SGM Herbert A. Friedman (Ret.)

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Lusitania medals (front and back)

Perhaps the worst single propaganda blunder the German committed was the Lusitania medallion. The Germans were so proud of the submarine sinking of the commercial vessel that Karl Goetz designed a medallion honoring the victory. One side shows the ship going down with the words "No contraband" at the top and “The liner Lusitania sunk by a German submarine 5 May 1915” at the bottom. The engraver added cannons and airplanes on the deck of the ship to justify its sinking. The back of the medallion depicts a mob of people buying Lusitania tickets from a figure representing death and the words “Business above all” while a man in the crowd reads a newspaper with the headline “U-Boat Danger!”

Unfortunately for Karl Goetz, he put the wrong date of sinking on the medal, an error he later attributed to an error in the newspaper account he had read. Instead of the correct date of 7 May, Goetz engraved 5 May, two days before the actual sinking of the Lusitania. This allowed the British to claim that the Germans had waited for the ship to leave port and committed wholesale premeditated murder. Goetz later corrected the date but it was too late by then.

British Intelligence copied the medallion and advertised it around the world to show the barbarian nature of the Germans. Some 300,000 British copies of the medallion were made on the instructions of Captain Reginald Hall R.N., the Director of Naval Intelligence. The British replicas were sold for 1 pound each, with the proceeds going to St. Dunstan's Blinded Soldiers and Sailors Hostels and the Red Cross, in special boxes with a view of R. M. S. Lusitania on the outside. A label on the box holding the medal read:

The "Lusitania" (German) Medal. An exact replica of the medal which was designed in Germany and distributed to commemorate the sinking of the "Lusitania." This indicates the true feeling the War Lords endeavour to stimulate, and is proof positive that such crimes are not merely regarded favourably, but are given every encouragement in the land of Kultur. The "Lusitania" was sunk by a German submarine on May 7, 1915. She had on board at that time 1,951 passengers and crew, of whom 1,198 perished.

This German medallion infuriated Americans who had relatives on the liner. In some ways, it helped to lead the United States into World War I. It surely was one of the great propaganda blunders of all time.

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Edith Cavell 

Another terrible propaganda blunder was the execution of the Red Cross nurse Edith Cavell on 12 October 1915. In fact, this blunder was so great that back in the 1960s when I exhibited my WWI material I had a photograph of Edit Cavell on the first page. The nurse was guilty; she admitted that she had helped British and French soldiers escape into neutral Holland.

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Postcard depicting Cavell's execution

The Germans could have locked her up, or they could have shipped her off to England. Instead, they put her in front of a firing squad. After that, any atrocity propaganda aimed at Germany was believed. If they could shoot a nurse, they could bayonet or burn babies and rape nuns. It was a blunder of monstrous proportions. Curiously, the French had also shot female spies, but the Germans were too stupid to point this out in their propaganda. The British did not have the same reservations about the German "murder" of Edith, the daughter of a British clergyman. 

A similar German blunder, though one of espionage and not propaganda, occurred in January 1917. British cryptographers deciphered a telegram from German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmermann to the German Minister to Mexico offering cash and United States territory (Texas, New Mexico and Arizona) to Mexico in return for joining the German cause. The Germans also stated that they were about to begin unrestricted submarine warfare. The telegram had such an impact on American opinion that, according to David Kahn, author of The Codebreakers, "No other single cryptanalysis has had such enormous consequences." The British waited until 24 February to present the telegram to Woodrow Wilson. The American press published news of the telegram on 1 March. On 6 April 1917, the United States Congress formally declared war on Germany and its allies.

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Speaking of women, here the Germans address a leaflet to them. This two-sided leaflet was disseminated in November 1918 and reminds one of the Greek comedy Lysistrata where the women went on strike and withheld sex to end the Peloponnesian War between Greek city states. The text of this leaflet almost seems Greek; I can barely understand their argument. Do the Germans think that calling women witches is a good thing? Bells can be rung, but can hours? Some of the text is:



Men have failed – women to the rescue! To the rescue in God’s name. You were wont to be the world’s witches, the harbingers of joy – be our saviors now.

Mothers of men and keeper of souls, your golden hour has rung! You were ever international; unfurl the flag of peace…

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To the American soldiers of German descent

The American WWI military PSYOP commander Captain Heber Blankenhorn mentions German leaflets in an article entitled "How American ‘shelled’ the German Lines with Paper." He says, "A little before the hour of our attack the German began his grand propaganda raid…He sent leaflets also, one began:

To the American soldiers of German descent.

You say in your loose leaf that you serve in an honourable way in the U. S. Army. Do you think it honourable to fight the country that has given birth to your fathers or forefathers? Do you think it is honourable to fall upon any country after it has heroically defended itself for four years against a coalition of peoples tenfold its superior in numbers...?"

