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The Royal Air Force's Contribution to the Psychological Warfare Campaign throughout the Malayan Emergency

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In June 1970, by command of the Defence Council, the Ministry of Defence issued a restricted history of the Royal Air Force’s role in the Malayan Emergency, 1948-1960. Chapter 4, reproduced here, includes an analysis of it’s contribution to the psychological warfare campaign.

RASC Air Despatchers distributing leaflets over Malayan Jungle

The Role of the Air Forces

Under the direction of the Psychological Warfare Department of the Director of Operations Staff and the Emergency Information Services, the main aims of the 'war of words' that was inaugurated during the Malayan campaign were to induce surrenders amongst the terrorists, by breaking their morale and causing disaffection within their ranks, and to win the battle for the minds and loyalties of the uncommitted populace in face of the propaganda offensive that was launched by the Communists. The main problem faced in this unconventional warfare was that of communication with an elusive enemy whose primary tactic was to avoid contact with the security forces. The local populace was indoctrinated through the media of the press, radio, films and itinerant information teams and the local 'Min Yuen' and other Communist sympathisers could be relied upon to relay some of the information thus disseminated to the terrorists in the jungle. A more direct method of contacting the terrorists was required, however, and the problem was largely solved by the use of printed leaflets and broadcast recordings. The air forces were merely one of the agencies for the delivery of both tactical and strategic messages that were devised by the Psychological Warfare Department but, especially when the terrorists withdrew into deep jungle areas, the dropping of leaflets and the broadcast of messages from the air was often the only means of making contact with them and without these means of disseminating propaganda much of the effect of the psychological warfare campaign would have been nullified.

Techniques of Leaflet Drops and Loudhailing Operations

At the start of the Emergency the technique of loudhailing from the air had not been developed and the role of the air forces in the psychological warfare campaign was limited to dropping leaflets. These were usually despatched from supply-dropping aircraft of the medium range transport force and occasionally by bombers of the offensive support force as the conclusion to an air strike. As on supply drops, No 55 Air Despatch Company of the RASC provided the despatching personnel on leaflet dropping sorties and, with loads of up to 800,000 leaflets in Dakota or Valetta aircraft, it was found that a good distribution was achieved over an area 1,000 yards square by despatching 5,000 leaflets at a time at the end of a static line. If accurate drops of a limited quantity of leaflets into small pinpoint targets were required, usually when the need to exploit a success achieved by the security forces necessitated a quick reaction, then Austers of No 656 Squadron and occasionally Harvards of the MAAF were employed on leaflet dropping missions. The technique of broadcasting recorded messages from aircraft was not introduced into the Malayan campaign until October 1952 when General Templer, the Director of Operations, borrowed a US Army Dakota for experimental purposes. As a result of these experiments, two Valettas of Headquarters, FEAF were fitted with broadcasting equipment and began operations early in 1953. However, since an excessive amount of engine noise was transmitted over the broadcasting system of these Valettas, they were replaced by Dakotas in December 1953 and March 1954.238 The Dakota, although obsolete in the RAF by that time, was more suited for a loudhailing role than the Valetta as its engine noise was less, thus improving the tone and clarity of the broadcasts, and also because its lower cruising speed enabled the broadcasting time on each sortie to be increased. In January 1954 an Auster was equipped with a broadcasting unit for loudhailing missions over small targets on the fringes of the jungle or adjacent to roads, where accuracy was important and where the employment of the Dakota or the Valetta was uneconomical. In the following month a further loudhailing Auster was added to C Flight, No 267 Squadron but the remaining Valetta crashed on the slopes of Mt Ophir in North West Johore on 23 February 1954 and the flight was left with one Dakota and two Austers to carry out its broadcasting task. In March 1954 a second Dakota was acquired and with the arrival of a third Dakota in January 1955 the Voice Flight of No 267 Squadron attained its maximum complement of three Dakotas and two Austers. For most of the campaign this flight operated from Kuala Lumpur but in November 1958 No 267 Squadron was renumbered No 209 Squadron and the Voice Flight, consisting of three Dakotas, was detached to the civil airfield at Bayan Lepas, Penang on 19 January 1959 to carry out the residual loudhailing commitment in support of ground force operations in Northern Perak and Kedah. The cessation of anti-terrorist operations in Johore at the end of 1958 and the concentration of ground force activity in the mountainous regions of Northern Malaya resulted in the disestablishment of the Auster element of this flight as the extra load of loudhailing equipment that was carried by these aircraft rendered them suitable for broadcasting operations only over relatively flat terrain at low altitudes while for reasons of safety, they could not venture too far from lines of communication. The Voice Flight continued to operate from Penang until the end of the Emergency although its two remaining Dakotas were transferred from No 209 to No 52 Squadron on 2 November 1959.

