Strange Gifts from Above

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by SGM Herbert A. Friedman (Ret.)

Note: The Weekly Pegasus, The newsletter of professional readings of the U.S. Air Force Military Information Support Operations Working Group recommended this article in their 23 December 2017 issue

Sometimes I think that readers might enjoy hearing about the creative process, how a story comes into being. After authoring 60+ articles on propaganda and psychological operations, I was out of interesting topics to write about. In correspondence with my buddy Ed Rouse, the host of this site, I commented on the recent addition of a cigarette paper leaflet to an article on Allied propaganda of the Korean War. He answered with a comment about leaflets being used for more than toilet paper. That rang a bell. The Allies did prepare propaganda toilet paper and distributed it over occupied Europe to insult and ridicule the German leader Adolf Hitler. There were other such campaigns where strange items such as pornography, chocolates, tea, seeds, and even condoms were disseminated by air. There might be a story here. However, illustrations would be scarce.

In the case of a paper leaflet that is produced in the millions there is a good chance that a specimen will be saved as a souvenir, passed down, or archived by the producer or the target nation. In the case of what we are calling "strange" items, they are meant to be utilized. If you drop candy to a child or seeds to a farmer, those items will be immediately consumed or planted. Nobody is saving them for posterity. So, we undertake this project knowing that an article like this will be lightly illustrated.

Thinking more about the subject matter, it occurred to me that there were items that were planned to be dropped, but the operation was cancelled at the last moment. Someone at higher headquarters decided that the campaign was just too foolish or too dangerous to proceed. That could make an interesting second section. Finally, there are things that were dropped but probably should not have been. I thought of an unopened box of leaflets that killed an individual, someone crushed by a food crate, and food packets in the same color as cluster bomb unit (CBU) bomblets. I think we may have the making of a story. Let's see how far we can go with this subject.

Most airdropped PSYOP during wartime is aimed at the enemy. It usually takes the form of leaflets or newspapers, dropped in the millions or even billions that attempt to demoralize and convince an enemy that his war is lost, and that he should throw down his arms and either desert his post or come over to the other side where he will be safe until peace is declared.

There is another kind of PSYOP campaign that is usually aimed more at civilians and occupied peoples. It often uses gifts and small items that are in short supply as a reminder that their allies are still fighting and care about those captive people. It attempts to keep up their morale and remind them that the war is not over and victory is in sight. Their allies have flown hundreds of miles through dangerous enemy territory at great risk just to drop a packet of tea or tobacco and make their life a little less unbearable. They are true and faithful friends. They can be trusted. All they ask in return is that the finder has courage, has faith, and fights on. 

FM 3-05.301, Psychological Operations Process Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures, August 2007, talks about the concept:

Novelties and gifts are a unique PSYOP medium that can consist of anything presenting a PSYOP message or symbol. The messages must be short and catchy and general in content. Specific messages may be outdated by time, making the entire stock of novelties or gifts useless. A message-carrying gift may be any item of practical use such as matches, lighters, soap, nail clippers, notebooks, calendars, and T-shirts. PSYOP personnel should mark supplies and materials associated with humanitarian assistance to identify the providing agency or nation. Novelties, such as playing cards, balloons, puzzles, buttons, stickers, and other items of no great practical use, can also carry short messages or symbols. Many of the gift items and novelties must be commercially produced, but the PSYOP unit can produce the following items: Wall calendars with graphic representations of PSYOP themes and written PSYOP messages; Notebooks for schoolchildren with a short message or symbol on the cover and each page and T-shirts with commercially produced press-on messages or symbols.

The Psychological Operations Guide

The Psychological Operations Guide of December 1965 has a lot to say about gifts in general:

1. Gifts, novelties and gimmicks are used in PSYOP to attract attention, provide the recipient with a useful article, to induce selected groups to follow a desired course of action, and provide a desired psychological effect on selected targets.

2. The employment of gifts and novelties should be carefully evaluated, because distribution to denied areas requires a considerable investment in money and personnel. Also, to be most effective, gifts and novelties should be phased into the overall PSYOP program to produce maximum advantage and reinforce other PSYOP media.

3. A word of caution—no urgent warning, no demand for extreme sacrifices should be conveyed to the target wrapped in a trivial or frivolous gift. As an example, partisans yearning for guns that they cannot have will be more likely to welcome plain paper than a message wrapped around a toy or piece of candy. Careful consideration must be given whether the novelty or gift suits the culture and social conditions of the target. There are opportunities here for great blunders. American wit and humor may connect the item in an amusing fashion with the message, but the target group may miss the point and react unfavorably. Examples would be political cartoons and caricatures or the use of pornography.

Examples of Utilitarian PSYOP Material.

Dehydrated soap, sponges and similar items can be disseminated to selected targets. One example of a message that could be appropriate is:


Seed packets with an appropriate propaganda message on or inside the envelope are suitable for a variety of targets. [Note: We show such radios elsewhere in this article]. Instructions should be contained on the package as to how to plant the various seeds. During World War II large quantities of seed packets were dropped to civilians in Europe and the Pacific Command.

Friendship packets containing rice, food, candy, candles, needles, matches, cigarettes, etc., can be prepared for selected dissemination. As an example, during the Korean conflict, thousands of pliofilm gifts [Note: Pliofilm was a plastic wrap made by the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company at plants in the US state of Ohio] were dropped on North Korean military targets. Each bag contained: five cigarettes, a box of matches, six sheets of stationery, a chess game, a calendar, and a greeting card.

A message on one side of the bag read:

The UN soldiers present this bag to the North Korean soldiers. All the free nations stood up firmly to repel communist aggression with which the Communists intended to destroy the Republic of Korea. We, however, have no animosity toward the North Korean soldiers who were forced to fight with the Communist Army. This bag is our humble gift to you in recognition of our friendship. You will see much more of our friendship when you come over to the United Nations line.

The message on the other side stated:


Clothing, bicycles, cooking utensils and other appropriate or "wanted" items can be programmed to be dropped for psychological effect.

Small, transistorized radio receivers are available through military channels for selected dissemination. [Note: We show such radios elsewhere in this article] The receiver comes in a plastic ruggedized case measuring 8-5/8 x 6-7/8 x 2-7/8 inches, weight 4-2 oz. It covers the broadcast band 540 to 1600 kc and short-wave band 4.0 to 12.4 mc. It is equipped with an ear plug for covert listening. It is equipped with external terminals for an antenna and uses 4 C-type flashlight cells for a power source.

Explosives, grenades, and weapons can be dropped to selected targets. One example is Operation Braddock II which entailed the air dissemination of over four million small but powerful incendiaries. This operation was directed to the displaced foreign workers in Germany. Attached to each incendiary was a card containing instructions as to "how to use" in nine languages, and each package contained a list of suggested targets.

Forged material such as ration cards, passes, identification cards possess a utilitarian value because they can be used by the recipient. This type of gimmick is primarily designed to disrupt and confuse the hostile bureaucracy and security forces.

Non-Utilitarian. PSYOP Material.

Skull postage stamp (left) designed to embarrass Hitler (real postage stamp right) during WWII

Postage stamps designed to harass and embarrass a hostile government can be sent through international mail.

Forged bank notes can be used to attract attention and reinforce a propaganda message. [note: In other Psywarrior articles I display forged stamps and banknotes]. For example, during World War II forged Japanese occupational currency was disseminated in the Philippine Islands; the following are examples of messages that can be used:

Pay your taxes with this money.
It is easy for the enemy to print this worthless money.
This currency is as phony as the enemy.
Every day the war continues more of your money is being wasted.

Large quantities of self-adhesive propaganda material can be disseminated with instructions as to how to display. The instructions should be so worded that careful consideration is given to the security of the individual recipient.

During World War II small wooden coffins were mailed or tacked on the door of French officials who collaborated with the Germans.


PSYOP gimmicks can be disseminated in a variety of ways to include patrols, agents, international mail, air vehicles such as balloon, and various types of sea floats. A method of dissemination should be selected that increases, if possible, the psychological effect of the message.

The 1966 Military Assistance Command Thailand’s Psychological Operations Field Handbook for Thailand mentions gifts, but they use the term "giveaways." Americans often think the wars in Southeast Asia were Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. They forget that the Communists also attempted to takeover Thailand but failed to overthrow that government.

Portrait of the King and Queen of Thailand

Giveaways should have explicit or implicit symbolic meaning, readily recognizable as an act of loyalty. Giving away pictures of the King to villagers has explicit meaning; they will keep them, either for display in their home or (if there is danger to then of subversive reprisal in a secret place where they will serve as a sort of charm. Acceptance of a picture of the King becomes explicit out of loyalty to the government. An example of an implicit act would be acceptance of cabbage seeds, if the government is seeking to have villagers in an area increase or diversify their vegetable production. Items distributed might have a symbol (a slogan, a Thai flag) affixed on them. For instance, in Vietnam, it was useful to give away T-shirts for small children. A T-shirt has no propaganda significance; this significance was aided by imprinting the Vietnamese flag on the garment. The shirts became symbolic of a village’s loyalty – of his readiness to have hie child parade around the village with the government’s symbol on hie chest or back. Under serious conditions of insurgency, the political climate in the village may be such that the very acceptance of any giveaway becomes an act of loyalty to, or at least identification with, the government.

Do not give away junk (what is or what is not junk depends, of course, on local criteria, not on yours). What you give should be valued by the villagers. A Thai flag has aesthetic value. A picture of the Buddha has religious value. A good luck charm with a picture of the Buddha on one side and an appropriate inscription on the other has religious and patriotic value to the Buddhist Thai. Seeds, medicine, clothing, small household items, etc., have practical. value. What you give away should be something the recipient will be glad to get, keep, and use. Nothing would be mere counter-productive than to have the village street littered with your giveaways the morning after your departure.

Giveaways are a part of a PSYOP campaign. In addition, larger giveaways have a civic action aspect. For instance, the distribution of radio sets, small tools, of fertilizer, etc., or other major efforts do have a PSYOP value.

Part 1 – Strange Items from the Sky

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C-47 dropping leaflets

It should be noted that even though propaganda "gifts" have been dropped from the sky in nearly every major campaign since WWI, that the United States Army FM (Field Manual) 33-1 Psychological Operations Techniques and Procedures is not in favor of such gifts:

The use of novelties must be decided at the highest echelon of command because they are expensive, they require scarce resources, and distribution must be phased into the overall psychological operation.

Gifts, being useful items, do not serve well as propaganda, for the impulse of the recipient is to use the gift, ignoring the message. The major disadvantage of novelties and gifts is the cumulative expense of mass production and distribution. In addition, such items have only a peripheral, passive effect, seldom if ever moving people to action or changing opinions or emotions. At best, such items complement other media.

Gift packs

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Gift pack items incuded stationary, wrapping paper, chess game, and calendar

In the story below you will read about the aerial dropping of cigarettes, matches, writing paper, a chess board, etc. Each item has its own section. However, on rare occasions a number of these items were combined in a gift pack. It is only proper that we show this item first. A United Nations Korean War propaganda package that contained a number of different items for the North Korean soldier who was the target of this propaganda campaign. 

This Korean War New Year’s gift kit was coded 8380 and dated 15 December 1952. The kit was produced in an attempt to show the North Korean forces that the U.N. could be trusted and was friendly toward the Koreans. The kit contains five cigarettes, one box of matches, six sheets of stationery, a chess game, a calendar and a greeting card. The kit is wrapped inside a Pliofilm bag inside a greeting wrapper. Pliofilm is a transparent sheeting of chlorinated rubber (rubber hydrochloride) used for raincoats, as a packaging film, etc. It was the first transparent wrapping paper (1934) that could be heat-sealed.  

The box of matches (8380A) has the text, Gift of the U.N.

The stationery (8380B) says, May the New Year bring better times.

The chess game Changgi (8380C) has the text, Gift of the U.N.

The calendar (8380D) says, May the New Year bring peace and freedom. A gift from the U.N. May the New Year bring unification and rehabilitation.

The greeting wrapper (8380E) says, Gift of the U.N.

The gift card (8380F) is addressed: To the officers, sergeants and privates of the North Korean Army. Text on the back is: May the New Year bring you much happiness. From the officers and men of the United Nations forces.

The cigarettes have no code or text.

The Pliofilm wrapper has a propaganda message on the front which says:

The U.N. Soldiers present this bag to the North Korean Soldiers

All the free nations stood up firmly to repel the Communist aggression with which the Communists attempted to destroy the republic of Korea. We, however, have no animosity toward the North Korea soldiers who were forced to fight with the Communist Army.

This bag is our humble gift to you in recognition of our friendship. You will see much more of our friendship when you come over to the U.N. side.

The short message on the back is:

The U.N. Gift Bag

Which you can keep rice in.

Which you can carry water in.

Which you can put other important things in.

Another chess game was coded “EUSAK 8625” The EUSAK stands for Eighth U.S. Army Korea. The specimen of this leaflet that I saw had the handwritten note at the center:

This is an “elephant chess” game. We drop them over the lines in 50 man packets which also include candy, cigarettes and matches, toilet paper and “chomping” tobacco. I hear they are very popular with the Reds.

The Communists sometimes sent gifts to Allied troops in the front lines. One was a small cloth bag, called a “G.I. Care Kit.” One soldier noted that the gifts left by the Chinese forces for front line U.S. troops during Christmas made good barter for “booze from the flyboys” that were always on the hunt for souvenirs. Another gift was a bag of Chinese tea with the following message attached:

Demand Peace, Stop the War!

Peace: This Chinese Famous tea is given you to kill the hillish [sic] time at the front.

During the Cold War a decade later, a North Korean defector recommended various items to be placed in the gift packets floated in plastic bags to Korea by the United States Army 7th PSYOP Group. His choice was:

A Pojaji – A square cloth designed to carry articles. An Indan case – A container for carrying a medicine used for sweet-smelling breath. Handkerchiefs, soap containers, shoe horns, combs, a money case, children’s toys, children’s fairytale books and picture books for children.

The defector recommended that the best quality items should be used to show the high quality of Republic of Korea items and to create dissatisfaction with poorly made North Korean goods.

The Target Analysis Section of the 7th PSYOP Group published a weekly newsletter called PSYOP Intelligence Notes. The issue of 21 May 1968 discussed items that might be placed in gift bags for North Korean fishermen as recommended by a North Korean spy who had been a fisherman before he was caught and interrogated. The objects were: electric light bulbs (the fishing boats always needed bulbs and they were scarce; Earmuffs for the cold winter days; Nylon string; Cigarette holders; and brooches for the fishermen’s wife who only have plastic jewelry.

We should add here that the Communists tried to stop their people taking the gifts that were dropped during the Korean War. Dan King wrote a book entitled The Yalu River Boys, Pacific Press, North Charleston, NC, 2018, about his father who was a prisoner in North Korea after his B-29 was shot down. The story mentions the gifts and North Korean official reaction:

The Central Peace Committee was coerced into signing and recording a six-paragraph “Message to the U.N. Delegation at Kaesong Cease-Fire negotiations…The same document accuses the USAF of dropping booby-trapped toys, cans of food and fountain pens…The Chinese even accused the airmen of trying to murder little kids by dropping poison-laced lollipops.

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The POWs struck back. They killed a rat, fashioned a tiny parachute with a USAF insignia and attached it to the rat, and tossed it into the bushes:

Wearing rubber gloves and surgical masks, a pair of guards used oversize chopsticks to place the little rakkasan into a jar. Meanwhile, dozens of guards scoured the area for more invaders.

