OWI Leaflets for Burma

SGM Herbert A. Friedman (Ret.) 

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The Flag of Burma

The Office of War Information produced a great number of leaflets for Burma in 1945. The codes for U.S. leaflets aimed at Burma usually start with a “CB” which is “Civilians Burma.” The full codes of some of the leaflets we know about are CBA, CBG, CBM, CBN, and CBP. Others may exist. In general the last letter "A" indicates an appeal, the letter "G" indicates a gift, the letter "M" indicates a morale leaflet, the letter "N" indicates a newspaper, and the letter "P" indicates a pictorial publication. There is an entire second series for Burma prepared by the Americans. These all start with an “X,” and seem to be more for the various minorities in that nation. Some of the known codes are X, XBA, XBEA, XBM, XBN, XBSHa, XEA, XEN, XKA, XKaM, XKaN, XKN, XM, XHhA, XShM, XShn AND XShNL. In the case of these leaflets we know that the “SH” represents the Shan people and the “Ka” represents the Kachin people. The Kachins were very loyal to the Americans and fought beside them in Burma. This is just a very short report written as a link to the larger OWI article so we will give a few examples but go into no great detail.

Great Britain also produced numerous leaflets for Burma. The British used an “S” code for “Southeast Asia” followed by a “B” For Burma. Some of the codes for the British leaflets are: SB and SBN.

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OWI leaflet CBA-1

This 1 March 1945 appeal leaflet is a Burma village warning. It was prepared at the request of Major General George E. Stratemeyer, Commanding Officer, Eastern Air Command, India-Burma Theater. It is designed to protect the Burmese from injury by American bombers. It depicts a Burmese family leaving their home village. Some of the text is:

WARNING

For your own safety, when you hear the Japanese are coming, leave your village at once. Do not return until three or four days after the Japanese have left.

A message from the pilot of the plane overhead:

I am flying over your land to kill the Japanese and destroy their military supplies. I have no other purpose here…I do not want to harm you. Therefore, for your own safety I urge you to leave your village at once

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OWI Leaflet CBA-31

This appeal leaflet depicts two American B-25 Mitchell medium bombers flying over the landscape of Burma. The Shan version of the leaflet was disseminated by fighters, depicted a P-47 Thunderbolt and was coded XBSha-30. The text on the front is:

DANGER! BOMBS FOR THE JAPANESE

These are American planes flying over your land. From this great height people down below look like small ants. That is why pilots cannot always tell friends from foe. To be safe, stay away from the Japanese.

The back has a longer propaganda message that says in part:

A Message from the Pilot of the Plane Flying Overhead

I am flying over your land to kill Japanese and to destroy their supplies. I have no other purpose here.

Before the Japanese attacked my country I lived peacefully at home. I had no desire for war. But Japan attacked the United States just as it attacked Burma. Now my comrades and I attack the Japanese wherever they are found. We shall not stop until the Japanese have been completely beaten…

Stay away from roads used by the Japanese. Stay away from the railroad. Stay away from Japanese military places. Do not needlessly endanger your lives...

Stay away from Japanese military places.

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OWI Leaflet CBA-41

R. E. Baldwin depicts this leaflet in his book: Last Hope – The Blood Chit Story. This appeal leaflet asks the Burmese people to help downed Allied pilots. The front shows a pilot walking away from his downed fighter and the text:

Allied pilots are friends of the Burmese
Please help them if they are in danger

The back shows the roundels (insignia) of the Allied aircraft. The text is:

American planes bear these markings
British planes bear these marking

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OWI leaflet CBA-43

This 27 April 1945 leaflet depicts two American B-24 “Liberator” bombers flying over Burma. The leaflets were designed to be dropped from B-24s. Some of the text on the back is:

DANGER! BOMBS FOR THE JAPANESE!

These are American planes flying over your land. From this great height, people down below look like small dots. That is why pilots cannot always tell friends from foe. To be safe, stay away from the Japanese!

Burmans!

