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Random PSYOP leaflet - THE SITUATION… on 16th March 1945

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Propaganda Leaflets of the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939
Dr Rod Oakland


Spanish Civil War propaganda leaflet

A Personal Note from the Author

In recent years I have been fortunate enough to put together a small collection of leaflets disseminated by both sides in the Spanish Civil War. Most were air-dropped. Since relatively little has been written about these in English, and many leaflet collectors and researchers are unaware of them, I think it is time to take forward our existing knowledge of this fascinating area of leaflet warfare. I am indebted to Jose Manuel Grandela who is the acknowledged expert in this field and has patiently answered the barrage of questions I have put to him. Therefore, much of the information in this article derives from him although I take complete responsibility for what you are about to read, especially any mistakes and misdescriptions. Those with a good knowledge of the Spanish language should read his book, the definitive work on this subject: "Balas de papel: Anecdotario de propaganda subversiva en la Guerra Civil Espanola", published by Salvat Editores S. A. in 2002.

The reader should bear in mind that all the leaflets illustrated are in the author's collection which might not be representative of all the propaganda themes adopted by the two sides in this conflict.

The Spanish Civil War, 1936 to 1939: a Short History

When the Spanish elections of 1931 rejected the monarchist government and brought about the second republic, Spain immediately began to experience increasing political turmoil. On the left an unlikely mish-mash of political factions, including Communists, Socialists, and Syndicalists as well as republicans, came together and sought to bring about social reform. This included the introduction of universal suffrage, a separation of church and state, and the dismantling of large estates. As this proceeded, conservative groups on the right, including the monarchists, became increasingly agitated. In the municipal elections in 1933, the parties of the right mustered large support, and in the first constitutional elections for the Cortes (effectively the parliament), the rightist parties won 44 percent of the seats. This revival of rightist power put a damper on the changes put in place by the republicans; in particular it caused some modification of land redistribution measures and weakened the anticlerical legislation.

In the Catalan elections of January 1934, left leaning groups won a resounding victory turning the tide yet again as the people demonstrated their dissatisfaction with the revival of conservatism. In October, the government accelerated its move to the right with a new cabinet that included rightists and monarchists. A general strike took place in central and northern Spain and Catalonia proclaimed independence from Madrid, but the government brutally put down the strikes and the Catalan revolt with a large loss of life. There followed a period of chaos at central government level as the politicians refused to adopt reforms and moved through a succession of cabinets, all with a conservative leaning. The general elections of February 1936 produced a victory for the Popular Front, a coalition of the Communists, Socialists, Anarchists, and Republicans against the right wing combination of Fascists (the Falange party), monarchists, and bourgeois nationalists. The tide had reversed again and the reforms of the 1932 republic were reinstated and the early legislation of the republic revived, and the constitution again strongly enforced. This widening polarisation of political pressures set the scene for the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War.

The Civil war, a cruel, bitter and atrocity-ridden major internal conflict, was fought by complex agglomerations of adherents of varying political ideologies, barely comprehensible to the average student, from the left and from the right. Essentially it was a battle between left and right wing groupings as described above. The War began in July 1936 with an army revolt in Morocco against the Popular Front government and then took hold in army towns in the mainland. Led by General Francisco Franco it escalated into civil war. Foreign powers quickly became involved. Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy supported Franco's forces, the Nationalists, with troops and armaments including aircraft. They saw this mainly as an opportunity to test their weapons and tactics in combat. In October 1936 Franco was declared the head of Spain by his forces and was recognised by Germany and Italy soon after as they withdrew their support for the legitimate Spanish Government. The Soviet Union came in on the side of the Republicans (also referred to as "The Loyalists" or "the Reds"), a rag-tag militia of labour groups and others, strongly influenced by Soviet-leaning Communists. Stalin also supplied military equipment including planes and heavy tanks. The Republicans were joined by an International Brigade composed of volunteers from a variety of countries, variously motivated by anti-fascism, idealism, or sheer boredom with their lives at home.

Franco's forces soon reached the capital, Madrid, and the Republican government moved to Valencia. The battle for Madrid became a stalemate that lasted until the end of the civil war. Elsewhere the Generalissimo's forces made progress and completely overran North Western Spain by the middle of 1937. Progressing North the Nationalists forced the Republican Loyalists into a triangular area defined by Madrid, Valencia and to Catalonia. As well as Madrid, Barcelona became the main target of Franco's forces. Ground attacks were supported by air raids which attracted protests by other countries and the Vatican. Civilian areas were bombed with massive loss of life. Picasso's famous painting, Guernica, captured the suffering of these atrocities.

