High Altitude Ballooning, propaganda, and the Hungarian Uprising
FREE EUROPE PRESS COLD WAR LEAFLETS
Note: Some of the “Operation Prospero” material in this article was used, with permission, in the Brian Kannard book “Steinbeck: Citizen Spy,” Grave Distractions Publications, Nashville, TN, 37214. Vicente-Juan Ballester Olmos used some of the balloon photos in this article in his Fotocat Project discussion of “flying saucer” sightings in Spain in December 1954 that were probably RFE balloons.
Free Europe Press and Radio free Europe Headquarters – Munich
When you write about propaganda balloons floated over the Iron Curtain from Germany you are immediately reminded of the 1983 Cold War Protest song 99 Luftballons by the German singer Nena. Some of the words from that song are:
Ninety nine red balloons floating in the summer sky. Panic bells, it’s red alert there’s something here from somewhere else. The war machine springs to life opens up one eager eye. And focusing it on the sky the ninety nine red balloons go by
Ninety nine knights of the air ride super high-tech jet fighters. Everyone’s a super hero everyone’s a Captain Kirk. With orders to identify to clarify and classify. Scramble in the summer sky ninety nine red balloons go by.
Crusade for Europe Advertisement The money raised was use for both radio broadcasts and Propaganda leaflets
Some Technical Details
A brief technical explanation of the operation before we get to the actual article: Early in the Cold War, Radio Free Europe was transmitting shortwave broadcasts from locations in Germany and Portugal. However, powerful jamming stations in Soviet Russia were able to interrupt many of the broadcasts. A new way to reach those behind the Iron Curtain was needed. The answer was balloons. Some of the story was told by David L. Hollyer in an article entitled: “Winds Aloft – When Radio Free Europe Flew Balloons,” QST Magazine, a magazine for amateur radio enthusiasts
He says that some of the original research was done at the RFE Receiving and Monitoring Station located in Schleissheim, a small village about 12 miles north of Munich on a former Luftwaffe fighter strip. A small radio with a trailing antenna was placed in the balloon that could broadcast altitude. Direction finding equipment could tell where the balloon was. The radios weakened due to the cold at 45,000 feet so the batteries were heated before launch and then placed in insulated boxes.
The operation was a success so new launch sites were prepared at Fronau, Freying and Mohenhard, and the test site at Schleissheim was closed. A number of systems were invented to allow the leaflet drop to be triggered by radio from Germany. The system was now ready. The balloons could be launched and tracked and when they were over their target the Balloon Plotting Center transmitted a coded release signal and the leaflets were dropped.
The leafleting became so accurate that allegedly RFE broadcasts could tell listeners in selected areas to “Look skyward. More leaflets are coming!” By the end of the program in 1956 nearly 600,000 balloons carrying more than 300,000,000 pieces of printed material dropped leaflets over Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland. This was the only news those occupied people got from the outside world.
The Leaflet Operation
In the 1950s, at the height of the Cold War, propaganda specialists became aware of numerous psychological warfare leaflets that were prepared by the Free Europe Press (FEP) of the Committee for a Free Europe. Although the patriotic umbrella organization Crusade for Freedom appeared to be their banker, it never raised enough money to fund more than a small part of the Free Europe Press and Radio Free Europe budget. However, its advertising, along with parades, public forums, and slogans such as “Fight the Big Lie with the Big Truth” and “Help Truth Fight Communism,” served to mobilize American support for the Cold War. The Crusade for Freedom actually was used to quietly funnel money from the Central Intelligence Agency to the propaganda organizations.
1951 National Crusade for Freedom pamphlet
The plan worked quite well. John Scott said in an article entitled “Non-governmental Agencies engaged in Cold War Propaganda Operations,” Political Warfare: A guide to Competitive Coexistence:
…It is financed by the Crusade for Freedom, a fund-raising project of the American Heritage Foundation…Both the Free Europe Committee and Radio Free Europe obtain support from the Crusade- which has received millions of dollars in public contributions since its establishment in 1950…and thus has no juridical connection or responsibility to the U.S. Government.
Richard Cummings talks about the money-raising campaigns:
The Crusade for Freedom probably gave the majority of Americans what they wanted: a feeling of belonging and contributing to what they believed was a justified cause…From 1950 to 1960, millions of Americans throughout the United States willingly and enthusiastically signed “Freedom Scrolls” and “Freedom Grams,” participated in fund-raising dinners and lunches, attended local Crusader meetings, marched in parades, launched balloons with leaflets, participated in writing contests, bowled in tournaments, and otherwise were active in the belief that they were individually and collectively supporting Radio Free Europe in the battle against Communist Aggression in Europe.
Put Your Truth Dollars in this Envelope
Cummings mentions the money-raising campaigns again in a 2013 blog entitled “Freedom Sky Drop 1955.” He points out that in 1955 the Crusade for Freedom’s national campaign took place on “Freedom Week” and ran from Abraham Lincoln’s to George Washington’s birthday; 12 February to 22 February. The “Freedom Sky Drop project” was sponsored by the Civil Air Patrol, the Crusade for Freedom, and the American Legion. One thousand small airplanes flew over 200 American cities and towns and dropped packets that included patriotic documents and souvenirs such as: Replicas of the Freedom Bell medallions that were sent to countries behind the Iron Curtain; Freedom Scrolls for the signatures of 41 persons; Envelopes in which “Truth Dollar” contributions to the Crusade could be mailed and various booklets and articles that spoke of the fight against Communism.
Crusade for Freedom Liberty Bell Pin
There pins were cheap to make and could be handed out by the thousands at little cost to advertise the anti-Communist campaign.
One would think that all of America would have jumped on this bandwagon, but several cities opted out of the air drop. For instance, Reno, Nevada, did not grant approval. Manchester, Concord, Nashua, and Portsmouth, New Hampshire, bowed out fearing that fluttering paper would be a menace to motorists. Milwaukee, Wisconsin, had an “anti-liter ordinance.” Other American cities were more than happy to take part in this anti-Communist crusade. In Boulder, Colorado, 9,000 packets were dropped and a newspaper advertisement by the University of Colorado asked:
You can contribute to National Defense…. We are trying to help the Crusade for Freedom by evaluating the effectiveness of this leaflet drop. YOU CAN HELP by filing out this questionnaire and mailing it to us. PLEASE DO THIS IMMEDIATELY.
This would seem to imply that even as the Crusade dropped the packets they were still studying the effectiveness of airborne dissemination.
Many of the leaflets were long and wordy with tedious political text and few illustrations very much like the Soviet and Eastern European propaganda publications. I assume that is because many of the writers of those leaflets were refugees from those countries and believed that long involved dialogue was acceptable. As a result, they never became as popular with collectors as the leaflets that were very colorful and picturesque such as those from the Korean War that was being fought at about the same time. Later, I notice that the leaflets did get brighter and there was more use of images and color. There was a learning curve for the refugee propagandists and the leaflets were certainly discussed as new refugees crossed the Iron Curtain and talked about their effectiveness. Whatever their artistic merit, the FEP leaflets were a major part of the post-WWII psychological warfare battle between East and West and it is worth studying the operation that sent 590,415 balloons that carried 301,636,883 leaflets, posters, books, and other printed matter from West Germany over the Iron Curtain to Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland from August 1951 to November 1956.
Free Europe Press Balloon Launch from Somewhere in Germany Courtesy of RFE/RL Collection, Hoover Institution, Stanford, University
Some of the underlying premises of the Free Europe Press balloon leaflet program were as follows:
- That political action against the Soviet Union was a necessary and desirable activity supported by the people of the United States and their government.
2.That the Soviets were vulnerable to the forces of opposition and discontent in their European satellites…
- That the present interest of U.S. political warfare efforts toward Central and Eastern Europe was to increase effective popular opposition to the Communist regimes…
- That the longer range U.S. interest in the area was to see individual liberties and self-government restored…
- That the United States, while unwilling to risk war or to give direct military support to the captive countries, was committed to a policy of “peaceful liberation” and was prepared to assist the citizens of these countries to attain this end.
A Crusade for Freedom “Postage” Stamp
This Crusade for Freedom mock postage stamp depicts the Big Lie and the Big Truth of Communism. At the top you see a beautiful Utopian city where everyone lives in peace and prosperity. This is the lie of Communism. Below you see the starving enslaved masses being herded like cattle by armed Communist guards. This is the truth of Communism. The text around the border of the stamp is:
Give Freedom to the Captive Nations! Fight Communism.
I saved a number of publications from those heady days, such as Balloon Leaflets; The Handbook of Leaflet Dispersion via Balloons; The Radio Free Europe Story; and A New Weapon – the Spoken and Printed Word Penetrate the Iron Curtain in Combined Operations among many others. In addition, I kept magazine articles with such titles as “West Wind over Prague” and “Balloons and the Big Lie.” Having said all that, I must also credit Richard H. Cummings who has corresponded with me since 1999 and wrote an excellent article entitled “Balloons over east Europe: America’s Covert Radio and Leaflet Operations in the Cold War” for the Falling Leaf, the publication of the Psywar Society. He also wrote Cold War Radio – the Dangerous History of American Broadcasting. 1950-1989, McFarland and Company, Jefferson NC and London, 2009. In 2010, he wrote an article entitled “The Winds of Freedom and Crusade for Freedom” on Historytimes.com: He has updated that article and continues to add new data. Much of the background on these operations comes from Cumming’s research with his kind permission. I also want to thank my good friend and colleague Michel Girard of the Psywar Society who unselfishly shared his collection with me to help make this article meaningful.
Michel wrote an article about the Free Europe Press in the Falling Leaf, June 1963. That is a long time ago but some of the data is still accurate so let me quote from his introduction in part:
The Committee of Free Europe Press has several divisions for its activities.
RADIO FREE EUROPE which broadcasts in captive countries from Portugal and Germany.
THE FREE EUROPE UNIVERSITY IN EXILE in Strasbourg, which supports students who are Iron Curtain refugees…
THE NATIONAL COUNCILS DIVISION which maintains close and cordial contact with the MID-EUROPEAN LAW PROJECT which studies the so-called “legal” measures taken by the totalitarian states.
THE EAST EUROPEAN ACCESSIONS LIST PROJECT which published a monthly publication from behind the Iron Curtain.
RESEARCH AND PUBLICATION SERVICE which publishes a monthly periodical called “News from Behind the Iron Curtain.”
CRUSADE FOR FREEDOM originally an operation of Free Europe, is now a separate corporate entity, but it is still the fund-raising arm of the organization.
Radio Free Europe Control Room in Munich
Although there were numerous operations, this article will only look at four major campaigns that took place against Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland. They are by name, PROSPERO and VETO to Czechoslovakia, FOCUS to Hungary and SPOTLIGHT to Poland. There were massive radio campaigns that went along with these leaflet operations but I will only discuss the paper products in this article. I could write 10,000 words on the radio aspect and perhaps another 5,000 words on balloon technology, but my real interest is leaflets. We will try to stay on target.
In 1948, the CIA’s Special Procedures Group began stockpiling World War Two meteorological balloons that would carry and deliver propaganda leaflets into East European countries in the event of war. This campaign was codenamed ULTIMATE. The Director of Central Intelligence, Rear Admiral Roscoe Hillenkoetter, sent a Top Secret memorandum to the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Denfeld, telling him that “the Central Intelligence Agency has developed an effective method of penetrating the Iron Curtain with the use of high level balloons.”
There were several discussions at the time about sending propaganda to Communist-occupied Europe by balloon but the U.S. Government did not want to take any action that might be interpreted as provocative. CIA declassified files show that the U.S. Navy wanted no part of the project in mid-1950 and cautioned against any attempt to use Navy vessels as cover for psychological warfare operations. Later that same year it was decided that utilization of large balloons would only be desirable on extraordinary basis to seek to reach large numbers behind the Iron Curtain with important messages. An independent third party was needed, one that had no ties to the American government. The U.S. Government’s Psychological Operations Coordinating Committee gave the CIA and the Crusade for Freedom approval for an experimental propaganda balloon project from West Germany with Czechoslovakia as a target. The CIA was given the mission of sterilizing the operation.
We know a little bit about the CIA concept of using balloons against the Iron Curtain from a declassified confidential Intelligence Memorandum 298, dated 30 June 1950, entitled “Use of Propaganda Balloons.” It says in part:
A balloon-distributed propaganda campaign directed against the USSR and its satellites might either be “white” (in which the foreign origin of the propaganda would be disclosed) or “black” (in which case the material would appear to be of internal origin, there being no indication as to the manner in which it entered the USSR)…
Effect on the Eastern European satellite populations of a leaflet campaign directed at the USSR, the Satellites, or both could be expected to be entirely positive, no matter whether the propaganda were of the “black” or “white” variety.
Specifically, the instituting of such a campaign addressed to the satellite populations would probably have the effect of raising the sagging spirits of anti-Communists and counteracting to some extent the feeling of hopelessness and despair which has resulted from gradual elimination of Western diplomatic missions and the isolation from all Western contacts. In addition, it might stimulate dissension in Communist ranks…
Although the Soviet propaganda reaction might be violent, it is believed that the execution of an intelligently conducted balloon campaign would result in a net gain for the West.
