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Military deception

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Spectrum of deception types, including: disinformation, concealment, camouflage, and lies.
Spectrum of deception types, including: disinformation, concealment, camouflage, and lies.

Military deception (MILDEC) refers to attempts by a military unit to gain an advantage during warfare by misleading adversary decision makers into taking actions detrimental to the adversary.[1][2] This is usually achieved by creating or amplifying an artificial fog of war via psychological operations, information warfare, visual deception, or other methods.[3] As a form of disinformation, it overlaps with psychological warfare.[4] 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.[5]

Deception in warfare dates back to early history.[6] The Art of War, an ancient Chinese military treatise, emphasizes the importance of deception as a way for outnumbered forces to defeat larger adversaries.[7] Examples of deception in warfare can be found in Ancient Egypt,[8] Greece,[9] and Rome,[10] the Medieval Age,[11] the Renaissance,[12] and the European Colonial Era.[13] Deception was employed during World War I and came into even greater prominence during World War II.[14] In modern times, the militaries of several nations have evolved deception tactics, techniques and procedures into fully fledged doctrine.[15][16][17]


Dummy airbase and mock aircraft
Dummy airbase and mock aircraft

Military deception may take place at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels of warfare. The five basic tactics include:[18]

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.[18]
Example: On the night August 17 and 18, 1943, the British Air Force carried out Operation Hydra, the bombing of a rocket research center 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.[19] When the British executed Operation Hydra, the Germans believed eight Mosquitoes flying towards Berlin were the vanguard of yet another attack.[19] 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.[19]
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.[18] A feint will cause the enemy to concentrate resources at an incorrect time and location.[18] 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.[18]
Example: In May 1940, Nazi Germany's Army Group B attacked the Netherlands and Belgium.[20] At the same time, Army Group A invaded France by attacking through the Ardennes towards the city of Sedan.[20] Army Group B's attack was a feint intended to disguise Germany's main effort from British and French military leaders.[20]
A demonstration presents a show of force similar to a feint, but with the intent of avoiding actual force-on-force contact with the adversary.[18] 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.[18]
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.[21] Magruder reinforced McClellan's perception with numerous demonstrations, including parading his soldiers where they could be viewed by Union observers, moving them out of sight, and then parading them again within sight of McClellan's observers.[21] McClellan concluded that he was outnumbered and decided to retreat.[21]
The deliberate exposure to the enemy of false information that causes the enemy to reach an incorrect conclusion about friendly intentions and capabilities.[18] A ruse is a trick of warfare that relies on guile to contribute to a larger deception plan.[18]
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.[22] 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.[22]
The static portrayal of activity, troops, or equipment.[18] 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.[18]
Example: The Allied use use of "sunshields" in Operation Bertram[23] and inflatable decoys in Operation Bodyguard during World War II to deceive the enemy as to the size, location and objectives of Allied forces.[24]

These basic deception tactics are often used in combination with each other as part of a larger deception plan.[18]

Axioms and principles

The development of modern military deception doctrine has led to the codification of several rules and maxims.[25] In U.S. 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).[26]

Magruder's Principle: 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.[27] 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.[28]

Jones' Dilemma: 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.[25] 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.[25] 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.[29]

Avoid Windfalls: 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.[30] 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.[31] The deception target is then able to assemble details from multiple sources into a coherent, believable, but untrue story.[31] 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.[31] 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.[31] 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.[31] Belgian authorities discounted this true information as false because of the ease with which they obtained it.[31]

Planning process

The doctrine for planning deception has been codified over time.[32] In the U.S. military, this doctrine begins with understanding the deception target's cognitive process.[32] Expressed as "See-Think-Do", this understanding of the adversary considers what information has to be conveyed to the target through what medium in order for the target to develop the perception of the situation that will cause the enemy to take an action beneficial to the friendly side.[32] 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 in order 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?[32]

As an example, the intent for Operation Bodyguard was for Germany to allocate forces away from Normandy ("Do").[33] 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").[33] The information the Allies conveyed to the target to create the perception included the false radio traffic, dummy equipment displays, and command messages of the fictional First United States Army Group ("See").[33]


Ancient Egypt

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).[34] Unable to gain entry, they resorted to deception.[34] 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.[34] The people of Yapu accepted the gift and celebrated the end of the siege.[34] Once inside the city, the hidden soldiers emerged from the baskets, opened the city gates, and admitted the main Egyptian force.[34] The Egyptians then conquered the city.[34]