Spanish Civil War propaganda leaflet

Fig. 1. By the time this leaflet was printed in November 1937 it had been overtaken by events, ie the Republican Government had been forced to move from Valencia to Barcelona. But Franco was happy with the sentiment of the leaflet so he supported its dropping as long as Valencia was crossed out and Barcelona written in on every leaflet! Essentially the leaflet's message was that all escaped prisoners, soldiers and civilians coming from "Barcelona" could enjoy a civilized life in Franco's Spain and the sacred rights of life, work and food with a conscience, a heritage... "The 'Barcelona' Government burns men and destroys their liberty honour Russia" ..."the booty of all the criminals of mankind".

In late November 1937, with the then capital Valencia under threat, the Government moved to Barcelona (Fig. 1.). By December, a Republican counteroffensive began, and government forces captured the Nationalist stronghold of Teruel. Franco's troops retaliated and recaptured Teruel in February, and then advanced to the Gulf of Valencia in April. To repulse the Nationalists's drive toward Valencia, the Government forces attacked Franco's army from the rear. This held back the insurgents for several months, but the weakened Republican forces could not build on their success. When the Nationalists resumed their offensive in December, the Republicans were driven back towards Barcelona which eventually fell in January 1939.

Spanish Civil War propaganda leaflet

Fig.2 This Nationalist leaflet was dropped after the capture of Gerona, the last provincial capital of the four provinces of Catalonia to fall to Franco. It translates as "GERONA BARCELONA Long live Spanish Catalonia! Franco! Long live Spain! LERIDA TARRAGONA".

Franco then turned to Madrid, where a "fifth column" inside the city readied themselves to rise against its defenders. Madrid fell to Franco on March 28 and the Republican government disintegrated and fled from Spain.

Franco had already formed a government with himself as prime minister and began to restore the rights, lands and privileges taken from the Catholics and the monarchy in 1931.

Leaflet stories and anecdotes

There are a few rather vague references to leaflet dissemination in the literature including contemporary newspapers and biographies. The Times of December 11 1936, a few months after the outbreak of hostilities, reported that "Three insurgent aeroplanes crossed Madrid today. They dropped leaflets but no bombs".  George Orwell, in "Homage to Catalonia" (Penguin Books, 1966) mentions that while fighting for the Republican side at the front near Zaragoza in early 1937 the appearance of a "Fascist... aeroplane (that) came straight over, too high up to be worth shooting at, and out of it came tumbling not bombs but white glittering things that turned over and over in the air. A few fluttered down into the position. They were copies of a Fascist newspaper, the Heraldo de Aragon, announcing the fall of Malaga." Some of the more informative articles and reports are as follows.

In an article in the aerophilately magazine, "The Aero Field" (No. 6, 1957), Dr Max Kronstein writes:

The introducing of the rocket as a propaganda tool in the Spanish campaign was reported in British newspapers during the war. And the Daily Telegraph of London reported on 12 February, 1938 that even at that time both sides used for this purpose a rocket with a range of a mile and a half, which scattered 1,000 pamphlets at a time.

The Swiss Illustrated Journal of 20 April 1938 reported that the leaflets were printed in a ruined house near the actual front with hurriedly instructed soldiers acting as printers. The same magazine showed a photo of one of the rockets which carried 400 of these front-printed leaflets across no-man's land and exploded above the trenches scattering the leaflets over the surrounding area.

...the Swiss journal reported there were as many as 20 to 50 propaganda rockets crossed the line on certain days. In spite of this considerable number no such leaflet had been reported in any collector publication for many years.

The leaflet which has now been found is not from the flight (sic) against Arabic speaking soldiers, but is printed in Spanish only. It is printed on lemon yellow paper and has the size 5 7/8 x 4 ¼ inches with a text in seven lines. From this text this leaflet is to be classified among the so-called "surrender leaflets" or "surrender passes". The former owner had marked it in pencil, "Fired over Rep. Lines".

Louis Bunuel, the Spanish film maker, writes in his biography, "My Last Breath" (Fontana, USA, 1983), of his role in Republican propaganda during the war. In 1937 he was asked by the Spanish Minister of Public Affairs to go to Paris to undertake a variety of work for the new ambassador there. One of his tasks was to:

...oversee "news and propaganda". The job required that I travel - to Switzerland, Antwerp (where the Belgian communists gave us their total support), Stockholm, London - drumming up support for various Republican causes - I also went to Spain from time to time, carrying suitcases stuffed with tracts that had been printed in Paris. Thanks to the complicity of certain sailors, our tracts once travelled to Spain on a German ship.