It attacks President Wilson:

An everlasting shame that 20 millions of German Americans could not prevent that man Wilson, who never was a genuine American but rather an English subject in disguise to raise his hand against their mother country!

Blankenhorn mentions a second leaflet that began,

To the colored soldiers of the U.S. Army: Hallo boys. What are you doing over here?

It went on to ask about the war for democracy in the land of Jim Crow cars and lynchings, adding an invitation to come to Germany where they liked colored citizens. It ended:

They enjoy exactly the same social privileges as every white man, and quite a number of colored people have mighty fine positions in business in Berlin.

This racial welcome is interesting because it shows the confusion among the German propagandists. They were already producing propaganda attacking the African soldiers among the French forces. They would do exactly the same thing in World War II. In a leaflet we discussed earlier they said, "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…" Who were these savages? They were the Arab and African colonial troops used by England and France. One wonders how the Germans justified calling the people of color "savages" in one leaflet while inviting them to come and live in Berlin in another.

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How to Stop the War

This single-sided leaflet was dropped in October 1918. I mention “single-sided” because in later wars the back of these leaflets was made dark or covered in lines to keep the enemy from using them as writing paper and adding insults and answers to the propaganda on the front. Some of the text is:

Do your part to put an end to the war! Put an end to your part of it. Stop fighting! That’s the simplest way. You can do it, you soldiers, just stop fighting and the war will stop of its own accord.

The Germans do not mention that the French Army is shooting many of its own soldiers for cowardice. The Americans probably would not do that, although one soldier was executed in WWII, but there certainly would be a Court Martial and jail time for any soldier that just decided to quit.

The Germans Threaten Death and Destruction

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The Monument of Death, the Tank

Most of the WWI German leaflets are just text. In WWII it would be very different with the Germans talking about their super weapons. One WWII leaflet for the Battle of the Bulge depicted a monster tank. Many of these WWI leaflets talk about peace and world harmony. This is more in the line of what we expect from a propaganda leaflet – a fearful picture and threats of death and destruction. The front of the leaflet depicts the German tank rolling over piles of victims. On the side of the tank we can just make out:

Here lie thousands of deceived Tommies!

The back of the two-sided 1918 leaflet is all text and says in part:

Poor Tommy

You are told that you are on the road to victory; don’t believe it. Losses, terrible losses, and death are awaiting you. A glance at the following tables will show you just a few examples of what happened to your comrades in your last attacks in August…

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A World War II Battle of the Bulge Tank Leaflet

Notice the similarities

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A Message to the American Soldiers from Home!

This is a bit of a different item from the Germans. It is an 8-page propaganda booklet disseminated in late 1918. The text is far too long to quote so I will just show the readers a few lines that are interesting:

Dear American Boys! Your broken-hearted families and relatives send you this message which we dare not send through other ways…Why should we boys be killed like cattle only to give the English all-hog monopoly of the ocean? Why are we over here in France dying like stray dogs in a dog-pond? Dying for the English? Dying in their place…

The booklet mentions all the nations the British have invaded; South Africa, India, Canada, etc., and ends with the full text of the National Anthem, just in case the Americans forgot that they fought Britain for their freedom.

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A Word to the Wise…

This is a two-sided leaflet disseminated in 1918. It has a rather odd message that indicates it is written by an American in Germany and is almost Communist in nature. I mean by that they claim the Germans have risen up against their own government and ask the Americans to join with them. In order to get Russia out of the war the Germans had sent Lenin to Russia and gave him financing through 1918 with the hope that Lenin would start a revolution that would cause Russia to withdraw its forces during World War I. That actually worked, the government was overthrown and Russia withdrew from the war. Perhaps a Communist sympathizer did write this leaflet hoping that the revolution might be used as a reason for the United States to leave the war.

The Germans offer Peace

As the war dragged on with no real hope of winning, the German propaganda began to talk more and more of peace. I am sure the their General Staff was planning attacks even as these leaflets were dropped, but I think it is fair to say that more leaflets mention peace than any other subject. Hitler would later claim that Germany was winning WWI and his nation was stabbed in the back by Socialists and Jews, but clearly the government could see the writing on the wall.

An official American report on the German use of this peace tactic was written on 16 October 1918:

Suddenly in the end of September as a part of his great peace offensive the enemy began raiding all our lines and back areas with heavy attacks, by night and day, by airplane and balloon, of leaflets on peace. The leaflets promised peace, foretold it, “proved” it, in great editions of many leaflets in French and in English. It was all striking evidence of the cognizance that the German High Command had of the Austrian peace maneuver. The text of the Austrian peace note to Washington was printed in carefully edited broadsides and scattered everywhere.

