Military deception (MILDEC) is an attempt by a military unit to gain an advantage during warfare by misleading adversary decision makers into taking action or inaction that creates favourable conditions for the deceiving force.
This is usually achieved by creating or amplifying an artificial fog of war via psychological operations, information warfare, visual deception, or other methods. As a form of disinformation, it overlaps with psychological warfare. Military deception is also closely connected to operations security (OPSEC) in that OPSEC attempts to conceal from the adversary critical information about an organization’s capabilities, activities, limitations, and intentions, or provide a plausible alternate explanation for the details the adversary can observe, while deception reveals false information in an effort to mislead the adversary.
Deception in warfare dates back to early history. The Art of War, an ancient Chinese military treatise, emphasizes the importance of deception as a way for outnumbered forces to defeat larger adversaries. Examples of deception in warfare can be found in ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, the Medieval Age, the Renaissance, and the European Colonial Era. Deception was employed during World War I and came into even greater prominence during World War II. In modern times, the militaries of several nations have evolved deception tactics, techniques and procedures into fully fledged doctrine.
Refer to Russian Military Deception.
Many standard military activities can be considered deceptive, but not deception. For example, a unit may move into an assembly area to complete organising and rehearsing prior to a mission. It is a standard deceptive tactic to camouflage the vehicles, equipment and personnel in the assembly area with the intent of confusing the enemy. Military deception is more complex than simple deceptive activities, with a unit deliberately planning and carrying out an elaborate effort that will cause a targeted adversary decision maker to take an action that is detrimental to the adversary and beneficial to the side employing deception.
Deception can be accomplished through either increasing or decreasing an adversary’s understanding of the operating environment. Ambiguity increasing deception is intended to sow confusion in the mind of the enemy decision maker by presenting multiple possible friendly courses of action. Because the adversary does not know which is true, his reactions are delayed or paralyzed, which gives the friendly side an advantage. With ambiguity decreasing deception, the friendly side intends to make the adversary certain of the friendly course of action – certain, but wrong. As a result, the adversary will misallocate time, personnel, or resources, which enables the friendly side to obtain an advantage.
The Operation Bodyguard deception in World War II can be viewed as an ambiguity increasing deception that over time became ambiguity decreasing. Initially, the aim was to increase confusion among German planners and leaders by presenting the possibilities of Allied invasions at the Pas-de-Calais and Normandy in France, as well as the Balkans, southern France, and Norway. Eventually, the deception increased certainty on the German side by causing them to conclude that Calais was the real invasion site. When the Allies attacked at Normandy, they did so with the advantage of surprise.
Military deception may take place at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels of warfare. The five basic tactics include:
|Diversion||1. Use of feints, demonstrations, displays, or ruses to draw the enemy’s attention away from a friendly main effort and induce the enemy to concentrate resources at a time and place that is to the enemy’s disadvantage.|
2. Example: On the night of 17-18 August 1943, the Royal Air Force carried out Operation Hydra, the bombing of a World War II rocket research centre at Peenemünde, a German town on the Baltic Sea. Over a period of time, the British had conditioned the Germans to expect and respond to attacks on Berlin by sending de Havilland Mosquito bombers along the same route towards the city. When the British executed Operation Hydra, the Germans believed eight Mosquitoes flying towards Berlin were the vanguard of yet another attack on the same target. As a result of this diversion, the Germans deployed the majority of their fighter aircraft over Berlin, which gave the British an advantage over Peenemünde.
|Feint||1. An offensive action involving force-on-force contact with the adversary which deceives the adversary as to the location and/or time of the friendly side’s main effort. A feint will cause the enemy to concentrate resources at an incorrect time and location. A series of feints will condition the enemy to friendly activities in the same location, causing the enemy to lower their guard or respond ineffectively to the friendly main effort.|
2. Example: In May 1940, Nazi Germany’s Army Group B attacked the Netherlands and Belgium. At the same time, Army Group A invaded France by attacking through the Ardennes towards the city of Sedan. Army Group B’s attack was a feint intended to disguise Germany’s main effort from British and French military leaders.
|Demonstration||1. A demonstration presents a show of force similar to a feint, but avoids actual force-on-force contact with the adversary. The intent of a demonstration is for the adversary to incorrectly determine the time and location of the friendly main effort, which gives the friendly side an advantage by causing the adversary to incorrectly allocate resources, move to the wrong location, or fail to move.|
2. Example: During the Peninsula campaign of the American Civil War, Union commander George B. McClellan believed he faced a stronger Confederate force commanded by John B. Magruder than he actually did. Magruder reinforced McClellan’s perception with numerous demonstrations, including parading his soldiers where they could be viewed by Union observers, concealing them as they moved back to the start point, then parading them again within sight of McClellan’s observers. McClellan concluded that he was outnumbered and decided to retreat.
|Ruse||1. The deliberate exposure to the enemy of false information that causes the enemy to reach an incorrect conclusion about friendly intentions and capabilities. A ruse is a trick of warfare that relies on guile to contribute to a larger deception plan.|
2. Example: The creation of the fictional Major William Martin (“The Man Who Never Was”) as a British officer carrying important World War II battle plans. As part of the Operation Mincemeat deception that concealed the location of the planned Allied invasion of Sicily, the Allies intended for the Nazis to acquire the false documents, which indicated a planned Allied invasion of Greece and the Balkans, and then incorrectly allocate troops and materiel.
|Display||1. The static portrayal of activity, troops, or equipment. A display is intended to deceive the adversary’s visual observation capability, causing him to believe the friendly force is in a location other than where it is, that it has a capacity or capability it does not possess, or that it does not have a capacity or capability that it does possess.|
2. Example: The Allied use of “sunshields” in Operation Bertram and inflatable decoys in Operation Bodyguard during World War II to deceive the enemy as to the size, location and objectives of Allied forces.
These basic deception tactics are often used in combination with each other as part of a larger deception plan.
Adherents to Protocol I (1977) of the Geneva Conventions agree not to engage in acts of perfidy during the conduct of warfare. Perfidious conduct is a deceitful action in which one side promises to act in good faith with the intention of breaking that promise to gain an advantage. Examples include one side raising a flag of truce to entice an enemy to come into the open and take them as prisoners of war, then opening fire on the uncovered adversary. Additional examples include misusing protected signs and symbols, such as the red cross, crescent, and crystal, to conceal weapons and ammunition by making them appear to be a medical facility.
Axioms, Maxims, and Principles
The development of modern military deception doctrine has led to the codification of several rules and maxims. In US doctrine, three of the most important are expressed as Magruder’s Principle, the Jones’ Dilemma, and Care in the Placement of Deceptive Material (Avoid Windfalls).
|Axiom, Maxim, or Principle||Outline|
|Magruder’s Principle||1. Named for Confederate general John B. Magruder, this principle states that it usually easier to deceive a deception target into holding on to a pre-existing belief than it is to convince the target that something the target believes to be true is not.|
2. Examples include the Allies of World War II making use in the Operation Mincemeat deception of the pre-existing German belief that Greece and the Balkans would be their next invasion target after North Africa, when the Allies actually intended to invade Sicily.
|Jones’ Dilemma||1. Named for British scientist Reginald Victor Jones, who played an important role in the Allied effort during World War II, the Jones dilemma indicates that the greater the number of intelligence and information gathering and transmitting resources available to the deception target, the more difficult it is to deceive the target.|
2. Conversely, the more of the target’s intelligence and information systems that are manipulated in a deception plan or denied to the target, the more likely the target is to believe the deception.
3. One reason the World War II Operation Bodyguard deception was accepted as true on the German side is that Germany’s ability to acquire information about activities in England was limited, enabling the Allies to manipulate the few German intelligence gathering resources that were available.
|Avoid Windfalls||1. If a deception target obtains deceptive information too easily (“too good to be true”), the target is unlikely to act on it and the deception will fail.|
2. This requires deception planners to take care in placing deceptive information so that it will appear to have been acquired in a seemingly natural manner.
3. The deception target is then able to assemble details from multiple sources into a coherent, believable, but untrue story.
4. The best deception plans co-opt the enemy’s skepticism through requiring enemy participation, either by expending time and resources in obtaining the deceptive information, or by devoting significant effort to interpreting it.
5. In an example of valid information being dismissed as a windfall, early in World War II a plane carrying German officers to Cologne became lost in bad weather and landed in Belgium.
5. Before being arrested by Belgian authorities, the Germans attempted to burn the papers they were carrying, which included copies of the actual invasion plans for Belgium and the Netherlands.
6. Belgian authorities discounted this true information as false because of the ease with which they obtained it.
|Multiple Forms of Surprise||1. Friendly events about which an adversary can be deceived are described in the mnemonic SALUTE-IS, which stands for Size, Activity, Location, Unit, Time, Equipment, Intent, and Style.|
2. The maxim indicates that the more of these categories the friendly side can deceive the adversary about, the more likely the adversary is to believe the deception.
3. Conversely, if there are plans and activities about which the adversary is already aware, attempting to deceive him about them is unlikely to succeed.
4. In Operation Bodyguard, the Germans knew there would be an invasion on the coast of France, that it would happen in 1944, and that it would be based in England.
5. They did not know the exact date and the exact location.
6. The Allies concentrated their deception on the SALUTE-IS details the Germans did not know about, and did not attempt to deceive them about what they already knew.
The doctrine for planning deception has been codified over time. In the US military, this doctrine begins with understanding the deception target’s cognitive process. Expressed as “See-Think-Do”, this understanding of the adversary considers what information has to be conveyed to the target through what medium for the target to develop the perception of the situation that will cause the enemy to take an action beneficial to the friendly side. In the planning process, “See-Think-Do” is considered in reverse order – what does the friendly side want the enemy to do as a result of the deception, what perceptions will the target have to form to take the action, and what information needs to be transmitted to the target through which medium so that the target will develop the desired perception.
