SGM Herbert A. Friedman (Ret.)
During WWII, there were a number of leaflets printed and dropped that simply depicted a bomb. It was meant to terrify the finder and show him that the leaflet could have easily been a bomb that would have destroyed him, his family, his home and perhaps even his city. At the same time, the warring nations would sometimes drop the image of a bomb over friendly civilian territories to catch the attention of the finders and motivate them to send money to buy war stamps or bonds or subsidize patriotic organizations. These leaflets must have caused great apprehension because the message was true. The leaflet could have been a bomb and the finder could be dead.
World War II to the Enemy
OWI Leaflet 2014
America threatened Japan with leaflet depictions of bombs on more than one occasion. Office of War Information leaflet 2014 is very impressive from a visual standpoint. It shows a highly detailed and polished vertical black bomb on a red background. There is no text on the front.
The back depicts a vertical silhouette of the bomb with black text on a white background. The purpose of the leaflet is to tell the Japanese that America did not want to kill civilians, just destroy Japan's military strength. The text is:
This leaflet could have been a bomb.
This is to warn you away from military installations, factories, railways, and harbors where our bombs will strike again and again until the Gumbatsu quits this hopeless war.
Stay away from military objectives!
The Gumbatsu is that mix of the military and big business that President Eisenhower would call the Military-Industrialist Complex years later.
This leaflet was designed in Honolulu by American artist Frances Blakemore. Her story is told in An American Artist in Tokyo, Michiyo Morioka, the Blakemore Foundation, Seattle, WA. Morioka describes the image in artistic terms and says:
Frances created a portrait of a menacing black bomb. She rendered its three dimensionality, cool tactile surface, and compact geometric shape through a precise hatching technique and fine lines. Set against a red background, the bombs perfect appearance emphasizes its inhuman effectiveness as a modern weapon of mass destruction.
The identical image of a bomb is found on the front of leaflet 2013. The message is different:
These bombings will continue until your militarist leaders give up. You know we have the strength to continue until your beautiful land is in ruins. The militarists are continuing the war because they are afraid of punishment. You are the ones who suffer. The whole nation suffers to satisfy a few selfish men. Force your leaders to bring an end to a hopeless war. That is the best prevention against bombing.
I seldom add all-text leaflets to these stories because I believe that the reader wants to see interesting images. A picture is truly worth a thousand words. But, this Allied leaflet dropped right after D-Day fits this theme so well that I thought I had to add it. It does not depict a bomb, but basically tells the Germans that they are a target for Allied bombing and cannot do a thing about it. American aircraft will bomb them on the way to Russia, land and reload and refuel, and then bomb them on the way back. I don't know if any of that is true, but it must have terrified the Germans.
2,100,000 of these leaflets were printed by the Psychological Warfare Division of the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Army and dropped on 21 June 1944. I will just quote some of the text that mentions the Allied ability to bomb at will:
The Air Encirclement is Complete
This leaflet was dropped by an American air fleet on its way to Russia. Soon the same air fleet, operating from Russia will attack again. So, the air encirclement has been completed. No factory, no railway, no port, no military stores, no troop concentrations in Hitlers fortress is now safe from our attack. Hitlers fortress has no roof
On 9 September 1939 Reich Marshall Goering declared:
Our great problem has always been to have to fight on two fronts. By the means of Hitlers brilliant pact, this danger has now been removed for all time.
And on 9 November 1939 Adolf Hitler declared in Munich:
Germany has never been afraid of a war on one front. Now we have only one front, and we shall triumph on that front.
The Australians also produced a bomb leaflet for the Japanese coded J.164. The leaflet was to be dropped wherever the Japanese were for as long as it took. The leaflet depicts a falling bomb and the text:
Man kills man
This is not what we prefer to do, but this is war. Behind this bomb is the full moral and material power of the United Nations. Unlimited numbers of bombs will rain on you until your leaders recognize the futility of the struggle they have condemned you to.
