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.
©2008 Nicholas Rankin (P)2014 Audible Inc.
I am an avid eclectic reader.
Nicholas Rankin tells about Archibald Wavell, whose career began in the Boer War and ended with him a Field Marshall and Viceroy of India. Wavell wrote “The beginnings of any war by the British are always marked by improvidence, improvisation, and too often, alas, impossibilities being asked of the troops.” Improvisation defined British deception operations, camouflaging soldiers in the field, building entire fake armies and fake cities to fool airborne reconnaissance and bombers, counter sniping with dummy heads-all originated in the British amateur spirit and gift for discovering a way forward out of the strangest materials. The first half of the book is about World War One and the second half covers World War Two.
At the outbreak of World War I in 1914 Solomon J. Solomon a portrait painter became obsessed with camouflaging soldiers. With the help from members of the London theatrical and artistic worlds he started a British Army School of Camouflage in Hyde Park. Another painter marine artist Norman Wilkinson designed a better method to camouflage ships from submarine attacks. He used a vivid painting of the vessel that dazzled and gave the impression that the head is where the stern is.
Sefton Delmer in late 1930s produced a German language radio program to entertain and seed disinformation to demoralize Hitler’s troops. The program ran all during the war. The author also discusses the famous Operation Mincemeat. Rankin states that the British Military have always looked for ways to outsmart their enemies, by hiding the extent of and defensive weakness and obscuring the timing and direction of any offensives. The author states the British integrate deception into the highest level of strategic planning during the two world wars. Some escapades became famous: phony units with pretend tanks, a double of General Bernard Montgomery arriving in Gibraltar to discuss fake operations. I got a good laugh at one story Rankin tells about the Luftwaffe paying tribute to a dummy railhead in Egypt by dropping a wooden bomb on it.
Churchill loved cloak-dagger exploits and was fascinated by cryptography, and military wizardry. Churchill promoted unorthodox figures who excelled in the crucial field of camouflage, propaganda, secret intelligence and Special Forces operation. Rank quotes one of Churchill’s famous declarations that he lived up to that “in wartime the truth should be protected by a bodyguard of lies.”
The book is a page turner and lots of fun; it covers many exciting and interesting illustration of British deception. If you are interested in either WWI or WWII or just in military history this is a must book for you. It is fairly long at about 22 hours. Napoleon Ryan does a great job narrating the book.
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