As an example, the intent for Operation Bodyguard was for Germany to allocate forces away from Normandy (“Do”). The perception the Allies wanted to create in the mind of the deception target (Hitler) was that the Allies were planning to invade at Calais (“Think”). The information the Allies conveyed to the target to create the perception included the false radio traffic, dummy equipment displays, and deceptive command messages of the fictional First United States Army Group (“See”).
According to a story from an ancient Egyptian papyrus, in about 1450 BC, an Egyptian army under Pharaoh Thutmose III and his general Djehuty besieged the Caananite city of Yapu (later Joppa and now Jaffa). Unable to gain entry, they resorted to deception. Djehuty hid several soldiers in baskets and had the baskets delivered to the town with the message that the Egyptians were admitting defeat and sending tribute. The people of Yapu accepted the gift and celebrated the end of the siege. Once inside the city, the hidden soldiers emerged from the baskets, opened the city gates, and admitted the main Egyptian force. The Egyptians then conquered the city.
The Iliad and The Odyssey, epic poems composed between the 9th and 6th centuries BC, are credited to the Ancient Greek author Homer. These poems contain details of the Trojan War, presumed by the Greeks to have been fought in approximately the 13th century BC. The Odyssey provides the details of the Trojan Horse, a successfully executed deception. After several years of stalemate, a Greek leader, Odysseus, devised a ruse. Over three days, the Greeks constructed a hollow wooden horse, which they inscribed as an offering to the goddess Athena in prayer for safe return to their homes. The Greeks then pretended to depart the area around Troy, giving the impression that they had sailed for Greece. Rather than risk offending Athena, the Trojans brought the horse into the city. That night, Greek soldiers concealed inside the horse came out of their hiding place and opened the city gates. The main force of Greek soldiers who had actually remained nearby then entered the city and killed the inhabitants.
In 326 BC, the army of Macedon, which was led by Alexander the Great, had advanced through the Middle East to Asia, conquering numerous kingdoms along the way. Alexander planned for battle against the forces of Porus, the king of the region of Pakistan and India that is now Punjab. To confront Porus, Alexander needed to cross the Hydaspes River. Porus used the terrain to his advantage and arranged his forces to prevent Alexander from crossing the river at the most likely fording point. Leading up to the battle, Alexander scouted several alternative fords, but Porus moved each time to counter him.
Alexander eventually located a suitable crossing point approximately 17 miles north of his base. He then led a portion of his army to the crossing site, while his subordinate Craterus kept the entire army’s campfires burning within sight of Porus and feigned several river crossings that Porus was able to observe. With Porus distracted, Alexander successfully led his detachment across the river, then marched south to engage in battle. In the Battle of the Hydaspes, Alexander’s army had the element of surprise and quickly defeated Porus’ troops, while sustaining relatively few casualties on the Macedonian side. Having conquered Porus’ kingdom, Alexander then allowed Porus to rule it as one of Alexander’s satraps.
In 341 BC, troops under the general Sun Bin of the state of Qi faced battle with the forces of the state of Wei. Knowing that Wei regarded the army of Qi as inferior and cowardly, Sun Bin decided to use Wei’s perception to his advantage. When Qi’s forces invaded Wei, Sun Bin ordered them to light 100,000 camp fires on the first night. On the second night, they lit 50,000. On the third, 30,000. Sun Bin’s deception caused the Wei forces led by general Pang Juan to believe Qi faced mass desertions. Rushing to attack what they believed to be an inferior army, the Wei forces assaulted Qi’s troops at a narrow gorge, not knowing Sun Bin’s soldiers had prepared it as an ambush site. When Pang Juan’s troops reached the gorge they observed that a sign had been posted. Lighting a torch to see the message, the Wei commander read “Pang Juan dies beneath this tree”. The lighting of the torch was the signal for Qi to initiate the ambush. Sun Bin’s army quickly routed Pang Juan’s and Pang Juan committed suicide.
Another well-known deceptive measure from ancient China has come to be known as the Empty Fort Strategy. Employed several times in numerous conflicts, the best-known example is a fictional one contained in a historical novel from the 1320s AD, Romance of the Three Kingdoms. This work, which contains embellished tales of actual Chinese history from 169 to 280 AD, includes the story of general Zhuge Liang of Shu Han employing the Empty Fort Strategy. As recounted in the novel’s description of Zhuge Liang’s Northern Expeditions, an actual historical event, the forces of general Sima Yi of Cao Wei arrived at Zhuge Liang’s location, the city of Xicheng, while the bulk of Zhuge Liang’s army was deployed elsewhere. Zhuge Liang instructed the few troops he had on hand to pretend to be townspeople and told them to perform tasks which would make them visible to Sima Yi, including sweeping the town’s streets. Zhuge Liang ordered Xichneg’s gates to be opened, then took up a visible position on a viewing platform, playing his Guqin while flanked by only two pages. Because Zhuge Liang’s reputation as a military leader was so great, Sima Yi assumed Zhuge Liang had prepared an ambush, so he declined to enter Xicheng. Zhuge Liang’s deception saved the town and prevented the few soldiers he had with him from being massacred or taken prisoner+.
During the Second Punic War, the Carthaginian general Hannibal employed deception during the Battle of Cannae in 216 BC. In preparing to face a Roman force led by Lucius Aemilius Paullus and Gaius Terentius Varro, Hannibal had 40,000 soldiers, as compared to the over 80,000 that had been amassed by Rome. To overcome the Roman advantage in numbers, Hannibal placed his less experienced and disciplined Gauls in the centre of his formation, arranged to bulge out towards the Romans. On either side of his line, Hannibal positioned his experienced and disciplined Libyan and Gaetuli infantry. Hannibal intended for the Gauls to give way to the advancing Romans, with the centre of his line bending but not breaking. Seeing the Gauls appear to retreat, the Romans would advance into the bowl shape or sack created by the bending of Hannibal’s line. Once inside the sack, the African infantry positioned on the left and right would wheel inwards and attack the Roman flanks. In combination with the Carthaginian cavalry, the infantry on the flanks would continue moving until they encircled the Romans and could attack their rear. The battle unfolded as Hannibal had envisioned. Only 10,000 Romans escaped, with the rest either killed or captured. The battle came to be seen as evidence of Hannibal’s genius for tactical generalship, while it was among the worst defeats suffered by Ancient Rome.
During the Gallic Wars, in 52 BC Roman commander Julius Caesar attempted to engage the forces of tribal leader Vercingetorix in open battle in what is now central France. Vercingetorix kept the River Elave (now Allier) between Caesar’s forces and his own. His troops destroyed or removed the bridges and mirrored the movements of Caesar’s troops, preventing Caesar from crossing the river. Caesar responded by hiding forty of his sixty cohorts and arranging the remaining twenty to give the appearance of sixty as viewed from the opposite riverbank. The twenty cohorts continued to march along the river, and Vercingetorix’s troops continued to mirror their movements. Caesar then led the forty hidden cohorts back to a repairable bridge, had it fixed, led his troops across, and sent for the other twenty cohorts to rejoin him. Now on the same side of the river as Vercingetorix, Caesar was able to engage the Gallic tribes in battle as he intended.
The Mongol Empire frequently used deception to aid its military success. A favoured tactic was to exaggerate the size of their army, which would cause their enemies to surrender or flee. When he fought the Naimans in 1204, Chinggis Khan ordered his soldiers to light five campfires each, giving the impression of a more numerous army. In 1258 Möngke Khan invaded Sichuan with 40,000 soldiers, and spread rumours of 100,000 in an effort to intimidate his enemy.
When confronting numerically superior forces, the Mongols often sent troops behind their own lines to raise dust with branches tied to their horses’ tails, which created the impression that reinforcements were en route. Mongol soldiers had more than one horse each, and to exaggerate the size of their army, they would compel prisoners or civilians to ride their spare horses within sight of the enemy, or mount dummies on their spare horses. To make their forces appear smaller, the Mongols would ride in single file, minimising dust and making the hoofprints of their horses more difficult to count. Mongol armies also used the feigned retreat. A typical tactic was to deploy the mangudai, a vanguard unit that would charge the enemy, break up its formation, and then fall back in an attempt to draw the enemy into a position more favourable to the Mongols.
Examples of deception occurred during the Crusades. In 1271, Sultan Baybars captured the formidable Krak des Chevaliers by handing the besieged knights a letter, supposedly from their commander, ordering them to surrender. The letter was fake, but the knights believed it was genuine and capitulated.
In 1401, during the Glyndŵr Rising, the Tudors of Wales were seeking a revocation of the price that Henry Percy had placed on their heads. After deciding to capture Percy’s Conwy Castle, one member of the Tudor faction posed as a carpenter, gained access, and then admitted his compatriots. The successful deception was in part responsible for the creation of England’s Tudor dynasty.
In an event from the early 1480s that was recounted in Washington Irving’s Conquest of Granada, during the Granada War, the Alhama de Granada was besieged by Moors. During the siege, a portion of the fortress’ outer wall was destroyed after the earth beneath it was washed away in a violent storm. To conceal the breach, the Conde de Tendilla, leader of the Spanish defenders, directed the erection of a cloth screen. The screen deceived the Moors because it was painted to resemble stone, and no Moorish besiegers ventured close enough to spot the fakery. The wall was repaired over the next several days, and the Moors did not learn of the gap in the Alhama’s defences.
