 25, Second March Edition
"Americans in Cologne"

Feldpost employed the same methods and had the same objectives as its bigger brother, Frontpost. Many of the same features were included, but in condensed, stripped-down form. Even within the greatly restricted space of the leaflet size, it was found possible to pack in all the elements of a newspaper — the essential news in journalistic style, maps, news photos, columns, cartoons, English lessons, etc. Varying the layout from issue to issue within the restricted space proved to be problem in ingenuity which was satisfactorily worked out, so that no two issues looked the same. The Feldpost found increasing favor with the Armies, and its editors were gratified to learn that in the storming of the Rhine thousands of copies of Feldpost made the crossing in an assault boat, for firing on the east bank.

From the first, an exact English duplicate of Feldpost was printed in English. This was done for distribution among the gunners and other Army personnel involved in the distribution of the paper. It was felt that these men were entitled to know what they were shooting at the enemy, and that they would per­form their jobs with more enthusiasm and understanding if they themselves could read the paper they were helping to get to the enemy.

An exact English duplicate of Frontpost, though its need was long felt, could not be undertaken for some time because of the pressure of work and the shortage of manpower. Finally, however, the matter was arranged and a four-page English Frontpost was printed for distribution to the pilots and air force personnel which delivered the paper to the Germans.

Up until the end of November, all publications produced by the Psychological Warfare Detachment of 12th Army Group were strictly combat propaganda, aimed exclusively at German troops confronting us and intended to lower their morale, weaken re­sistance, induce surrender. As more and more German territory came under 12th Army Group control, however, a new publications task presented itself. It was decided that the time had come to publish a newspaper for the civilian population behind our lines. Thus the Editorial Section, while continuing its combat propa­ganda, moved into the field of consolidation. But even the new publication was to perform an essential military function — that of contributing order and normalcy in areas immediately behind the front.

The first issue of the civilian newspaper appeared under the date of 27 November, 1944, (headline: "Strassburg Has Been liberated"). The first issue was called Die Neue Zeitung ("The New Newspaper") but the second and all subsequent numbers carried the title Die Mitteilungen, which can be roughly trans­lated as "Information."

Mitteilungen was of standard newspaper size, a single sheet printed on both sides. Here again, in appearance and content, the publication was strictly a newspaper and not a propaganda sheet and the news was written in a clear, straightforward way without comment. But the paper, like the combat publications, was not a gratuitous news service to the Germans but was intended to fulfill its military and later its purely occupational, function.

One of the main tasks of Mitteilungen was to publish the proclamations, statements and orders of the Supreme Allied Commander and the rules and regulations of Military Government. This it did from the first issue, which contained General Eisen­hower's Proclamation No. 1 in the first column. In this field the paper covered all phases of life in occupied Germany from the most exalted, high-policy manifestoes to such items as warning the people of Cologne to boil water before drinking it.

The first issue of Mitteilungen featured a biography of General Eisenhower, and subsequent issues published stories on General Bradley, the commanders of 12th Army Group Armies, and other Allied military leaders. The front page was ordinarily given over to extended stories of what was occurring on the battle fronts, east and west, shorter stories on the latest news from all over the world, and an Eisenhower proclamation. The second page was devoted, normally, to a feature with pictures on some phase of reconstruction in occupied Germany together with items from all over the occupied area throwing light on how normal life was being resumed, how problems were being met, judgments of Military Government courts, etc. On this page, too, appeared items from Nazi-held Germany, extracts from the speeches of United Nations leaders, news stories of lesser significance from all over the world, listings of radio programs, and a feature called "Kept Secret Up to Now". This feature was based on the idea that during recent years events of world importance had delib­erately been withheld from the German people or presented to them in distorted form; "Kept Secret" made a start on the enor­mous problem of giving the Germans an accurate picture of what went on in the world, and in their own country, during the time when German propaganda was deliberately concealing and distort­ing every event of significance.

The necessity for such a publication as Mitteilungen was clearly demonstrated during the German counter-offensive. The German population in the occupied areas was profoundly disturbed by the offensive. People who had worked with us were in terror of their lives if the Germans returned; others did not know what would happen next, and the field was wide open to rumor mongers. In this situation the Mitteilungen with its sober, frank accounts of the situation and with its accurate maps was more eagerly read then ever, and the very appearance of the paper, on schedule and as well put together as before, had a definite effect. Basing its comment on G-5 reports, Psychological Warfare Detachment SHAEF called the production of Mitteilungen during this period "a gallant effort to discourage rumors and the spread of unrest" behind our lines.

The reception of Mitteilungen by the German population was from the start extremely favorable. Numerous letters were received from readers, and men in charge of distribution testified to the eagerness with which each new issue was received. An off-shot issue of the 12th Army Group Mitteilungen, containing most of the material from the original paper, was published by 6th Army Group.

As German territory under 12th Army Group control began to expand with the breakthrough to the Rhine and beyond, it became obvious that Mitteilungen alone could not serve the entire area. The first 12th Army Group local newspaper was put into production, and the Kölnischer Kurier (the "Cologne Courier") appeared under the date of 2 April, 1945. Here again print shop requirements made it necessary to print in a smaller format than that of the Mitteilungen, but the paper appeared in four pages. Its style and content was the same as that of the parent Mitteilungen, with emphasis of course on Cologne and its problems. The "Cologne Courier" was the first of what became a chain of newspapers produced by 12th Army Group in the American-controlled region of Germany after hostilities ceased.

In addition to producing the Mitteilungen on a weekly basis, the Editorial Section also turned out a four-page "standing" issue. This standing issue, containing no spot news but covering all essential proclamations ordinances, rules and announcements of Military Government, was distributed as soon as Military Government teams took over an occupied town. The paper was of standard size, ran to four pages with news headlines, pictures, and feature stories. The importance that the Army attached to this publication was indicated by the fact that a glider load of the standing Mitteilungen crossed the Rhine with the airborne troops.

With combat propaganda to German soldiers obviously in its final phases, publications for civilians in the occupied areas as­sumed increasing importance. The issuance of such papers was perhaps one of the most important tasks of its kind ever assigned to an Army unit. Plans for discharging this task were drawn and these plans, in their initial phases, were already being carried out when the enemy surrendered.


Extract from Publicity and Psychological Warfare 12th Army Group, January 1943 - August 1945



 

 

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