SGM Herbert A. Friedman (Ret.)

Note: Photographs from this article were used by the Finnish newspaper Koillis-Savoin in an article about balloon propaganda of the Cold War era.

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The British WWII “M” Balloon Unit inflating balloons from hydrogen cylinders
Uninflated balloons are seen stacked on the roadside
Crown Copyright 1945

The problem with writing a story about propaganda balloons is that we simply have far too much material. I have already written 20,000 words on the balloons of Radio Free Europe. In addition, I have mentioned balloons in WWI, WWII, The Cold War in Germany, the two Koreas and the two Chinas, and even during Operation Desert Storm against Iraq. So, there is a plethora of balloon data. My aim in this article is to give the reader a little bit of why balloons are used, where there were used, and tell some interesting stories and show some interesting leaflets that they carried. I aim to do this in fewer than 10,000 words. Wish me luck.

A little bit of the “why” first. Generally when one nation leaflets another they do some from manned aircraft. That may soon change with the increased use of unmanned drones, but presently those airplanes fly carefully chosen routes over or near targets using the wind and gravity to deliver the leaflets. They are sitting ducks for anti-aircraft artillery and missiles. A ballooned is unmanned, can be sent from hundreds of miles away and timed precisely to drop leaflets at a given point (if the math and the wind are correct), and nobody’s life is in danger. There are also times when you are not actually at war but want to send messages to an enemy. That balloon allows you to do so anonymously. A balloon flies over and drops leaflet and when questioned the sender innocently says, “Who, me?”

One of the better research books on psychological warfare and operations is the 1959 Introduction to Wartime Leaflets by Carl Berger, Special Operations Research Office, The American University, Operating under Contract with The Department of the Army. Berger looked at all the phases of PSYOP, leaflets, loudspeakers, artillery shells, leaflet rockets and artillery, and gives the reader a good general view of their military use.

He says about balloons:

As a means of disseminating leaflets, the balloon has not seen large-scale wartime use since 1918. During the second World War only small quantities of “black” leaflets were regularly disseminated by special balloons by British secret agencies, operating first in England and later the Continent. In recent years, the balloon has been used to a much wider extent in “Cold War” operations sponsored by Western agencies trying to reach the people behind the “Iron Curtain.” For example, in a 2-year period between April 1954 and November 1956, they sent aloft 590,415 hydrogen-filled balloons, carrying 301,636,883 leaflets to the East Europeans.

One of the first uses of balloons for leafleting was in 1854 when the French used leaflet balloons against the Russians to encourage them to take no part in the Crimean War. In 1870 they were used when the French were under siege in Paris by the Prussians. They sent a balloon over the Prussian lines with 10,000 leaflets that said to the German armies that the French people were no longer burdened by emperors or kings and that if they were to show the same common sense and join the French, they would no longer need to kill one another aimlessly like wild beasts. About 66 unguided balloons were released from Paris to communicate with the outside world.

World War I

After the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by a Serbian nationalist on 28 June 1914, Europe quickly found itself at war. On one side were the Allies (The Triple Entente of the British Empire, France and the Russian Empire), and on the other was the Central Powers (Germany and Austria-Hungary). The U.S. would remain neutral until 1917 when President Wilson declared war on 6 April 1917. The war went on for four bitter years and ended with the signing of an armistice on 11 November 1918.

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A corporal of the Hampshire Regiment estimating destinations of leaflets by direction and velocity of wind, length of burning fuse and intervals between leaflets on the release. The second soldier of the Army Service Corps is cutting a slit in the base of the neck of the balloon to allow the gas to escape as it expands, near Bethune, 4th September 1918.

Crown Copyright 4 September 1918

Both sides used balloons to carry propaganda leaflets. British Brigadier General Sir George Cockerrill directed the War Office’s Directorate of Military Intelligence. Some of their propaganda products were reproductions of German prisoner of war letters and postcards showing the good treatment of prisoners in England, leaflets of an inflammatory and socialist nature, urging German troops to surrender and stop the war, and leaflets designed to give the German troops information that had been withheld from them by their own authorities.

In 1917 the British disseminated 594,000 reproductions of 88 prisoner of war letters and 7 postcards; 90,000 reproductions of 17 photo postcards; 85,000 large edition and 25,000 miniature edition and 20,000 photo sheets of prisoner of war photo books; 888,200 leaflets and surrender notices; and 250,000 copies of 50 weekly numbers of Le Courrier de l'Air. The total number of leaflets, prisoner of war letters, cartoons, etc., from the start of the war was 25,986,180. The total number of balloons supplied was 32,694.

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WWI British balloon distribution of propaganda leaflets.
Men of the Hampshire Regiment attaching leaflets to a balloon, near Bethune, France.
Crown Copyright 4 September 1918

Early in the war when the Germans threatened to put leaflet-dropping pilots before a firing squad, the British were forced to master the art of dropping the leaflets and newspapers from unmanned balloons. The leaflet balloon was invented by Mr. A. Fleming who stated that 48,000 were produced. He treated the paper in such a way that the balloons could stay afloat for three days when filled with hydrogen. The leaflets were printed on single or double sheets of various sizes, and were all punched with a 1/4-inch hole in one corner to enable them to be threaded upon the tags, and were left unfolded.

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The First Million

This is my favorite Allied balloon, A.P.74. The words “BY BALLOON - Durch Luftballon” are at the top. The leaflet depicts a long line of American “doughboys” stretching from the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor to France. This symbolism of this leaflet must have given the German soldier second thoughts about his ability to win the war as limitless hordes of fresh American soldiers entered the battlefield. The British disseminated the leaflet in August 1918. The British regularly updated these “Americans are coming” leaflets. For instance, A.P.84 produced in September 1918 gives the latest numbers. “American troops arriving in Europe: 117,212 in April, 224,345 in May, 276,372 in June.” Leaflet 1016 printed in October 1918 gives the total number of American troops in Europe; 100,000 in 1917, 1,750,000 in 1918, and a prospective 3,500,000 in 1919. Later in the same month leaflet 1025 raised the 1919 number to 5,000,000 American troops. It is no wonder that the German soldier became disheartened.

When the United States entered the war they used small balloons with a diameter of 3 1/2 feet and a carrying power of 1 1/2 pounds were used. A larger balloon that carried a tin container holding 10,000 leaflets that could remain aloft for from 600 to 800 miles was also employed. In the last three months of the war in 1918, the Americans dropped about three million leaflets over enemy lines. Most were disseminated by aircraft, some by balloon and a very few by shell.

The French also used balloons to disseminate propaganda leaflets. In the 1922 French-language book Through Enemy Lines - A three Years Offensive against German Morale, author Jean Jacques Waltz mentioned using propaganda floats during the time he was preparing propaganda for the French in WWI to be used against the Germans. He operated out of neutral Switzerland and says:

Every day parcels of clandestine literature crossed over into Mulhouse and St. Louis in commercial vehicles, in the pockets of workmen with border passes, in the milk bins which the Swiss sent to Mulhouse every day, in the freight trains, etc. Messages were sent down the Rhine in hermetically sealed floating tubes. Messages were sent attached to balloons from friendly houses near the border.

German Leaflet balloon -1916

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German balloon launch

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A German propaganda balloon fell in Switzerland during WWI with some copies of the Gazette des Ardennes still attached to it. The balloon and contents will be a featured special exhibition of the Museum of the Old Arsenal in Solothurn, Switzerland.

The Germans used paper balloons in large quantities. They consisted of flysheets in bad English announcing German successes on other fronts, pictures of the happy fate of prisoners of war in Germany, boasts of the results of the U-boat campaign and copies of the Continental Times. Propaganda specially destined for the French was more effective. They produced a Gazette des Ardennes, a weekly newspaper written in French often with an illustrated supplement. It was distributed both by airplane and by balloon.

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This leaflet is entitled "THINK IT OVER!" It is similar to WWII leaflets in that it uses a divide and conquer message to try and drive a wedge between the American troops and their British allies. Some of the text is:


You have had music to march to, flags waving to cheer you on and words of praise and you have left behind you all that is dear to you to come to France to fight the Germans. Until the English wanted you for cannon food you never knew that the Germans were your enemies, but no sooner did England realize that she couldn’t beat the Germans even with the help of nearly all the rest of the savage and civilized world that she persuaded you that the Germans were ‘Huns’ and your deadly foes…

Certain words just jump at you in this message. For instance, any good propagandist would have used the term "cannon fodder" instead of "cannon food." The Germans also conveniently forget to mention unrestricted submarine warfare, the sinking of the Lusitania, or the Zimmerman telegram as partial cause for the American war involvement.

This was just a short look at WWI. I have written over 40,000 words on WWI leaflets in the past so this is just a fraction of the data, but we have several more wars to cover.

World War II

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General Meadows, Walmer, Kent, the headquarters of the Royal Air Force's "M" Balloon Unit from June 1942. From here the unit launched hydrogen-filled free-floating balloons designed to disseminate clandestine propaganda across Northern Europe.
Photo by Lee Richards – 2018

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The “M” Balloon Unit prepares “Passierschein” safe conduct leaflets for Germans
Crown Copyright 1945

Balloons were not heavily used in WWII. All of the warring nations had modern air forces and could disseminate leaflets from fighters and bombers. However, there was some early use, especially by the British at a time when they did not want to send manned aircraft over Germany. Lee Richards wrote about the “M” balloon unit on his website, He said that of all the various methods used to distribute propaganda leaflets during World War II, the most inexpensive with the least risk, but most inaccurate was the free-floating balloon.

Malcolm Atkin says in Section D for Destruction, Pen and Sword Military, 2017, that section D was formed in April 1938 by Lawrence Grand, under orders from the Chief of the Secret Service. And in March 1939, five months before war was declared, he was given formal approval to begin action. Grand’s first question was, "Is anything banned?" to which came the blunt reply, "Nothing at all."

Regarding propaganda:

On 26 November 1938 expanded the remit on Section D into black propaganda. The propaganda work would fall into four areas:

1.  Broadcasting, using foreign radio stations.
2.  Making an index of foreign newspapers and their journalists to direct material to them.
3.  Leaflets, distributed by any and every means and written appropriately for the group that would be distributing them.
4.  Whispering campaigns of the type that were effective in the First World War.

There is a section in the book regarding the use of balloons.

Section D made several proposals for the large-scale burning of crops in enemy territory and by 25 August 1940 it had supplied over 103,000 incendiary bombs for aerial crop-burning to the Middle East, and over 396,000 to the RAF. In addition, a section to investigate the delivery of incendiaries and propaganda via free-flying balloons was established by Walter Wren in 1938. He was unaware at the time that the RAF was also experimenting with this as a means of distributing aerial propaganda, but in October 1938 they began joint experiments. In November the balloon section was taken over by Lieutenant Colonel James O’Hea, who had come out of the Army Reserve in 1938 to become Commanding Officer of an RAF barrage balloon squadron. From late September 1939 O’Hea began experiments from a station established at Savehay Farm, Denham, to deploy incendiary free-flying balloons on a large scale and was encouraged by the RAF’s successful use of balloons to distribute propaganda leaflets into Germany from France.