I am flying over your land to kill Japanese and destroy their supplies. I have no other purpose here. Before the Japanese attacked my country I lived peacefully at home. I had no desire for war. But Japan attacked the United States just it attacked Burma. Now my comrades and I must attack the Japanese wherever they are found. We shall not stop until the Japanese have been completely defeated…

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OWI Leaflet CBA-44

Leaflet CBA-44 showed a B-25 Mitchell medium bomber flying low over a basha (jungle hut). It was drawn this way because it was believed that was how the Burmese would normally see the aircraft. The leaflet was prepared by the OWI on 5 May 1945. Text on the front is:

Danger! Bombs for the Japanese!

The text on the back is:

A message from the pilot of the plane overhead.

The days of the Japanese in Burma are numbered. Everywhere the Allies are smashing the invaders. My plane is helping to rout the Japanese. The bombs I drop and the machine gun bullets I fire are speeding the day of liberation. But from the air, I cannot tell friend from foe. I must attack everywhere there are Japanese, from the biggest towns to the smallest villages. Burmese, I do not want to hurt you. I urge you to stay off the roads. Keep away from the railway. If possible, hide in the jungle.

STAY AWAY FROM THE JAPANESE.

It is interesting to note that the previous leaflet, CBA-43, had a very similar message, but instead of a medium bomber, it depicted the four-engine Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bomber.

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OWI Leaflet CBA-45

This Burmese-language leaflet disseminated on 12 April 1945 encourages people to plant crops because the end of the Japanese occupation is imminent. The Americans would regularly drop seeds on the starving people of Asia, so I assume that along with this leaflet airdrop, packets of seeds were also dropped. The text says in part:

Friends of Burma:

PLANT FOR THE FUTURE

Allied victories in the Pacific and in Burma are making it impossible for the Japanese invaders to take you crops and ship it back to Japan. The great victories won by the Americans in the Philippines and Okinawa have provided bases for a screen of ships and planes between Southeast Asia and Japan. Few if any Japanese ships can sneak through this screen. Therefore it has become time fort the people of Burma to plant staple crops. In this way you will provide for your country’s need after the Japanese have been driven out. These crops will be of special value:

Cotton, Rice and Oil seeds.

The days of the Japanese in Burma are numbered so please – Plant for the future. Please tell your trusted neighbors about this. This message came from an American airplane.

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OWI Leaflet CBM-53

This morale leaflet dated 19 May 1945 depicts an American soldier striding from Europe to Asia with swarms of Allied aircraft overhead. Some of the text on the back is:

UNCONDITIONAL SURRENDER IS JAPAN’S ONLY CHOICE

Germany has surrendered unconditionally. The war is over in Europe. Therefore, Japan alone must face the full might of the United Nations.

On 8 May President Truman of America issued a statement making it clear that war will be pressed against Japan until she too surrenders unconditionally…

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Leaflet 27-J-1

A similar image to that above was used by General Douglas MacArthur’s Psychological Warfare Branch when he invaded the Philippine Islands. This leaflet is to the Japanese, but slightly different in that it depicts no aircraft, but does have a second American soldier approaching Japan from another direction. Some of the text on the back is:

The German military force has surrendered and the greatest war in history which turned Europe into a scene of carnage is now over.

As a result, the tremendous amount of Allied weapons and manpower concentrated in Europe will now be transferred to the Orient

The Japanese military leaders are the ones who are leading your beloved country to disaster. They relied greatly on Japan’s Axis partners and embarked upon this adventurous war of so-called “Greater East Asia.” The grave responsibility of this policy is on their shoulders.

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OWI Poster X-37

This 21 January 1945 “Village Poster” was printed in English, Burmese, Shan and Kachin. I depict the English version. This poster was produced at the request of Headquarters, Northern Combat Area Command. The text was written by the Counter-Intelligence Corps which is also responsible for distribution.

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OWI Leaflet XA-20

This four page leaflet bears messages in Kachin, Burmese, Japanese and English. It is addressed to the people of Myitkyina. The second page is in Kachin and English and tells the people to wait to be rescued by Allied forces and not put themselves at risk. The third page is in Burmese and the final page is in Japanese and English and asks that any refugees from Myitkyina be treated well and turned over to the proper authorities.