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German People offer peace

President Harry S. Truman was an artillery captain in France during World War I. He sent this German leaflet home to his wife Bess in a letter dated 30 October 1918. The front of the leaflet is in English, the back is in French. Some of the text on this leaflet is:

The German People Offers Peace. The new German democratic government has this programme: ‘The will of the people is the highest law.’ The German people wants quickly to end the slaughter. The new German popular government therefore has offered an Armistice?.

The leaflet is now on display in the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library. Notice that by the end of October 1918 the situation has become so bad that the Germans themselves are offering peace. History will show that the Nazis will later blame this new German democratic government for stabbing Germany in the back and claim that the army never lost a battle in the field.

The British National Army Museum displays this leaflet and describes it thusly:

Printed in English on one side and French on the other, 1918 (c). Probably issued in late October or early November 1918, it stressed the offer of an armistice by the ‘new German popular government’, and blamed the allies for the delay in ending the conflict.

Ernest Stone finds the same leaflet in Battery B Thru the Fires of France: Wayside Press, 1919.

October 28 ? This afternoon a Boche, flying very high, crosst our lines, braved the anti-aircraft fire and emptied a load of propaganda. The glistening sheets floating upon a gentle breeze seemed to tarry in the downward flight. We were on the gun at the time and the little beggars fell into our midst?This is so much effort wasted.Of course the clumsy mind of the German High Command images that a sheet of printed matter will wreck the morale of our troops?.

The leaflets were dropped again, this time over the lines of the 1st French Army, on 9 November 1918.

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Invitation to Discuss Peace Terms

On the subject of peace, the above leaflet was found a collection of three scrapbooks dating from the early 1900's. Within one of the volumes is a leaflet “dropped from an airplane in France by the enemy among our troops.” The leaflet seems to have been trimmed along the sides and is not in the best condition but the text is interesting. There is a long discussion about peace talks, and the Germans mention the speeches by American President Wilson on 12 February (Lincoln’s Birthday) and 4 July 1918 (Independence Day. It is clear that they know the end is near and they ask for a meeting where everything can be discussed. They say in part:

We are of the firm conviction that all belligerents owe to mankind to consider in common whether it is not possible to put an end to this frightful struggle now, after so many years of costly but undecided fighting, the whole course of which points toward an understanding.

The Imperial and Royal Government therefore proposes to the government of the belligerent nations to send delegates in the near future to a place in a neutral country ? time and place to be appointed ? with a view to a connfidential and not obligatory conference upon the main principles of a treaty of peace?.

We know from the text that this leaflet was prepared in mid to late 1918. The Germans would surrender on 11 November 1918. A number of these leaflets were dropped by German aircraft at about 5:30 p.m. on 4 October 2018 in the Argonne Sector.

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The Austro-Hungarian Peace-Note

This two-sided 1918 leaflet is a peace offer from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, rather than just its German ally. The message is extremely long, reminiscent of Russian WWII leaflets that just went on and on forever. Most people have a short span of concentration and get bored after a few paragraphs. The text ends with the statement:

We are of the firm conviction that all belligerents owe to mankind to examine in common whether it is not possible to put an end to this frightful struggle now, after so many years of costly but undecided fighting whose whole course points towards an understanding. The Imperial and Royal Government therefore proposes to the governments of all the belligerent states to send delegates in the near future to a place at a neutral country.

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Peace in Sight

The French collector Michael Girard has found several German leaflets. He mentions one in the Falling Leaf of spring 1979.

The single-sided November 1918 leaflet is entitled “Peace in Sight.” Some of the text is:

Peace is Sight

Austria-Hungary has proposed to enter into negotiations of peace. Germany, Bulgaria and Turkey have no objection to it.

Peace is close at hand!
Peace before winter!
Peace the yearning of all nations!

It now depends upon the Allied governments whether peace shall be realized or the sufferings of the tortured nations are to continue. Now it is the turn of the Allied governments to speak out. Or, if they should prefer to turn a deaf ear to the appeals of their subjects, it is up to the peoples themselves…”

Notice that the haughty Germans have no part in this peace process. They hide behind the Austria-Hungarians. Some of these leaflets were dropped on 3 October 2018 by German aircraft.

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Peace in sight at last

A similar single-sided November 1918 leaflet with much the same message is entitled “Peace in sight at last.” Some of the text is:

Austria Hungary has again issued an appeal to all belligerent nations to enter into negotiations of peace.

Austria-Hungary’s Allies too have on several occasions declared their readiness for peace, and their point of view remains unchanged. What are the French, English, and American governments going to say to this? Up to the present the offer of the Central Powers have been rejected by them. Why? Didn’t the soldiers at the front want peace? Who was then against it…

The Germans go after the Working Man

There are a number of German leaflets that target the British worker. The Germans use various themes to convince the workers not to support the war. I would read these leaflets carefully because they seem to be communistic in nature and although they talk of peace, they could be clandestinely preaching revolutions in the western countries.

