Psychological Warfare during World War II

Psychological warfare was used by both Axis and Allied forces in World War II in the Pacific, Mediterranean, North African, and European theaters. The files of the Eisenhower Library contain documentation primarily on propaganda efforts by Allied forces in North Africa and Western Europe.

An operation memorandum issued by Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force on March 11, 1944 defined psychological warfare as “the dissemination of propaganda designed to undermine the enemy’s will to resist, demoralize his forces and sustain the morale of our supporters.” The mission of the Psychological Warfare Branch of the Army was to collect, prepare, supply, distribute, and control all propaganda in its theater of operations.

Propaganda was disseminated primarily by leaflets and radio broadcasts and occasionally by loud speakers near the front lines. Leaflets were spread or circulated by artillery shells, air drops, and various agents and night patrols.

“There were three categories of propaganda. Tactical or combat propaganda was aimed at actual enemy troops in or near the front lines or the population immediately behind the front lines. Strategic propaganda was directed at enemy and enemy-occupied countries. Consolidation propaganda sought to convince the civilian population in the rear areas to cooperate with Allied forces.

Using information gleaned from front line troops and military intelligence reports, propaganda was designed to affect what the enemy troops and civilians were thinking. The aim was to weaken enemy morale and the will-to-resist and make it easier to defeat them on the field of battle. Among other things, Allied propaganda sought to encourage defeatism among the German and Italian soldiers, to emphasize the superiority of Anglo-American men and equipment, and to overcome the fear of defeat by promising good treatment of prisoners of war.

  1. Documents