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WHY DROP NICKELS?

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Instructional notes issued to Royal Air Force Intelligence Officers to assist them with their talks to aircrew under training regarding the effectiveness and importance of dropping propaganda leaflets. (The codeword ‘Nickel’ was assigned by the Air Ministry to refer to propaganda leaflets.)

WHY DROP NICKELS?

These Notes are intended for the Guidance of Intelligence Officers in their talks on Nickels to Aircrews under Training

Propaganda Leaflet dropped over France showing the results of RAF bombing against the Renault factory near Paris

Leaflet dropped over France illustrating the results of RAF bombing against the Renault factory near Paris

Introduction

Everyone is familiar with the appearance of nickels, but their aims and achievements are not so well known. Many think of them as so much waste paper, while others, with equal contempt, dismiss them as “mere propaganda”. If questioned further, they will point out that one bomb is more effective than a ton of nickels.

While this may be a praiseworthy answer it is incorrect, for nickels cannot – and are not intended to – replace bombs. Nickels perform an entirely separate function, but are none the less valuable for that. Like bombing they form part of the general strategic plan. They are a weapon aimed not at men’s bodies, but at their minds.

Objects of Political Warfare

To explain the aims and objects of nickels, something must be said of the organisation that produces them. It is a secret one, working in close collaboration with all three Services, and is responsible for political warfare in all its aspects. Political warfare is a highly specialised form of propaganda, directed at enemy and occupied countries. Its object is twofold. On the one hand it seeks to sow seeds of dissension, thus paving the way for ultimate destruction by the fighting services. This is no new idea; military commanders have always recognised that the strength of an opponent lies far more in the spirit and will to win of his troops than in the quality or quantity of his arms. But there has been one significant change. Whereas formerly wars were fought by professional armies, today total war means that every inhabitant of every belligerent country is absorbed into the war machine.

The armed forces themselves are mainly composed of civilians in uniform. The scope of political warfare has therefore widened enormously, and must now be directed towards the whole of the civilian population as well as to the fighting men. For victory depends upon the will of the people to fight, to make weapons and to use them. Once that will is destroyed defeat is inevitable.

The other object of political warfare is to keep up the spirit of the peoples in the occupied territories, to encourage them to offer organised resistance, active and passive, to the German invaders and quislings, and to prepare them for collaboration with the Allied forces when the day of liberation comes. Perhaps the most difficult task of all is to keep the various peoples keyed up to the right pitch. If the tension becomes too great, there is a danger of unorganised and ill-timed outbreaks, which play straight into the hands of the Germans, who will suppress them ruthlessly, and eliminate the very elements which will be needed for organised resistance when the day comes. If on the other hand, the occupied peoples are given no outlet for their hatred and desire for action they will sink into apathy, lose all power of resistance, and finally accept the German occupation as an inevitable evil.

Methods

There are various means of communication with the peoples of Europe, some underground, some open. The underground channels, which involve heavy risks for all concerned, are of course secret. Of the open media broadcasting and nickels are the most important; both have their special functions. Normally broadcasting can reach a bigger audience, but owing to the severe penalties imposed by the Germans for listening to the BBC, to heavy jamming, to the confiscation of sets, and to the impossibility of getting new sets and spares, listening is becoming more and more difficult, and the need for nickels correspondingly greater.

While it is obviously impossible to obtain as wide a cover with nickels as with broadcasting, they have certain definite advantages. For special operations, a particular district or town can be swamped with nickels so as to ensure that the message or instructions they bear will be known to everyone in the area, e.g. at the beginning of the North African campaign 31,000,000 nickels were dropped on specially selected targets in France. Then again, unlike the wireless, the news messages, instructions, and articles contained in nickels can be read and re-read. In enemy countries those who cannot, or who are too frightened to listen to the BBC will summon up enough courage to look at a nickel even if they burn it immediately afterwards. But the chief advantage that paper and ink has over the wireless is the obvious one that it can be kept and referred to and passed from hand to hand. Listeners to wireless frequently remember the news wrong. A nickel is tangible evidence and settles the argument. It also has an emotional value that wireless can never have. The nickel has been brought at the risk of British lives: it is a proof of our interest far more convincing than words spoken by an announcer living in complete security. And in the Occupied Territories nickels are a tangible link with the RAF and all who are fighting for their liberation. Further, they provide a means by which Bomber Command can advertise their own achievements, and confound German propaganda. For example, after the first Renault raid the Germans said that little material damage had been done, but that hundreds of civilians had been killed. By dropping nickels showing photographs of the colossal damage done to the works the German lie was exposed and the accuracy and effectiveness of the RAF bombing demonstrated in black and white, not only to the French but to the other occupied countries and to the Germans themselves.