Henry VIII of England led troops on the European mainland during the War of the League of Cambrai. On 04 September 1513, Henry’s forces began to besiege the city of Tournai in what is now Belgium. The site of a thriving tapestry industry and home to many well-known painters, Tournai prolonged the siege by using painted canvas that resembled trenchworks to exaggerate the strength of its defences. As a result of this deception, the city held out for several days longer than expected and obtained favourable terms when it surrendered.
In 1659, the kingdom of Denmark–Norway constructed Fort Christiansborg near what is now Accra in Ghana. Used to control commerce in slaves, as well as raw materials including gold and ivory, the site changed hands several times between Denmark–Norway, Portugal, and Sweden, sometimes by force, sometimes by purchase. In 1692, Nana Asamani, the king of the Akwamu people, planned to capture the fort from Denmark–Norway. Disguising himself as a cook and interpreter, he obtained work at the fort, where over the next year he became proficient in the Danish language and conducted reconnaissance to learn about the activities of the facility’s occupants and the people with whom they traded.
After gaining familiarity with Fort Christiansborg’s occupants and operations, in 1693 Asamani informed the Danish traders who occupied it about a group of Akwamu who desired to purchase weapons and ammunition, and suggested they were so anxious to buy that the Danes should inflate their prices. Lured by the prospect of large profits, the Danes bartered with the 80 Akwamu that Asamani had brought to the fort. When the Danes allowed the Akwamu to inspect rifles and prepare to test-fire them, the Akwamu instead used the guns to commence an attack on the Danes. Caught by surprise, the Danes were quickly overpowered and ejected from Fort Christiansborg. The Akwamu occupied the post for a year before Asamani agreed to sell it back to Denmark-Norway. Asamani kept the keys as a trophy, and they are still in the possession of the Akwamu.
French and Indian War
During the French and Indian War, British commander James Wolfe attempted throughout the summer of 1759 to force French commander Louis-Joseph de Montcalm to come out of his well-defended position in Quebec City. When artillery fire that destroyed most of the city did not produce the desired effect, Wolfe employed a deception strategy called “uproar east, attack west” Wolfe ordered Admiral Charles Saunders to move the British fleet on the Saint Lawrence River to a position opposite one of Montcalm’s main camps east of Quebec City. This demonstration gave the appearance of preparations for an upcoming attack. Montcalm was deceived, and moved troops to guard against a British assault from that location.
Wolfe’s soldiers at Quebec City capitalised on the favourable balance of forces created by the deception. First, they opened a road from the riverbank to the city heights. Next, they deployed into battle formation on a farmer’s field near the city walls. Caught by surprise, Montcalm knew he would not be able to withstand a siege and had no choice but to fight. On 13 September 1759’s Battle of the Plains of Abraham, the French were decisively beaten. The loss of Quebec led to defeat in the war and France was forced to cede Canada to the British.
American War of Independence
Siege of Boston
As head of the Continental Army, George Washington successfully used deception to equalise the odds in the fight against the larger, better-equipped, and better-trained British army and its mercenary allies. During the Siege of Boston from April 1775 to March 1776, the newly organised Continental Army suffered from numerous equipment and supply shortages. Among the most critical was a lack of gunpowder, which was so acute that in a battle, Washington’s troops would be able to fire no more than nine bullets per man. To conceal the lack of gunpowder from the British, Washington’s quartermaster soldiers filled gunpowder casks with sand and shipped them from Providence, Rhode Island to the Continental Army’s depots. The deception fooled British spies, and British commanders decided not to risk an attack during the siege.
Battle of Long Island
After the Patriot defeat at the Battle of Long Island in late August 1776, Washington’s forces retreated to Brooklyn Heights, with a superior British force surrounding them on three sides and their backs to the East River. The British expected Washington would find his position untenable and surrender. Washington instead arranged for a flotilla of small boats to ferry his 9,000 troops across the river to the relative safety of Manhattan Island. Moving under cover of darkness, Washington’s troops withdrew unit by unit to avoid the appearance that a general retreat was taking place. The wheels of supply wagons and gun carriages were wrapped in rags to muffle their noise, and troops ordered to remain silent to avoid alerting the nearby British. Rear guard units kept campfires blazing through the night. These measures fooled British scouts into thinking the Patriot army was still on Brooklyn Heights. A morning fog obscured visibility, which helped the Continentals complete their retreat, and all 9,000 were safely ferried across the river. When the British advanced, they were surprised to find the American positions completely empty.
Battle of Trenton
Prior to the Battle of Trenton on Christmas Day 1776, Washington used a spy, John Honeyman to gain information about the positions of Britain’s Hessian mercenaries. Posing as a Loyalist butcher and weaver, Honeyman traded with British and Hessian troops and acquired useful intelligence. At the same time, he aided Washington’s plan by spreading disinformation that convinced the British and Hessians that Continental Army morale was low and an end-of-year attack against British positions unlikely. Honeyman’s deceptive information enabled Washington to gain the element of surprise, and his troops routed the stunned Hessians.
Battle of Princeton
After the Battle of Trenton, the British dispatched a large army under General Charles Cornwallis to chase down Washington’s smaller force. At the 02 January 1777 Battle of the Assunpink Creek, the Continental troops under Washington successfully repulsed three British attacks on their positions. Darkness ended the British attacks and they planned to resume the following morning. That night, Washington again resorted to the same deceptive tactics he had used in Brooklyn, including muffling the wheels of wagons and gun carriages to reduce noise, and leaving a rear guard to keep campfires burning. The British were again fooled, and Washington was able to move his army into a position from which he defeated the British at the Battle of Princeton on 03 January.
Siege of Fort Stanwix
In August 1777, the first Patriot attempt to relieve the Siege of Fort Stanwix, New York was blocked by the British as the result of the Battle of Oriskany. A second attempt, led by Benedict Arnold succeeded in part because of a successful effort to deceive the British besiegers. Arnold dispatched a messenger, Hon Yost Schuyler to the British lines. Schuyler was a Loyalist and regarded by the British army’s Mohawk allies as a prophet because of his strange dress and conduct. To ensure his good conduct, Arnold held Schuyler’s brother as a hostage. Upon reaching the British positions outside Fort Stanwix, Schuyler informed the Mohawk that Arnold’s relief column was nearer than it was, and that it was much larger than it actually was. The Mohawk initially disbelieved Schuyler, but assumed he was telling the truth after other American Indian messengers sent by Arnold began to arrive with the same information. The Mohawk decided to leave, forcing British commander Barry St. Leger to order a retreat. The end of the siege also ended British attempts to control the Mohawk Valley.
Battle of Cowpens
In the fall of 1780, Continental Army general Nathanael Greene, commander of the Southern Department, carried out a harassment campaign against the British in North and South Carolina. One of Greene’s subordinates, Daniel Morgan, commanded a force of approximately 600, and was tasked with harassing the enemy in the backcountry of South Carolina. In January 1781, as a British force commanded by Banastre Tarleton closed in on Morgan near Cowpens, South Carolina on the Broad River, he opted to fight rather than risk being attacked while attempting to cross the water.
Knowing the British regarded Patriot militia as inferior, Morgan used this perception to his advantage by arranging his troops in three lines. The first was sharpshooters, who provided harassing fire and attempted to pick off British officers. The sharpshooters would then fall back to the second line, which would consist of militiamen. The militia would fire two volleys, then feign a rout and pretend to flee. If the British believed they had caused a panic in the militiamen, they would charge forward. But instead of catching up to the fleeing militia, they would run into the third line – Continental Army soldiers commanded by John Eager Howard. As a reserve, Morgan had a small Continental cavalry force commanded by William Washington.
Morgan’s deception proved decisive. At the Battle of Cowpens on 17 January 1781, the British under Tarleton launched a frontal assault. The militia feigned retreat, and Tarleton’s troops charged forward. As planned, they were met by Howard’s troops, then surprised by Washington’s cavalry charging into their flanks. The British lost over 100 killed, over 200 wounded, and over 500 captured. Morgan’s command sustained only 12 killed and 60 wounded.
Napoleon Bonaparte made significant use of deception during his campaigns. At the 1796 Battle of Lodi, he used deception to achieve a successful crossing of the River Po. As a diversion, Napoleon mounted a token crossing attempt against a strong Austrian force under Johann Peter Beaulieu. Meanwhile, the bulk of his force moved upriver and obtained an uncontested bridgehead at Piacenza. Once it had crossed the river, Napoleon’s force attacked the enemy’s rear guard in a tactic he referred to as manoeuvre sur les derrières (“manoeuvring behind”).
War of the First Coalition
During the War of the First Coalition, France attempted an invasion of Britain. During the February 1797 Battle of Fishguard, Colonel William Tate an Irish-American commanding French and Irish troops, landed near Fishguard in Wales. English and Welsh militia and civilians under the command of John Campbell, 1st Baron Cawdor hastily assembled to defend the town. When discipline began to break down among Tate’s troops and their attempted invasion slowed down, Tate asked for surrender terms that would permit his command to leave. Instead of offering terms, Cawdor demanded unconditional surrender. As Tate and his subordinates considered Cawdor’s demands overnight, Cawdor backed up his bluff with several deceptive measures. According to local lore, these included having women in Traditional Welsh costumes and Welsh hats line the cliffs near the French camp. From a distance, the women appeared to be British soldiers in red coats and Shakos. Convinced that he was outnumbered, Tate surrendered and his troops were taken prisoner.
First Barbary War
In October, 1803 the frigate USS Philadelphia ran aground off the North African port of Tripoli during the First Barbary War and was captured by the Tripolitan forces. In February 1804, a US military detachment under the command of Stephen Decatur Jr., was assigned to retrieve the ship or destroy it to keep Tripoli from putting it into service. The raiding party deceived the Tripolitan authorities by sailing into Tripoli harbour aboard USS Intrepid, a captured Tripolitan ketch which they disguised as a Maltese merchant ship. The ship’s Sicilian harbour pilot spoke to the Tripolitan authorities in Arabic, claimed the ship had lost its anchors in a storm, and sought permission to tie up next to the captured Philadelphia. Permission was granted and Decatur and his crew overwhelmed the small force guarding Philadelphia, using only swords and pikes to avoid gunshots that would alert authorities on shore of their presence. Unable to sail Philadelphia away, Decatur and his crew burned it, then safely escaped.