O'Hea's intention was more deadly, intended to start large-scale forest and crop fires across enemy territory. The original plan was to use hydrogen balloons, but this was switched to developing hot air balloons that were built up from paper panels. In March 1940 Auxiliary Air Force Balloon Officer and former chemist Thomas Bird joined Section D and carried out experiments using ammonia-hydrogen balloons.  Bird also liaised closely with experiments being conducted by the French and in April reported that in one test a 600 cubic foot balloon carrying a 3-pound load and fitted with a petrol burner had travelled 110 miles. Experiments continued after the demise of Section D and between 1942 and 1944 Britain released 53,000 incendiary balloons to fly over Germany, each carrying a 61b incendiary bomb. Others trailed a 270-foot-long strand of steel piano wire that was designed to catch against high voltage power lines and short-out electricity supplies.

Americans are aware that the Japanese sent fire ballons into its northwest during WWII. Most believed that was a brand-new idea. During the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the U.S.  used wires across Iraqi power lines to short them out. The above selection shows that Section D was doing both early in WWII.

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The British Propaganda Balloon through German Eyes

The above illustration is found in a classified 1942 24-page German Luftwaffe booklet that discusses British propaganda ammunition, self-supporting balloons and incendiaries. The leaflets have holes punched in them and are held by cord. A wick is lighted and when it reaches the cords the leaflets are released.

After the Munich crisis in September 1938, the Air Ministry began preparations in organizing a balloon unit to deliver propaganda to Germany in event of war. When the Allies declared war on Germany on 3 September 1939; the No. 1 “M” Balloon Unit was immediately formed. The Unit was under the operational control of Bomber Command. It was tasked with sending 500 balloons a week to the enemy.  

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Das sind Eure Führer!

The balloon mission occurred on 1 October 1939. Sixty balloons in total were released; two different types of leaflets contained in their load. One leaflet entitled Das sind Eure Führer! (EH.158) listed the amount of personal wealth hoarded by the Nazi leaders in foreign banks. The text is:

These Are Your Leaders!

The American Press publishes the following details:

Göring: the Führer's appointed successor, has tucked away abroad not less than 30,030,000 Reich marks.
Göbbels: has smuggled out to Buenos Aires, Luxemburg and Osaka (Japan) the trifle of 35, 960,000 Reich marks.
Ribbentrop: is the richest. He has managed to pile up in Holland and Switzerland 38,960,000 Reich marks.
Hess: Deputy Führer, has salted down in Sao Paolo and Basle 16,430,000 Reich marks.
Ley: has feathered his nest well out of his Kraft durch Freude racket with 7,564,000 Reich marks.
Himmler: the man whose job it is to see that no German takes more than 10 Marks abroad, has exported for himself 10,550,000 Reich marks.
Streicher: the “Guardian of German honor” also has his little nest egg abroad 3,000,000 Reich marks.

The New York Journal-American remarks:

It may bring some satisfaction to learn that so many Nazi Party chieftains have taken for granted that someday the time will come, when they would be unable to stay in Germany any longer.

The other leaflet, Achtung! (EH.280) was the transcript of a radio speech made by Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain on 3 September. In November, over a million leaflets were disseminated. Holland received its first balloon leaflets in October 1940, Belgium in November and France in December. During 1941 a record number of leaflets were disseminated by the Unit, approximately 4,449,000 being released in December, the most ever in one month.

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100,000 Marks Belohnung!

In September 1943, the unit began dropping “Black” propaganda. The new type of propaganda was highly secret and subversive material produced by a small section of the Political Warfare Executive (P.W.E.). Its target was German troops and civilians in Germany and France. This black leaflet, code Q.3, was printed in the style of a police wanted poster. It depicts Fritz Sauckel, Gauleiter & Reichstatthalter of Thuringia and Commissioner General in charge of the Arbeitseinsatz, (Civilian War Effort). He is accused of murdering 456 women and girls every night by compelling them to work so hard they fall victim to accidents in the work place. There are several versions of this leaflet pointing the finger at different officials. This is the second variety of the Sauckel leaflet and now adds the crimes of needless deaths of German workers that were refused permission for them to leave their cities during night-time air raids.

German Propaganda

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This German document prepared by one of their Propaganda Kompanies explains how leaflets are produced and disseminated. The document is titled Leaflet Production. It starts with information being gathered. Then the text is written and translated into the language of the target. Then the leaflet is designed and printed. Upon completion it is transported to the front. It is then loaded into the means of dissemination. The drawing shows artillery, balloons and aircraft used against the enemy.

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German leaflet balloons

We don’t have much data on balloon leafleting by other nations except to say that we know that both the Germans and the French used leaflets early in the war. The first photo above depicts German troops with their small balloons which the caption jokingly tells us could carry five Hitler Speeches. Hitler could speak for hours so they seem to be saying that the balloons could carry a decent load. The next two photos show German propaganda Balloon Troop Two and Three in the USSR preparing to send larger leaflet balloons against the Soviets.

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A Last Appeal to Reason by Adolf Hitler

The British magazine The War Weekly published a photograph of a French soldier holding a German balloon with the text:

The small balloon which this French soldier is holding up has attached to it a copy of Hitler’s last speech at the Reichstag. The Germans send their across the western front in this way – by balloons.

This leaflet is very famous and they were seen all over the British Isles. It was Hitler’s last attempt at avoiding a war with England and France. 300,000 copies were printed from the end of July to mid-August 1940.


Wanted for Incitement to Murder

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German soldiers prepare Churchill murder leaflets for launch

A series of instructional photographs explain the German technique for filling the leaflet cartons. After the timing of the launcher is calculated by meteorologists the flight time of balloons is set, and the men of the Propaganda Company place the aerial leaflets in the carton and seal the cardboard box and fill the balloon with hydrogen gas. One of the photos depicts the leaflets being placed into the cartons; a very well-known leaflet that shows Churchill with a “Tommy gun” and calls him a wanted criminal. This leaflet was printed in October 1940. Text on the back is:

This gangster, who you see in his element in the picture, incites you by his example to participate in a form of warfare in which women, children and ordinary citizens shall take leading parts.

This absolutely criminal warfare which is forbidden by the Hague Convention will be punished according to military law.

Save at least your families from the horrors of War!

The original photograph depicted Churchill with several soldiers and civilian inspecting the weapon during a tour of British costal defenses. The British edited out the people around Churchill to make him look statesmanlike and determined. The German did two versions of the same photograph, one above in English, and a second with the word “sniper,” in German for domestic propaganda.

Balloons that go Astray

There are numerous cases of leaflets going stray, being dropped from an aircraft miles-high in a strong wind they can sometimes end up one or two countries away from their target. The same goes for balloons. When the wind picks up or changes direction there is no telling where a balloon might come down.

A British Leaflet Ballooned to Germany ends up in Denmark

The balloon measures about 3.5 meter tall and 3 meters in diameter. Along with 4 canopies containing small sandbags and bundled leaflets.

The balloon fuse system as exhibited in the National Museum

The fast-burning fuse that runs down through the canopy and ignites the orange slow-burning fuse, connected to, and protected inside a coil spring.

The British Leaflet found with the balloon

Researcher Anders Thygesen sent me a note from Denmark telling me of a balloon in a local museum.

I am pretty sure that this is one of the balloons sent by the British "M" Balloon Unit. The balloon in question was most likely destined for Germany but ended up in Denmark. The box with the balloons was stored in our National Museum since the end of the war and just recently rediscovered. Two dates are mentioned in accompanying the papers, but not the exact day the balloon was discovered. The Museum listed the balloons as received 21 December 1942 and 22 December 1942. My guess would be that the balloon was sent around mid-December 1942. The date referenced in the leaflet refers to a speech held by Archbishop William Temple of Canterbury on 18 October 1942.

I wrote back to him and said:

I have checked all my files without any code number looking for “German Christians” or “Germany's Future.” I did find one that seems to fit the bill, coded G.61, titled “Dr. Temple’s sermon. According to “A Complete Index of Allied Airborne Leaflets and Magazines” the leaflet was first disseminated on 2 December 1942 and last disseminated on 5 February 1943. I have no information on the total number of leaflets printed or disseminated.

The leaflet says in part (edited for brevity):

To the German Christians


Text of a sermon by the head of the English state church, Dr. William Temple, held in London on 18 October 1942.

The German government wants to prevent the German people from finding out what the true attitude of the United Nations towards them is and has therefore only given this speech in a mutilated and distorted form.

The first requirement is attainment of justice. That includes at least two different forms of: observation. Those who are somehow responsible for proven crimes must be punished.

he penalty must be imposed through a judicial process that ensures all parties involved that the allegations have been proven and that the convicts are genuinely guilty. But justice must also come to victory between the Nations. Here we are faced with a particular difficulty: with every regulation that has the character of a punitive measure, over time people lose the feeling that it is about Justice.

It is not possible to treat a people from gender to gender as a morally responsible individual. A generation growing up under restrictions placed on their people on acts of previous generations will inevitably become bitter and have good reason to complain. Therefore, justice must be done not only according to the demands of the day but also with a view to the future.

The moral condemnation of German politics in the recent past must find expression in a form that makes the German people aware of how they stand before the moral judgment of the world…

The Airtight Metal Box that Held the Two Balloons

About a year after I heard from Anders Thygesen, I received an email from Finn Anderson who told me they found more balloons in Denmark:

Two WW2 British propaganda balloon have recently been found in the attic of the War Museum, a find that one of the museum directors is going to do an article about in “Vaabenhistorisk Tidsskrift” of which I am the editor. Anders Thygesen worked with the “Freedom Museum” the branch of the National Museum specialized in the second World War, and he helped the author of the article in finding out what kind of balloon it was. It lay in an airtight metal box, and when opened gave off a terrible smell, which may explain why no-one had checked the box for decades. But when they did, they found two such balloons, which strangely enough was handed in by the Germans to the museum in 1942. I have received a draft for the article and some photos, one of the metal box, and a German note, that was also in it. The balloons seem to be in pretty good shape, one can probably still fly. One odd thing; The fuse for spreading the leaflets seem to have a burning time of only 2½ hours, which seem to us a bit short for being blown across the North Sea.

The German note found in the box has the following message:

Telephone call 

From: Flak group Denmark, Private Baustian, 6:33 hours

Received by: Lieutenant v. Bethmann, Officer on duty

Report about the aerial situation of 17/18 September 1940

On the afternoon and evening of 17 September 1940 numerous balloons flew over Jütland. The Flak shot down: 7 balloons at Aalborg, 4 balloons at Frederikshaven, 1 balloon at Grove. Detailed reports about the securing of the balloons are pending. The weather was partly rainy and hazy, very windy. Heights of the attacks approx. 150 – 400 meters.

Special: Damaged telephone and electricity cables; specific damage reports were not received so far.

Signed lieutenant Thümen

[boxed blue cancel: commander of the German troops in Denmark. Recd. 18 Sep 1940].

A Drawing of a British Propaganda Balloon  


Finn Anderson searched Belgium for more balloons and found a description of a British propaganda balloon in the files of the Middelfart Museum (a town in the western part of Funen) – undated, but clearly drawn during WW2. He believes that this balloon is the very same type that was been found in the War Museum. 

Other Leaflets Gone Astray

I spoke to my good friend retired Lieutenant Colonel Dave Underhill, the PSYOP specialist who wrote the book on leaflet size and weight titled Low, Medium, and High-Altitude leaflet Dissemination Guide. He told me about balloons missing their targets.

