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VOICES FROM HEAVEN by Marie-Catherine & Paul Villatoux

25 MAY 2008 | ARTICLES
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Psychological warfare via air channels remains widely unknown to the general public. Poor archives, rare reports, everything has let a mysterious shadow spread over air propaganda, a field that has been little explored to this day by historians. The dropping of leaflets itself was studied in a few reviews and articles, mostly written by collectors or observers. As a matter of fact, the advent of balloons at the end of the 18th century, their use above battlefields for propaganda purposes and the development of the "paper war" during the first worldwide conflict undoubtedly seem to have impressed the populations of the main European cities. On the contrary, air missions with loudspeakers – which was one of the most original forms of psychological warfare during the second half of the 20th century – mostly concerned Asia and had but a moderate impact on the West.


First trials

Tested on the ground as early as the "Phoney War" by special Wehrmacht units, the technique was to broadcast via loudspeakers messages meant to demoralize the opposing troops, and it was soon adopted by the Americans in 1944, the first to use it from a plane. Four PV-1 "Neptune" patrol-aircraft from the US Navy were adapted for this purpose and used in North Africa and the Pacific Ocean. However, these trials were quickly stopped due to numerous technical problems. For instance, to be able to broadcast audible messages, the "Neptunes" – baptised "Polly" for the occasion – had to fly at 30,000 ft. at a very low speed, thus constituting a choice target for the enemy's anti-aircraft defence. During the last months of the conflict, new experiments were undertaken with a "Privateer", a version of the B-24 Liberator bombardier, the advantage of this being that it could carry very powerful loudspeakers as well as better armaments for its self-defence. However, this experiment never seems to have gone beyond the prototype stage.

'The Voice of the United Nations' Loudspeaker aircraft

'The Voice of the United Nations' Loudspeaker aircraft

"The Voice"

Strangely enough, a US Navy Veteran (posted to Korea in 1950) is responsible for the revival of interest in loudspeaker aircraft on the part of American specialists in psychological warfare. This Navy man, who had participated in the first program initiated at the end of World War II, proposed the use of the same contrivance in the Korean theatre, particularly in areas difficult to reach or with no means of communication. Thus an official request was sent on Sept. 30, 1950 to USAF headquarters in Washington. Two complete outfits including 72 loudspeakers and four 500-watt amplifiers were rapidly assembled on a California US Navy base, then sent to Tachikawa (Japan), Far East Air Material Command Headquarters, on October 3. On the same day, three technicians left the United States with instructions to install this material on Douglas C-47 aircraft, which at that time seemed to be best adapted for the purpose. On October 5, a first aircraft, named "The Voice of the United Nations" – on whose nose was painted a big bear, standing on his hind legs in front of a gramophone – was ready for the first flying tests. Those tests took place without any problems on the Tachikawa base and around the Diechi Building, MacArthur's headquarters, in the suburbs of Tokyo. The aircraft was introduced to the press as soon as it reached the Taegue Base, on the morning of October 8, and proceeded with a first demonstration.

"The Voice"

On October 10, 1950, the loudspeaker plane – which was named The Voice, was engaged above the Wonsan, along the northeast coast of the Korean peninsula, in order to inform the population that an attack from the United Nations Forces was imminent. For this occasion, The Voice broadcast several messages read during 30 minutes at 10,000 ft. by a young Korean student, then for 45 minutes at 7,000 ft. An American journalist, present at the site, was able to witness the amazement of both military men and civilians totally surprised by this unexpected intrusion. However, it soon became obvious that the messages were not very audible, only scraps of them reaching the ground. Strangely enough, it seems that the officers of the psychological warfare did not worry much about the mediocre working of this system.