A German Anti-American, Anti-British Bomb leaflet
This propaganda leaflet was prepared by the Germans to be disseminated on France. It is similar to the U.S. bomb leaflet dropped on the Japanese. The leaflet is folded into two pages and the front and back depict a black bomb and the words:
R.A.F. = U.S.A.A.F.
During WWII this would have indicated that the Royal Air Force was the same as the United States Army Air Force. Late in the war the Americans bombed by day, the British by night. When opened, the leaflet had a long French-language text which says in part:
Here is the latest model of the incendiary bomb which the liberators are beginning to drop in the millions on your towns and villages.
It is the final product of their science. The perfection is such that you will be able to see children killed outright or burned alive and your homes destroyed in an instant.
Keep this reproduction. If you are lucky enough to escape this new attack which they promise you, you will have in front of you a picture of the weapon your friends used to liberate you
The text goes on to talk about the foolishness of waiting four years for Allied liberation when they have never liberated anyone. It recommends that the Frenchmen join with the Germans for a brighter and better France. It is interesting to see how the enemy took this very American image of a bomb and used it for his own purposes.
World War II to Neutral Nations
This Bomb weighs 900 Kilograms
This British propaganda leaflet to neutral Portugal was produced in the form of a postcard. The Portuguese were neutral and Lisbon was a hotbed of political intrigue and espionage. The British wanted to keep Portugal out of the war on the side of the Nazis so they flooded the country with propaganda cards like this showing the might of the British Empire and the sureness of a NAZI defeat. The card is coded "JP" and depicts a British Sergeant Pilot (notice his wings)standing beside a bomb. The text is:
This bomb weighs 900 Kilograms (2,000 pounds)
In 25 days, 16 June to 10 July 1941, the RAF dropped the equivalent of 4,000 bombs like this in attacks on military and industrial objectives in Germany.
The Korean War
This bomb leaflet purports to be a friendly warning for the North Korean workers to stay away from bombed railroads because some of the bombs are timed and could explode after a certain time and that could kill the civilian laborers. Of course, what it really does is keep the railways closed and unrepaired and stop troop movements if the workers followed the instructions in the leaflet. And, there is an excellent chance that the workers would be executed by the Communists if they refused to work.
At the top of the leaflet we see a falling bomb. Below it are four panels. In the first the railways are bombed, in the second workers with tool approach the site. In the third panel a worker touches and unexploded bomb, and in the final panel he is killed by an explosion. The text from top to bottom on the leaflet is:
Warning to workers repairing the railroad
Remember this friendly advice from the United Nations
Time bomb bringing death
If the United Nations planes bomb the railroad dont come to repair it
Buried time bombs can explode any time and kill you
Operation Desert Storm to the Enemy
After Saddam Hussein sent Iraqi troops to invade Kuwait, the Americans retaliated with over 100 leaflets. This one is very stark and simply shows the BLU-82 super bomb. The BLU-82, sometimes called The Daisy Cutter, is a 15,000-pound conventional bomb, delivered from an MC-130E Combat Talon. It is too heavy for the bomb racks of any bomber. The bomb is actually a thin-walled tank (1/4-inch steel plate) filled with a 12,600-pound explosive "slurry" mixture. The 38-inch fuse extender is the Daisy Cutter component of the BLU-82 system. It explodes the bomb three feet above the ground with the result that maximum destruction occurs at ground level without a crater being formed.
The Pentagon designed the bomb to create an instant helicopter landing zone in the jungles of Vietnam. Rumor has it that a British SAS commando detachment behind the lines in Iraq during Operation Desert Storm witnessed the blast and mushroom cloud from one such bomb and reported:
My God, the Yanks are using nukes.
This leaflet, along with BLU-82 bombs, was dropped on Iraqi positions on four occasions between 6 February and 16 February 1991. 2,000,000 leaflets were printed. Eleven such bombs were eventually dropped on Iraqi positions. It was the largest conventional bomb in existence at the time. At the same time these bombs were dropped the Coalition radio warned the Iraqis:
Brave Iraqi soldiers. Tonight some of you are going to die. Your families will miss you. May Allah rest your souls.
The leaflet text on the front is:
Flee and save your life, or remain and meet your death!