Finally – and most important – nickels bring news. In this they supplement the BBC. It is almost impossible for us, living in a country where news is plentiful, and grumbling and open criticism are tolerated, even to imagine the feelings of the peoples in occupied countries, living constantly under the fear of the Gestapo, and fed with nothing but German lies and propaganda day in, day out. Their one desire is to know what is happening in the world, what the Allies are doing, and how the war is going. They want news, and still more news – nickels and still more nickels.

Propaganda Leaflet showing a German fake edition of Le Courrier de l'Air next to an original RAF-dropped issue

A German fake edition of Le Courrier de l'Air is illustrated next to the original RAF-dropped issue

This is not mere guess work. It is proved over and over again by people who escape, by letters smuggled out and by secret reports which are coming in all the time and form the intelligence material on which policy is based. For example a Norwegian who recently arrived here said that any man in Norway (where wireless sets have been confiscated) would willingly take any risks to retrieve a nickel. In Holland last year a man obtained four issues of the “Wervelwind”. He typed all four on to a stencil, roneo’d off 5,000 copies of each and distributed them. As each issue of the “Wervelwind” contains as much reading matter as half an average novel, this man’s feat was a very striking tribute. Then, too, the underground newspapers frequently reprint long passages from any nickel they can get hold of. These newspapers play a vital part in stiffening morale and organising resistance. They are to be found in all occupied countries; there are, for example, about 200 in Belgium alone. Production is difficult and dangerous; many editors, printers and distributors have lost their lives, but their places are quickly filled, and the paper reappears once more. By reproducing the warnings or instructions contained in our nickels, these newspapers give them a much wider circulation.

France, which regularly receives very large disseminations of nickels, provides numerous reports. Almost all of them speak of the encouragement that the nickels bring. All sorts of ingenious devices are used to pass them round without the Gestapo discovering them. Some bright spirits push them under the office doors of the local German commanders so that they can find them on their return.

The best tribute of all comes from the Germans themselves, who have started producing “fake” nickels which they leave lying about, but so far they have been too clumsy to deceive anybody.

Propaganda Leaflet dropped by the RAF over Germany

Leaflets dropped by the RAF over Germany

Nickels for Enemy Countries

Nickels for enemy countries differ substantially from those for occupied countries, both in content and production. Generally nickels for Germany and Italy must as far as possible resemble a poster, driving home a simple message – as simple as “Beer is best” or “Guinness is good for you”. The message must be conveyed instantly, say, from a glance at one lying in the street, when it may be dangerous to pick it up. They must be “snappy” so that their contents can be taken in quickly, and remembered. Examples of this type are horror photographs showing German atrocities, maps showing the ground lost by the Germans on the Russian front, details of German army units captured or annihilated, casualty figures. One of them gives photographs of a U-boat being sunk by a Coastal Command aircraft with the caption, “U-boat men, this is how you will die!” Other types, intended for officials and the more thoughtful people, contain more “meat” and take longer to read. An example is “Die Andere Seite” (The Other Side), a booklet-magazine which discusses the fundamental issues of the war, and is known to be read by soldiers returned from the front.

Nickels for Occupied Countries

The scope here is much wider. In enemy countries the public has to be created and made to read against its will, while in occupied country the will is already there and the problem lies in fulfilling the demand for different classes of reading matter. Consequently there are a number of different types.

Propaganda Leaflet dropped by the RAF over France

Leaflets and newssheets dropped by the RAF over occupied France

Operational Nickels: These are official notices, called “Avis”, put out by the Allied High Command, or sometimes by the London Government of an occupied country. They contain instructions or warnings, such as the one for French fishermen telling them not to go beyond their local fishing grounds.

“Ad Hoc” Nickels: These deal with one topic only, such as the full text of the Prime Minister’s latest speech.

“Timeless” Nickels: Their contents are designed to last some time and are therefore not so topical. They cover big subjects of general interest, such as the war at sea.

Periodicals: Some of these are weeklies, such as the news-sheet “Le Courrier de l’Air” which is an illustrated newspaper for general distribution, or “La Revue de la Presse Libre” which contains cuttings from the world’s newspapers and is intended for the more serious-minded reader and the underground press. “Le Courrier Illustre” is a monthly containing the most striking photographs of the month – a pocket newsreel. All these are produced for France. Other countries also have their periodicals, but as regular distribution cannot at present be guaranteed, they are dropped as and when possible.