"The Voice"

Thus as soon as mid-November, a second C-47 loudspeaker named The Speaker was dispatched to Korea to operate side by side with The Voice **, until mid-March when the 8th Army Headquarters at last decided to interrupt these moderately efficient missions. Then precise tests took place at the 8th Army H.Q. using American troops as "targetlisteners". It was thus proved that above 1,500 ft. the noise of the engines drowned the messages. At a lower height, the message became audible only when the aircraft was flying in a straight vertical line above the audience. In May 1951, it became obvious that the system had to be seriously improved. The loudspeakers, originally placed in the cargo door recess, were loaded in a nacelle stuck under the fuselage, so as to improve the broadcasting of messages at higher altitudes. In addition, a radio liaison was established with troops on the ground to better coordinate psychological operations.

Back at the Korean theatre at the end of May, the Voice and the Speaker – now escorted by F-51 "Mustang" fighters – resumed their missions. Their essential task was to convince both those populations under communist control and the North Korean troops to join the United Nations Forces. The messages were by now delivered by female operators of South Korean origin, whose voices were supposed to be more persuasive and chiefly more audible than those of male speakers. These messages endlessly hammered the following themes:

- The communist cause is illegitimate
- Continuing to fight is synonymous with suffering and death
- It is safe to surrender
- The United Nations is fighting for peace and reconciliation

These slogans, frequently alternated with traditional Korean music, were mostly aimed at demoralizing the fighting men. Their impact was sometimes reinforced by the dropping of leaflets from the two loudspeaker aircraft, as was the case during the Slowdown operation in 1952. However, these missions were not limited to the spreading of propaganda messages. The operator, having read her text, would place a terrible alternative before the soldiers: an immediate surrender facilitated by the artillery of the United Nations Forces which would cover their flight by a curtain of smoke, or a more than probable death under the napalm bombing that would follow. This psychological arsenal seems to have been quite sufficient to cause the surrender of 1,800 Chinese soldiers in May 1951. However, it seems advisable to remain cautious about these results owing to the lack of objectives and scientifically usable data on the real effects of this unusual means of propaganda, which the Americans gave up in the spring of 1952.


Valetta, Auster and "Dakota" in Malaya

In the Fall of 1952, about four years after the establishment of the "state of emergency" in Malaya, the British, aware of the American experiences in Korea and eager to promote the psychological warfare with the Briggs Plan 1 and also eager to keep the promise of independence, decided to make their first trials of air propaganda by loudspeaker. In October 1952, General Templer, Commander-in-Chief, persuaded the military authorities to lend him the Speaker for experimental purposes. In fact, the aircraft did not stay more than two weeks in Malaya, just long enough to enable the "psychological warfare" operational research section of the British army to study the electrical and acoustic fittings in depth as well as the assembled equipment.

This survey was indispensable to the development of a loudspeaker aircraft, specifically British, conceived from the cell of a Vickers "Valetta", the military version of the "Viking", derived from the "Wellington", a twin-engine bomber. At the end of the 40's, the "Valetta" had been replaced by the "Dakota" (C-47), within the Royal Air Force Transport Command. Two modified "Valetta" were thus declared operational at the beginning of 1953. These trials turned out to be most disappointing because of the excessive noise caused by the engines that partly covered the messages broadcast by the loudspeakers. From 1953 until March 1954, three old "Dakotas" used by the RAF were transformed into loudspeaker planes to replace the "Valettas". In addition, in January and February 1954, two Austers (small and light monoplanes used for observation) were equipped with loudspeakers under their wings and on the left side of the fuselage, in order to operate over roads and on the edge of the jungle, zones which did not permit the use of the "Dakotas". All those aircraft were regrouped within a specific unit named "Voice Flight", and sent – according to circumstances – to bases and airports in order to sustain the ground troops engaged in anti-guerrilla fighting. The "Dakotas" as well as the Austers would fly at about 2,500 and 3,000 ft during one hour (40 min. for the Austers) and would draw circles of about 1 mile (0,5 mile for the Austers) above the assigned target. They would thus broadcast their messages together during three to four days; this psychologically disturbed the rebels by endlessly repeating the same slogans. The use of a tape-recorder instead of an operator was certainly an important factor in facilitating such operations. This may appear as an small detail of the Malayan war, but on the contrary shows the importance given by the British to the loudspeaker missions within the military strategy.

