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THE AERIAL DISTRIBUTION OF PROPAGANDA TO THE ENEMY:
A Report by Captain P. Chalmers Mitchell

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M.I.7b(4), 23rd February 1918

As this mode of distribution takes place within the Army Zone, it is a military operation and the responsible agent has been M.I.7.B., a sub-section of the Directorate of Military Intelligence, acting in co-operation with the Headquarters Staffs and the various Branches and Departments in London which are engaged in the preparation of propagandist literature or in the consideration of inventions useful at the fronts.

1. METHODS

AEROPLANE. From the mechanical point of view, the use of aeroplanes is by far the most satisfactory mode of distribution. Relatively large loads of printed matter can be carried swiftly and distributed in bundles, packets, or single sheets with a high degree of accuracy and in a great range of weather conditions. For some time this method was employed and in the end of 1916 and the beginning of 1917 arrangements were made for a great increase in the output and distribution of propaganda. Early in 1917, however, four captured English airmen were court-martialled in Germany for the dissemination of inflammatory literature, and although these were acquitted on a technical point of evidence, German Headquarters intimated through diplomatic channels, that the dissemination of inflammatory literature by airmen would be dealt with as an offence against the laws of war. For sometime it was believed possible to discriminate between literature which might be regarded as inflammatory and, literature, to which this objection could not be taken. With the exception of matter relating to the good treatment of Prisoners of War the duty of making the distinction was assigned to the War Office by G.H .Q., France, and accordingly M.I.7.B. submitted to careful censorship all propagandist matter prepared here for distribution, or offered by other agencies, and took care to distribute by aeroplane nothing that contained any reference to the Enemy Army or its Officers. In actual practise, however, it was difficult to draw a line, and aeroplane propaganda tended to become so colourless that its efficacy was doubtful. Moreover, it was ascertained in conference with G.H.Q., France that it was probable that the Germans in their efforts to suppress the distribution of Allied propaganda would not be punctilious in bringing charges against captured airmen. The correctness of this opinion was made clear in December 1917 when two captured British airmen were sentenced to ten years penal servitude for the distribution of duplicates of letters written by German prisoners of war or captured in their possession. It was accordingly decided that the method of distribution by aeroplanes must be abandoned.

2. BALLOONS

(a) FABRIC BALLOONS. The question of the use of these was considered. A type manufactured by Anderson of Bristol, costing £9.15 each, and carrying a load of 22 lbs. of propaganda was investigated. It was necessary that the load should be liberated by a time fuse at regular intervals. These balloons would carry a long distance but were very expensive for their load, and the total output was limited especially as many were required for other military purposes.

In connection with this investigation Cairo was consulted as to the possibility of using balloons for the distribution of propaganda in the Near East, Asia Minor and Mesopotamia, but replied that the weather conditions there were unsuitable for the balloon method.

(b) PAPER BALLOONS. In October 1917 the Air Inventions Board was consulted with regard to the use of paper balloons and other modes of aerial distribution. It was ascertained that the Munitions Inventions had the matter under consideration and the request was made that the Munitions Inventions should communicate with the War Office as soon as their experiments had led to some practical issue. On account of pressure of work there was some delay, but early in February 1918 the Munitions Inventions informed the War Office that they now had some paper balloons and a new form of release ready for trial at the Front. This was at once reported to G.H.Q., France who had been sending over samples of German paper balloons and pressing for a supply. It was arranged that samples of paper balloons should be sent out at once with an expert from the Munitions Inventions Board and an officer of M.I.7.B. In the meantime, two officers from M.I.7.B. conferred with the Munitions Inventions, supplied samples of the German balloons and explained the requirements with regard to load and range of distribution. They also visited the experimental ground at Imbercourt and saw the process of inflation, charging with propaganda and liberation of balloons and discussed the question of cost, and supply.