[Note]: By coincidence, Rakkasan was the name of an American propaganda newspaper to the Japanese during WWII.

Retired USAF Lieutenant Colonel Bob Evans was a navigator assigned to the 35th Troop Carrier Squadron at Naha Air Base, Okinawa. He remembers dropping gifts from his C-130A over North Vietnam for Christmas 1965:

During our time at Da Nang AFB, we once flew a Santa Claus run over the area just north of the Demilitarized Zone. We dropped candy, soap, school supplies, and other small items by small parachutes. All the goods were made in South Vietnam, so the thought was that the villagers would use the products. However, North Vietnamese propaganda convinced the villagers that it was an American trick, and that we were trying to poison them. The villagers were pretty clever, though. They washed their cattle with the soap and fed the candy to the pigs.

A confidential National Interrogation Center report titled Effects of gift, Radio and Leaflet Drops on Hoa Thuy village, mentions the Communist tactics:

Cadres spread propaganda to the effect that the U.S. candy and soap was poisoned... Children's clothes, dolls, and sewing needles were poisoned and would burst the user's skin in three months... The people still secretly used the gifts except when they could not do otherwise. The cadres also would do the same. Their propaganda and instructions were simply for the sake of appearances.

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Medical Envelope 10-363-68

On the general subject of gift medicine, in 1968, the 10th PSYOP Battalion printed 50,000 medical envelopes to be used by U.S. troops whenever they held a medical civic action program “Medcap” and treated the local people. The text on the front is:

Name of Medicine___________________________

Take tablets of this medicine ___ times every day.

Drink a lot of water. Prevent children from taking this medicine by mistake.


Down with the Viet Cong's policy to exploit the people and make them poor.

The text on the back of the envelope is:

The Viet Cong kill the people and steal their rice while the Government of Vietnam looks after the people and provides medicine for them.

In May 1970, the American forces in Vietnam prepared another “medicine envelope” coded 3727. It was meant to show the sick people of Vietnam that their government was concerned about their health. 100,000 envelopes containing medicine were distributed nationwide. It is believed that the program was paid for by the Military Assistance Command Plans and Program Division - Advisory (PPA), the paper printed at the Regional Service Center, Manila, and made into envelopes in Saigon. Text on the envelopes is:


An Aim of your Government

March 1967, in the early stages of the war, 20,000 "Medicine Wrappers" were prepared coded SP-1656 for Phong Dinh in IV Corps. The wrapper had the text:

If you have friends or relatives who have been misguided by the Viet Cong, help them to return to the Government of Vietnam where they and their children can receive medical attention from our doctors. Soldiers at outposts and local officials have been instructed to receive them in a friendly fashion. If seriously ill, they will be evacuated to the hospital in Can Tho.

Sergeant Derrill de Heer of the Australian 1st PSYOP Unit said that the envelope did not always contain real medicine. The Allies had no interest in healing the Viet Cong:

The patient’s name would be checked against the village blacklist (suspected Viet Cong Infrastructure, CI, VC suppliers or VC family members) by an intelligence unit soldier and they would indicate on their treatment card with a special mark that the treating medical personnel became aware of their status. It was necessary to prevent the VC from acquiring medicine through the MedCap system. Therefore, if the person seeking treatment described symptoms that were not supported by the doctor’s examination, then a particular mark was made on the patient’s card and the dispensing pharmacist gave the patient placebo medicine.


Erik Gjems-Onstad was a friend and Norwegian resistance member during WWII. He was arrested in Sweden for his involvement with Norwegian resistance activity in 1941 and was sent to the United Kingdom where he joined the Norwegian Independent Company 1 and received British military training. He founded the "Durham" organization for conducting psychological warfare in Norway towards the end of the war and took part in blowing up railway tracks. Gjems-Onstad's efforts during the Second World War led him to become one of Norway's highest decorated war heroes. He was awarded the War Cross, Norway's highest decoration, for his efforts in the war. I had a long conversation with Erik in 1985 and asked him if he did any odd propaganda, pornography, sexual items or whatever? He told me after checking his records:

You ask about strong or "dirty stuff." We distributed condoms to the enemy in which we placed itching powder.

I don't know if that helped to win the war, but it must have been a real inconvenience to the horny German occupying troops.

Face Masks

Face masks dropped during the great COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 in the Philippines

The Philippine Army dropped face masks and leaflets on remote villages of the Agusan and Surigao provinces on 29 and 20 April during the Coronavirus Pandemic of 2020. The 402nd Infantry Brigade said they used a Philippine Air Force Huey helicopter and two MG-520 gunships to drop 10,000 leaflets and 200 face masks on Wednesday and Thursday. The operation was part of their COVID-19 information awareness campaign to remote communities unreachable by vehicles. The leaflets were to support the Government effort of informing the communities of the current health situation and how to prevent the spread of the pandemic; and the government efforts to mitigate the social impact.

Record Player

Miniature 3 x 4-inch PSYOP Record Player

An 8 November 1968 letter from the 7th PSYOP Group stated that they had been conducting a test of the miniature 3 x 4-inch PSYOP record player. The initial tests had proven favorable. They could be used in Vietnam as gift items by hand distribution from Armed Propaganda Teams to children or the families of Viet Cong. Personalized messages could be recorded by the President of South Vietnam mentioning national objectives, particularly during the Tet Campaign. The cost was $123 each from Japan with three records. The price would be less if the Group made their own record. They could be dropped from aircraft if necessary. It might be possible to get the Military Assistance Command Vietnam, or the Commander-in-Chief Pacific Support Group, pay for them.

The funny thing is one of the people involved with this project told me that the record player could be bought for "pennies" and yet I saw that price of $123. That made no sense, but then I found as document titled "A 50 cents Phonograph is the newest U.S. Weapon." There was clearly more than one record player being considered. It said in part

A fascinating new weapon for the propaganda war "a rugged little hand-operated photograph that can be manufactured for 50 cents or less" was unveiled here. David Sarnoff, Chairman of the Board of RCA, supervised the first public demonstration of the machine at a lunch held by the Overseas Press Club at its headquarters. The device that could carry a message without being subject to radio jamming or dependent on a source of electricity and that was priced so that millions could be delivered gratis. The little machine is unbreakable and can be dropped by air behind the "Bamboo Curtain." The machine weighs 10 ounces in its stout cardboard container and can be carried by balloon. It is mainly of plastic and has a crank on its axis. An arm carrying a needle and a "radiator" also fits into the base. The records turn at 78 revolutions a minute, play for three minutes and are unbreakable, and can be manufactured for 5 cents each.


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Two Types of Portable Radio Dropped on Vietnam

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Third Type of Portable Radio Dropped on Vietnam
Note: This is the same type of radio shown in the leaflet below

Small portable Radios have been dropped on a number of occasions in an attempt to make communication with a target audience easier. Radios are cheap, can be fixed so that they only receive one station, and are extremely valuable when dealing with an illiterate people who are unable to read leaflets.

The military booklet: BUILDING BRIDGES: Commander's Guide to Face to Face Communication explains the importance of radio to PSYOP. It says in part:

The invention of the battery-powered transistor has brought radio broadcasts into most households of developing countries. There are now over 600 million radio sets in the developing world, and the number continues to grow as technology becomes less expensive.

Radio is one of the most effective forms of communication, particularly in developing countries. In Africa for example, people listen to the radio while farming, cooking, or shopping...In addition to local and international radio stations, the U.S. military or coalition forces may have portable stations broadcasting in your local area. Well thought-out and prepared statements can reach distant targets. It is an excellent medium to convey a message to a target audience. Radio is very inexpensive to buy, operate and maintain and is ideal for illiterate audiences. One radio can be listened to by large numbers of people.

SFC Michael H. Johnson Sr. (USA Retired) who served with the 7th Psychological Operations Group reports that there were three types of radios. One was fixed to a single station and then sealed inside with a black compound. There was also a normal transistor and one that had the propaganda station pre-tuned so it was clear and sharp, while all the other stations were slightly out-of-tune and with some static.

He added that the radio program was somewhat of a failure because some Special Forces troops had a habit of booby-Trapping the foam containers so that they would explode when opened. "We were sometimes undermined by our own people," he said.

I did not believe this story at first, and am still hesitant to believe it, but when I asked a former officer in the 7th PSYOP Group he answered:

I had not heard that specific story about booby-trapping foam containers, but I have no reason to disbelieve it. There was one report that a body was found on a trail with the head blown off and the right hand missing. It was said that the Special Forces had rigged a radio with explosives. It was turned on, brought to the ear, and exploded. I would say, you cannot discount the extreme possibility that your source was correct.

Similar things may have occurred in Korea. A North Korean defector reported that a Security Officer and team came to his village with examples of ROK propaganda materials that were booby trapped with explosives. One of the items was a can of shoe polish. My Operations Officer said that he believed that the ROK CIA was involved in booby trapping items.

Alan K. Abner says in PSYWARRIORS – Psychological Warfare during the Korean War, Burd Street Press, Shippensburg, PA, 2001, that small cigarette pack size AM radio receivers were dropped during the Korean War as were a limited distribution of shock-proof short-wave transmitters.

One of the earliest mentions of gift radios is mentioned in Stars and Stripes of 18 July 1967 in an article entitled “Drop Radios on North – Psywar Experts.” The article says in part:

American psychological warfare experts have proposed the dropping of small transistor radios into Communist North Vietnam in order to get allied views across to the population.

Informed sources said the idea was presented to Leonard Marks, Director of the United States Information Service when he visited Saigon recently.

The said Marks reacted “enthusiastically” and asked for cost estimates on the radios in lots of up to one million, an indication that serious consideration is being given to the idea.

The radios would be packed in plastic cases with a spare battery, giving them 20 hours playing time. They would be dropped by tiny parachutes and fixed at a pre-set frequency which would pick up the Voice of America or the Vietnamese government’s Voice of Freedom station in South Vietnam.

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Thomas C. Sorensen mentions the dissemination of PSYOP radios in The Word War, Harper & Row, N.Y., 1968:

Cheap transistor radios, especially constructed to receive only U. S. and South Vietnamese stations, were sold to peasants and dropped into enemy territory in both North and South Vietnam.

A PSYOP officer who operated out of the 7th PSYOP Group on Okinawa added:

We ordered small portable radios for air drop over North Vietnam. We scheduled a helicopter to drop the radios encased in a foam box on our PSYOP compound to see if they would survive. In the initial tests the batteries were installed in the radio. It didn't work. There was considerable breakage. We took the batteries out of the radio and installed them in the foam box near the radio. That worked fine. The operation was approved. We used a B-52 to drop the radios.

An airman told me in regard to dropping the radios from B-52 bombers:

I was stationed at Anderson Air Force Base, Guam where I worked in the Munitions Maintenance Squadron where we received, stored and assembled bombs that were loaded on the B-52 bombers stationed there. One day we assembled what consisted of small transistor radios which were affixed to the Armed Forces Radio Station (I think), a short instruction sheet, a battery and an earphone in a Styrofoam box (If I remember correctly each radio had a little parachute attached).

Specialist Five Clyde Gaidosh, the air operations NCO of Co A, 8th PSYOP Battalion in Nha Trang, Vietnam from 1969-70 recalls dropping small portable radios that could only receive the Chieu Hoi (Open Arms) station. He recalled that the radios were about 5 inches high by 4 inches wide and about 1 or 2 inches thick. The ones he dropped were a bright yellow. Although he is not sure after 35 years, he believes that they ran on a 9 volt battery and were packed in a plastic waterproof padded bag. He recalls that the small parachutes were about 18 inches to 2 feet across.  The radios were dropped from helicopters for pin-point targets and fixed wing aircraft for larger targets.

Specialist Five Paul Merrell who was also in the 8th PSYOP Battalion about the same time adds:

We did occasional drops from Hueys of very cheap transistor radios (with flare parachutes) that were hard-wired to the frequency of the Battalion's 50 Kilowatt radio station at Pleiku.

The Communist North Vietnamese reported the finding of the Allied radio boxes on many occasions. Some of the MACVSOG reports of these discoveries are as follows:

On 2 May 1965, fisherman found large and small boxes floating in the water. The small boxes contained children’s clothing and handkerchiefs. The large boxes were sealed with green tape and wrapped in a nylon bag. When opening the eight large boxes they found radios, about 25cm long and 10cm high. The listeners noted that the radios played Vietnamese music and talk stations. Within every box was a piece of paper that said, “This radio set is donated to the people of North Vietnam. Do not allow anyone to take it from you. Keep it to follow the situation.” Security forces found out and two days later confiscated 23 radio sets within the Tuong Lai commune.

During the night of 9 July 1965, rangers using rubber boats, landed on the coast. They advanced 3 kilometers into the mainland near Yen Diem and laid 25 radio sets there, one of which was turned on.

The Vietnam radios are also mentioned in SOG - The Secret War of America's Commandos in Vietnam, John L. Plaster, Simon and Schuster, NY, 1997. Plaster adds:

SOG's greatest material limitation in these radio games was a shortage of transistor radios in enemy hands. The solution was simple enough: SOG built its own radios, code-names Peanuts, which were CIA-designed and manufactured in Japan. Like anything having to do with OP-33, the Peanuts radio was fiendishly clever. No matter how carefully you turned a Peanuts frequency dial, the real Radio Hanoi was lost in preplanned static, but right there, just a hair away and clear as a bell, was SOG's "Radio Hanoi." C130 Blackbirds airdropped them into North Vietnam, inserting eight thousand in 1967.

They are mentioned again in John L. Plaster’s SOG – a Photo History of the Secret War, Paladin Press, Boulder, CO, 2000. The author says:

Thousands of peanuts radios were inserted by U.S. recon teams, airdropped by Blackbirds, and floated ashore by Navy Nasty boat crews.

The MACV-SOG History states that U.S. naval forces delivered 2,600 PSYWAR radios by “Nasty Boat” in the year 1966. They also distributed 60,000 gift kits.

Declassified SOG documents state that the following numbers of radios were dropped in the early days of the Vietnam War: 949 in 1965, 5000 in 1966 and 11,000 in 1967.

The Navy must have also dropped some radios using balloons. Lieutenant Colonel Dave Underhill told me that he was asked to help with a problem they had:

I was asked to help in Vietnam when the Navy launched gift package radios to the farmers in Vietnam. We came up with two balloons - one a fast raiser to carry it over the target and burst. The other would lose altitude slowly and settle down until the package was anchored on the ground. Once the package was anchored a chemical fuse burned through and released the balloon so the package could not be blown away by the wind.

The MACV 1968 Psyop Guide adds:

Small transistor radios which have been locked to a single frequency have been manufactured. Although packaged for free-fall aerial delivery, the radios have been largely distributed by being placed along trails traveled by the Viet Cong, handed to members of known Viet Cong families, and distributed in hamlets and villages inhabited by or close to target audiences. The effectiveness of this program may have been indicated by the destruction of the antenna and the Viet Cong attack on the station.

Gifts have been airdropped or distributed as an adjunct to patrols or waterborne operations. Even through the gifts are often confiscated, the act of giving is contrasted with the act of taking by the enemy. Toys, soap, writing paper, clothes, and food are useful for reinforcing the message.

The dissemination of bulky items which are either vehicles for propaganda (stationery, cigarettes, soap) or permit reception of messages (radio, TV) is most frequently accomplished by hand. Gifts have been released from aircraft by using small chutes attached to the generally unbreakable articles. The major problem with bulky articles is delivery to enemy areas by aerial means. The very limited drift of these articles requires on-target release. This, of course, is particularly hazardous. The articles need not be chute-delivered, for Styrofoam packaging has proved quite reliable for free fall purposes.