On their very first mission, I got a call from Korea Detachment saying the people along the DMZ were up to their butt in leaflets. I asked for their winds aloft report in plotting the mission. Where the DMZ takes a rather sharp turn to the Southwest when traveling West, I calculated there would be 1,100,000 leaflets in South Korea. So much for “smart” navigators. They failed to consider the natural dispersion in still air effect. From 25,000 feet it is substantial. You need to add 6,250 feet on both sides of the flight path when flying into the wind. They were away from the DMZ and still dropping leaflets over a mile wide into the South Korean side.

A Public Service Balloon

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Japanese Fu Go balloon bomb

As far as we know, the Japanese never used propaganda balloons. However, there was one major operation where balloons were used as a weapon on war and perhaps we should mention that. The operation was named Fu Go (“Weapon”), and from November 1944 to April 1945, the Japanese Army sent from 6,000 to 9,000 balloons carrying incendiary bombs from the main island of Honshu that landed in the American far west. They hoped to cause giant forest fires and cause a panic among the American public.

The Army’s paper balloon was 32.8 feet in diameter. In addition to the four small incendiary bombs, there was a 33-pound high-explosive antipersonnel bomb with an instantaneous fuse. This bomb was designed to spread shrapnel up to 300 feet away. After the bombs were discovered, the United States government ordered a news blackout to stop any possibility of a public panic. At the same time, the Japanese broadcast fake propaganda stories telling their people how they had set America ablaze. Unfortunately, the news blackout did result in the death of one pregnant woman and five Sunday school children who approached a fallen balloon in Oregon having no idea of its explosive content.

The Oregon Encyclopedia says about this event:

The Mitchell Monument marks the spot near Bly, Oregon, where six people were killed by a Japanese balloon bomb during World War II. Designated by the National Register of Historic Places in 2003, this is the only place on the continental United States where Americans were killed by enemy action during World War II.

On 5 May 1945, Bly minister Archie Mitchell, his pregnant wife Elsie, and five children from Mitchell's Sunday school class were on a Saturday morning picnic. Thirteen miles northeast of Bly, or about sixty miles northeast of Klamath Falls, Mitchell parked the car, and Elsie and the children headed to Leonard Creek. Mitchell later remembered: “As I got out of the car to bring the lunch, the others were not far away and called to me they had found something that looked like a balloon. I heard of Japanese balloons, so I shouted a warning not to touch it. But just then there was a big explosion. I ran up there—and they were all dead.”

The explosion created a foot deep, 3-foot-wide hole. Bomb fragments were found 400 feet from the explosion site. Six people died: Elsie Mitchell, 26; Dick Patzke, 14; Jay Gifford, 13; Edward Engen, 13; Joan Patzke, 13; and Sherman Shoemaker, 11.

After the deaths, the military ended the news blackout and warned Americans to beware of any strange white balloons they might encounter. The U.S. government eventually gave $5,000 in compensation to Mitchell’s husband, and $3,000 each to the families of the five slain children.

The United States

Since I mentioned the Japanese fire balloon above, I think I can justify mentioning the surveillance balloons the U.S. used in the Civil War, even thought they were never used for leafleting. Some of this story was published by the American Battlefield Trust.

Thaddeus Sobieski Constantine Lowe was born August 20, 1832 and quickly became intrigued by large man-carrying balloons. In June of 1861, Lowe demonstrated for President Lincoln how useful his balloons could be when combined with new electric telegraph technology. On the 11th of that month, from a height of 500 feet above the National Mall in Washington D.C., Lowe transmitted to the President: “This point of observation commands an extent of country nearly 50 miles in diameter. The city with its girdle of encampments, presents a superb scene. I have pleasure in sending you this first dispatch ever telegraphed from an aerial station, and in acknowledging indebtedness for your encouragement for the opportunity of demonstrating the availability of the science of aeronautics in the military service of the country.” He eventually built a total of seven balloons and twelve generators for the war effort. While several attempts were made to destroy the Union balloons via long range artillery fire, none of Lowe’s balloons were ever damaged or destroyed in combat.

We have very little record of American use of balloons in WWII. However, we know that they were testing them very early in the war. The above leaflet, “A Message to You from Uncle Sam's First Propaganda Balloon” is from Colonel A. L. Fuller, Department of Military Aeronautics, Balloon Branch, War Department, Washington, D.C. You would expect it to be military in nature, or request the finder to tell the military where it was found, but instead it is on behalf of the Anti-Tuberculosis Committee, Akron [Ohio] Chapter, the American Red Cross Society. This is a strange use for a military balloon, but there is a comment at the bottom stating that in N.Y. State alone, 30,000 men were rejected from the military draft due to tuberculosis. One must remember that this was before the discovery and wide-spread use of antibiotics so diseases like tuberculosis could be fatal.

The Korean War

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The Reproduction Squadron of the Air Force’s ARC Wing
USAF Official Photograph

The ARC Propaganda Specialists were trained at Georgetown University’s Institute of languages and Linguistics, the Voice of America’s studios, and other sites in the U.S.A. and overseas. They prepared and printed propaganda leaflets using commercial presses that could produce millions of leaflets daily. 555 Air Force officers graduated the Psywar course.

The United States Air Force was very active with propaganda during the Korean War. With the assistance of the Central Intelligence Agency in 1951 they authorized an entire wing that was given the innocuous cover name of the Air Resupply and Communication Wing (ARC) to drop leaflets and troops behind enemy lines and take part in Psywar operations. As part of this project they looked into the possibility of using balloons for leaflet drops.

Colonel Michael E. Hass mentions the wing in Apollo’s Warriors, Air University Press, Maxwell AFB, Alabama, 1997:

A third mission, dubbed “Project High Reach” was later assigned to the service. It required the service of a balloon flying squadron! The squadron would employ balloons as an efficient and inexpensive delivery of material to potential enemy target areas.

The Air Force wanted the balloon squadron active by 1 January 1952. Air force research and development people flocked to Holloman Air Force Base where experimentation was already taking place on high-altitude meteorological research for the unclassified Project Moby Dick. The Moby Dick project also provided cover for the Propagandist’s classified Reach High research. Hass thought that the crash of the balloon in Roswell, New Mexico that was believed to be a UFO because of the speed of the Air Force to gather the pieces and provide a cover story might have been a Reach High secret balloon. Since that alleged UFO crash occurred in 1947 that seems unlikely. Hass continues:

The squadron would be able to launch 1,840 balloons monthly, carrying a total of 276 tons of cargo [propaganda leaflets]…To fill the balloons, 1,520,000 cubic feet of hydrogen gas would be required monthly.

The unit was activated on 1 November 1952 as the 130th ARC Squadron. It was the first and last Air Force balloon squadron. As far as we know, it never actually launched any propaganda balloons against an enemy. The unit was disbanded in May 1953.

The Free Europe Press

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Free Europe Press Balloon Launch from Somewhere in Germany
RFE/RL Collection, Hoover Institution, Stanford University

At the end of WWII the Soviet Union occupied and placed Communist governments in a number of formerly free nations. The United States was not going to war over this and certainly wanted no part in flying manned aircraft over these heavily defended countries, so instead it decided on a propaganda balloon campaign against those countries now within what Winston Churchill called “The Iron Curtain” in a 1946 speech.

The CIA had a stockpile of weather balloons left over from WWII and imagined a flotilla of balloons dropping millions of leaflets over Eastern Europe. A trial period took place in 1951. The prevailing east wind carried the balloons over the border of Germany where millions of leaflets dropped on Czechoslovakia. It could be done!

In the 1950s, the leaflets were prepared by the Free Europe Press (FEP) of the Committee for a Free Europe. Although the patriotic umbrella organization Crusade for Freedom appeared to be their banker, it never raised enough money to fund more than a small part of the budget. The Crusade for Freedom actually was used to quietly funnel money from the Central Intelligence Agency to the propaganda organizations.

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Balloon Leaflets

My personal Copy of the 168-page Free Europe Press 1958 handbook, Balloon Leaflets – Technical Aspects of the Balloon Leaflet Operations to Eastern Europe.

My “black” copy was military and used by the troops that did the balloon experiments.
This would appear to be a later commercial version of the same handbook.

The book has 168 pages and is highly illustrated. There were 10 chapters in all: Introduction; Organization; Messages and editorial organization; Conducting operations, Airborne operation; Launching site requirements; Logistics, Security measures and procedures; Physics of constant level constant volume balloons, and Legal aspects. I should mention that one soldier using this handbook for military applications told me that it was a CIA product. Of course, that was just his opinion.

Interior of the Inflation Hall – Freyung Station

The FEP leaflets were a major part of the post-WWII psychological warfare battle between East and West and sent 590,415 balloons that carried 301,636,883 leaflets, posters, books, and other printed matter from West Germany over the Iron Curtain to Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland from August 1951 to November 1956. The program gave rise to official diplomatic notes of protest from the Czechoslovakian, Hungarian and Polish governments to the government of the United States of America and the Federal Republic of Germany.

There were three types of messages: Key messages were major and basic leaflets on the central themes of the program; Periodicals, which were given the initial designation of “OP” for internal purposes were issued on a regular and continuing basis; and Supplementary leaflets for limited specific audiences.

Balloon Leaflets gives us some statistic for the month of August 1956. During that month 127,417 pounds of leaflets were flown. About 513 to 521 balloons were sent aloft each hour, or 2,000 to 2,100 pounds of leaflet per hour per site. The three sites launched the following: Holenhard (46,951 pounds), Freyung (58,368 pounds) and Fronau (22,098 pounds). Several types of “standard” polyethylene balloons were used: the P-130, S-260, the S-130; the J-100 neoprene; the P-20 pillow-type polyethylene; and the larger “Juniper” balloons, the SC-23 and the “load carrier” NS-35.

Although there were numerous operations, this article will only look at four major campaigns that took place against Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland. They are by name, PROSPERO and VETO to Czechoslovakia, FOCUS to Hungary and SPOTLIGHT to Poland. There were massive radio campaigns that went along with these leaflet operations but I will only discuss the paper products in this article. My plan is to show one leaflet used against each nation.

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The “Peace” Balloons
Courtesy of RFE/RL Collection, Hoover Institution, Stanford University

Two men prepare the “pillows” (a pillow-shaped balloon, of glistening, translucent polyethylene. They insert the message sheets; one man operates the hydrogen tanks; another nozzles in the gas. When the right amount of gas has been inserted, the balloon hangs almost stationary in the air. Finally, the opening at the corner of the balloon is heat-sealed with an electric gadget like a curling iron. The pillows take off gracefully and slowly, their silver sides catching the moonlight with “SVOBODA,” the Czech word for “FREEDOM,” lettered in red on both sides.

On 17 May 1949, the Committee for a Free Europe was formed with directors and officers like former OSS agent and future CIA Director Alan Dulles and former General of the Army and future U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower. In August 1951, the National Committee for a Free Europe created the Free Europe Press (FEP), which was used not only for the printing of various publications in the USA and Europe but also for the printing of leaflets and launching of balloons to carry them to the countries in Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary.