...I often slipped across the border into Spain, carrying special documents... In fact, throughout the war, smugglers in the Pyrenees transported both men and propaganda. In the area of St.-Jean-de-Lus, a brigadier in the French gendarmeries gave the smugglers no trouble if they were crossing the border with Republican tracts. I wish there had been a more official way to show my gratitude, but I did give him a superb sword I'd bought near the Place de la Republique, on which I'd engraved: "For Services Rendered to the Spanish Republic".

The year 1938 found me in Bayonne in the Basses-Pyrenees, where, as a propagandist, I was in charge of launching small air balloons filled with tracts over the mountains. ...when the winds were blowing in the right direction. The whole system seemed fairly absurd to me as I stood there watching the balloons sailing every which way, dropping tracts everywhere - in the woods, the fields, the water - and I wondered what difference a little piece of paper dropping from nowhere could possibly make to anyone.

In the Dutch Socialist Weekly magazine, no. 41, 1937 is an article entitled "A Paper War Rages in Spain". Extracts, translated from Dutch, include:

Leaflets and surrender passes (from the Republican side) are packed into empty vegetable tins and with the help of a rope are thrown into the trenches of the enemy. Some of the opposing (Nationalist) trenches of the many front lines close to Madrid are only 30 metres apart. The projectiles are thrown like hand grenades but their contents are harmless and well-intentioned.

The appeals (surrender passes) are not only aimed at Spanish soldiers but also to Portuguese, Italian, Moroccan and German soldiers. Like broadcasts transmitted over the air, an appeal is made to the soldier's commonsense, who are forced to fight for the interests of their enemies, to their patriotism and to their solidarity with the opposing soldiery. In this way they will learn and be greeted as comrades with open arms in the trenches if they are willing to fight together for a free and happy Spain!

The consequence of this propaganda in the trenches has already made the Fascists think. The fact is, deserters take every opportunity to cross the lines to Republican troops and surrender voluntarily. Some time ago anti-Fascists crept over to the Franco lines to propagandise in the ranks of the Fascists despite the risks of being shot.

In a pamphlet by Ronald G. Shelley (see references) there are quotations from a book by E.Comin Colomer, "El 5º Regimiento de Milicias Populares". The formation of the Republican "Regiment of the Popular Militia", is described including one of its five sections that "dedicated special attention to the preparation, distribution and spreading of "Propaganda Leaflets". This section issued two circulars on the subject which included (translated into English), the following:


The 5th Regiment ...Will send propaganda to enemy soldiers instructing them to desert from the Fascists and free themselves from their hangmen officials, explaining to them why they are fighting and warning them their interests are joined to those in the Republican Government.

Up to now the system (of sending) which has been used among us is that of small packages, but experience has shown that this makes the 'Fascist Army Chiefs' vigilance easy and impedes the soldiers' collecting our leaflets. The solution lies in distributing our propaganda material in such a way that will make it easier for soldiers of the enemy to collect it.

The system is to launch it by means of rockets, which on bursting disperse the leaflets, provoking a real show of these and putting them in reach of soldiers who can then read them without their leaders being able to avoid it, and then follow the instructions given in the leaflets.

The modifications are in the size of the rocket and the process of launching. The size of the rocket permits it to be sent over long distances and its capacity for carrying the leaflets should be quite large.

The second point is the aiming of the rocket, which is fixed by placing it in a simple construction of wood with two supports, each at different levels. The rocket will then take off in the direction in which the structure is oriented.

From a related circular:

It would appear that at first hydrogen balloons were used, with two small mechanisms: one to hold the propaganda and the other to ignite and explode the balloon which resulted in the spreading of 'propaganda leaflets'. As this method was not successful, the use of rockets and even slings was introduced.

The second circular, published in the daily paper Milicia Popular in September 1936:

To launch proclamations over enemy lines. These leaflets should be printed on very fine paper of different colours to catch the attention of the soldiers of the enemy lines and spread well. If different leaflets are printed on white paper, the soldiers my think they have already read them, and if the paper is not light, the leaflets tend to bunch together in the same place thereby reducing the possibility of a soldier taking advantage of a senior's lack of attention, to pick up the proclamation. It is worth varying the set-out of the leaflets every time a different one is edited.