The text on the back is:
You have suffered heavy losses because we have used the most powerful and destructive conventional bomb of this war. It is more powerful than 20 Scud Missiles in respect of explosion capability. We warn you! We shall bomb your position again. Kuwait will be liberated from Saddam's aggression. Hurry and join your brothers from the south. We shall treat you with all our love and respect. Abandon this position. You will never be safe!
A second version of this leaflet was designed that was almost identical except that it had a red border on all four sides. 1,000,000 copies of this second leaflet were ordered. There is no data on dissemination although several rumors of the missions abound.
The USAF later used the BLU-82 bomb in Iraq and in Afghanistan as an anti-personnel weapon and for psychological effects.
Warning, we will Bomb this Position Soon
During the war the Allied Coalition dropped at least eight different versions of a bomb warning leaflet. Each of the first four depicted a different deadly scene on the back: A stealth fighter fires rockets at a tank and a fuel truck; two burning Iraqi tanks with 3 jet fighters overhead; a soldier runs from a burning tank, another soldier lies dead by a burning tank; and a stealth fighter firing rockets at Iraqi jets planes on the ground. There are two varieties of this warning leaflet. This is the LARGE bomb variety with the bomb measuring 4.25 inches in size. The Coalition called these leaflets the Strategic Air Series. They were usually dropped together as a mix. These leaflets were printed on bond paper for dropping by USAF C-130 Hercules and F-16 fighter aircraft. There are also four tissue-paper versions of the same leaflets that were apparently produced for clandestine use by the CIA.
The text on the front of all four of the leaflets over the bomb is:
We will bomb this position soon. Leave your equipment and save your life.
The text on the back of the four leaflets is:
It is too late!
Your equipment is subject to bombing.
Leave your equipment - or defend it and die. The choice is yours!
This position is about to be attacked. Get out quickly and save yourself
Warning! This is only the beginning.
The Coalition also prepared a SMALL bomb variety. It is very similar to the four leaflets above, but the bomb is just three inches in size. Again, there were four leaflets prepared. Unlike the first four bomb warning leaflets, there is no image on the back; just propaganda text. These were probably among the earliest leaflets dropped in the war. The message on the front of the small bomb leaflets is:
This is only the beginning.
This could have been a real bomb. We have no desire to harm innocent people, but Saddam is leading you to certain death and destruction.
We want you to know the truth! Saddam is the cause. Yes, the Multi-national forces have the ability to strike anywhere, and at any time.
The four messages on the back of the leaflets are:
The truth...eight years of war with Iran. Half a million needless deaths. The victories - gone. Now, a generation in peril. A world united against Saddam. No bargaining with him. Don't allow him to be the reason for your annihilation. Don't let Saddam lead you to destruction.
Saddam Hussein's policy of aggression towards neighboring countries is the sole reason for the bombing of Iraq and the targeting of military positions. The blame lies on Saddam Hussein.
Iraqi military forces: Saddam Hussein's policy of aggression is the only reason for the bombing of Iraq. The bombing is for military targets only. The Multi-national air forces have overwhelming air superiority. Resistance is useless. The outcome is inevitable. Save yourselves. Leave your weapons and immediately go to a safe area. Saddam is to blame!
The truth...Saddam has isolated you from the world. The Arab League, Muslim World League, and United Nations have all condemned Saddam's actions. Forces from 28 countries have assembled as a direct result of his actions and more countries join daily. Don't let Saddam lead you to
World War II to Friendly Civilians
These bomb leaflets raising money war bonds and patriotic organizations were very popular and I have seen many different types. I show just a few such leaflets here.
Aerial Salute to U.S.O.
This leaflet, dated 2 June 1941 was dropped over New York City and publicized the United Service Organization, dedicated to serving and raising the morale of military personnel. It both seeks to raise over 10 million dollars in funding and seeks volunteer to help run the 360 service clubs.
This Might have been a Bomb!
This leaflet was dropped over Montreal, Canada and was designed to raise money for the war effort. It was dropped in various colors and languages. In the United States the people bought war bonds, notice that in Canada they bought war savings certificates.
