What concrete strategic or tactical result came from propaganda efforts in the World Wars

So another random Q from reading about the Glorious Revolution in Britain in the 1680s. There is a pretty compelling case that one of the deciding factors in William of Orange successfully seizing power from James II was his propaganda campaign. The pamphlet campaign in the lead up to and during his invasion was pretty critical in shaping public opinion in England. The size, with 10s of thousands of pamphlets distributed, was an order of magnitude larger than any contemporary campaign, at a time when literacy rates meant you could actually influence a large segment of society with them. And it was public opinion that ultimately led to James army largely deserting him, and England being given up by the Stuarts without a fight.

So was there any equivalent propaganda win in the great wars of the 20th century. Countless academic writings (and millions of GCSE history essays if my GCSE history curriculum was anything to go by) have been written on the propaganda campaigns of the World Wars. But can you point to any of them and say “This campaign was critical in causing that result on the battlefield”. Is there an actual strategic or tactical outcome that can be tied to a specific propaganda campaign?

You could argue that US media coverage of the Blitz helped shape public opinion in the US and ultimately led to (or at least allowed FDR to follow) the “Europe first” policy which heavily effected the outcome, but that is not propaganda in the typical sense (i.e. what I had to write about ad nasuem at school) as it was private US journalists covering the story for US media companies that caused it not a government mandated propaganda campaign (albeit heavily encouraged by the British government)

The Loose Lips Sinks Ships campaign helped build up the secrecy levels that allowed the Manhatten project to be developed without our enemies being aware. Remember that Russia was not an enemy.

Russia was technically an ally in WW 2 but the US was not happy they got the A bomb secrets. After the war it did not take long for them to become an enemy. I recall a time travel SF movie where a guy went from 1945 to today. He was surprised Japan was an ally but Russia was not.

Though is there any evidence the propaganda campaign actually helped that? I realize its a hard thing to prove, but the soviets managed to get extremely well informed from a network of agents not from listening to drunk sailors at the bar.

The difference was in the success (and competence) of the Nazi vs Soviet intelligence networks not the wartime propaganda.

The war time propaganda about not talking about secrets allowed Oak Ridge and Los Alamos (along with many other sites) to operate and go unquestioned by the general public. Our enemies were pretty much in the dark about our operation. Had Nazi Germany known how far along we were they may have invested more effort towards the bomb.

The fact that the Soviets were allies and could have ambassadors and military people here in the states allowed them to do more espionage than our enemies. They did not need to talk with the general public because they knew who the scientist most likely were to work on such a device. They had freedom of movement that a German or Japanese national would not. So propaganda about keeping secrets would not have an affect on their efforts.

Still it was the best kept secret of the war and it didn’t happen by accident.

I don’t know that publicity campaigns about security counts as propaganda. Propaganda is usually considered to include biased or misleading information with the intent of changing public opinion. I can’t see how exhorting the populace to be careful about wartime activities is biased or misleading.
OTOH, efforts like the wartime Disney cartoons with cringeworthy depictions of the Germans and especially the Japanese, are most certainly propaganda. What effect did they have? Did more citizen’s enlist? No doubt it made things like the internment of otherwise peaceable citizens easier for the government.
Perhaps the more interesting question might be the effect of leaflet bombing. Did dropping millions of leaflets cause the populace to change its mind and undermine the efforts of their wartime masters? How about William Joyce, aka Lord Haw Haw, delivering Nazi propaganda to the Brits over the airwaves? Other than annoying Kim du-jour, does the current campaign of leaflets dropped into North Korea have any effect?

Here’s some examples that might count:

During WWII Japanese propaganda portrayed the Americans as terrible savages that would commit horrible atrocities against Japanese civilians and women and children. For this reason the Japanese fought ferociously and tenaciously as in Okinawa.

During WWI British propaganda portrayed the Germans as committing terrible atrocities in Belgium. Including the destruction of convents and rape of nuns, and killing Belgian babies for sport. These terrible stories were published in American newspapers as true (poor fact checking). As a result of all the harsh British reporting on German conduct, many Americans became very pro Allies and anti German. This might have persuaded America to enter WWI earlier than they would otherwise have.

