Operation Cornflakes and WWII-era Trolling

What do you get when you combine warfare + primitive trolling techniques?

Operation Cornflakes, a WWII psychological warfare operation conducted by the United States. The campaign’s namepropaganda2_3 “was the natural result of the aim of the campaign, to place American propaganda on the German breakfast table each morning.”

Operation Cornflakes seriously resembles something 4Chan would come up with if, god forbid, they were in charge of military strategy:

Operations Cornflakes was designed to drop German mail sacks containing subversive material in carefully addressed envelopes inside the Reich alongside shot-up enemy trains. After the fighter-bombers stopped the train with their bombing and strafing fire, they would drop mailbags filled with propaganda letters into the wreckage. The Germans would find the bags and presume that they came from the damaged train. They would then deliver them as normal mail. The growing disruption of the German transportation system caused much mail to be misdirected and scattered about the country. Further, it was thought that any average citizen or soldier upon discovering legitimate German mail sacks in a recently bombed rail terminus or along the railroad tracks would turn them over to the postal authorities for delivery to their proper destination.

German phonebooks were used to address the mail to actual German citizens. The theory was that German citizens would, upon receipt, assume it was a legitimate letter sent from a domestic anti-Nazi opposition movement. The German citizens would then be so demoralized by the junk mail they would end the war.

Some of the propaganda, such as the Hitler skull stamps, was intended simply to mock and ridicule the Germans, in an early form of trolling-by-photoshopped-images. Other pieces of propaganda, however, were intended to be taken seriously by the unwitting recipients, such as this letter from the ‘Christian Soldiers Union’:

“Comrades! Don’t let them take advantage of you with that old slogan ‘Hold out to the last man,’ and pointlessly be killed, or crippled for the rest of your life! The officers who give these orders are usually far from the shooting. All the grisly tales of mistreatment of prisoners leave us cold now. WE HAVE HAD ENOUGH! Give up: scouts, sentries, and many others know how easy it is. Our group will help everyone so that they can live for our future. The Allies know about our movement. Give them this pass when you cross the enemy’s lines! It is your pass to life! Christian Soldiers Union.”

Unsurprisingly, Operation Cornflakes’ crude attempts at psychological warfare were not particularly effective, and if they had any demoralizing effect at all it was probably simply from causing a delay or destruction of civilian mail.

These kinds of PSYOP tactics didn’t end with WWII. They have, however, gotten more sophisticated. The sort of psychological campaigns that are used today in a world where asymmetrical warfare is the norm take a different approach, such as the case of this undercover operation that was used in the early stages of the war in Iraq.

-Susan

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