At the present time the Munitions Inventions have carried beyond the experimental stage two types of balloons made of doped paper, respectively of 16 and 20 feet diameter and carrying loads of one and two pounds. They can be inflated with hydrogen or with gas, the former giving a lifting capacity of more than one and a half times that given by the latter, but not being so suitable for long distances as it diffuses through the doped paper more rapidly than does coal gas. The process of inflation and liberation is extremely simple but it is advisable that it should he carried out in a screened enclosure. The arrangement actually used was a square canvas enclosure about 14 feet high. The release consists of an aluminium attachment with a spring clip passing through a hole punched in the propaganda sheets. The spring is kept shut by a thin copper wire which passes into a celluloid cup. Just before liberation, nitric acid is poured into the cup, and after an interval determined by the strength of the acid, the wire is eaten through, the spring is released and the propaganda released.

Experiments are in progress with larger types of paper balloons carrying heavier loads, four and eight pounds being-aimed at. It is expected that these types will have passed the experimental stage in a few weeks.

There is no difficulty about the supply of these balloons in quantity and the cost is very little, running up to about fifty shillings including the release, for the larger types.

Experiments are also being made with a much larger balloon of oiled silk which is expected to cost not more than fifty shillings and to carry a load up to 25 lbs. The latter type would be capable of going long journeys, up to hundreds of miles.

The Munitions Inventions hope to replace the present form of release by a cheap clockwork device which would liberate the propaganda continuously and so prevent the shocks given by the sudden release of relatively large proportions of the total load.

(c) FIRE BALLOONS. Professor Boys, F.R.S., who has been advising the Munitions Inventions had great hopes of a device by which the actual fabric of the balloon should consist of propaganda sheets, separated by bands of touch-paper. Such balloons would have no additional load to carry, and would be inflated and sent up by hot air. On reaching their maximum height, the flame would set fire to the touch-paper and thus automatically separate and scatter the sheets. Hitherto the device has not succeeded, as the dampness of the air has spoiled the touch-paper, but the Professor hopes to overcome this difficulty.

(3) KITE METHOD. The Air Inventions Board undertook for the War Office the carrying out of experiments with distribution of propaganda from kites. Box kites were sent up to varying heights ranging up to nearly two miles. A folding winged carrier, improved from a device manufactured by Messrs. Gamage, was then loaded with propaganda and sent up the wire until on reaching a stop on the wire fixed near the kite, it discharged its load and then automatically came down for another charge. In actual experiments conducted in the presence of Officers of M.I.7.B. a load of ten pounds was sent up and successfully discharged. The carrier took about ten minutes to ascend and a less time to return. In a very light wind and from a height of under a mile a measured range of ten miles distribution from the liberation point was attained and the lateral scattering was very good. G.H.Q., France took much interest in these experiments and arrangements were made to conduct them on a larger scale and by night as well as by day. There is no doubt as to the efficacy and economy of this method up to a range of at least twenty miles in a good wind, but the presence of the wire was regarded as dangerous to aeroplanes and the method was abandoned.

(4) MINOR METHODS. The utility of various forms of rockets and mortar shells was investigated, but it was found that these were useful only for very short ranges, and that the discharges would have attracted unwelcome attention from the enemy.

(5) SUMMARY OF METHODS. The use of paper balloons is at present the most practical method and it is estimated that six tons of propaganda could be liberated by this method at a cost of from £3,000 to £6,000, the cost decreasing with the size of the units employed. It is to be noted, however, that distribution by balloons must always be local and capricious, It is believed that if it were found practicable to employ aeroplanes, flying at at least ten thousand feet high and from six to eight miles behind the lines, a very extensive and complete wind-carried distribution could be attained.

(6) EFFECT OF AERIAL PROPAGANDA. The various steps taken by the Germans to stop our distribution, such as the court-martialling of captured airmen and the diplomatic Note are good evidence that our efforts are feared. A German Army Order has been captured instructing all propaganda leaflets to be handed at once to superior officers.

(7) NATURE OF OUR PROPAGANDA. M.I.7.B made preparations for a very large and continuous supply of propagandist matter for aerial distribution, but the impediments that have arisen in the course of the last year to the actual distribution have reduced the output far below that for which arrangements were made.

Actual Output from January 1st to December 31st, 1917

E/6, Prisoners of War Letter - Absender:- No. 449, Karl Heinz Meiser
E/6, Prisoners of War Letter - Absender:- No. 449, Karl Heinz Meiser

Reproductions of captured letters and post cards: 594,000 of 83 letters and 7 postcards.
(These letters and postcards have been selected from actual documents sent by G.H.Q., France and the Postal censors in London).