Apparently the United States put out deliberate propaganda about the future B-29 project that boasted about it’s long range and high altitude. Despite the USAAF not planning on deploying them to England since B-17s and B-24s were already doing a good job on their bomber campaigns over there the USAAF didn’t mind not telling the Germans that. So the German aviation industry was forced to commit valuable time and resources in developing high altitude fighters to combat B-29s even though they would literally never fight them.

Roughly speaking, there’s not much evidence that generalised and overt propaganda aimed at the mass of civilians did have that much effect. The leaflet-bombing campaigns in early WW2 don’t seem to have been taken all that seriously in either Germany or Britain (let alone Lord HawHaw), and later broadcasting efforts by both sides were much the same.

There might be an exception in the case of the Spanish Civil War, where Mola’s claim to have a “fifth column” (i e., of secret supporters) within Madrid might have caused suspicion, dissension and distraction among the Republican side.

Disinformation, through seemingly secret information aimed at the German intelligence and high command, probably had a major effect in splitting German forces that might otherwise have been concentrated against the D-Day landings.

Actually I don’t think those outrageous claims count as propaganda, as they weren’t from the British government. Government propaganda absolutely spun the German atrocities in Belgium and took the odd liberty with the truth (convincing your populace to enlist to save a poor small neutral country from brutalizing by militaristic thugs is a easier sell than convincing them that that they need to die to preserve the great-power balance in Europe). There were very serious, premeditated atrocities carried out in Belgium by German troops that killed thousands (there was a deliberate policy of brutalizing the population to try and avoid having to fight insurgents as they did in 1870 Franco Prussian war) The nun that often featured in British propadanda was Edith Cavell who was in fact executed by the Germans in Belgium (though later in 1915) .The obviously false claims about German troops killing babies and such were from the British tabloids, not government propaganda and based on unfounded rumors amoung Belgian refugees in Britain (or just made up by the British tabloids who were no more particular about journalist standards then than now).

Interesting this could be an answer to the question in a round -about way. After world war one the distinction I just described was blurred in popular memory and the public perception was that the government flat out lied and made up all these crazy stories about outrageous atrocities to get the public on-side at the start of WW1. So during WW2 when stories began to filter in about the holocaust British officials were very reticent to the publicize them for fear of being accused of the same thing. Its difficult to say how much difference it would have made if they had publicized the holocaust earlier on in the war, but it may have made some? Just maybe some of those in occupied territories who collaborated with the holocaust would have thought twice about it if they’d known the details the British officials knew? (though also some of those details came from Ultra decryption which was never going to get released).

"Perhaps the more interesting question might be the effect of leaflet bombing. Did dropping millions of leaflets cause the populace to change its mind and undermine the efforts of their wartime masters? How about William Joyce, aka Lord Haw Haw, delivering Nazi propaganda to the Brits over the airwaves? "

Neither of them had much effect. Ditto for Tokyo Rose. To the best of my knowledge, propaganda has had little or no effect until one side was clearly losing.

I suppose we could say that Britain did a good job of selling itself in the USA, getting vital support as a result. But look at the question from the other end of the telescope; what were the big failures in propaganda? Here the questiion is why Nazi Germany got so little support in the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. They never exploited the anti-colonial feelings in the colonies or the anti-British and anti-American sentiments in Latin America.

During WWII Britain developed significant advances in radar which greatly affected their ability to take out German aircraft. In an effort to hide their secret radar tech, they came up with a propaganda campaign centered on how carrots improved your vision and that their pilots were all eating lots of carrots. According to the propaganda, the RAF’s newfound success against German aircraft was due to carrots, nothing else. Propaganda posters popped up all over the place telling people that carrots would keep them healthy and help them see better during blackouts. The fact that the RAF’s success was actually due to radar would be kept secret until long after the war had ended.

The propaganda worked. According to many sources, the Germans began feeding their pilots lots of carrots so that they could get back on equal footing with the RAF.

The propaganda campaign was so effective that to this day many people believe that eating carrots will significantly improve your eyesight.