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The Voice of German Labour to British Labour

This two-sided 1918 leaflet dropped by an aircraft states that there has been a revolution in Russia which led directly to a peace resolution in Germany. Politicians have been thrown out, there is a demand for Suffrage in Prussia, and peace and democracy are the new watchwords. They promise a new government based on a progressive, socialist and labour majority. They ask for a fair peace based on President Wilson’s conditions. Little do they know that the British and French will force such terms on Germany that it will lead directly to the rise of Hitler, National Socialism, and World War Two.

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This one-sided 1918 leaflet uses a different argument. It points out that the workers will not be replaced by Germans, but by Americans. This argument would be used again in WWII and with some justification since America ended that war as a wealthy major power. The leaflet claims that the American is the real rival, along with the Japanese. Remember that in WWI Japan was an ally of Britain, France and the United States. Two decades later, Germany will sign a pact with Japan. The leaflet ends with a demand that the British workers agitate for peace and a peace government.

Another air-dropped November 1918 leaflet titled “Remember! Remember!” mentions that a resolution was passed by the British Labour Party in 1912 that stated the British government was to blame for many of the actions that could lead to a war in the near future. It ended:

Fellow workmen! See to it that the same forces should not go on building up a peace which is no peace, but continual strife, chronic ill-will, and international rivalry.

Fight for a peace of equity, good-will and harmony!

Divide and Conquer

The Germans were big fans of “Divide and Conquer” propaganda. They told the Americans that they were dying for the British and Belgium. They told the British that they were at the front while the Americans were taking over their country.

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It’s a long way to Tipperary

This single sided 1918 leaflet paraphrases the British marching song and now states that the Americans “rule the show” in Britain. The use of music in warfare and propaganda has a long history and in WWII the Germans would take a number of popular songs and rewrite them as pro-Nazi and anti-British propaganda.

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The American Peril

This single-sided 1918 leaflet warns the British that with the coming of the Americans the Empire is about to become second class. In WWII, the Germans will claim that the Americans were stealing and having sex with the wives and girlfriends of the British Tommies. In WWI, they claim that the Americans will destroy the economy of Britain. Some of the comments are:

It is perfectly plain that, unless something unexpected happens, we shall sink into the position of a second rate power…America is building her vast mercantile marine – first, to transport troops and materials for the war, and then to attack our trade in China, the East, our colonies, Russia and South America, and doubtless other places...

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England’s Financial Ruin

This October 1918 to the British points out that England is in the grip of a moneylender who will bleed them dry. America will demand the repayment of war loans with interest. American shipbuilding will overpower that of the English and at the end of the war, America will rule the waves. This is a parody, of course, of “Britannia rules the waves” and the Germans probably thought it would strike an emotional chord in the average “Tommy.” Some of the text is:

Look here you fellows

Look here you fellows – I don’t want to tell you fairy tales and I don’t want to try and change your opinion against your country – I know you chaps stick to your country and I admire you for it – What I am going to tell you are facts and nothing but facts. Do you fellows realize what America’s so called help means to England? It means ENGLAND’S FINANCIAL RUIN…

German Propaganda Newspapers

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America In Europe

The Germans also produced propaganda newspapers entitled America in Europe and The Continental Times. The former was published by the "America in Europe Company, Frankfurt Main, Postfach 55." The dates I have seen for the weekly 4-page newspaper America in Europe (“A Paper published in the interest of good fellowship among all nations”) are 29 July, 5 August, 12 August, 19 August, 26 August, 9 September, 16 September, and 23 September 1918. One copy bears the French finder’s notation:

Found 200 meters south of the hillside 260, 2 (Serres to Athienville Road),
about 12 kilometers north of Luneville (Meurthe and Moselle).

In general, each edition showed a satirical cartoon on the first page. For instance, the edition of 19 August shows a man in an old fashioned pillory guarded by a German soldier. Some of the explanatory text is:


We call Herbert L. Platt, Vice-president of the Standard Oil Company a liar! He deserves the pillory because he lied that the Germans crucified two American soldiers (See our issue of August 5).

An American report on the German use of leaflets dated 16 October 1918 mentions the newspapers:

The Army Expeditionary Force was not bombarded by the Germans with leaflets to an extent for some time after it took position. Then the enemy started dropping a quite clever four page illustrated paper called AMERICA IN EUROPE. Leaflets for negro troops were also dropped, mainly on white battalions laying emphasis on a war for democracy to fight which the negro had left a land where he was not treated democratically.