Thus as early as 1953, a very specific organization was created to increase the efficiency of these missions. The requests for loudspeaker operations were sent to the "Voice Area Committee" at the General Headquarters of the British Forces who transmitted them to the Joint Operation Centre in Kuala Lumpur. The necessity of the planned missions was checked and the geography and meteorology of the areas concerned was studied. Finally, the Air Control Centre took care of the last technical details. It is remarkable that less than four hours were necessary to make a decision and launch a propaganda mission by loudspeaker. After 1957, the British could reduce this delay to two or even one hour. A few figures may give an idea of the importance of loudspeaker missions during the "State of Emergency" in Malaya: Dakotas and Austers flew a total of 600 missions in 1954, with maximum efforts during August when 89 missions over more than 400 targets were flown in 13 days; this was a special operation meant to inform the population of the peace agreement signed in Indochina.

Malayan Emergency RAF "Voice" aircraft

A 2,000 watt loudspeaker Dakota of the Voice Flight Detachment of 52 Squadron, RAF

The year 1955 – when the Malayan communist rebels were offered a wide amnesty – undoubtedly marked the peak of the psychological air warfare: 900 flight hours were dedicated to the broadcasting of loudspeaker messages. Between 1956 and 1960, missions became more scattered and less regular, while punctual and tactical operations were intensified. In July 1957, during the "Duffle" operation, Voice Flight aircraft supported an air raid whose effect was reinforced by a following broadcast advising surrender.

During seven years, British pilots did a total of 4,500 outings, i.e. nearly 4,000 hours of loudspeaker propaganda. And, a unique fact, the traditional launchings of leaflets were about two times less numerous (2,500 outing for 500 million leaflets dropped). Considering such figures, the American experience in Korea appears more or less as anecdotal. It is to be noted though that the conditions in which the loudspeakers were engaged in Malaya did not have much to do with those in North Korea. For instance, the British were never exposed to efficient air power or anti-aircraft opposition. Dakotas and Austers were flying under optimal security conditions. Besides, the Malayan communist guerrillas - who only possessed light armament – desperately lacked practical support outside the country, and were confined in the jungle, which limited their operating field. Moreover, they mostly belonged to the Chinese minority, without a good popular basis. As a matter of fact, the British took psychological hold of the population and that was a determining element in the conflict. The British army had quickly understood the importance of psychological operations, particularly by the air force, which remained the only means of reaching isolated populations or underground forces.

Broadcasting from inside an RAF Dakota Voice aircraft in Malaya.

Broadcasting from inside an RAF Dakota Voice aircraft in Malaya.

The broadcast messages were meant to urge the rebels to surrender, while broadcasting evidence of turned fighting men shook their organization, spreading confusion and disorder in their minds. British reports and surveys confirm that this air campaign was a success; they state that during the year 1955 – while those missions were at their height – "70% of the turned men who had heard a propaganda message from loudspeakers admitted they had been strongly influenced; most said this had been the determining factor of their surrender."


The French experience in Indochina and Algeria

With no link to the American and British experiments, the French Air Force soon considered using loudspeaker aircraft to maintain order in their overseas territories. A first series of tests was conducted by the CEAM (Military Air Experiences Centre) in Mont-de-Marsan (South-West France) with an NC 701. Known as "Martinet 1" (Swift), this was the French version of the small light German twin-engine transporter Siebel Si204D-1, built in France by SNCAC during the "Occupation" period. It was equipped with a loudspeaker, two low-frequency amplifiers and a microphone. These experiments helped to determine the best flying conditions with such equipment. A second test campaign was made in June 1950, this time with an MD 315 "Flamant 1" (Flamingo). However, the results proved mediocre: the amplifiers were not powerful enough to cover the various noises on the ground (vehicles, engines, planes, etc.) while the sound was practically inaudible above 800 feet.