First American Invasion of Canada
In July 1812, General William Hull was at Fort Detroit as the British fortified a defensive position across the Detroit River in Windsor, Ontario. Hull decided to move the British to Fort Malden, further away from Detroit, so that he could seize the defences in Windsor. To implement his plan, Hull resorted to deception, which began when his troops collected all the boats and canoes they could find. On 11 July 1812, Hull sent some boats down the river to Springwells, south of Detroit, in full view of the British. At the same time, the American regiment commanded by Duncan McArthur marched from Detroit to Springwells, also observed by the British.
With the British now anticipating an American crossing south of Detroit, a second American force moved north in the dark until they reached Bloody Run, a crossing point a mile and a half north of Fort Detroit and opposite the Ontario town of Sandwich. Finding no activity at Springwells, the British believed the Americans had already crossed the river and marched on Fort Malden. Assuming Fort Malden was vulnerable, the British troops in Sandwich marched south, and in the morning the Americans at Bloody Run crossed to Sandwich unopposed. After landing in Sandwich, the Americans then marched from Sandwich to Windsor and seized the British defensive works.
Retaking the Brig Nerina
In July 1812, the British warship HMS Belvidera captured the American brig Nerina, which had sailed for New York City from Newry, Ireland without knowing that war had been declared in June. Nerina’s crew was transferred to a British ship, except for the captain, James Stewart, who remained on board with a British prize crew which intended to sail Nerina to Halifax, Nova Scotia so a prize court could adjudicate the British claim. When the British ship was out of sight, Stewart suggested to the prize master the propriety of opening the hatches to air out Nerina’s hold. The master gave the order, and the fifty American passengers Stewart had hidden belowdecks before Nerina was boarded rushed out and retook the ship. Stewart’s successful deception enabled him to resume command and sail Nerina to New London, Connecticut, which he reached on 04 August.
Siege of Detroit
In a notable deception that occurred during the War of 1812’s Siege of Detroit, British Major General Isaac Brock and Native American chief Tecumseh used a variety of tricks, including letters they allowed to be intercepted which exaggerated the size of their forces, disguising Brock’s militia contingent as more fearsome regular army soldiers, and repeatedly marching the same body of Native Americans past US observers to make it appear they were more numerous than they were. Though he had superior troop strength, the US commander, Brigadier General William Hull, believed he faced overwhelming numbers of British regular troops and hordes of uncontrollable Indians. Fearing a massacre, in August 1812 Hull surrendered the town and the attached fort. Most of his militia were allowed to return home, while his regular army soldiers were held as prisoners of war.
Capture of Brigs Catharine and Rose
American Lieutenant John Downes was in command of Georgiana as part of Captain David Porter’s naval force, which raided British shipping in the Galapagos chain. On 28 May 1813, lookouts on Georgiana spotted two British ships, Catharine and Rose, off James Island. Resorting to deception, Downes raised the British flag, which tricked the British whalers into thinking they were not under threat. When the Americans were within range they lowered a few boats filled with men, which rowed to Catharine and Rose and captured them without resistance. The British captains revealed to Downes that they had no idea of the attack until the Americans were already on deck.
Capture of HMS Eagle
In 1813, the British Royal Navy continued to blockade America’s major ports. The British flagship HMS Poictiers, commanded by Commodore J.B. Beresford maintained station just outside Sandy Hook on Lower New York Bay, supported by the schooner HMS Eagle. Eagle had a notorious reputation among local fishermen for seizing both fishing boat crews and the boats’ valuable cargoes. John Percival of the US Navy volunteered to end the threat, and acquired a fishing boat named Yankee. On the morning of 04 July 1813, he concealed 34 armed volunteers in the hold, while he and two volunteers stayed on deck dressed as fishermen. Percival then sailed Yankee as though it was departing on a fishing voyage. Eagle’s commander spotted Yankee and sailed in close so he could order it to transfer the livestock it carried on deck to the nearby Poictiers. Percival pretended to comply, and when Eagle was less than ten feet away, he signalled his volunteers to launch a surprise attack by shouting “Lawrence!” in honour of slain US Navy Captain James Lawrence. Percival’s volunteers poured out on deck and began firing. Eagle’s crew were taken by surprise and fled below deck. One of Eagle’s crew struck her colours, thus surrendering to Yankee. Two British sailors were killed and another received mortal wounds, but there were no American casualties. Percival brought the captured Eagle into port and delivered his prisoners to New York City’s Whitehall Street docks as thousands of Americans were celebrating Independence Day.
Ambush at Black Swamp Road
In July 1813, Benjamin Forsyth, one of the company commanders in the American Regiment of Riflemen wanted to enlist the aid of Seneca warriors during planned military operations against the British near Newark, Ontario (now Niagara-on-the-Lake). Forsyth and the Seneca leaders agreed to work together to ambush the Mohawks who were allied with the British. American riflemen and Seneca warriors hid on both sides of the Black Swamp Road. A few Seneca horse riders rode out to gain the Mohawks’ attention, then conducted a feigned retreat. After the Seneca horsemen passed the hidden American riflemen and Senecas, Forsyth blew his bugle as a signal. The concealed Americans and Senecas rose from their hiding places and fired into the pursuing Mohawks. Fifteen Mohawks were killed and thirteen surrendered, including a British interpreter. A few Mohawks escaped, while the Americans and their Seneca allies marched their prisoners back to American lines.
Battle of Fort Stephenson
In August 1813, American Major George Croghan was in charge of 160 soldiers at Fort Stephenson, a base on the Sandusky River in what is now Sandusky County, Ohio which guarded a nearby supply depot. British commander Henry Procter arrived with a superior force that included at least 500 British regulars, 800 American Indians under Major Robert Dickson, and at least 2,000 more under Tecumseh. Procter met Croghan under a flag of truce and urged him to surrender, but Croghan refused. The British then bombarded the fort by artillery and gunboat, to little effect. Croghan returned fire with his single cannon, “Old Betsy” while frequently changing its position in the hopes that the British would believe he had more than one artillery piece. When Croghan’s supply of ammunition ran low, he ordered his men to cease fire.
Croghan deduced that the British were going to strike in full force at the northwestern angle of the fort, so he ordered his men to conceal “Old Betsy” in a blockhouse at that location. The next morning, the British feinted twice at the southern angle, then approached the northwest one. American gunners surprised them by uncovering “Old Betsy” and firing at point blank range, which destroyed the British column. Procter withdrew and sailed away. Procter reported British casualties as 23 killed, 35 wounded, and 28 missing. American casualties were only one killed and seven wounded. Croghan was celebrated as a national hero and promoted to lieutenant colonel.
Ambush at Odelltown
On 28 June 1814, Benjamin Forsyth, commander of the American Regiment of Riflemen, advanced from Chazy, New York to Odelltown, Lower Canada intending to draw a British force of Canadians and American Indian allies into an ambush. Upon arriving at the British positions, Forsyth sent a few men forward as decoys to make contact. When the British responded, the American decoys conducted a feigned retreat, which successfully lured 150 Canadians and American Indian allies into the ambush site.
During the ensuing fight, Forsyth needlessly exposed himself by stepping on a log to watch the attack and was shot and killed. Forsyth’s riflemen, still hidden and now enraged over the death of their commander, rose from their covered positions and fired a devastating volley. The British were surprised by the ambush and retreated in confusion, leaving seventeen dead on the field. Forsyth was the only American casualty. Even though Forsyth was killed, his feigned retreat and ambush succeeded at inflicting heavy casualties on the British force.
Battle of Bundy’s Lane
In the July 1814 Battle of Lundy’s Lane, American forces used deception at several critical points. When troops under Winfield Scott returned from attacks on British formations they were twice mistaken in the dark for a British unit and allowed to pass. In one incident, a British leader asked who was approaching by shouting “The 89th?” The Americans recognised the opportunity to pass unmolested and called back “The 89th!”
In another event, American Captain Ambrose Spencer saw a unit approaching in the dark. He rode up and called out “What regiment is that?” “The Royal Scots, Sir!” a Scottish officer replied. Spencer called out “Halt, Royal Scots!” and then rode off. Believing a superior officer had given them a command, the regiment stopped, then remained in place until a real British officer found them and gave them new orders.
In a third incident, British soldier Shadrach Byfield reported that an individual in a company of hidden Americans impersonated a British officer and told the British troops opposing them to form up and stand tall in preparation for inspection. The British troops believed a superior officer was addressing them and stood, enabling the Americans to fire a volley, after which they escaped retaliation by scattering in the dark.
Battle of Conjocta Creek
In August 1814, American Major Lodowick Morgan of the Regiment of Riflemen, who was based in Buffalo, New York, correctly deduced that the British were going to attack Buffalo from Canada by crossing the bridge at Conjocta Creek (also called Scajaquada). Morgan and 240 riflemen marched to the point where the road from Black Rock crossed the Conjocta. They sabotaged the bridge by pulling up a number of planks, then built breastworks at the south side. Afterwards, they continued on to Black Rock. Once at Black Rock, Morgan’s troops marched back the way they came while playing music and making as much noise as possible to gain the attention of the British and make them believe the Americans were headed to Buffalo.