As the program progressed, a number of field sites for launching the balloons were chosen. This spread of sites allowed the launches to be made from different areas according to the prevailing wind. They are:

1. Fronau: 145 kilometers southeast of Munich.

2. Freyung: 210 kilometers east of Munich.

3. Hohenhard: 350 kilometers northeast of Munich.

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The “Dry Ice” balloon

There were three main types of balloons. A round rubber balloon was carried by the wind at 30,000 to 40,000 feet. The leaflets were inside when the balloon burst at a predetermined point the leaflets rained down. A small plastic pillow-shaped balloon carried the leaflets inside and expanded at it rose, then sprung a leak which allowed the balloon to gently settle to the earth, the leaflets still intact inside in a waterproof container. A large plastic balloon has the leaflets suspended below in a cardboard container. Under the container an envelope carried dry ice as ballast. When the dry ice was exhausted the leaflet container tipped over releasing the leaflets. These plastic balloons were first used during the FOCUS operation to Hungary when the distance was too far to use the rubber balloons.

Georgi Georgiev mentions the methods and uses of balloons in “Cold War atmosphere: Distorted information and facts in the case of Free Europe balloons,” published in Centaurus (Edited for brevity):

In 1950, when RFE transmitted its first signals, jamming had already become a refined method of information warfare. Thus, RFE entered a propaganda battlefield as just another jammed "enemy" foreign radio in the Soviet sphere, along with the BBC and the Voice of America. During those first few years of infrastructural development, from 1951 to 1956, Free Europe Press (FEP) supplemented the radio-based efforts to penetrate the Iron Curtain. FEP was a special branch of the Free Europe Committee responsible for printed materials. FEP is thought to have sent 350,000 balloons carrying over 300 million leaflets to Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary.

U.S. strategists envisioned surrogate radio stations and balloons as equally important tools in the psychological war. According to U.S. scientists who participated in a large-scale government-sponsored project called Project TROY, along with transnational radio, balloons became a main source of hope that the Iron Curtain could be penetrated. Hosted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, this project's aim was to propose efficient methods for sending information to the communist world. In the early months of 1951, Project TROY participants calculated that, for a single balloon operation to a target communist country, "a man would have better than an even chance of seeing at least one leaflet within 10 feet of his path while walking 1,000 feet.

Non-scientists executed scientifically calculated flight plans—which illustrates a typical situation during the early Cold War years when amateurs were put to work in collaboration with scientists. There was in fact no conflict between professional scientists and amateurs at that historical moment. "Payload packers" employed at Free Europe Press (FEP) had to weigh brochures accurately and place them on the balloon; the job of the "dry ice man" was to spray, weigh down, and pack dry ice that the team attached to the balloon to positively impact the timing of the flight. "Inflation station operators" inflated balloons, while "balloon carriers" launched the assembled air-bound propaganda tools. Humans working on the so-called "production line" performed tasks according to meteorological charts and mathematical calculations of flight timing. During the Cold War, professional descriptions of workflows performed by non-scientists were used to support rhetorical claims that the launching of leaflets across the Iron Curtain was a rational endeavor.

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Czechoslovakia - The Free Europe Press One Koruna Banknote Leaflet

PROSPERO was the code name for the Free Europe Press balloon program in the summer 1953, when in a time span of only four days, 6,500 balloons with over 12,000,000 Free Europe Press leaflets were launched into Czechoslovakia. The balloon launching started approximately at midnight on 13 July 1953 in the small Bavarian town of Tirschenreuth. The Prospero propaganda banknote is a parody of the Czechoslovak State Bank one Koruna of 1953. In June, 1953, the Czech Government launched a major currency reform. Western experts believed that many thousands of workers and farmers would have their life savings wiped out as a result of this massive currency change. This was considered an excellent opportunity for an anti-Communist campaign by the West. The text is:


It is the proof of the government’s helplessness and bankruptcy of the five-year plan, a remembrance of what you have had stolen by the government.

It is the appeal to fight, the appeal to direct the people’s power against the weakness of the regime and to resist as best you can. The peoples of other countries enslaved by the Soviet Union are writing and will join you in your struggle. The free world is with you. All power belongs to the people!

On the other side of the parody banknote the text is:


The regime is weakening and is afraid of you. The power is in the people and the people are against the regime. Unite and mobilize your forces! Down with the collective farms! Insist on the rights of the workers! Today demand concessions, tomorrow freedom!

At the same time, anti-Soviet messages were broadcast by the propaganda radio stations:

The Soviet Union is growing weaker. Only those will survive who detach themselves from the Communist boat in time…Everywhere in the Free World your friends are with you…All power to the people.

On Prospero’s final night lighted lanterns were attached to the balloons for dramatic effect.

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Sheet of four Gummed Labels for Focus - Hungary

FOCUS was the name of the balloon program for Hungary that started 1 October 1954 and continued until February 1955. It was timed to coincide with local November elections in Hungary and was meant to "focus" the attention of Hungarian citizens on attainable goals. Focus encouraged the Hungarian people to demand certain legitimate attainable demands by which they could baffle, thwart, and wrench concessions from the regime. FEP printed sheets of four gummed propaganda labels for Hungary. The text on these labels is:

Together against the tyranny!
Protect the people, not the authorities, think of the future!
The only way!
Instead of Soviet weapons manufacturing, everyday items!

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Animal Farm - Poland

This balloon program to Poland was called “Operation Spotlight,” which was designed as a means of bringing to the Polish people the revelations of corruption and immorality in the hierarchy of the Polish Communist regime.

George Orwell wrote Animal Farm in 1945. It is considered to be a satire of the Russian revolution, and is therefore full of symbolism. Generally, Orwell associates certain real characters with the characters of the book. For instance, the pig Napoleon is Orwell's chief villain in Animal Farm. Napoleon is really the central character on the farm. A metaphor for Stalin, Comrade Napoleon represents the human frailties of any revolution. Orwell believed that although socialism is good as an ideal, it can never be successfully adopted due to the uncontrollable sins of human nature.

The NTS vs the Soviet Union

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A Typical NTS Propaganda Leaflet

Suppress the power of the Communists! Have you found your place in the revolutionary struggle for freedom in Russia? Things which are worth living for are worth dying for. Arise, all you who are strong in spirit - your motherland awaits you.

The National Alliance of Russian Solidarists, known by its abbreviation “NTS” (Narodno Trudovyi Soyuz) or (“People’s Labor Union”), is a Russian anticommunist organization founded in 1930 by a group of young Russian anticommunist emigres in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. The youth which formed NTS decided to take an active role in fighting communism by studying the newly emerging Soviet culture, the psyche of a person living in the Soviet Union, and developing a political program based on the concept of solidarism.

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An NTS Possev Booklet from my library

This booklet explains the history of the NTS and mentions dissemination of propaganda:

Technical instructions and personal orders are communicated by use of radio and also by means of balloons. There are other methods employed to send NTS literature into Russia: mass dispatches by post; pamphlets packed with merchandize exported to the USSR; leaflets sealed in plastic and floated down rivers emptying into Russian waters…

The NTS actively sent out propaganda leaflets via air balloons and other means, including direct mail. Messages with anti-Stalinist slogans and the NTS's political program were printed on leaflets, handkerchiefs, fake rubles, false books, etc. The organization also set up a radio station called Radio Free Russia. Broadcasts were made from West Germany into the Soviet zone until the West German government was pressured by the Soviet government to shut the station down. The Possev publishing house was run by NTS as a means of publishing anti-Soviet literature and produced a regular newspaper.

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An NTS Propaganda 25 Ruble Banknote

The NTS faked banknotes of the German Democratic Republic and the Soviet Union. These were excellent copies on the front but the back carried long anti-Communist propaganda text. This leaflet says in part:

Soldier! Sergeant! Officer!

You have taken this paper into your hand. No, this is not money but the word of truth. Is it not more valuable than money? What value is the ruble in a country where the Kremlin bloodsuckers have turned it into the poorest place on earth? There are not another people in the West that lives any poorer than we do. What does it mean? The word of truth is valuable.

In 1956, the Soviets first reported the NTS balloons being sent across Europe packed with anti-Soviet literature from bases in East Germany. 806 balloons containing over 106,000 leaflets reached the Soviet Union in the first six months of 1956. The operation continued for many years and during 1961-1962 over 5000 balloons were sent into the USSR carrying over 1,000,000 leaflets.

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A Small NTS Ballooned Gummed Label

The Motherland calls! Serve the people, not the regime!

The balloons, over 20 meters in diameter, could lift a maximum payload of 90 kilograms. A special mechanism insured the successive release of printed material every 400-500 kilometers. By the use of these and smaller meteorological balloons, NTS flew 86,867,000 leaflets into the USSR between 1951 and 1956. In particular, innumerable leaflets, small brochures and special editions were printed during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and the Berlin Uprising of 1953.

A declassified 1950 Central Intelligence Agency document states that the CIA will provide sufficient funds and policy guidance to the NTS to enable it to increase its psychological warfare activities directed against the Soviet Union. It adds that the NTS is located primarily in Western Germany, where its 800 members are grouped into small cells. The NTS has branches in Belgium, France, Italy, Austria, England, Argentina and the United States. The CIA estimates that an initial sum of $3,000 a month will be sufficient to realize the immediate objectives of this project. The CIA has already given nominal financial assistance to NTS to help cover the expenses of publishing Possev. It arranged for the purchase of 1,000 copies weekly for 90 days; and these were then covertly distributed to the Soviet occupation forces in Germany

In 1953, a special instruction to the Soviet Secret Service signed by the Minister of State Security, called the NTS:

Enemy Number One of the Soviet Union

The Cold War

Launch of a MOBY DICK balloon at Holloman AFB, New Mexico
Project 119L was a Cold War reconnaissance operation, in which large balloons floated cameras over the Soviet Union.
By United States Air Force Public Affairs (Holloman Air Development Center)

Project Genetrix, also known as WS-119L, was a United States Air Force program designed to launch General Mills manufactured surveillance balloons over Communist China, Eastern Europe, and the Soviet Union to take aerial photographs and collect intelligence. The Genetrix balloons reached altitudes of 50,000–100,000 feet, well above that flown by contemporary fighter planes.

In 1955 several AN/DMQ-1 gondolas were launched from Lowry Air Force Base in Colorado as a test of the system. One was recovered years later in New Brunswick. Between 10 January and 6 February 1956, a total of 516 high-altitude vehicles were launched from the five different launch sites Gardermoen, Norway; Evanton, Scotland; Oberpfaffenhofen and Giebelstadt, West Germany; and Incirlik, Turkey. They were recovered and only 31 balloons provided usable photographs. Numerous balloons were shot down or blown off course, and the flights led to many diplomatic protests from the target countries. MiG fighter pilots learned that at sunrise the balloons had dipped into shooting range because the balloons floated to a lower altitude as in the colder night air, the lifting gas cooled and became denser, reducing lift, so the balloons descended to lower altitudes where the air was denser.

East Germany vs West Germany

Through the many years of the Cold War (from 1959 to 1972 in Germany), the German Federal Republic (FRG) and the German People’s Republic (DDR) sent propaganda leaflets to each other. Klaus Kirchner, the famous German propaganda specialist claimed that the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. originally paid for this war by their proxies, but later backed off and gave the Germans limited control while they carefully watched the proceedings. The DDR mostly used small paper rockets to carry their leaflets while the FRG used balloons for the most part. I wonder if the West thought firing a rocket into Communist Germany might be considered an act of war. Millions of leaflets were disseminated. The bickering between the two states ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 and the reunification of Germany in 1990. These propaganda operations were so common that we hardly find any mention of them in the newspapers. They happened daily so why even mention it?