The broadcasting component that was fitted to the loudhailing Dakotas consisted of a diesel generator which powered four modified Tannoy loudspeakers that were mounted under the aircraft and offset to the port side. Loudhailing Dakotas normally operated at heights of 2,500 to 3,000 feet over the target area and in good weather conditions a broadcast message could be heard up to 2,500 yards below and to the port of the aircraft. Normally a straight course was followed over the target area with 2,000 yards between flight paths in order to ensure full coverage but a pinpoint target could be circled to give continuous ground reception. Auster loudhailing aircraft were fitted with a smaller power unit and one loudspeaker was fitted under each wing, which gave clear audibility up to 1,000 or 1,500 yards below and to the port of the aircraft. Flying at 40 to 45 knots a message broadcast from an Auster could be heard for considerable periods and was usually repeated three or four times in normal weather conditions. In April 1954 a modification consisting of an endless loop tape, was introduced into the recording equipment that was installed in the 'Voice' Auster which dispensed with the need to carry a 'voice' operator, thus effecting a considerable saving in weight and improving the aircraft's flying time.

Planning and Initiation of Leaflet Drops and Loudhailing Operations

Requests for loudhailing or leaflet dropping sorties emanated through police channels, such as the 'Voice Area Committees' at State headquarters, and were passed on to the Joint Operations Centre at Kuala Lumpur where decisions were taken on the missions to be flown in accordance with the dictates of target priority and aircraft availability. The duty operations officer at the Joint Operations Centre checked that the mission did not conflict with an air strike and that flying conditions were suitable if an aerial broadcast was to be made and then the duty controller issued the operational orders and passed details of the flight to the Air Control Centre, Malaya. The average interval between the receipt of a bid for a broadcasting operation and the take off time was about four hours between 1954 and 1957, but after that date the Director of Operations staff solved the technical problem of producing tapes of a satisfactory quality in operational areas and the average delay was cut to one or two hours, with a consequent improvement in the psychological impact of tactical 'voice' missions. Requests for loudhailing flights were co-ordinated so that as many bids as possible were fulfilled on one sortie but requests were invariably made for a series of broadcasts over a particular area for a period of three or four days in order to achieve the maximum psychological effect.

Summary of Leaflet Drops and Loudhailing Operations

Details of the effort made by the air forces in assisting the psychological warfare campaign in Malaya are collated in Annex Y. Throughout the campaign leaflets remained the chief medium for disseminating information and propaganda to the terrorists in the jungle and, in common with the general trend of transport support operations, the maximum effort in terms of the number of leaflets dropped increased to a peak in 1955 and thereafter decreased as the residual terrorist threat was eliminated, although the maximum number of leaflet dropping sorties was actually flown in 1951.

Few leaflets were dropped during the first few months of the campaign as the psychological offensive was still in its infancy. During July and August 1948 several sorties were flown over Perak, Southern Selangor and Southern Johore, but a total of less than 100 leaflet dropping sorties were flown during the first nine months of the campaign. Most of the leaflets that were dropped at this time were of a strategic nature to inform the local populace of the state of the Emergency. The monthly average of ten leaflet dropping sorties was maintained from April 1949 to December 1950, during which period 12,520,000 leaflets were dropped on 229 sorties. Notable amongst the tasks that were carried out in this period was the dropping of over one million leaflets over known terrorist concentrations to announce the first surrender terms of the Emergency that were issued on 6 September 1949.

