Morale Operations was a branch of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during World War II. It utilized psychological warfare, particularly propaganda, to produce specific psychological reactions in both the general population and military forces of the Axis powers in support of larger Allied political and military objectives.
The Morale Operations Branch comprised five sections: the Special Communications Detachment, the Radio Division, the Special Contacts Division, the Publications and Campaigns Division, and the Foreign Division. The Special Communications Detachment was responsible for “combat propaganda operations in coordination with the U.S. Army in Europe.” The Radio Division “conducted all black or clandestine radio programs.” The Special Contacts Division “distributed propaganda to partisan groups.” The Publications and Campaigns Division “produced leaflets, pamphlets, and whispering campaigns.” The Foreign Division “conducted miscellaneous [Morale Operations] activities abroad.” Collectively these divisions carried out psychological warfare operations for the U.S. Army.
The Morale Operations Branch had outposts in several locations across the globe. Usually these stations were close to U.S. Army combat stations or integrated into Army intelligence posts. By 1945 the Morale Operations Branch had one station in Algeria, Egypt, France, and Britain, two in Sweden, and six in Italy. The most important of these stations was in London, Britain.
The Office of Strategic Services: Morale Operations Branch
With the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the United States entered World War II. In June 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt created the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) – the forerunner of today’s CIA — to collect and analyze strategic information and to conduct espionage and special operations. For the first time in U.S. history, the nation had in the OSS a single intelligence service engaged in all basic secret activities: espionage, covert action, propaganda, and counterintelligence.
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The Morale Operations Branch
As tensions rose in Europe during the early 1940s, President Roosevelt sent William J. Donovan to England to meet with British officials and learn about their intelligence organizations. Upon seeing the success of the first fact-finding mission, President Roosevelt sent Donovan to the Mediterranean and Middle East.
When Donovan returned, he was convinced that the Nazis were more advanced than the Allies in their ability to wage psychological warfare. He even wrote a publication arguing that the United States needed an organization to identify and counter Axis propaganda. Donovan implored President Roosevelt to establish an American organization similar to the British intelligence agencies.
At Donovan’s urging, in 1941 President Roosevelt established the Coordinator of Information, which included a propaganda organization — the Foreign Information Service (FIS). However, Donovan and FIS Director Robert Sherwood disagreed over propaganda messages and little was accomplished. When the OSS was created in 1942, FIS separated and became the Office of War Information.
Free from arguments over propaganda content, Donovan formed the Morale Operations (MO) Branch on March 3, 1943.
Psychological warfare involves the use of different kinds of propaganda: white, black, and sometimes, grey. White propaganda openly identifies the source and uses gentle persuasion and public relation techniques. Black propaganda is misinformation that identifies itself with one side of a conflict but is truly produced by another opposing side. Grey propaganda is the most mysterious of all because the source of the propaganda is never identified.
The purpose of the MO Branch was to produce and distribute “black” or undercover propaganda campaigns against the Axis Powers.
The Morale Operations Branch was divided into five sections, including:
- Special Communications Detachments
- Radio Division
- Special Contacts
- Publications and Campaigns Division
- Foreign Division
When the OSS was established in 1942, people from all experiences and backgrounds were recruited from military personnel to civilians. By 1944, the MO employed about 400 people around the world.
Morale Operations officers were trained in propaganda basics, including:
- Leaflet writing
- Radio propaganda
- Rumor creating
- Poison-pen letters