Ancient Greece

The Iliad and The Odyssey, epic poems composed between the 9th and 6th centuries BC, are credited to the Ancient Greek author Homer.[35] These poems contain details of the Trojan War, presumed by the Greeks to have been fought in approximately the 13th century BC.[35] The Odyssey provides the details of the Trojan Horse, a successfully executed deception.[35] After several years of stalemate, The Greek leader Odysseus devised a ruse.[35] 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.[35] The Greeks then pretended to depart the area around Troy, giving the impression that they had sailed for Greece.[35] Rather than risk offending Athena, the Trojans brought the horse into the city.[35] That night, Greek soldiers concealed inside the horse came out of their hiding place and opened the city gates.[35] The main force of Greek soldiers who had actually remained nearby then entered the city and killed the inhabitants.[35]

Ancient Macedon

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.[36] Alexander planned for battle against the forces of Porus, the king of the region of Pakistan and India that is now Punjab.[36] To confront Porus, Alexander needed to cross the Hydaspes River.[36] Porus used the terrain to his advantage and arranged his forces to prevent Alexander from crossing the river at the most likely fording point.[36] Leading up to the battle, Alexander scouted several alternative fords, but Porus moved each time to counter him.[36]

Alexander eventually located a suitable crossing point approximately 17 miles north of his base.[36] 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.[36] With Porus distracted, Alexander successfully led his detachment across the river, then marched south to engage in battle.[36] 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.[36] Having conquered Porus' kingdom, Alexander then allowed Porus to rule his former kingdom as one of Alexander's satraps.[36]

Ancient China

In 341 BC, troops under the general Sun Bin of the state of Qi faced battle with the forces of the state of Wei.[37] Knowing that Wei regarded the army of Qi as inferior and cowardly, Sun Bin decided to use Wei's perception to his advantage.[37] When Qi's forces invaded Wei, Sun Bin ordered them to light 100,000 camp fires.[37] On the second day, they lit 50,000.[37] On the third day, they lit 30,000.[37] Sun Bin's deception caused the Wei forces led by general Pang Juan to believe Qi faced mass desertions.[37] 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.[37] When Pang Juan's troops reached the gorge they observed that a sign had been posted.[37] Lighting a torch to see the message, The Wei commander read "Pang Juan dies beneath this tree".[37] The lighting of the torch was the signal for Qi to initiate the ambush.[37] Sun Bin's army quickly routed Pang Juan's and Pang Juan committed suicide.[37]

Another well-known deceptive measure from ancient China has come to be known as the Empty Fort Strategy.[38] 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.[38] This work, which contains tales of Chinese history from 169 to 280 AD, includes the story of general Zhuge Liang of Shu Han employing the Empty Fort Strategy.[38] 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.[38] 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.[38] 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.[38][39] Because Zhuga 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.[38] Zhuge Liang's deception saved the town and prevented the few soldiers he had with him from being massacred or taken prisoner.[38]

Ancient Carthage

During the Second Punic War, the Carthaginian general Hannibal employed deception during the Battle of Cannae in 216 BC.[40] 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.[40] To overcome the Roman advantage in numbers, Hannibal placed his less experienced and disciplined Gauls in the center of his formation, arranged to bulge out towards the Romans.[40] On either side of his line, Hannibal positioned his experienced and disciplined Libyan and Gaetuli infantry.[40] Hannibal intended for the Gauls to give way to the advancing Romans, with the center of his line bending but not breaking.[40] Seeing the Gauls appear to retreat, the Romans would advance into the bowl shape or sack created by the bending of Hannibal's line.[40] 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.[40] The battle unfolded as Hannibal had envisioned.[40] Only 10,000 Romans escaped, with the rest either killed or captured.[40] 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.[40]

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.[41] Vercingetorix kept the River Elave (now Allier) between Caesar's forces and his own.[41] His troops destroyed or removed the bridges and mirrored the movements of Caesar's troops, preventing Caesar from crossing the river.[41] 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.[41] The twenty cohorts continued to march along the river, and Vercingetorix's troops continued to mirror their movements.[41] 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.[41] Now on the same side of the river as Vercingetorix, Cesar was able to engage the Gallic tribes in battle as he intended.[41]

Mongol Empire

The Mongol Empire frequently used deception to aid its military success.[42] A favored tactic was to exaggerate the size of their army, which would cause their enemies to surrender or flee.[42] 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.[42] In 1258 Möngke Khan invaded Szechuan with 40,000 soldiers, and spread rumors of 100,000 in an effort to intimidate his enemy.[42]

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.[42] 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 site of the enemy, or mount dummies on their spare horses.[42] To make their forces appear smaller, the Mongols would ride in single file, minimizing dust and making the hoofprints of their horses more difficult to count.[42] Mongol armies also used the feigned retreat.[43] A typical tactic was to deploy the mangudai, a vanguard unit that would charge the enemy, break up its formation, and then retreat in an attempt to draw the enemy into a position more favorable to the Mongols.[43]