Stores of leaflets should be sent to the Front Commands and the Political Commissary or a responsible person designated by him, should personally organise the sending off of the proclamations to the enemy lines.

The leaflets can be sent to the nearby trenches inside packets of cigarettes shot from slings (see Fig. 3).

For greater distances, balloons with favourable winds, could carry the proclamations. They are bound with an already lighted wick, so that when the spark reaches the knot which holds the leaflets, this breaks, releasing them - in this way they will fall, spread by the wind, in the form of a shower.

On the fronts where the positions are held for a long time, kites could be used, sent off from our trenches and arriving at those of the enemy. Messages requesting the soldiers to reply could be tied to the kite's tail.

Another way of getting the proclamations over is to take advantage of the darkness of the night to place packets of these together with a white flag between the lines of fire, and not firing on the soldiers the next morning when they come out to collect the packets.

Spanish Civil War propaganda leaflet

Fig. 3. The Republicans also secreted small leaflets (68 x 56mm) in packets of cigarette paper which were then sent by rocket over enemy lines in late 1938 . Such packets were most welcome as there was a shortage of cigarette paper on the Nationalist side. By a quirk of the war situation tobacco was available in Franco's territory while the cannabis paper was mainly obtainable in the Red area. Occasionally a short break in the fighting would be engineered so the opposing soldiers could exchange tobacco for paper!

...From the deserters we can learn the mealtimes of the officials and thus take advantage of the best time for sending the leaflets...

Gabriel Jackson, in his book, "A Concise History of The Spanish Civil War" (John Day Company Inc., 1974), when writing about the siege of Madrid in Early 1937 reports:

Once the International Brigades leaders had realised that the troops facing them were uniformed Italian Divisions they decided to mount a propaganda campaign with the hope of causing desertions among their conscripted compatriots. Pulling loudspeakers up to the lines and dropping leaflets from the air, they exhorted the Italian soldiers not to fire on their brother workers, and guaranteed their immunity if they would desert to the Republican lines with their arms. On the other side General Roatta reminded his troops ...the Garibaldis ...were only the brothers of the Marxist rabble which the Fascist squads had smashed in Italy. For about five days local battles continued along the highways and the woods along the Brihuaga-Torija Road. Some dead Garibaldis were found with the leaflets stuffed in their mouths and here and there a handful of Fascist soldiers deserted.

The Search for Leaflets

In the 1980s when the author first started to research and collect aerial propaganda leaflets, representative samples from all wars and conflicts of the 20th C were available with just one exception, the Spanish Civil War. Even experienced and long standing collectors such as Peter Robbs, Reginald Auckland and Jan de Groot, all with extensive collections had no leaflets from the Spanish Civil War! It seemed that such leaflets were like hen's teeth. Why was this? The answer was that during the fighting anyone seen to be picking up and reading enemy leaflets was accused of being a traitor or a spy and likely to be punished harshly, and sometimes shot. The finder's life was at stake! On both sides, the field commanders were instructed to collect all enemy leaflets and hand them in to the counterintelligence services or, on the Republican side to the political commissars, who then passed them to headquarters. Most were destroyed but a few were numbered with a handstamp and kept for records but most of these were eventually destroyed. After the War in 1939 Franco decreed that all literature, including books, posters and leaflets relating especially to the Republican side of the war must be destroyed with the severest punishment for anyone caught in possession of them. Search teams went sent to the battle fields to scour the areas for any remaining leaflets and destroy them. Any returning Republican soldier found with leaflets on his person faced long term imprisonment or was shot. (see section "Leaflets Disseminated by the Nationalists to the Republicans" below.)

Fortunately not all records were destroyed and a few leaflets were released long after the War's end. Some of the leaflets illustrated in this article came from these records and show the number stamped on them when they were first processed. Currently the Army Museum in Madrid doesn't have a single leaflet in its collection!

The Physicality of the Leaflets

Unlike the situation in the other major wars of the 20th C, the leaflets for dissemination by aeroplane, artillery shell and rocket were very often printed on thin tissue paper, referred to as "manila paper" or "silk paper" in Spain, which aided dispersion in the air after a bundle had been released. They were also relatively small in size, typically 15 x 10cm, and sometimes smaller. The benefits of this were that more leaflets could be packed into shells and rockets achieving greater target saturation, and any soldier brave, some would say reckless, enough to pick one up could more easily hide it in his clothing for later reading. New leaflets were printed on different coloured paper to help the finder to distinguish between new leaflets and those he had already seen. Leaflets spread by hand, handed out or thrown from cars and trucks into the street, were printed on thicker and better quality paper.