During the second half of 1950 tactical leaflets were developed with the employment of surrendered terrorists to make direct appeals to their former comrades, in order to encourage their defection, and numerous leaflet dropping sorties were carried out in support of ground force operations as a result. As the Briggs Plan got under way in 1951 a greater effort was directed at advertising rewards for informers and propaganda efforts were stepped up against youths who had fled into the jungle to escape the Manpower Regulations of the Government. Both of these developments increased the demands made on the air forces for leaflet dropping missions and during the first nine months of 1951, which coincided with the peak of terrorist activity, 261 missions were flown and the average sortie rate and number of leaflets dropped trebled in comparison with the previous two years. A notable achievement was recorded in June 1951, during the course of which month 2¼ million leaflets were dropped on 106 sorties, mostly in support of Operation 'Warbler' in Johore — the maximum number of leaflet dropping sorties that were flown in any one month of the campaign.

From September 1951 to February 1952 a further 1,633,000 leaflets were dropped on 237 sorties by Dakotas and offensive support aircraft over Johore, Perak, Selangor, Negri Sembilan, Kelantan and Pahang, most of which contained safe conduct passes and details of the rewards that were offered for information concerning terrorist locations. In the second half of 1952 the average number of leaflet dropping sorties fell to less than ten a month, most of which were carried out by Valettas of No 52 Squadron, although the monthly totals of leaflets dropped remained at over one million. A notable effort was made in August 1952 when 3,276,000 leaflets were dropped by No 52 Squadron, mostly in the Operation 'Habitual' area near Kuantan in Eastern Pahang.

During 1953, as a result of further evidence from surrendered enemy personnel that the terrorists were susceptible to propaganda, the leaflet dropping commitment of the air forces gradually rose from an average of eleven sorties a month in the first half of the year to 23 in the second half. During the whole of 1953 over sixty million leaflets were dropped, more than five times as many as in the previous year, with a maximum monthly effort in October when 19,536,000 leaflets were dropped on 51 sorties. Included in the total for this month were fifteen million leaflets bearing a message from a surrendered ranking terrorist which were distributed by Lincolns of No 1 (RAAF) and No 83 (RAF) Squadrons during Operation 'Bison I'. This operation was supported by the two loudhailing Valettas that had begun operations earlier in the year and which flew an average of fifty sorties a month during the second half of 1953 as surrendered terrorists confirmed that it was the advice of broadcast messages, allied to one of the millions of leaflets that now festooned the jungle, which finally convinced them that their cause was no longer worth the sacrifices involved.

During 1954 the commitment of the air forces in the psychological warfare campaign continued at a high level. Valettas of the Far East Transport Wing from their base at Kuala Lumpur and Austers of No 656 Squadron flew 146 strategic and 182 tactical leaflet dropping missions during the year, during which they dropped over sixty million leaflets. Half of these leaflets were distributed by light aircraft on pinpoint targets and terrorist cultivation plots in deep jungle areas. The highest monthly total of the year was achieved in November when 7,220,000 leaflets were dropped during thirty supply drop sorties over operational areas throughout the Federation. Throughout 1954 the loudhailing unit of one or two Dakotas and two Austers also carried the psychological offensive to the terrorists during tactical missions that were designed to exploit the elimination of any terrorist as soon as possible after the event. Over 600 loudhailing sorties were flown during the year, nearly two thirds of them by Dakotas and the remainder by Austers. Dakota loudhailing missions involved sorties which averaged just over one hour in duration while those flown by Austers lasted for an average of just over forty minutes. The maximum loudhailing effort of 1954 occurred in August when 89 sorties were carried out in thirteen days over 400 targets throughout the Federation in a special operation which proclaimed the peace agreement in Indo China.

The year 1955 witnessed the peak of activity in the psychological warfare campaign and the contribution made by the air forces doubled in comparison with the previous year with the delivery of 141 million leaflets on 365 leaflet dropping sorties and of 906 hours of broadcasting from the air during the course of the 922 sorties that were flown to meet 2,111 requests for loudhailing support. The declaration of the amnesty on 9 September 1955 heralded the largest leaflet dropping operations of the Emergency and within the following seven days, 21 million leaflets were dropped by Valettas over jungle areas to inform the terrorists of the surrender terms, while a further six million tactical leaflets were dropped to inform them of the location of 'safe areas' and surrender points. Voice aircraft were committed to the initial publicity of the amnesty terms over special areas but their major contribution to the operation was made when requests from District War Executive Committees began to arrive at the Joint Operations Centre for special messages to be broadcast over specific areas where terrorist groups were known to be hiding. Between 9 and 21 September the three Dakotas and two Austers of the Voice Flight of No 267 Squadron carried out 106 sorties in answering these requests as promptly as possible and in one case a message was broadcast over the Raub area of Johore within three hours and fifty minutes of the surrender of the District Committee member of the MCP, Miew Pak.