Winds of Freedom
On 17 May 1949, the Committee for a Free Europe was formed with directors and officers like former OSS agent and future CIA Director Alan Dulles and former General of the Army and future U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Although the actual program is usually dated as starting in 1954, there were several small operations that took place earlier. In August 1951, the National Committee for a Free Europe created the Free Europe Press (FEP), which was used not only for the printing of various publications in the USA and Europe but also for the printing of leaflets and launching of balloons to carry them to the countries in Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary.The first balloons were launched on13 August 1951 at 0100. This operation was known as the “Winds of Freedom.” The lofting of balloons continued until approximately 6:30 a.m., when breakfast was served. The crews returned to work at 7 a.m., and continued launching until noon. By then over 3,000 balloons carrying 4,000,000 leaflets were launched.In total, over 11,000,000 leaflets were dropped behind the Iron Curtain during the two weeks of the “Winds for Freedom” operation at a cost of $233,041.89. Over the next five years, the skies of Central Europe were filled with over 500,000 balloons — some of which were as tall as 60 feet — carrying over 300,000,000 leaflets, posters and books. Some of the text of the first leaflet was:
A new wind is blowing. New hope is stirring. Friends of freedom in other lands have found a new way to reach you. They know that you also want freedom. Millions of free men and women have joined together and are sending you this message of friendship over the winds of freedom which in the upper air always blow from West to East. There is no dungeon deep enough to hide truth, no wall high enough to keep out the message of freedom. Tyranny cannot control the winds, cannot enslave your hearts. Freedom will rise again.
The schedule and frequencies of Radio Free Europe’s broadcasts to Czechoslovakia were on the reverse side of the leaflets.
This test operation, known as the “Winds of Freedom,” was on an experimental stand-alone basis, i.e., the launching of the balloons was not fully part of a coordinated programming effort with Radio Free Europe broadcasts. The leaflets contained such slogans as “A new hope is stirring,” and “Friends of Freedom in other lands have found a new way to reach you.” The messages of the leaflets included some of the following themes: A new wind is blowing; New hope is stirring; They know that you also want freedom; Millions of free men and women have joined together and are sending you this message of friendship over the winds of freedom; We are in touch with you daily by radio; There is no dungeon deep enough to hide truth, no wall high enough to keep out the message of freedom; Tyranny cannot control the winds, cannot enslave your hearts and Freedom will rise again.
On August 17, 1951, Howland Sargeant, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public affairs (and future Radio Liberty President), sent a memorandum to James Webb, Under Secretary of State advising him of the balloon project:
For several months the Department has been following with interest certain privately sponsored plans to use balloons as vehicles for the delivery of propaganda. The Department felt that such projects had sufficient merit to warrant experimentation on a test basis, and consequently encouraged the private interests involved to proceed.
General Mills Leaflet used in Early Dissemination Testing
This test leaflet was folded three times to make four pages. When opened up fully it is 25 x 8.25-inches. What might be considered the cover page has the message:
THIS LEAFLET WAS DROPPED FROM A BALLOON.
IT IS A MESSAGE TO YOU…FROM THE CRUSADE FOR FREEDOM
TAKE IT HOME…PLEASE READ THE OTHER SIDE
The two center pages to the left have a text that says in part:
THIS LEAFLET is one of thousands dropped over this area from small balloons launches at Sioux Falls in an experiment conducted by the balloon division of RAVEN INDUSTRIES, Inc., for FREE EUROPE PRESS, an association supported by THE CRUSADE FOR FREEDOM. Free Europe Press sends 12 million leaflets over the Iron Curtain every month. They are miniature newspapers having the same format as this folder with news and pictures from the Free World…
At the far left is a stamped “business reply card” addressed to Raven Industries, New York, N.Y. Clearly the form is meant to be filled out, folded and then stapled or taped into a small card that can be carried by the postal service.
The back of the leaflet has a questionnaire at the far right that asks such questions as:
Date and time found; I saw (did not see) the leaflet coming down; I saw (did not see) the balloon from which this came; I found (did not find) the balloon after it descended; Were there any leaflets attached to it?
To the left there is a text covering the additional three pages on the back. The text says:
THIS FOLDER was dropped from a balloon flying at 24,000 feet. It was launched from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to test methods of sending honest news and information to the captive people behind the iron Curtain by FREE EUROPE PRESS. To millions in Soviet captivity, leaflets like this mean hope and encouragement from the free world. The main objective of the test is to find out more about how many leaflets are recovered soon after they are dropped.
To make this test a success, your cooperation is vital. It will help THE CRUSADE FOR FREEDOM which supports FREE EUROPE PRESS to carry on a project vital to our peace, freedom and national defense. Please fill in the attached form and mail it promptly.
General Mills Inc., Mechanical Division, Minneapolis, MN bragged to its employees on 14 August 1951:
Tens of thousands of General Mills-made freedom balloons are now landing in Czechoslovakia and Poland, carrying messages of hope to peoples behind the Iron Curtain. Called pillow balloons because of their 54″ square size, they were developed at company Research laboratories in 1949. The balloons are made of polyethylene, a substance commonly used in food saver bags. The company is one of two manufacturers making balloons for the Crusade for Freedom, National Committee for Free Europe, sponsors of this project.
Abbott Washburn, the executive vice-president of the Crusade for Freedom talked about the “Winds of Freedom” campaign in the Chronicle-Express, Penn Yan, N.Y., 20 September 1951. He spoke about a mission where the Crusade sent balloons carrying 9,000,000 messages of friendship over the Iron Curtain into Czechoslovakia from Munich, Germany, starting on 17 August 1951. Some of his comments are:
The convoy assembles in the studio yard: 11 big trucks, two busses, six cars, a radio truck, and several taxies. By late afternoon the caravan is ready to move, loaded down with hundreds of cylinders of hydrogen, thousands of balloons, millions of leaflets, sundry special equipment, and 71 people. The crew are mostly Germans, plus nine or 10 refugees from Iron Curtain countries.
The meteorologist’s charts of the upper atmosphere show a 50-mile-an-hour wind from the site at altitudes of 18,000 feet and above. This calls for a launching site along the Czech border due west of our target, Prague, the capital city of Czechoslovakia. We are heading for a spot some 10 miles from the Iron Curtain near Tirschenreuth, 170 miles northeast of Munich. The trucks begin unloading and uniformed RFE guards take up their positions at both ends and along the side of the convoy. They are armed to protect against Communist interference. The men immediately crank up a small gasoline engine which generates enough electricity for a light at each truck. The work goes swiftly and efficiently piling cylinders, hitching on gauges and hoses, testing hydrogen nozzles, unloading crates of balloons and messages.
The “Peace” Balloons Courtesy of RFE/RL Collection, Hoover Institution, Stanford, University
The plastic balloon crews work inside the trucks, five men to a truck. Two men prepare the “pillows” (a pillow-shaped balloon, of glistening, translucent polyethylene. They slowly oozed hydrogen through the plastic pores and gradually sank to earth) and insert the message sheets; one man operates the hydrogen tanks; another nozzles in the gas; the last man “weighs” each balloon by attaching a small metal ring with scotch tape. When the right amount of gas has been inserted, the balloon hangs almost stationary in the air. Finally, the opening at the corner of the balloon is heat-sealed with an electric gadget like a curling iron. The actual launching consists of tearing off the iron ring and shoving the balloon out the back end of the truck. The pillows take off gracefully and slowly, their silver sides catching the moonlight with “SVOBODA,” the Czech word for freedom, lettered in red on both sides.
The rubber balloons are launched just outside the trucks, from five wooden platforms that look like counters of roadside vegetable stands. The balloons, some red, some black, are inflated on the counters. When they are big enough so that their sides exactly touch two uprights at the ends of the counters they are tied off securely with heavy strings and loosed. Unlike the gently drifting pillows, they streak upwards with great force. The rubber balloon crews call them “goomies.” At 30,000 feet, well over Czechoslovakia the rubber balloons explode releasing thousands of leaflets.
When dawn comes, the scene overhead is something out of science fiction. The sky to the east is literally filled with balloons on their way to Czechoslovakia. The crews go back to work again at 7:30 a.m. and the launchings continue until noon During the past 10 hours nearly 3,000 balloons and over 4,000,000 messages have been sent on their way to Czechoslovakia. It is 7:00 p.m. before the last truck pulls back into the courtyard at Munich. Except for naps on the road, nobody has slept for 36 hours.
A “Dewey and Ames” Worker tests a Leaflet Balloon at their Factory in Cambridge, MA.
Robert Cummings mentions the hydrogen gas in a letter to Historytimes.com. He had mentioned the launch of 13 August 1951 in an earlier article. American newspaper syndicated columnist Drew Pearson; C.D. Jackson, President of Free Europe Committee and former Time magazine vice president; and prominent Republican Party leader Harold Stassen, former Governor of Minnesota, took part in the launching. After releasing the balloons, Harold Stassen was quoted as saying, “We tore a big hole in the Iron Curtain.” Cummings comments:
Columnist Drew Pearson, who helped loft the first balloons, gave a glimpse of how the hydrogen gas was collected in his August 15, 1951 column, which was written at a “secret location” in Germany.
“SOMEWHERE NEAR THE CZECHOSLOVAK BORDER —
Anyone who thinks it’s easy to launch freedom-friendship balloons across the Iron Curtain has another guess coming. Once the balloons are in the air, nature and the fact that “winds of freedom blow from west to east” take care of the rest. But the real job is getting them into the air. And that boils down to assembling hydrogen, tanks to put it in, and trucks to haul it in.
German workers to fill the balloons with hydrogen and, on top of all this, keeping the operation secret from the curious German population, which loves intrigue. The man who deserves the chief credit for overcoming these headaches is Harry Andrews and the Dewey and Almy Rubber Company, who, without knowing a word of German, cajoled, coaxed and wheedled nearly 1.000 hydrogen tanks from’ firms all over Germany, collected them all in one place and got them filled with hydrogen.
It takes so much hydrogen to carry 15 million pieces of literature across the Iron Curtain into Czechoslovakia that Andrews collected just about every tank in West Germany. You can imagine the curiosity of the local tank distributors wondering why one man was going around picking up this colossal number of hydrogen containers. They popped the question to Andrews every time he brought in a new load, and he deserves a diploma in career diplomacy for expertly ducking these questions.”
The Freedom Train
On 11 September 1951, a train carrying 108 passengers and crew was deliberately driven across the Czechoslovak-German border into the American Sector, where 31 persons, including the train’s engineer and fireman, asked for and received permission to stay in the West. The Czechoslovak government protested to the American Embassy for alleged American complicity in the incident. The same day, the State Department sent a “top-secret, priority, needs immediate action,” telegram asking for the Ambassador Brigg’s views of a draft leaflet message. It said that balloons would carry an unsigned message providing factual account of the train episode and reception and handling of passengers aboard. The leaflet would also contain the following message:
Thirty-one of the passengers choose to remain in the West. Seventy-seven chose to return to their homes. Wives and husbands and children have been freely permitted to go back. These 77 chose to defer personal freedom until the day when their country and their people together regain freedom for all.It will take time, just as Engineer Konbalinka’s plans did, to switch the track that will shunt Czechoslovakia off its present road to Moscow and on to the main line that leads to freedom and justice for all.
The reverse of the leaflet bearing pictures of trains, the engineer and the fireman would have the following message from Konbalinka stating:
People of Czechoslovakia, I beg you, for your own good, not to believe that American agents were involved in freedom train episode. It is just one more of the many lies spread by the Muscovites. Mr. Trusa and I planned the project entirely alone because conditions as so many of you know have become unbearable for us at home.
My countrymen, I beg you not to believe Americans were involved. It is just one more of the many lies . . . No, there were no terrorists, no secret foreign plot. The only terrorists are the Communists; the only foreigners are those from Russia.
Ambassador Briggs responded that the balloons and leaflets should be immediately launched. The FEP printed the leaflets and they were launched beginning 26 September 1951. 10,000 balloons and 8,000,000 messages were sent over the Iron Curtain.
Time magazine of 24 September reported on the balloon leaflets. Notice they spelled the name of train’s engineer differently from the State Department telegram:
Over hilly Sudetenland and the spires of Prague, thousands of white paper leaflets fluttered down. Each night for four nights 2,000 plastic balloons spilled out 2,000,000 leaflets. That was the way the people of Red Czechoslovakia got the real story last week of how Locomotive Engineer Jaroslav Konvalinka raced his Prague-Asch “Freedom Train” across the Czech border into Germany..
Konvalinka helped the Winds of Freedom group launch its balloons at the German town of Selb, where the train, with 108 people aboard, had ended its escapade. The leaflets carried pictures of Konvalinka, the train, and a group of 18 of the 31 Czechs who did not go back to Czechoslovakia.
The train was returned intact to Czechoslovakia on 10 October 1951. In November 1951, Konvalinka and his family, arrived as refugees in the United States.
On November 8, 1951, James Webb sent a Third Progress Report, classified “Secret,” to the Executive Secretary of the National Security Council on the subject of “The Foreign Information Program and Psychological Warfare Planning.” Under paragraph 9, Propaganda Balloons, Webb wrote:
There has been continued study of the possibility of using balloons to carry our propaganda to the people of Russia and her satellites. Following Committee approval, the appropriate government agency, in cooperation with private organizations including the Crusade for Freedom in New York, launched an experimental propaganda balloon project from Western Germany with Czechoslovakia as a target. … Details of the project have since appeared in the press. The effectiveness of the project is currently being evaluated.
As the program progressed, a number of field sites for launching the balloons were chosen. They are:
- Fronau: 145 kilometers southeast of Munich.
- Freyung: 210 kilometers east of Munich.
- Hohenhard: 350 kilometers northeast of Munich.
This spread of sites allowed the launches to be made from different areas according to the prevailing wind. Consideration was given to using mobile launching sites but the plan was never used.
The leaflets were designed by the field editorial staff in Munich and the editorial staff in New York City. Once approved by both staffs, the final version of the leaflet was sent by teletype or mail to Munich for printing. Print runs of most leaflets were from 10,000 to 3,000,000 pieces. Regular periodicals were usually 1,000,000 copies. I have no final count of the total number of the leaflets but Veto seem to be the most prevalent with over 80, Focus second with about 37, Spotlight third with about 15 and Prospero last with just 3 items. Of course there are also those few “test” operations that occurred before 1954 such as “Winds of Freedom.”