A memorandum to the American G-2 (Intelligence Chief says:

Many of the issues of AMERICA IN EUROPE contained effective propaganda arguments skillfully based on the only sure ground in propaganda work – hammering at your enemy’s vulnerable points. The cartoons, news and arguments in this sheet ran as follows: The American capitalists are the strongest supporters of this war, they are getting rich out of it. The people had no voice in declaring war, the press of America is jingoistic and is waging a campaign of hate, and the poor are paying an unjust share of the war. America is fighting England’s battle, not its own and the American cannot tell what he is fighting for.

In general, the cartoon were not savage, they represented the American soldier as an outstanding strong figure with no head to speak of. “You’re being fooled” was the burden of the argument. Good clear-cut photographs of large groups of American prisoners-of-war in German camps were printed and were by far the strongest single piece of German propaganda directed against the American Expeditionary Force.

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John Bull feeding his dear little friends

The newspaper of 26 August 1918 issue shows John Bull, the symbol of Great Britain feeding stories of German war atrocities to all the newspapers of Europe and America represented by vultures and crow. The caption is:

John Bull feeding his dear little friends

German Leaflets to the French

The vast majority of leaflets aimed at the French are all-text. We will show a few of them, but because I believe the reader prefers to see those leaflets that feature interesting images, we will depict several of them.

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I depict this German leaflet first because it is one of the earliest known to have been dropped over the French by German aircraft. Apparently the French aviators bombed civilians and the Germans complain about it. It is ironic because in WWII they will bomb Warsaw, Amsterdam, London and other cities occupied by civilians. The leaflet was dropped on 26 July 1916. Some of the text is:

The German military command hesitated to believe the French Government and its General Staff would be capable of such an act of barbarism which has nothing to do with the honorable conduct of warfare. On the German side it was believed that your pilots had been in error when executing their mission. Frenchmen! You airmen were not in error…The pilots had received their orders from President Poncaire himself. He had been listening to the instigations of the British….

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Jeanne D’Arc 1918

The Germans dropped a number of leaflets on French troops. This single-sided March 1918 leaflet pictured Joan of Arc leading French troops against the English. Joan was captured by the English and killed on 30 May 1431, in Rouen, France, by being burned at the stake for heresy. The English obviously believed that any woman who could beat them must be a witch. The leaflet features a six-stanza poem. It reminds the French that the British have always been their traditional enemy. Some of the text is:

Your floating dress, silver and blue,
your chaste tight throat
lifting your eyes delighted,
to God, as in prayer in the battles –
In your strong hand the victorious sword,
Ready to fight and without forgiveness –
Splendidly you timeously watch
the lilies of the bourbon

From one hundred churches in France
not one without your image in bronze,
in stone, you keep equestrian moonlight
in Reims your cathedral so dear.
Your horse comes alive without touching the land,
you fly to the North Sea.
I hear your old war cry,
To the English! For them death!

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The Consequences of refusal

A second German illustrated leaflet dropped on the French depicts Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau holding the arm of Marianne (the symbol of the French Republic) while German aircraft bomb Paris in the background. The implication is that the old warmonger keeps France in the war by force, causing the death of innocent lives. Clemenceau had clamped down on internal dissent and had several senior French politicians who called for peace arrested for treason. Text at the bottom of the leaflet is:

Poor Paris, but to accept peace it is necessary for my hands to be free.

The finder has handwritten on this leaflet where he picked it up: "Chateau-Thierry, April 1918."

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Gazette Des Ardennes

Most Americans will remember the word “Ardennes” from WWII where the Germans attacked through the forest in what became known as “The Battle of the bulge.” In WWI, the Germans printed and disseminated a newspaper called the Ardennes Gazette for the French people and military. In those areas of France occupied by the Germans the local inhabitants had no access to information about their loved ones or the fate of the French Army. The Germans controlled the flow of news and to this end they started publishing the paper La Gazette des Ardennes in November 1914 (printed in Charleville-Mezieres).

Bernard Wilkin, mentions the newspaper in Aerial Propaganda and the Wartime Occupation of France, 1914–1918:

Major Nicolai, commanding Section IIIb, turned to the German Foreign Office to find a suitable editor-in-chief. In January 1915, he brought an Alsatian journalist named Rene Prevot to oversee the content of the Gazette des Ardennes. Prevot had worked as correspondent in Paris for the Bavarian Munchner Neueste Nachrichten before the war. Prevot was awarded the Iron Cross for good service in 1917. He drastically changed the content of the newspaper to make it appealing to the French public. Prevot’s most creative move was to introduce lists of French prisoners captured on the western front [in all more than 250,000 names would be published]. They attracted a significant readership composed of families, often without news of their relatives fighting for the French Army, located both in the invaded territories and in free France. The readership increased steadily during the war. The Gazette des Ardennes went from less than 20,000 copies at the end of 1914 to 180,000 in January 1918.