When the prospect of peace talks became a reality all forms of anti-terrorist propaganda were curtailed and the number of leaflets that were dropped from the air fell from over 29 million in September 1955 to under five million in each of the last three months of the year, although nearly 100 tactical loudhailing sorties were still required during this period. However, the failure of the Baling talks in December 1955 and the announcement of the end of the amnesty on 8 February 1956 were given wide publicity and 20,685,000 leaflets were dropped between 2 and 12 January during Operation 'Hebrides'. From 18 to 20 January a further 9,720,000 leaflets were dropped during Operation 'Tasmania' to stress the end of the amnesty and to draw the attention of the terrorists to the approaching Chinese New Year, with its associated thoughts of family reunion and anticipation of the future. The psychological warfare campaign, however, suffered to some extent from the aftermath of the abortive peace talks and the leaflet dropping commitment of the air forces fell to four or five million a month between February and October 1955 and less than 50 'voice' sorties were carried out each month during this period. In November 1956, however, Government efforts to counteract the terrorists' 'wait and see' policy by emphasising the determination to fight on after Independence until militant and subversive Communism in Malaya was completely destroyed, resulted in 9,500,000 leaflets being distributed from the air during Operation 'Iceland', which brought the monthly total to over fifteen million leaflets and the total for the whole of 1956 to just over 100 million — the second highest total of the Emergency. Thirteen million of these leaflets had been delivered by Austers of No 656 Squadron and the remainder were dropped during the 333 leaflet dropping sorties that were flown by the Valettas of Nos 48, 52 and 110 Squadrons and the Bristol Freighters of No 41 (RNZAF) Squadron.

'Voice' operations also increased to an average of over 75 sorties a month towards the end of 1956 and the 2,246 requests for loudhailing missions that were met during the year, as well as the 309 hours of flying achieved by the Voice Flight of No 267 Squadron in this role during August 1956, represented the maximum annual and monthly effort of the whole Emergency, although the 766 hours of broadcasting that were carried out during the year were less than the 906 hours achieved in 1955. 1,761 of the 2,295 hours of flying that was expended on 'voice' operations during 1956 were accredited to the three loudhailing Dakotas and the remainder to the two Austers of the Voice Flight of No 267 Squadron. Much of this loudhailing was concerned with the tactical exploitation of specific terrorist eliminations, such as the killing of Ah Ho, the South Malayan Bureau Representative and State Committee Secretary of the MCP in Negri Sembilan, on 11 October. Meanwhile the strategic policy of underlining the high terrorist elimination rate and the disintegration of their organisation continued unabated.

The main aspects of the psychological warfare campaign continued throughout 1957 but the reduction in the number of terrorists that remained in the jungle meant that there were fewer eliminations to exploit and both the number of leaflets dropped and the number of 'voice' broadcasts that were made showed a marked decrease over the totals that were achieved in 1956. Altogether just under 87½ million leaflets were dropped during 1957, including 20 million during Operation 'Greenland I' which was mounted a few days after Independence was declared on 31 August to give details of the new 'Merdeka' offer of surrender terms that were to apply until the end of the year. During this operation 8,320,000 leaflets were dropped by Valettas of the air transport support force at Kuala Lumpur between 7 and 9 September, while Austers of No 656 Squadron delivered a further 3,600,000 leaflets during the same period. Towards the end of 1957 it was decided to extend the closing date of the 'Merdeka' peace offer until 30 April 1958 and a further leaflet dropping operation, 'Greenland II', was mounted, during which Valettas and Austers dropped 12,950,000 leaflets between 17 and 21 December 1957.