The “Dry Ice” balloon
There were three main types of balloons. A round rubber balloon was carried by the wind at 30,000 to 40,000 feet. The leaflets were inside when the balloon burst at a predetermined point the leaflets rained down. A small plastic pillow-shaped balloon carried the leaflets inside and expanded at it rose, then sprung a leak which allowed the balloon to gently settle to the earth, the leaflets still intact inside in a waterproof container. A large plastic balloon has the leaflets suspended below in a cardboard container. Under the container an envelope carried dry ice as ballast. When the dry ice was exhausted the leaflet container tipped over releasing the leaflets. These plastic balloons were first used during the FOCUS operation to Hungary when the distance was too far to use the rubber balloons.
Advertising the Crusade
Crusade for Freedom 1951 Ford Truck
It was important to get the American public behind the Cold War Crusade. Cummings tells us about the motorcade that was sent around the United States to help raise money and awareness. He says in part:
In 1951 the Ford Motor Company donated model trucks and the Chevrolet Division of General Motors donated station wagons for the Crusade campaign in the 48 states and District Columbia. The trucks and cars were identical in every state and each truck was clearly marked “Crusade for Freedom” and numbered as part of the fleet around the nation that became known as the Freedom Motorcade. The Ford truck carried a replica of the Freedom Bell in Berlin, a Radio Free Europe transmitter tower, with the words “Radio Free Europe, Radio Free Asia.” The Freedom Motorcade provided excellent backdrop for newspaper publicity photos for the Crusade campaign and local citizens.
In Kalispell, Montana, a Crusade for Freedom float built by the members of the American Legion won first prize in the Northwest Montana Fair parade on September 13, 1951…In Helena, Montana, balloons and leaflets were launched on September 15, 1951. One balloon was found by deer hunter Marvin Johns a month later in the Spokane Hills. Another balloon was found stuck on a ranch fence 100 miles east of Lewistown, Montana in October 1951. In South Carolina, one hundred balloons were launched during the Freedom Motorcade’s travels around that state…As part of the state Crusade campaign in Idaho, balloons containing leaflets were launched in Boise. One balloon floated over 600 miles to Boulder, Colorado. In the balloon were copies of the “Winds of Freedom leaflet.”
In Reno, Nevada, movie stars Ida Lupino and Clark Gable launched balloons on October 1, 1951, that carried messages from Reno and Sparks merchants with instructions to return them to Reno with information when and where they were found. Many of the balloons were prepared by the First National Bank of Nevada and were launched in front of one of the fourteen branches in the state. One launched balloon later was found after floating hundreds of miles to Nebraska.
As part of the 1951 fund-raising drive for Radio Free Europe and the Free Europe Press, contributors in Madison, Wisconsin, could fill out a coupon endorsed by 40 “civic minded business firms” that read:
My contribution in any amount will be used to: Help expand Radio Free Europe – broadcasting costs are $12 per minute – and begin similar truth broadcasts to Asia; Buy a rubber Freedom Balloon for §2.50; Buy a plastic “pillow” Freedom Balloon for $5.00.
You may (may not) use my name on a freedom message to be sent by balloon through the Iron Curtain.
Readers were told that, “Messages by freedom balloon bring to the Kremlin dominated lands written words of hope and friendship. With two means of communication – radio and balloons – your Crusade for Freedom will better able to encourage hope among the prisoner peoples of Poland, Rumania, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Hungary and Albania.”
The Free Europe Press One Koruna Banknote Leaflet
PROSPERO was the code name for the Free Europe Press balloon program in the summer 1953, when in a time span of only four days, 6,500 balloons with over 12,000,000 Free Europe Press leaflets were launched into Czechoslovakia. The balloon launching started approximately at midnight on 13 July 1953 in the small Bavarian town of Tirschenreuth. RFE broadcast news of the launching during the first news programs at 6:00 a.m. This was the first time balloons were launched in conjunction with specific radio programs.
I first wrote about this operation in an article entitled “Cold War Propaganda Currency,” The International Banknote Society Journal, Vol. 24, No. 1, 1985. I also mentioned the operation in an Internet article entitled “Cold War and Insurgency Propaganda Banknotes” on Psywar.Org. I said in part:
The Prospero propaganda banknote is a parody of the Czechoslovak State Bank one Koruna of 1953. In June, 1953, the Czech Government launched a major currency reform. Western experts believed that many thousands of workers and farmers would have their life savings wiped out as a result of this massive currency change. This was considered an excellent opportunity for an anti-Communist campaign by the West and the Crusade for Europe organization, in conjunction with Radio Free Europe, designed a leaflet and radio attack to take advantage of the situation. The leaflets were ordered by Free Europe Press, a division of the Free Europe Committee and prepared by Reynolds Offset, a west 31st Street New York City print shop, in sheets of 40 (8 across and 5 down). Ken Graeber was the printer. In regard to my 1985 article he said in part:
I was presented with a 1 Koruna note. I sent it to the cameraman who made a negative on both sides. My instructions were to set it up for our 17 x 22 sheet fed press on a 17 x 22-inch sheet. Since the 1 Koruna was 2 x 4-inches this worked out to 8 across and 5 down…The two men who brought it into the plant made any number of cryptic remarks about its secrecy. We would be reading about it soon they said, and there were remarks about “balloons.” I do not recall how many we printed but it was not one of our larger jobs…about 75,000 sheets, or less than three days run on the press.
The Operation Prospero Leaflets Ready for Dissemination
This project was explained in a small booklet entitled A New Weapon, published by the Free Europe Press. The operation was named “Prospero.” It would involve the sending of 6,512 balloons and saturation broadcasts at the rate of twenty hours a day from the RFE transmitters located at Holz-kirchen, West Germany. This was a hurriedly prepared tactical exercise prompted by the riots in Prague, Pilsen, and Ostrava brought on by the drastic Czechoslovak currency reforms that effectively wiped out the savings of the population. The operation was closely coordinated with radio broadcasts by RFE’s “Voice of Free Czechoslovakia.”
Dr. Michael Rowder was a soldier in Czechoslovakia at the time. He mentions the riots in the IBNS Journal, Vol. 34, No. 4.
Many honest people, keeping their currency at home because of mistrust of state institutions, were affected. The occurrence of suicides, heart attacks and other disasters with these people was frequent, affecting whole families. Signs of disagreement with the currency reform, as well as the resistance toward building up of the Socialist society, were frequent strikes of factory workers. Soldiers, armed with cartridges were on the highest alert.
Allan A. Michie talks about the start of the balloon campaign in Voices through the Iron Curtain: the Radio Free Europe Story, Dodd/Mead, 1963:
In the summer of 1951, the free Europe Committee acquired a stock of large weather balloons, about four feet in diameter when inflated, and decided to launch them from Germany across to Czechoslovakia, taking advantage of the prevailing west to east winds in the upper attitudes. Working at night from a wheat field only three miles from the Czechoslovak frontier, a crew of German workers stuffed the balloons with leaflets, inflated them with hydrogen and sailed them across the border. Each balloon carried some 3,000 leaflets.
Operation Prospero Balloon Launching
Richard H. Cummings tells us more about the balloons in Cold War Radio: the Dangerous History of American Broadcasting in Europe 1950-1989, McFarland & Company, Jefferson, North Carolina and London, 2009. He says in part:
The regime responded to Prospero by using military aircraft and anti-aircraft weapons along the border to shoot down the balloons the day after the first launching…Police cars in Prague and elsewhere used loudspeakers ordering citizens to turn in all the leaflets…Because of the violent reaction and the media attacks, RFE inadvertently discovered that the balloon program was more successful than first planned.
On the nights of 13 through 17 July 1953, over twelve million leaflets were sent from the German-Czech border by 6,500 balloons. There were three different types of leaflets, including a propaganda banknote produced by RFE similar to the original banknote in size and color, but with the addition of a message block with text at the upper right on the front and at the upper left on the back of the note. The message was translated in the article “West Wind over Prague,” published in News From behind the Iron Curtain, August 1953:
MEN CALL THIS THE HUNGER CROWN – GIFT OF THE SOVIET UNION
It is the proof of the government’s helplessness and bankruptcy of the five-year plan, a remembrance of what you have had stolen by the government.
It is the appeal to fight, the appeal to direct the people’s power against the weakness of the regime and to resist as best you can. The peoples of other countries enslaved by the Soviet Union are writing and will join you in your struggle. The free world is with you. All power belongs to the people!
On the other side of the parody banknote the text is:
CZECHS AND SLOVAKS
The regime is weakening and is afraid of you. The power is in the people and the people are against the regime. Unite and mobilize your forces! Down with the collective farms! Insist on the rights of the workers! Today demand concessions, tomorrow freedom!
At the same time, anti-Soviet messages were broadcast by the propaganda radio stations:
The Soviet Union is growing weaker. Only those will survive who detach themselves from the Communist boat in time…Everywhere in the Free World your friends are with you…All power to the people.
On Prospero’s final night lighted lanterns were attached to the balloons for dramatic effect.
The Radio Free Europe 25 Heller Coin
The second “leaflet” was in the form of an aluminum 25 Heller coin stamped with the Freedom Bell and the text:
All Czechs and Slovaks for Freedom. All the Free World for the Czechs and Slovaks.
Berlin Children Beneath the Massive Crusade for Europe Freedom Bell
The National Committee for a Free Europe (NCFE) was formed in May 1949. NCFE hired public relations experts Abbott Washburn and Nate Crabtree to help create a public image for its efforts. Washburn and Crabtree suggested using the Liberty Bell as the symbol for the Crusade and sought out General Lucius D. Clay as its chairman. The Freedom Bell was designed by Walter Dorwin Teague in New York. Written on it were words from Abraham Lincoln:
That this world Under God shall have a new birth of freedom
The bell was created in England and shipped to New York City for a parade following a speech by President Eisenhower. Traveling by truck, it made a circuit around the country and returned to New York by 8 October 1950. It arrived in Berlin on 21 October 1950
Arch Puddington mentions the origin of the Freedom bell in Broadcasting Freedom: The Cold War Triumph of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty:
Some four hundred thousand Germans lined the streets of West Berlin on October 24, 1950, to cheer General Lucius Clay, the hero of the Berlin Airlift and the figure who symbolized the Free World alliance of the United States and Europe…And there was the bell itself: eight feet high, weighing more than 10 tons, it was essentially a replica of the original Liberty Bell in Philadelphia’s Liberty Hall…
The bell was sponsored, and it was assumed, paid for by a new organization called the Crusade for Freedom…Clay then pressed the button that would ring the bell. Its deep peels could be heard in the Soviet sector of the city, ten miles away.
Revolt in East Germany
The third leaflet was a one-page sheet with pictures of the Berlin uprising and a description of the ferment inside the USSR, including the purge of Beria. In one photograph people walk on the street with a sign reading “Free Elections.” The text is probably well over 1000 words so I will just mention a few of the comments:
Czechs and Slovaks: Hear the message which comes to you today from the Free World: The Soviet Union is growing weaker. The peoples of the captive countries are growing stronger.
The Soviet Union is growing weaker. The struggle for Stalin’s heritage shakes the entire Soviet Empire, and fear has crept into the Kremlin. Who will fall with Beria and who will fall after Beria? How many millions will fall victims to the new purge which is now to begin – the biggest purge which the Soviet Union has ever known?
The people are growing stronger. The first flames of revolt flared up in Czechoslovakia and in East Germany. From Pilsen, from Moravska Ostrava, from Oslavany, from Berlin, Dresden and Magdeburg the echo of the revolt roared throughout the world and deeply shook the entire Soviet realm: the people showed their strength.
The Communist regimes recognized the danger and became afraid. They started apologizing, they started self-criticizing, they started giving promises. In Germany the anti-labor decrees had to be revoked. In Czechoslovakia, the frightened government was forced to desist from applying the penal laws concerning absenteeism….
Note: Lavrentiy Pavlovich Beria was the head of the NKVD, the predecessor of the KGB. Beria was one of the most feared men in the Soviet Union. After the death of Stalin, many believed that Beria would attempt to take over the country. Instead, he was arrested and executed.
At the same time that the balloons were floating overhead, RFE was playing a song specially written for the occasion, “The Iron Curtain Does Not Reach the Sky”. The radio advised finders of the leaflets to hand a small percentage over to the police to protect themselves and pass the rest on to friends and neighbors.
On 18 July, Rude Pravo, official organ of the Czechoslovak Communist Party, published a lengthy article attacking this campaign and likening it to Hitler’s hate-propaganda. It said in part:
Our citizens arrive with expressions of justified disgust at the leaflets, and they find offense in one leaflet which is some kind of copy of the new Czechoslovak Koruna, covered on both sides by a slanderous text. Our people respect the new Koruna, its firm purchasing power which enabled us to discard the ration system, and therefore they deplore, in harsh and not too selective language, that the effigy of the Koruna has been misused for printing on it stupid lies and slander against the government of our Republic and against the Soviet Union.
Several attempts were made to end this campaign of balloon warfare. In late 1954 a Czech agent was apprehended as he attempted to cross the border with forged papers. When questioned, he explained that he had been ordered to burn the balloon launching site at Tirschenreuth. When asked why he carried a weapon, he replied that his orders were to kill anyone who tried to stop him.
The Communist military forces were also involved in an attempt to stop the spread of the Western propaganda. On 15 July 1953, Russian-built MiG-15 jet fighters attacked the airborne balloons and were credited with two “kills.” It was reported that anti-aircraft batteries downed three more.