Once out of sight, Morgan and his men marched secretly through the woods to occupy the breastworks they had constructed on the south bank of the creek. The unsuspecting British arrived at the bridge and discovered the sabotage. While they halted to consider their options, Morgan began the Battle of Conjocta Creek by blowing a whistle to signal his soldiers, who fired a devastating volley. The British sought cover on the north bank and fired back, but the American troops remained protected behind their breastworks. The British attempted an assault on the breastworks, which the Americans repulsed. The British then attempted a flanking manoeuvre, which the Americans also repulsed. Unable to proceed past the Conjocta, the British retreated back to Canada. The Americans lost two killed and eight wounded, while the British sustained twelve killed and twenty-one wounded.
American Civil War
In the American Civil War‘s Peninsula campaign, Union commander George B. McClellan was the victim of a deception executed by the forces under Confederate commander John B. Magruder during the 1862 Siege of Yorktown. Magruder, who had acted in and produced plays, used his knowledge of visual and audio effects to deceive McClellan into believing Magruder’s force was larger than it was. These included placing straw dummy crewmen alongside Quaker guns – logs painted black to resemble cannons – in his defensive works. Magruder interspersed his Quaker guns with the few real cannons he possessed, making his artillery seem more numerous than it was. In addition, he used shouted orders and bugle calls to march his relatively small force of about 10,000 in front of Union positions until they were out of sight, then had them loop around unseen and march through the same area again, making his troop strength seem greater than it was. Magruder’s elaborate charade convinced McClellan, who outnumbered Magruder by ten to one, that he faced a more formidable opponent than was actually the case, which caused him to delay attacking. McClellan’s delay allowed Confederate reinforcements to arrive, causing him to retreat back to Washington, D.C.
In early 1863, Union naval commander David Dixon Porter lost a new ironclad, USS Indianola after it ran aground on the Mississippi River near Vicksburg, Mississippi and was captured by Confederate forces. As the Confederates attempted to repair and refloat the damaged ship so they could use it against Porter’s fleet, Porter executed a deception to thwart their effort. His men constructed a giant dummy ironclad from barges, barrels, and other materials that were on hand. Made to resemble a new, real ironclad, USS Lafayette (1848), the dummy was painted black to give it a sinister appearance and flew the Jolly Roger pirate flag. Porter’s sailors floated the dummy, christened Black Terror, downstream at night, and it appeared impervious to Confederate shore battery fire. Exaggerated rumours about the seemingly indestructible super ship quickly spread to Vicksburg and reached salvage crews working on Indianola. In a panic, they halted their efforts, blew up Indianola, and abandoned the wreckage. When Black Terror ran aground and was inspected by Confederates, local newspapers roundly criticised military and naval commanders for being unable to tell the difference between a real warship and a fake.
Second Boer War
During the Second Boer War, British commander Robert Baden-Powell made extensive use of deception during his October 1899 to May 1900 defence of Mafeking. After he occupied the town with a force of 1,500, Baden-Powell faced 8,000 Boers who intended to begin a siege. As the Boers advanced, Baden-Powell wrote a letter to a friend in Transvaal whom he knew had died, which contained news of the imminent approach of more British troops. Baden-Powell intended for the letter to be intercepted and when it fell into Boer hands, they believed it was real. As a result, they diverted 1,200 troops to guard the approaches against Baden-Powell’s fictional reinforcements. Baden-Powell’s troops also set up fake defensive works at a distance from the town itself, including one marked as his command post, which further diverted Boer attention. In addition, he had local residents execute deceptive tactics, including carrying boxes of sand labelled “mines” in places where they could be observed. Word of these supposed mines reached the Boers, and when they soon afterwards observed supposed minefields appear around the edge of the town, they assumed the danger was real. These deceptive measures held off a Boer attack, which allowed Baden-Powell time to improve Mafeking’s defences. As a result of his effort, the British were able to hold out until reinforcements arrived and lifted the siege.
World War I
During World War I, deception shifted from the tactical level to the strategic as modernised warfare and advances in technology increased the size and complexity of battlefield organisations. Several methods of deception were used by the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (Anzac) during its withdrawal from Gallipoli in Turkey, which was completed on 20 December 1915. As early as mid-November, artillery and sniper activity went silent for periods of time, giving the impression that the Anzacs were preparing to remain in the defense with limited resupply of ammunition during the upcoming winter. To cover the removal of the last troops, “drip rifles” were prepared to fire about 20 minutes after they were set, with a water can leaking into a second can that was tied to a rifle trigger. When the second can was full, the weight caused the unmanned rifle to fire. The sporadic firing created by this ruse convinced the Turks that the Anzac troops were still manning their defences. In addition, Anzac troops used dummy artillery and mannequins to further enhance the impression that soldiers remained in their positions. As a result of these deceptive measures, both the main body of Anzac troops and the rear guard retreated unmolested. Given the failure of the Gallipoli effort from the Anzac perspective, the evacuation was considered the most successful part of the entire campaign.
In March 1917, leaders of the German Army on the Western Front decided to withdraw from their positions in France to the Hindenburg Line, a 90-mile long defensive position that ran from Arras to Laffaux. With Germany unable to conduct an offensive because of personnel losses earlier in the war, commanders intended for unrestricted submarine warfare and strategic bombing to weaken the British and French, giving the German army time to recuperate. In addition, the move to the Hindenburg Line supported the plan of commanders Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff to shift the German focus to Russia and the Eastern Front. The withdrawal to the new defensive line would shorten Germany’s front by 25 miles, enabling 13 divisions to be employed against the Russians.
Under the plan code named Operation Alberich, the Germans abandoned their old positions in a staged series that began in late February. The majority of their movement occurred between 16 and 21 March, and the full German withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line was completed on 05 April. The German withdrawal included numerous efforts to deceive the Allies, among them night movements and skeleton crews who remained behind to provide screening fire from machine guns, rifles, and mortars. The deception activities proved generally successful, and Germany completed its withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line largely unmolested.
In August 1918, the Allies intended to launch two offensives, one led by British Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, Commander-in-chief (C-in-C) of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), near Amiens, and the other by American General John J. Pershing, C-in-C of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF), near Saint-Mihiel. Prior to the Battle of Amiens, Haig’s subordinate, General Henry Rawlinson, commander of the British Fourth Army, employed several deceptive tactics, including periods of radio silence by units involved in the coming attack and false radio traffic from other parts of the British lines. In addition, Rawlinson delayed troop movement for as long as possible prior to the start of the attack to prevent German observers from obtaining data on his disposition of forces, and moved troops and materiel almost entirely at night. The British offensive was immediately successful because they had maintained the element of surprise. British troops and tanks advanced eight miles, captured 400 artillery pieces, and inflicted 27,000 casualties, including 12,000 prisoners.
In an effort to gain an advantage near Saint-Mihiel, US planners including Arthur L. Conger attempted to deceive the Germans into believing the American attack would come at Belfort, 180 miles to the south. False orders left where spies or informants could find them and staff officer reconnaissance activity created the appearance that the US intended to conduct operations in and around Belfort. Pershing gained surprise at Saint-Mihiel and his offensive was successful. In 1926, Conger discovered from a former German officer that while the Belfort Ruse had not been completely successful, it had aided Pershing. Concerned that an Allied attack in the Belfort area was at least a possibility, many German units that could have reinforced German lines in the Saint-Mihiel area delayed movement from their rear area positions near Saint-Mihiel until it was too late. As a result of the success of Pershing’s offensive, they did not have time to execute their withdrawal plans, and either abandoned their weapons and fled or were taken as prisoners.
At a war council held with senior commanders and the czar in April 1916, Russian General Aleksei Brusilov presented a plan to the Stavka (the Russian high command), proposing a massive offensive by his Southwestern Front against the Austro-Hungarian forces in Galicia. Brusilov’s plan aimed to take some of the pressure off French and British armies in France and the Italian Army along the Isonzo Front and if possible to knock Austria-Hungary out of the war. As the Austrian army was heavily engaged in Italy, the Russian army enjoyed a significant numerical advantage in the Galician sector.
Brusilov’s plan was approved, and he massed 40 infantry divisions and 15 cavalry divisions in preparation for the Brusilov Offensive. Deception efforts included false radio traffic, false orders sent by messengers who were intended be captured, and equipment displays including dummy artillery to mislead Austria-Hungary as to the location of his units. Beginning in June 1916, Brusilov’s surprise offensive caused Germany to halt its Western front attack on Verdun and transfer considerable forces to the Eastern front. It also severely reduced the fighting effectiveness of Austria-Hungary’s forces, effectively depriving Germany of its most important ally.
In October 1917, Edmund Allenby, commander of Britain’s Egyptian Expeditionary Force, planned to attack the Ottomans in southern Palestine. Rather than repeat previous frontal assaults at Gaza, which had been unsuccessful, he planned a flanking attack at Beersheba. As part of the larger deception effort to convince the Ottomans that Gaza was his objective, an officer under Allenby’s command executed a deceptive tactic now known as the Haversack Ruse. In this effort, usually attributed to Richard Meinertzhagen, the officer intentionally dropped a knapsack which contained false plans for an attack on Gaza, which the Ottomans recovered. As a result of the Haversack Ruse and other deceptive measures, the British surprised the Ottomans and achieved victory at the 31 October 1917 Battle of Beersheba.
