72 Second World War Allied aerial propaganda leaflets

[Archive of 72 Allied aerial propaganda leaflets, ZG series. London: Psychological Warfare Division, Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force, 1944-45.]
72 aerial propaganda leaflets, printed in black, orange and red on thin paper, various sizes (the smallest 7 ½”h x 4 ¾”w, the largest 11 ½”h x 8 ½”w). Illustrated with maps and photographs.

An evocative and extraordinarily rare run of Allied propaganda leaflets air-dropped over northwest Europe in the wake of Operation Overload. All marked ZG, being from the so-called “tactical” series aimed chiefly at German (and allied French, Polish and Russian) troops.

The American military had given psychological warfare been only “token recognition” during the First World War, and during the interwar years “no psychological warfare office existed at the War Department.” In 1942 the Psychological Warfare Branch was established at Allied Forces Headquarters in Algiers. In February 1944 this was expanded into the Psychological Warfare Division (PWD), based at Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) under overall command of General Eisenhower. According to the official report on the operations of the Division, the dropping of aerial propaganda leaflets was “the largest single operation of PWD-SHAEF…. By May 1945… the Anglo-American leaflet operation was utilizing exclusively more than 80% of the total offset printing capability of the United Kingdom…. In general no PWD leaflet… was argumentative in character [but aimed to] represent as clearly and as firmly as possible the hard news of the military situation.” (The Psychological Warfare Division Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force: An Account of Its Operations in the Western European Campaign, 1944-1945, pp. 43-51)

In all, PWD oversaw the dissemination of a staggering three billion leaflets over northwestern Europe. Of these, some 80% were dropped by the U.S. Eighth Air Force, 10% by the RAF, and the rest by fighter bombers or long-range artillery (The latter two methods allowed the pinpoint targeting of small units down to the company level.) The effects of this huge investment in psychological warfare were monitored closely, and indeed they were immediate and impressive: The first monthly SHAEF report on the Leaflet Propaganda Front, issued on November 15, 1944, contained numerous attestations to the remarkable success of the operation. One officer reported, for example, that 75% of the 11,302 prisoners taken at Le Havre were found to be in possession of leaflets. Another wrote that

“It is impossible to determine the exact effectiveness of airdrops, but it is a fact that over 80% of all prisoners we have taken on the Brest Peninsula have come in with leaflets in their possession. Korvette Kapitan Fritz Otto, now a prisoner, informed us that with leaflets falling all around his troops he found himself leading a ‘bunch of neurotics’ and gave the whole thing up, coining over to us.”

The leaflets
This group contains no fewer than 72 leaflets, almost all in excellent condition or nearly so. All are from the “Z.G.” series of “tactical” leaflets targeting enemy combat units (There were also “strategic” leaflets targeting civilian populations.) Included are a number of particularly notable examples of the PWD’s leaflet campaign. Z.G. 139 is an updated (1945) issue of the famous “Safe Conduct Leaflet,” first issued as Z.G. 21 and “probably the most successful single combat leaflet of the Western Campaign, judging from the returns of prisoners,” according to a classified SHAEF report (Current Combat Leaflets. (Paris: Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force Psychological Warfare Division, Nov. 1944). There are also two iterations of the “One Minute” (“Eine Minute”) leaflet (Z.G. 45 and 84), a list of six points outlining the futility of continued resistance. The aforementioned SHAEF report on the Leaflet Propaganda Front explains that “the reverse carried the opening sentence: ‘German Soldier! We promise you neither Utopia nor a paradise’, words which carry great conviction to the German, judging by the numerous references to them by P/Ws, and statements that they were influential in bringing about a decision to surrender.”

These so-called “basic” (i.e., non-specific) messages were supplemented by “situational” leaflets. August 1944, for example, saw “The Lesson of Stalingrad” (Z.G. 50) and special leaflets aimed at the garrison at Brest (Z.G. 46 and 55). In September the decisive Allied victory at the Battle of the Falaise Pocket (August 12-21) provided material for “Falaise” (Z.G. 57) and “The Last Weeks” (Z.G. 58), dropped in large quantities on the retreating Germans.

Most of the leaflets are in German, but a few are in Polish or Russian. Many are illustrated with photographs of captured German soldiers and their officers, destroyed German military equipment &c. Eight include maps, including for example Z.G. 2 and 3, both of which feature “Vierfronten-Krieg,” an outline map of Europe printed in red and black, showing Germany menaced simultaneously by strategic bombing and armies advancing on three fronts.

All the leaflets bear the small blue stamp of the Imperial War Museum. I purchased them in the trade late last year, and they likely first came into the market at the W & H Peacock (Bedford, UK) sale of April 1, 2016, which included a large group of material deaccessioned by the Museum. These air-dropped leaflets were intrinsically ephemeral, and while individual leaflets or very small groups do appear on the market, it is almost unheard of to encounter such a large and varied gathering.

In all, an excellent collection of primary source material for a key, often overlooked aspect of Allied strategy in the closing months of Second World War in Europe.

For a brief summary of the American commitment to and organization of psychological warfare in the First and Second World Wars, see Alfred H. Paddock, Jr., “Military Psychological Operations,” in Lord and Barnett, eds., Political Warfare and Psychological Operations: Rethinking the U.S. Approach (New York: National Defense University Press, 1989), pp. 45-6.  For a tremendous amount of material on propaganda leafleting campaigns of World War II and other conflicts, see the psywar.org web site.


Overall excellent, a few leaflets with dog-earing, creases, short nicks or closed tears. All with ink stamps of the Imperial War Museum Library.