Myitkyina was the capital city of Kachin State in Burma. Japanese forces captured the town and nearby airbase in 1942. In August 1944, Myitkyina was recaptured by the Allied forces under General Joseph Stilwell after a prolonged siege and heavy fighting between Nationalist Chinese divisions, the Chindits, and Merrill's Marauders of the Northern Combat Area Command and the besieged elements of the 33rd Imperial Japanese Army under General Masaki Honda.

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Leaflet XA-52

This December 1944 all-text leaflet to the Shan and Kachin people of Burma is a bomb warning. It is the second in a series of localized bomb warnings for specific target areas. It warns the locals to go far from the Japanese because the area is about to be bombed. Some of the text is:

People of Hsenwi State

Do you remember the spring of 1942 when the Japanese planes came? They brought with them the horror of war. The planes bombed the airfields at Loiwing and Lashio. They shot at people along the trails and in the clearings.

Later – when the fighting drew near – people began to flee along the Burma Road. The Japanese planes came again. Day after day they dropped explosive bombs and shot their guns at people moving along the road. Hundreds of innocent people of the country were killed.

And the Japanese seized Hsenwi State

Today, strong Allied armies are defeating the Japanese and advancing south beyond Bhamo…Ahead of them fly the Allied bombing planes. Again Hsenwi State is being bombed. But the only aim of the Allied planes is to bomb the Japanese – to drive them away and bring the return of good times…Stay away from all places where there are Japanese. These places will be bombed. When the fighting come to your area, take your family and possessions and go into the hills….

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OWI Leaflet XA-55

This is another of the appeal leaflets that are written in the languages of the Burmese tribes. It was prepared in February 1945 as an air raid warning and bears the message in English, Burmese, Shan and Kachin. I show the English language text so the reader can get a better feel for the message.

Other XA leaflets in my file are XA-53 (People of the Hsenwi and Kutkai areas), XA-54 (bomb warning for Hsipaw State), XA-58 (Do not give information), XA-60 (Combat zone warning) and XA-61 (Wanted Traitors).

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OWI Leaflet XBA-15

This is an interesting image depicting a Japanese soldier stealing food from a Burmese farmer, and then slapping his face when he resists. The Japanese slap is an amazing form of punishment. Reading military reports it seems that the senior officers slapped young officers, the young officers slapped their sergeants, the sergeants slapped the privates and the privates slapped civilians. It appears they did not see it as an insult, just a form of chastisement. The point of the slap is to debase the person being slapped, because the person doing the slapping is in the position of a superior inflicting pain on an inferior. Of course, in most other cultures it was a major insult and a form of debasement. It appears that the Japanese did not see the slap as a strong insult as other cultures did. It was a lesser form of punishment or correction than using a stick or a fist.

The American propagandists used this “slap” image in several leaflets. In one to Thailand they depicted a Japanese soldier slapping a monk. In this leaflet to Burma the soldier slaps a farmer. The image was considered so powerful that it was used on several different leaflets printed in Burmese, Shan and Kachin, each with a different code number such as XKaA-15, XShA-15 and XBA-15.

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OWI Leaflet XBA-33

This August 1944 leaflet depicts an Allied soldier giving rice to a Burmese citizen.The text is:

The Allies are coming. They are your friends.

The back is all text and says in part:

WARNING TO BURMANS!

Burmans! The Japanese are in full flight down railroad. The Allies are coming in great strength. Soon they will arrive in your area. Do not be afraid. The Allies have only one enemy – the Japanese. The Allies will treat the Burmese as friends.

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OWI Leaflet XShA-59

This leaflet was prepared on 12 February 1945 in the Shan language and targeted the drivers of Bullock carts. The text on the front is:

SHANS! IF THE JAPANESE FORCE YOU TO HAUL THEIR SUPPLIES,

ABANDON YOUR BULLOCK CART AND RUN AWAY.

The text on the back says in part:

WARNING - BULLOCK CART DRIVERS!

You Shans who hail Japanese supplies in your bullock carts are helping our enemy – we warn you now: You and your carts may be bombed.