Examples of them are “Le Messager de la Liberté” for Belgium, one half of which is printed in French, the other in Flemish, “De Wervelwind” (The Whirlwind) for Holland, and “Vi Vil Vinde” (We will win) for Denmark. All these are real miniature magazines with articles, photographs, cartoons, and even crossword puzzles with anti-German clues.

They contain over 40 pages of perfectly clear print, enclosed in a coloured cover. Quite apart from their contents, they are a triumph of the printer’s art. For their size they surpass in quality of production, in legibility of print, and clarity of the photographs anything that has previously been attempted. This has only been possible by first setting up the magazine in a normal size, and then reducing it photographically to the smallest legible size. By this means a full page of the Telephone Directory assumes the proportion of a newspaper. Four such sheets folded, trimmed, and stapled together, give a miniature magazine of 32 pages. We have not yet reached the stage where a nickel newspaper can he delivered daily, but in France at any rate there is now such a variety of periodicals dropped from the air that they cover practically the whole journalistic field.

The numbers dropped are already great enough to make any newspaper proprietor green with envy. Here are some examples:-

French

“Le Courrier de l’Air”

“Revue de la Presse Libre”

Issue No. 21

Issue No. 8

2,370,000 copies

1,500,000 copies

German

“Die Andere Seite”

Issue No. 3

475,000 copies

Dutch

“Wervelwind”

Issue No. 1

254,000 copies

In June 1943 over 64 million nickels were dropped by British-based aircraft of the RAF alone. Several million more were disseminated by British and American aircraft in North Africa and the Middle East over Italy and the Balkans. Huge as these figures are they will continue to grow, month by month, as our air offensive grows.

Front-Line Nickels: Front-line nickels were employed by us on a great scale in the last war and with great effect. In this war they were used in the first months of the war by the Germans against the French and have been used by both the Russians and by the Germans on the Eastern Front.

In North Africa they proved extremely successful during General Wavell’s first campaign, and on the 1st Army Front in Tunisia – especially during the closing stages of the campaign. Often they have to be produced on the spot and are therefore not as elaborate or as well printed as those dropped over Western Europe. Good paper is probably impossible to obtain, and local printing facilities are visually quite inadequate.

Front Line Propaganda Leaflets were fired over the lines inside 25-pounder smoke shells

Leaflets being prepared for firing over the front line inside 25-pounder smoke shells

Methods of dissemination also differ. Some are carried by patrols and some dropped by close-support aircraft, but perhaps the most successful method has been to fire them from a 25 pounder gun. Smoke shells were specially adapted and during a barrage one of these propaganda shells was fired every now and again. The great advantage of this method is that the nickels can be dropped in exactly the right place.

Most of the Tunisian nickels bore a “laissez-passer” on one side, telling the recipient that if he presented it to any Allied soldier he would be safely conducted to the rear and made a Prisoner of War. Quite a number took advantage of this, and deserted. In some ways the scheme worked almost too well, for after the campaign was over some of the Austrians complained that they had not been able to desert, as they had been unable to obtain a “laissez-passer”!

More recently they have been used with great success in Sicily, which was a regular nickel target from March onwards. Of 500 Italian Ps/W captured during the early stages of the campaign and interrogated, all admitted to having seen nickels. Most of them believed their contents to be true, and many could quote whole passages verbatim.

Reactions to Nickels

Reports about nickels come in regularly from the occupied countries, from various sources and through various channels. Almost all are highly complimentary though of course there is some criticism of the contents. Such criticism is often valuable, and always welcome, for it shows that they arouse real interest. It is only very occasionally that nickels as a whole are condemned, and then usually on the grounds that the penalties for picking them up are so heavy that the risks are not justified. The following selections of comments from occupied territories may perhaps read like testimonials to a patent medicine; at least they show that even if the nickels will not cure the patient, they act as a fine “pick-me-up”.

Belgium. “Propaganda leaflets dropped from aeroplanes had a tremendous effect on the morale of the people and were greatly appreciated. Children collected them and sold them to the local inhabitants”.

“If people in London only realised the great comfort and joy which these little newspapers bring to our people infested with German propaganda, they would scatter them throughout the countryside by the ton”.

France. One man found a packet of nickels behind his factory during the lunch hour, so he distributed them among his workmates. He considered them as excellent propaganda, particularly when they contained photographs of bomb damage; “for”, he said, “there is always an element of fallibility about a pilot’s report, but a photograph puts an end to all such doubts.”

“Peasants were very pleased to get leaflets; their point of view was that if we had planes and paper to spare to drop leaflets we must be very strong.” Some short tributes:-

“He was always pleased to find these leaflets which were most encouraging.”

“People welcomed leaflets and were encouraged by them .”