The declassified secret report Psychological Operations against North Vietnam: July 1972 – January 1973 says about the miniature airdropped radios:

In late September 1967, the suggestion to drop miniaturized radio receivers (mini-radios) was approved as another method of disseminating PSYOP news…There were four means of getting leaflets and mini-radios over North Vietnam: the C-130 aircraft, F-4s, B-52s, and drones.

The general concept and rationale behind the use of mini-radios was to apply pressure on the NVN leadership by threatening their monopoly on information for domestic consumption. By dropping mini-radios, it was hoped that the radio audience for U.S. and SVN government broadcasts would be enlarged, and that the party and government would become concerned that an increase in illegal listenership represented a growing divergence from strict loyalty and obedience to government decree. Further, the radios burdened the security apparatus by causing it to search for and retrieve them, and created resentment when an individual either voluntarily or involuntarily gave up the small but valuable item to authorities. Finally, their presence required the government to remind the populace repeatedly that their exposure to information must be restricted….Some new methods of delivery were tried including the flotation of radios to NVN from offshore and balloon delivery.

The United States Army Special Operations Command’s journal, Tip of the Spear, January, 2010, adds in an article entitled “Vietnam’s most secret squadron:”

The OPLAN 34A unconventional warfare plan included various Psychological Warfare operations, including dropping leaflets and small single-station radios to the North Vietnamese population (tuned to a radio station purported to be run by Hanoi, but really run by SOG), dropping “gift kits” to peasants, and various other “black ops” intended to convince North Vietnamese leaders there was an anticommunist insurgency brewing on their own turf.

The North Vietnamese news media was not happy. One comment was:

“The people of North Vietnam must absolutely refrain from tuning in to radio stations of the American and their henchmen. We must organize ourselves to collect and burn or destroy them immediately. Keep track of, detect and check in time the action of bad elements who surreptitiously tune in on enemy radio stations to spread groundless rumors and disrupt order and security.”

Bob Fulton was the Executive Officer for Regional Service Center (RSC) in Manila, part of the United States Information Agency (USIA) from 1967 to 1970. He told me that the small portable radios caused several discussions:

The radios often caused a confused state of affairs over which agency was responsible for what. I can't remember who approached us on the radios. Think it was someone from Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support (CORDS). We discussed what I knew of the Voice of America’s experience and I referred them to an appropriate contact at VOA. We later printed the instruction leaflet after they acquired the radios for North Vietnam. I think we printed about 10,000 units. I did not know that they were actually air-dropped. I know that during the Cold War for the USSR and Eastern Europe the CIA’s preferred dissemination route was through smugglers and the black market.

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Radio Dropped on Laos

Retired SFC Mike Johnson recalls that the 7th PSYOP Group in Okinawa also dropped and distributed small portable radios over Laos in the mid-1960s.

Specialist Gaidosh also recalls a controversial small gadget that was used like a viewer to show the VC what was happening to their families and homes while they were in the field. He says:

The gadget was about 3 inches high and 2 inches wide and had a glazed over square to make it look like a TV and had a hole about 1/2 inch to look through. I think they were bright yellow and red. The light came thru the TV square and the hole was on the opposite side. On the top was a white button to push. As you pushed the button the picture changed. I think they had about 5 or 6 cartoon type graphics and a Chieu Hoi message. I know we dropped some from the 02B aircraft mostly in special targeted areas.  I don't think it was a large part of the program. Most people never heard of them. I brought one home, but it was lost years ago.

An officer from the 7th PSYOP Group was unaware of this project but said:

I explored the possibility of using a viewer with a circular insert. You viewed the slides and rotated the disc to see the next slide. They were made in Portland, Oregon. I never had the time to get it implemented. Someone else may have done it.

In 1964, the 7th Psychological Operations Group (Korea detachment) was given the task of disseminating western news and propaganda into North Korea. The program was called "Operation Jilli." "Jilli" is a Korean word meaning "truth." As part of this plan radios were both airdropped and floated into North Korea.

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The air-dropped Radio for Haiti bought in bulk from Radio Shack

In 1994, United States forces landed in Haiti to restore order and return elected President Bertrand Aristide to power in an operation called Uphold Democracy. Once again, radios were given to the people so that they could hear the latest news. There were no special adaptations of these radios; they were simply bought in bulk from Radio Shack. The United States Air Force dropped roughly 10,000 radios across parts of Haiti to let the local people hear the American PSYOP broadcasts.

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Kaito Radio

In order to assure that the Afghans could listen to the American propaganda broadcasts; starting 17 October 2001 U. S. forces distributed small battery-powered portable radios. Initially, several thousand Kaito brand portable radios were distributed by hand. The Kaito was a 220-volt AC radio that was battery, solar and crank (dynamo) powered. Cost was low for quantity purchased and the power source was the prime requirement. The sensitivity and selectivity were poor, and required a very strong signal to work. It was not successful in the mountainous countryside of Afghanistan.

There was a recommendation to use the Grundig FR220 radio. It worked well in the mountainous terrain and was battery and dynamo powered. The 10th Mountain Division psychological operations officer headed the purchase of 100,000 FR200 Grundig Emergency Radios for Coalition Joint Task Force (CJTF) 180 to be delivered to Bagram, Afghanistan, between November 2003 and February 2004. Over 30,000 Grundig radios had been distributed by the time he left Afghanistan in April 2004.  In addition, before leaving Afghanistan he provided the Multi-National Corps - Iraq (MNC-I) Information Operations (IO) Cell with instructions for purchasing Grundig Radios for distribution in Iraq.  The CJTF-76 (formerly CJTF-180) IO Cell has been in talks with the Eton Corporation to purchase an additional 150,000 Grundig radios. 

The Americans also distributed the WR-004 World Receiver AM, FM and short wave radio produced by the STL Group in the Netherlands under the brand name Super Tech. They were airdropped with the batteries already in the radio. The British apparently dropped crank-powered radios at the same time.

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The author with a WSSR-11 digital receiver, the satellite radio used in Afghanistan

The U. S. Army later distributed Worldspace model WSSR-11 digital receivers. They are battery-powered and allow the listener to access over 40 satellite radio services from around the world. Each radio comes with a directional line-of sight antenna. The service uses three satellites, AmeriStar, AfriStar, and AsiaStar.

Small portable radios are still being used in psychological operations to inform neutrals and enemies of American foreign policy. In November 2004 there was a report that the United States government had funded a program to smuggle radios into North Korea. For the next four years, Washington will spend up to $2 million annually to boost radio broadcasts to North Korea and infiltrate mini-radios across its borders. The American plan is outlined in the North Korean Human Rights Act which President Bush signed into law 18 October 2004. The act provides money to private humanitarian groups to assist defectors, extends refugee status to fleeing North Koreans and sets in motion a plan to boost broadcasts to North Korea and get receivers into the country. A small number of clandestine radios are already in the country, sent in by helium-filled balloons deployed by South Korean religious groups or brought in by traders across North Korea's border with China. The Government of South Korea does not support this plan because they believe that it will make contact and cooperation with the North more difficult.  In March 2003, police blocked Korean-American pastor Douglas E. Shin as he and colleagues prepared to send 700 radios across the border slung from 22 helium-filled balloons.

The subject of radios smuggled into North Korea was mentioned again on 20 September 2007 by Tim Johnson of the McClatchy Newspaper chain. He said in part:

In isolated North Korea, the only legal transistor radios have dials permanently set to government stations. But smugglers and itinerant traders bring an increasing number of radios into North Korea... and that is gratifying news for three tiny broadcasters that beam information north of the border.

Each night, the three U.S.-financed radio stations crackle onto the air, trying to reach North Koreans who are brave or reckless enough to tune into foreign newscasts in defiance of the North’s Stalinist regime. “Greetings from the Voice of Hope” began one recent newscast from Open Radio for North Korea. “We are trying to reach you to provide you with information.” The three Seoul-based broadcasters; Open Radio for North Korea, Free North Korea Radio and Radio Free Chosun each receive about $200,000 annually from the National Endowment for Democracy, a nonprofit body financed by Congress to promote democracy worldwide.

Retired USAF Lieutenant Colonel Bob Evans remembers dropping radios over North Korea as part of Operation Jilli:

We also flew along the Korean demilitarized zone and dropped tiny pre-tuned radios shrink-wrapped to cardboard leaflets. The radios were tuned to Radio Free Korea.

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U.S. Psychological Operations soldiers hand out radios to children in a village in southern Afghanistan. The new radio shows on Army-run stations are seeking to reach wider audiences.

The use of radios as part of a psychological campaign is discussed by M. E. Roberts in Villages of the Moon, Psychological Operations in Southern Afghanistan, Publish America, Baltimore, 2005. The author says:

We also had solar/hand generator short wave radio receivers to give away. In addition to providing access to information in a society that cannot read, these were used to gain support. These radios were highly valued, in part because PSYOP had given them to all returning Hajjis, or persons who had completed the Hajji to Mecca. In Afghan society, to be a Hajji places one in a high status, so for a non-Hajji to receive a radio produced the same connection people in the United States might feel at wearing the shoes Michael Jordan markets. Afghans generally swarm around when anything is given out free, but were especially forceful to get a radio.

The tactical PSYOP teams also disseminated leaflets, gummed stickers, and newspapers in an attempt to influence the target audience. The PSYOP troops distributed Afghan style “bat” kites printed with a flag and unity message to the local children. The kites were banned by the Taliban, but the children loved them. If the kites were not flown by a local village, it was a sign that the Taliban still had influence there.

An anti-Communist group known as the Fighters for Free North Korea regularly launch specially-equipped balloon over North Korean territory that include leaflets, money and plastic radios that have AM, FM, and shortwave frequencies. The North Koreans have protested these actions a number of times right up to the present, but the South Korean government claims that the balloons are sent by private citizens and they have no control over them.

In March, 2011 South Korean activists started to bombard North Korea with propaganda material that included footage of Middle East protests and urged rebellion. The Seoul-based Fighters for Free North Korea said it would send about 200,000 propaganda leaflets, 1-dollar bills and USB flash drives carrying videos on the wave of uprising against authoritarian rulers in Egypt, Libya and other Middle Eastern countries. The group has sent about 3 million propaganda leaflets toward North Korea every year since 2004. South Korea's military has also floated balloons carrying about 3 million leaflets containing news about Egyptian and Libyan protests as well as daily necessities like soap, underwear, medicine and radios toward the North since 2010.

Cigarette Paper

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Efka – Pyramiden Cigarette Paper
Courtesy of Lee Richards

During WWII the British forgery section run by Ellic Howe produced cigarette paper to be dropped on Germany on a number of occasions. These black items were given "H" numbers. Some of those known are H.329 (5000 packs of EFKA cigarette paper), H.381 (EFKA-PYRAMIDEN cigarette paper), H.443 (GIZEH cigarette paper), and H.446 (GIZEH cigarette paper). It is known that in some of these cigarette paper packs, of the 50 sheets, at least 10 were printed with malingering instructions. The British prepared a many such malingering documents telling the German worker or serviceman how to feign illness and avoid work or front-line duty.

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The Germans Retaliate

Naturally the German forces were quick to use the same sort of propaganda on cigarette paper to the guerrillas fighting in Yugoslavia. This small paper bears the German symbol to show that it is official and says in German and Serbian:

Refugee Identification. Do not shoot, but hand over to the nearest German commander for good treatment.

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Leaflet 7092 for North Korea

Leaflet 7092 is printed on cigarette paper that has been prepared in such a way that the finder can cut out perfect rectangles to roll his own cigarettes. At the same time the propaganda reminds the enemy soldier how much he misses cigarettes and promises that should he come over to the Allied side such cigarettes will be freely available. The leaflet was produced by the Psychological Warfare Section, General Headquarters, Far East Command, APO 500, in October 1951. It depicts a North Korean soldier enjoying a cigarette. The purpose of the leaflet is to "establish a favorable contact with the enemy so that he will be more receptive to our direct propaganda." The Korean-language text is:

Perhaps your own supply services are not providing you with cigarette paper. We know that you have been using leaflets to roll your cigarettes.

This is a special cigarette paper leaflet prepared for you by the United Nations Command.

The United Nations gives you plenty of ready-made cigarettes.

ENJOY LIFE and plenty of cigarettes away from the war by coming over to the UN side.

Text on each individual cigarette paper is:

Escape to the U.N. lines.

Retired USAF Lieutenant Colonel Bob Evans remembers a plan to drop cigarette paper over North Korea as part of Operation Jilli during the Cold War:

We found out that because of fear of being caught, the vast majority of the defectors had read the leaflets in an outhouse and then destroyed it; it was a death sentence if you were caught with a propaganda leaflet. When I left Okinawa, the PSYOP folks were working with a cigarette company trying to come up with a leaflet paper with similar characteristics to cigarette paper. This way, more people would pick up the leaflet if they could smoke it after they read it.

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United Nations Calendar Leaflet 7217

The above United Nations calendar leaflet was for the year 1953. The text at left offers New Year greetings on behalf of the United Nations Armed Forces. The calendar combines Western and Chinese lunar dates. Among the holidays listed is the establishment of the Republic of Korea.

Calendars have been used as a form of propaganda for the last six decades. They were very popular during the Korean War (we show another at the top of this article in the gift pack) and the United Nations printed many with various propaganda messages prominently displayed. They were featured during the Cold War and again in Vietnam when both the United States and the Viet Cong used them. There is always a need to know what day it is and if one side can get the enemy to use a calendar with a propaganda message on it, you know that propaganda will be seen daily for at least a year.

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Christmas Cards

For many Americans, the Christmas season is their favorite time of the year. This is especially true of those in military service, far from home and their loved ones. Visions of Christmas trees, holly, mistletoe, and snow-covered landscapes bring back pleasant memories of their youth and happy carefree days. Our enemies are aware of this sentimental trait. For over 50 years they have prepared fake Christmas cards that featured those wonderful holiday images as propaganda in an attempt to demoralize the American soldier, make him homesick, and cause him to consider surrender. For example, during World War II the Japanese produced at least seven different Christmas cards to be used against U.S. forces on Guadalcanal in December of 1942.

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One card is on blue paper and depicts a pinup drawing of a girl in a transparent white negligee talking on a telephone. Text on the front says "Can't he be original? Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year." The back of the card shows a similar picture of a girl in a black negligee. When opened, the card has a long handwritten note to "Dearest Jim," which starts "Another day passes without word from you and I write wondering whether this will reach you or not. Why, oh why don't I hear from you…?" The letter is signed "Love and kisses, Claire."

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Toilet Paper-Kameraden!

Sir Arthur "Bomber" Harris, the WWII head of British Bomber Command once said:

Whitleys and Wellingtons were put to the questionable employ of dropping pamphlets all over Europe, a game in which we never had the slightest faith. My personal view is that the only thing achieved was largely to supply the Continent's requirements of toilet paper for the five long years of the war.

Harris might have been a prophet. Jim Jablonski told me in May 2010:

My late father was a rifleman in the 104th Infantry Division (Timberwolves) during WWII, and the history of the unit contains an interesting anecdote concerning PSYOP leaflets. Several German soldiers surrendered themselves as the war neared end, and each was found to be in possession of a bundle of "safe passage" leaflets. When asked why he had so many of the papers, one German soldier said that they had been issued to him to use as toilet paper.