According to an article entitled “Balloons and the Big Lie,” published in East Europe, July, 1958, the Czechs also attempted to keep the propaganda out of the hands of their citizens by claiming that the balloons were dangerous, carried explosives, germs and incendiary devices. When a Czechoslovak Airlines passenger plane crashed on 18 January 1956, killing twenty-two passengers and crew, they claimed that the aircraft had been brought down by a Free Europe Press propaganda balloon. The United States refuted this claim, stating that the aircraft was flying in an area of poor visibility with high wind velocities and icing conditions. The US explanation was that the pilot was attempting to find a landing site other than Poprad Airfield in the High Tatra Mountains and while flying in extremely high winds, dependent on instruments, had crashed into a hill due to faulty altimeter settings.
There is no way to determine what, if any, results were achieved by this psychological warfare operation. In 1956 a count was made of all the references to balloons and leaflets in the Communist press. It was found that the Czechs had complained about these propaganda campaigns no less than 487 times. There were 1,303 complaints in the entire Communist bloc during the months of January and February 1956 alone. The United States may not have changed many minds, but if nothing else, it seems to have cut heavily into their supply of printer’s ink.
VETO – CZECHOSLOVAKIA
The “Ten Demands” Leaflet
In April 1954, the FEC and the FEP started Operation VETO as an integrated balloon and broadcast campaign over the Voice of Free Czechoslovakia aimed at achieving eventual liberation from Communism in Czechoslovakia. This operation continued until September 1954.
Radio Free Europe, calling itself the “voice of the opposition,” urged regime leaders to give Czech and Slovak citizens a way to veto that year’s election. Operation Veto developed a platform and 10 limited demands, all possible within the constraints of a communist state. When voting took place, at least 5 percent voted against the single slate of candidates by putting the number 10 on their ballot.
RFE had spent months piecing together a picture of complaints collected from refugee statements and intensive review of the Czechoslovak media. The leaflets, for example, listed a nonviolent political program of Ten Demands including:
1.Trade unions for trade unionists. 2.Better pay – less talk. 3.Workers must not be chained. 4.No meddling with worker’s free time. 5.No more farmer’s bondage. 6.Smaller quotes – larger crops. 7.Local autonomy instead of bureaucracy. 8.Goods for the people – not for the Soviets. 9.Back to serving the customer. 10. Housing for families – not for the state.
I stated earlier that the leaflets tend to be wordy, political and not very interesting. Arch Puddington gives an example:
But if the people of Eastern Europe welcomed the leaflets as a symbol of western solidarity and an insult to the Communist authorities, they often regarded the leaflet texts with indifference or disdain. Some dismissed the leaflets as boring. According to a Czech engineer:
“The contents are not interesting. People don’t pay attention to the Ten Demands. The only important thing is that it is against the Communists.
“10 Demands” Gummed Label
On 29 April, 3,000,000 tiny gummed labels with the number “10” that could be concealed in a closed hand were dropped by balloons, turning up on government walls, telephone booths, and the doors of police buildings. Later they were pasted on Communist Party posters as a symbol of opposition.
Robert T. Holt mentions VETO in Radio free Europe. He says that phase one was short and introductory. It was designed to capture the interest and stir up the curiosity of the Czechoslovakian public, and to plant the idea of the Ten Demands as the platform of the People’s Opposition. It began in April 1954 with the dropping of a sticker containing only the number “10.” Just after 1 May 1954 the small newssheet Svobodna Europa (Free Europe) was carried into Czechoslovakia by balloon, listing the 10 Demands and commenting on them. This continued to the middle of May. In the meantime four leaflets in the form of stickers were dropped targeting specific groups, (farmers, workers, Party functionaries, etc.) A special VETO song was introduced by Radio Free Europe.
The second phase started at the end of May. There were two main leaflets involved in this phase. The first was the ballot of the People’s Opposition which explained the Ten Demands. The second was an issue of Free Europe designed to translate the Ten Demands into human and individual terms, written in more readable and informative terms.
Sheet of Four Perforated Gummed Labels
In addition, small sheets of four gummed and perforated labels were dropped, each with a propaganda text printed below a cartoon. Like all the leaflets to Czechoslovakia were printed in both the Czech and Slovak languages. Notice the letters “NV” on the upper left label; that is Národný výbor, a term for the Communist government. The texts in the Czech-language sheet above are:
10 Demands; National Security Force – Think of your future! Protect the people from the regime, not regime from the people; Each votes as he can; 10
Gummed Flag Labels
Another set of propaganda labels depicted the flags of Czechoslovakia and the United States. The text would seem to imply that there was an election the next day:
The people of the USA support the Czechoslovak people’s opposition in its fight for freedom tomorrow.
This 1955 20-page booklet depicts a religious painting on the cover and back. The propaganda text mostly speaks of art and mentions Christ and his message. Of course, the FEP made sure to mention the modern suffering of the Czech people under Communism.
From late April to August 1954, over 41,000,000 leaflets and publications weighing over 50 tons were sent into Czechoslovakia via balloons during Operation Veto.
The ten demands, the initial action program for the people’s opposition, first appeared on 20 million copies of the Ballot of the People’s Opposition ballot which were sent by balloon into Czechoslovakia during the first two weeks of May.
The Ballot Leaflet
Although this leaflet never actually calls itself the ballot leaflet it seems to be the one that is mentioned in much of the literature. It explains the voting procedure to the Czechs in plain language and we find comments like:
The election rules give you great possibilities: you may cross off the names of activists… So keep your eyes open for the dates and place of elections…The voting isn’t done any more by show of hands, as it used to be after 1945. Since the fall of 1951 the voting is secret…
Robert T. Holt and Robert W. van de Veue say in Strategic Psychological Operations and American Policy:
Broadcasts informed the Czechs and Slovaks that the Ballot of the People’s Opposition was not to be used in the official election. It could be affixed to walls and bulletin boards, mailed to party members and candidates for election, slipped under thresholds. In short, its ballot box was all of Czechoslovakia.
Programs also reminded the people of all their legal rights in the elections. The regime had promised that the voting would be free and secret. Election results were to be announced as soon as known, and in all cases where candidates did not receive a majority of the votes new elections were to be held. Although the elections did not give the people a choice between a number of candidates, they had the legal right of crossing out the names of candidates they objected to. Thus RFE advised the voters to examine carefully the lists of candidates. Any candidate that could be of direct or indirect use to the cause of the People’s Opposition should be supported. The hard Communist or crude opportunist should be struck from the list. People should go to the polls with a pencil or other instrument with which to exercise their rights if the opportunity presented itself.
Allan A. Michie adds in Voices through the Iron Curtain, Dodd, Mead & Co., NY, 1963:
Radio Free Europe’s Broadcasts suggested, “Every envelope into which this ballot is placed, every mailbox into which it is slipped, every doorstep on which it is placed, every courtyard where it is found, every wall and every fence on which it is found, becomes the people’s ballot box, which is as wide as the whole Czechoslovak countryside.”
The so-called “freedom” ballot leaflet said in part:
The ballot of the Czechosklovak People’s Opposition does not belong in the government ballot boxes. It belongs in the hands of citizens, who will use it – each according to his own possibilities – as a demonstration of the people’s solidarity and as the first part of a step by step program against the regime. Securing these ten demands will constitute a historic milestone on the road toward a free Czechoslovakia in a free and sound Europe.
Issue Number One of Svobodna Europa
They appeared again when FEP sent 1,000,000 copies of the first issue of the propaganda newspaper Svobodna Europa (Free Europe). We should mention here that there were about 55 numbered issue of this newspaper printed before the operation ended.
The early issues were 8 well illustrated pages about 10 x 15cm. Some of the pages also had small cartoon of the stickers depicted above. Later copies varied in size from 12 x 14cm to 16 x 21cm. Issue number 14 explains the campaign of the newspaper in some detail:
The Czechoslovakian People’s Opposition has announced its political program; The ten demands. The election campaign, which the regime wanted to turn into a grand theatrical performance to make itself appear almighty, has become transformed into a persistent opposition program. While it is well known that the government can falsify the election results at the polls it does not know how to handle the results of the popular pressure which is becoming noticeable in the factories, mines and villages.
Issue Number Twenty-two of Svobodna Europa
Starting about issue number 21 an orange color was added to the newspaper. Issue 22 depicts FEP balloons sailing over barbed wire into Eastern Europe. Some of the message is:
Czechoslovakia is no longer the only country where the regime has lost its monopoly over the radio and press. For several years Radio Free Europe has spoken to Hungary and now millions of leaflets with the program of the Hungarian People’s Opposition are being carried into Hungary by balloon.
In the middle of May four additional Veto leaflets were disseminated. For instance, a trade union leaflet asked, “How do you feel about the elections to the plant councils?” Another leaflet said, “The election rules give you great possibilities. You can cross of the names of (Communist) activists.”
There were a series of leaflets that targeted trade unionists and farmers. FEP also produced a calendar with various patriotic comments on different dates.
The Masaryk Letter
In June, the campaign accelerated with the dissemination of the Masaryk letter and further issues of Free Europe. These publications were meant to explain the concept of the 10 demands in greater detail. I actually wrote about this letter leaflet back in August 1966 in an article entitled “Airmail that Ain’t” for The Aerial Leaflet. I wrote about it again in the November 1975 issue of the Society of Philatelic Americans Journal. Some of what I said at the time is:
The address reads: “To all the Members of the Czechoslovakian People’s Opposition.” Inside is a long message stating that the letter comes “By air from the free World.” A printed blue label at the left says “In unity lies the power.” The stamp cancel is from the reformer Bohemian Jan Hus and reads “The truth will be victorious.” A number of political questions are asked and answered.
The fake envelope bears a very good likeness of the Czechoslovakian stamp commemorating the 85th birthday of President Masaryk. The envelope was sent aloft by balloon on 29 April 1954. The project was to be a major coordinated campaign of words, both printed and over the radio. The aim was to cover Czechoslovakia with anti-Communist propaganda during the May Day holiday. The campaign centered on “The Ten Demands of the People’s Opposition.” There was even a special song written and played over and over again to insure maximum impact.
A Czech student who defected to the West said: “The night we heard about the content of the 10 demands we all fell silent. We were all very happy and could hardly speak. Finally, my father said that with this sort of basis one can build and fight against the Communist government because the resolution is eternal and objective. By transplanting the 10 demands we could force the regime to change its rule.”
Some of the text is:
What is the Czechoslovakian People’s Opposition?
It is the million-fold majority that has begun to organize itself systematically. It has its own leaders in its own rows; leaders who grow and harden themselves in a fight. It has its own speakers in the free world, its own radio stations and print shops. The Czechoslovakian People’s Opposition is a political movement of the Czechoslovakian people that is united by a growing consciousness of solidarity, and that is ready to get even with the hostile police regime.
The Harvest Leaflet
From July to September, Veto concentrated on the “Harvest of Self Defense.” Here is part of the text of one such leaflet:
PEOPLE’S OPPOSITION DECLARES THE HARVEST OF NATIONAL SELF-DEFENCE
WHO DOES THE HARVEST BELONG TO?
The harvesting has started. Farmers are reaping the fruits of their year’s labor. At this time, we must all ask ourselves a question: “On whose table will our grain end up?” Will it be the children who will eat pastry baked from the wheat you cultivated, will it be your wife who will slice bread baked from the rye which you sowed, will it be your relatives and friends who will receive a share from your crops? Or will it be the insatiable throat of the Soviet Union and the short-weighing state trade who swallow up the labor of your calloused hands?
It is up to us to upset the Government’s plans for blackmail. Let us state: The harvest belongs to who has cultivated it. It does not belong to the blackmailing state apparatus, which has led our agriculture into bankruptcy by nonsensical interventions. The People’s Opposition must step in; it cannot wait for crumbs from the nobleman’s table of the regime.
The Sixth Demand of the People’s Opposition says: “If the prescribed delivery target is not fulfilled, it means that the state misjudged the harvest.” Satisfy the needs of your family first. If this means that you cannot fulfill the delivery, it is the duty of the National Committee to revise it downwards.
What are the People’s Opposition’s aims in this defense harvest? The aim is to protect the crops from the looting by the State. The protection of the foodstuffs is necessary because we do not have produce enough in our economy disorganized by the Communist rule. The protection of foodstuffs is necessary because the State Trade is not able to guarantee a regular supply. The protection of the foodstuffs is necessary because the State is black-marketing with the produced aliments. Against the Communist slogan “Corn straight from the threshing machine to the State!” the People’s Opposition organizes its self-protecting action to secure the crops for whom it rightly belongs to, i.e. to the Nation!
Harvest of Self Defense Label
Like all the products for Czechoslovakia, these labels were printed in both Czech and Slovak. The propaganda seems to fit in with the harvest leaflet above and depicts a Russian commissar yelling at a Czech businessman, soldier, farmer and miner holding hands and trying to protect the harvest so it can be used to feed the Czechoslovakian people.
Farmer’s Leaflet No. 2
Before we end this look at leaflets to Czechoslovakia perhaps we should depict some of the leaflets that were designed specifically for certain groups. The above leaflet is for Czech and Slovak farmers. It charts the production in Tsarist Russia in 1928, and then under Communist rule in 1953. Some of the text is:
<i”>CZECH AND SLOVAK FARMERS
The bankruptcy of Communist agriculture. Not only is agriculture in a crisis in our country, but everywhere controlled by Communists…Nikita Khrushchev admitted that Soviet agriculture had reached the same low level as under the Tsar in the 19th century.
In other words, Khrushchev admitted that since general collectivization had been introduced, the number of livestock had been reduced by 10 million (of which 9 million were cows), horses by 21 million, and sheep and goats by 5 million…
The People’s Opposition appeals for your assistance. Collectivization brings slavery and economic distress. Every dissolving collective means not only more bread, but also another small step toward freedom….