Means of Dissemination

Most of the means of leaflet dissemination adopted in other wars of the 20th C were used including: aeroplanes where the leaflets were simply thrown "over the side"; specially developed 81mm mortar shells which scattered leaflets on explosion; rockets carrying 400 - 1,000 leaflets discharging at a distance of 1.5 miles; balloons and even kites. Some were delivered by hand: at night, under the cover of darkness, soldiers would creep towards enemy trenches and leave them where the opposing troops would find them next morning. On one occasion the Nationalists wrapped small loaves of bread in paper printed with propaganda and dropped them over four major cities on October 1st 1938 to commemorate the second anniversary of Franco's election as Prime Minister of the Nationalist Government of Spain. (For more information about these means of delivery from the Republican side, see the quotations from Bunuel and especially Shelley above). Some of the aeroplanes broadcast messages by loudspeaker.

Spanish Civil War propaganda leaflet

These photographs (courtesy of Jose Manuel Grandela) show a box of rockets ready for firing and a close-up of three rockets one of which has the roll of leaflets exposed. (see Regiment of the Popular Militia propaganda circular above).

The Leaflets

The leaflets used in the Spanish Civil War can be divided into several categories:

• Leaflets produced by each side for the enemy;

• Leaflets produced by each side, especially the republicans, to energise and retain the commitment and loyalty of its own solders;

• Leaflets produced to win support from other countries and the international press.

Leaflets Disseminated by the Republicans to the Nationalists

Of all the intellectuals, writers, poets and artists who converged on Spain and fought in the War the great majority supported the Republican cause, and this is reflected in the design and look of its leaflets. In contrast to the Nationalist leaflets seen by the author, many were strikingly illustrated. Here is a selection of Republican leaflets illustrating the main themes adopted by the leaflet writers. Although they are all in the Spanish language, leaflets in other languages such as Arabic, German and Italian exist.

Much was made of the fact that Germany and Italy were supporting Franco for their own benefit and stripping Spain of its resources and perhaps even positioning themselves to take over the whole country. The following four leaflets concentrate on these themes. The first three leaflets were among four found by a Frenchman who, in a letter describing them, stated:

...leaflets from the Spanish War (were) recovered by myself at the beginning of 1939 from a Spanish Republican aeroplane that had taken refuge in Oran (Algeria), more precisely at the aerodrome in Sénia.

Spanish Civil War propaganda leaflet

Fig. 4. This leaflet is headed "Spain for the Spaniards". The text reads: "Blood is being spilled ! But for who?"

Spanish Civil War propaganda leaflet

Fig.5. This Leaflet states simply, "What is Franco doing with Spain?"

Leaflet Fig. 4 shows Germany and Italy in the persons of Hitler and Mussolini sitting on Spanish corpses drinking the blood of Spain and Fig. 5 the ravenous dictators demanding that Franco deliver Spain on a platter for their consumption. Fig. 6 shows a united Spanish army having disposed of Hitler and Mussolini. Fig. 7 depicts Mussolini carrying away bags of iron and cattle alongside Hitler who hugs bags of minerals, rice and fruit, while a hapless Franco shows his empty pockets.

Spanish Civil War propaganda leaflet

Fig. 6. Headed "Spain for the Spaniards" the remaining text reads: "With our hands together we can expel the invaders".

Spanish Civil War propaganda leaflet

Fig. 7. The text refers to 300 miners who the Republicans claim came across from the other side to escape from slavery and to stop assisting foreign plans to ruin Spain. In fact, the miners were released from prison by the Reds and didn't desert the Nationalists voluntarily.

Although not a deeply committed Christian, Franco promoted a religious fervour in Spain and sought to persuade the Catholic population that they would not be persecuted under his rule. The leaflet, Fig. 8, is a rather hypocritical attempt to use religion against Franco by describing his anti-Christian measures. In fact, the Republicans themselves killed thousands of priests and nuns and burned churches and cathedrals in their territory just as they did when in Government before the war. 

The background to leaflet Fig. 9 is the agreement, at the outset of the war, that the major powers would not offer men and arms to either side in the Spanish Civil War. However, this agreement was soon broken by both sides and there was then a further agreement to send foreign troops back to their home countries. This leaflet aims to ridicule the Nationalists by suggesting that it was not the agreement that caused Franco's foreign forces to exit the fight but that they fled due to the superiority of the Republican troops. 