With such problems, General de Lattre – who knew about the use of C-47 loudspeakers by the Americans in Korea – did not hesitate to ask for the loan (by right of the American Help to Indochina) of three public address systems especially developed for aircraft propaganda. This material arrived in Saigon in early February, and was immediately installed and tested on a "Toucan", the French name of the German three-engine transporter JU52. Once again, the results were not very encouraging, so that they preferred installing the same equipment on a less noisy and, above all, more rapid aircraft, such as the Morane 500 or a helicopter. Unfortunately, due to lack of significant results and immediate solutions, the project was temporarily given up.

The C-47 Speaker in Indochina, used by the French army in December 1952

The C-47 "Speaker" in Indochina, used by the French army in December 1952

The creation – in the course of 1952 – of the "Quadripartite Liaison Committee for Information and Psychological Action", composed of American, British, French and Vietnamese specialists, certainly renewed the interest of the French military authorities for loudspeaker aircraft. The new organization – whose aim was to consolidate the Allied material and equipment - decided that the Korean program should be integrated into the French Indochina program because of their common enemy, communism, and a common border, that of China. It then became clear that the use of a performing loudspeaker aircraft over the Indochinese district would be conditioned by the loan of an American plane serving in Korea. Thus, in early November 1952, General Mac Clark (Chief Commander of the United Nations in the Far East) sent a message to General Salan in which he granted the loan of a C-47 to the French troops in Indochina for three weeks. This loan was placed under the care of the Military Assistance Advisory Group and submitted to certain rules: the aircraft was "to be used only in Indochina, would not transport American staff or crew; should bear French or Vietnamese signs". The loudspeaker aircraft which landed on December 3, 1952, in Hanoi was none other than The Speaker, coming from Malaya. During a certain time, it bore French and Vietnamese roundels, while the fuselage, the flanks and the wings were painted with Vietnamese slogans. Received by the GT 2/64 Anjou, this aircraft does not, however, appear in the Unit's diary. Using the lessons they had learned in Malaya, the crew and the psychological action officer worked in agreement with the propaganda officers of the ground forces in North Vietnam on the first mission which began on the morning of December 4. Returned to the Americans on December 20, 1952, The Speaker flew a total of 14 missions, (of which 10 were over North Vietnam), with 52 hours flying time altogether, and 31 hours of broadcasting. The messages were recorded, consisting essentially of short slogans, not more than three or four sentences; they were repeated 4 to 6 times and intended for civilian populations or Vietminh fighters:

"Compatriots! You have planted a tree! The time has come for you to pick the fruit. V.M. wants to take this fruit away from you."

"V.M. Soldiers! Today the Air Force, tomorrow, the tanks!"

"Working people, today the Air Force, tomorrow the guns, the machine-guns, the mortars and the mines. Leave your jobs and go back home!"

French staff fit out the C-47 'Speaker' with loudspeakers

French staff fit out the C-47 "Speaker" with loudspeakers

These first experiments also made it quite clear that the strict observance of a certain number of rules was indispensable. For instance, the amplifier was to work for periods of 20 minutes, with 10-minute pauses to let it cool down. The use of the tape recorder gave better results than someone speaking through a microphone, due to the vibrations and noise of the aircraft. For a good reception on the ground, the plane had to fly at less than 5,000 ft. and its speed was not to exceed 120 miles/hour. When the target was only the population in friendly areas or in uncontrolled areas (but with anti-aircraft equipment) the C-47 gave good results by flying circles within circles of about 2 miles diameter. In enemy areas, with anti-aircraft, it was recommended to fly in straight lines, changing the axis at each passage. And the messages were not to exceed thirty seconds. As a rule, the loudspeaker missions (which lasted between 4 to 6 hours) were coupled with the launching of leaflets frequently bearing the previously broadcast text. The results obtained in December 1952, were judged sufficiently satisfying to consider asking for the loan of identical aircraft and for longer periods of time; this was intended to allow the specialized propaganda services to actively join the military operations. However, it was not before July 1953 that the Psychological Warfare Office – created within the H.Q. EMFIT a few weeks before – at last received the American agreement for the new loan of The Speaker.