“The ‘Courrier de l’Air’ has been most effective”.

“These leaflets were read openly by everyone in the tram, including the conductor, in spite of the penalties threatened by the Germans.”

Holland. The appreciation of the Dutch is best shown by the number of complaints received that they do not get nearly enough of them. In fact the scarcity is such that here, as elsewhere, there is a thriving black market, copies having changed hands for as much as £2.10s each.

In some places those who have been lucky enough to get hold of a few hire them out to those less fortunate.

“It is a pity they cannot distribute more copies of the “Wervelwind” for the contents are highly appreciated. Many people do not want to part with it.”

“The ‘Wervelwind’ is eagerly read, and people wait impatiently for the next issue.”

“When somebody finds a copy it circulars through the whole factory or office.”

“Some people make money out of the ‘Wervelwind’. If friends do not show you a copy, the only way of getting one is to buy it”!

“The paper is read from end to end, especially the leaders”.

Germany and Italy. Reports from enemy countries are of course not as numerous as from occupied countries, but there is evidence that the nickels are read. It would be idle to expect them to produce a sudden break in morale, but their cumulative effect, like water on a stone, is bound to bring results. As one P/W in North Africa remarked:-

“A soldier may laugh when he first reads a leaflet, but it sticks in his mind.”

No-one is more alive to the power – and to the dangers – of propaganda than the Germans themselves. They like to think that they lost the last war not by defeat in the field, but by the insidious undermining of the home front through Allied propaganda. This is of course a gross exaggeration but undoubtedly the leaflets showered on the German lines and behind them during 1918 played an important part in turning the German military defeat into a rout. Hindenburg paid an unconscious tribute to the success of our propaganda in a message to the German army in August 1918 which ran:-

“The English have undertaken the struggle against the German spirit. They bombard our front not only with the drum-fire of artillery, but also with the drum-fire of printed paper. Besides bombs which kill the body, his airmen throw down leaflets which are intended to kill the soul. The British hope these leaflets will pass from hand to hand at home and be discussed at the beer-table, in families, in the sewing room in factories and in the street. Unsuspectingly many, thousands consume the poison. Lloyd George rubs his hands.”

Referring to the same subject in his book “My War Memoirs” Ludendorff wrote:-

“We boggled at the enemy propaganda as a rabbit stares transfixed at a snake. The army was literally drenched with enemy propaganda leaflets. Their great danger to us was clearly recognised. The Supreme Command offered rewards for such as were handed over to us, but we could not prevent them from poisoning the heart of our soldiers.”

Finally, here is Hitler’s own precept in “Mein Kampf”:-

“The place of the artillery barrage as a preparation for an infantry attack will in future be taken by revolutionary propaganda. Its task is to break down the enemy psychologically before the armies begin to function at all.”

Conclusion. Nickel dropping has been well done, and has proved its value by its results. But as the war progresses nickels will become more and more important. When the Allied armies march into France or Belgium or into any of the other occupied countries, the Germans will resort to every device to prevent the people from hearing our messages and instructions. Jamming of our broadcasts will become more intense, all radio sets will be confiscated, the punishing of black- listeners will be more than ever ruthless and widespread. When that moment comes it may well be that nickels will remain our sole means of communication with the occupied peoples – a line kept open by the RAF.

 

FACTS AND FIGURES:

In order to increase the number of nickels carried in each aircraft thinner paper is now being used. This is not yet universal, and figures are therefore given for both sorts of paper.

Single Nickels

Old paper

New paper

Nickels per bundle

1,500

2,000

Bundles per package

8

8

Nickels per package

12,000

16,000

Magazine Nickels

(N.B. The following figures are only specimen figures. Numbers per bundle etc. will vary according to the size and type of the magazine.)

32 page Magazine

 

 

Nickels per bundle

50

70

Bundles per package

32

32

Nickels per package

1,600

2,240

40 page Magazine

 

 

Nickels per bundle

 

57

Bundles per package

 

32

Nickels per package

 

1,800

48 page Magazine

 

 

Nickels per bundle

 

50

Bundles per package

 

32

Nickels per package

 

1,600

Weights

The weight of a bundle varies between 6½ lbs and 7½ lbs but for quick calculation it is assumed that a standard package weighs 60 lbs.

1 ton of nickels equals 37 1/3 packages, or 447,600 single-page nickels (old paper) or 596,800 (new paper)

500 aircraft each carrying one package of single-page nickels would be able to disseminate 6 or 8 million nickels according to the type of paper.

 

September 1943



[Source: TNA FO 898/427 and AIR 14/605, transcribed by www.psywar.org]

 

 

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