Allenby again resorted to deception as he prepared to attack the Ottomans again at Tel Megiddo in September 1918. In preparation for the battle, British forces concealed the movement of three cavalry and several infantry divisions from the eastern end of the front line, the Jordan Valley, to the western end on the Mediterranean Sea. The single mounted division that remained in the east, reinforced with infantry, maintained the illusion that the Jordan Valley remained fully garrisoned. Deceptive measures included marching infantry into the valley during the day when they could be observed by the Ottomans, transporting them out by truck at night, then marching them back the next day. The tents of the departed units were left standing, and dummy horses, mules, and soldiers made from canvas and straw were displayed throughout the encampment. In addition, mules dragged branches up and down the valley to generate thick clouds of dust, giving the impression of more animals and men on hand than there actually were. Though the deceptions did not induce Otto Liman von Sanders, the commander of the Ottoman Army, to concentrate his forces on the eastern flank, as Allenby hoped, the Ottomans could not be certain of his intentions, so they could not mass their forces. With the Ottomans spread throughout their line, Allenby’s forces had a numerical advantage at the 19 to 25 September Battle of Megiddo (1918), and attained victory over the Ottomans.
Britain’s Royal Navy made extensive use of Q-ships to combat German submarines. Camouflaged to look like a civilian sailing vessel or decrepit tramp steamer, the Q-ships were decoys that carried concealed heavy guns. The function of the Q-ships was to appear to be an undefended target. If successful, German submarines would be lured to the surface to sink or destroy the ship by using deck guns, enabling the submarine to conserve its limited supply of torpedoes for use against warships. If a German U-boat surfaced, the Q-ship would immediately display the Royal Navy’s White Ensign flag in compliance with international law, then deploy its guns against the submarine. In 150 engagements, British Q-ships destroyed 14 U-boats and damaged 60. 27 of the 200 Q-ships the British employed were lost to German attacks.
World War II
Before Operation Barbarossa in June 1941, the German High Command explained away the creation of a massive force arrayed to invade the Soviet Union by informing Soviet leaders including Joseph Stalin that it was training in preparation for an invasion of the United Kingdom. The deception worked, and Stalin continued to ignore German preparations until after the invasion of the Soviet Union had actually commenced.
When the Allies on the Western Front planned the Normandy invasion for June 1944, the Soviet Union simultaneously planned for a major Eastern front offensive against German forces. Called Operation Bagration, this Soviet attack was designed to catch the Germans unprepared in Belorussia, at the centre of their lines. To gain and maintain the element of surprise for Bagration, the Soviets executed a successful deception effort. The overall intent was to make German commanders believe the Soviets would only defend in the centre of the front (Belorussia), while launching a major offensive to the south in Ukraine and Crimea and a feint to the north in Finland. Soviet military leaders successfully masked preparations for action in Belorussia and limited German reconnaissance in the centre of the front while drawing German attention to deceptive activities in the north and south. Germany was caught off-guard at the start of the Bagration offensive on 23 June, and the Soviets quickly pushed retreating German forces from the Soviet Union all the way to Poland.
From early 1941, Dudley Clarke commanded the ‘A’ Force, based in Cairo, Egypt, which developed much of the war’s Allied deception strategy. In an initial deception failure from which Clarke derived an important lesson he put to use in the future, the British intended to retake British Somaliland by an advance from Sudan into Eritrea. Operation Camilla was intended to deceive the Italians occupying British Somaliland into thinking the British intended to retake British Somaliland by an amphibious assault from Aden. Instead of moving their troops to meet the potential amphibious landing, or retreating to Italian-occupied Somalia, the Italians withdrew into Eritrea. As a result, they possessed greater strength at the British objective when the genuine British attack occurred. Clarke’s lesson was to focus deception not on what the enemy should think is happening but what the deception planner wants the enemy to do as a result.
Deception played an important part in the war in North Africa. In 1941, a British Army unit led by magician and illusionist Jasper Maskelyne prevented the destruction of Alexandria, Egypt by using lights to recreate the nighttime image of the city, while blacking out the actual city lights. Coupled with explosives that simulated German bombs landing on the city, Maskelyne’s illusion caused German planes to release their ordnance on the empty coastal site he had prepared rather than on the city.
Maskelyne was subsequently tasked with preventing the Germans from attacking the Suez Canal, a key asset in the Allied supply chain. He responded by creating a system of swirling searchlights which cast a spray of strobe light over more than 100 miles of the sky above Egypt. German pilots were unable to see the canal, and so were unable to destroy it.
As part of the deception surrounding Operation Crusader during the Siege of Tobruk, camouflage artist Steven Sykes built a dummy railhead near Misheifa in Egypt. The intent, which succeeded, was to divert German aerial attacks from the real railhead and deceive the Germans into believing that the British attack would not begin until the dummy was completed. Before the Second Battle of El Alamein, camouflage unit commander Geoffrey Barkas led Operation Sentinel and Operation Bertram, which used dummy equipment and other deceptive measures to deceive German commander Erwin Rommel about Allied strength and the timing and location of the Allied attack.
In Operation Sly Bob, Maskalyne’s unit attempted to create a dummy submarine that would draw the attention of German reconnaissance aircraft along the German and Italian Italy-to-Tripoli supply line, enabling British ships to gain the element of surprise when attacking Axis shipping. By using old railroad sleeper cars, a wooden frame, nailed and welded beams, and metal tubing, Maskalyne’s unit succeeded in creating a prototype that British ship commanders unaware of the deception plan nearly sank when they observed it near the Suez Canal. The difficulty in creating a viable dummy rendered the project impractical, and Sly Bob was abandoned before it was fully implemented.
Based on the experience with Sly Bob, the British attempted to portray an aging cruiser as a battleship that would pose a threat to German shipping. When the effort proved unsuccessful because the dummy equipment and fixtures added to the cruiser were unrealistic, Maskalyne’s team used the partially-dummied cruiser as “sucker bait”. With sucker bait, a magician uses an audience’s powers of observation against it by allowing members to falsely believe they see through a trick. By appearing to attempt to camouflage the cruiser-turned-dummy battleship, which Maskalyne christened HMS Houdin after magician Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin, but allowing German observers to see through the camouflage, Maskalyne’s team enabled the Germans to conclude on their own that the British were attempting to hide a battleship. Allowing the Germans to believe they had penetrated the camouflage and detected the battleship created in the minds of German military leadership the same risk to German shipping a real battleship would have posed.
Before the June 1944 D-Day invasion of Normandy, the Allies launched a deception codenamed Operation Bodyguard. As part of Bodyguard, the Operation Quicksilver deception portrayed First United States Army Group (FUSAG), a skeleton headquarters commanded by Omar Bradley, as an army group commanded by George Patton. In Operation Fortitude South, another component of Bodyguard, the Germans were persuaded that FUSAG would invade France at Pas-de-Calais in the fall of 1944. British and American troops used dummy equipment, false radio traffic and double agents (refer to Double-Cross System) to deceive German intelligence on the location and timing of the invasion. The Germans awaited the Calais landing for many weeks after the real landings in Normandy, leaving in place near Calais several divisions that could have helped delay or defeat the Normandy attack.] By the time the Germans realised the Normandy landings were the actual offensive, Allied units were so well established in Normandy that they could not be dislodged.
Japan continued diplomatic engagement with the US on several issues of concern throughout late November and into early December 1941 even though attacking ships had sailed from their base in the remote Kuril Islands. The surprise 7 December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbour took place several hours before Japan presented a formal declaration of hostilities and officially broke diplomatic ties. Japan also made extensive use of decoys and other deceptive displays throughout the war, which took on increased importance as the tide of the war went against it in 1944 and 1945.
Prior to the October 1944 Battle off Samar, the Japanese incorporated deception into their plan of attack by luring Admiral William Halsey Jr. into leading his powerful Third Fleet to chase a decoy fleet, a target so inviting Halsey took with him every ship he commanded.
With Halsey’s force out of the way, the Japanese intended to attack the Allied landings on Leyte. The US responded with their few remaining forces, the three escort carrier groups of the Seventh Fleet. Escort carriers and destroyer escorts had been built to protect slow convoys from submarine attack, and were later adapted to attack ground targets, but they had few torpedoes, as they normally relied on Halsey’s fleet to protect them from armoured warships. These ships, organized as Task Unit 77.4.3 (“Taffy 3”), and commanded by Rear Admiral Clifton Sprague, possessed neither the firepower nor the armour to oppose the 23 ships of the Japanese force, which included Yamato’s 18-inch guns, but took the initiative and attacked. In addition to ships firing on the Japanese from point-blank range, aircraft including FM-2 Wildcats, F6F Hellcats and TBM Avengers, strafed, bombed, torpedoed, rocketed, and depth-charged the Japanese force until they ran out of ammunition. They then resorted to deception, including numerous “dry runs” at the Japanese ships. Concerned that he faced a larger force than he actually did, Japanese commander Admiral Takeo Kurita decided to withdraw.
During the Battle of Iwo Jima in February and March 1945, Japanese deception included dummy tanks sculpted out of the island’s soft volcanic rock. At the Japanese-held airfield in Tianhe District, China, the Japanese painted on the ground the image of a B-29 Bomber that appeared to be on fire. Their intent was for the painted image to appear real to high-flying aircraft, which would lower their altitude to investigate, thus making them targets for Japanese anti-aircraft fire. In addition, the Japanese made extensive use of bamboo-framed dummy aircraft to project airpower and protect their remaining aircraft, straw dummy soldiers and wood weapons that made defensive works appear to be manned, and wood dummy tanks to make infantry soldiers appear to have more combat power than they actually possessed.
The Allies planned an invasion of Japan to take place after the end of fighting in Europe. This plan, codenamed Operation Downfall, had several components, including the Operation Olympic invasion of the southern Japanese island of Kyushu. The deception created to enable Olympic to succeed, Operation Pastel, would have included false attacks against Japanese held-ports in China, as well as Japanese positions on the island of Formosa. The end of the war following the US atomic bomb attacks on Japan ended the need for a ground invasion or a deception plan, so Pastel was never implemented.