There is some truth to the propaganda myth in that the beta carotene in carrots is converted into vitamin A in your body and this is good for healthy eyes, but if your eyes are already healthy, eating lots and lots of carrots won’t improve your vision. It will however turn your skin orange (well, orange-ish at least).

A German propaganda slogan from WWI “Gott strafe England” (God punish England) was the source of the word strafe. Not sure if that counts as a victory or which side can count it if it does.

I suppose it would count as a propaganda “win”, that the German people were largely convinced that the Allies were responsible for starting WWI and WWII and thus encouraged to make great sacrifices in defense of the Fatherland.

The Japanese were successfully sold the line that Japan was fighting to free Asians oppressed by Europe, and that that the Japanese were a uniquely privileged race.

Such propaganda was invaluable in prolonging these wars and costing vast numbers of avoidable casualties, if that equates to strategic or tactical victory.

Apropos of nothing, this another case of SMDB “Bader-Meinhof syndrome” for me. I had never heard of this until a few days ago when I read about “Strafer” Gott the WW2 British general. He got his nickname Strafer during WW1 from that German propaganda. Shortly before accepting command of british troops in North Africa (the position Montgomery ended up accepting) he was killed when his plane was shot down. One of the what ifs of WW2 is how different the subsequent successes (such as Alamein) and failures (such as Goodwood and Arnhem) would have been with him in charge instead if Monty.

It very likely did. Unfortunately, this rebounded on the brits when Americans found out they had been had, and conned into the Great War. This caused America First and delays in the USA getting into WW2.

Belgium was by no means a poor small neutral country. It was as Imperialistic as any other. You have heard of the Belgian Congo, yes?

And the atrocities were way overblown. Neutral accounts of the war mostly show retaliation by the Germans against Guerilla warfare aka francs-tireurs. You shot a german, they lined up 20 adult men from the village and shot them. Paranoia played a large part. Certainly there were excesses, and atrocities but not like the UK propaganda machine pumped out… Every time a army takes over another nation there is rape, looting, and so forth.

For example, in 1917 Arnold J. Toynbee published The German Terror in Belgium , which emphasized the most graphic accounts of “authentic” German sexual depravity, such as: “In the market-place of Gembloux a Belgian despatch-rider saw the body of a woman pinned to the door of a house by a sword driven through her chest. The body was naked and the breasts had been cut off.”[19]

Much of the wartime publishing in Britain was in fact aimed at attracting American support.[20] A 1929 article in The Nation asserted: “In 1916 the Allies were putting forth every possible atrocity story to win neutral sympathy and American support. We were fed every day […] stories of Belgian children whose hands were cut off, the Canadian soldier who was crucified to a barn door, the nurses whose breasts were cut off, the German habit of distilling glycerine and fat from their dead in order to obtain lubricants; and all the rest.”[20]

I think many here are looking at propaganda efforts the wrong way around. Such efforts seemed to have minimal effect against enemies but they had huge effects on their own populace.

It has been a while since I listened to Dan Carlin’s podcast “Hard Core History” on WWI but, if IIRC, British efforts to paint Germans as baby killing monsters worked at home and had a very beneficial effect when it came to recruitment and support for the war and gaining international support against Germany.

Indeed, Adolf Hitler, a soldier in WWI, was convinced the propaganda lost them the war:

World War I propaganda influenced the young Hitler, who was a frontline soldier from 1914 to 1918. Like many, Hitler believed Germany lost the war because of enemy propaganda, not defeat on the battlefield. SOURCE

Now consider how full-on Hitler/Germany went in for propaganda at home in the lead-up to WWII. Hitler learned that lesson and the results were…dramatic.

Missed the edit window:

Also, it is probably wrong to think a given battle was greatly affected by propaganda. Rather, propaganda was a strategic tool that affected the Big Picture (think recruitment efforts and swaying allies to your side stuff). There is no bright line that says this or that propaganda achieved these specific results but the overall effect should not be underestimated. You cannot look at Nazi rallies in the 1930’s and think propaganda had little effect. Quite the opposite…it lead the entire world to war and resulted in things like the Holocaust.