Trade Union Leaflet No. 2
This leaflet specifically targets the Czech and Slovak workers. It points out the difference in the way the high Communist union bosses and the common workers representatives are treated. Some of the text is:
It has been a long time since the elections to Trade-unionist organizations in plants… During January and February all new functuaries will have to go through an intense “swindle course” which indoctrinates them on the nature of the trade unions…Chairmen of the work councils fancy themselves as the nobility of the Central Council of Trade Unions …They choose Luxurious establishments…For the common members of the Plant and Workshop Councils, a less luxurious schooling is given in the factory not during working hours.
The 1968 Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia
Although not part of this story, we should add that the Czechoslovakian people, perhaps motivated by the Crusade for Europe leaflets did rise up in 1968 in what was called “the Prague Spring” and attempted to free themselves from the Soviet yoke. The Soviets and their Warsaw Pact allies invaded Czechoslovakia and took immediate control. At approximately 2300 on 20 August 1968, Eastern Bloc armies from five Warsaw Pact countries – the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, Poland, Hungary, and East Germany invaded Czechoslovakia. That night, 200,000 Warsaw Pact troops and 2,000 tanks entered the country. Just as the Crusade for Freedom did, the Soviets used propaganda leaflets. In the picture above the leaflets were dropped from Soviet helicopters. Other photos show the Czechs burning the leaflets. This Associated Press photo is from the archives of the Chicago Sun-Times.
During the Cold War, the actions of Radio Free Europe were condemned by the Communists. With the fall of the USSR, Czech and Slovak feelings have changed somewhat. In 2014, a Czech-language book entitled Freedom Balloons. Leaflet Operations of Radio Free Europe 1951-1956 was written by Prokop Tomek.
The author mentions empty balloons collected in the countryside
The review points out that the balloon campaign against Czechoslovakia was greater than those against Hungary and Poland. The book recounts the creation of the 1951 operation, “Winds of Freedom,” the 1953 Operation “Prospero,” and finally the most extensive operation, “Veto,” which ran from 1954 to 1956. The book mentions the Communist responses to the leafleting. There is also a list of all the leaflets dropped on Czechoslovakia by date.
One of the artists known to have produced and drawn numerous leaflets targeting Czechoslovakia was Miroslav Sasek. He joined RFE in 1951 as a producer and quickly became an actor, speaker and singer on radio broadcasts. He spoke Czech, German, French and English. He had graduated from the Paris Ecole des Beaux Arts, and eventually became a major artist in propaganda leaflets. Some of his better known items were “Harvest of Self Defense,” “Czech and Slovak Peasant Pest,” “Promises and Reality,” and the “Scorpion comic magazine.” He left RFE in 1957.
The 12 Demands
The National Resistance Movement
FOCUS was the name of the balloon program for Hungary that started 1 October 1954 and continued until February 1955. It was timed to coincide with local November elections in Hungary and was meant to “focus” the attention of Hungarian citizens on attainable goals. As with Veto, Focus encouraged the Hungarian people to demand certain legitimate attainable demands by which they could baffle, thwart, and wrench concessions from the regime.
The leaflets were copies of a “Manifesto and Twelve Demands (similar to the Ten Demands of VETO) of the National Opposition Movement.” As with the VETO operations, small decals with the number 12 were included in the balloon operation and were later found on Communist Party posters.
The paragraph headings on the above leaflet are:
The National Resistance Movement sees that the time is ripe…
The National Resistance Movement…
The ultimate goal of the National Resistance Movement…
The people’s right to freely choose the system of government…
The N.R.M. facilitates the achievement of the demands…
The N.R.M. lays first claim to the 12 points…
The National Resistance Movement – The Hungarian people – We stand beside you!
The opening paragraph and the 12 demands are:
The National Opposition Movement believes that the time has come to use new and more effective legal means to win liberty for the people and to dispel the Communist darkness over our land. The Hungarian people in all walks of life have just and fundamental complaints against the regime. They have made evident with increasing success their opposition to the oppressive rule of Soviet Communism. The time has therefore come to form a mass movement on the broadest popular basis. This movement expresses the will of the Hungarian people. Its task is to focus the spirit of opposition in constructive and effective ways.
- Real autonomy for the local councils. 2. Free speech; free assembly. 3. The rule of law, not the reign of the Party. 4. The land belongs to those who till it. 5. Free trade unions and free workers. 6. An end to industrial slavery. 7. Production for Hungary’s well being. 8. Living standards must be raised. 9. Services for the people in the hands of the people. 10. Homes, not barracks. 11. Equality of education; free intellectual life. 12. Freedom of worship and of conscience.
Another leaflet that depicts the number “12” shows a farmer working the land and bears the title “The Land Belongs to Those who Till it.”
The “Nem” Sticker
Just as gummed labels with the number “10” were prepared for Czechoslovakia, similar gummed labels with the black letters “NEM” (No) on a red background were prepared for Hungary. The letters represented the National Resistance Movement (In Hungarian) and the anti-government labels could be secretly stuck on walls or doors.
10 Years ago
Another sticker that commemorates the liberation of Hungary depicts a Russian soldier looking at his wrist with three (obviously looted) watches and the text:
Exactly 10 years ago!
We can tell from the text that this sticker was ballooned about April 1955.
In 1955, it appears that some of the captive nations received beautiful Christmas leaflets from the FEP. None of the leaflets have any political text, but the passages are such that one can compare the suffering of the martyrs with life under Communism. The painting is from Flemish Master Roger van der Weyden, (1400-1464). Some of the text is:
Two thousand years ago, God sent his only begotten Son to redeem the world. Ever since, the world has been illuminated with the light from the manger in Bethlehem.
Men bowed under sorrow and humiliation, men oppressed and persecuted draw from this light the patience and strength to await the day that will bring them peace, truth and freedom.
On the threshold of the New Year, we bow before God and renew within ourselves love for our neighbor.
An Easter message was also ballooned to the Hungarians. This leaflet says in part:
“Stand fast and do not let yourselves be caught again in the yoke of slavery.” – The Epistle of the Apostle Paul to the Galatians…
Free nations are based on Christ’s precepts. Tyrants from Genghis Khan through Hitler and Stalin have tried to destroy the code of equality, tolerance and justice…
The message of Easter knows no Iron Curtain. The message of Easter is addressed to you – help your fellow who is endangered by hate. The message of resurrection cannot be stilled. Kindle the spirit of self-sacrifice and charity, which unites and strengthens the nation.
Szabad Magyarorszag – Free Hungary – Issue 1
The FEP also produced a newspaper entitled Szabad Magyarorszag (Free Hungary). Nineteen issues were printed in all. The paper started off as a small 10 page sheet about 10 x 15cm, then by issue 11 it changed to 8 pages at 16 x 21cm, and issue 18 was 16 pages with the translation running 30 single-spaced pages. Final issue 19 discusses the Polish uprising in Poznan in depth.
Issue one says in part:
Hungary was carried by the winds to Hungary in order to voice the thoughts and feelings of the Hungarian people who are forced to be silent.
We speak at a time when the resistance of the Hungarian people has achieved visible results – results which are recognized throughout the whole world wherever a free press exists.
To the Members of the Councils
This 11 x 19cm leaflet targets the local councils and tells them that the power is in their hands, not the Communists. The leaflet depicts a peasant on puppet strings manipulated by the Communists. Below the strings have been cut and the peasant now paints the “12 demands” on the backdrop. Some of the text is:
The elections which were recently conducted were neither free or Democratic. The Party’s irresolution and confusion lead to the election of numerous council members who are non-Communists…It is your turn now to represent honesty the Hungarian people who are condemned to silence…
Do not be afraid. You are not alone. Thousands and thousands of your fellow council members have the same assignment. They are with you. The people are behind you. When you are the warrior of a great and just cause, you will find that you have moral support….
The “Babies” Leaflet
This leaflet is a joke at the expense of the Communist Party. It is a special edition of the “Free Europe” where the reporter claims to have gone behind the iron Curtain to interview citizens about what they think of Party policies at the 10th Congress. Everyone brushes him off so he eventually interviews babies who give him various comical answers. Some of the text is:
A special reporter of the newspaper Free Europe has penetrated behind the Iron Curtain, to see what people here thought about 10th Congress of the Communist Party. He did not become discouraged by all the adults who simply shrugged their shoulders and shook their head. Instead, he took the bull by the horns and decided to question the younger generation as to thier opinion of the Congress. Representatives of the babies answered his queries as follows:
The Congress – that’s something like this rattle. It makes a lot of noise, but nothing good comes out of it.
Maybe the new Congress would succeed in making a big impression on Moscow if it were not for those damn Ten Demands of the Opposition.
Stop reminding me of the Congress. I am responsible for recruiting new Party members of working class origin – and this hoax is always exploded during a Congress.
Cardinal Mindszenty Gummed Label
There were also small gummed labels for Hungary, usually printed in sheets of four. This label mentions the anti-Communist cardinal who fought the regime to the very end of his life. József Mindszenty was a cardinal and the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Hungary. He became known as a steadfast supporter of Church freedom and opponent of communism and the often brutal Stalinist persecution in his country. As a result, he was tortured and given a life sentence in a 1949 show trail that generated world-wide condemnation, including a United Nations resolution. Shortly before his arrest, he wrote a note to the effect that he had not been involved in any conspiracy, and any confession he might make would be the result of duress. While he was in prison, he was relentlessly tortured in order to coerce a confession for “crimes against the state.” Freed in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, he was granted political asylum and lived in the U.S. embassy in Budapest for 15 years. He was finally allowed to leave the country in 1971. He died in exile in 1975. This small label says:
On St. Stephen’s day Cardinal Mindszenty should lead the procession!
You Can’t Escape…
Other gummed labels for Hungary were prepared in perforated sheets of four. The sheet above shows a statue of Stalin crumbling as a Hungarian Communist leader Matyas Rakosi runs away. The text is from an old Hungarian love song:
In vain you run away, In vain you flee. You cannot betray, We’re doomed together, Our fates forever To suffer for one another…
This appears to be taken from the Hungarian song Hiába menekülsz (“You Can’t Escape”) sung by Karády Katalin in the 1943 war film Valahol Oroszországban (“Somewhere in Russia”).
On 29 February 1952, Matyas Rakosi, The man trying to avoid the fall of Stalin actually gave a speech entitled “How we took over Hungary” at the indoctrination course of the Hungarian Workers Party.His plan for conquering any nation for Communism included:
- Establishment of Coalition Front Governments. 2. Control of the police and security forces. 3. Elimination or absorption of the other Front parties.
Sheet of four Gummed Labels for Focus
Just as FEP printed sheets of four gummed propaganda labels for VETO, a similar set was prepared for Hungary. There were seven images in all. The text on these labels is:
Together against the tyranny! Protect the people, not the authorities, think of the future! The only way! Instead of Soviet weapons manufacturing, everyday items!
In the third label, people walk on a sign reading “TSZCS.” This is an acronym for cooperative farms. The small “NEM” on every label means “NO.” The “12” leaflet in the soldier’s hand and on the wall is the “Twelve Demands…”
The Free Europe Press balloons to Hungary were launched in the southeast part of Germany close to the Austrian border. Thus in effect, the balloons had to travel over a neutral country to land in Hungary.
In the three years preceding FOCUS, RFE noted only 19 media attacks against the Voice of Free Hungary. In the first week after FOCUS started, 20 media attacks were noted in Hungary and other East European countries against FOCUS. By the time FOCUS stopped in early 1955, over 16,000,000 leaflets had been sent to Hungary.
Operation FOCUS did have an impact in Hungary. In December 1956, for example, Radio Free Europe’s Audience Analysis Section commissioned a report of interviews with over 1000 Hungarian refugees. To the question, “From what source did you get news before the uprising? Foreign radio received the highest rating of 86 percent, but surprisingly “balloons and leaflets” had a rating of 21 percent. Operation Focus was the last balloon project. With its conclusion a total of more than 300 million leaflets had gone over the Iron Curtain.
The Hungarian Revolution
The Hungarian Revolution was a spontaneous nationwide revolt against the Communist government of the People’s Republic of Hungary, lasting from 23 October until 10 November 1956. After the Communists took over in 1949, the Hungarian government was totally subordinate to Soviet control. By October 1956, there was a feeling of liberalism in the air.
The Nikita Khrushchev Propaganda Booklet in Hungarian See the description in the Poland Section Below
The Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin was dead; and in March of 1956, Nikita Khrushchev had spoken out against Stalin’s oppressions and the Free Europe Committee had printed and dropped his speech in a booklet over Hungary. Repression was easing within the Soviet Union, and the leaders of the Satellite countries like Nagy of Hungary felt they could liberalize their policies. Led by students and workers, the spontaneous Hungarian Revolution began.
Stand up, Hungarians, your country calls. The time for now or never falls. Are we to live as slaves or free? Choose one. This is our destiny! By the God of all the Magyars, we swear. We swear never again the chains to bear.
Hungarian Freedom Fighters on a “Liberated” Tank
The revolt spread quickly across Hungary, and the government fell. Thousands organized into militias, battling the State Security Police and Soviet troops. The new government declared its intention to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact and pledged to re-establish free elections. The Soviet Army pulled out of Budapest and for a brief moment it appeared that the revolution was successful. It was just a lull while the Soviets prepared their war plans. On 4 November, a large Soviet force invaded Hungary. Resistance continued until 10 November. Over 2,500 Hungarians and 700 Soviet troops were killed in the conflict, and 200,000 Hungarians fled as refugees. Mass arrests and denunciations continued for months thereafter. 26,000 Hungarians were put on trial, and of those 13,000 were imprisoned, and about 300 were executed.