Spanish Civil War propaganda leaflet

Fig. 8. This leaflet brings religion into the mix and asks Soldiers of Franco's army about their leaders' understanding of religion. It claims that they adorn images with gold and precious stones and offend the fifth commandment by killing thousands of women and children in the rearguard cities. This owes more to German paganism than to the teachings of Christ. Finally it exhorts the soldiers to rise up against the peoples' executioners with the cry, Long Live Spain.

Spanish Civil War propaganda leaflet

Fig. 9. This leaflet mocks the Nationalists by showing how the Moors and Italian and German soldiers take flight at the sight of Republican soldiers advancing towards them. It claims that the Italians lost 1,890 men from the front in just two days citing an announcement by the Rome Government.

Spanish Civil War propaganda leaflet

Fig. 10. This leaflet shows the Nationalist fist smashing the faces of Franco, Mussolini and Hitler. The Republicans found it difficult to accept that all soldiers, including Franco's, would not fight against and defeat those they described as "the invaders", the Italians and Germans. They conveniently ignored the fact that the International Brigades were supporting them.

Some leaflets urge Franco's soldiers to take action. For example, leaflet Fig. 10 addresses itself directly to "Soldiers of the Enemy" and tells them "a place of honour has been reserved for them for the fight against the invaders and their allies", the implication being that they should come across to the Reds. Leaflet Fig. 11 urges them to revolt against their officers and turn their guns on them. Leaflet Fig. 12 essentially appeals to the patriotism of those Spaniards fighting for the fascists and asks them to help the Popular Front, an alliance of the parties of the left, the Republic and Spain. As always in war, changing sides was an extremely risky and dangerous act and for many, with threats from their own side and a mistrustful enemy, unlikely to succeed.

Spanish Civil War propaganda leaflet

Fig. 11. Some of the text states:

"Soldiers of Franco's Army!
You, are in the trenches.
Your family, is humiliated and hungry.
The rich landowners, are hiding in the rear.
Italians and Germans, keep alive the fervour that causes the Spaniards to kill each other.
Revolt ........"

Spanish Civil War propaganda leaflet

Fig.12. Some of the text states, "The Republic and its Government call on you to use your guns and aim to help the lawful Republic cooperating with the popular forces whose war cry is 'Live in Freedom or Die'". You soldiers have the flesh and blood of this country. You belong to it and must return to it again. .... A decisive battle for the liberty of Spain is taking place. Your guns can help to break the neck-collars that Fascism is creating for your parents and brothers."

Some leaflets were issued by the Commisarriat of the International Brigades and were disseminated by several means including aeroplane, artillery shell and rocket. Most are illustrated by the Italian artist Dante Pesco and bear his signature "Giandante". Fig. 13 is an example of his work.

Spanish Civil War propaganda leaflet

Fig. 13 The imagery shows the Republicans' determination to avoid defeat and not be fooled into accepting compromise agreements. A partial and rough translation states "the war cannot end without the complete triumph of the Spanish people and the legitimate Government of Spain. A peace of pacts and compromises is not a peace at all. If we are the victims of deceit we risk the economy and independence of Spain". This leaflet was produced just before the end of hostilities and these words of Dr Negrin, the President of the Republican Government, were largely bluster as it was clear that Franco would be the victor.

Leaflets Disseminated by the Nationalists to the Republicans

Franco was a traditional soldier in that he believed that wars should be fought with bullets and bombs and not with words. But in the early part of the civil war it became evident to him that the Reds were having considerable success with their leaflets. A significant number of Nationalist soldiers had been persuaded by the written and spoken word to cross the lines to the Republican front using the instructions on the leaflets. So Franco decided, out of necessity, to adopt the same methods. But his basic attitudes to fighting never changed and he didn't want to acknowledge the role propaganda had played in the fighting which strengthened his resolve to expunge all evidence of leafleting once the war was won.

Sir John Reith, the first Director General of the BBC, said that "news was the shocktroops of propaganda" and Franco adopted this maxim in many of the Nationalist leaflets seen by the author. As Franco pushed back the Republicans and overran city after city the leaflets simply reported the facts, thus sapping the morale of the Red soldiers. On 14th January 1939 Tarragona fell to the Nationalists and the leaflet, Fig. 14, is headed "Franco has conquered Tarragona".