Middle Ages

Examples of deception occurred during the Crusades.[43] 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.[43] The letter was fake, but the knights believed it was genuine and capitulated.[43] At about the same time, the Tudors of Wales were seeking a revocation of the price that Henry Percy had placed on their heads.[43] After deciding to capture Percy's Conwy castle, one Tudor posed as a carpenter, gained access to the castle, and then admitted his compatriots.[43] The successful deception was in part responsible for the creation of the Tudor dynasty.[43]


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.[44] During the siege, a portion of the fortress' outer wall was destroyed after the earth beneath it was washed away in a violent storm.[44] To conceal the breach, the Conde de Tendilla, leader of the Spanish defenders, directed the erection of a cloth screen.[44] The screen deceived the Moors because it was painted to resemble stone, and no Moorish besiegers ventured close enough to spot the fakery.[44] The wall was repaired over the next several days, and the Moors did not learn of the gap in the Alhama's defenses.[44]

Henry VIII of England led troops on the European mainland during the War of the League of Cambrai.[45] On September 4, 1513, Henry's forces began to besiege the city of Tournai in what is now Belgium.[45] 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 defenses.[45] As a result of this deception, the city held out for several days longer than expected and obtained favorable terms when it surrendered.[46]

Colonial Africa

In 1659, the kingdom of Denmark–Norway constructed Fort Christiansborg near what is now Accra in Ghana.[47][48] 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.[47] In 1692, Nana Asamani, the king of the Akwamu people, planned to capture the fort from Denmark–Norway.[47] 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.[47]

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.[47][48] Lured by the prospect of large profits, the Danes bartered with the 80 Akwamu that Asamani had brought to the fort.[47] 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.[47] Caught by surprise, the Danes were quickly overpowered and ejected from Fort Christiansborg.[47] The Akwamu occupied the post for a year before Asamani agreed to sell it back to Denmark–Norway.[47][48] Asamani kept the keys as a trophy, and they are still in the possession of the Akwamu.[47]

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.[49] 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"[49][50] 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.[49] This demonstration gave the appearance of preparations for an upcoming attack.[49] Montcalm was deceived, and moved troops to guard against a British assault from that location.[49]

Wolfe's soldiers capitalized on the favorable balance of forces created by the deception.[49] First, they opened a road from the riverbank to the city heights.[49] Next, they deployed into battle formation on a farmer's field near the city walls.[49] Caught by surprise, Montcalm knew he would not be able to withstand a siege and had no choice but to fight.[49] In September 13, 1759's Battle of the Plains of Abraham, the French were decisively beaten.[49] The loss of Quebec led to defeat in the war and France was forced to cede Canada to the British.[49]

American Revolution

Siege of Boston

As head of the Continental Army, George Washington successfully used deception to equalize the odds in the fight against the larger, better-equipped, and better-trained British army and its mercenary allies.[51] During the Siege of Boston from April 1775 to March 1776, the newly-organized Continental Army suffered from numerous equipment and supply shortages.[51] 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.[51] 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.[51][52] The deception fooled British spies, and British commanders decided not to risk an attack during the siege.[51]

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.[53]

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.[54] Posing as a Loyalist butcher and weaver, Honeyman traded with British and Hessian troops and acquired useful intelligence.[54] 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.[54][55] Honeyman's deceptive information enabled Washington to gain the element of surprise, and his troops routed the stunned Hessians.[54]

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.[56] At the January 2, 1777 Battle of the Assunpink Creek, the Continental troops under Washington successfully repulsed three British attacks on their positions.[56] Darkness ended the British attacks and they planned to resume the following morning.[56] 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.[56] 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 January 3.[57]

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.[58] A second attempt, led by Benedict Arnold succeeded in part because of a successful effort to deceive the British besiegers.[58] Arnold dispatched a messenger, Hon Yost Schuyler to the British lines.[58] Schuyler was a Loyalist and regarded by the British army's Mohawk allies as a prophet because of his strange dress and conduct.[58] To ensure his good conduct, Arnold held Schuyler's brother as a hostage.[58] 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.[58] 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.[58] The Mohawk decided to leave, forcing British commander Barry St. Leger to order a retreat.[58] The end of the siege also ended British attempts to control the Mohawk Valley.[58]

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.[59] 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.[59] 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.[59]