A British Toilet Paper leaflet for Denmark

This leaflet dropped on German troops in occupied Denmark basically implies that the German people are little more than feces in Hitler's hand. It is mentioned in Black propaganda - from World War II, Palle Schmidt, 1980. It says:

This piece of paper applied at the back,
is just like us in the Fuehrer's hand

It is hard to believe that the German military would issue their troops enemy leaflets, regardless of the need for toilet paper, but I suppose it is possible.

British researcher Lee Richards found a comment in 2016 from a British Eight Army Major dated 25 June 1944 “in the field” that shows once again that Bomber Harris might have been a prophet:

It is with regret that we must report that copies of Frontpost [an Allied air-dropped newspaper] were found in a mutilated condition in the area of Subiaco [Central Italy]. The leaflets had been torn in two and showed unmistakable signs of having been used “fuer gewisse Zwecke” [“for certain purposes”].

The Office of Strategic Services Morale Operations section in Rome had another theory, and actually prepared propaganda toilet paper to be dropped over Germany. Each sheet of the paper bore either an anti-Nazi message or a cartoon or caricature attacking Hitler or some high Nazi Party member. 10,000 copies of the Kameraden 4.25 x 7.5-inch sheet shown above were printed by OSS Rome with the text:


Enough with all this shit! We do not fight for Germany any longer but
only for Hitler and Himmler. The Nazi Party has led us in down this
damn street but now the bigwigs only think of saving their own skin.
They let us die in the dirt. We should hold out until the last
cartridge. But we need the last cartridges to free Germany from the SS

        Finish!! Peace!!

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Bread without Butter

A second piece of propaganda toilet paper has a poorly drawn and unidentifiable face, probably that of a bomb ravished sleep-deprived German civilian with text, or just text without the caricature. It is believed that the caricature and text were rubber-stamped onto the paper. The text on one 4.25 x 7.5-inch sheet that bears both the face and a message in perfect German rhyme is:

Bread without butter
Eight o’clock in bed
Ass not yet warm
Air-raid warning

Some of these toilet paper leaflets were found behind the German lines in Italy and are believed to have been carried there by collaborating Operation Sauerkraut German POWs who worked with US PSYOP troops. With the group found behind the lines was a copy of the above “Bread without Butter” in a reduced 4.25 x 6.25-inch size printed on a stiff paper.

In 2015, a large collection of leaflets was offered for sale and the “Bread without butter” toilet paper leaflet sheet was included. The collection was formed by Corporal Arthur Baker whose discharge states:

Radio Operator – Served with the Office of Strategic Service for six months in Italy. Operated and maintained high speed radio equipment used code. Received and sent international Morse Code. Set up and maintained radio communications.

It appears that the corporal had nothing to do with leaflets, but like all Americans he was an avid souvenir collector and brought home about 30 of the Rome OSS Propaganda leaflets.

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Use This Side

93,000 copies of a third sheet entitled Diese seite benutzen (“Use this side”) were also prepared in Rome.

The OSS Rome Final Report of Production and Distribution from 15 July 1944 to 15 May 1945 indicates that in all, 334,000 pieces of toilet paper were prepared with 163,650 sent to Brindisi, 106,120 sent to North Italy, 37,400 sent to France and 21,000 labeled “Special.”

It is thought that some of these sheets were placed in the lavatory of Swiss trains that traveled into Germany.

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British propaganda parody of the German 50 pfennig

This combining of Hitler and toilet paper was not uncommon. For instance, the British printed a propaganda parody of the German 50 pfennig Behelfszahlungsmittel fur die Deutsche Wehrmacht (Auxiliary Payment Certificates for the German Armed Forces). There are four different propaganda messages on the back and they were given the Political Warfare Executive numbers H.692A-D. The leaflet coded H.692B had the text on the back:

I am a piece of Hitler’s ass-paper. Nobody accepts me because nobody can buy anything with me.

Toilet paper leaflets may have been used during the Korean War too. Alan K. Abner says:

The various materials used in implementing the goal of the operation covered a wide range such as toilet paper with illustrated sheets with catch words, mottos, slogans etc.

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Parody of North Vietnamese 50 Dong National Bank of Vietnam note

The concept of enemy paper money as toilet paper was used again in Vietnam. We are not sure if this note was prepared by American, French or South Vietnamese propagandists, but someone prepared a propaganda parody of North Vietnamese 50 dong National Bank of Vietnam note of 1951 with the front replaced by a line drawing of a peasant squatting and wiping himself with a genuine banknote and the text:

The only use for the paper money of Ho Chi Minh.

During Operation Desert Storm in 1990 a similar propaganda leaflet was prepared.

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Operation Desert Storm propaganda leaflet

No military organization has ever taken credit for printing six miniature Iraqi 20 dinar banknotes. Since the Army denies being involved, it has always been assumed that this was a Central Intelligence Agency project. The only published reference to these parodies appeared in Newsweek, 8 June 1993, two years after the end of the war. The article, entitled "First: Smart Bombs. Now: Funny Money" says, "Some funny money ridicules the regime with pictures of an empty grocery store or of Saddam chomping on a cigar. It’s no smart bomb, but the dinar’s value is plunging." The back of one banknote depicts a nearly empty grocery store, with only a large roll of Iraqi banknotes printed on wrapping paper. The caricature might be saying that the money is only good as wrapping paper, or it might imply that it is only to be used for toilet paper. The reader will have to decide. The Arabic text is:

At least it has a value now!


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Koean Language Stationery Leaflet 1112

Soldiers at the front seldom have paper to use to write to friends or family back home. Paper is a highly valued commodity for troops in combat. During the Korean War, the Radio Broadcasting and Leaflet Group, Psychological Warfare Section, Far East Command, dropped writing paper on enemy troops in October 1951. Although the paper was intended to be utilized as stationery, Allied propaganda was hidden among the illustrations that showed the happy and safe life of those prisoners who had crossed the United Nations lines and were being fed and clothed in a U.N. prison camp.

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Chinese Language Stationery Leaflet 7093

The same leaflet was printed with code number 7093 in the Chinese language. This leaflet was prepared on 25 October 1951. On one side the leaflet depicts a Communist soldier writing home. The text in Chinese is:

You have not got any mail from home for quite a while. You have not written any letters home for quite a while. Cut away the top of this leaflet and then you can use the bottom part for a letter home.

The other side of the leaflet depicts Chinese POWs writing letters home or playing horseshoes as seen above on leaflet 1112. The text is:

These are two pictures of the daily life of Chinese who have surrendered to United Nations forces.

Writing a letter home - Recreation

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Vietnam Stationery Leaflet 4-81-69

The 4th PSYOP Group printed a 5.25 x 8-inch stationery leaflet in 1969 that depicts a flowering branch at the left, room for the finder to write at the right, and the text:

Year of the Dog 1970

Spring letter


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Nationalist Chinese Bookmark

A bookmark is a strip or band of some material, such as paper, leather or ribbon, put between the pages of a book to mark a place. Psychological operators have used it on numerous occasions to carry their propaganda messages because the bookmarks tend to be saved and placed in a book and every time the reader opens the book the message is the first thing that is seen. PSYOP Bookmarks have been used in Vietnam, Korea and by the Nationalist Chinese on Taiwan.

This bookmark was produced by the Nationalist Chinese to be ballooned over the People’s Republic of China. It features their leader Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek. The text is:

Our Leader is a great, foresightful thinker who fights the Communists and resists the Russians.

20 May of the 43rd Year of the Republic

Printed by the General Political Department of the Ministry of National Defense

Year 43 of the Republic of China Calendar corresponds to 1955, six years after Chiang Kai-shek was forced from the mainland to the Island of Taiwan.

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Bookmark 70-1

There were a number of bookmarks in the Korean language printed by the 7th PSYOP Group Japanese detachment. 60 copies of each 2 x 7-inch bookmark were printed on 3 June 1971 and disseminated at a later date. Bookmark 70-1 depicts a primitive Korean mask and a detailed temple roof on the front and a single line of text on the back:

Hahoe Mask

The Hahoe mask is used in traditional masque plays. This wooden mask originated from the Koryo Dynasty.

The beautiful painting of our country’s old architecture.

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Bookmark 70-5

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Bookmark 70-6

The bookmark has a photograph of the statue of King Sejong on the front and four seals on the back from the Yi Dynasty. Some of the text is:

Here, great King Sejong, an absolute benefactor for our Korean race, who invented the most reasonable alphabet in human history, is promulgating the original 28-letter alphabet (Hangul) with his declaration of independence for national culture.


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Many types of foodstuffs have been dropped as part of a PSYOP campaign. The Muslim people annually celebrate Ramadan with a month-long period of prayer and fasting. At the end of Ramadan the fast is broken. Dates are one of the traditional delicacies that are eaten upon the end of the religious observance. During the 2002 American incursion into Afghanistan, California dates were dropped on the people as a symbol of good will. By including dates in the air drop bundles, the United States showed respect for this significant Muslim holiday. A leaflet was prepared to be dropped with the dates. It depicts a date palm and a bowl of dates. The text is:

People of Afghanistan - Eid Mabaruk - We pray that God will accept your prayers and fast. The People of America.

Prayer Rug

One of the most interesting gifts prepared by the Psychological Task Force "Afghanistan, is this beautiful prayer rug, used five times a day by every practicing Muslim. 10,000 of these were given out to win hearts and minds. 1000 Quarans were also printed and gifted to selected recipients. 45,000 Ramadan cards were printed to be used by, or sent to, selected individuals."

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Candy and Chewing Gum

Candy was first airdropped during WWII. Pieces of chocolate were dropped with leaflets "From the children in the Dutch East Indies to the children in Holland." Packets of toffee were dropped on Holland in December 1941. About 16,000 packets were dropped on Amsterdam, Medomblik, Haarlam, Rotterdam, Steenwijk and Osterwald. In 1943 bags of sweets in the shape of the "V for victory" were dropped over Harderwijk.

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Sinterklaas (St. Nicolas) Day Candy

The Dutch celebrate Sinterklaas day in December. That is a day when all the children receive presents, spicy ginger “speculaas” or “pepernoten”, mild anise “taai-taai” in fancy doll shapes, sugar candy, fancy fruit slices or rich almond marzipan, and Chocolate letters (you usually get only the first letter of your first name). On 6 December 1941 (6 December is the legendary date of the death of St. Nicolas), the Dutch Government-in-Exile combined with the Royal Air Force to drop candy over Holland. The package shows St. Nicolas flying in an RAF fighter with a Zwarte Piet (“Black Pete”) jester. The jester throws individually wrapped candy from the aircraft. The text is in the form of a poem, a tradition on this holiday. On the back of the candy package the Jester spanks Hitler while an unhappy Mussolini is shown inside St. Nicolas’s gift bag. The caption is "Surprise for Hitler." The WWII journal of a Dutch boy says that the candy was dropped on 19 November in the town of Lemmer.

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Dutch Postcard

The Dutch prepared a patriotic postcard to thank the Allies for the foodstuffs that they dropped during the German occupation. The card was designed by J. Taurel of Amsterdam. The card depicts an American B-17 "Flying Fortress" dropping packages over Holland. The card is dated 2 May 1945, just five days before the German surrender. An American stars and stripes banner is at the top of the postcard and it bears the English language text:

British and American food for starving Holland.

Thank you America!

Dutch-language text is:

Voedselbombardment Schiphol.

This card was prepared in commemoration of the Operation Manna food drops over Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport.

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A B-17 dropping food over the Netherlands during Operation Manna

Pieter van Marken talks about the “Hunger winter” of 1944-1945 when some 20,000 people died of starvation in Western Holland:

The Allies sent in planes. The American the 8th Air Force sent hundreds of B-17 bombers and R.A.F. Bomber Command sent hundreds of Avro Lancasters to drop food at Schiphol, and also a great number of other “drop zones” in still occupied Western Holland.

In fact, both the American Air Force and the Royal Air Force dropped food over all of the Netherlands in those days at the end of WWII. The operation was called “Manna,” certainly in regard to the Biblical anecdote of “Manna from Heaven” where the Lord told Moses that he would “rain bread from heaven” for the starving Israelites.

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RAF ground crew loading food supplies into slings for hoisting into the
bomb bay of an Avro Lancaster heavy bomber of 514 Squadron (1945)

For instance, on 29 April 1945, aircrews of Royal Air Force 625 Squadron dropped food from their Lancaster bombers over The Hague. On 2 May the same squadron dropped food over Rotterdam. The operation went on for about 10 days.

Seventeen year old Arie de Jong wrote:

There are no words to describe the emotions experienced on that Sunday afternoon. More than 300 four-engine Lancasters, flying exceptionally low, suddenly filled the western horizon. One could see the gunners waving in their turrets. A marvelous sight. One Lancaster roared over the town at 70 feet. I saw the aircraft tacking between church steeples and drop its bags in the South. Everywhere we looked, bombers could be seen. No one remained inside and everybody dared to wave cloths and flags. What a feast! Everyone is excited with joy. The war must be over soon now.

Another correspondent adds:

There were large scale food drops at the end of the war in the Netherlands. People were starving at that time so it was very welcome. My mother still talks about the smell and taste of the real bread, baked from the flour that was dropped from the air.

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Operation Manna Painting

Artist John Rutherford of British Columbia has painted aircraft scenes for the Nanton Lancaster Air Museum since 1990. The above painting was commissioned for the museum's “Operation Manna Commemoration” held on 22 July, 1995. The aircraft depicted is the No. 625 Squadron Lancaster flown by Flight Officer Joe English. Mr. English and his crew were aboard one of the lead aircraft on the opening day of the operation. They all agreed that it was “The best raid of the War.”

Reader’s Digest of December 1967 mentions chewing gum used for PSYOP. It says that the Wrigley plant in Australia prepared special chewing gum to be dropped on the Philippines. The gum was wrapped in special wrappers, one side showing the crossed flags of the United States and the Philippines, the other with the words, ‘I Shall Return – MacArthur." Hundreds of cases were dropped from planes on the Philippines.

The American B-24 Bomber PUNGGI over the Philippines

Florante Villarica told me about a lone B-24 bomber that occasionally dropped gifts and leaflets over the Philippines: 

A lone B-24 Liberator bomber conducted regular early morning patrol in the skies of Calapan. It would fly low, buzzing the flagpole and roof-top of the garrison scaring the Japanese troops with several rounds of machine gun fire at soldiers scampering under the cover of their foxholes. 

Another time it bombed the dock and ship repair yards and oil depot in Lazareto. The bombing caused a plume of black smoke that can be seen for miles. 

At other times it dropped bags attached to small parachutes, containing, candies, canned goods and leaflet propaganda with a caricature of Japanese surrendering. The people waited for the big plane's "visit" every day and nicknamed it "Punggi" which in local dialect means "tail-less." 

It wasn't only the Allies that dropped candy. The Evening News of 2 September 1939 stated that the Germans were dropping candy on Warsaw. It said that the commander of the Warsaw anti-aircraft defense stated in a wartime broadcast to civilians that German aircraft had in some cases dropped chocolate sweets. Citizens were urged to deal carefully with these candies when found and deliver them to authorities.

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Candy bar made from molded explosive

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Throat lozenges explosives package

In September 2005, The British Security Service MI5 declassified WWII files that indicated that the Germans had produced WWII candy bars made from a molded explosive. There were also bombs made up to look like throat pastilles, wrapped in a package labelled Surpastilles Vichy-Etat. These bombs were never used in actual sabotage campaigns.

After WWII the German capital city of Berlin, was divided into four sectors with American, British, and French troops controlling the western half of the city and Soviet forces controlling the eastern half. In order to gain control of the entire city, the Soviets created a blockade around Berlin. Trucks, trains, and boats could not bring food and supplies into the city. The Americans reacted with an airlift designed to supply all the food needed by 2.5 million Berliner’s by aircraft. This was a very dangerous time and a war could have easily broken out if either side made an error in judgment.