An East German Propaganda “Bomb”

In the 1960s, propaganda bombs like the above filled with Communist propaganda leaflets were ballooned or shot from East Germany into West Germany. They are designed to explode in the air distributing the leaflets. The leaflet contained messages such as speeches by DDR state and party leader Walter Ulbricht who describes the government of the Federal Republic as “warmongers” and calls for overthrowing it while praising the openness and peaceful intentions of the DDR. Note that the propaganda “shell” is made from wood with no heavy metal parts that might cause severe injury to anyone on the receiving side of the border.

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East German Communist Leaflet

In place of the portrait of Chamberlain Urmiller that appears on the genuine currency, he has been replaced by West German politicians. At the left of the leaflet we find the bright red text:

Beware, Funny Money!

When the leaflet is turned over we find a long German-language attack on the value of the German currency and the honesty of West German politicians. The propaganda message says in part:

These are the facts: Instead of starting proper relations with the DDR, non-recognition and the claim of sole responsibility for German matters.

Instead of accepting the DDR's suggestion to reduce the arms budget by 50%, the offer has been rejected.

Instead of speaking out against the dirty US war in Vietnam, increased support of the American war crimes.

Instead of genuine friendship with Eastern Europe, demand for the return of the borders of 1937.

Instead of an all-encompassing nuclear weapons ban, an attempt to obtain the right to make decisions concerning the use of such weapons.

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Back to the Stone Age?

In this “black” leaflet by the DDR pretending to be from an environmental organization, A naked man and bare-breasted woman in gas mask are depicted. The fact that they are naked is simply a "gimmick" to catch the attention of the reader, since the message is entirely about pollution and the environment. Even that message is false, since the real agenda of the propagandists is for the Federal Republic to stop spending money on armaments, something that would make it very vulnerable to the Communist East Germans and their Russian occupiers. The title and text on the front of the leaflet are:

Back to the Stone Age?

Cities under a dust cover. Rivers and lakes contaminated, foodstuffs poisoned by DDT - an environmental catastrophe is approaching. What do you intend to do about it.

The back is a long 6-paragraph text. It says in part:

A miserly 0.01 billion marks are spent yearly on environmental research...

We can live safely and in peace if spending on military armament is cut and if the Federal Republic will work constructively on a European peace arrangement. This is the best environmental protection!

Edith Sheffer mentions the Cold War balloons in Burned Bridge: How East and West Germans Made the Iron Curtain:

Both sides launched flashy balloon actions against the other, floating over the border thousands of anti-communist or anti-capitalist propaganda with each mass release.

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The West German “Pieck” Propaganda Leaflet

This leaflet appears to be a postal envelope bearing a Christmas letter written by a young boy to the President of the German Democratic Republic. These leaflets were sent over the border into East Germany by balloon and rocket. It is addressed to:

Comrade President Wilhelm Pieck / Schonhausen Castle / near Berlin Pankow.

On the back we find the return address:

Young Pioneer Klaus Klein, Stalinallee 14

There is a long message inside cleverly written using words and phrases that contained double-entendre that often was far stronger in its condemnation of the communist system than plain talk. The letter text is in part:

December 1953

Dear Uncle Comrade President!

Daddy said you are Father Christmas because it is written in the newspaper that your allies will surely help us. So, you will take care of my list of presents, won't you? My wishes for Christmas are:

A pair of shoes made from genuine leather like you and the Party bosses wear.

Lots of self-adhesive transfers depicting Soviet soldiers.

A small saber that must be sharp because daddy cannot find any razor blades.

A real permit so mom can bring me a banana from the Western Sector without having to be fearful.

And you must not be angry when I cannot sing the National Anthem by heart; Instead, I will sing "The sweetest fruit is eaten by the bosses."

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Various Gummed Stickers sent East with the Message

We Want to Vote

May Day was a major Communist holiday so the West Germans liked to send propaganda eastward as the Communist paraded and celebrated. In 1954, pamphlets were ballooned eastward urging free elections, and on May Day 1957 as East German troops paraded and exhibited their Soviet Army equipment, anti-Communist leaflets fluttered down on the marchers from West German balloons.

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Know where!

This 1969 leaflet is made to look like an auto repair manual. It depicts a man working on his car engine. In fact, on the back it tells East German border guards and soldiers how to safely cross the border and desert. It explains that those working the border are in the best position because they know the territory. It explains that only those that don’t have the knowledge of the situation are in danger.

West Germany also regularly sent miniature books to the DDR. Some of the books were entitled Detention Camp, A Route March of Life, or The Secret Notes. German Army propaganda officers stated that many of these books were dispatched by their balloon units.

A 1968 United Press International report on the West German leaflets flown into the DDR stated:

The West German Army’s Psychological Warfare Branch has dispatched balloons carrying more than 5 million propaganda leaflets over Communist East Germany since July 1966.

German Balloon Alarm Clock used for Leaflet drops

This alarm clock developed in the 1960s on behalf of the German Armed Forces made it possible to use a Propaganda leaflet balloon to drop propaganda material accurately. The desired flight time was set with the hands and a plastic strip was pulled off the bottom of the alarm clock. With a ring you attached the alarm clock to the balloon. There was a hook on the back that held the packet of leaflets. Once the balloon was in the air and it was time to drop the leaflets, the hook would come loose, and the package would fall. The balloon and alarm clock then disappeared unnoticed into the sky. The so-called “leaflet drop clockwork” was manufactured by the Hauser Brothers company in Weigheim. The remainder was made available to the Watch Industry Museum.

The United States vs Cuba

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Anti-Cuban Invasion Propaganda Leaflets

Fidel Castro took over Cuba in January 1951 and installed a Communist regime. Cubans in the United States wanted to recover their country so with the help of the Central Intelligence Agency a plan was hatched to retake the island in April 1961. President Kennedy once said that on his inauguration day Eisenhower warned him to avoid the hair-brained CIA scheme, but he ignored the suggestion. The invasion took place, and although the U.S. claimed no nationals were involved, U.S. Navy personnel told me that they took Cuban troops right up to the beach in landing craft.

We do know that on 17 September 1962 a secret memorandum was sent to General Lansdale on the subject of a request for approval to start a propaganda balloon campaign against Cuba as part of Operation Mongoose.

Helium inflated balloons were to be flown from a foreign-flag ship located at least 10 miles from Cuba in international waters. To protect U.S. involvement the ship would be chartered by a Cuban exile that was well-known and acceptable to the Cuban anti-Castro exiles. The sponsor would be put in touch with a “cleared” balloon facility and purchase the balloons. The sponsor would contact the Cuban Revolutionary Council and work with them. Anti-Castro groups could submit propaganda and if found acceptable by the CIA it would be accepted and disseminated by balloon.

Twenty balloons an hour could be launched from a station into the easterly trade winds, each carrying four pounds of leaflets (2,000 to 4,000 leaflets). Four such stations could launch 80 balloons an hour. It was estimated that 2,000,000 to 4,000,000 leaflets a month could be delivered.

Another secret CIA document entitled Propaganda Action Plan in Support of Military Forces makes some of the following points:

On D-Day the propaganda campaign will enter its action stage. The two primary propaganda mechanisms will be radio and leaflet operations.

In Nicaragua, the operations base for Brigade 2506, 11 million brochures were ready to be dropped over Cuban territory…By the time of the invasion, a total of 12 million pounds of leaflets had been dropped on Cuba. The CIA estimates for the cost of propaganda operations was $500,000 in fiscal year 1960 and $1,200,000 in fiscal year 1961.

During the Bay of Pigs the liberation movement used fish symbols. Later, the CIA decided to use the term “worm” since Castro called all anti-revolutionaries “worms.” A whole propaganda campaign was planned around Gusano Libre (Free Worm) leaflets flown over Cuba by helium balloons from ships sailing close to the island. The CIA produced thousands of leaflets showing a small worm taking part in various sabotage acts. The balloon operation was to be called “Mongoose”

The United States vs Vietnam

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U.S. Propaganda Radios
Usually purchased Cheaply in Japan and preset to only hear Government broadcasts

There was no great need for the United States to use propaganda balloons during the Vietnam War. It controlled the air and could deliver leaflets by aircraft or artillery. However, we know of several secret operations to send radios that could broadcast propaganda sent clandestinely into North Vietnam by balloon. One was an exotic match of a wooden float-anchor and a double-balloon set up. It was very ingenious and required members of the U. S. Army 7th PSYOP Group on Okinawa and the United States Navy submarine force to work in tandem. Dave Underhill told me about this campaign which he called a “Rube Goldberg operation:”

In addition to dropping radios via two B-52s, we used tethered balloons launched via submarine. A chemically sensitive encased wire in a plastic tub was attached to a piece of wood acting as an anchor and float had a cord attached to a plastic tube. Above this was attached a radio enclosed in Styrofoam. This long cord was attached to two balloons. One balloon classified as a fast raiser, and a smaller one adequate to support the long balloon cord when the larger one rose and burst. A chemical was then introduced into the wire chamber. It was designed to burn through the wire in several hours. The quickest burn took four hours. The packet was dropped into the water and was floated to the shore-line by evening offshore winds. The wood held it to the shore-line until the chemical wire was eaten through thereby releasing the radio to the bottom end of the cord. The package rose into the air and continued westward until the fast riser balloon burst. The radio then settled to the ground with an inflated balloon to mark its location. The idea was that some farmer would be curious enough to investigate and find the radio. We never knew how well this operation worked because we never heard a peep out of the North Vietnamese.

I am not aware of any large-scale balloon operations during the Vietnam War but we do know that the U.S. Army was working on the problem of balloons for disseminating leaflets. This is mentioned in FM 33-5 Psychological Operations Techniques and Procedures - 20 October 1966. This field manual was issued during the early days of the war in Vietnam. It says in part:

Balloon Operations

Leaflet dissemination to long and short-range targets located in denied areas can be accomplished by using balloons. Detailed meteorological data is necessary to insure drop reliability of long-range targets. The amount of technical data needed depends upon the distance to the target area. Target ranges are as follows: short-range leaflet operations are under 402 km (250 miles); mid-range leaflet operations are between 402 and 966 km (250 and 600 miles); and long-range leaflet operations are from 966 to 2,415 km (600 to 1,500 miles).

For short-range targets a less comprehensive survey of meteorological data is adequate; however, as range to the target increases, more research is required to obtain exacting data concerning optimum leaflet load, optimum aerodynamic properties of leaflets, best release altitudes, and meteorological data for proposed routes to the target area.

A variety of standard balloons are available for use by U.S. forces. Selection should be based on meteorological and load considerations as calculated by trained leaflet personnel.

The following are characteristics of standard balloons:

The J100 Neoprene Meteorological Balloon

The J100 is a neoprene meteorological balloon capable of ranges up to 402 km (250 miles) with payloads up to 2.72 kg; the R-250 and R-400 are plastic (polyethylene) “pillow” balloons with a range up to 966 km (600 miles) depending on wind velocity. The payload of the R-250 is 3.63 kg and the R-400 is .91 kg.