'Voice' broadcasts during 1957 occupied 707 hours in meeting 1,801 requests which represented a slight reduction in effort compared with the previous year and was over 20 per cent less than the task carried out during 1955. This reduction was partly due to aircraft unserviceability, which was becoming an increasing problem and was responsible for the abortion of 105 sorties during the year, but was mainly a result of the lack of exploitable incidents, of which there were only sixteen during February 1957 — less than half the monthly average of 1955. A slight intensification of 'voice' broadcasting occurred in May 1957 when the elimination of Teng Fook Loong was followed by 35 sorties over Negri Sembilan in order to induce the remainder of the 3rd Independent Platoon MRLA to surrender, while the elimination of Ah Futt, the State Committee Secretary of the MCP for Selangor, and the withdrawal of the Armed Work Force from South Kedah and Province Wellesley shortly afterwards, were followed by similar intensive propaganda activity. During Operation 'Duffle' in July 1957 'voice' aircraft were used for the first time during the Emergency in conjunction with offensive air support when a broadcast was made immediately after the bombs had been released in order to persuade the recipients to surrender before worse befell them.

As the number of terrorists decreased and contact between those that remained and the ground forces became increasingly rare, it was envisaged that psychological warfare, by means of air-dropped leaflets and aerial broadcasts, would play a greater part in combined operations than hitherto and no reduction in effort on the part of the air forces acting in this role was expected during 1958. In the event slightly more than 86 million leaflets were dropped during 1958, almost as many as in 1957, of which 43 million were used to exploit specific successes achieved by the security forces and the remainder were strategic leaflets used to announce general developments in the campaign and to prosecute the long-term anti-communist offensive. The increase in the number of terrorist eliminations had a cumulative effect, however, which combined with the fact that a high proportion were achieved by the Police Special Branch in Northern Johore and Southern Perak, and were not immediately publicised for fear of prejudicing the outcome of their operations, to ensure that the tactical loudhailing task was considerably reduced during 1958. Furthermore, in order to conserve the limited flying time that was left to the ageing 'voice' Dakotas, the average number of broadcasts that were made over each target area was reduced from five to three and the broadcasting time on each sortie was reduced even further as ground force operations were mounted further away from Kuala Lumpur and involved additional positioning time. Altogether 503 hours of aerial broadcasting were completed in 1958, 30 per cent less than in 1957, while the proportion of broadcasting time to total flying time fell to less than 25 per cent by the end of the year.

In a strategic role the success of the 'Merdeka' peace offer resulted in its extension to 31 July 1958 and details of this development were disseminated by Operation 'Greenland III', during which 8,500,000 leaflets were dropped and numerous aerial broadcasts were made over areas where the remaining terrorists were located. In addition some 2½ million leaflets were dropped regularly each month as part of the general anti-communist propaganda offensive. Tactical leaflet operations that were mounted during 1958 included Operation 'Elba' and Operation 'St. Helena', during which 15½ million leaflets were dropped to announce the collapse of the MCP in Southern Perak and Northern Johore and the surrender of State Committee Member Hor Lung, while the leaflet dropping and loudhailing support that was given to Operations 'Ginger', 'Bintang' and 'Chieftain' in Perak and to Operations 'Leo' and 'Tiger' in Selangor and Johore materially assisted their successful conclusion. In particular, a large number of terrorists surrendered as a direct result of hearing aerial broadcasts in the Operation 'Bintang' area of Central Perak, while a further 33 terrorists were eliminated in the Operation 'Leo' area of Selangor primarily as a result of similar efforts.