Why expose yourself? In North Burma, the Japanese forced cart owners to drive hundreds of mile away from home. Then the Japanese refused to pay what was promised. Sometimes they even killed the bullocks for food. Shans! Do not drive your carts on roads used by the Japanese. If the Japanese force you to haul their supplies, abandon your bullock cart and run away. Remember from the skies, Allied planes cannot tell Shans from Japanese.

Other similar warnings in my files from the XShA leaflets are Number 9 (Do not fight for the Japanese), 42 (This is a stern warning), and 57 (Stay away from roads and trails used by the Japanese).

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OWI Leaflet XShM-102

This morale leaflet was prepared for people of the Shan tribe. It depicts a Buddhist monk. The back side has the same image and message but is in Burmese and coded XBM-102. The leaflet was prepared 12 March 1945. It says in part:

Buddhists of Burma!

The Buddhist religion is destined to flourish for five thousand years. But, under the Japanese it became temporarily darkened, like the moon in eclipse.

Now, with their victories the Allies have helped to bring Buddhism back to the light. Thanks to the Allies strength, all of Northern Burma has been liberated from Japanese oppression. In the Buddhist monasteries and sacred places, Buddhism flourishes again…

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OWI Leaflet XShNL-41

This would appear to be an “Extra” newsletter for the Shan people to tell of a Japanese defeat and boost the confidence of the people in the ultimate victory of the Allies. The text says in part:

BRITISH CAPTURE MANDALAY

Japanese in desperate retreat

Mandalay has been liberated. The historic city of Mandalay has been liberated from the Japanese. On March 20, British troops entered Fort Dufferin, site of Government House, and the last point of Japanese resistance…

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OWI Newspaper XBN-14

This newspaper was printed in Burmese with the title of Golden Eagle and in the Shan language with the title Good Tidings. The Burmese version above is coded XBN-14 and the Shan version is coded XShN-14. Most of these newspapers are all text. I chose to depict this one because it does feature American soldiers marching. Some of the stories are:

A new force of American jungle fighters has appeared suddenly in the north Burma campaign; When the Japanese come to a place, serious epidemics of dysentery often break out; Slavery ended – Allies save people of North Burma from forced labor; German and Japan have been pounded by the Allies…

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OWI Newspaper XKaN-4

The OWI published a regular newspaper for the Kachin people under the name Shi Laika Ningnam (“The New Newspaper”). The newspaper is usually all-text, but I chose to show this one because it does feature Allied soldiers moving forward. Generally speaking, everything being equal, I will always attempt to show my readers an image rather than just plain text. This issue was prepared in February 1944. The major stories are:

Chinese soldiers, trained and equipped by the Americans are advancing against the Japanese; American naval forces attacked Truk Island on 17 February; America builds great ships to attack the Japanese; and Germany retreats in Russia.

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British Newspaper SBN-10

My intention was to only show OWI leaflets in this story. However, I have a stack of British leaflet newspapers and since we show two American publications, perhaps we should show what the British did. Their newspapers, like the American ones were usually all text. A few do depict maps of the current war situation so I have selected one of those. As I said earlier, I like illustrations. The newspaper Lay-Nat-Thah (“Spirit of the Air”) was produced by the forward base of the Political Warfare Division, Southeast Asia Command. The newspaper was printed from 1943 to the end of 1944. Some of the major stories in this 25 November 1944 issue are:

Mawlaik and Kalemyo freed from Japanese yoke; Pipeline carries oil from Calcutta, India to Burma; Japan’s defeat is Burma’s victory; German battleship Tirpitz sunk; and 24 Japanese ships sunk; Philippine liberation progresses; Massed Allied armies advance into Germany.

I should point out that I depict some other leaflets used in Burma, some in full color, in my articles on the Heavy Bomber [Link] and the Allied banknotes of WWII [Link].

This is just a very brief look at American leaflets to Burma. In the future I may go into more depth, but this is really just to give the readers a taste of the subject. Readers who want to discuss this subject in more depth are encouraged to write to the author at sgmbert@hotmail.com