Knowing the British regarded Patriot militia as inferior, Morgan used this perception to his advantage by arranging his troops in three lines.[59] The first was sharpshooters, who provided harassing fire and attempted to pick off British officers.[59] The sharpshooters would then fall back to the second line, which would consist of militiamen.[59] The militia would fire two volleys, then feign a rout and pretend to flee.[59] If the British believed they had caused a panic in the militiamen, they would charge forward.[59] But instead of catching up to the fleeing militia, they would run into the third line -- Continental Army soldiers commanded by John Eager Howard.[59] As a reserve, Morgan had a small Continental cavalry force commanded by William Washington.[59]

Morgan's deception proved decisive.[59] At the Battle of Cowpens on January 17, 1781, the British under Tarleton launched a frontal assault.[59] The militia feigned retreat, and Tarleton's troops charged forward.[59] As planned, they were met by Howard's troops, then surprised by Washington's cavalry charging into their flanks.[59] The British lost over 100 killed, over 200 wounded, and over 500 captured.[59] Morgan's command sustained only 12 killed and 60 wounded.[59]

French Revolutionary Wars

Napoleon Bonaparte made significant use of deception during his campaigns.[60] At the 1796 Battle of Lodi, he used deception to achieve a successful crossing of the River Po.[60] As a diversion, Napoleon mounted a token crossing attempt against a strong Austrian force under Johann Peter Beaulieu.[60] Meanwhile, the bulk of his force moved upriver and obtained an uncontested bridgehead at Piacenza.[60] 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 ("maneuvering behind").[60]

War of the First Coalition

During the War of the First Coalition, France attempted an invasion of Britain.[61] During the February 1797 Battle of Fishguard, Colonel William Tate an Irish-American commanding French and Irish troops, landed near Fishguard in Wales.[61] English and Welsh militia and civilians under the command of John Campbell, 1st Baron Cawdor hastily assembled to defend the town.[61] 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.[61] Instead of offering terms, Cawdor demanded unconditional surrender.[60][61] As Tate and his subordinates considered Cawdor's demands overnight, Cawdor backed up his bluff with several deceptive measures.[61] According to local lore, these included having women in Traditional Welsh costumes and Welsh hats line the cliffs near the French camp.[61] from a distance, the women appeared to be British soldiers in red coats and Shakos.[61] Convinced that he was outnumbered, Tate surrendered and his troops were taken prisoner.[61]

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.[62] In February 1804, a U.S. military detachment under the command of Stephen Decatur Jr., was assigned to retrieve the ship or destroy it in order to keep Tripoli from putting it into service.[62] The raiding party deceived the Tripolitan authorities by sailing into Tripoli harbor aboard USS Intrepid, a captured Tripolitan ketch which they disguised as a Maltese merchant ship.[62] The ship's Sicilian harbor 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.[62] Permission was granted and Decatur and his crew overwhelmed the small force guarding the Philadelphia, using only swords and pikes to avoid gunshots that would alert authorities on shore of their presence.[62] Unable to sail the Philadelphia away, Decatur and his crew burned it, then safely escaped.[62]

War of 1812

In a notable deception 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 American past U.S. observers to make it appear they were more numerous than they were.[63] Though he had superior troop strength, the U.S. commander, Brigadier General William Hull, believed he faced overwhelming numbers of British regular troops and hordes of uncontrollable Indians.[63] Fearing a massacre, Hull surrendered the town and attached fort.[63] Most of his militia were allowed to return home, while his regular army soldiers were held as prisoners of war.[63]

American Civil War

Peninsula campaign

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.[64] 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.[65] These included placing straw dummy crewmen alongside Quaker guns -- logs painted black to resemble cannons -- in his defensive works.[66] Magruder interspersed his Quaker guns with the few real cannons he possessed, making his artillery seem more numerous than it was.[67] 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.[68] 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.[69] McClellan's delay allowed Confederate reinforcements to arrive, causing him to retreat back to Washington, D.C.[69]

Vicksburg campaign

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.[70] 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.[70] His men constructed a giant dummy ironclad from barges, barrels, and other materials that were on hand.[70] 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.[70] Porter's sailors floated the dummy, christened Black Terror, downstream at night, and it appeared impervious to Confederate shore battery fire.[70] Exaggerated rumors about the seemingly indestructible super ship quickly spread to Vicksburg and reached salvage crews working on Indianola.[70] In a panic, they halted their efforts, blew up Indianola, and abandoned the wreckage.[70] When Black Terror ran aground and was inspected by Confederates, local newspapers roundly criticized military and naval commanders for being unable to tell the difference between a real warship and a fake.[70]