As a liaison to the British Navy early in the war, actor and US Navy officer Douglas Fairbanks Jr. observed and participated in several raiding parties and diversions on the French coast. Upon returning to the United States, Fairbanks proposed to Ernest King, the Chief of Naval Operations the creation of a unit that would plan and execute diversionary and deception missions. King authorized Fairbanks to recruit 180 officers and 300 enlisted men for the program, which was named Beach Jumpers. There are several stories about how the unit was named; during an interview late in life, Fairbanks said British admiral Louis Mountbatten coined it with the intention of creating a designation that provided cover for the unit’s activities by being partly descriptive and partly in code.
On 16 March 1943 Beach Jumper Unit ONE (BJU-1) was commissioned with the mission “To assist and support the operating forces in the conduct of Tactical Cover and Deception in Naval Warfare.” Eleven BJUs deployed during the war, and were used in all theatres. The Beach Jumpers raided false landing zones and shore defences during amphibious attacks, sowing confusion with the enemy about actual landing sites and causing the enemy to defend in the wrong place. To carry out these deceptions, their boats were equipped with two .50 calibre machine guns, 10 window (chaff) rockets, smoke generators, and floating time-delay explosive packs. They were also outfitted with naval balloons and communications and psychological operations equipment, including recorders, speakers, generators, and radio jammers. The balloons included radar reflective strips that when towed would cause Beach Jumper units to appear to enemy radar operators as a larger force than they actually were.
Beach Jumper units created diversionary landings during several battles, including Operation Husky and Operation Dragoon. The Beach Jumpers were inactivated after World War II, but were reconstituted for service during the Korean War and Vietnam War. With the US military creating and fielding an Information Operations capability beginning in the early 1990s, the modern Beach Jumpers exist as part of US Naval Information Forces.
In the summer of 1950, the Korean People’s Army (KPA) of North Korea attacked South Korea. 140,000 South Korean and allied soldiers were nearly defeated. In August and September 1950, South Korea and its allies waged the Battle of Pusan Perimeter against the KPA and succeeded in establishing a defensive line that prevented the KPA from destroying them.
To enable the counterattack that started with an amphibious landing at Inchon (codenamed Operation Chromite), United Nations (UN) forces staged an elaborate deception that made it appear the landing would take place at Gunsan, 105 miles away from the actual landing site at Inchon and closer to the Pusan Perimeter. On 05 September, the US Air Force began attacks on roads and bridges to isolate Gunsan. This was followed by a naval bombardment, which was followed by heavy bombing of military installations in and near the town. These tactics were typical pre-invasion steps, and were intended to cause North Korea to believe Gunsan was the planned UN invasion site.
In addition to the aerial and naval bombardment, United States Marine Corps officers briefed their units on the supposed Gunsan landing within earshot of many Koreans, assuming that the information would make its way to KPA leaders through rumours or spies. On the night of 12–13 September, the British Royal Navy landed US Army special operations troops and Royal Marines commandos at Gunsan, making sure that enemy forces noticed their supposed reconnaissance of the area. UN forces also conducted rehearsals on the coast of South Korea at several sites with conditions were similar to Inchon. These drills enabled UN forces to perfect the timing and actions of the planned Inchon landing while simultaneously confusing the North Koreans as to the actual landing site.
On 15 September, UN forces under Douglas MacArthur surprised the KPA with the Inchon landing. In the ensuing Battle of Inchon, the UN ended a string of victories by North Korea. The KPA collapsed within a month, and 135,000 KPA troops were taken prisoner.
Cuban Missile Crisis
During the period leading up to the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, Cuba and the Soviet Union employed several deceptive measures to hide their activities. These included the codename for the plan to deploy missiles in Cuba; Anadyr, a Russian town, is associated with the sparsely-populated and inaccessible area of Northeastern Russia and did not suggest an operation in the Caribbean. Soviet soldiers constructed false superstructures to hide the defenses of the ships transporting missiles and launching equipment to Cuba, and placed agricultural equipment and other non-military machinery on deck where it could be seen. Upon arrival, the ships unloaded at eleven different Cuban ports to deceive American surveillance efforts. At the same time, Soviet and Cuban news media reported on the supposedly massive agricultural assistance the Soviets were providing Cuba, which provided a plausible explanation for the activity and equipment that could be observed. The Soviet deception proved highly effective and the missiles were discovered only after they were already operational.
Operation El Paso
As part of Operation El Paso, which took place from May to July 1966, the US 1st Infantry Division deliberately exposed information about a planned resupply and engineer equipment convoy from Minh Than north to An Lộc. Division planners anticipated the enemy response would be an ambush at one of a number of possible locations. As a result, the supposedly lightly armed convoy actually consisted of armoured cavalry and infantry. Additionally, 1st ID planners prepared for air assault operations at the most likely ambush sites. Events unfolded as the planners had foreseen, and the Viet Cong ambushed the convoy. The ambush sprang the 1st Infantry Division’s trap, and the subsequent Battle of Minh Thanh Road resulted in 50% of the Viet Cong regiment becoming casualties.
Both North Vietnam and the forces of South Vietnam and the United States made use of deception during the Vietnam War. In 1967’s Operation Bolo, a United States Air Force unit led by Robin Olds successfully countered the threat posed by Soviet MiG-21 fighter planes operating in North Vietnam.
During bombing missions, unescorted US Republic F-105 Thunderchief fighter-bombers would often be attacked by MiG-21s. Heavily laden with ordnance, the F-105s were no match for the faster MiGs. On occasions when the F-105s were escorted by F-4 Phantom II fighter planes, the MiGs would refuse to engage. In addition, the rules of engagement on the US side prevented attacking the MiGs when they were on the ground. This measure was intended to keep the Soviet Union from becoming further engaged in the conflict by preventing casualties to the Soviet mechanics and technical advisors who were assisting North Vietnam.
To counter the MiG threat, Olds’ 8th Fighter Wing prepared its F-4s to display the electronic and radar signatures of F-105s. To create this effect, the 8th Fighter Wing outfitted F-4s with QRC-160 jamming pods, a device used only by F-105s. When they flew the mission, Olds and his fellow pilots assumed the route, elevation, speed, and formation of an F-105 flight. They also staggered the takeoff and arrival times of the F-4s, enabling later-arriving F-4s to prevent the MiGs from landing.
The Bolo deception was executed successfully. The North Vietnamese believed they faced an F-105 flight and dispatched their MiGs. The later-arriving F4s prevented the MiGs from returning to their base. The 8th Fighter Wing destroyed seven MiGs in a matter of minutes, while Olds’ fighters sustained no losses. The destruction of half their MiGs and uncertainty about whether future flights observed on radar and electronic sensors were unescorted F-105s or F-4s pretending to be F-105s caused North Vietnam to ground its MiGs. The MiGs failed in their mission of preventing US Operation Rolling Thunder bombing runs over North Vietnam.
In 1967, the government and military of North Vietnam began planning for an offensive that would begin in early 1968. The intent within the war’s area of operations was to spark an uprising by the Viet Cong and others in South Vietnam who were sympathetic to the government in the north. In a wider sense, North Vietnam hoped the offensive would cause a withdrawal of US troops from South Vietnam by undermining US public confidence in the war.
North Vietnam implemented several deceptive measures to mask preparations for the offensive. In October, the North Vietnamese government announced that it would observe a seven-day holiday truce from 27 January to 03 February 1968, several days longer than previous Tet truces had lasted. The US and South Vietnam presumed that the coming offensive, of which they had received some intelligence, would take place before or after the truce. When the attacks had not commenced before the holiday, South Vietnamese and US leaders assumed it would come after the holiday. As a result, they allowed many soldiers to take holiday leave and relaxed the usual security measures.
As an additional deceptive measure, while intending to attack South Vietnam’s major cities and military installations, the North Vietnamese continued attacks along the border between the two countries during late 1967. These diversionary assaults served to draw US attention to the border and US forces away from the actual objectives – the heavily populated South Vietnamese coastal lowlands and cities.
When the offensive commenced, South Vietnam and the US were surprised by the coordinated attacks. However, the US and South Vietnam regrouped and over several days repulsed the North Vietnamese assaults. North Vietnam failed to attain the immediate objective of creating an uprising in South Vietnam. In the longer term, the offensive aided in swaying US public opinion against the war, which led to a decreased US presence in Vietnam and eventual withdrawal.
In 1969, France abruptly declared an arms embargo against countries in the Middle East, chiefly aimed at Israel, and cancelled a contract to build patrol boats for Israel’s navy. France also refused to release the last five boats built under the contract even though Israel had already paid for them. In response, the Israel Defence Forces mounted an elaborate scheme involving the purchase of the boats by a civilian company for non-military purposes. When they became concerned that the dummy transaction would be exposed, Israel decided to secretly take possession of the boats. The Israeli navy dispatched crews disguised as civilians, who gradually arrived at the French Atlantic seaport of Cherbourg. Once the crews assembled, they secretly sailed the five boats out of the harbour on the night of Christmas Eve 1969. Though they encountered a winter storm, the boats reached the Mediterranean Sea and safely completed the voyage to Israel. The plan to take possession of the boats, which the Israelis called “Operation Noa” but came to be known as the Cherbourg Project, was assisted by sympathetic Cherbourg shipyard and boat building company employees, but the French government was kept totally unaware until the boats had left port.
Yom Kippur War
In the period before the 1973 Yom Kippur War between Israel and the joint forces of Egypt and Syria, Egypt executed annual manoeuvres near the Sinai Peninsula, Tahrir 41, which conditioned Israel to Egyptian troop activity in the area. In addition, several months before the start of the war, Egypt created the false impression of an imminent attack, which caused Israel to announce an emergency military reserve call up. When the war started, Israel believed the initial Egyptian troop movements were another iteration of the exercises the Egyptians had previously undertaken. In addition, because an emergency call up was costly and disruptive, the Israeli government was reluctant to conduct another one until it was sure an attack was underway. As a result of the deception, Egypt had surprise on its side when it attacked.