We should mention that the U.S. propaganda campaign (mostly the Radio Free Europe broadcasts) have often been accused of encouraging the people to revolt against their Communist masters, and worse, leading them to believe that U.S. military aid was on the way. This became such a sensitive point that there were numerous official inquires dedicated to determining exactly what was said to the Hungarians and when it was said. A number of politicians that were against the whole program used the Hungarian Revolution and its brutal defeat by the Russian armed forces as a reason to try to stop all propaganda sent behind the Iron Curtain. There have been numerous articles written about this problem and I would like to just add a few comments here from A. Ross Johnson in an article entitled “Role of Radio Free Europe in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956.”
He states that the principal charges are that RFE incited the Hungarian Revolution and that it urged Hungarians to fight the Soviet army and promised the insurgents Western assistance that was never in prospect, raising false hopes among Hungarians, encouraging them to continue the uprising, and contributing to a bloodbath when the Soviet Union cracked down.
Johnson points out that RFE issued a “Special Guidance on Liberation” in 1952 which cautioned that “not one word in these statements on liberation can be used to encourage militant anti-Communists to go over from passive to active resistance in the expectation that such resistance will be supported by Western elements. The basic “Operation Focus” policy guidance stated: “Our primary purpose is to focus the attention of the Hungarian people upon certain legitimate means by which they can continue to battle, thwart, and wrench concessions from the regime.” RFE Hungarian broadcasts in the months leading up to mid-October 1956 were generally dispassionate and espoused gradual reform – not “liberation”
Curiously, he then goes on to say that there were problems: a new FEC President appointed just before the revolution, bureaucratic conflict between the New York and Munich offices, insufficient discussion between the American policy staff and the Hungarian broadcasting management, poor internal organization of the Hungarian Service, a breakdown of control with personnel failures, specifically a Hungarian Service director who performed poorly and a Hungarian broadcast staff that was on balance more “rightist” than most Hungarians.
So, Johnson seems to be making both sides of the argument. The propaganda had very strict standards which could not inflame passions and violence, but there were a number of shortcomings that perhaps allowed the propaganda to be used incorrectly. He concludes that RFE properly reported on the widespread declarations, demonstrations, and relief efforts in the West in support of the Hungarian Revolution. It did not “spin” this information. In so doing, it carried out its mission as a “surrogate” home service, giving Hungarians crucial information they would not otherwise have, and doing this in a generally dispassionate manner. Yet these very reports fueled unrealistic expectations on the part of the insurgents and the Hungarian nation.
Radio Free Europe political adviser William Griffith was part of an internal investigation of RFE broadcasts during the Hungarian uprising. He says that there were only a “few genuine violations of policy” but reveals that RFE broadcasts in several cases had implied that foreign aid would be forthcoming if the Hungarians succeeded in establishing a “central military command.” Some of the quoted comments from his RFE report are:
The “Armed Forces Special” broadcast of 27 October violations the letter and spirit of policy in effect at the time. The program gives detailed instructions as to how partisan and Hungarian armed forces should fight. It advises local authorities to secure stores of arms for the use of Freedom Fighters and tell the population to hide Freedom Fighters who become separated from their units. It advises the population to provide food and supplies for Freedom Fighters. The writer tells Hungarians to sabotage (“disconnect”) railroad and telephone lines. It fairly clearly implies that foreign aid will be forthcoming if the resistance forces succeed in establishing a “central military command…
The “Armed Forces Special” broadcast of 28 October gives detailed instructions to Hungarian soldiers on the conduct of partisan warfare. The author states at the beginning of the program that Hungarians must continue to fight vigorously because this will have a great effect on the handling of the Hungarian question by the Security Council of the UN…Without saying so directly, the program implies that the UN will give active support to Hungarians if they keep on fighting. In the light of subsequent events the program grossly underestimates the ability of the Soviets to move new troops into Hungary…The broadcast implies that the most the Soviets can bring in is about four divisions and that it might take as long as two or three weeks for the Soviets to secure the Danube line if Hungarians fight effectively against them.
A Black Radio Free Europe Operation?
The British asked the Americans if they had in fact been inciting Hungarians to revolt. A classified British War Office document mentions the American answer:
They add, however, in strict confidence that a “black” radio station, purporting to be from R.F.E. had been making the wildest and most irresponsible broadcasts to the Hungarians. The Americans assume that the “black” radio station is operated by the Russians for the express purpose of discrediting R.F.E. and American policy generally.
SPOTLIGHT – POLAND
The Inside Story of the Security Apparatus and the Party
In December 1953, Jozef Swiatlo, a colonel in the Polish secret police, defected in Berlin. He was the most highly ranked defector from Poland. After this defection, he was sent to a CIA Defector Reception Center in Frankfurt, Germany, and then to Radio Free Europe. Broadcasts of his revelations, over RFE’s Voice of Free Poland, started on 28 September 1954 and continued through 31 December 1954. Swiatlo was a constant figure on RFE’s Voice of Free Poland broadcasts, with over one hundred taped programs and 150 news items.
On 12 February 1955, FEP started sending copies of a forty-page compilation of his testimony, “The Inside Story of the Bezpieka (Security Apparatus) and the Party,” to Poland by 10-foot balloons. This balloon program was called “Operation Spotlight,” which was designed as a means of bringing to the Polish people the revelations of corruption and immorality in the hierarchy of the Polish Communist regime. The revelations made by Swiatlo on the techniques of security police terror, control, corruption and exploitation were credited with having caused the shake-up of the Polish security forces. This allowed a more liberal, nationalist and independent regime to take power under Wladyslaw Gomulka. The pamphlet’s forward said in part:
Here is a mirror of what it means to build a Socialist state. It is a tale of evils done by the police, Party and government to their own adherents, and horrible as it is, it is far less horrible than what all of these combined have done to the Polish people.
Swiatlo is a man who has drunk from many a filthy well. Does he regret it today? Has he resolved to improve his ways in the innermost recesses of his heart? Does he treat his story of his experiences as an act of contrition or does he regard it as an act of vengeance of his former Party comrades. We have no first hand information on this matter. We only know that he is to be believed.
This booklet is like a hand-grenade. It may become dangerous should you try to keep it in your possession. It may also be dangerous to repeat the text of this booklet to your neighbor. On the other hand, no harm will be caused to the public good should this pamphlet reach the hands of representatives of the regime.
In Historytimes.com of 28 September 2010, Richard Cummings talks about Swiatlo in more detail. Some of his comments are:
According to one biography, Jozef Swiatlo was born as Izak (Isaac) Fleischfarb to a “poor Jewish family” in the village Medina, Ukraine (now Poland), on 1 January 1915 and attended public school for only seven years. He was a member of a Zionist organization “Gordonia” and joined the Communist Youth Union in 1933. For “political reasons and his youthful inexperience” he was twice arrested for his political activities. In 1938, he was drafted into the Polish army.
After the German invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939, he was captured by the German army, escaped, and fled to the Eastern Section of Poland then under Soviet army control. He joined a Soviet-backed force and marched westward with the army as a political officer in the Kosciuszko Division that remained in a Warsaw suburb during the Uprising in 1944.
After this defection in West Berlin in 1953, the Americans sent him to a “Defector Reception Center “in Frankfurt, Germany. There he was “debriefed” by CIA official Ted Shackley, who established his bona fides as a “defector” and sent his findings to CIA headquarters. In his memoirs, Spymaster: my life in the CIA, Shackley wrote:
“The wealth of detail that Swiatlo was able to give me about the organization, functions, and misdeeds of UB, soon made it evident that Swiatlo was uniquely able to provide answers to questions that had long remained unanswered…”
Swiatlo’s broadcast over Radio Free Europe reportedly caused a major chain reaction in Poland with the dismissal, transfer, and worse, of thousands of Communist Party members and government officials. Perhaps as many as 150,000 party members, according to one estimate, were affected by RFE’s programming.
Seweryn Bailer – I Chose the Truth – Book I
Seweryn Bialer is currently an emeritus professor of political science at Columbia University. From May 1945 to June 1951 he was member of the Polish Communist police force and an officer in the Polish Communist Party. He was a political officer of the State Police in Warsaw and a member of the Central Committee of the Polish Worker’s Party.
In January, 1956, Bialer defected to West Berlin and gave a number of interviews to Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty which was broadcast to Poland. He moved to New York, eventually receiving a Ph.D. in political science from Columbia University. The above leaflet was produced to tell the Poles of his defection and what he had said about the Polish Communist Party. Two 16-page booklets were prepared by FEP to tell his story. The first booklet opens:
In the following leaflet, the editors of Wolna Europa make available to the Polish reader the first Chapter of Bailer’s story. In it you will see what made him give up a promising and brilliant career in the ranks of the Polish Communist Party, renounce the Communist world-view, and join the fight, by thought and word, for the triumph of truth and justice over lies and oppression…
At the end of January last, when I was breaking with Communism once and for all, and crossing the border into West Berlin, I knew that I was wiping out my past life. I took this step with my eyes open, after carefully deliberating for several months.
I was 15 in 1942 when I enrolled in the Communist underground organization in Lodz. Several thousand Party activists in Warsaw, Lodz, Wroclaw, Bydgoszcz, and Kielce know me from the lectures and briefings I gave as a lecturer appointed by the Central Committee of the party. Readers of Party publications also know me from my articles. My colleagues at the Social Science Institute and the Central Committee’s School of Marxism-Leninism, where I was Secretary of the Party authorities also know me well…They know perfectly well that I did not escape to the West to secure a job or to make a career, because all this was secured for me by the Party and open to me in Poland….
Seweryn Bailer – I Chose Truth – Book 2
The second booklet opens:
Recently Polish readers in the homeland were sent copies of a leaflet by Seweryn Bailer, a prominent ex-Communist of the younger generation…In that pamphlet the facts concerning the life and activities of Soviet leaders were disclosed…Bailer revealed Khrushchev’s machination in the struggle for power in the Kremlin, the two-faced quality of past and present Soviet foreign policy, and the role of Soviet proconsul-ambassadors in Poland…
This pamphlet is the second chapter of Bailer’s story. It describes Polish domestic affairs, especially the new so-called thaw now taking place in Poland.
George Orwell wrote Animal Farm in 1945. It is considered to be a satire of the Russian revolution, and is therefore full of symbolism. Generally, Orwell associates certain real characters with the characters of the book. For instance, the pig Napoleon is Orwell’s chief villain in Animal Farm. Napoleon is really the central character on the farm. A metaphor for Stalin, Comrade Napoleon represents the human frailties of any revolution. Orwell believed that although socialism is good as an ideal, it can never be successfully adopted due to the uncontrollable sins of human nature. For example, although Napoleon seems at first to be a good leader, he is eventually overcome by greed and soon becomes power-hungry. The FEP printed thousands of copies of Animal farm and dropped them behind the iron Curtail to help the people see the fragilities of Communism. Curiously, although this book is considered a major classic today, at the time Orwell had difficulty publishing it because it was considered an attack on the Soviet Union, a member of the “Big Four” during WWII.
This 48-page booklet had the full text of Animal Farm. It was 8 x 5.5-inches on a light-weight paper stock. From February through May 1955, over 260,000 pamphlets were launched into Poland, with only 30 per balloon because of the weight.
Wolna Europa – Number 1 – October 1955
Issues of the 8-page propaganda newspaper Free Europe were also prepared, the title in Polish being Wolna Europa. These newspapers were printed from October 1955 to September 1956, the very last issue being 16 pages. Some of the introductory statements in issue number one of October 1955 depicting President Eisenhower are:
Our main purpose is to defend the Polish people’s right to be free; free from Soviet occupation, both military and political, and free from all foreign intervention in Polish affairs…
I this publication we will bring you news about international events, about life in the Free World and how democratic institutions work in the West…
This bi-weekly newspaper will be sent to you by balloons. We resort to this unusual method because the Communist regime does not allow free communication between people by ordinary and commonly available means. Import of the Free World Press is forbidden in Poland; her citizens are not free to go abroad; censorship is imposed on private correspondence; free association with foreigners living in Poland is hampered; and the Free World radio broadcasts are partly jammed….
A “special edition” of the newspaper was prepared in January 1956 with a Christmas message from Pope Pius XII to Cardinal Stephan Wyszynski and the Bishops of Poland; a Condemnation of the “progressive Catholic” publications.
Issue Number 2 featured an article entitled “Liberation of the Captive People – Major Goal of U.S. Foreign Policy.”
Issue Number 7 dated September 1956, doubles in size to 16 pages and the lead story is “The Poznan Events,” the background on a major strike that started in the Zispo Factory. This turned into a major embarrassment for the Communist government as news of the fighting was broadcast around the world. The strike became a massive protest against the Communist government and met with violent repression. 400 tanks and 10,000 soldiers attacked 100,000 protesting Poles with the loss of life placed between 57 and 78 people. The newspaper reports on world-wide news stories in support of the Poles.
The Khrushchev Booklet
The last item for Poland is a 32-page booklet discussing the life and career of Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. His secret speech denouncing Stalin was extremely important because the Free World believed that it might lead to a more liberal policy and possibly even the eventual freedom for the Eastern European occupied nations. This booklet was published by the Free Europe Press in July 1956. Some of the text is:
Nikita Khrushchev, first secretary of the Communist party of the Soviet Union, delivered a lengthy speech during a secret session of the 20th Congress of the Communist Party…Below we give the text of Khrushchev’s speech as it was published in the Western Press…
Now that the Soviet leaders have attacked Stalin openly, people are asking questions…
Can crimes, violence and poverty be eradicated without basic changes in the system of rule? Without genuinely reorganizing the Parliament, the courts, the police? Without reconsidering one-party rule?