Second Boer War

Dummy Long Tom artillery position deployed during the Second Boer War
Dummy Long Tom artillery position deployed during the 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 defense of Mafeking.[71] After he occupied the town with a force of 1,500, Baden-Powell faced 8,000 Boers who intended to begin a siege.[71] 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.[71] Baden-Powell intended for the letter to be intercepted and when it fell into Boer hands, they believed it was real.[71] As a result they diverted 1,200 troops to guard the approaches against Baden-Powell's fictional reinforcements.[71] 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.[71] In addition, he had local residents execute deceptive tactics, including carrying boxes of sand labeled "mines" in places where they could be observed.[71] 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.[71] These deceptive measures held off a Boer attack, which allowed Baden-Powell time to improve Mafeking's defences.[71] As a result of his effort, the British were able to hold out until reinforcements arrived and lifted the siege.[71]

World War I

Gallipoli campaign

During World War I, deception shifted from the tactical level to the strategic as modernized warfare and advances in technology increased the size and complexity of battlefield organizations.[72] 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 December 20, 1915.[73] 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.[73] 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.[74] When the second can was full, the unmanned rifle would fire.[74] The sporadic firing created by this ruse convinced the Turks that the Anzac troops were still manning their defenses.[74] In addition, Anzac troops used dummy artillery and mannequins to further enhance the impression that troops remained in their positions.[74] As a result of these deceptive measures, both the main body of Anzac troops and the rear guards retreated unmolested.[74] Given the failure of the Gallipoli effort from the Anzac perspective, the evacuation was considered the most successful part of the entire campaign.[75]

Western front

World War I Australian troops carrying a dummy Mark IV tank that was intended to deceive German forces during the following day's assault on part of the Hindenburg Line (September 1918)
World War I Australian troops carrying a dummy Mark IV tank that was intended to deceive German forces during the following day's assault on part of the Hindenburg Line (September 1918)

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.[76] 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.[77] 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.[76] The withdrawal to the new defensive line would shorten Germany's front by 25 miles, enabling 13 divisions to be employed against the Russians.[76]

Under the plan code named Operation Alberich, the Germans abandoned their old positions in a staged series that began in late February.[76][77] The majority of their movement occurred between March 16th and 21st, and the full German withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line was completed on April 5.[76] 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.[76] The deception activities proved generally successful, and Germany completed its withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line largely unmolested.[76]

In August 1918, the Allies intended to launch two offensives, one led by British commander Douglas Haig near Amiens, and the other by American John J. Pershing near Saint-Mihiel.[78] Prior to the Battle of Amiens, Haig's subordinate 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.[79] 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.[79] The British offensive was immediately successful because they had maintained the element of surprise.[79] British troops and tanks advanced eight miles, captured 400 artillery pieces, and inflicted 27,000 casualties, including 12,000 prisoners.[79]

In an effort to gain an advantage near Saint-Mihiel, U.S. planners including Arthur L. Conger attempted to deceive the Germans into believing the American attack would come at Belfort, 180 miles to the south.[78] False orders left where spies or informants could find them and staff officer reconnaissance activity created the appearance that the U.S. intended to conduct operations in and around Belfort.[78] Pershing gained surprise at Saint-Mihiel and his offensive was successful.[78] In 1926, Conger discovered from a former German officer that while the Belfort Ruse had not been completely successful, it had aided Pershing.[78] 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.[78] 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.[78]

Eastern front

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.[80] 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.[80] As the Austrian army was heavily engaged in Italy, the Russian army enjoyed a significant numerical advantage in the Galician sector.[80]

Brusilov's plan was approved, and he massed 40 infantry divisions and 15 cavalry divisions in preparation for the Brusilov Offensive.[80] 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.[81][82] 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.[81] It also effectively knocked Austria-Hungary out of the war, depriving Germany of its most important ally.[81]


In October 1917, Edmund Allenby, commander of Britain's Egyptian Expeditionary Force, planned to attack the Ottomans in southern Palestine.[83] Rather than repeat previous frontal assaults at Gaza, which had been unsuccessful, he planned a flanking attack at Beersheba.[83] 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.[83] 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.[83] As a result of the Haversack Ruse and other deceptive measures, the British surprised the Ottomans and achieved victory at the October 31, 1917 Battle of Beersheba.[83]

Allenby again resorted to deception as he prepared to attack the Ottomans again at Tel Megiddo in September 1918.[84][85] 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.[84][85] The single mounted division that remained in the east, reinforced with infantry, maintained the illusion that Jordan Valley remained fully garrisoned.[84][85] 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.[84][85] 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.[84][85] 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.[85][86][87] 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 concentrate their forces.[84][85] 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.[84][85]

At sea

Britain's Royal Navy made extensive use of Q-ships to combat German submarines.[88] Camouflaged to look like a civilian sailing vessel or decrepit tramp steamer, the Q-ships were decoys that carried concealed heavy guns.[88] The function of the Q-ships was to appear to be an undefended target.[88] 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.[88] 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.[88] In 150 engagements, British Q-ships destroyed 14 U-boats and damaged 60.[88] 27 of the 200 Q-ships the British employed were lost to German attacks.[89]