By the beginning of 1959 ground force operations were largely concentrated in Central Kedah and particularly in Northern Perak and opportunities for the tactical exploitation of individual successes had become rare. With the closure of operations in Johore Austers were considered unsuitable for loudhailing missions in the mountainous regions of Northern Perak and the remaining commitment in this role was carried out by a detachment of two Dakotas of No 209 Squadron from their base at Bayan Lepas on Penang Island. By ensuring that the acceptance of bids for aerial broadcasting was governed by factors of operational justification rather than aircraft availability, all important commitments were met despite the low serviceability of these obsolete and ageing aircraft and their temperamental loudhailing equipment. A total of 200 hours of aerial broadcasting were carried out during 1959, less than 50 per cent of the task completed in 1958, while the 40 million leaflets that were dropped during the year represented a similar decrease in effort. By the end of 1959 opportunities for the tactical exploitation of terrorist eliminations had dwindled almost to nothing and the situation was exacerbated by the delays that were involved in obtaining clearance to operate 'voice' or leaflet dropping aircraft over Thai territory. This difficulty destroyed the utility of any tactical message, which depended primarily on a quick reaction to information received for any success it might achieve, while the relative sanctuary that was offered by crossing the border nullified the pressure maintained on the terrorists by the Security Forces which was necessary for obtaining any significant results from a psychological offensive. Consequently, apart from inducing the last remaining terrorists in Selangor to surrender after the elimination of State Committee Member Hoong Poh, almost all leaflet dropping and loudhailing operations during the last few months of the Emergency were concerned with the delivery of strategic messages to isolated groups of terrorists in Northern Perak exhorting them to avail themselves of existing surrender terms. This commitment continued even after the Emergency had been officially declared over and five to ten hours of aerial broadcasting and nearly 1½ million leaflets were still being delivered from the air each month at the end of 1960.

During the entire Malayan campaign nearly 500 million leaflets were dropped on more than 2,500 sorties and nearly 4,000 hours of aerial broadcasting were completed on a further 4,500 sorties by aircraft of the air transport support forces.

Results of the Air Forces' Contribution to the Psychological Warfare Campaign

The main aims of the psychological warfare campaign in Malaya were to persuade the terrorists to surrender and, by so doing, to disrupt their organisation and to spread disaffection amongst their former comrades, and to encourage the civil population to oppose them. The chief instruments of this campaign were the printed leaflet and the broadcast message and it is sufficient to note that without the assistance of the air forces in the delivery of these media of communication much of the effort that was put into the psychological warfare campaign would have proved abortive.

The success of the secondary aim of this campaign, although less spectacular was made apparent in Penang in 1951 when air dropped leaflets advertising rewards for information about terrorist locations resulted in a fivefold increase in the amount of intelligence material that was volunteered to the police. With regard to the offensive that was mounted against the morale and loyalties of the terrorists the sole yardstick for measuring its success lay in the number of terrorists whose decision to surrender was influenced in some measure by this subversive campaign. Although the exact number who were thus persuaded will never be known, it undoubtedly represented a large percentage of those who surrendered while the doubt and suspicion and the dislocation of plans which this constant psychological harrying engendered amongst the remaining terrorists seriously weakened their offensive potential and played an important part in bringing the Emergency to a successful conclusion. In any battle for the minds and loyalties of men, however, it is not to be expected that quick or spectacular results will be forthcoming and it was not until the number of terrorist surrenders reached the proportions of a major defeat from 1955 onwards that the full effects of the long and patient psychological offensive could be appreciated. Thus in 1959 130 terrorists in Johore and Negri Sembilan were persuaded to give themselves up to the Police Special Branch by messages emanating from their erstwhile leader, Hor Lung, who had agreed to work for the Psychological Warfare Department. Nevertheless, even as early as 1949 48 of the 207 terrorists who surrendered between September and December of that year in response to the Government's offer of surrender terms, did so after reading leaflets that had been dropped from the air and by 1953 most of the terrorists who wished to surrender availed themselves of the safe conduct passes that were attached to these documents. Similarly, the statements of surrendered enemy personnel provide plentiful evidence of the persuasiveness of aerial broadcasts in influencing their decision to defect. During the first two months of regular 'voice' operations in May and June 1953, eight terrorists came out of the jungle as a result of hearing aerial broadcasts and others claimed to have been partly persuaded by them. By 1955 70 per cent of all surrendered terrorists who had heard one of these aerial broadcasts stated that it had influenced their decision and in many cases it was the major factor involved. The statement of just one surrendered terrorist serves to summarise the effectiveness of leaflet dropping and aerial broadcasting in encouraging defection from the Communist cause:

'After the attack on our cultivation area we fled to another area where we saw many Government propaganda leaflets and safe conduct passes. I picked up some of the leaflets intending to use them when coming out to surrender. A few days later we heard voices coming from an aeroplane calling on us all to surrender and offering good treatment. We all agreed to this suggestion.'

[Source: TNA AIR 41/83, transcribed by]




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