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Berlin Airlift

American C-54 pilot Lt. Gail Halvorsen flew food and supplies into Berlin during the airlift of 1948-1949. He loved children and wanted to do something special for them. He thought up an operation that he called "Little Vittles." He bought candy at local stores and dropped it with tiny parachutes that he made by hand. His Air Force buddies donated their rations of candy and gum and their handkerchiefs to make the parachutes. For those readers old enough to remember the American wartime "K" or "C" rations, they came with a small candy bar and a tiny green box containing two pieces of Chiclets chewing gum. Today, the American meals ready to eat (MRE) ration comes with a commercial candy bar.

Newspapers printed stories about this "chocolate bomber" and he began receiving packages of candy bars and handkerchiefs in the mail for "Operation Little Vittles." The American Confectioners Association joined the humanitarian operation and sent tons of candy and gum to Westover AFB where it could be forwarded for dropping to the children of Berlin at Rhine Main AFB.

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Lt. Halvorsen dropping candy

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Soon, all the pilots were dropping candy over the city of Berlin, By January of 1949 Lt. Halvorsen had air dropped more than 250,000 parachutes loaded with candy on for the nearly 100,000 children of Berlin during the Russian blockade. Due to continuing bad publicity and their inability to starve the people of Berlin, the Soviets ended their blockade in May 1949.

One would assume that distributing candy to children always leads to positive results. This may not be true in Iraq. A U.S. Army Civil Affairs Colonel recently told me that the gift of candy did not always work just as expected. He had witnessed cases in Iraq where American soldiers distributed candy to young Iraqi children. As expected, they reacted with gratitude and happiness. However, as soon as the soldiers moved on, older Iraqi boys physically attacked and beat the younger children taking their candy and leaving them crying on the ground. We cannot say if they were beaten for their candy or for accepting gifts from the occupying American soldiers. We wonder if the beatings resulted in pro or anti-American feeling amongst the bloodied children. 

Tootsie Rolls over Korea

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Tootsie Rolls

This is not exactly a PSYOP campaign and could be listed under “mistakes.” It is a great story and I think we should list it.

In December 1950, U.S. Marines at Hagaru-ri, surrounded by thousands of Chinese, had made an urgent call for mortar ammunition: “Tootsie Rolls! Send Tootsie Rolls,” they radioed. Fighting near the Chosin Reservoir, The Marines used 60 mm mortars to hold off the Chinese. The high-explosive, 3 pound mortar shells, fired at enemy troop emplacements at a rate of over 15 per minute, were lethal.

When the Supply aircraft arrived hours later, hundreds of pallets hit the ground and the Marines opened crate after crate. There were NO mortar rounds, only hundreds of boxes of Tootsie Roll candies. The Marines had used their words for mortar shells, Tootsie Rolls, and the supplies were sent just as ordered.

It turned out that the mistaken drop was a blessing in disguise. Over the next seven days, as the Marines fought their way to the coast in knee-deep snow and sub-zero temperatures, the chocolate candies became a source of nutrition and much-needed energy. To their surprise, the Tootsie Rolls also turned out to be an excellent way of fixing vehicles. Many men attributed the candy to keeping their jeeps, trucks, and tanks running and for saving their lives. Some of the Marines talked about their calamity:

That's all I had to eat for 78 miles, and I still like them.

Those Tootsie Rolls saved my life. They were easy to eat, you could chew on them; they gave you nourishment, and you could also use them for repairs. If a gas tank or a radiator had a hole in it, you could chew a Tootsie Roll and use it to plug the hole.

The cold weather caused cracks in the fuel line causing the vehicles to be inoperable. The marines found that they could chew the tootsie rolls until they were a soft putty and use it to repair the fuel lines as the makeshift putty quickly froze hard fixing the damaged fuel lines.

To this day, whenever the Chosin Few, an organization of veterans who fought at the Reservoir, has a reunion, the Tootsie Roll Company sends cases of the chocolate candies to the gathering. It’s become a Marine tradition.

Years after I wrote the above section a reader (certainly a former Marine although he did not say so), sent me an article that said the candy had not been a mistake. In all fairness I must tell the other side of the story, although I must say the original story might be a bit embarrassing and perhaps the Marines did not want to admit such an error. The reader is free to pick the story he or she prefers:

Lynn Montrose explains in the “Chosin Reservoir Campaign,” Volume III of U. S. Marine Operations in Korea 1950-1953that:

Parka-clad Marines displaying a five-day growth of beard went about with their cheeks bulging from an accumulation of Tootsie Rolls, a caramel confection much esteemed by Stateside youngsters for its long-lasting qualities. The Post Exchange Section had originally brought merchandise into Hagaru on the assumption that it would be established as a base. No space in vehicles was available for its removal and the commanding general directed that the entire remaining stock, $13,547.80 worth, chiefly candies, and cookies, should be issued gratuitously to the troops. Tootsie Rolls proved to be a prime favorite with men who would have scorned them in civilian life. Not only were they tastier than half-frozen "C" rations, but they resulted in no intestinal disorders. Moreover, they were useful as temporary repairs for leaking radiators.  

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Gift Bags for Aleppo from the Syrian Air Force

As long as we are in the Middle East we should mention Syria. That country was fighting numerous rebel groups to include ISIS, Al Qaida, and Kurds and other rebel forces supplied by America. In July 2016, with the rebel-held city of Aleppo that had been captured in 2012 completely surrounded and thousands of civilians without food or necessities, The Syrian air force dropped food, diapers and other products to help the civilians survive. There were reports that some Syrians distrusted the food thinking it was poisoned and some parents took the packages to the hospital to check if the food was safe to eat.

Choco Pies

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The Chocolate and marshmallow Moon Pie was originally introduced to South Korea by American soldiers during the Korean War in the 1950s. The treat quickly became popular and in 1974 the South Korean candy company Tongyang Confectionery released their own version: the “Orion Choco Pie.” In the Kaesong Industrial Zone South Korean companies offered the irresistible Choco Pie to attract North Korean workers. The workers began smuggling them and reselling them at extremely inflated prices on the North Korean black market. According to South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper, a single Choco Pie sells for as much as $9.50 US, more than a worker earns in a week. Embarrassed by the growing popularity of Choco Pie, and its unofficial use as a kind of currency, North Korea banned it as a symbol of capitalism.

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On 15 September 2017, around 200 South Korean activists released 50 massive helium balloons, each toting a large bag of snacks. In total, they sent 770 pounds of snacks to the North. The bulk of this weight came from the 10,000 Choco Pies. Perhaps the way to the North Korean mind is through the stomach.

Cakes and other snacks

As we show above, the South Koreans used cake against their enemies. The Nationalist Chinese on Taiwan went a step further; they added an entire menu to their cakes, called them “Psychological Warfare Foods” and designed them for use against the People’s Republic of China. In April of 2019 the Taiwan News published an article titled “Taiwan's PSYOP unit weaponizes snacks for fight against China.”

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The Chinese use a three-pronged approach of videotaping, audio broadcasting, and publishing at different stages of psychological warfare, including psychological defense, motivational speeches, bulletins, flyers, safety certificates, posters, and other propaganda materials. The Taiwanese forces depicted examples of propaganda foods labeled with simplified Chinese characters, having names such as "surrender instant noodles," "surrender mineral water," "surrender caramel," and "surrender chocolates." The packaging is also printed with the words Lay down your arms, surrender to the ROC [Taiwan] Army. We will protect your safety, along with a map indicating a location to surrender.

A Chinese friend who read this article in Chinese told me:

I quote the term "Surrender Food" directly from the article. Personally, I don't think it's a good translation. The Chinese phrase actually means something along the line of 'defection' but has a positive connotation to it.

What is not mentioned in this article is that, upon publicized, it was rather poorly received by its intended audience. Chinese internet users ridiculed it because it was more lackluster than current PLA standard-issue MRE. More than one Taiwanese serviceman whose blog / social media page I frequented cited it as an example of incompetence and backwardness on the part of the senior brass. The dismal reaction also made it into Chinese-language news outlets.

What is that smell?

I am not sure this next item should be in the food section. There are some Vietnam veterans who might argue the point, but the Vietnamese loved a pungent fish sauce called nuoc mam. Robert W. Chandler says in War of ideas, the U. S. Propaganda Campaign in Vietnam:

One infantry division dropped white flags soaked in the Vietnamese fish sauce called Nuoc Mam to hungry enemy soldiers in an effort to persuade them to rally.

The PSYOP/POLWAR Newsletter of December 1969 tells us more:

The First Infantry Division has been dropping white flags soaked in Nuoc Mam into contested or enemy-held areas where the VC and NVA have experienced food shortages. The fish sauce is intended to remind the enemy of his hunger and to induce him to rally to the government.

Apparently, the idea was to dampen the cloth and squeeze the sauce onto your rice. Hopefully, the white cloth was later used to surrender.

Perhaps the most interesting “smell” plot of WWII was hatched by the Office of Strategic Services. It allegedly involved spraying a fecal odor on the pants seat of Japanese officers in China. The idea was to so embarrass the Japanese in front of their Chinese subjects so that they would be forced to commit hara kiri (belly splitting) to save “face.” An OSS anthropologist turned up what he thought was a Japanese weakness. The Japanese soldier would apparently go quite a distance from his comrades to “poop.” Any contact with fecal matter was a disgrace. The chemical was apparently so strong that washing the pants made it worse and dry cleaning put the smell of diarrhea on all the other clothes in the batch.

The same plan was studied in a 1944 project, called “Who Me?” The idea was for French resistance fighters to use foil tubes packed with chemicals that produced a fecal odor on the Germans. The plan never came to fruition because: “It was found that people in many areas of the world do not find ‘fecal odor’ to be offensive.” Apparently there would be no German suicides either.

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Smells like…Hezbollah

During the 34-day Israeli incursion into Lebanon in July and August of 2006, the Israeli Defense Forces dropped about a dozen different propaganda leaflets. They also dropped at least one cedar-scented automobile deodorizer in the shape of the national symbol of Lebanon, the cedar tree. The propaganda aspect was the tiny head of Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah peeking out from behind the tree, symbolically hiding behind and among the people of Lebanon. One report stated that “Hundreds of people were scrambling in the streets to pick up the Cedars.” There is a brief text at the bottom of the air freshener that quotes a well known Lebanese saying that means "Get lost," but is said as:

Leave in good smell.

Matchbooks and Matchboxes

In times of war the most common and mundane items become scarce. History has shown that matches are such an item. They are hard to find for civilians, and even more difficult for soldiers and guerillas in the field who need to light a cigarette. They are also a nice medium for propaganda since it is very easy to place a message on the cover of the book. Starting with WWII, these matchbooks have been very popular as propaganda gifts.

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Japanese matchbox images

Japanese aircraft first dropped matchboxes over the Philippine Islands in 1942 as part of their policy to control Asia under the ‘Greater Co-Prosperity Sphere." The labels on the boxes contained vivid images and anti-American, anti-British, and anti-Chinese text.

The text translation of the three matchbooks above are:

#1 – “Certain victory.”

#2 – “The might of Asia.”

#3 – “The imperial Japanese forces will be victorious.”

All of the matchboxes have text at the bottom that says, “collect matchbox labels.”

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MacArthur matchbook and matchbox

At the same time, the Americans dropped matchboxes depicting a portrait of General Douglas MacArthur and his famous promise, "I shall return." These matchboxes were also carried ashore by American submarine.

MG Courtney Whitney explains how these three words became one of the most famous propaganda campaigns in history. He says:

On 10 August 1943 I proposed that various items known to be scarce in the Philippines, such as cigarettes, matches, chewing gum, candy bars, sewing kits, and pencils be sent to the islands by submarine in great quantity for widespread distribution. Each package would bear the crossed American and Philippine flags on one side, and on the other the quotation "I shall return" printed over a facsimile of MacArthur's signature.

This is mentioned again in the OWI News Letter dated 1 June 1945:

The watchers on shore, the tall, bearded American, the squat guerrilla chieftain, heard the submarine before they saw it, a long drawn-out whish! In the darkness that was almost a sigh; the sound of dripping water; a huge sea monster wallowing out of the deep. Then silence again. Finally the long awaited signal. A light blinking cautiously three times; and then three again. Close to shore. Incredibly close.

The bearded man rose from his hiding place, sniffed the salt air. It carried sounds in-land, and the Jap's were less than three miles away. But it drove from his nostrils the sick stench of rotting corpses in the village where the Japs had been before him. He moved toward the shore and greeted a brisk young Ensign who had stepped out of a rubber boat.

"What did you bring us?"

"Tommy guns and ammo," the Ensign answered. "K-rations; Radios; Also chewing gum; cigarettes; matches; and lead pencils."

"Good Lord" exclaimed the bearded man. "Do they think I’m opening up a cigar store?"

"It's psychological warfare, sir." The Ensign held up a package of chewing gum, turned on a tiny flashlight so the bearded man could see the printed cover. Three words; MacArthur's stirring slogan: "I Shall Return"

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Matchbook for Burma

The United States Office of War Information produced a matchbook for Burma coded CBG3 that depicted a B-25 Mitchell medium bomber and the American flag.

Matchbooks bearing the "V" for victory are thought to have been dropped by the Canadians over the Normandy beachhead shortly after D-Day. An American matchbook depicted a B-29 bomber and the phrase La liberte avant Dieur ("Liberty in the sight of God").

Another matchbook depicted map showing the French railroad system on one side. The text is:

Hasten the victory. Derail the German transportation.

The other side depicted American French and British flags and the text:

Every Frenchman is a soldier of the liberation

The British dropped matchbooks over Siam that depicted a half-clad Siamese angel carrying a thunderbolt and the slogan, "Death to the Japanese."

During the Cold War the West printed small gummed labels showing a woman holding a placard that read, "The Motherland calls you! Serve the people, and not regime." These labels were meant to be stuck on Russian matchboxes.

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Nationalist Chinese Matchbooks

In 1963, Chinese nationalist aircraft from Taiwan dropped propaganda matchbooks on Mainland China.

Monta L. Osborne was the Chief of Field Development Division in the Joint United States Public Affairs Office (JUSPAO) in Saigon in charge of the Chieu Hoi (Open Arms) program during the Vietnam War. He mentions disseminating matchbooks and other items during the Vietnam War:

Boxes of matches have been disseminated with the Chieu Hoi symbol and slogan on the cover. Rulers with the Chieu Hoi symbol have been distributed through the schools. This symbol and slogan also are printed on small bars of soap, paper market bags, and even on children’s kites. Plastic market bags have been distributed, with gifts inside, to families in the provinces known to have relatives in the Viet Cong.

In April 1968, the Joint U.S. Public Affairs Office produced 60,000 Chieu Hoi matchbooks for Vietnam. As might be expected, they asked the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese regulars to defect to the Republic of Vietnam


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British Royal Air Force dropped cigarettes

Cigarettes were even scarcer than matches, and in time of need dedicated smokers will roll almost any leaf they can find into a mock cigarette. On the night of 1 September 1942, one day after the birthday of Queen Wilhelmina, the British Royal Air Force dropped 50,000 packages containing 20 cigarettes each on the occupied people of Holland to lift their spirits and to celebrate the Queen’s birthday. The cigarette pack was red, white and blue. An inscription at the top of the pack says, "The Netherlands will rise again." Text on one side is "Victory is near." The other side of the pack depicts an outline of the Dutch East Indies showing Borneo, Celebes, Java and Sumatra. The text is, "Have courage." Each individual cigarette bears the message, "OZO" which means, "Orange will rise again." This item is from Hans Moonen's World War II propaganda collection.