Pilot, Co-pilot and speaker of the C-47 in Indochina

Pilot, Co-pilot and speaker of the C-47 in Indochina

Coming from Japan, the aircraft arrived in Indochina on August 10 where it remained active until October 31, 1953. Back at the GT 2/64 Anjou, the Speaker recovered its Vietnamese dressing, with no French roundels and no slogans. The archives do not give any precise indication about the number of missions flown during this period.

The C-47 loudspeaker was engaged in Indochina, one last time, between March 12 and November 30, 1954. Used by the GT 2-62 Franche Comté, it was little employed because the crews were involved in more urgent missions. The situation was so crucial – the staff being totally exhausted – that trusting these missions to a civilian company was even considered for a short time. However, the Speaker was used to launch leaflets over Dien Bien Phû in order to shake the moral of the Vietminh units around the entrenched camp. The slowness and vulnerability of the aircraft did not permit the use of loudspeaker broadcasting at the same time. In the end, after the cease-fire and the Geneva Agreements forbidding any official propaganda in the Vietminh area, the Speaker was mainly used in Laos, painted with the Laotian colours, for so-called "consolidation" missions with friendly populations.

Contrary to the British experiments in Malaya, no official survey was ever made on the efficiency and results of these loudspeaker missions over Indochina. However, from a report dated September 1954, it seems that the North Laos and Upper Tonkin populations were particularly curious: "it can be said, without any doubt, that the flight of a loudspeaker aircraft over the village populations raised up a real interest. Even if some words or parts of sentences were lost to them, it is beyond any doubt that the sight of an aircraft bearing the Laotian colours, broadcasting songs and launching leaflets, had a considerable impact." This experience probably appeared sufficiently convincing for the Air Force Experiment Centre in Mont-de-Marsan to go on with their feasibility survey concerning a specifically French loudspeaker aircraft. One MD 315 was thus utilized as such in Algeria during the spring of 1956. Ten missions were achieved, with rather poor results. As a matter of fact, the aircraft had to fly between 700 and 1,300 ft to ensure good audibility, which made it particularly vulnerable. Also, the guttural sounds of the spoken Arab language were badly transmitted by the loudspeaker, which noticeably affected the subtlety of the consonants. The equipment seemed better adapted to the repeated broadcasting of advice or summons, but always at a low altitude. It is obvious that this experiment was not continued by the Air Force because, as the officers put it at the time: "with loudspeaker propaganda – which requires a special effort of good will from the listeners – there is a risk of suffering rebuffs. The messages will be either misunderstood or distorted".


Uncle Sam's Voice

The Vietnam War was probably the best example of the systematic use of air means in an intensive psychological warfare. This sort of war was initiated very early by the Americans who from 1960 on became conscious of the development and political reinforcement of the Viet-Cong communist guerrilla, particularly with the National Liberation Front (FLN). As soon as he was elected, President Kennedy chose to send counsellors and special American Forces to Laos as well as to Vietnam to "participate in secret operations across the border, and in counter-guerrilla programs" and to launch a "program to improve the training and capacity of the South Vietnam Air Force (SVNAF). For this, the USAF formed the 4400th Combat Crew Training Squadron (CCTS), called Jungle Jim, the only anti-rebellion war unit, based in Eglin, Florida. With over 350 volunteers, this squadron used many C-47s, some of which were first equipped like the Voice, then later equipped with loudspeakers directly built-in in the left side of the fuselage, near the cargo door, to improve the sound quality. On October 11, 1961, Kennedy at last authorized the departure for Bien Hôa, Vietnam, of a detachment of 4400th CCTS, baptized Farm Gate. The latter included 151 men whose task was to train South Vietnamese aviators, and to start the first psychological warfare loudspeaker operation in the Asian Southeast. Crews were trained during the first weeks. On December 20, 1961, a first mission took place, with the cooperation of South Vietnamese C-47s, which dropped rice sacks. Ground observers reported that the reactions of the population ranged from total indifference to real excitement. However, in February 1962, the loss of a loudspeaker aircraft brought the question of what importance should be given to psychological warfare via air means. From then on, Defence Secretary Robert S. McNamara refused to allow American crews to participate in such missions, for the reason that these too-risky missions should be made by the Vietnamese. The Farm Gate** loudspeaker aircraft were then all transferred to the South Vietnamese Air Force. However, 30 USAF pilots – named the Dirty Thirty – continued to serve as co-pilots on the SVNAF loudspeaker C-47s, named "Sing Along" until December 30.

