Weapon of the Battlefield Evangelists
by Lt. Col. Dennis W. Bartow
Its not supposed to be this way, the young soldier muttered to himself for the umpteenth time. He1 promised us victory, he promised us glory, he promised us peace for a thousand years! Instead here I am hungry, jumpy and suffering from festering wounds. My officers are dead or anywhere but here. My comrades and I are exhausted and short of ammunition. We want to do the honorable thing but we dont want to die. Perhaps we will be of better use to our country after the war, as the enemy leaflets have told us. I dont know whats next Oh my god, I hear the enemy tanks approaching this means soon the dive bombers will attack, the artillery shells will slam into us, then the inevitable infantry assault with the tanks. But wait, I hear someone what is he saying?
"Attention, Attention, 1st Battalion, 84th Volks-Grenadier Division. A strong armored task force has taken Immenrath and Suggerdorf behind you. You are cut off. Further resistance in this bypassed position is suicidal, while to be captured means safety. Why die under artillery fire when you can live through the war in safety? You will be well treated according to the Geneva Convention "2
Tank with mounted loudspeaker
This scenario took place in countless locations during the American and British advance into Fortress Germany during World War II. What the young Wehrmacht soldier heard was a loudspeaker broadcast from a system mounted on an American Sherman tank, known as the "talking tank." The American Psychological Operator (PSYOPer) would give these German "Supermen" their final altar call "save your soul now before its too late" just as evangelists for Jesus have done for centuries. In fact, Jesus The Ultimate PSYOPer3 gave us the guiding principle for all tactical PSYOP messages when he said, "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden and over-burdened, and I will give you rest I will ease and relieve and refresh your souls."4
The purpose of this work is to provide historical evidence that the innovative use of tactical loudspeakers has been, and will continue to be, a viable and an essential "weapon" in the arsenal of U.S. military forces. Although loudspeaker teams have been employed for all peacekeeping operations in the past 50 years,including Somalia, Haiti and Bosnia/Kosovo, the focus of this work is their use on the battlefield against an enemy soldier. For brevity, it is taken for granted the reader understands the basic concepts of propaganda and Psychological Operations (PSYOP).
PSYOP is a force multiplier for which there is no substitute. Consequently, it is the obligation of the U.S. military leadership to ensure our PSYOP forces have the best-trained, best-equipped and most knowledgeable PSYOPers in the world. They must be field-savvy, highly motivated and aggressive soldiers, capable of integrating seamlessly into the supported units. In order to be used most effectively, the loudspeaker teams must be attached to the brigades and battalions for immediate response when a need arises for their services.
Psychological warfare (psywar) is not a science, it is an art "one cannot formulate irrefutable laws concerning operational concepts."5 Thus, tactical psywar, being the least understood and hardest to measure of all PSYOP, must be closely coordinated into military operations and let the results fall where they may. With proper training, the PSYOP experts should have a good understanding of the "universal truths of the behavior of the soldier on a battlefield". It is his responsibility to incorporate operations which will best support the units mission.6
While ignored during the intermediate war years, participants of World War II witnessed the first large-scale use of modern tactical psychological warfare. The products included leaflets distributed by the billions, 24-hour radio programming oriented towards the enemy combat soldier, and loudspeaker broadcasts made by the thousands to enemy soldiers, displaced civilians, and, prisoners of war.
Each form of media has advantages and disadvantages. Advantages of the loudspeaker include: 1) It allows for immediate exploitation of a target audience in a fluid battle zone; 2) It overcomes illiteracy; 3) Operators can be easily trained; and, 4) It is impossible for enemy leaders to prevent their soldiers from hearing the broadcasts.
The many diverse uses for loudspeakers in a combat environment during World War II and in subsequent wars include: 1) To eliminate pockets of enemy concentration; 2) To broadcast surrender appeals to locations where the enemy is hiding or resisting; 3) To deliver surrender ultimatums to towns holding up the advance; 4) To do consolidation work in by-passed areas including ensuring citizens cleared roads, to report presence of mines and booby-traps, to report enemy soldiers in civilian clothing who might be hiding, and to turn in weapons; 5) To solicit white flag actions prior to attack; 6) To exploit evidence of low morale within enemy ranks, to encourage defection, provide current news and provide surrender procedures; 7) To control civilians, displaced persons, and prisoners.7
Early loudspeaker systems, such as those used by the Allies at the Normandy landings (1944) were only capable of broadcasting 200-300 meters. Their success made obvious the need for more powerful speakers. By the end of the war, speakers were capable of broadcasting over two miles. In the Pacific Theater, loudspeakers were mounted on landing craft to facilitate the capture of Japanese soldiers on small islands.
During the Korean conflict (1950-1953), U.N. Forces utilized aircraft to make broadcasts to the Chinese and North Korean soldiers. Although most P/Ws claimed to have heard the broadcasts, they also said they had a hard time understanding the message.8 By the time of the Vietnam conflict in the mid-1960s, loudspeaker systems were powerful enough to provide clear messages, where 81% of the NVA prisoners claimed to have heard and understood airborne broadcasts.9
Ground speaker tactics were similar in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. In each war, there was a much greater demand for loudspeaker teams than were available to support operations. In World War II:
A primary lesson of the war, with regard to loudspeakers, was that they were not used enough. Why? Because the infantry could not get at them; they were back at Army Hq some place. By the time they got through checking all the way down the line to make a mission, the mission would be gone.10
In Korea, "there have been innumerable complaints at the lack of teams to support all the units which requested them."11 In Vietnam, the military demonstrated a previously unknown "zealousness"12 for conducting loudspeaker missions, of which there were 13,146 pre-recorded messages prepared in 1969 alone.13
In the Panama invasion, Operation Just Cause (1990), loudspeaker teams were credited with "diminishing casualties on both sides";14 the most famous and very significant mission being the blaring of heavy metal music in front of the Papal Nunciature which was reported as being conducted to convince Noriega and his cronies to turn themselves over to U.S. Forces. However, the fact is the annoying broadcasts were intended to mask the conversations from the snooping media during the very delicate negotiations being conducted between Noriega and U.S. representatives.
