A Genius for Deception: How Cunning Helped the British Win Two World Wars

A Genius for Deception: How Cunning Helped the British Win Two World Wars

Nicholas Rankin

Language: English

Pages: 480

ISBN: 0199769176

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

In February 1942, intelligence officer Victor Jones erected 150 tents behind British lines in North Africa. "Hiding tanks in Bedouin tents was an old British trick," writes Nicholas Rankin. German general Erwin Rommel not only knew of the ploy, but had copied it himself. Jones knew that Rommel knew. In fact, he counted on it--for these tents were empty. With the deception that he was carrying out a deception, Jones made a weak point look like a trap.

In A Genius for Deception, Nicholas Rankin offers a lively and comprehensive history of how Britain bluffed, tricked, and spied its way to victory in two world wars. As Rankin shows, a coherent program of strategic deception emerged in World War I, resting on the pillars of camouflage, propaganda, secret intelligence, and special forces. All forms of deception found an avid sponsor in Winston Churchill, who carried his enthusiasm for deceiving the enemy into World War II. Rankin vividly recounts such little-known episodes as the invention of camouflage by two French artist-soldiers, the creation of dummy airfields for the Germans to bomb during the Blitz, and the fabrication of an army that would supposedly invade Greece. Strategic deception would be key to a number of WWII battles, culminating in the massive misdirection that proved critical to the success of the D-Day invasion in 1944.

Deeply researched and written with an eye for telling detail, A Genius for Deception shows how the British used craft and cunning to help win the most devastating wars in human history.












‘atmosphere’ in matching your surroundings: ‘A fool tries to look different: a clever man looks the same and is different.’ In Buchan’s second Richard Hannay adventure novel, Greenmantle, Hannay pretends to be an anti-British, pro-German Boer called Cornelius Brand in order to travel deep into the Kaiser’s Germany. This exploit is modelled on the true story of John Buchan’s friend and fellow Scot, Edmund Ironside, the future Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS). As a young officer in 1903,

by Ross of London that they brought out with them (always preferring a spyglass to the binoculars that became so popular with officers on both sides in WW1). With a telescope they could read a cap badge or cockade at 140 yards or even identify a shoulder flash seen upside down through the enemy’s own trench-top periscope. Years of crawling through heather, gauging wind, observing tiny movements, and counting the points on distant stags, paid off. ‘The Lovats never let one down,’ wrote Hesketh

prototypes of some 3,000 dummy papiermâché heads. The portable observation post was another speciality (armoured or unarmoured): a cowl of chicken wire covered in plaster of Paris with a slot of fine copper-wire mesh to see through, all of which could be camouflaged to fit any parapet. At Amiens they also made 12,000 cut-out dummy ‘Chinese attack’ figures that could be snapped upright by electrically exploded detonators to look and sound like British troops advancing and to divert attention away from

US Secretary of State and then on to President Woodrow Wilson, who exclaimed ‘Good Lord!’ several times as he read it on 27 February. When published all over the front pages of the US press on 1 March 1917, ‘the Zimmermann Note’ caused a ruckus. Senator Stone of Mississippi and other isolationists suspected a trick by devious Brits trying to hornswoggle the USA into the war. The press magnate William Randolph Hearst (on whom Orson Welles based Citizen Kane) instructed his newspaper editors to

provisional organisation, a ‘mushroom ministry’ always in danger of being wolfed by bigger, historic centres of government power. ‘The only real war was in Whitehall,’ wrote the novelist Arnold Bennett, then employed in 144 lying for lloyd george propaganda work. ‘The war in Flanders and France was merely a game, a sort of bloody football.’ Charles Masterman continued to run the Production section from Wellington House, which was responsible for books and pamphlets, as well as photographs and

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