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Cigarette Pack for Holland

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Another Cigarette Pack for Holland

At least three other types of cigarette packages and bags of loose tobacco were dropped by the British. The above pack is all in orange, has a crown at the top, the date 31 August 1941, and a large “W” for Wilhelmina just below. That pack had a number of “V” for victory letters in white on both the front and back. The pack became infamous in an odd way. The Dutch Nazis, hoping to embarrass the patriots who were saving and selling these packages, counterfeited them and sold a great number to raise funds for the Fascist organization. They later had a great laugh telling the Dutch that they had been duped and helped support the pro-Germans by purchasing these patriotic packages to show their loyalty. This item is also from Hans Moonen's collection

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"I shall return" Cigarette Pack

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A Third Cigarette Pack for Holland
Courtesy Rod Oakland

A third cigarette pack for the Netherlands in orange, white and blue. On one side there are three Dutch airmen who have gone to Great Britain and joined the Royal Air Force. The back of the pack depicts a British Spitfire. The text on the top, bottom and sides are:

The Dutch over Holland
Queen and Country
Dutch Fighter Pilots
Holland shall rise again

A similar cigarette pack exists with the same text except for “Dutch Navy Pilots.”

American forces dropped cigarettes on the Philippine Island that depicted the flags of the United States and the Philippines, and the General Douglas MacArthur quote, "I shall return."

As I mention above, In August 1943, Courtney Whitney, an army intelligence officer on General Douglas MacArthur's staff, suggested that propaganda items with the General's famous “I Shall Return” pledge be distributed to the native population in the Japanese occupied Philippine Islands.

The website “Jim's Burnt Offerings” tells more about the MacArthur cigarette pack:

The Office of War Information classified the project top secret, and then made arrangements with the Larus & Bro. Tobacco Company of Richmond, Virginia to manufacture the cigarettes. “I Shall Return” cigarettes, the companion matchbooks and matchboxes, plus round mirrored reflectors for signaling aircraft, were smuggled behind enemy lines from the U.S. Cargo Submarine Narwhal and dropped at night from B-24 “Liberator” bombers. These items, along with a sewing kit, were distributed by US and Filipino guerrillas. At the beginning of World War II, Larus & Bro. bid for, and was awarded, a contract to provide small packets of their Chelsea Cigarettes to be included in a soldier's field rations. In a wing of their factory set aside for this secret work, Larus packaged four Chelsea cigarettes in a colorful paper label picturing the flags of the US and the Philippines. MacArthur's facsimile signature, and the famous “I Shall Return” slogan were prominently featured. These small packets of American cigarettes helped keep Filipino hope for liberation alive until General MacArthur kept his promise in October 1944.

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Cigarettes with propaganda newspaper Frankfurter Zeitung

The Office of Strategic Services in Bern, Switzerland prepared cigarettes that contained miniature copies of the American propaganda newspaper Frankfurter Zeitung (“The Frankfurt Newspaper”)The cigarettes are labeled Nordland Spezial, (North Country Special) and OSS files identify them as “packages of inscribed cigarettes” and “packages of cigarettes containing the Frankfurter Zeitung.” Each of the 10 cigarettes in the pack had a propaganda message written on the paper, and the newspaper itself was stuffed inside the package.

There is one report that indicates that during the "Phony War" period in 1939 German troops opposite Strasbourg sent cigarettes by balloon to the French troops. They attempted to befriend their French opponents and told them that Hitler wanted only peace and it was the evil and wicked English that had forced France into war.

Alan K. Abner says that during the Korean War the United States dropped:

A variety of rather gimmicky items such as parcels of Bull Durham type packets of tobacco with cigarette papers, each with a message.

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Cigarette pack to the people on Mainland China by balloon

During the Cold War in the 1960s the nationalist Chinese on Taiwan often sent cigarettes to the people on Mainland China by balloon from Quemoy and Matsu Islands.

During the Vietnam War U. S. Marines placed a Chieu Hoi (Open Arms) leaflet and a cigarette in plastic bags and floated them up the mouths of rivers during evening tides.

On 3 February 1968, the Military Assistance Command Vietnamese Psychological Operations Directorate noted that:

The American Machine and Foundry Company have developed rolls of tobacco leaf paper that may be run through printing presses. There is much interest in Vietnam in this use of tobacco as a mean to reinforce PSYOP messages with a reward.

On 15 September 1968, the commander of the 7th PSYOP Group Vietnam Detachment sent a letter to the Commander of the 7th PSYOP group regarding the use of PSYOP cigarettes in Vietnam. It mentioned a study of the subject conducted the previous March. Some of the report is as follows:

The 4th PSYOP Group endorses this effort and wants to use the cigarettes in their field efforts. It did the lay-up and graphic work on the pack. The Vietnamese Navy wants 100,000 of the cigarettes for its MARKET TIME operations in Sampan control. The Joint U.S. Public Affairs Office concurs and would like cigarettes for their operations. In all these cases the cigarettes are to be delivered hand-to-hand to people under the Government of Vietnam control. 2,000 cartons of cigarettes will be produced at cost by the manufacturer

At the present, there is no intention to distribute these in North Vietnam although it has been discussed. The Vietnamese Propaganda Evaluation Team was quite enthusiastic. If the people kept the packages, the message would get across to them. If the cadre confiscated and destroyed the packages, it would cause internal dissension. Of course, the cadre would claim that the cigarettes were poisoned, but the people would likely smoke them anyway.

MACV brought in groups of North Vietnamese defectors (Hoi Chanh) and prisoners-of-war to fill out questionnaires on their attitude toward the PSYOP cigarettes. Most of the people reacted favorably. One question, "How do you feel about receiving gifts from the Government of Vietnam?"ť received a 100% "like it" answer.

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Credibilis has some Fun with the New Vietnam Cigarette Packs

Credibilis, the 4th PSYOP Group monthly publication said in the issue of April 1968:

Cigarette Packages will Carry PSYOP Messages to Vietnamese

The department of Defense Advanced Research Agency assisted the 4th Group by arranging the manufacture of 100,000 packages of cigarettes imprinted with a propaganda message for distribution to target audiences in Vietnam…

They will be distributed during interrogations, later in gift propaganda packages. Mainly, however, field audio-visual teams will distribute them in villages and hamlets.

Each pack contains four cigarettes. The wrapping will be red and yellow with the inscription “The Government of Vietnam cares for the people.” Printed on each cigarette are the letters “VNCH,” the abbreviation for republic of Vietnam.

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Operation Desert Storm Developmental Artwork

Dissemination of propaganda cigarette packs was planned during Operation Desert Storm but not approved. In a U. S. 4th PSYOP Group file entitled "Developmental Artwork" there are two sketches of a pack of "Marlboro Light" cigarettes, one showing where a message should be placed on the front, the second showing where a message should be inserted inside of the pack.

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Anybody want to get Stoned?

I thought that dropping those cancer-causing tobacco cigarettes was bad enough, but now we find that a British intelligence chief once dropped opium-laced cigarettes on an enemy during WWI. The story is told by Tom Segev in One Palestine, Complete, Henry Holt and Company, 2001. The author discusses a campaign run by Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen:

Meinertzhagen invented another method of hitting at the enemy. At sunset British planes would circle over concentrations of Turkish forces and drop opium cigarettes on them…On 6 November a high percentage of the Turkish Army at Sheria and Gaza were drowsy and befuddled. Some of the prisoners taken were barely coherent and quite incapable of resistance.

In Turn Around and Run like Hell, Murdoch Books, 2007, Joseph Cummins adds:

Meinertzhagen heard that the Turks were desperate for tobacco so be bought thousands of packets of cigarettes on the black market and wrapped them in a leaflet that urged Turkish soldiers to “Have a smoke…and Surrender.” Then on numerous occasions he had himself piloted over the Turkish lines and rained the cigarettes down on the trenches.

On 5 November, the Turks were attempting to make a stand at Sheria, about 15 kilometers southeast of Gaza. So Meinertzhagen went up in his plane and dropped thousands of packets of cigarettes again. The Turks didn’t even bother to take a shot at him, so grateful were they for a smoke.

The difference this time was that Meinertzhagen had laced the butts with opium, also bought from his black market contacts. When the British attacked the next day, they found the Turks in an incoherent state, barely able to defend themselves.


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During the years that the government of Colombia fought a war against the guerrilla organization Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) some rather exotic psychological operations were used. One of the strangest occurred in 2008, when a plan was conceived to get the pregnant female guerrillas to defect. The Colombian Army air-dropped 7 million pacifiers into the jungle with a message encouraging the rebels to return to civilization. The operation involved seven helicopters, three airplanes, 960 flight hours, 17,800 gallons of fuel, and 72 soldiers flying twice a week for four months. Perhaps it would have been better to let the babies cry. It might have worked better to get the females out of the bush.


Tea, rather than coffee was the staple drink of Europe during the war years. It was sorely missed in those nations occupied by Germany. As a result, the Allied powers dropped tea on several occasions to keep up the spirits and the morale of the occupied people.

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Dutch East Indies Tea

In early 1941 the planters of Batavia and Sumatra in the Dutch East Indies donated 4000 pounds of tea to the Dutch government in exile in London for distribution to the people of the occupied Netherlands. The tea was placed in orange colored cotton bags (Orange being the color of the House of Orange) each containing 2/3 ounces of tea. Each bag had a tag that read, "Holland will rise again. Greetings from the free Netherlands Indies. Keep a good heart." The tag also depicted an orange flower emblem which is the crest of Prince Bernhard’s family. In spring 1941 the Royal Air Force and Royal Canadian Air Force dropped 1020 tea bags over Edam, Schagen, Alkmaar, Assen, The Hague, Zwolle, Utrecht, Amsterdam, Eindhoven, Breda and Rotterdam. There were numerous additional missions, ending in March 1942. There are differing numbers for the amount of tea bags dropped, 75,000 in one report, and 96,000 in another.

Some of the known "tea" bombings over Holland by the Royal Air Force during 1941 are:

March 1941: 1,020 bags over 11 cities
April 1941: 9,770 bags over 6 cities
May 1941: 4,470 bags over 4 cities
June 1941: 4,585 bags over 5 cities
July 1941: 900 bags over 8 cities
August 1941: 10,230 bags over 2 cities
September 1941 300 bags over Rotterdam
December 1941 350 bags over 5 cities

A report on the raid was published in the Dutch East Indies magazine De Bergcultures:

Before they returned home, these men (the air crews) were prepared to carry out an extra mission. They would fly at a low altitude over enemy dominated skies and drop "Tea from Heaven." The psychological purpose of this mission is clear: to raise the spirits of the Dutch people. "We dropped our bombs right on target and then, on the way home, laid a stick of tea bags across Amsterdam."

Curiously, even though tea was in short supply, many of the Dutch people saved the bags as souvenirs rather than use it for the intended purpose. In 1969 it was reported that the dropped teabags were selling in Holland for $20 each.

The British also dropped tea on occupied Belgium.

Terry Gregory mentions his late brother Jack in the Alberta Genealogical Society's November 2007 issue of Relatively Speaking. The brother was a member of 10 Squadron, Bomber Command, who flew Whitley Vs from Leeming, Yorkshire, from October 1940 until he was shot down in June 1941.  On one visit home Jack brought two souvenir teabags of a type that he had dropped over the Continent. Rather than orange; his teabags were a natural cotton color. 

Air Marshall Arthur "Bomber" Harris believed that bombers were meant to drop bombs and nothing else. He was no friend of psychological warfare. He wrote to Air Vice Marshall N. H. Bottomley at the Air Ministry in Whitehall on 25 March 1942 and said in part:

Can something now please be done to curb and keep within limits these uncorrelated and enthusiastic attempts to shower rubbish all over the world at the expense of the bomber effort.

When it comes to dropping tea, Christmas presents and Easter eggs, things have really gone too far. Something now must really be done to stop this growing urge of the exiled governments and individual busybodies with idle hands to play games in wartime when we are more than too busy on serious things.

I will not drop tea or Easter eggs anywhere unless you guarantee me that the packages are lethal...The only people who are likely to get the Easter eggs are the Gestapo, and why the devil should we feed them Easter eggs? How about quit fooling and getting on with the war? These jesters are getting completely out of hand and it is high time someone put a heavy foot on them – or behind them. I’m not cross, but I damn soon will be.

Mark R. Jacobson mentions propaganda tea disseminated by the Communists during the Korean War in his PhD thesis, Minds then Hearts: U.S. Political and Psychological Warfare during the Korean War, 2005, Ohio State University. The tea bags had imprinted tags:

Peace: This Chinese Famous tea is given you to kill the hellish [sic] time at the front.

They also distributed small cloth bags entitled “GI CARE KIT.” We do not know if tea was inside the bag, but there was a message:

Your loved ones want you home sound and safe. American and British soldiers: Don’t like dead in the foreign land far from your own states.

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Tea was not the only beverage dropped over occupied Europe. Coffee was dropped over Belgium in October, November and December of 1942. A total of 6,150 bags of coffee were dropped on Lessines, Charleroi, Nazareth, Givit, Rochefort, Beaumont and Grammont. Each bag had an attached tag with text in Flemish and French:

The Belgian Congo does not forget you. This is distributed by your friends of the Royal Air Force. Long live Belgium!

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Coffee bags were also dropped over the occupied Netherlands and over occupied Poland with a message from President Roosevelt. The American packet dropped over Poland in August 1943 also contained a “wanted” gummed poster with a picture of the German General Governor Hans Frank. The coffee packet was inscribed:

Instant coffee. Dissolve in a glass of hot or cold water. Stir well.


What could be a greater gift than a free banknote from the sky? In almost every war since WWI the combatants have prepared forged or parodied banknotes to sap the morale or destroy the economy of the enemy. We will just show one that is a particularly interesting propaganda piece.

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German propaganda parody of the American one dollar banknote

In October 1943, French citizens awakened to find the streets of Paris littered with United States $1 Silver Certificates of 1935. The populace was overjoyed, thinking that the generous Americans had dropped dollar bills for the eventual use of the French people after the defeat of the hated German occupation forces. It was only upon close examination that the true significance of the dollars came to light. All the bills had the serial number Y91033384A. Each was in reality a thin strip of photographically prepared paper that had been folded to give the appearance of a legitimate banknote.

The front and the back of the folded leaflet were excellent reproductions of the genuine currency. When the fake dollar was unfolded, a vicious attack upon the United States and world Judaism was exposed. All the inside text is in French.

In the center of the unfolded note is a yellow Star of David. The text is:

This dollar is valid only if signed Morgenthau. The Minister of the United States Treasury is the Jew Morgenthau Junior, allied to the big sharks of international finance. All the Jewish symbols appear on this dollar: the Eagle of Israel, the Triangle, the Eye of Jehovah and the thirteen letters of the device, stars of the halo, arrows, olive branches and steps of the unfinished pyramid. This money is certainly Jewish! This dollar has paid for the Jewish war. The only message that the Anglo-Americans are able to address to us is: Will this dollar be enough to compensate us for the sorrows caused by the Jewish war? Money has no smell ... but the Jew has one!"

This banknote is very well done, extremely realistic, and one of the most popular German banknote leaflets of World War II.