During the Gulf War in 1991, loudspeaker teams were deployed at the spearhead of most units invading Iraq, much the same as they had been used during the latter months of World War II. One excellent example of an impromptu loudspeaker mission during this short-lived war was conceived and executed by an innovative PSYOPer by the name of First Sergeant James Parker.15 He convinced an 82nd Airborne Division Brigade Commander to allow him to make a surrender appeal, using a helicopter mounted speaker system, to Iraqi soldiers defending an airfield. The broadcast resulted in the capture of 22 MIG-21s and all supporting troops at no loss of American lives. For sure, this brigade commander was prepared to make a much greater sacrifice of his soldiers had this speaker mission not proved so successful.
In light of the unparalleled achievements of combat loudspeakers, the U.S. Army has developed improved loudspeaker systems. These systems include technologically enhanced speakers to increase the clarity and distance of broadcasts, as well as improved systems specifically designed for the most common methods of loudspeaker employment.16 Other improvements include increased battery life for longer broadcasting time, and the use of state-of-the-art amplifiers, control modules, and, recorders/reproducers. Low-cost, scatterable loudspeakers are to be developed that may be launched by balloons, artillery, or other indirect fire weapons.
In 2001, the U.S. Army fielded three new loudspeaker systems customized for its application: 1) A Manpack Variant; 2) A Vehicle/Watercraft Variant; and, 3) An Aircraft Variant. These Variants unquestionably produce powerful broadcasts of unprecedented quality, broadcast longevity, and distance. Operators in the 2d Psychological Operations Group have provided initial positive feedback on the new systems.
With the employment of these improved "weapon systems", our "battlefield evangelists" are more capable than ever before of fulfilling their calling. However, one may still wonder,
Does it work? Once you have seen the thankful expression on the face of an infantryman who thought he was going to have to die to take a tough position, and, instead, the position surrenders to a broadcast, you have no doubts about the value of the combat loudspeaker appeal.17
- Daniel Lerner, Propaganda in War and Crisis, (New York: George W. Stewart, Publisher, Inc., 1952) 397-9. Even to the final days of the war, most German soldiers maintained an intense personal loyalty to Hitler, the "he" in this scenario.
- Daniel Lerner, SYKEWAR, Psychological Warfare Against Germany, D-Day to VE-Day (New York: George W. Stewart, Publisher, Inc., 1949), 218.
- It is popular belief that one PSYOP goal is to win the "hearts and minds of the people" as well as to project influence over the behavior of the target audience. Jesus influenced the behavior of more people than anyone who ever walked the earth. He also used one of the most effective forms of media face-to-face communications.
- God, Matthew 11:28, Amplified New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1958), 38.
- Ron D. McLaurin, Military Propaganda, Psychological Warfare and Operations. (New York: Praeger, 1982), 43.
- Wallace Carroll, Persuade or Perish (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1948), 157.
Americans proved apt at learning the tricks of front-line psychological warfare. Perhaps it was because this type of propaganda, unlike political propaganda, bore a superficial resemblance to advertising. You did your "market research" by studying intelligence reports on the morale of the enemy units facing you. Then you wrote your copy on the merchandise you had to sell humane treatment, good food, a chance to live and return after the war. If the advertisement brought results, you continued to run it. If it failed, you questioned prisoners until you found out what was wrong with it, and then you tried again. A German officer in Tunisia told his interrogators: "You Americans are great advertisers. You made your prison camps sound so attractive that our men could not resist."
- Lerner, 229.
- Herbert Avedon, PsyWar Operational Deficiencies Noted in Korea (Korea: Office, Chief Psychological Warfare Division, G-3, Headquarters, Eighth U.S. Army, 1953), 26.
- Ernest F. Bairdain and Edith M. Bairdain. Final Technical Report: Psychological Operations Studies Vietnam. (Washington, D.C.: Advance Research Projects Agency, 1971), 69.
- Lerner, 229.
- Avedon, 18.
- Robert W. Chandler, War of Ideas: The U.S. Propaganda Campaign in Vietnam. (Boulder: Westview Press, Inc., 1981), 85.
- Ibid, 27. These were messages prepared, not broadcasted. It is impossible to calculate the number of broadcasts.
- Robert W. Caspers, Joint Task Force South in Operations Just Cause, An Oral History Interview (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Army Center of Military History, 1990), 8.
- Parker received the Bronze Star with "V" Device for this mission. Sergeant Major Parker died in 1999 possibly as a result of exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam and unknown chemical agents in Iraq. He was a long-time personal friend of this author having served together in Special Forces and PSYOP units.
- Psychological Operations into the 21st Century(Fort Bragg: Office of the Commanding General, US Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, 1997), 38.
- Lerner, 251.
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