Photo Postcards of German Prisoners of War in England: 90,000 of 17 Postcards.

Leaflets, Surrender Notices, etc: 388,200.
(Material supplied by G.H.Q., France or by M.I.7.B).

Prisoner of War Photo-Books:

Large edition - 85,000.
Miniature edition - 25,000.
Photo Sheets - 20,000.

(These have been supplied by Wellington House).

Le Courrier de l'Air, 11 Juillet 1918, No. 61 - Les Troupes Amricains En France - Plus De 1, 000, 000 Envoyes

Le Courrier de l’ Air: 250,000 copies of 50 weekly issues.
(This is a news sheet written by officers of M.I.7.B and translated into French for distribution in Belgium and in occupied France).

War Pictorial and Diary of the War (in German): 20,000.
(These are prepared and supplied by Wellington House)

Large Books and Pamphlets: 9,160.
(These have been supplied by Wellington House).

Pamphlets prepared by M.I.7.B for Balloon distribution: 12,500.

A sub-section of M.I.7.B in charge of an officer who had previously spent a year in studying the Library of German Propaganda in the possession of M.I.7.B, is occupied with the selection of articles from all sources suitable for aerial distribution with the preparation of actual articles, and with the selection of extracts from the German Press that would be useful to distribute. A large amount of material of this kind is at present in type and awaiting the final selection of a mode of distribution. As examples there may be mentioned the Prime Minister’s Speech and the Neukolln Memorial. It was ascertained that the German newspapers omitted large portions of the Prime Minister’s speech. M.I.7.B had it translated in full with the omitted passages underlined and a note calling attention to this. The Neukolln memorial was found in a suppressed edition of the Vowarts and was reprinted at length.

(8) CO-OPERATION WITH THE FRENCH AT G.H.Q. Copies of the French propagandist efforts are received by M.I.7.B and those that seem suitable are utilised, but to secure greater unity of action, it is proposed to appoint a propaganda officer one of whose duties will be to keep in constant touch with the French efforts and modes of distribution.

(9) AERIAL PROPAGANDA IN THE EAST. There is continuous co-operation between M.I.7.B and G.H.Q., Cairo which acts a centre for the East, M.I.7.B keeps them acquainted with the results of experiments as to modes of distribution, supplies propagandist material, and receives examples of all the material prepared there. A suggestion has recently been put forward that extensive subversive propaganda should be conducted by the use of specially trained Bulgarian deserters. This proposal has been communicated at length to Salonica for their observations.

(10) GERMAN PROPAGANDA. The Germans use paper balloons in large quantities. Samples of the balloons they employ have been obtained by G.H.Q., France and submitted to the Munitions Inventions by M.I.7.B. It cannot be said that there is any evidence as to the efficacy of German propaganda amongst the British troops. Samples of it are sent over from G.H.Q., France and examined by M.I.7.B. They consist of flysheets in bad English announcing German successes on other fronts, pictures of the happy fate of prisoners of war in Germany, boasts of the results of the U-boat campaign and copies of the Continental Times. Propaganda specially destined for the French is more effective. The chief effort is the Gazette des Ardennes, a weekly newspaper written in French and with occasionally an illustrated supplement. It is distributed both by aeroplane and by balloon. It is cleverly conducted, containing much inflammatory political matter, ex parte statements as to the progress of the war, attacks on the English, news of individual French prisoners, lists of French and Belgians alleged to have been killed by the action of Allied Airmen. From a propagandist point of view, it is much more unscrupulous and probably more effective than our Courrier, but this is due to the fact that a special effort has been made to exclude "nflammatory" matter from the Courrier. Were a suitable method of distribution in operation, the Courrier could very easily be greatly strengthened from the propagandist point of view. It is of interest, however, to note, that even in its present mild form it is of comfort to the Belgians. A letter written from Brussels in May 1917 contains the remark “Shall I tell you that the rare appearance of an Allied Airman sufficed to gladden us for several days, such simple visits showing the population that the Belgians outside do not forget those at home. What would it be if periodically they came to give us precise, certain, authentic news". That at least the Courrier has dome for those parts of Belgium it reaches.

[source: TNA WO 32/5143]


 

 

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