C-47 of the 'Dirty Thirty'

C-47 of the "Dirty Thirty"

During the same time, starting in the Spring of 1962, the Air Force decided to boost its special forces by creating the Special Air Warfare Centre (SAWC) at Hurlburt Field where they tested new anti-guerrilla aircrafts, such as the Helio U-10 "Super Courrier". This light monoengine soon turned out to be well adapted to propaganda missions by loudspeaker due to its low speed (260 miles/hour) and its rather silent engine. The U-10 was used within the psychological warfare program "Chieu Hoi" initiated by the US in April 1963. Half a dozen of these aircrafts were assigned to these missions, regrouped within a Psychological Warfare Section since 1964; they were regularly dispatched upon request from the Army, and for determined periods to the north peninsula bases. Additionally, the American C-47's which had stopped flying after the February 1962 accident, were again engaged starting August 1965 to launch leaflets and broadcast loudspeaker messages, but exclusively over areas controlled by the American forces. After 1966, the American commitment in Vietnam increased dramatically. This escalation was due among other things to the priority given to ground efforts, and forced the Air Force officers to reconsider the organization of the Special Forces in the Far East. The 14th Air Commando Wing was thus created in March 1966. Based in Nha Trang, it regrouped the two units specialized in psychological operations (PSYOP) – the 5th and 9th Air Commando Squadrons (ACS), created respectively at the end of 1965 and in January 1967. In August 1968 these were renamed Special Operations Squadron (SOS) and counted about 50 aircraft. If both units used the C-47, the 5th SOS also used 16 Helio U-10's, among which were those from Farm Gate**. As for the 9th SOS, it used the most recent Cessna O-2B's "Super Skymaster" ("Push-Pull") equipped with three loudspeakers and a 1,000-watt amplifier, flying between 1,000 and 3,000 ft.

Helio U-10 used in Vietnam for PSYOP

Helio U-10 used in Vietnam for PSYOP

The 5th ACS, based in Bien Hôa, Bin Thuy and Nha Trang, operated in the south of the peninsula, within a large program, initiated as soon as early 1966 and named Quick Speak, while the 9th ACS took charge of the whole north part of the peninsula, with aircraft stationed in Nha Trang, Da Nang and Pleiku. An interesting fact is that at that time, the psychological warfare C-47s did only night missions, called "harassment" missions, escorted by an AC-47 equipped with three 7,62 mm mini-guns which the Vietcong particularly feared. The report from a "turned" man speaks of "strict orders never to shoot a psychological warfare aircraft, because most of the time a "gunship" would soon come to its rescue..." The O-2B's were mainly used in mountainous areas, but outside Laos where the relief did not permit flying under 10,000 ft. Each "PSYOP" mission was prepared with the cooperation of the psychological warfare staff of the US Army, who stated the themes and targets and gave the pre-recorded tapes to the Air Force units who broadcast them. The impact of these messages was also reinforced by the "Earlyword" process invented by Major Richard M. Rowland, which consisted of connecting the radio to the loudspeakers of the plane. These devices permitted the immediate broadcasting of messages or statements made on the ground by Viet-Cong deserters. In 1968, one year before the dissolution of the 5th SOS, the two psychological warfare air units had flown 16,500 hours of loudspeaker missions. From 1969 to February 1972, the 9th SOS alone ensured all the propaganda missions by loudspeaker within the USAF and intervened during the operations of the Hunt V, VI and VII Commandos. During the whole Vietnamese conflict, the American military authorities had widely supported these actions which they found to be economical from a budgetary point of view, and profitable in the field of information gathered from the allies. Official reports in 1967 noted 24,000 surrenders, thanks to the common efforts of both leaflets and loudspeaker propaganda. During the first months of 1969, the number of Viet-Cong deserters was evaluated at more than a hundred per day, after the "PSYOP" missions.