Although the French despised the paper, calling it the Paper of Lies, it was the only source of information available to them. The last edition came out on 2 November 1918.

The issue above shows American prisoners-of-war from the 26th Infantry Division above and French prisoners-of-war below.

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La Bienvenue

This is an illustration found in the German propaganda newspaper to the French, Gazette des Ardennes issue 69 depicted above. The caption is:

An American battalion marching to the trenchs. Defiling a village of the Meuse, as they were returning to the front lines, the Sammies had a surprise as they passed under this Arch of Triumph while their high class French comrades welcomed them.

The drawing is called the “The Welcome” by Frans Masereel. As the American battalion marches on the way to the trenches through a town near the Meuse, they march beneath the spread legs of Death just as the French marched in parades beneath the Arch of Triumph in Paris built to celebrate the victories of Napoleon.

Author’s Note: “Sammies” was a popular slang term during the war, primarily in Britain, for American soldiers in World War I, drawn from the iconic character of Uncle Sam as a symbol of the U.S.

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Who attracts planes?

This single-sided January 1918 leaflet depicts the French President Clemenceau burning an Angel of peace at the stake just as the British burned Joan of Arc, and the light leads German Gotha bombers to bomb Paris. The text is:

Who attracts planes?

Parisians! You can draw your curtains; but it is Clemenceau, who shows the way to the Gothas by burning peace.

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A Propaganda Postcard depicting French Prisoners

This airdropped German February 1918 picture postcard depicts a group of seven French prisoners-of-war in a small band in in a prison camp in Germany. Curiously, the British made dozens of cards like this showing German prisoners playing sports, games and other pastimes. On the message side of the cards, CARTE POSTALE - UNION POSTALE UNIVERSELLE is the only printed text other than the propaganda message. The text on the back of the card says:


One of the small orchestras of a French prison camp in Konigsbruck (Germany)

All our thoughts are of our France. Our home here is better than in our trenches. (Their cry)


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Armistice with Russia

Another leaflet dropped in 1917 on the French explained that armistice that Germany had reached with France. Nicholas II signed his abdication on 15 March 1917, but in it hoped that the new Russian government would continue the war. The leaflet is entitled, "Armistice Suggestion and Immediate Peace with the Russian Government." This peace meant that Germany was now free to move its armies to the western front.

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Peace is in Sight!

This all-text German leaflet was dropped on French troops about two weeks from the end of the war. It was found by American Captain J. M. Smith on 24 September 1918 at Pont-à-Mousson, a small town between Metz and Nancy. Why an American officer? The St. Mihiel offensive began on 12 September 1918. The main attack was made by two American corps. I Corps was assigned a front from Pont-à-Mousson on the Moselle westward to Limey. The leaflet text is:

Peace is in Sight!

Austria-Hungary has proposed peace talks.
, Bulgaria and Turkey are not opposed to it.

Peace is in sight!

Peace again before the winter!
The peace for which all the people aspire!

It now depends on the governments of the Allies whether peace is made or the sufferings of the ravaged people continue. It is for the Allies to decide whether they will remain deaf to the wishes of the people.

Is this the moment to open peace negotiations? We believe the answer is yes!

To the German successes of spring and summer, Allied successes followed. Nothing was decided. The German Army still occupies strongly fortified positions.

The two adversaries are ready for new combat. In the best case what result can be obtained? The slow destruction of their enemy and greater destruction of French territory. All that at the price of new sacrifices of innocent blood!

The moment is right for peace negotiations, to begin a peace of reconciliation!

It is for the governments and for the people of the Allies to decide.

German Leaflets to Russia

I have seen about 100 German Leaflets to Russia so it is plain that they used most of their psychological warfare techniques against the Russians. They were successful. Russia dropped out of the war leaving just the west to fight the Central powers. Because it is almost impossible to translate the Russian leaflets I will show very few of these.

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This may be one of the most interesting leaflets used against the Russians because it is black. Rather than clearly being from the enemy, it claims to be from Czar Nicolas and tells the people that he never ordered the war and they are all being fooled by interlopers who are trying to take over the country. Some of the text is:


In the darkest minutes of his life your Czar is turning to you soldiers! This unlucky war came into being against my will. It arose because of Grand Duke Nicolai Nikolajevitsh and his followers who intend to do away with me and take over the throne. In no way would I have agreed to declare this war because I knew in advance that this would end badly for Mother Russia. But my insidious relative and the disloyal generals prevent me from using the power God has provided me with. And because I am afraid of losing my life I am forced to do everything they demand of me

Soldiers! Refuse to obey these disloyal generals. Turn your weapons against everyone trying to impair the freedom of your Czar, and the safety and firmness of you beloved native country!