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French Francs from the Sky

Sometimes the banknotes were real. The British did an aerial propaganda operation dropping banknotes over occupied France. This one utilized real French banknotes. We don’t know the actual denominations of the notes that added up to 600 French francs. We add the note above just as an illustration. Researcher Lee Richards discovered this operation while in the British Archives. According to Lee:

On the night of 25/26 April 1942, the Royal Air Force on a mission to Occupied France, dropped not just bombs but a rather more unusual package over Paris. The package contained 600 French Francs and the following message. Its intention was to publicize the radio propaganda broadcasts of Colonel Britton and his “V” army.

Colonel Britton was in fact Douglas Ritchie, later director of European broadcasting for the BBC. He originated the “V for Victory” campaign on 6 June 1941. His broadcasts were identified with the Morse signal for the letter V, and the appropriate bar from Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. In order to drum up listeners for his broadcast, the British dropped the French banknotes and a leaflet:


Here are six hundred francs.

They are the gift of an American friend of liberty who wishes the money to be used in any way most needed to forward the interests of the "V" army in its struggle against the Nazis.

This American sent me a check for five dollars, saying that in the United States a five-dollar bill is sometimes referred to as a "V." I have changed this into francs, and, with French currency ruined by the Germans, have obtained for you six hundred francs as against the one hundred and seventy six francs which the five dollars would have purchased before the war.

I have asked the Royal Air Force to drop this packet in occupied France where I know that a good friend of liberty and decency may easily be found, and I ask that the finder of this packet shall, to the best of his or her ability, use this small sum of money in the way that the giver has suggested.

It is, I know, difficult for you to communicate with us, but if you can find a way I should be glad to hear that you have received this packet.

In case you are unaware of it, I should like to tell you that I broadcast in English from London every Friday at midnight (Central European Summer Time) on wavelengths: 1500 meters, 373 meters, 285 meters and 261 meters and on short waves on the 49 and 21 meter bands.

London broadcasts daily in French on 373 meters and on the 49 meter band, as well as on other short waves, at 7.15, 12.15, 15.15, 17.15, 19.15, 21.15 and 01.15 (Central European Summer Time). You can also hear all these broadcasts on 1500 meters, except those of 19.15 and 23.15.

Good luck to you.


The use of genuine banknotes as air-dropped propaganda is not all that rare. During the Korean War the Allies placed genuine banknotes in gift packages for the North Koreans. Banknotes were dropped on both North Vietnam and Laos by the United States during the Vietnam War. In 2000, genuine Pakistani banknotes were overprinted with a reward for Osama bin Laden. In 2001, U.S. propagandists dropped genuine 100 Afghanis banknotes overprinted with a pro-Coalition message on Afghanistan. South Korean activists regularly send banknotes by balloon to their oppressed Communist brothers in North Korea. There are probably many more examples of banknote operations, some of which may still be classified.

Ration Coupons

During WWII both the Allies and the Axis used rationing to control their economy and make sure that foodstuffs and other materials were available to soldiers at the front and to the civilian population. The British went to great pains to attack the German rationing system, producing millions of coupons in an attempt to cause confusion, hoarding and suspicion among the German people and government.

Some of the coupons forged by the British were for clothing, bread, margarine, meat, butter, cheese, lard, a soldier’s leave ration card, food ration cards for both civilians and soldiers, and other foodstuff ration stamps. There are reports of such forgeries circulating in Germany as early as August 1941. The Hamburger Fremdenblatt mentioned the forgeries and said:

No German man or woman will use them. They hand them over to the police. Otherwise, they risk punishment – hard labor or death.

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Lebensmittelkarte (Food ration card forgery)

One of the most attractive of the British forgeries is the "Food ration card for the front-line worker with the Fuehrer's thanks." These ration cards were given to soldiers on the Eastern Front who returned to Germany wounded or on leave. They were entitled to use the extra rations on the card along with their regular travelers' ration coupons they received at their destination. Sometimes, railway workers or others who had performed some special services were issued the cards.

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Kase (cheese) ration card forgery

Cheese ration coupons were prepared in sheets of 100, each coupon allowing the buyer to purchase 30 grams. The British forgery sheet is usually dated 6 February 1944.

Apparently, many German citizens did use the ration coupons because a report in Leaflet Operations in the Month of December 1943 says:

Reports continue to come in from Germany regarding the confusion caused by the dropping of fake ration cards. Two "war economy offenders" who had tried to use a fake card in a market were each sentenced to two years imprisonment at hard labor.

James M. Erdmann mentions the ration stamps in Leaflet Operations of the Second World War (edited for brevity):

The conception of producing forged German ration cards and stamps must be credited to the British Ministry of Economic Warfare. From their long and detailed study of the German rationing system and general food shortages, they had concluded that German society could be subject to severe strains if many German Hausfraus descended on their local Lebensmitteln and "innocently" but illegally bought out the available supplies of meat and cheese. The S.O.E. worked with the Political Intelligence Department of the Foreign Ministry to find out how the German food rationing system worked, and to print up the fake stamps. The forgeries were printed at secret Political Intelligence Department printing shops. Aircrews of both the R.A.F. and Eighth Air Force dropped these stamps "sandwiched" in their loads of regular propaganda leaflets. Men of the Special Leaflet Squadron made many ration card deliveries in the latter part of 1944 and, judging by their letters, hugely enjoyed the work.


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Seed Packets with miniature American propaganda newspaper Frankfurter Zeitung

American PSYOP specialists first dropped Seed packets in WWII and they have been dropped on some occasions since then. The five seed packets depicted above were produced by the Office of Special Services Morale Operations section in Bern, Switzerland by the forger Raymond Schuhl (code name Salembier). Each of the seed packets also contained a miniature American propaganda newspaper Frankfurter Zeitung in the German language. The first packet (tomato) had issue number 454; the next packet (cabbage) had issue number 456, etc. Note also the number "92" stamped on the tomato packet. The OSS used that type of hand-stamped code when they archived these propaganda items.

Seeds were also dropped by American aircraft over Burma. This is discussed in a series of 1944 lectures as part of the Far East training program for the OWI. Tom Damman says in “PWB Combat Teams - How they work”:

In Burma, there were certain groups we wanted to be friends with and to help us. We knew the Japanese were treating them badly; we knew they were running short of food. We made up a number of seed packets which we dropped by plane thru the area, put a message in them saying that they came from American and Chinese troops, telling them what to do with the packets. We also dropped needle and thread packet. We dropped matchboxes with the American flag and a friendly message.

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A Gift from your American Friends

OWI Leaflet XA-40 was dropped over Burma in October 1944. The 4-page booklet was in Burmese, Shan and Kachin. The cover pictured an American B-25 medium bomber dropping seed packets over a village. The back depicted a happy farmer walking with piles of fresh vegetables. Cabbage, radish and brinjal seeds (a type of eggplant) were dropped inside the booklet. The text says in part:

A Gift from your American Friends

The Japanese have looted your houses, field and garden. But take heart. The Allied armies have already driven the enemy from the north of Burma. They won’t stop until the Japanese are completely beaten. Meanwhile, plant these seeds now, so that you and your family will have food to eat in the months ahead.

The subject is mentioned again in the classified OWI Far East Training Program for members about to be assigned to the Outpost Service Bureau in Saipan:

Our Ledo team got intelligence reports that the Burma tribesmen in a certain section were starved for vegetables. The Japanese had taken them all. Our teams quickly organized some flights to drop packets of seeds, tomatoes and the like, over this area. These seed packets had illustrations showing what the seeds were, pictures of luscious red tomatoes for instance, and other illustrations showing them how to plant the seeds. This for those who couldn’t read. There were also written instructions. And you can be sure the packets bore large American flags and other matter to let them know who their friends were.

The Intelligence and Leaflet Unit, Area III, Washington DC, published a Leaflet News Letter. Volume 1, number 4, dated 4 May 1945 mentions the seed packets in Burma:

OWI-PWT interrogators found several vegetable gardens growing in the village of Mong Nge. Villagers who fled to the jungle planted the seeds in and harvest the crop when it is fully grown. All of the villagers expressed gratitude for the gifts and reported that the drops gave them confidence that the Allies would come soon.

Refugees, who crossed the Chinese lines in mid-February, reported that there were about forty flourishing vegetable gardens in the Namhsa area, grown from American seed packets. They said the gift packets gave the natives hope that the Allies would return. Immediately after the seeds were first dropped the people stopped selling vegetables and other food, hiding their supplies against the coming of the Allied forces.

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If you are going to have all those seeds you are going to need some rain to make them grow. The United States wanted to make rain over Vietnam, but not necessarily for the best reason. U.S. scientists came up with a concept called “Project Compatriot.” This chemical seeding of the clouds had previously been tested in Laos under the name “Popeye.” An interesting code name; sailors like Popeye need water to sail their ships and the U.S. would provide it. Clouds along the Ho Chi Minh Trail were seeded in the hopes that military movement from the north would be stopped by the heavy rains and mud. Apparently the plan was partially successful with some minor flooding and a partial loss of the North Vietnamese rice crop. Of course, the problem was that if the Viet Cong figured out what the U.S. was up to, it could tell the world that America was using weather warfare. The U.S. was already being attacked for germ warfare and gas warfare by the North Vietnamese and nobody wanted to supply them with more ammunition. As a result, the program was highly classified.

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The British 14th Army dropped rice to the citizens of Siam inside of a bag that was enclosed in a second bag. This double-bagging protected the rice against spillage on impact with the ground.

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Needles and Thread

The United States dropped sewing kits to the Burmese people under Japanese occupation.

Aerial Propaganda

The 21 October 1944 U.S. Army 10th Air Force film titled Aerial Propaganda tells about the leaflets and gifts dropped on the Burmese. It says in part:

The leaflets dropped are in both native languages and English tell the truth about Allied gains, strength, and fair treatment of war prisoners. Almost daily the dropping plane of the 10th Air Force flies at low altitude without fighter escort. Some leaflets explain the necessity for bombing certain areas; keep the natives posted on the progress of the war on all fronts. Gifts are dropped too in order to insure friendly treatment to Allied pilots who are forced down in the jungle. They include sewing kits with brightly colored threads, Christmas candles and bright colored robes for the native priests. This is a dangerous unprotected job over enemy installations. The crew would rather be dropping bombs. 

John Plaster adds is SOG - The Secret War of America's Commandos in Vietnam:

Blackbirds also dropped gift kits on North Vietnam. One gift was a yard of cheap cloth and a sewing needle. There was just enough cloth to make baby diapers or a child's shirt. The PSYOP campaign had two goals. First, the friendly Americans had supplied the cloth. Second, if the Communists attempted to confiscate the diapers or shirt the Vietnamese parents would be incensed at their government.

Navigator Captain Bob Wyatt arrived on Okinawa as a member of the 35th Troop Carrier Squadron in May 1968. He says:

I was shown the little bag of toys and stuff for children dropped over Hanoi in December of 1965, but as of the bombing halt in 1968 we stopped dropping over NVN.

I found mention of a 1965 toy drop in the files of the 7th PSYOP Group. This drop occurred in September 1965.

Children of North Vietnam got a pleasant surprise yesterday morning when they received a bag of playthings, soap and school supplies sent to them during the night by the USAF. 10,000 bags were dropped over the cities of Dong Hoi, Thanh Hoa, Vinh, Ha Tinh, and Bai Thuong. The drop was organized to coincide with the Mid-Autumn Festival which falls every year on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar and is the Vietnamese equivalent of Christmas in the western world. This was the first large drop of toys over North Vietnam. A few smaller drops were done in the past. In addition, 24 million leaflets were dropped over North Vietnam in the last four months.

It is interesting to note that this dropping of toys over North Vietnam apparently infuriated the “Peaceniks.” A documentary film maker told that in the 1960s the anti-war group Committee Theater decided to respond to the government action by taking out a full page advertisement asking people to send in war toys to be dropped on the Pentagon to show the generals how the Vietnamese must feel. According to Jerry Mander, publicist for the group, they were visited by the FBI the next day.

Mission reports indicate that on the night of 10 September 1965 an Air Force C-130 dropped 9,000 packets of toys over North Vietnam in honor of Vietnam’s Children’s Day. The toys were meant to be a “good will” gesture from South Vietnam and the United states. By 24 December, another 15,000 gift kits were dropped over the north.

The Communist North Vietnamese reported the finding of gift boxes on many occasions. Some of the MACVSOG reports on these discoveries are as follows:

About Tet 1965 on three occasions gift boxes were found drifting in transparent plastic boxes near Liem Lap hamlet. They contained children’s clothes, handkerchiefs, lighters, pencils, pen and pen holders, and fishing lines and hooks. Security agents confiscated the boxes saying that if they were brought home they would explode. In addition, if the finders wore the clothes after 3 months and 10 days their skin would be swollen and they would die from poison that the enemy soaked into the cloth.

Prior to Children’s Day in October 1965 children found plastic boxes containing a child’s yellow T-shirt, 19 sewing needles, 1 roll of thread and many buttons. They took them home.

Vietnam Flag T-shirt

Sergeant Richard H. Dick James mentioned Vietnamese flag T-shirts that he distributed among children. He said in part:

We did a lot of MEDCAPs (Medical Civic Action Program) patrols out of Vinh Gia. A MEDCAP patrol was one on which the team medic would go out to the outlying villages (along with, of course, a small unit of indigenous CIDG personnel for security, and at least one more American SF team member) to care for the civilians in those villages. We always took along Vietnam flag T-shirts. These were given to the many children who attended the MEDCAPs. Besides the T-shirts, other clothing, food, and hygiene (medical and dental) supplies were distributed. The T-shirts were extremely popular with the children. Any time they wore them, they were aiding the Vietnamese government propaganda effort. The T-shirts accomplished results that were better than any propaganda lecture. 

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Basic Necessities Fall from the Sky

Stars and Stripes – 11 November 1965

On 3 November 1965, National Day in Vietnam, the South dropped 5,000 kits of basic daily necessities by C-130 aircraft on North Vietnam. Each kit contained a T-Shirt, a towel, cotton cloth, two notebooks, a comb, sewing needles, thread and a length of plastic that could be used as a raincoat. The Government of Vietnam had paid more than one million dong to buy the items which had all been manufactured in the South. Along with the gifts were 25,000 copies of the newspaper Nhan Van (Human Knowledge).

Declassified SOG documents state that the following numbers of gift kits were dropped on North Vietnam in the early years of the Vietnam War: 33,000 in 1964, 24,000 in 1965, 80,000 in 1966 and 21,000 in 1967.

And what did the Communist leaders of North Vietnam think of these gift packages? Radio Hanoi said: 

The psychological warfare tricks of the U.S. aggressors are very cunning, ranging from intensification of deceitful propaganda by means of broadcasting systems, dropping tons of leaflets and of Psywar boxes containing children's clothes and toys to tempt them...

The North Vietnamese Army Journal Quan Doi Mham Dan added:

Wherever the enemy spread leaflets or distorting and reactionary rumors or dropped "deceitful gifts" the militia and self-defense forces and the people would immediately disclose and check these tricks...

 Ho Chi Minh said in a speech on 22 October 1966: 

U.S. leaflets and Psywar boxes were recently dropped over some places in the North, but our people just refused to read or take them...Whenever the enemy dropped toys or clothing, the people immediately collected them and brought them to the local administrators or fighters for the People's Security Armed Forces nearest them. 