The R-250 Plastic (Polyethylene) “Pillow” Balloon

Other balloons capable of mid-range delivery are the J-9, J-10, J-300, and R-250. The 170 F is designed for long-range delivery. It can transport 39.92 kg of leaflets up to 2,415 km (1,500 miles). This balloon has a ballast system which permits it to be airborne for a period up to 3 days.

My files from the 7th PSYOP Group on Okinawa mention the number of miniature propaganda radios disseminated by the United States over certain time periods. For instance, during Operation Field Goal from July 1972 to the cease-fire in January 1973, 12,921 radios were floated into North Vietnam on rafts, 3,192 radios were sent North by balloon, and 14,419 were dropped by B-52 bombers.

During Operation Prairie Lightning (formerly Field Goal), C-130 aircraft dropped 8,280 radios while B-52 bombers dropped 2,016. During the Ho Chi Minh Trail campaign against soldiers coming the trail from North Vietnam and civilians maintaining the trail in late 1972 and early 1973, 6,432 radios were dropped along the Trail by C-130 Hercules. During the Rice River Campaign (directed against North Vietnamese troops in Cambodia), C-130s dropped another 5,496 radios. And during Operation Fountain Pen (directed against North Vietnamese troops in Laos) in December 1972, 6032 radios were dropped by C-130s. 

Vietnamese Army Troops release balloons carrying leaflets and firecrackers.

The Vietnamese Army sometimes used balloons to spread their leaflets. The British Pathe News depicted such an operation in a 1969 newsreel titled South Vietnam: Balloons and Firecrackers used to distribute Leaflets to Villagers. A description of the short film says:

Two ordinary children's playthings, the balloon, and the firework, are being used together in South Vietnam for a much more serious reason than pleasure - they are incorporated in a novel system to scatter leaflets from the air over a wide range.

The film depicts a soldier releasing a group of about 20 colorful balloons with leaflets tied by the string directly underneath and beneath the leaflets a line of firecrackers. When the firecracker explodes, the leaflets are scattered far and wide. Vietnamese soldiers are seen making a Chieu Hoi broadcast and soon a VC is shown surrendering holding one of the leaflets. The Soldiers congratulate him and shake his hand. The film then shows the soldiers giving the local villagers rice and other needed foodstuffs. The food ends as the soldiers give the people patriotic magazines and pro-government pamphlets. Although there is no sound on the old film, I suspect these would be the Vietnamese POLWAR troops.

China vs Taiwan

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Ever since Mao Tse-tung and his Communist Army drove Chiang Kai-shek and his Nationalist Army from the land mass of China and onto the island of Taiwan off the Chinese coast, the Nationalists (Republic of China - ROC) and the Communists (People’s Republic of China - PRC) have faced off; threatening, cajoling and occasionally opening fire on each other. The small islands of Matsu and Quemoy (Kinmen), the sole territory under the jurisdiction of the Republic of China, have played a part in all the bluffing and psychological operations. In particular, starting about 1954 the two sides sent leaflets to each other on alternate days by balloon and artillery.

A Cluster of Toy Balloons launched to Mainland China
Perhaps before the 7th PSYOP Group taught more modern methods.

U.S. Army Lieutenant-Colonel Dave Underhill of the 7th PSYOP Group told me about a class that he taught:

I presented a three week course of instruction to the Chinese on Taiwan (as requested by the CIA) on leaflet development and dissemination (via balloon). I was able to show the defect in their program that allowed the balloons to end up in such places as Okinawa, India and Laos. (I was in Laos when one came down there). The group I taught was a collection of people involved in leaflet operations. It included printers, artists, weather forecasters, etc. They were a sharp group. The launch site had a pipeline from an oil processing plant that piped hydrogen to the sight. They then filled conventional tanks and arranged them in a bank where they were able to open all valves and fill huge balloons without stopping.

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The Chinese Prepare the 170F Balloon for Launch
88 Pounds of Leaflets to 30,000 Feet

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The Chinese Balloon is launched

The Chinese use a large weather balloon above. At one point they were offered a “super” balloon costing tens of thousands of dollars. It would carry the payload above the stratosphere where the earth would rotate under it. When the earth was in the right position the payload above the stratosphere would be triggered and drop into the prevailing winds for disbursing. It was too expensive and the Chinese never seriously considered it.

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Souvenir Booklet for the 7th PSYOP Group

The ROC propagandists have not been very talkative about their campaigns. About 1968, the Psychological Warfare Department of the Defense Ministry did admit that the government had sent 101,614,528 balloons to Mainland China since the start of their campaign. They said that the load carried by the balloons varied from 35 grams to 4,763 grams. They had two large balloons measuring 10 x 13-feet and 10 x 18-feet that can rise to 40,000 feet and carry leaflets as far as Tibet and Sinkiang. The total of leaflets and booklets sent to China was more than 213,000,000 pieces. The balloons also dropped food, toys, household goods, daily commodities and national flags. They also sent "passports" promising good treatment to those defectors who made it to Taiwan. Some of the Nationalist Chinese leaflets attacked Mao; others depicted the happy life of the Chinese on the island of Taiwan or pictured defectors from Communism living a rich and secure life.

Berger adds:

In the Formosa straits area in the post-1950s, the Chinese Nationalists also found the balloon a useful technique for disseminating anti-Communist propaganda over the China mainland. In addition, the Nationalists experimented with toy wooden boats, with the sails made of propaganda leaflets; when the tides were right, these tiny boats were supposed to drift toward the mainland and into the hands of Chinese fishermen.

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Communist Chinese Kite containing Leaflets for Quemoy

We probably should not mention kites in an article about balloons, but notice how the Chinese have taped leaflets on the outside of the kite.

This U.P.I. photograph dated 20 November 1965 depicts balloons bearing flags, ribbons, propaganda leaflets and other items sent from the island of Quemoy to mainland China.

The Falling Leaf, the Journal of the former Psywar Society, mentioned the Chinese propaganda campaign in several issues. In their summer 1975 edition, we find in part:

In the 1970s there was a considerable increase in the number of leaflets. In 1971 only 200 million leaflets were dropped on the Chinese mainland; the number increased to 1.6 billion copies by the end of October 1973. Mao’s anti-Confucius campaign was the main item in their propaganda leaflets; to defend their great cultural philosophies they poked at the promises of Mao Zedong. Other leaflets deal with the thousands of refugees coming to Hong Kong. There are miniature newspapers that tell of the western world. The balloons targeted at central China drift at a height of 40,000 feet and deliver their cargo of 15 kilograms within 12 hours. The balloons that travel deeper into China drift at a height of 60,000 feet and carry 100 kilograms of leaflets for 40 hours. Most of the leaflets disseminated lately have a camouflaged cover with a Communist title. The prosperity of Taiwan is shown in pictures; some of the booklets contain manuals on how to build a simple wireless set.

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Nationalist Display Depicting the Range of its Propaganda Balloons

As we stated above, there are millions, and more likely billions of leaflets sent from Quemoy and Matsu to mainland China. For this article I have selected two representative leaflets from the Nationalists and from the Communists.

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Mainland Compatriots

This leaflet depicts Mao standing near markers labeled with the years 1962-1970. He looks like a carnival barker or a magician about to pull a rabbit out of a hat. The back is all text. The message is:

Mainland Compatriots!

Mainland compatriots: in order to live well, to live a free and happy life, you have to unite as one and make this master trickster Mao Tse-tung go down, go down!

Keep this document to prove your stance against communism and to enjoy various privileges

Mao Tse-tung's propaganda machine has recently bragged of “achieving good harvests for nine consecutive years,” which mean there has been a good harvest each year since 1962, and they even said the output of foodstuffs had exceeded historic levels. But these propaganda lies are not only unable to deceive the people of the free world; they cannot deceive you as well. How could there be good harvests under the “Three Red Banners” movement of Mao's Communists and the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution, plus natural disasters? If there were good harvests, rations should have gone up. Why do you still have to “have mild meals at free time?” If there were good harvests, you should have eat well and be full! Why is there still famine everywhere? Why are the people whimpering and tormented by hunger and cold throughout the countryside? Mao Tse-tung can only play tricks and exaggerate, and the trick has failed. What a shameful thing it is!

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Note the Basketball Liner

This leaflet depicts two young Chinese men who defected to the Nationalists by swimming or floating to freedom. John Chamberlain tells the story in a Kings Syndicate article of 5 October 1966 entitled “A Cheaper Way to Beat Mao.”

In Red China they are taking Mao Tse-tung's admonition to practice swimming, but some of the Chinese have been swimming to get away from Mao.

Hsu Wei-hsun made it from Kwantung Province to Portuguese Macao, a distance of three miles, on his second try. The other, Lin Yung-an, got out from Fukien Province to the free island of Quemoy by clinging to an inflated inner tube of a basketball through four miles of buffeting currents.

Hsu first tried to use an inner tire as a float but was caught and released by the Chinese border guards. He was also approached by guards in a boat at sea on his second attempt, but since he was already inside Portuguese waters, they did not detain him. 25-year-old Lin says that he swam to get away from the economic crisis and the political terror caused by the "Cultural revolution."

The Communists Reply

A C-130 master crew chief assigned to the 374th Tactical Airlift Wing as told me:

While living in Taiwan in April, 1972, at Ching Chuan Kang Air Base (CCK), I noticed floating over the rice field bordering the housing compound what appeared to be a weather balloon. It came down on the empty playground directly in front of our house. The curious object touched the ground, bounced up and down once or twice before leaving a parcel. It was a propaganda balloon launched by Communist China. Leaflets were bundled inside the dropped package that broke partially open when the balloon hit the ground. There were four different two-sided color photographs of smiling Red Chinese citizens. Their message gave a favorable picture of life in China. I immediately called the Taiwanese military police, but before they arrived, I put a few aside, as I knew that this was a unique experience and I wanted to be able to say later that I was the recipient of Communist Chinese propaganda.

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The People’s Liberation Army…

A soldier who was stationed on Quemoy in 1971 found a number of Communist Chinese leaflets. These leaflets are weathered and may have been on the ground for hours, days and perhaps weeks. The first leaflet depicts two People’s Republic of China soldiers standing on the beach watching the ocean for Nationalist Chinese (or perhaps American) invaders. At their left is a quote from Mao:

The People's Liberation Army is always a fighting force.

The text at right, abbreviated a bit, says:

Heroic soldiers who guard the socialist motherland's frontiers keep Mao's dictum in mind at all times, ready to slay any enemy who dares to encroach.

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American Imperialists must get out of Taiwan

A second Communist Chinese leaflet depicts mainland China as a great red wall and Taiwan as a tiny island with a soldier speaking into a microphone in front of an overstuffed wealthy American. Some of the text is:

American Imperialists must get out of Taiwan

Taiwan is part of China's territory. The Chinese must liberate Taiwan

Operation Desert Storm

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Sunset – Product 1-W

This CENTCOM leaflet is believed to have been dropped by balloon. Two Arabs hold hands, with Iraqi and Saudi flags. The Americans hated the “hand-in-hand image. The Arabs loved it. The text is:

In peace we will always remain united

On 9 August 1990, Saddam Hussein sent seven divisions of Iraqi armor, mechanized infantry, helicopter forces, and the elite Republic Guard into Kuwait. On 20 August 1990, President Bush signed National Security Directive 45, the “U.S. Policy in Response to the Iraqi Invasion of Kuwait." The U.S. objectives included the “immediate, complete, and unconditional withdrawal of all Iraqi forces from Kuwait,” and the “restoration of Kuwait's legitimate government to replace the puppet regime installed by Iraq.”