L-19 with loudspeakers

L-19 with loudspeakers

Helicopters also participated in the air operations of the psychological warfare for the first time. As early as 1967, the US Air Force used about twenty Bell UH-1F helicopters, renamed UH-1P (P for PSYOP) and equipped with a battery of loudspeakers installed in the door recess of the machines of the 20th Helicopter Squadron. This unit, whose task was to develop all processes for the anti-guerrilla fight, was not dissolved until 1972. The US Army could only dispose of a few models of the Bell UH-1D, equipped with loudspeakers and meant to support the ground troops. One of these was used by the 195th Armed Helicopter Company (AHC), which was based in Bien Hôa and operated near the Cambodian border, with the help of the 6th PSYOP Battalion, at the rate of two hours loudspeaker programs per day.

The South Vietnamese Air Force took possession of many American aircraft throughout the war, some of which were modified for psychological warfare and equipped with loudspeakers, such as the U-6A "Beaver" used by the 33rd Wing 3rd Squadron, and the Cessna U-17 A "Skywagon" used by the 41st Wing 110th Squadron.


Recent engagements

A left side view of an HH-46A Sea Knight helicopter equipped with the 1400-watt AEM-SYS-2 sound system and related loudspeaker, visible here on the helicopter's exterior left front

A left side view of an HH-46A Sea Knight helicopter equipped with the 1400-watt AEM-SYS-2 sound system and related loudspeaker, visible here on the helicopter's exterior left front

Since the end of the Vietnam War and the dissolution of the 14th SOW specialized units, the American armed forces have shown a strong preference for the use of helicopters in propaganda missions. These offer many advantages that largely compensate the noise of their rotors: vertical take-off, stationary flight and above all, the capability of flying at low altitude and relatively low speeds. During the eighties and nineties, the US Army as well as the US Air Force engaged UH-1N Bell loudspeakers wherever it was necessary. They participated in American politico-humanitarian operations in La Grenade, Somalia (1992-1993) and Haiti (September 1994). One UH-60 Sikorsky "Black Hawk" of the US Army Aviation, equipped with loudspeakers, was used in Bosnia in 1996 and 1997, under the Dayton Agreements, to communicate with civilian populations.

Fourteen-hundred-watt AEM-SYS-2 sound system loudspeaker on the outside of an HH-46A Sea Knight helicopter

Fourteen-hundred-watt AEM-SYS-2 sound system loudspeaker on the outside of an HH-46A Sea Knight helicopter

However, it was during the Gulf War that these machines became famous on the battlefield by obtaining the surrender of several thousands of Iraqi fighters. The most characteristic example remains the operation conducted over the Isle of Faylaka where a UH-1N, with a crew from the 9th PSYOP Battalion, alone succeeded in the surrender of an Iraqi general and his 1,405 men who laid down their arms without a drop of blood being shed! In spite of its spectacular aspect, this episode remains something exceptional and must not hide the new doctrinal orientations of the American Armed Forces as far as psychological warfare is concerned. In a context where the mastering of information has become a determining factor in present crises and conflicts, air loudspeaker missions appear old-fashioned and not adapted to new audio-visual technologies. This is why as early as the end of the sixties, the US Air Force, which had bought EC-121S Lockheed "Constellations" equipped with transmitters and TV and radio relays, acquired six models of the EC-130E "Commando Solo". Without any doubt, these machines are the most sophisticated means for air psychological operations. Developed by the 193rd Special Operations Wing of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard, they house a real radio/TV broadcasting studio, able to broadcast pre-recorded or direct propaganda programs, or to interrupt or jam the enemy programs. This was the case in Serbia, but with no significantly known results. "Commando Solos" participated in all recent crises, and were the only psychological weapons used during the Kosovo conflict in 1999. This ultra-sophisticated device has become indispensable to the point that, as was the case for loudspeakers aircrafts in the fifties, other countries are considering buying similar machines. France, particularly, has launched a survey program to transform its old Transall C-160 "Astarte" into psychological operations aircrafts.