Spanish Civil War propaganda leaflet

Fig. 14. After the stark heading the rest of this leaflet states that the Republican leaders are preparing to escape and desert their men. It claims the leaders should be questioned about their war crimes and should be rejected.

By 5th February 1939 the last capital of Catalonia had fallen and all leaflet Fig. 15 had to do was to confirm that fact.

Spanish Civil War propaganda leaflet

Fig. 15. Lerida, Tarragona, Barcelona, and Gerona, capitals of the four provincial cities of Catalona, were now in Franco's hands and the leaflet was able to state "Long live Spanish Catalonia" and "Long live Spain".

As with leaflet Fig. 14, the leaflet Fig. 16 seeks to drive a wedge between the republican soldiers and their political leaders. The militiamen are advised to escape just as their leaders have done.

Spanish Civil War propaganda leaflet

Fig. 16. This leaflet names Prieto, the Navy and Airforces Minister, Azana, President of the Spanish Republic, Juan Negrin, the Prime Minister, and La Pasionaria, the charismatic and inspirational communist leader, amongst the leaders who fled. The militiamen, "abandoned to your sad fate", are advised: "don't be foolish" and "escape".

Leaflet Fig. 17 is a clear exhortation to Red soldiers to stop fighting and cross the front to the Nationalists. The leaflet writers seem to have presaged a well used ploy of World War Two propaganda, ie suggesting to the soldiers that the war is almost over and they have only a minute left to save themselves and implying it would be a tragedy if they were killed in the last moments before the war ended.

Spanish Civil War propaganda leaflet

Fig. 17. The text refers to the "last warning" and urges the soldiers to "kill the leaders who enslave you and come to us in droves shouting: Long live Franco! Long live Spain!

In the opinion of Senor Grandela, the expert on the leaflets of this War (see introduction to this article), the simplicity and directness of the leaflet, Fig. 18, makes it one of the most successful leaflets produced by the Nationalists.

Spanish Civil War propaganda leaflet

Fig. 18. The text says "Either you come across or we move forward".

The Nationalist are stating in leaflet Fig. 19 that due to the lawlessness in the Red zone, elite police groups have been deployed to protect the lives of prisoners in the city of Teruel. In contrast, the Nationalists treat prisoners well, so much so that prisoners liberated by them in red zones are now fighting for Franco.

Spanish Civil War propaganda leaflet

Fig. 19. Some of the text states that "to give the World the impression that you (the Reds) are living in a civilised country, the Minister of Defence has had to send 14 groups of elite police ... to protect the lives of Teruel prisoners. We (the Nationalists) ... Feed (Red prisoners) with the same meals we have and show them our optimism and joy at living in Franco's Spain... So much so that a great number of our soldiers are escaped prisoners from the red zone... All the prisoners who escaped in the October attack on Cuesta de la Reina have already taken up arms for Franco and the new Spain ... we have won them over with our behaviour and our heart."

Franco eagerly clutched at and exploited anything that seemed to give legitimacy to his campaign. When France and England recognised Franco's Government early in 1938, the Nationalists quickly printed leaflets, Fig. 20, announcing this news.

Spanish Civil War propaganda leaflet

Fig. 20. This leaflet addresses Republican soldiers: "England and France have recognised Franco. Nobody wants to defend an absolutely lost cause. Do you? Come over to us."

It can be presumed that leaflet Fig. 21 was produced by Franco to praise and thank the Italian navy vessels that had stopped ships heading for Republican ports. It was dropped on the Italian ships as they returned home.

Spanish Civil War propaganda leaflet

Fig. 21. The text of this leaflet reads: "Brave Soldiers from Spain. Now that you are about to touch the sacred soil of your Imperial native land on your glorious return , to you the sailors of the Second Naval Squadron, vigilant sentinels on the sea of Rome, we launch from the air the salute of your comrades. Come with us!"

Leaflets produced by the Republicans to energise and retain the commitment and loyalty of its own solders

The Republicans had an ongoing problem with desertion. Soldiers exited themselves from the front for a variety of reasons including: a lack of commitment to the republican cause or to some of their political leaders; a desire to return home and protect their families from danger; allegiance to their province (eg the Basques may have fought well in their own areas in the North but lost commitment in other areas - the rest of Spain was not "their country"); better economic prospects; a lack of resources including food and clothing; and, in some cases, intimidated by facing overwhelming odds from the Nationalist offensives. Desertion was not easy. Deserters when caught could be shot and their family members punished. One of the ways the Reds attempted to counteract this was by handing out leaflets to their men.