My friend Chuck Doig publishes The Weekly Pegasus, the e-newsletter of professional readings supporting the Air Force Military Information Support Operations Working Group, and often reprint my PSYOP articles. I am complimented by their interest and in July 2017 they printed this article and added some edited comments of William E. Daugherty from his essay on bomb warning leaflets contained in A Psychological Warfare Casebook:
1. Bomb warnings, where feasible are a powerfully effective means of adding to the desirable psychological effects of bombing, and in directing the behavior of people addressed into paths advantageous to the striking forces.
2. Warnings can be used to reinforce the fears of people and to induce in them panic and flight.
3. Warnings can be used to demonstrate materiel and military superiority.
4. Warnings can be used to reduce a target groups resentment against an attacking air force, and to increase the resentment which the people may hold toward their own political and military leaders.
5. Bomb warning messaging may also be used to discredit the enemys propaganda and to establish credibility for American MISO utterances.
Daugherty drew these conclusions from the results of the United States Strategic Bombing Surveys Morale Division (based on interviews with civilians, military, and government leaders, as well as other evidence) opinion gathering conducted at the end of World War II in Japan. Daugherty summarizes these conclusions quoting from the Morale Divisions findings:
the reaction most commonly experienced, especially in the warned cities, was that of fear. A number of individuals experienced a realization of the great strength of the US and the impotence of Japan. Some interpreted the warnings as evidence of humanitarian instincts on the part of the Americans...Considerable numbers of people moved away from their homes and accustomed places of work when they learned that their home communities were to be bombed. The movements of civilians [away from their homes], in many instances, seriously interfered with the movement of military and other supplies According to the word of Japanese leaders the bomb warning leaflets were among the most successful operations in the field of psychological warfare that were directed against Japanese civilians. There was nothing civil or military authorities could do to limit or counteract the effect of the leaflets; i.e., they were unable to reduce or to limit the impact of the fright the leaflet messages inspired There was little or nothing that could be done [on the part of the Japanese government] to counteract the growing belief of the people in the impotence of the Japanese military, or to reduce the trust that the people placed in the sincerity and truthfulness of American propaganda.
While Daughertys essay and conclusions focus on civilian target audiences, his conclusions equally apply to adversary military personnel as well. The results achieved by the dropping of bomb warning and surrender appeal leaflets on Iraqi forces during the First Gulf War amply support this assertion. According to COL (Ret.) Jack Summe, during this conflict, bomb warning messaging via Leaflets were used to support both combat and deception operations across the entire theater and had a significant impact in degrading enemy morale and his will to fight. Post-testing on Iraqi EPWs [Enemy Prisoners of War] found that 98 percent of the test group was exposed to leaflet products, 80 percent believed the PSYOP message, and 70 percent were influenced by the leaflets to defect, surrender, or otherwise cease resistance. Synchronizing the aerial bombardment of Iraqi forces with bomb warning messaging proved a most effective technique in amplifying the psychological effects of the bombing as well as establishing the truthfulness and credibility of our PSYOP messaging.
Sometimes you are surprised to find that an item you thought was new or unique in fact had a long history. In this case after I wrote the article on WWII war bond leaflets depicting aerial bombs I saw a 100-year old WWI leaflet with exactly the same general message. One side shows the German Krupp armament factories being bombed by Allied aircraft. The other side featured an old WWI bomb and the text:
Every bond you buy is a bomb for Krupp
Third Liberty Loan This card was dropped from a Caproni bombing airplane April 1918
Note: The Caproni was an Italian heavy bomber of World War I. It went through several upgrades as the war went on. Although Italian in design, they were also used by France and by the American Expeditionary Force. It had a crew of four in an open central nacelle (front gunner, two pilots and rear gunner-mechanic), and although each version had different capabilities, the Caproni 4 seems to have maxed the bomb load with 3,197 pounds of bombs.
This is a very short look at propaganda leaflets and other products that used the terrifying image of a bomb as a theme. Readers who wish to comment are encourage to write to the author at Sgmbert@hotmail.com.