We will not discuss the American response and the air and ground war. We will discuss balloons. The 4th PSYOP Group briefing on their actions during Desert Shield/Storm states that 29 million leaflets (29 tons) were dropped on the Kuwait Theater of Operations (KTO) by balloon, MC-130, F-16, F/A-18 and B-52. The United States had no real experience in balloons. Several allies did; the Germans, the Koreans and the Chinese. They all used propaganda balloons against their Communist neighbor.

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German S – Product 3-1

The title above was how the American PSYOP staff titled this leaflet. I assume it meant “German Surrender,” a surrender leaflet printed in Arabic and sent to the Iraqis by the German balloonists. Some of the text on this leaflet is:

Safe conduct card.

The bearer of this card is permitted to cross the borders to the Joint Forces, whether Arab or friendly, in particular American, British or French forces. He will receive good treatment so that he reaches the nearest Joint Forces headquarters in complete safety without being exposed to any danger. He will be treated according to the Geneva Convention.

Commander, Joint Forces and theater of operations

Very quietly and probably illegally, the Germans surreptitiously entered Saudi Arabia as part of the unlisted Coalition force. The German Federal Constitution frowned on such military aid outside of the Republic, and in fact it was expressly prohibited. Everything is of course classified, but the Germans apparently set up their launch pads in or near Al Quysumah Airfield. From there, southern Iraq was an easy target when the winds were blowing in the right direction.

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German Plaque for members of the 3rd Leaflet Company
850th Psychologische Verteidigung (Psychological Defense) Battalion
Now called: Truppe für Operative Kommunikation (Operational Communication Group)
Notice the balloon at right

The number of operations the Germans took part in and the number of leaflets distributed is still classified. It has been alleged that to meet the “spirit of the law,” the Germans only sent Army Reservists and no actual Regular Army personnel. They were identified as “technical representatives,” which gave them more cover.

Some reports state that German operation from Al Quysumah airfield in Saudi Arabia with the aid of the 6th U.S. Army PSYOP Battalion resulted in six missions between 30 December 1990 and 8 January 1991 totaling 540,000 leaflets. Various documents give general information on the themes for balloon carried leaflets. We believe that 54,000 leaflets used the theme of surrender, 90,000 stressed that Saddam was the blame for the war, and there were 186.000 dropped with themes described as “other.” A second source states that 330,000 leaflets were disseminated by balloon.

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Invitation Card – Product Saudi

According to a 5th Special Forces Group Reconnaissance Team on the ground, one Coalition 12-foot balloon with an aluminum deployment canister that came down near them was packed with leaflets 50-29-2 (Invitation card) and 60-01-2 (Tidal wave). Some of the text on this leaflet is:

Invitation card.

From HQ Joint Forces and Theater of Operations.

You are invited to join the Joint Forces and enjoy full Arab hospitality, security, safety, and medical care. You will return to your homes as soon as the situation Saddam has placed us in has ended. My brother Iraqi soldier...this invitation is open to you and your comrade soldiers. We hope you will accept this invitation as soon as you have an opportunity.

Commander, Joint Forces in the Theater of Operations

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Handbook of Leaflet Dispersion via Balloons
100 pages of balloon and leaflet calculations and instructions

This book explains the J-100 balloon Delivery system (range up to 250 miles, load 2-6 pounds), the J-9-10-300 Balloon Delivery system (range up to 400 miles, load 5-10 pounds), and the 170F Balloon Delivery System (Altitude 30,000 feet, load 88 pounds).

One of the American reference books in my library is Handbook of Leaflet Dispersion via Balloons, and Curiously, one PSYOP officer told me that at just about the time of the Iraqi invasion he had refigured all of the formulas in the Handbook. He said:

The formulas for leaflet calculations given in this book are wrong. A sergeant and I worked out the correct formulas just before the gulf war in 1991, to within around 99.991 percent accuracy of the tables in the book.

When I asked this expert why the Germans were called in when the United States apparently had the knowledge to do the balloon dissemination is said:

I guess it was a case of all the Allies pitching in. I think the Koreans could have done the job just as well or better. Korea and Taiwan were good at that, both sending millions of leaflets by balloon against their Communist adversaries.

The U.S. Special Forces learns about PSYOP

The cover of this lesson depicts leaflet aircraft, leaflet balloons, a loudspeaker tank, leaflets, a leaflet bomb, and artillery shell.
They have the whole field covered.

South Korea vs North Korea

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Korea – The Bad Old Days

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Anybody Can Come over to North Korea

Almost from the end of the Korean War in 1953, North and South Korea started sending leaflets by balloon to each other. Both sides retreated 2 kilometers from the border establishing a 4 kilometer demilitarized zone. In theory, military activity is strictly prohibited, but the DMZ is littered with propaganda leaflets from the North. This literally went on for decades until 2004 when a kind of propaganda truce was made between the two nations. In the bad old days I had friends in the U. S. Army 2nd Infantry Division based in South Korea and I would ask them to send me some of the enemy leaflets they picked up as they walked along the demilitarized zone. They did so and I still have a bag of those leaflets in my den. The above leaflet depicts a South Korean defector standing by a map and explaining how he got to the North. The text is:

Anybody Can Come Over to North Korea!

You can come across the DMZ during daylight.

Private Cho Dae-hum’s route when he crossed over. Summer is a good season for camouflage due to the thick forests. Electric trip wires can be overcome by rubber or leather gloves. Snowy, rainy or foggy days are good, even clear days are fine.

Private Cho Dae-hum describes how he got to North Korea – He was a former Private with the 12th Division, South Korean Army.

The photo shows the possessions he brought with him.

The main motivations of the South Korean balloon campaigns were a desire to support democratization and to incite a regime change in North Korea. The North Korean leaflets wanted a unified nation on their terms, and attacked the United States, Japan and the leaders of South Korea while praising their own political system and their supreme leader.


A fancy Emollient Soap Packaged with a Propaganda Leaflet

A Pair of Fancy women’s Panties with a Propaganda Leaflet

A gift for our Northern Compatriots

A camouflaged handbag of rice with propaganda leaflet

Rice for our cherished unification 

Skin Medicine 

A Toothbrush with Propaganda Leaflet

These balloon items were sent north in the late 1980s or early 1990s.  At that time leaflet operations were run by the Agency for National Planning (NSP), the new name for the Korean Central Intelligence Agency.  It is clear that the South Koreans sent many different types of gifts northward in their balloons and sea floats. Above, we depict some items that were individually packed and then placed inside a larger plastic bag. Other gifts within this particular load were some material that the women could make clothes from and a toothbrush. The South Korean Government stopped Leaflet operations when Noh Mu Yong was elected President, but defector groups continued sending propaganda and gifts north. At this time the U.S. was not actively engaged in PSYOP against North Korea. But, they were tracking the leaflets and themes. The U.S. was mostly working contingencies for war. 

Lieutenant Colonel Dave Underhill told me about teaching the South Koreans balloon techniques as a member of the 7th PSYOP Group.

I was asked to instruct a Korean Balloon Team on our techniques. The Koreans were using the J-100 weather balloon, old as the hills. It was designed to carry a six pound load. They said it only held one pound. It would burst if inflated further. I told them to boil the balloons for twenty minutes. The boiling makes the rubber like new. I advised them to use a wooden stick to gently stir the water and keep the balloon from expanding during the boiling. It was important that they use a wooden stick rather than a metal item which could easily damage the rubber during the stirring. If this was done correctly it reconstituted the rubber and returned the balloon to almost the day it was made.

I covered the floor with newspaper so that the rough sand would not burst the balloon. We were gathered in a ring around the balloon as we started up an air compressor to inflate it. As the balloon inflated, the Koreans moved their chairs further back, fearful of an explosion. As the balloon reached four or five feet in diameter, they started covering their ears. The balloon got bigger and bigger until it was about eight feet in diameter. You could read a newspaper through the thin skin of the balloon. Finally, with a gentle puff, it split from top to bottom and fell to the floor. The Koreans were impressed. They now knew that with the proper treatment and technique they could launch six pounds of leaflets against North Korea.

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Secretary Kim Jong-il

I could have selected a hundred leaflets with wonderful images to show, but because of the cult of personality in North Korea I thought this one would be interesting to the readers. This praises their great leader and says:

Secretary Kim Jong-il who takes care of all North and South Koreans with limitless generosity and understanding, is the light for all Koreans.

Text on the back is:

Let us all take pride in the supreme honor of serving Secretary Kim Jong-il, our nation’s leader, a great man who has mastered both the pen and the sword.

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I Didn’t Dream the South Koreans Lived this Well

Above, we depict a North Korean telling soldiers how to defect and go north. Here the South Koreans retaliate and show a North Korean soldier defector and tell how happy he is. The text is:

I Didn’t Dream the South Koreans Lived this Well

Receiving a gift wrist watch – A bul go ki pork dinner

The other side of the leaflet depicts a press conference and says:

Press Conference for Cho Byung Chan, Soldier who defected from North Korea.

I came to enjoy life with freedom and happiness!

Corporal Chan from the People’s 2nd Army, 15th Infantry, defected 27 July 1984 at 0700 hours through Dang San Li on Kang Wha Island.

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A group of North Korean Leaflets sent to the South

Korea – The Bad New Days

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The 20 September 2015 Balloon Launch

South Korean activist Park Sang-hak of the Fighters for Free North Korea launched 10 giant balloons from the South Korean border city of Paju. The balloons carried 200,000 anti-Kim Jong-un, anti-missile and anti-weapon leaflets. The balloons also carried 1,000 one dollar bills, and 500 flash drives and 500 DVDs with videos.

In 2015, after several years of relative peace, the paper war between the two Koreas heated up once again. For many years the two sides ballooned propaganda at each other across the demilitarized zone (DMZ) but that was so common that it was hardly noticed. There were always civilian anti-North Korean leaflets being ballooned from the south by religious and defector groups, but for the most part the government took no part in that leafleting. After a series of Communist provocations, the south finally reacted after the North Koreans exploded a mine in the demilitarized zone.

Konstantin Asmolov mentioned provocations and the ballooning in an article entitled: The Korean Peninsula: On balloons and leaflets. He said in part:

On 10 June 2010, 150,000 leaflets and 300 DVDs detailing the sinking of the Cheonan, [A South Korean gunboat] plus 200 portable radios and 2000 one-dollar bank notes were sent to the North.

After the barrage against the island of Yeonpyeongdo by North Korean artillery, special balloons delivered 400,000 leaflets to the North during the night of the 23 November from four points in the Gyeonggi and Gangwon Provinces.

Against the background of the Arab Spring, leaflets describing the revolutions and unrest in the Middle East were sent to North Korea, as well as food, medicine and radios. As one of the initiators of the action, Member of Parliament Son Yon Son, declared, these actions are intended to make North Koreans start thinking about changes.

A South Korean military spokesman said:

We keep a database of some 1,300 leaflets and about 470 materials for broadcast programs in preparation for wartime PSYOP against the North. U.S. personnel of the Combined Forces Command are participating in producing leaflets and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the CFC commander review and approve them.