World War II

Eastern Front

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.[90] The deception worked, and Stalin continued to ignore German preparations until after the invasion of the Soviet Union had actually commenced.[90]

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.[91] Called Operation Bagration, this Soviet attack was designed to catch the Germans unprepared in Belorussia, at the center of their lines.[91] To gain and maintain the element of surprise for Bagration, the Soviets executed a successful deception effort.[91] The overall intent was to make German commanders believe the Soviets would only defend in the center of the front (Belorussia), while launching a major offensive to the south in Ukraine and Crimea and a feint to the north in Finland.[91] Soviet military leaders successfully masked preparations for action in Belorussia and limited German reconnaissance in the center of the front while drawing German attention to deceptive activities in the north and south.[91] Germany was caught off-guard at the start of the Bagration offensive on June 23, and the Soviets quickly pushed retreating German forces from the Soviet Union all the way to Poland.[91]

Western Front


From early 1941, Dudley Clarke commanded the 'A' Force, based in Cairo, Egypt, which developed much of the war's Allied deception strategy.[92] 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.[92] 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.[92] Instead of moving their troops to meet the potential amphibious landing, the Italians withdrew into Eritrea.[92] As a result, they possessed greater strength at the British objective when the genuine British attack occurred.[92] 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.[92][93]

North Africa

Deception played an important part in the war in North Africa.[94] 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.[94] Coupled with explosives that simulated German bombs landing on the city, Maskelyne's illusion caused German planes to release their ordnance on the vacant desert site he had prepared rather than on the city.[94]

Maskelyne was subsequently tasked with preventing the Germans from attacking the Suez Canal, a key asset in the Allied supply chain.[94] Maskalyne 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.[94] German pilots were unable to see the canal, and so were unable to destroy it.[94]

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.[95] 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.[96] 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.[97]

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.[94][98] 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.[98] The difficulty in creating a viable dummy rendered the project impractical, and Sly Bob was abandoned before it was fully implemented.[98]

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.[94][98] 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".[99] 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.[99][a] 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.[99] 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.[99]


Before the June 1944 D-Day invasion of Normandy, the Allies launched a deception codenamed Operation Bodyguard.[100] 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.[100] 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.[100] British and American troops used dummy equipment, false radio traffic and double agents to deceive German intelligence on the location and timing of the invasion.[100] The Germans awaited the Calais landing for many weeks after the real landings in Normandy, leaving several divisions that could have helped delay or defeat the Normandy invasion near Calais.[100] By the time the Germans realized the Normandy landings were the actual offensive, Allied units were so well established in Normandy that they could not be dislodged.[100]

Pacific theater

Japan continued diplomatic engagement with the U.S. 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.[101] The surprise December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor took place several hours before Japan presented a formal declaration of hostilities and officially broke diplomatic ties.[101]

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.[102] 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.[102] 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.[102] Their intent was for the painted image to appear real to high-flying aircraft, which would lower their altitude in order to investigate, thus making them targets for Japanese anti-aircraft fire.[102] 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.[102]

The Allies planned an invasion of Japan to take place after the end of fighting in Europe.[103] This plan, codenamed Operation Downfall, had several components, including the Operation Olympic invasion of the southern Japanese island of Kyushu.[103] 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.[103] The end of the war following the U.S. atomic bomb attacks on Japan ended the need for a ground invasion or a deception plan, so Pastel was never implemented.[103]

Korean War

In the summer of 1950, the Korean People's Army (KPA) of North Korea attacked South Korea.[104] 140,000 South Korean and allied soldiers were nearly defeated.[104] 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.[104]

To enable the counterattack that started with an amphibious landing at Inchon (codenamed Operation Chromite), United Nations (U.N.) 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.[104] On September 5, the U.S. Air Force began attacks on roads and bridges to isolate Gunsan.[104] This was followed by a naval bombardment, which was followed by heavy bombing of military installations in and near the town.[104] These tactics were typical pre-invasion steps, and were intended to cause North Korea to believe Gunsan was the planned U.N. invasion site.[104]

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 rumors or spies.[104] On the night of 12-13 September, the British Royal Navy landed U.S. Army special operations troops and Royal Marines commandos at Gunsan, making sure that enemy forces noticed their supposed reconnaissance of the area.[104] U.N. forces also conducted rehearsals on the coast of South Korea at several sites with conditions were similar to Inchon.[104] These drills enabled U.N. forces to perfect the timing and actions of the planned Inchon landing while simultaneously confusing the North Koreans as to the actual landing site.[104]