Spanish Civil War propaganda leaflet

Fig. 22. Some of the text states: "Will you flee from them (the enemy)? Are you a real man? If you move back ...... you will be like them: cowards, villains, criminals and traitors. Men must resist. Cowards Get back! Get back! Get back!"

Spanish Civil War propaganda leaflet

Fig. 23. Some of text reads:"Do not allow the Italian flag to be where the Republican one is flying. Don't step back! The hour has come. This is the time of the brave."

Leaflet Fig. 22, handed out in the North of Spain in 1937, was a fiery exhortation to the Basque militiamen to stay and fight. Those who retreat by a single step are described as "traitors, villainous, cowards". Leaflet Fig. 23 is similar although simpler and not so strident: it invokes the thought that the Italian flag might be flying in place of the Republican one and "you will be shame faced if you allow that".

Leaflet Fig. 24 takes a different tack by appealing to the men and women of two villages, Solares and Astillero, in July 1937. Scattered in the streets, it urges them to attend meetings where the threat of fascist Italian-German colonisation was to be discussed. The Nationalists were getting close and enthusiasm for facing them needed to be bolstered. It was hoped that the men would fight with greater commitment if the future of their whole community, including their women, depended upon them. It is interesting to note that the leaflet refers to antifascist propaganda! Propaganda is usually what the enemy engages in!

Spanish Civil War propaganda leaflet

Fig. 24. This leaflet is headed "Provincial Leftist Popular Front" and some of the text reads: "The only topic for discussion is our war against fascism.... and it is important that nobody is missing - men and women - who would feel the shame of being colonised by the fascist German-Italian powers." "Antifascists be there! Long live the independent Spanish people! Show no mercy to fascism!"

Leaflets to win support from other countries and the international press

Both sides courted support from other countries. The Republicans aimed to garner support from republican, socialist and anti-fascist supporters outside Spain mainly in the form of financial aid and volunteers to join the Republican militias. England, and especially France which shared a border with Spain, were targetted with posters and leaflets. Franco also solicited foreign support and made efforts to counter Republican propaganda. Typical of Nationalist propaganda was a set of pictures, Figs. 25 and 26, of atrocities supposedly committed by the Reds. Such leaflets were handed out to press correspondents in Spain in the expectation that they would be published in the newspapers in the appropriate countries, in this case France.

Figs. 25 and 26 are from a set of photographs of atrocities committed by the Reds. The picture in Fig. 25 is well-known. It shows a Republican militiaman lying dead chained to his machine gun. This was taken near the village of Corballan in the province of Terual in the Spring of 1938. Since many Red soldiers had deserted to the enemy trenches it was not surprising that measures were taken to stop them.

Spanish Civil War propaganda leaflet

Fig. 25. The text of this leaflet is, "The Bolshevik way: a Spanish militiaman chained to his gun. The corpse was found on the Teruel Front".

Spanish Civil War propaganda leaflet

Fig. 26. The text of this leaflet is: "Women, one of then pregnant, raped and savagely killed by the Red soldiers in La Granja de Torrehermosa!"

There is always a possibility that pictures for propaganda purposes have been doctored. Take Fig. 26 for example. If the three women had been raped and savagely killed would they be lying in similar positions, with their shoes on and their clothing clean and apparently undisturbed? Perhaps, but suspicions are aroused!

There were many more leaflets produced during the war by both sides to influence the thinking and actions of opposing soldiers and civilians.

The author is always keen to hear about other leaflets. Interested readers are encouraged to contact him at here.


• Auckland, R. G., "SPAIN: Civil War leaflets", publ. in The Falling Leaf, Journal of the Psywar Society; no. 76, vol 19, 1977, pp 8-16.

• Auckland, R. G. (editor), "More Spanish Civil War Leaflets", publ. in The Falling Leaf, Journal of the Psywar Society; no. 79, vol 19, 1977, pp 124-138.

• Grandela, Jose Manuel, "Balas de papel: Anecdotario de propaganda subversiva en la Guerra Civil Espanola", by published by Salvat Editores S. A. in 2002.

• "A Guide to the Postal History of the Spanish Civil War 1936 to 1939", edited and published by Ronald G. Shelley (date unknown); part 2.15 Propaganda Leaflets.

(This article was first published in the Falling Leaf, No. 208, Summer, 2012.)



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