Why have so many criminal personalities rise to the very top of the Soviet hierarchy? Does Soviet society breed leaders like Stalin, Dzierzhinsky, Yezhov and Beria?
Why does Khrushchev approve of the use of terror as such? Does he mean that greater personal security is the privilege of Party members only?
This same book was also printed in the Hungarian language and ballooned to that country. The 39-page booklet in the Hungarian language quoted Nikita Khrushchev’s speech in which he condemned Joseph Stalin’s reign of terror and the “cult of personality” which he fostered. This booklet is entitled: Nyikita Szergejevics Hruscsov Beszéde a XX. Pártkongresszus titkos ülésén, 1956. február 24.
If you Disagree with Mr. Khrushchev
Khrushchev was also a popular villain to use in the Crusade for Europe requests for donations. This advertisement that originally appeared in reader’s Digest depicts a rather smug Khrushchev and a number of his quotes regarding the evils of Capitalism and the supremacy of the Communist movement.
Justice for the Persecuted
A small 10 x 15cm leaflet pictures President Eisenhower on the front and Democratic presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson and Secretary of State Allen Dulles on the back. It is meant to show the Polish people that Americans of all parties are concerned with their welfare. Some of the text is:
American Leaders on the Situation in Poland
Eisenhower: Recent news from Poland indicate that at least some of the persons arrested in connection with the Poznan riots are soon to be put on trial. Friends of freedom throughout the world are hoping that all of the accused will be given a genuinely fair and open trial, with bona fide legal counsel to defend them, and with an opportunity to speak their minds freely without fear of subsequent retribution and deportation eastward…
Stevenson: On the eve of mass trials in Poland of hundreds of Poles charged with participating in the peaceful demonstration of Polish workers in Poznan clamoring for bread and freedom, I join with you in protesting the injustice of the Communist Warsaw regime…
It is the steadfast view of this government that the conscience of America will not be in peace until all captive nations enjoy their full freedom and have governments of their own choosing.
Operation Spotlight was active only in the year 1955 and eventually stopped because the Free Europe Press needed the launch sites for the renewal of balloon launching into Hungary.
David L. Hollyer was the Balloon Action Technical Director of the leaflet group and he talked about the use of leaflets in the article entitled “Winds Aloft – When Radio Free Europe Flew Balloons,” in the April 2001 issue of QST, the official journal of the National Association for Amateur Radio. He points out that the Communists were blocking the radio messages and something more was needed. He says:
The concept was simple: obtain some large balloons, load them with information leaflets, launch them from Germany when the winds were blowing eastward and dump the leaflets over the target countries. But translating that simple concept into a practical scheme wasn’t exactly easy. How did project officials know when the leaflets had reached their target? And how could the leaflets be delivered once they reached the desired location?
The team obtained a WWII surplus Adcock High Frequency Direction Finder and some small 7-MHz radiosonde transmitters with training wire antenna from the U.S. Weather Bureau. A small disk with Morse code elements broadcast from inside the balloon. As the balloon rose, the altitude caused the disk stylus to move across the disk. The disk broadcast the letter “A” at ground level. At 50,000 feet altitude it broadcast the letter “V.” A listener could locate the geographical bearing and the altitude of a balloon in flight. When the location was pin-pointed by two or more direction finders, the exact location of the balloon could be determined by triangulation.
It was discovered that the cold temperature weakened the batteries at 45,000 feet, so after some testing, an insulation kit was designed to keep the batteries warm. With insulation, the tracking team received signals from as far away as the Ural Mountains.
The group needed a way to send a coded message to the balloon in flight to dump the leaflets. A 400-watt transmitter was designed to send a series of three audio tones in a prearranged sequence. The tests of the system worked perfectly. Soon the balloons were flying over the iron Curtain and when signaled by the Balloon Plotting Center, they dumped their leaflets over the desired target.
Different systems were tested. In one, a bicycle wheel holding leaflets was rotated and a razor blade cut the cord as the wheel turned, releasing bags of leaflets. In another test, a drum-type reel held about a mile of polyethylene tape. Wind cones could pull the tape from the drum releasing thousands of leaflets. Balloons that could handle systems such as the latter were as high as 60 feet tall.
Was it successful? From 1954 to 1956, nearly 600,000 balloons carrying more than 300,000,000 pieces of printed material were sent aloft and dumped over Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland to be read by news-hungry citizens.
Ingenious, effective and “unjammable,” it had been able for many months to soar above the “Iron Curtain” to deliver its message of hope to the citizens of several Communist-dominated countries.
Czech Republic “Be Free!” Exhibition
As the Cold War diminishes in our memory, some of the old Communist-bloc nations such as the Czech Republic remember the days when balloons and radio were their only sources of news from the West. In late 2009, their new National Museum exhibited audio and video material from the Communist era. The exhibit was entitled Za Svobodu! (“Be Free!”).
Curater Lucie Swierczeková describes some of the items on display:
We have original and replica balloons by means of which Radio Free Europe flyers were dropped into the country. We have a clock that was in the studio of RFE when it was bombed. Among a number of videos running in “Be Free!” is one of a 1976 press conference featuring secret police officer Pavel Minarík. A former presenter on Czechoslovak Radio, Minarík was a spy for seven years at Radio Free Europe in Munich and was later used by the communist regime in an attempt to discredit the station.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is one of the partners of the “Be Free!” exhibit. The station moved from Munich to Prague in the 1990s, and for several years was based in the former Federal Assembly building that now houses the exhibition. Among the audio attractions at “Be Free!” is a tape of Radio Free Europe journalist Pavel Pechácek broadcasting news of events during the early days of the Velvet Revolution directly from Prague’s Wenceslas Square.
The End of Single Party Rule – 1980s Poster
Curator Prokop Tomek adds:
We have what’s called a Samizdat Workshop. There you’ll find stencil duplicators, typewriters.equipment which was smuggled into the country. It was used to make samizdat, meaning self-made books and magazines. But in the 1980s samizdat also involved audio and video tapes. So you can see how as time went by citizens managed to spread free information themselves. They weren’t dependent on official information or information smuggled in by exiles. The exhibition culminates in a kind of improvised café where you can read some printed samizdat materials and exile literature.It’s a kind of free space that you get to after a section dedicated to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Velvet Revolution. It’s a space that shows where we’ve come from, and what kind of world we’re living in today.
Note: To assure that this Radio Free Europe and Free Europe Press propaganda material was available for research by the general public, once this story was finished all of the leaflets and translations were forwarded to the Western European Collection of the Hoover Institution Library and Archives of Stanford University.
Was the entire Free Europe Press Balloon Program a CIA Front?
That heading sounds rather provocative but in 2011 I spoke to former intelligence analyst Kevin Ahearn, who had been a Radio Intercept Analyst in the USAF Security Service during the Cold War. He said that his unit had performed a top secret mission that began with the Crusade for Freedom in 1951. We know that the CIA had the balloons and we suspect that they controlled the Crusade for Freedom, so although I cannot endorse this theory, I think it is possible that it is accurate.
Project Mogul Balloon Train
The early CIA balloon operations were known as Project Mogul and involved microphones whose primary purpose was long-distance detection of sound waves generated by Soviet atomic bomb tests. The project was carried out from 1947 until early 1949. The project involved arrays of balloons carrying disc microphones and radio transmitters to relay the signals to the ground. One of the requirements of the balloons was that they maintain a relatively constant altitude over a prolonged period of time. Instrumentation was developed to maintain such constant altitudes, such as pressure sensors controlling the release of ballast. Notice the train below the balloon above, designed to help the radar technicians follow the flight.
According to Ahearn, the Soviets had three American B-29 bombers, the stolen plans for the atomic bomb and radar given to them through lend-lease. American’s atomic bombs were no threat to the Soviet Union if they could not be delivered. The CIA believed the radar would be placed along the most likely American bomb routes and linked to Red interceptor aircraft as part of the Soviet National Air Defense Force known as Voiska Protivovozdushnoi Oborony Strany.The United States needed to know where those radar sites were. Ahearn says that the sending of the propaganda balloons was really to test the Soviet defenses and map their radar. The Air Force began early balloon radar tracking exercises at the 509th Bomb Group, America’s only atomic deterrent, at Roswell, New Mexico.
Later, when the balloons were sent toward the occupied nations by the Crusade for Europe, fighters were scrambled to shoot them down and antiaircraft guns fired at the invaders as they crossed the border. Hundreds were shot down. Meanwhile, the USAF Security Service was busy mapping out the radar net and intercepting voice communication to Russian pilots to determine their state of readiness. Ahearn concludes:
Such was the “cover story’ to mask the greatest intelligence-gathering operation in history. The CIA had set up ‘listening posts’ across West Germany, Scotland, Crete, Turkey, Iran and Pakistan to monitor Soviet communications. Staffed with Russian linguists and radio intercept operators, the data was passed to the analysts. As the Soviet air defense system tracked the balloons, The CIA mapped out the entire network. Had war broken out, B-52 bombers, loaded with H-bombs, would follow routes avoiding Red radar to nuke Moscow, Leningrad and other Russian cities. At the end of the leaflet campaign, the Air Force Security Service took over the listening posts. The B-52 bomber crews would now be counting on us.
The USAF Security Service had accomplished its mission, revealing PVO Strany’s radar defense to be a vulnerable patchwork and its pilots so unskilled that they often had to follow railroad tracks to fly from one city to another. Linked to the manned bomber, USAFSS would continue to upgrade with sites in Turkey, Pakistan, and Iran. Linked by teletype (the first e-mail), faster than UPI or AP, the Security Service had created a DOD internet that could relay a critical message (Codenamed “Critic”) to the President’s desk in less than five minutes.
For more than thirty years, USAFSS had served as a “tripwire,” protecting America from Communist attack. And not just on the ground. Security Service radio operators, analysts and linguists had flown “ferret missions” along the “Buffer Zone” borders to gauge PVO Strany readiness. Over the course of its history, 17 USAFSS airmen and officers had been killed, shot down by Russian MiGs, the how, where and why of their deaths were top secret, even from their families.
This new theory stirred up quite a debate. Richard Cummings, the Radio Free Europe expert, countered with a 23 July 1948 memorandum from Commander Robert Jay Williams, Chief of Project Ultimate, to the Chief of the Special Procedures Group, Washington, D.C. In this classified secret memorandum, found in the Central Intelligence Agency Historical Files, Williams complains that the weather is making the project to launch leaflet balloons impossible. The plan to drop leaflets was clearly being pursued years before RFE finally started their operation:
- In the original plan for Project Ultimate as submitted to this agency by Captain Orville, it was indicated that it would be desirable to initiate operations in the European theatre as soon as possible. For this reason every effort was made to complete technical development by 1 July and to be prepared for operations not later than 1 August.
- Continuing delay in implementation of this project is jeopardizing whatever success it might have. A study of weather conditions in the proposed operating area has revealed that many factors will work against the project after 1 November. These factors include increased risk in launching due to unfavorable ground conditions; less favorable wind conditions which may result in depositing the load over neutral territory and considerably less effect in the target areas due to difficulty of finding the leaflets on snow-covered ground.
- When all of these factors are considered together, it may be concluded that the value of this project after 1 November may be so little as to argue against its inception during the winter months. It is, therefore, requested that every effort be made to obtain permission to start the project immediately in order that satisfactory weather conditions anticipated in September and October may be taken advantage of to insure an effective operation.
I have read the arguments on both sides. The memorandum was found in a CIA box, and the term “agency” is in the text so that implies this was a CIA operation. The launch was in 1948 and Kevin says that in 1948 the CIA took over the intelligence gathering operation. This could be the opening salvo in a CIA leaflet balloon operation. Richard thinks that Project Ultimate was only CIA and no part of the RFE/FEP program. Kevin thinks this was the first shot in what would later be a cover for a massive intelligence operation. I Don’t know. The reader must look at all sides and accept the argument that he prefers.
I should end this section by saying that even if the leafleting of the eastern Bloc was a CIA operation to map Soviet radar, the results of the operation; the opening up of those occupied nations to outside news and pointing out the lies of the Communists probably led to their eventual freedom and the fall of the Soviet Union. It may be that the secondary result of this clandestine operation was even greater than the primary result.
Were Propaganda or other Balloons UFOs and “Flying Saucers?”
This is an interesting concept because there have been numerous accounts over the years of UFOs and Flying Saucers and in some cases the government or other agencies have described these objects as propaganda balloons gone astray. The most famous case is Roswell, New Mexico, where in 1947 an alleged UFO crashed. The United States military maintains that what was recovered was debris from an experimental high-altitude surveillance balloon belonging to a classified program named “Mogul.”
Newspaper sketch of a Rhodes Ballon
In 2012, Greek researcher Thanassis Vembos wrote an article entitled Cold War Balloons and the Greek UFO Wave of 1954. He points out that some of the UFO sightings seem to line up with balloon launchings and it is possible that they are one and the same. He mentions several cases:
The show commenced on 2 October 1954, at Agios Georgios village, on Pilion mountain, eastern Thessaly, when 50 year-old Elias Voyagis was returning home from his fields around 7 p.m. Half a kilometer from the village he looked at the sky and noticed a huge, bright object. It was a conglomeration of four extremely bright circles, “like luminous spots” constituting a longish thing moving with airplane speed. He described it like a long moving balloon target for anti-aircraft guns…The whole sighting lasted no more than ten seconds. When he reported his experience to his fellow villagers, agriculturist Hatzigeorgiou revealed that he saw something similar but by the time he started to watch it, it had moved away. Interestingly, several hours before the Pilion sighting, a real balloon created a big fuss in Rhodes Island, Dodecanese. At 3:15 a.m. of 2 October, a small white balloon coming from northwest crashed on a fence at Kremasti town and blew off. In a little carton hanging below the balloon, leaflets in Hungarian were found. To my knowledge this was the first documented account of a stray balloon of Operation VETO that ended up on Greek soil. Significantly the operation had commenced just the previous day!