Operation Entebbe Rescue Mission
After the hijacking of an Air France plane in late June 1976, the perpetrators had the aircraft diverted to Entebbe Airport in Uganda, where they threatened to kill all the Jewish and Israeli passengers if their demands were not met. The Israeli government pursued diplomatic efforts to free the hostages while the Israeli Defence Forces planned a rescue mission in secrecy. When the raid was launched, IDF commandos secretly landed at an old unused area of the airport, where they offloaded decoy vehicles resembling Ugandan president Idi Amin’s motorcade. By making themselves appear to be Amin and his security detail, the Israelis intended to gain the element of surprise on Ugandan guards at the terminal where the hostages were held. The ruse was only partly successful because Amin had recently changed limousines, and his new one was white, while the one the Israelis were using was black. The Ugandan guards realised the trick, which led to a gunfight that cost the Israeli commandos the element of surprise, but the raid ended with the successful rescue of the hostages.
The Falklands War took place between April and June 1982. During the period prior to the war, Argentina’s military leaders, who were subordinate to general and president Leopoldo Galtieri, used the December 1981 change of command ceremony for Argentina’s new chief of naval operations as cover to begin secretly planning for an invasion of the Falkland Islands. In April 1982, the forces of Argentina carried out the Invasion of South Georgia, an island possession of the United Kingdom. In mid-March, Argentina had used deception to successfully position an advance guard on South Georgia. An Argentinian company received a contract to dismantle a British whaling station for scrap. When the contractor’s ship arrived, it contained members of an Argentinian Navy special forces unit who were disguised as scientists.
When the British prepared to conduct a Falklands landing in response to Argentina’s invasion, Argentina anticipated an assault at Port Stanley, the capital and site of the largest airport on the islands. The British gained the element of surprise by launching a feint at Stanley while conducting their main assault at San Carlos, on the opposite side of East Falkland. The British then marched overland to Port Stanley, where they launched a land-based attack on the Argentine defences surrounding the city. The Argentinians were caught off-guard and were soon compelled to surrender.
Operation Just Cause
When the leader of Panama, Manuel Noriega realised he was under surveillance by the US military prior to the US invasion of Panama in December 1989, Noriega resorted to several deceptive measures to mask his movements and locations. These included look-alike doubles, decoy vehicles and aircraft, false convoys, frequent changes of clothes, recordings of his voice played at locations where he was not present, and frequent changes of his actual location.
On the US side, deception included troop movements in and around US bases in Panama made to look like routine training missions, a logistics build-up disguised as routine activity, and large-scale exercises in the United States that desensitised Panamanian leaders as to US capabilities and intent. While Noriega and his subordinates knew the United States had the capacity to act, they were misled by their perceptions of US activity and misreading of US intent into believing that the US would not attack. As a result, when the attack occurred, the US had the element of surprise, which helped it gain a quick victory.
Operation Desert Storm
During the period prior to the 1990–1991 Gulf War, Iraqi president Saddam Hussein positioned 100,000 troops near Iraq’s border with Kuwait. To mask his true intention of invading Kuwait, during the summer of 1990, Saddam told ambassadors to Iraq, the leaders of other countries, and members of the international news media that his troops were on a training mission or were near the border merely as a tactic to extract concessions from Kuwait during diplomatic negotiations. On 02 August, Iraq’s invasion commenced; the small Kuwaiti military was quickly overwhelmed, and Iraq occupied Kuwait.
After invading Kuwait, the creation of an anti-Iraq coalition and its movement of troops and materiel into Saudi Arabia caused Saddam to anticipate a Coalition ground assault from Saudi Arabia north into Kuwait and an amphibious landing on Kuwait’s Persian Gulf coast. Prior to the start of the Coalition offensive in February 1991, its ground forces successfully moved multiple divisions west to the largely undefended border between Saudi Arabia and Iraq. When the attack commenced, the Coalition conducted a feint directly into Kuwait while the main effort – the “Left Hook” enabled by concealing the move of units to the west – attacked into Iraq and cut off Iraqi forces in Kuwait. After advancing into Iraq, Coalition forces turned right and attacked Iraqi forces in Kuwait from the rear. Facing overwhelming Coalition combat power in Kuwait and unable to retreat to Iraq, the Iraqi military in Kuwait quickly surrendered.
During the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia as part of the 1998-1999 Kosovo War, the Serbian Army made extensive use of deception, which caused NATO forces to expend time, effort, and resources attacking false targets. According to post-war assessments, NATO often attacked crude decoy tanks, artillery, and wheeled vehicles made of easy to obtain material including sticks and plastic. Many of these decoys included easily produced heat sources, such as burning cans of oil, which deceived the thermal imaging systems of NATO aircraft. As a result, NATO believed it inflicted far more damage on the Serbian Army than it actually had, and Serbia gained a propaganda victory by showing how easily NATO had been deceived.
2006 Lebanon War
Prior to the 2006 Lebanon War, the Hezbollah terrorist group employed deceptive measures intended to degrade Israel’s military reputation both internationally and within Israel. Deceptive measures included the construction of false bunkers and command posts which Hezbollah allowed Israel to observe while the work was in progress, while simultaneously concealing the construction of actual facilities. When Israel attacked Hezbollah in southern Lebanon in July, the dummy sites were destroyed while the actual ones were left intact.
In 2014, Russia and Ukraine went to war after Russia contested control of Ukraine’s Crimea and Donbas. Russia employed disinformation and denial to facilitate its military activities, in addition to engaging in several deceptive activities. As an example, in August, Russian television news carried stories about a Russian truck convoy transporting water and baby food to Crimea. The international news media reported heavily on this convoy, presuming it was carrying Russian military supplies or materiel, and that they would be able to prove Russia was lying about the cargo. While attention was focused on this diversion, Russia’s military was moving soldiers, combat equipment, and vehicles into Donbas.
Sino-Indian Border Dispute
During the 2020-2021 China-India skirmishes, China employed military deception to gain an advantage. Intending to increase its troop presence in disputed areas of Ladakh, China’s military conducted training manoeuvres near the areas that were the source of tension with India. This activity conditioned India to the presence of Chinese troops in the vicinity. In addition, China began construction of a nearby airbase. In early May, China began marching troops into several of the contested locations. In mid-to-late May, the Chinese military diverted trucks from the airbase construction project and used them to rapidly transport soldiers into portions of the disputed territory. The rapid troop movements came without warning and took India by surprise. As a result, China gained numerical superiority in several of Ladakh’s contested areas.
In Popular Culture
Fictional examples of military deception include the 1966 Star Trek episode “The Corbomite Manoeuvre” (S01E10). When Enterprise is held by the tractor beam of an alien ship, its commander announces his intention to destroy Enterprise and its crew for the hostile act of trespassing into the alien’s territory. Captain James T. Kirk informs the alien commander, Balok, that Enterprise is on a peaceful mission and trespassed accidentally. Balok does not accept Kirk’s explanation, and still intends to destroy Enterprise. Kirk responds with a deceptive bluff, claiming that Enterprise is outfitted with a secret doomsday device made of “Corbomite”, the details of which are known only to the captain. Destruction of Enterprise will trigger the Corbomite device, resulting in destruction of both Enterprise and the alien ship. Balok uses a smaller ship to tow Enterprise to a remote area where it can be safely destroyed. Enterprise breaks free from the smaller ship’s tractor beam, but damages the smaller ship in the process. Kirk then leads a boarding party to render assistance to the aliens. Kirk’s party meets Balok, who is alone and says that he was testing Enterprise to discern whether Kirk’s claims of peaceful intentions were true. Satisfied by their willingness to render aid to a perceived enemy, Balok expresses a desire to learn more about humans and their culture.
A scene from the 2000 film The Patriot depicts Patriot militia leader Benjamin Martin employing deceptive decoys when negotiating for the release of several members of his command who have been taken prisoner. Martin offers to exchange eighteen British officers, whom he claims are held on a hillside near the British headquarters. The British commander, General Cornwallis views the hill with a spyglass, observes figures in British uniforms who appear to be prisoners, and agrees to the exchange. After Martin and his men leave, the officer dispatched by Cornwallis to recover the British prisoners discovers they are scarecrows in captured British uniforms.
In the 2003 film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Captain Jack Aubrey of HMS Surprise is pursued by the French privateer Acheron. When Acheron appears likely to catch Surprise, Aubrey orders construction of a raft with sails, which contains lanterns arranged in the same pattern as those visible on the stern of Surprise. After night falls, a member of Aubrey’s crew lights the raft’s lanterns while another crewman douses the lanterns on Surprise. After recovering the crewman from the raft, Aubrey has the raft cut loose. The darkened Surprise then escapes on a new course while Acheron pursues the decoy, which appears to be Surprise as it continues on Surprise’s original course.
In the 2018 video game We Happy Few, “Arthur’s Story” depicts an alternative version of World War II that includes the German military threatening the village of Wellington Wells with dummy tanks made of papier-mâché. The populace does not resist because it believes the threat is real.
Opinions vary among military strategists and authors as to the value of military deception. For example, the two books on warfare usually considered the most famous classics, Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and Clausewitz’s On War have diametrically opposed views. Sun Tzu emphasizes military deception and considers it the key to victory. Clausewitz argues that the fog of war prevents a commander from having a clear understanding of the operating environment, so creating some sort of false appearance, particularly on a large scale, is unlikely to be meaningful. Because of the cost and effort, Clausewitz argues that from a cost-benefit analysis, a large deception is an acceptable part of a course of action only under special circumstances.
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