Example: [Reit, 1980]
Another enemy decoy, built in occupied Holland, let to a tale that has been told and retold every since by veteran Allied pilots. The German "airfield," constructed with meticulous care, was made almost entirely of wood. There were wooden hangers, oil tanks, gun emplacements, trucks, and aircraft. The Germans took so long in building their wooden decoy that Allied photo experts had more than enough time to observe and report it. The day finally came when the decoy was finished, down to the last wooden plank. And early the following morning a lone RAF plane crossed the Channel, came in low, circled the field once, and dropped a large wooden bomb.
Origins: The above-cited tale of military one-upmanship, about one group of combatants' engaging in a defiantly symbolic gesture directed at their enemies (akin to the mostly true anecdote of American general Anthony McAuliffe's responding to a German surrender demand at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge with the single word "Nuts"), is a well-traveled anecdote that dates to at least the first year of
Could this story be true? The use of decoy airfields and other make-believe facilities during World
- Just as there is strategic value in fooling your enemy, there is also strategic value in allowing your enemy to continue believing he has you fooled even after you've caught onto his plans. That's a considerable advantage to throw away merely for the sake of a minor "up yours" stunt.
- William Shirer's diary dates this anecdote to the days of the Battle of Britain, when England was battling Germany alone. (The Soviet Union and the U.S. would not enter the war against Germany until the following year.) Given that England needed all the airplanes and pilots they could muster in struggling for their survival against the German onslaught at home, they weren't likely to have risked sending a number of both across the Channel on a mission to Holland that had no practical value.
- The proposed scheme (particularly the version quoted at the head of this page, which posits the use of a single plane and bomb) is fraught with possibilities for failure that could easily have rendered it pointless. What if the Germans didn't see the "bomb" fall from the plane? What if they watched it fall but didn't know what it was, and it broke into unrecognizeable pieces when it hit the ground? What if it landed off-target and the Germans never found it? (And why not send someone along to film the event, thereby greatly increasing its propagandic value?)
- Constructing a phony airfield "almost entirely from wood" would have been a rather extravagant waste of resources. Fake airfields like the one described here were intended to deceive those observing them from the air, not to be realistic to ground observers as well. Painted fabric stretched across plywood frames would have served just as well and could have been put together much more easily, cheaply, and quickly (and thus would have avoided the supposed delay that provided "Allied photo experts more than enough time to observe and report it").
Last updated: 1 October 2005
DeLonge, M.E. Modern Airfield Planning and Concealment. New York: Pitman, 1943 (p. 135). Johnson, Brian. The Secret War. New York: Metheun, 1978. ISBN 0-458-93340-6. Reit, Seymour. Masquerade: The Amazing Camouflage Deceptions of World War II. New York: Hawthorn, 1978. ISBN 0-451-09120-5 (p. 50). Shirer, William L. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002. ISBN 0-801-87056-9 (pp. 575-576).