On September 15, United Nations forces under Douglas MacArthur surprised the KPA with the Inchon landing.[104] In the ensuing Battle of Inchon, the U.N. ended a string of victories by North Korea. The KPA collapsed within a month, and 135,000 KPA troops were taken prisoner.[104]

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.[105][106] 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.[107][108] 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.[109] Upon arrival, the ships unloaded at eleven different Cuban ports to deceive American surveillance efforts.[110] 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.[111][112] The Soviet deception proved highly effective and the missiles were discovered only after they were already operational.[113]

Vietnam War

Operation Bolo

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.[114]

During bombing missions, unescorted U.S. Republic F-105 Thunderchief fighter-bombers would often be attacked by MiG-21s.[114] Heavily laden with ordnance, the F-105s were no match for the faster MiGs.[114] On occasions when the F-105s were escorted by F-4 Phantom II fighter planes, the MiGs would refuse to engage.[114] In addition, the rules of engagement on the U.S. side prevented attacking the MiGs when they were on the ground.[114] 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.[114]

To counter the MiG threat, Olds' 8th Fighter Wing prepared its F-4s to display the electronic and radar signatures of F-105s.[114] To create this effect, the 8th Fighter Wing outfitted F-4s with QRC-160 jamming pods, a device used only by F-105s.[114] When they flew the mission, Olds and his fellow pilots assumed the route, elevation, speed, and formation of an F-105 flight.[114] They also staggered the takeoff and arrival times of the F-4s so they could prevent the MiGs from landing once they were airborne.[114]

The Bolo deception was executed successfully.[114] The North Vietnamese believed they faced an F-105 flight and dispatched their MiGs.[114] The 8th Fighter Wing destroyed seven MiGs in a matter of minutes, while Olds' fighters sustained no losses.[114] 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.[114] The MiGs failed in their mission of preventing U.S. Operation Rolling Thunder bombing runs over North Vietnam.[114]

Tet Offensive

In 1967, the government and military of North Vietnam began planning for an offensive that would begin in early 1968.[115] 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.[115] In a wider sense, North Vietnam hoped the offensive would cause a withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Vietnam by undermining U.S. public confidence in the war.[115]

North Vietnam implemented several deceptive measures to mask preparations for the offensive.[115] In October, the North Vietnamese government announced that it would observe Hanoi a seven-day holiday truce from January 27 to February 3, 1968, several days longer than previous Tet truces had lasted.[115] The U.S. and South Vietnam presumed that the coming offensive, of which they had received some intelligence, would take place before or after the truce.[115] When the attacks had not commenced before the holiday, South Vietnamese and U.S. leaders assumed it would come after the holiday.[115] As a result, they allowed many soldiers to take holiday leave and relaxed the usual security measures.[115]

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.[115] These diversionary assaults served to draw U.S. attention to the border and draw U.S. forces away from the actual objectives -- the heavily populated South Vietnamese coastal lowlands and cities.[115]

When the offensive commenced, South Vietnam and the U.S. were surprised by the coordinated attacks.[115] Over several days, the U.S. and South Vietnam regrouped and repulsed the North Vietnamese assaults.[115] In the immediate aftermath, North Vietnam failed to attain the objective of creating an uprising in South Vietnam.[115] In the longer term, the offensive did aid in swaying U.S. public opinion against the war, which led to a decreased U.S. presence in Vietnam and eventual withdrawal.[115]

Cherbourg Project

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.[116] France also refused to release the last five boats built under the contract even though Israel had already paid for them.[116] In response, the Israel Defense Forces mounted an elaborate scheme involving the purchase of the boats by a civilian company for non-military purposes.[116] When they became concerned that the dummy transaction would be exposed, Israel decided to secretly take possession of the boats.[116] The Israeli navy dispatched crews disguised as civilians, who gradually arrived at the French Atlantic seaport of Cherbourg.[116] Once the crews assembled, they secretly sailed the five boats out of the harbor on the night of Christmas Eve 1969.[116] Though they encountered a winter storm, the boats reached the Mediterranean Sea and safely completed the voyage to Israel.[116] 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.[116]

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 maneuvers near the Sinai Peninsula, Tahrir 41, which conditioned Israel to Egyptian troop activity in the area.[117] 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.[117] When the war started, Israel believed the initial Egyptian troop movements were another iteration of the exercises the Egyptians had previously undertaken.[117] 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.[117] As a result of the deception, Egypt had surprise on its side when it attacked.[117]