In these paranoid Cold War years, at first the authorities thought the leaflets were communist propaganda but the translation showed that it was anti-communist. A few days later a sketch of the balloon appeared in an Athenian newspaper. The lengthy caption explained that this kind of balloon is currently used for sending propaganda material to communist countries. A description was cited about the dry ice mechanism for releasing the leaflets. Probably the ice did not evaporate in the estimated time because of intense cold, so the balloon passed over Hungary and Yugoslavia and the largest part of mainland Greece before ending up far south in Rhodes where it released it load
On the morning of 8 December, a farmer at Vathylacos was working in the fields when he saw a 2-meter wide balloon coming down slowly. Panicked, he ran to alert the people of his village…The report lacks details but it seems that the balloon dropped its cargo of leaflets, written in Hungarian. Another balloon landed at Nigrita…The balloon lost all it gas and leaflets were scattered all over….
Flying Saucers over Turkey?
A Radio Free Europe document dated 29 June 1955 states that from 20 to 22 June 1955, Operation Focus balloons flew over Turkey. It reported that various Turkish newspapers reported that mysterious flying bodies appeared in the sky over Thrace and the Marmara region. At first they were classified as flying saucers, but later identified as plastic balloons containing pamphlets in a foreign language. The Istanbul Daily newspaper Hurriye eventually reported the truth and said in part:
The contents were written in Hungarian and published by the National Resistance Movement of the Hungarian Committee for Freedom and Liberation. The pamphlets contained 12 demands directed against the communist regime in Hungary. The Committee is active in the United States and carries on its activities through the channels of Radio Free Europe in Munich and also by special action balloon.
The Continued Leafleting of the DDR
It might be worth mentioning that although the Crusade for Europe leafleting campaign ended in 1956, leaflets continued to be sent to the DDR from the Federal Republic of Germany. In 1961, psychological troops of the West German Bundswehr began sending anti-Communist leaflets to the East and continued to do so until 1972.
Since the East German radio and television was closely monitored and censored, leaflets were selected as the main medium of propaganda. By 1 January 1960, the first Lautsprecher und Flugblatterkompanie (Loudspeaker and Leaflet Company – LFKp) was established. A year later three LFKp companies began sending what would become about 80 tons of leaflets each into East Germany by balloon. Weather balloons were used and after much experimentation they became very accurate, being able to drop their leaflets on target. A standard hydrogen balloon could carry about 8.8 pounds of leaflets. On a good night with multiple launches a million leaflets could be sent into East Germany. Later, a small rocket was designed that could carry about 1000 leaflets up to three miles. Small floats were also used to send leaflets to the Baltic Coast.
On 30 June 1972, leaflet operations ceased after a treaty was signed where the two Germanys officially recognized each other.
This is just a very short look at some of the operations of the Free Europe Press. We have depicted very few leaflets and publications and the reader should know that we have seen at least 130 different specimens of this FEP propaganda. Hopefully, someone will someday write an in-depth story of these campaigns. Readers who wish to comment or have additional leaflets to add to this article are encouraged to write to the author at email@example.com.
OPTICAL THEODOLITES – THE ORIGINAL WEATHER BALLOON TRACKER
|Pilot Balloon HistoryWith the invention of the manned balloon in 1783 an urgent requirement for upper-level wind direction and speed developed. The term pilot balloon appears to have been introduced by navigators of manned balloon when they adopted the practice of releasing small paper balloon before an ascent in order to determine the probable direction of flight. On December 1, 1783, just before the ascent of the very first manned hydrogen balloon from Tuileries in Paris, a pilot balloon six feet in diameter was sent up.The first attempts at a rough determination of wind flow above ground level is believed to have been made in 1809 by Thomas Forster who observed the drift of small free (unteathered) balloons filled with “inflammable gas” and by Wallis who observed more than thirty balloons with a telescope, and found them to have very complicated paths, indicating multiple air currents.Cleveland Abbe mentions in his “Treatise on Meteorological Apparatus and Methods of 1888 the he suggested to the Signal Corps in 1872 a practical method of determining the position of a balloon is space at a given moment:The balloon should carry a suspended light thread from 50 to 500 feet long, at the bottom of which hangs suspended a light object. The observer can at any time ascertain the linear distance and altitude of the balloon by observing the altitude of the upper and lower end of the vertical line thus carried by the balloon…This is a rough explanation of the tail method that is still applicable today.It was not until December 1873 or 1874, however, that the first instrumental measurements of the track of a large free balloon for the determination of the wind was made by Paul Schreiber. In 1885 Schreiber again made such a measurement, using two surveying theodolites on a 5km baseline, and reported the results in detail. In the following years similar measurements were made by other workers. In 1893 Kremser tried to determine the height of balloons by telescope measurement of their apparent diameter. Up until this time small paper balloons were used. Rubber balloons were used in 1903 and found to have the advantage of practically constant rates of ascent.In 1903 H. Hergesell showed how the rate of ascent was related to the free lift and the weight of the balloon. With a predictable ascent rate available, wind measurements using pilot balloons began to me made systematically.
The first theodolite really suitable for pilot balloon observation was designed by A. de Quervain and produced in 1905. This instrument incorporated the “Bent Axis” or “right-angled” telescope that enabled the axis of the eyepiece to remain horizontal regardless of the elevation of the objective of the telescope. This principal has been retained in even the most recent designs, which have merely added refinements.In 1910 J. S. Dines modified to the de. Quervain theodolite design to incorporate a self-recording feature. The recording attachment was arranged so that changes in elevation or azimuth were recorded by two separate pens moving horizontally on a clockwork driven drum. Modern theodolites are available as manual and recording types. Recording theodolites utilize electronic encoders to yeild digital data streams with azimuth and elevation information, this information is processed by computer. Specialized theodolites have been produced that incorporate servo motors and CCD image sensors for remote operation, but these units were and are custom built in extremely small numbers.The introduction of radio and radar for tracking of airborne objects naturally put a damper on the development of pilot balloon methods, the use of which is limited by the presence of cloud and fog and in the case of single theodolite sighting, the limitations on accuracy because of the uncertainty of the actual ascent rate of the balloon. Tests using radio tracked balloons started in 1923 under the direction of the U. S. Signal Corps. In 1937 a U.S. radiosonde network was started by the Weather Bureau. Early systems did not have the capability of determining elevation only azimuth to the balloon. Altitude was still being estimated using ascent rates or deduced from pressure and temperature signals early radio-sonds attached to the balloons. World War II provided a special impetus in development of the rewinsonde/radiosinde technology and fostered the growth of upper-air observing networks. In the 1980′s, technological advances in telemetery and small computers made near-fully automated rawinsonde observations feasible. Currently the automated radio tracked balloon system is being upgraded to a system that will utilize global positioning satellite receivers to improve the accuracy and reliability of wind speed and direction data. See the NOAA web site for more information.
Along with the widespread use of radio-sonds and radio theodolites Pilot balloons were still in common use through the 1960′s even in 1st world weather and military services. Advances in electronics reducing the cost, size and labor, while increasing the capabilities of radio-sonds and radio-theodolites have reduced pibal balloon use to specialized applications in the 1990′s and beyond. These applications include Artillery Aiming, Fire Weather, Manned Hot Air Ballooning, Meteorological Training and weather observations in many developing regions of the world.
courtesy of Smithsonian Air & Space Museum
The Ft. Ward Museum and Historic Site in Alexandria held a “Civil War Balloon Corps Living History Event in May 2012. It gave an interesting insight into how hydrogen ballooning was done in the recent past.
View of the balloon attached to replica gas generators on the grounds of Ft. Ward.
View of a replica gas generator used to inflate balloons in the field. Balloonists mixed sulfuric acid and iron filings to produce hydrogen gas. The gas flowed from the generator to the balloon.
The event featured a reenactor portraying Thaddeus S.C. Lowe, the head of the Union Army’s Balloon Corps. Kevin Knapp, a retired Army officer and professional balloonist, has established a name for himself as an expert on Lowe and the military use of balloons during the Civil War. He set up a balloon on the grounds of Ft. Ward, complete with replica gas generators and a basket draped in patriotic bunting. The balloon is actually a 1941 Navy trainer, but bears a resemblance to the type of netted gas balloons used by Lowe and other period aeronauts.
For more information go to http://dclawyeronthecivilwar.blogspot.co.uk/2012_05_01_archive.html
Fugos: Japanese Balloon Bombs of WWII
Officially; in the waning days of the Pacific War Japan tried a last ditch ploy to hit the United States with a terror weapon. That weapon was the Balloon Bomb. It was supposed to set fire to the West Coast and drop anti-personel bombs randomly on the U.S. In research after the war it was found that the Japanese built 15,000 of them but only launched 9,300. A little over 300 Balloon Bomb incidents occurred in the U.S. and Canada. The only casualties were a woman and five kids in Bly, Oregon on a church picnic, who found and moved one. It exploded, killing them all. The Seattle Times story from 1945
Is that all? In my own research into this backwater of the World War II, I have found a few things that don’t fit the official story…It also relates to a mystery that haunts us till today, but some don’t want to know its’ truth..
A Little History
The Japanese have been using balloons in war since the 1800s. At Port Arthur they were used for observation of troop movements. The Japanese air force come out of the balloon society and little is mentioned of it during the war.
When the US first heard about the balloon bombs they didn’t believe it. After a few were found things changed. They were considered a threat and they outlined it well in an unpublished manual called BD-1. Even though balloons which dropped incendiary or antipersonnel were found other uses were enumerated in order of importance.
1. Bacteriological or chemical warfare or both.
2. Transportation of incendiary and antipersonnel bombs.
3. Experiments for unknown purposes.
4. Psychological efforts to inspire terror and diversion of forces.
5. Transportation of agents.
6. Anti-aircraft devices.
Were these threats real or were they just playing it safe? We know now from a book on Unit 731 that the BW possibility was real. Sanders (who went to Japan to interview Shiro Ishii (Unit 731s commander)) worked on finding all the Fugos that landed and looking for BW. Officially none was found. Sanders did help in the cover up of Japanese BW/CW after the war. Did Sanders cover up Japanese use of BW/CW in the war?
The Fugo or Balloon Bomb officially came in two types. Type A: made by the Imperial Army and Type B: made by the Navy. The Type B had a radio for telemetry, was made of rubberised silk and officially carried no weapons. Just a few were launched and there are records of a balloon being heard for about 1600 miles.
The Type A: (pictured here) was made of mulberry paper and infalted with hydrogen. As a paper weapon it came under much ridicule by the US. Here are its’ specifications:
A sphere about 100 ft. in diameter with a volume of 19,000 cubic ft. of Hydrogen
Lifting capacity 800 lbs at sea level and 400 lbs at 32,000 ft.
Armament: 5 5 or 12 kg. Theremite bombs and 1 15 kg. High Explosive Anti-personnel bomb.
Of the over 300 incidence recorded about the Fugos during the end of WWII (1944-1945) none caused stoppage of war related activity, except for one case where a balloon landed on a power line at Cold Creek in Washington state. It caused the first SCRAM in history, taking down the first reactor used to make plutonium. The reports of all balloon bombs were censored so as not to give anything away to Japan. Eventually, after six people were killed in Oregon, the story did come out. Over Washington at least 50 were seen on one day. In a oral history of Hanford at least 40 were seen over the reservation. Officially no forest fires or other damage occurred. The Fugos were a joke.
But were they?
If you read the newspapers for the last 2 years of the war a number of things do come out that are hard to explain. But first we will look at how a Fugo is supposed to work.
The balloon bombs were released from Japan in the winter months when the jet stream is the strongest. They popped up to altitude (20,000 to 40,000 ft.) and if they were lucky into the stream. They traveled along in an easterly direction crossing the Pacific at around 200 mph in the jet stream. In daytime they would ride at the maximum altitude but as time wore on they would sink. At night they would collect dew and become heavy. Below a set height the altimeter would cause a set of blow plugs (charges that released the ballast) to fire releasing the sand bag ballast. The lost of weight would cause the balloon to pop back up to altitude. This continued till all the sand bags were gone. The last ballast was the armament. Thermite bombs were armed and dropped in the last positions on the ring. Anti-personnel bombs were also used. After all the ballast was gone a picric acid block blew up destroying the gondola. A fuse was lit that was connected to a charge on the balloon itself. The hydrogen and air mixture burned the balloon envelope up as a large orange fireball.
The Allies thought they were coming from Japan but were not sure. Using the USGS and Canadian scientist they were able to narrow it down.
A USGS Mineralogist Dr. Clarence S. Ross studied samples from Balloons found at Holy Cross, Alaska and Glendo, Wyoming. He found that the samples were beach sand and the type of fossils pointed to Northern Japan. The most likely source being in the vicinity of Shiogama on the east coast for Honshu, eight miles northeast of Sendai. The next most likely site were the beaches just south of Ohara, about forty miles southeast of Tokyo-this was Ichinomirya, an actual site.
The Canadians also looked at samples and found a slag content, which indicated a nearness of a blast furnace. The US and Canada shared info to find the sites.
The actual official launch sites were:
Otsu, Ibarki Prefecture
Ichinomirya, Chiba Prefecture
Nakoso, Fukushims Prefecture
On the West Coast of the US a secret mission was being done protect the country from the Fugos. It was called “Fire Fly” and included aircraft, to shoot down the balloons and a troop of fire fighters to put out the fires. These “Smoke Jumpers” were the first to jump to a forest fire and fight them the way we do today. They were called the “Triple Nickle” for the 555 designation their battalion was given.
National Geographic cover this story and also have an excellent video from the US Navy:-