The gifts did not always come from above. Sometime they floated up to your doorstep. The U.S. Navy tells us about them in their Vietnam After-action Monthly Reports. An example:

In November 1968, over one million leaflets were dropped, 14 loudspeaker broadcasts made and 300 posters distributed. On 5 November 1968 near the mouth of the Mekong River, 1,400,000 leaflets were air-dropped in the area surrounding the Cua Tien and Cua Dai Rivers; the leaflets explained PBR operations to the people. An additional l00,000 leaflets and 20 cases of Psychological Operations buckets (Plastic buckets containing cloth, needles, thread, soap and government literature) were distributed by PBRs during familiarization patrols 11-14 November. Waterborne loudspeaker broadcasts were made during these patrols.

The Navy received 288 small battery powered radios for PSYOP purposes in January 1970. The radios were distributed to Vietnamese civilians in areas where radios are few in number. Radios are felt to be an excellent PSOP medium permitting the people in remote areas to keep in touch with the happenings in the Republic.

During medical visits, USN personnel distributed radios to Vietnamese villagers. Their feelings were that of disbelief that the radios were a gift. Most recipients tuned into Radio Saigon.

During May 1970, refugees began arriving in Vietnam from Cambodia. Navy Task Force 211 has assumed responsibility for the care of approximately 300 Cambodian refugees. The refugees have been housed in barracks with adequate lighting, water, and sanitation facilities. The refugees have been provided with medical care, food, clothing, blankets, PSYOP radios, baby formula, candy, dolls, vitamins, plastic bowls, and spoons. The morale of the refugees appears high.

In 1968, the Joint United States Public Affair Office (JUSPAO) prepared a list of all the gifts they were dropping on the Vietnamese along with the leaflets:

1968 List of Special and miscellaneous PSYOP Material

2107A, Flag, 7xl0, 2 Colors, Vietnamese Flag.

2107B, Flag, 7xl0, 3 Colors, Korean Flag.

2107C, Flag, 7xl0, 3 Colors, American Flag.

2274, Bag, Plastic bag with Chieu Hoi symbol and slogan.

Soap with Chieu Hoi symbol and slogan on the wrapper.

Matches, Small box of matches with Chieu Hoi symbol and slogan.

2619, Bag, four paper bags for use by merchants in packaging products, each with a separate Chieu Hoi message.

2620, Bag, four paper bags for use by merchants in packaging products, each with a separate Chieu Hoi message.

2621, Bag, four paper bags for use by merchants in packaging products, each with a separate Chieu Hoi message.

2622, Bag, four paper bags for use by merchants in packaging products, each with a separate Chieu Hoi message.

Kites, Children's kites with patriotic slogan printed thereon.

2679, Bag, Container for a set of 12 items promoting patriotism to the RVN.

Other reports mention dozens of such operations numbering in the thousands of individual gifts sent to the people by water.

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The United States Army Air Force dropped soap on occupied France during WWII. The bar weighs about 30 grams and is in a red, white and blue package with black text. One side depicts the white star on a blue background that identifies American aircraft. The other side has the text:

Soap from your friends, the Americans

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Soap for Portugal

During WWII, Portugal was a neutral country. Because both the Allies and the Axis wanted to keep it either neutral or friendly, both sides sent much propaganda there. Picture postcards were one of the most prevalent forms of propaganda, though there were many other printed items. This bar of soap was a gift of the United States, most likely by the Office of War Information. The label reads:

Soap from the People of the United States

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Burma Soap package

Propaganda in the form of soap was also dropped on Japanese-occupied Burma and Thailand during WWII. The soap bears a design of a 5-pointed star in a circle and 2 airplanes. The box that it was dropped in has a 48-star American flag on one side and two lines of Burmese (in black) and Thai (in red) text on the other. The message is the same in both languages:

This is a gift from your American friends

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Vietnam Soap package. Note the word "Loc" on the back of the wrapping

Soap was used during the Vietnam War as a medium for PSYOP messages. One type of propaganda soap came in a dark red package with bright yellow flowers on the front and back and had the word Loc (“Lucky”) on it. The design on the wrapper indicates that it was a gift for Tet, the Vietnamese New Year’s holiday. The 7th PSYOP Group bought about twenty-five thousand Japanese-produced, strongly scented bars of soap, each containing seven different Chieu Hoi messages printed on interior layers for the 1969 Tet campaign. The United States Army refused to talk about this operation but news of it came out during a 1970 meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Sub-committee on Security Agreements and Commitments Abroad. At other times plastic buckets containing a washcloth, a half piece of elephant soap, needles and thread, and a leaflet were drifted into Viet Cong areas.

The 7th PSYOP Group Unit History of 1967 mentions the soap campaign:

Research was just completed, in December 1967, on the use of soap as a media for disseminating PSYOP messages. A Japanese soap company has devised a technique of printing up to eight different symbols or slogans on a bar of soap in eight different layers of the soap. This was tested by the Special projects Section and is considered to be a possible new breakthrough in PSYOP because of the extensive distribution of soap throughout Southeast Asia.

The PSYOP/POLWAR Newsletter of August 1968 says in part:

The Nippon Color Soap Company of Japan has developed a process for printing up to eight different messages, pictures or slogans on eight layers of a single bar of soap. If the inner and outer wrappers are included, this allows for ten separate messages in a single package…Since soap has a high acceptance value, the message-bearing bars could be used as give-away items in refugee camps, Chieu Hoi Centers, POW camps, medical aid missions, and by civil action groups as well as military patrols….

The PSYOP/POLWAR Newsletter of January 1969 says in part:

Initial shipments of PSYOP soap developed by the 4th PSYOP Group are now in the country. It is a lightly scented soap which reveals seven separate PSYOP messages as it is used. The soap is scheduled for use in support of the 1969 Tet Campaign and will be distributed during the period 18 January to 19 February…Twenty-five thousand bars will be disseminated.

A 29 March 1969 MACV letter to the 4th PSYOP Group said:

During the 1969 Tet PSYOP campaign Naval Forces Vietnam distributed 25,000 bars of soap. The soap had seven Tet messages in separate layers. The quality of the soap was very high. The messages in the soap were clearly readable. The messages and symbols were considered appropriate for the Tet holiday.

Soap is considered a poor medium for PSYOP because of its short lifetime, high cost, and limited means of distribution. PSYOP soap was evaluated as an attractive novelty item with no significant PSYOP value by all units employing it. Because of its quality it was well received by the recipients, but standard media for conveying messages are more effective and less costly. It is recommended that PSYOP soap be used very sparingly and only on special occasions such as Tet.

The 1969 document Employment of U.S. Army Psychological Operation Units in Vietnam says about the use of soap for PSYOP:

The 7th PSYOP Group developed a technique of disseminating propaganda messages imbedded on successive layers of soap, thus enabling the originator to convey several messages to the user over a considerable period of time. After favorable evaluation by the 4th PSYOP Group for field application to target audiences in the Republic of Vietnam, messages were developed to include a wrapper layout emphasizing that the soap was a gift from the GVN. The layered messages used a “soft-sell” approach and consisted of symbols and short slogans. The soap was used in support of the 1969 TET Campaign. This was the first field application of PSYOP soap and Naval Force-Vietnam was assigned the mission of conducting an intensive field test to determine the suitability and effectiveness of the soap for possible use as a future PSYOP medium. The field test was conducted in the Delta during riverine operations.

I talked to the Army officer who had first thought of placing propaganda messages in soap in Vietnam and he was still bothered by the fact that although it was his idea, another officer was given credit for it and awarded a Bronze Star Medal. In my experience that is how the Army works. There are times when you achieve a significant victory and are unrewarded and other times when you find yourself being presented a medal that you feel you do not deserve. I always told my hesitant soldiers to accept the decoration regardless of their feeling about it because in the long run it tends to even out. He told me:

I made the original recommendation for its use. It was based on a “filler” article in the Reader’s Digest about a soap developed in Japan. It contained the basic description of a layered soap that could be used and I think mentioned the idea that a lady could do a striptease as you washed your hands. Our Japan Detachment (7th PSYOP Group) contacted the company and we were off and running.

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Soap wrapper from soap delivered to the Tay Ninh province
(Photo courtesy of Dave Bowers)

A second type of soap had the following text on the wrapper.

Country. People.
To build rural areas is to bring food and clothes to all the people of the country.
Provincial Rural Development Cadres. Tay Ninh

[Note: Tay Ninh is a province west of Saigon].

An American PSYOP officer who stationed in Vietnam from December 1967 to December 1968 in the 4th PSYOP Group thought that the soap operation was a failure. He told me:

We got the soap operation shoved down our throat by the Department of Defense. Some big wig in the Pentagon came up with the idea of inserting 10 different layers of leaflets in a bar of soap. Rumor was it cost well over $100,000 to produce. The concept was that a VC or NVA would pick up this bar of soap dropped from the air and as they washed they would see a PSYOP message. And if they kept the same bar, and did not get throw it away or have their cadre take it from them, they would eventually view 9 more messages. The messages were developed stateside without any input from the field and were amateurish. Not only were these PSYOP Bars of soap extremely difficult to dispense from the various aircraft but, there was never one bit of evidence that a single Viet Cong ever turned himself in or even read the messages.

Sergeant Derrill de Heer of the 1st Australian PSYOP Unit also thought they failed to achieve their purpose. He said:

Children were sometimes given small items, such as notebooks for use at school, pens, rulers and bags. Soap was a popular gift and Americans sometimes supplied cakes of soap containing a series of Chieu Hoi amnesty slogans that were revealed as each level of soap was washed away. It was disappointing to see these products were not used by the recipients but were sold by the families at road-side stalls in spite of them being emblazoned with Chieu Hoi, health or government slogans.

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Thailand soap bar with front and back of the cardboard  package

The soap bars were also used against communist insurgents in Thailand and later in Korea. The Thai soap was manufactured in Japan and also had hidden messages that appeared as the soap slowly dissolved. The soap came in a white cardboard wrapper with Thai symbols on the front and back, and text on the front, back, sides, top and bottom of the package. The soap inside the package was wrapped in white paper that had the flag of Thailand in red and blue and additional text. Some of the PSYOP team members using the soap in Thailand were rather enthused about it.  They said that they had taught children how to use soap to wash their hands who had never seen soap before. According to testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Sub-Committee, 10,000 bars of soap were prepared and disseminated in Thailand.

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Korean Soap package

The Korean soap was manufactured in Japan and had no hidden messages inside the soap. It came in a plain white wrapper with the words Mu ryo kyon pon(“Free sample”) written on the outside of the soap in Korean.

Members of the 10th PSYOP Battalion dropped soap and candy in the Delta of Vietnam in 8 x 8-inch baggies. One former member told me that he had a heat-sealer shipped from the United States in order to make the baggies waterproof. The sealer is a hot iron that is normally used for mounting photographs. It worked marginally well. Some of the items placed in the bag were a toothbrush and tooth paste, a bar of soap, some wrapped hard candy, some small denomination banknotes, and some mixed propaganda leaflets including water and food storage information. The various aircraft used during this campaign were two C-47’s and six U-10 “Super couriers.” The operation was not a success. It soon became clear that the local Communist leaders were telling the peasants that the bags contained poison and should be immediately turned in. The result is that the commissars and the Viet Cong got the soap, candy, and money, and the peasants got nothing.  The baggies were flown from Binh Thuy, but tests showed that the air drops were not an efficient way to disseminate the propaganda gifts. The soap was later distributed by hand and by floats set adrift down the river. The former psywarrior said:

Education was big in our campaign efforts due to the ability to find distinct village populations with roads, canals and surrounding farm lands. We were deadly serious in trying to help the people. We did have some success, but the failure rate of wet baggies plus the poison story by the Viet Cong made the overall mission a failure. Another problem was the local Vietnamese children. Once the kids found baggies floating filled with candy and other goodies they went out and gathered like crazy. I think that the baggies were a great idea.  We didn't have the right bags, right sealers, or proper distribution technology to make our attempt successful, but we tried hard and we led the way.

Soap was also used as a “secret weapon” in a mysterious operation called Commando Lava, which took place in Vietnam and Laos in the mid-1960s. Major General Richard V. Secord was the project officer for the mission meant to cause transportation problems for the Viet Cong. U.S. C-130 aircraft dumped powdered soap over areas of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. It was not meant to keep the Viet Cong spotless. The USAF dropped a soap detergent which when mixed with rain water was supposed to destabilize or turn the earth into a gelatin-like mud, keep the mud holes from drying up, make the roads and trails impassible, and in mountainous terrain perhaps cause landslides. The mixture of trisodium nitrilo-triacetic acid and sodium tripolyphosphate packed in palletized bags were dropped on chokepoints of roads by the C-130s. The roads were photographed before and after they were “soap-bombed” in the hope that they would just melt away from the loss of surface tension. The Air Force defines the operation as “the application of a harmless dry powder which breaks down soil stability along the HCM Trail” Of course, the project was a failure. The Ho Chi Minh Trail road crews quickly overcome the problem by laying bamboo matting on the soaped areas. Perhaps the Air Force should have tried bubble bath.

FM 33-1-1 Psychological Operations Techniques and Procedures says about gifts such as soap: 

Novelties, trinkets, or gifts should be items members of the target audience can use. Toothbrushes, soap, bandages, and notebooks or pencils for children are just a few useful items PSYOP personnel should disseminate when they enter an area. As visual media, these items must have some printed symbol or short theme on them. The symbol used in conjunction with the PSYOP themes the obvious choice and will require prior planning.

In the section on balloons, the FM states:

In addition to leaflets, balloons can drop food, toys, household goods, and daily commodities to the selected target audience.

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Airdropped Rescue Boats to the Enemy

Perhaps the most interesting wartime airdropped gift was in the form of a rubber boat to be used to aid in the surrender and survival of Japanese soldiers on bypassed islands. During WWII, it was the policy of the Navy to bypass well defended islands of no strategic value and let the Japanese defenders “rot on the vine.” The Navy dropped leaflet 1044 along with rubber boats on Wake Island to implement the escape of the trapped troops. One side of the leaflet has detailed instructions on the use of the rubber boat accompanied by simply explanatory sketches:

1. First, orally inflate the boat using the rubber tube. Attach the rubber tube to the valve on the inside of the boat, turn the valve to the left, and orally inflate slowly. When the boat is completely inflated, turn the valve to the right and leave it in that position. You will then have a fine boat! It takes a healthy person about 15 minutes to inflate the boat orally.

2. When the boat is finished, set out! What about the waves and the wind conditions? Take off your clothes and make a sail out of them.


3. Put your hands through the straps on the two rubber oars and row with them. They will also act as a rudder. The small rubber cup is very handy for bailing out the bilge.

4. When the waves are rough, you can steady the boat by taking hold of the handles on the top. Work them skillfully so that the boat will not turn over. Even though there is a heavy swell, keep courage and go on, humming the song “UMI NO TAMI NARA OTOKO NARA.” You can be sure that the boat will not sink.

5. Directly ahead, you can see lights. That is the rescue ship. If you keep on course until you reach the ship, all will be well.

The other side depicts photographs of rescued Japanese soldiers with explanatory captions.

a. Life line lowered from American ship.

b. Step by step, up the ladder to hope.

c. Having washed away the mud of battle, they breathe a sigh of relief.


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Care for a Quick Game on the way to the Punji Stakes?

It was apparently decided in November 1967 during the Vietnam War that if the locals and the Viet Cong could become interested in playing chess, they would be less likely to set up ambushes and bury mines and punji stakes. As a result, this Joint United States Public Affairs Office product coded 2257 was developed. The finder could use the leaflet and cut out the pieces to play Vietnamese chess. It is certainly one of the oddest PSYOP items disseminated in wartime. Notice that the center of the board bears the words “Chieu Hoi” (“Open Arms”), and the Chieu Hoi symbol is at the left and right.