On 17 January 2016, North Korea began leafleting South Korea. The Associated Press announced that North Korea has launched an estimated 1 million propaganda leaflets by balloon into South Korea amid increased tension between the rivals following the North’s recent nuclear test. The North’s military has been sending the balloons on a near-daily basis and the leaflets have reached Seoul in addition to areas close to the border.

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The Prostitute Park Geun-hye

This North leaflet dropped in mid-January 2016 depicted South Korean President Park Geun-hye as a prostitute entertaining U.S. President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. In the upper leaflet President Park says to Obama and Abe:

We raised government funding to support the US troops and opened up the rice markets. You'll treat us well, right? We'll follow the Tokyo time zone just like how my father did and label Dokdo as Takeshima so you won't vote against us, right?

The text ends with:

Punish the flunkyist prostitute Park Geun-hye in the name of the people!

Note: The rice markets have to do with the rice market deal in the Free Trade Agreement. The North Korean time zone is different than that of South Korea. Regarding the leaflet comment, Syngman Rhee established a Korean standard time which was different from Japan. Park Chung Hee changed this during his regime so it was the same as Japan. The term “flunkyism” [sadaejuui] has little meaning in the United States but to the Koreas it can mean “Loving and admiring the great and powerful.” So, Park is prostituting herself to the powerful leaders of other nations. Dokdo is a disputed Island claimed by Korea and called Takeshima by Japan.

The North Koreans seemed to enjoy attacking the South Korean President. Here is a particularly nasty image.

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Insane Ramblings…

Insane Ramblings of a Half-Corpse: “DMZ Peace Park,” “Family Reunions,” “Progress,” “Welfare,” “Economic Equality,” “August 15 Speech.”

We will bring horrifying consequences to the fanatics who call for the invasion of the North.

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A North Korean Slogan Slip – The Second Message Below

Many of the leaflets are short text messages like the Communists used during the Vietnam War, sometimes called a “slogan slip.” Some of the not very subtle propaganda messages are:

Park Geun-hye and her clan are dogs that have gone crazy. We should beat them down for using psychological warfare and worsening inter-Korean relations!

Psychological warfare against the North is lighting the fuse of war. Stop the loudspeaker broadcasts immediately!

Stop with any further hostilities or stupid actions that can threaten your security!

The United States should surrender its anachronistic hostile policy against the North immediately!

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North Korean Balloons to Seoul

On 30 May 2016, South Korean Soldiers and police were sent to retrieve balloons carrying North Korean propaganda leaflets to Seoul. Two large white balloons carrying a box were hung across electrical wires near Yeokchon Elementary School in Eunpyeong-gu. The box contained 59 CDs, 154 leaflets and 77 envelopes containing dirt and excrement.

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$50,000,000 Reward

On 6 August 2016, The Association of North Korean Defector Organizations ballooned 100,000 leaflets across the border, putting the North Korean leader on a wanted list and offering a 50-million dollar reward for his arrest. The leaflets called Kim Jong Un a “murderer and oppressor of the people.” The leaflets included color photograph of Kim Jong Un and strong denouncements of his rule. The actual text on the front is:


Reward: 50,000,000 USD

For: Murder and oppressing the people

This bastard needs to die for the people to live better!

This Korean leafleting will go on forever. Readers should remember that the Korean War never ended, it just stopped. The two nations are theoretically still at war. Until such time as the two sides come together in peace we expect the leafleting to continue.

This balloon carried propaganda leaflets with the news of
Yoon Suk-yeol's election as the new South Korean president.

The Smart Balloon

I think we all know that leaflet dissemination is changing. In the Russo-Ukraine war we see leaflets being dropped from drones, sometimes over individual soldiers. In the North Korea-South Korea political debate we have seen balloons sent by both sides. We have seen nothing new until June 2024, when Ju-min Park, Adolfo Arranz, Han Huang, Jackie Gu and Jitesh Chowdhury wrote an article titled "Balloon offensive" for Reuters.

The Balloon Distribution System

It can distribute as many leaflets as you like, when you like

They talked about a smart balloon designed by the political group, The Committee for Reform and Opening up of Joson [North Korea], that has altitude and distance controls, can distribute leaders where programmed, like a polka dealer in Las Vegas, and can carry a loudspeaker. Some of the comments are:

Built using 3D printers and components sourced online and sometimes equipped with GPS-tracking, these so-called "smart balloons" can cost up to $1,000 each. The aim is to drop cargoes deeper into North Korea, including over the capital Pyongyang, with the longer ranges now possible. One balloon has flown as far as China. The balloon payload may include leaflet dispenser, speakers, or other items. It can weigh up to 7.5 kilos.

Balloon paths

Another key technical advancement made over the past two years has been altimeter-linked valves that automatically prevent the balloons from going too high, making for a more stable flight, though the balloons are still at the mercy of the weather and their flight paths cannot be controlled.

How effective the balloons are is a matter of debate, with no independent verification possible of where they land or what average North Koreans might think about the contents.

The group's members declined to be identified, worried about harassment from South Koreans critical of such activists, a potential crackdown by South Korean authorities or reprisals by North Korean agents.

The Balloon Loudspeaker System

They mention the loudspeaker onboard the balloon that can blare 15 minutes of North Korean songs and messages recorded in a North Korean accent and pause for 30 minutes before beginning again. The batteries can last for 5 days. part of the recording says, “Get rid of the Workers' Party, then North Korea can survive. Kim Jong Un is a traitor that opposes unification.”

Ukraine vs Russia

In February 2021, thousands of Russian military personnel amassed near the Russo-Ukrainian border, while President Vladimir Putin explained that this was just maneuvers that had been planned much earlier. In September 2021, the Russian troops started to build up once more, with about 100,000 troops surrounding Ukraine on three sides. The United States watched carefully from satellites and said over and over that an invasion was imminent.

On 21 February 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized the independence of the two republics in the Donbas region of Ukraine that he had invented and already occupied called the Donetsk People's Republic and Luhansk People's Republic. Russian troops and tanks moved into the region to allegedly keep the peace and “De-Nazify” Ukraine. His argument was like Hitler’s in 1939 when the Germans claimed that the Poles were murdering Germans in the street and needed to be protected. The only thing Putin did not do was dress some convicts in Ukraine uniforms and attack a Russian radio station as a premise to war.

The war has dragged on as Ukraine amazed the world and fought Russia to a standstill. Most of us that thought we knew Russia’s strength and thought like Putin the war would be over in three days.

Ukrainian Launched a Massive Flag over Russian-occupied Donetsk 9 September 2023

In the second year of the war, the Ukrainian military launched the giant flag attached to helium-filled balloons and sent it over the country’s third-largest city. The flag was released in Avdiivka, about 15 miles north of Donetsk, to celebrate its 245th anniversary on 9 September. Vitaliy Barabash, the head of the Avidiiv city military administration told Suspilne, Ukraine’s public broadcasting company:

We can hear the Russians; they are a little mad about it. They tried to shoot it down. But the state the flag is already flying over the Kyiv district of Donetsk.

Meanwhile, in Donetsk and other Moscow-occupied territories, Russian authorities were holding elections that have been denounced as a sham by Kyiv and the West.

Other Balloon Operations

There were other numerous operations around the globe that used balloons to disseminate propaganda leaflets. The decades-long paper war between West and East Germany comes to mind as does several anti-Communist organizations that regularly leafleted the Soviet Union all through the Cold War. I reserve the right to add sections on these battles in the future. For the moment, I remind the reader that this story was meant to be just a quick look at the use of balloons in psychological operations. I am sure that I will add more data as time goes by.

Balloon Training Operations - 2011

We have shown the reader how balloons were used to carry propaganda all the way back to WWI. The U.S. Coalition again used leaflets during Operation Desert Shield before the shooting phase of Operation Desert Storm. Here, on 25 June 2011, Sergeant First Class Evan C. Paulsen deploys leaflets as part of a training exercise as a member of the 7th Psychological Operations Group at Moffett Field in San Jose, California. It is important to remember and practice the old skills from previous wars.

The German Army Trains with Leaflet Balloons - 2021

My friends on the website PSYOP Reference Material first depicted these pictures. During the Cold War West Germany took part in a propaganda war with the DDR. Years later, the German Army was asked to send Coalition leaflets into occupied Kuwait before the shooting phase of Operation Desert Shield/Storm began. They still practice that specialty today.

German soldier prepares helium-filled balloons to send information and propaganda leaflets

Balloon with an Attached Radiosonde

The German Army sometimes trains on launching balloons from a military training area in Upper Lusatia. They first test the weather conditions by sending up a test balloon with an attached radiosonde that measures wind direction, air pressure, and wind speed. This radiosonde continuously transmits the weather data to the computers on the ground during its ascent. The computer below shows the ideal points on the map where a balloon can be launched to be able to drop leaflets from a specific height on the target area. Once the launch site and altitude has been determined, the large balloons are filled with helium. They must be able to carry 4-kilogram packages containing over 2,000 leaflets. Below the balloon is a timer that triggers the dropping of the leaflets after a selected time at the proper altitude. This is manually dialed in before launch by the squad leader.

Thanks to the use of modern technologies, it is possible to achieve high accuracy.
The BAST (Ballonauflaststellung – balloon inflation position) can be clearly seen on the monitor.
The computer shows the ideal points on the map where a balloon can be launched in order
to be able to drop the leaflets at a certain height in the target area.

The packages, which weigh around 4 kilograms and containing over 2,000 leaflets, are attached to the balloons.
Below the balloon is a timer that triggers the dropping of the leaflets after a certain time and altitude.

The Training Leaflets

German leafleting is mainly done in countries with difficult to reach or dangerous areas. Messages can be sent from the military to the population over long distances without endangering soldiers. The dropping height of the balloon is between 800-5000 meters, depending on the wind speed. In this exercise, the German-language leaflets were marked with a purple circle so that it could be determined where each type of leaflet has landed. The back of the leaflet is in Polish because the military training area is in the border area, and some could fall on Poland. The sheets are printed on 60-gram heavy environmental paper will dissolve in the rain after a while

(Photos: German Army / Weinrich)


We seldom think of how balloons might interfere with Air Force Operations. The Air Force does. The Weekly Pegasus, number 16, 2018 - The E-newsletter of professional readings supporting the Air Force PSYOP Working Group says:

PSYOP planners working in the air operations center need to be cognizant of whether allied governments or non-government organizations (NGOs) intend using balloons for leaflet dissemination. If so, the PSYOP planner needs to report the times and dates these launches are going to occur (as well as their estimated drift route and altitude) to the Airspace Management Team (AMT) within the air operations center. The AMT is responsible for coordinating, integrating and de-conflicting airspace and procedures within the joint coalition area of operations. Leaflet balloon launches (especially those conducted by NGOs) constitute a flight hazard and may require changes to the Airspace Control Plan and or Airspace Control Order. If allied governments are using leaflet balloons, hopefully they will submit the necessary air space control measure request to the Airspace Management Team; but don’t count on this. If there is a PSYOP Task Force operating in theater, you begin your quest to obtain information on leaflet balloon launches from them. If there is no PSYOP Task Force, then begin by asking the PSYOP planner at the Theater Special Operations Command.

This is just a short look at one method of disseminating propaganda leaflets.  Readers who would like to discuss this method of distribution further are encouraged to write to the author at .