You unlucky Czar Nicolas II


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Russian Soldiers

On the subject of Russia, the Central Powers also dropped a number of propaganda leaflets over the Russians. An Austrian leaflet entitled "Russian Soldiers!" was dropped on forces besieging the Austrian fortress of Przemsyl. The Russian attacked the fortress on 10 October 1914 and again from 7 November 1914 to 22 March 1915. The text of the leaflet is:

Russian Soldiers!

Come on over to us!

The stories of your officers that our forces treat you badly when you come over to us are utter lies. Do not believe them! A terrible winter is coming, with great cold and much weariness. Do you really want to suffer from the cold when you could be sitting with us in a warm room?

How many hundreds of thousands of your brothers are already with us! They are living well, they are being fed as they should be, they get drinks, and many of them no longer wish to return home,

Come over to us!

Then this war will be over for you, an end to all suffering. There is no hope of you winning this war. If you continue fighting, you are only unnecessarily increasing your suffering.

Come on over to us!

Our armies are victorious everywhere: in Russia, in France, in Italy and in Turkey. Of the former Serbian kingdom there is nothing left anymore. Everything is in our hands. Soon there will not even be a Serbian Army. Why should you wait any longer?

All come over to us!

For each usable rifle, which you bring with you, you will receive 5 rubles. For each usable rifle cartridge one kopeck.

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An Austria-Hungarian leaflet to Russia

The leaflet above was prepared by Austria-Hungary and dropped on the Russians in 1915. The leaflet is entitled "7 rubles."

It is an offer by the Austrian military administration to pay seven rubles for each Russian rifle, and one kopeck for each Russian cartridge turned over to the Austrian authorities. It can also serve as a surrender leaflet, since the last line assures the reader that prisoners of war in Austria are well fed and well treated.

German Propaganda to Italy

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The Military Command of Austria-Hungary…

Just like the reward leaflet for the Russians above, the Austria-Hungary propagandists prepared one for Italy. This leaflet was dropped by balloon in 1918. The hole at the upper left was for the string holding the leaflets to the balloon. This text says in part:

The military Command of Austria-Hungary has received the order to pay to each Italian soldier who voluntarily becomes a prisoner and hands over his weapons to us the reward for each:

For each rifle 10 crowns
For each round of ammunition 1 cent
For each horse 150 crowns
For each machine gun 500 crowns
For an airplane 2000 crowns…..

The aforementioned sums will be paid immediately after delivery of the respective materials upon the issue of a signed receipt.

We have few specimens of German propaganda to Italy, but we do have a British report dated 26 May 1918 and entitled Enemy propaganda on the Italian front. The report says that the Germans used aerial leaflets, trench newspapers and pamphlets. They were all printed in Italian and dropped from airplanes, thrown by hand or fired from trench mortars. According to the British report found by researcher Lee Richards, The leaflets consisted of a single sheet of print, frequently on colored paper. They feature one theme and are frequently disguised as socialist propaganda. Some of the themes are that England, America and the Capitalists are enriching themselves by the war and the Entente signing of peace treaties with Romania and the Ukraine. Other leaflets are military in nature, announcing German victories on the Western front and depicting maps.

We have few specimens of German propaganda to Italy, but we do have a British report dated 26 May 1918 and entitled Enemy propaganda on the Italian front. The report says that the Germans used aerial leaflets, trench newspapers and pamphlets. They were all printed in Italian and dropped from airplanes, thrown by hand or fired from trench mortars. According to the British report found by researcher Lee Richards, The leaflets consisted of a single sheet of print, frequently on colored paper. They feature one theme and are frequently disguised as socialist propaganda. Some of the themes are that England, America and the Capitalists are enriching themselves by the war and the Entente signing of peace treaties with Romania and the Ukraine. Other leaflets are military in nature, announcing German victories on the Western front and depicting maps.

The principal trench newspapers are: La Giberna; Sprazzi di Luce; Il Canestro; L’ Eco d’Occidente; La Patria; Il soldato; La Politica in Trincea and for the benefit of the Third Italian Army Notizie d’oltre PIAVE. After the title and date each contains from four to twelve news items with headings. Some of the subjects discussed are the submarine war, the food shortage of the Allies, and the inadequate help to be expected from America. Some of the typical headings are: The losses of the English Colonial troops; The effect of the new gun on Paris; The pacifist movement in France and India; The deficient equipment of the American troops; a call for the liberation of India; and the diminished munitions output as a result of the submarine.