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.[118] The Israeli government pursued diplomatic efforts to free the hostages while the Israeli Defense Forces planned a rescue mission in secrecy.[118] When the raid was launched, IDF commandos secretly landed at an old unused area of the airport, intending to drive in decoy vehicles resembling Ugandan president Idi Amin's motorcade to the location where the passengers were being held hostage.[118] 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.[118] 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.[118][119] The Ugandan guards realized 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.[118][119]

Falklands War

The Falklands War took place between April and June 1982.[120] 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.[120] In April 1982, the forces of Argentina carried out the Invasion of South Georgia, an island possession of the United Kingdom.[121] In mid-March, Argentina had used deception to successfully position an advance guard on South Georgia.[121] An Argentinian company received a contract to dismantle a British whaling station for scrap.[121] When the contractor's ship arrived, it contained members of an Argentinian Navy special forces unit who were disguised as scientists.[121]

When the British prepared to conduct a 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.[122] The British gained the element of surprise by launching a feint at Stanley while conducting its main assault at San Carlos, on the opposite side of East Falkland.[122] The British then marched overland to Port Stanley, where they launched a land-based attack on the Argentine defenses surrounding the city.[122] The Argentinians were caught off-guard and were soon compelled to surrender.[122]

Operation Just Cause

When the leader of Panama, Manuel Noriega realized he was being surveilled by the U.S. military prior to the United States invasion of Panama in December 1989, Noriega resorted to several deceptive measures to mask his movements and locations.[123] 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.[123]

On the U.S. side, deception included troop movements in and around U.S. bases in Panama made to look like routine training missions, a logistics buildup disguised as routine activity, and large-scale exercises in the United States that desensitized Panamanian leaders as to U.S. capabilities and intent.[124] While Noriega and his subordinates knew the United States had the capacity to act, they were misled by their perceptions of U.S. activity and misreading of U.S intent into believing that the U.S. would not attack.[124] As a result, when the attack occurred, the U.S. had the element of surprise, which helped it gain a quick victory.[124]

Operation Desert Storm

During the period prior to the 1990-1991 Gulf War, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein positioned 100,000 troops near Iraq's border with Kuwait.[125] 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.[125] On August 2, Iraq's invasion commenced; the small Kuwaiti military was quickly overwhelmed, and Iraq occupied Kuwait.[126]

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.[127] 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.[127] 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.[127] After advancing into Iraq, Coalition forces turned right and attacked Iraqi forces in Kuwait from the rear.[127] Facing overwhelming Coalition combat power in Kuwait and unable to retreat to Iraq, the Iraqi military in Kuwait quickly surrendered.[127]

In fiction

Fictional examples of military deception include the 1966 Star Trek episode "The Corbomite Maneuver".[128] 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.[128] Captain James T. Kirk informs the alien commander, Balok, that Enterprise is on a peaceful mission and trespassed accidentally.[128] Balok does not accept Kirk's explanation, and still intends to destroy Enterprise.[128] 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.[128] Destruction of Enterprise will trigger the Corbomite device, resulting in destruction of both Enterprise and the alien ship.[128] Balok replies that he was testing the Enterprise in order to discern whether Kirk's claims of peaceful intentions were true.[128] Satisfied that Kirk is honest, Balok expresses a desire to learn more about humans and their culture.[128]

A scene from the 2000 film The Patriot depicts a Patriot militia leader, Benjamin Martin, employing deceptive decoys when negotiating for the release of several members of his command who have been taken prisoner.[129] Martin offers to exchange eighteen British officers, whom he claims are held on a hillside near the British headquarters.[129] 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.[129] After Martin and his men leave, the officer dispatched by Cornwallis to recover the British prisoners discovers they are scarecrows in captured British uniforms.[129]

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.[130] 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.[130] After night falls, a member of Aubrey's crew lights the raft's lanterns while another crewman douses the lanterns on Surprise.[130] After recovering the crewman from the raft, Aubrey has the raft cut loose.[130] 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.[130]


Opinions vary among military strategists and authors as to the value of military deception.[131] 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.[131] Sun Tzu emphasizes military deception and considers it the key to victory.[b] Clausewitz argues that the fog of war prevents a commander from having a clear understanding of the operating environment,[132] so creating some sort of false appearance, particularly on a large scale, is unlikely to be meaningful.[133][134] 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.[133][134]

See also


  1. ^ A typical "sucker bait" trick is the disappearing rabbit. A magician makes a rabbit disappear from a box on table, then disassembles the box to prove the rabbit is not in it. A white tuft of fur is visible on the tabletop, and the magician ostentatiously attempts to conceal it, which further draws in the audience. When the magician folds up the table and no rabbit is visible, the audience realizes their belief they had seen how the trick was performed (a trick table) was also a trick.[99]
  2. ^ Such as in the chapter on Estimates, verse 17: "All warfare is based on deception".


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External links

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