There too, history is joining the future.


1. Lieutenant-General Sir Harold Briggs was, from April 1950 on, the first Director of Operations of the British Forces in Malaya. He immediately proposed a two-fold plan of action to protect the population, then to isolate it from the rebels.


Slowdown was the name of a vast psychological operation using both leaflets and loudspeaker broadcasting meant to disturb the North Korean fighters' morale. At each mission, they broadcast from The Voice, and from jeeps on the ground, a dozen excerpts from traditional songs interspersed by messages in Korean.


Between August 27 and September 2, 1954, the Speaker flew one of its last missions in Indochina. Entrusted to the Psychological Warfare Section of the Ground Forces in Laos, the C-47 was wearing the Laotian colours. On September 4, Lieutenant de Croisilles, responsible for the mission, thus reported to his chiefs: "On August 29, the aircraft rejoined Xieng-Khouang, departure base for the first projected mission in North Laos. On the afternoon of that day, the province Chaokhoueng recorded a statement on a tape-recorder. The first mission took place during the morning of August 30. The plane took off in the afternoon to fly in various directions of the Xieng-Khouang area. The first mission was done over Ban-Ban where the Chaokhoueng's record was broadcast, as well as general slogans. Duration of the broadcast: 13 minutes. In Muong-Kao: broadcast of a short tape: 6 minutes. In Tam-La, broadcast of a statement from Mr. Quinim, Vice-President of the National Assembly Laos, and previous Chaokhoueng of the Sam-Neua province – general themes: 13 minutes. In Na-Khang: broadcast of the Xieng-Khouang Chaokhoueng: 7 minutes. On our return route, we broadcast over Xien-Khouang; same mission as Ban-Ban. Thirty thousand leaflets were dropped during this mission. Then the weather forecast forbid any further action, and the plane rejoined Luang-Prabang on August 31. On September 1, recording of a statement from the Luang-Prabang Chaokhoueng's assistant. Then, during a trial mission over the air base, we noticed that the loudspeakers were out of order. A new test was done on the ground and the results were clear: only one of the four loudspeakers was active and would only emit vague noises. In spite of numerous attempts, the defect could not be repaired and the missions could not go on."


Quick Speak - Psychological Warfare Project – was entrusted to the 5th Air Commando Squadron in early 1966. This unit consisted of 16 U-10s and 4 C-47s, all of which were equipped with 3,000-watt loudspeakers and a launching device for leaflets. These aircraft were escorted by an AC-47 gunship named "Puff the Magic Dragon" (from a famous song at that time). This was equipped with mini-guns to answer the enemy fire. When the shooting stopped, the aircraft broadcast the following message: "We warned you!" This impressed the population very much, as well as the superstitious soldiers. During the first semester of 1966, the 5th ACS launched over 508 million leaflets. The Quick Speak reached its height in January 1967, during the Tet Feast, when over 103 million leaflets were launched and 380 hours of programs were broadcast by loudspeakers. This psychological air warfare provoked the surrender of nearly 34,000 Vietcong in 1967.


Paper of French Air Force.

The Malayan Emergency, 1948-1960, AP 3410, Royal Air Force, Declassified.

Vietnam War Air Force History, 21 Volumes, United States Air Force history.

DAUGHERTY, William E. et JANOWITZ, Morris, A Psychological Warfare Casebook, Baltimore, 1958, Johns Hopkins University Press.

DAVISON, Phillips W., "Air Force Psychological Warfare in Korea", Air University Quarterly Review, IV, Spring 1951.

PEASE, Stephen E., Psywar. Psychological Warfare in Korea, 1950-53, Harrisburg, 1992, Stackpole Books.



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