The British report just three pamphlets, very elaborate, well printed, bound in paper of a different color and including illustrations, maps and diagrams. Albione e la Verita deals with the submarine war in great detail. La Scampagnata inglese in Italia quotes selected sentences from an article in the “Daily Chronicle” saying how much the British troops like Italy, the inference being that they will never withdraw and that Italy is Britain’s latest colony. A cruder pamphlet entitled How England treats her Allies includes a chapter on the burning of Salonika by the British with photographs.

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Enemy Leaflets are money…

Before we leave the two reward leaflets depicted above, we should point out that the Germans also printed leaflets and posters for their own troops and civilians reminding them that they could be paid for turning in enemy leaflets. In 1917, the German high command ordered their men not to read enemy leaflets. This did not work. In 1918, the German Imperial Command ordered that money be paid for enemy leaflets. In September 1918, over 250,000 marks were paid for 800,000 leaflets. This was over 40 times the amount the British and Americans paid to have them printed.

Field Marshal von Hindenburg said at the time:

They bombard our front, not only with the drumfire of artillery, but also with the drumfire of printed paper. Beside bombs that will kill his body, his airmen throw down leaflets which are intended to kill his soul. Unsuspectingly, many thousands consume the poison. The enemy knows it will not win the war by conventional warfare and that is why he is trying to poison our will to fight.

General Erich Friedrich Wilhelm Ludendorff added:

The Army was literally drenched with propaganda leaflets. Their great danger to us was clearly recognized. The Supreme Command offered reward for such as was handed over to us, but we could not prevent them from poisoning the heart of our soldiers.

Decades later, German Führer Adolf Hitler who fought in WWI stated:

This persistent propaganda began to have a real influence on our soldiers in 1915. The feeling against Prussia became quite noticeable amongst Bavarian troops…In this direction the enemy propaganda began to achieve undoubted success from 1916 onwards.

One leaflet gave instructions for printing Feindpropaganda (“Enemy propaganda”) on any leaflet they German soldiers or civilians find. The leaflet above depicts an enemy airplane dropping leaflets and the text:


Are money

Turn them in

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Two German "Gott strafe England" propaganda labels

During WWI the Germans printed thousands of patriotic propaganda labels to be placed on envelopes. Perhaps the most popular were various vignettes with variations of the term "Gott Strafe England.

German Postwar Emergency Currency Depicting Allied Leaflets


German Notgeld Featuring Leaflets

During the great depression in Germany, money became worthless. Many communities printed their own emergency money, called “Notgeld.” The subjects and images on these notgeld are just about everything imaginable, and in the past, I have written about those with antisemitic images and images of chess masters and chess matches. This notgeld depicts propaganda leaflets, probably from WWI, falling on Kahla. The back of the notgeld depicts a worker busily raking up all the Allied propaganda leaflets on the ground. The text on the front is in part:

75 Pfennig Coupon

Issue date December 1, 1921
The city of Kahla
Expiration date December 31, 1921 


A certain German corporal took great notice of the enemy themes and leaflets. Adolf Hitler recognized the shortcomings in German psychological operations of the First World War. During his very early days in the Nazi Party he took charge of propaganda affairs and studied the way it could be used to build his political organization. Hitler was determined that Germany would not be found wanting in the next war. Some of his pertinent comments in i>Mein Kampf are:

For what we failed to do, the enemy did, with amazing skill and brilliant calculation. I, myself, learned enormously from the enemy war propaganda.

The art of propaganda lies in understanding the emotional ideas of the great masses and finding, through a psychologically correct form, the way to the attention and thence to the hearts of the great masses.

The function of propaganda is, for example, not to weigh and ponder the rights of different people, but exclusively to emphasize the one right it has set out to argue for.

The purpose of propaganda is not to provide interesting distraction for blasé young gentlemen, but to convince, and what I mean us to convince the masses.

All propaganda must be popular and its intellectual level must be adjusted to the most limited intelligence among those it is addressed to.

It must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over.

Hitler's concepts were noted and followed and the results can be clearly seen in German WWII propaganda. Once in power, the Fuehrer appointed Joseph Goebbels as his Reich Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, which gave him total control of the communications media - i.e. radio, press, publishing, cinema and the other arts. Goebbels followed his leader's philosophy religiously and is quoted as saying, "A lie repeated often enough is accepted as truth." A very few themes were repeated over and over in the most base way. Some of those themes are "The guilt of the Jews," "The Americans are at home with British wives while the Tommy is at the front," and "The British will fight until the last Frenchman is dead." Many of these themes were relatively successful early in the war. As the tide turned and the Germans kept repeating those same themes, they became laughable and little better than their failed WWI propaganda. The Fuehrer's philosophy did not allow for flexibility.

We have barely scratched the surface of the use of propaganda in WWI. This article is intended only to introduce the subject. Interested readers are encouraged to write to the author at