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British Balloon Propaganda
(Second Report, August 16th – September 10th, 1918)

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A report of the effect of British Balloon Propaganda as shown by the statements of Prisoners of War, up to date, was prepared on August 16th. Since then the manifesto addressed by Marshal von Hindenburg to the German Army and the German people, on what he called "the drumfire of printed paper… against the German spirit", has been published (English press September 7th) and has afforded the most striking proof of the effect of this propaganda both on the Army and the people.

1. Extent of the Propaganda

Hindenburg based his calculations of the extent of the propaganda on the number of leaflets which, according to the instructions issued, had been handed in to Headquarters. It is interesting to compare these figures with the figures of leaflets actually dropped. They are as follows:-


Number handed in by German soldiers

Number actually dropped over German line













Thus less than one in seven of those distributed are handed in; and it is clear, after making the most liberal allowance for leaflets which go astray and fall into no one's hands, that the great majority of those which are picked up are kept by the troops, in spite of strict orders to the contrary and the monetary rewards offered for them. Even if it were assumed that as many as half of those dropped were never picked up it would still mean that nearly three out of every four picked up were kept by the troops.

One Army report states that "nearly every prisoner admitted to the left Corps Cage has one or more British balloon propaganda leaflets" while in another report it is stated that no fewer than twenty-four leaflets, all different, were found on one man.

Officers as well as men appear to be eager to get hold of the leaflets and disobey the order to hand them in to Headquarters.

The value attached to them may be judged from the two following facts:-

1. An Alsatian prisoner stated that he offered a Pole 3 marks for a copy of a cartoon to send home. This offer was refused and the Pole subsequently took it home himself and left it there.

2. The rewards for leaflets given in the report of August 16th were for the first specimen of a leaflet 3 marks, for all subsequent copies 30 pfennig. Since then it has been stated that one regiment offers no less than 10 marks for the first specimen and 1 mark each for the others.

2. Propaganda in Germany

The Hindenburg Manifesto spoke of the balloon propaganda reaching the people in Germany itself through letters from the front. "Unsuspectingly" it said "many thousands consume the poison. For thousands the burden which the war in any case imposes on them, is increased, and the will and hope for a victorious issue of the war is taken from them".

There is no rhetorical exaggeration in these figures. Large numbers of the leaflets have been found enclosed in captured correspondence.

3. Effects of Propaganda

It has been stated by a Major-General of one of the Corps recently attacking, that it has been found that the leaflets are "having an excellent effect especially as the moral of the enemy is now low".

While the statement is still made that leaflets are collected as souvenirs, and while, no doubt, this is the chief reason in some cases, there is growing evidence that they are picked up primarily to be read.

Prisoners when questioned have acknowledged that the majority of the statements which they have read must be true, and it is noticeable that even where it is said that the leaflets are not believed it is admitted that they have had a considerable influence.

Leaflets on the following subjects have been mentioned by prisoners as having impressed them:-

(1) Failure of the U-boats.

(2) Failure of the Zeppelins.

(3) The miserable conditions existing in Germany.

(4) The use of German troops as mere "cannon fodder".

(5) Ill treatment of German privates by their officers and N.C.O's. (This statement was made by a soldier in a regiment which had suffered in this way and which was much impressed to find how true the leaflet was).

(6) Extracts from the German Press. (This statement was made by an Alsatian).

The following leaflets have been specially mentioned:-

(1) The map of the British advance on the Somme. (This was believed by prisoners to be "absolutely accurate" and one thought it was the best sort of propaganda of all).

(2) "Mehr Verlust oder Gewinn?" ([A.P. 71] "Loss or Gain?" – a leaflet on German casualties).

(3) "Needs". (A leaflet on the bombarding of Paris on Corpus Christi day when Cologne was spared).

(4) The cartoon "Ingratitude". (Representing a wounded soldier watching wealthy people coming very gaily out of a place of amusement).

(5) The double cartoon (A.P.36) showing a fat Germania in 1914 driving a fat donkey with the help of a carrot, and a skeleton of Germania, surrounded by fat profiteers, driving a skeleton of a donkey with the help of a carrot substitute.

4. Suggestions for Leaflet

Some Alsatians have also made suggestions for propaganda:-

(1) That a book "Das Verlorene Vaterland" ("The Lost Fatherland") by Walter Bloehm would supply propaganda on the Alsace question.

(2) That leaflets might be written pointing out that by voluntary salving the German troops were prolonging the war.

It is also of interest to note that, according to prisoners, revolutionary and anti-Prussian pamphlets have been secretly distributed among the Saxons and Bavarians on a large scale.

5. Incentives to Desertion and Prisoner of War letters

There is direct evidence that leaflets have encouraged men to desert in cases where they were already dissatisfied. In this connection it is particularly interesting to note the comments made on the facsimile Prisoner of War letters. These appear to have been received with more scepticism than any of the other leaflets. The following criticism, however, suggests that it should be possible to make them more credible: "Prisoners of War letters are not believed as they are thought to be exaggerated". Another prisoner stated that "if only troops could be convinced that such letters were genuine they would be ready to desert". Much doubt still seems to exist in the minds of the German troops as to the treatment which they will receive as prisoners. An Alsatian stated that "many Alsatians would desert if leaflets assured them that they would not be shot if taken prisoners". According to another prisoner if this fear were removed "desertions would be more frequent and resistance less".

6. Counter Propaganda

In this attempt to encourage desertion that Balloon Propaganda has to contend with vigorous counter measures. The men are told by their officers that if taken prisoner they will be beaten and very badly treated; that they will be shot; that they will be handed over to black troops and killed by them. They are told that the Prisoners of War letters are inventions or that they are written under compulsion. They are even told that the leaflets are infected with germs.

These counter measures show the very real anxiety of the German Authorities about the effects of the propaganda, and it is evident from the statements of prisoners that they have had the result of making men hesitate who might otherwise desert. At the same time the assertions of their officers are not universally accepted by the men. One prisoner says "Although officers frequently inform the troops that prisoners are badly treated they are not believed".

[Source: TNA WO 32/5143,]



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