Military deception

Military deception refers to attempts to mislead enemy forces during warfare. This is usually achieved by creating or amplifying an artificial fog of war via psychological operations, information warfare, visual deception and other methods. As a form of strategic use of information (disinformation), it overlaps with psychological warfare. To the degree that any enemy that falls for the deception will lose confidence when it is revealed, he may hesitate when confronted with the truth.

Deception in warfare dates back to early history. The Art of War, an ancient Chinese military treatise, puts great emphasis on the tactic. In modern times military deception has developed as a fully fledged doctrine. Misinformation and visual deception were employed during World War I and came into even greater prominence during World War II. In the buildup to the 1944 invasion of Normandy the Allies executed one of the largest deceptions in military history, Operation Bodyguard, helping them achieve full tactical surprise.


Broadly, military deception may take both strategic and tactical forms. Deception across a strategic battlefield was uncommon until the modern age (particularly in the world wars of the 20th century), but tactical deception (on individual battlefields) dates back to early history.[1] In a practical sense military deception employs visual misdirection, misinformation (for example, via double agents) and psychology to make the enemy believe something that is untrue. The use of military camouflage, especially on a large scale, is a form of deception.[2] The Russian loanword maskirovka (literally: masking) is used to describe the Soviet Union and Russia's military doctrine of surprise through deception, in which camouflage plays a significant role.[3][4][5]

There are numerous examples of deception activities employed throughout the history of warfare, such as:

Feigned retreat
Leading the enemy, through a false sense of security, into a pre-positioned ambush.[6]
Fictional units
Creating entirely fictional forces, fake units or exaggerating the size of an army.[7]
Smoke screen
A tactical deception involving smoke, fog, or other forms of concealment to hide battlefield movements or positions.[8]
Trojan horse
Gaining admittance to a fortified area under false pretences, to later admit a larger attacking force.
Strategic envelopment
A small force distracts the enemy while a much larger force moves to attack from the rear. A favoured tactic of Napoleon.[9]


Deception has been a part of warfare from the dawn of history. At first it fell to individual commanders to develop tactical deception on the battlefield. It was not until the modern era that deception was organised at a high strategic level, as part of entire campaigns or wars.[10]

Early examples of military deception exist in the ancient dynasties of Egypt and China; Sun Tzu's famous work The Art of War discusses many deceptive tactics. Hannibal, widely recognised as one of the finest military commanders in history, made extensive use of deception in his campaigns. The Ancient Greeks were noted for several forms of tactical deception. They certainly invented smoke screens during the Peloponnesian War and later stories refer to the famous Trojan horse which allowed them to defeat Troy.[1]

In his 52 BC conquest of Gaul, Julius Caesar successfully used tactical deception to achieve a crossing of the Allier river. His opponent, Vercingetorix, shadowed Caesar's force from the opposite bank, contesting any attempted crossing. Caesar camped overnight in a wood; when departing the following day he left a third of his force behind, splitting down the remainder to appear as his full strength. Once the coast was clear, the hidden forces rebuilt a smashed crossing and established a bridgehead. One volume of Roman aristocrat Frontinus's Stratagems, written in the first century AD, deals entirely with deception. Nevertheless, ancient Rome professed to generally despise the tactic.[1]

Opinion on military deception was divided following the fall of the Roman empire. The chivalrous countries in western Europe considered the tactic to be underhanded, whilst Eastern armies considered it a key skill: the Byzantine general Belisarius was particularly noted for using deception against overwhelming odds.[1] For example, during the Gothic War, Belisarius exaggerated his troop sizes first by advancing them in three directions, and then at night by having his troops light a long chain of campfires. As a result, the much larger army of Goths fled in panic on his approach.[11][12]

Middle Ages

The Normans embraced the concept of a feigned retreat (a favourite Byzantine tactic brought back by Norman mercenaries). William the Conqueror appears to have used this tactic successfully during the Battle of Hastings, but the actual events are disputed by scholars. Whatever the truth, the battle has at least been used as a famous example of the tactic.[1]

Mongol armies also used the feigned withdrawal; the mangudai were a suicide vanguard unit that would charge the enemy, break and then retreat to try and draw the enemy into more favourable ground. Mongol warlords also made use of disinformation tactics, spreading (or encouraging) rumours about the size and effectiveness of their forces. They even made use of visual deception; cavalry often kept numerous reserve horses, which were mounted with straw dummies. On the battlefield, the Mongols used many tactical deceptions, from lighting fires as a smokescreen to luring opponents into traps.[1]

Other examples of deception occurred during the Crusades. In 1271, Sultan Baybars successfully captured the formidable Krak des Chevaliers by handing the besieged knights a letter, supposedly from their commander, ordering them to surrender. It was, of course, faked, but the knights duly capitulated. At around the same time, in England, the Welsh Tudors were seeking a revocation of the price that Henry Percy had placed on their heads. They decided to capture Percy's Conwy castle; by posing as a carpenter, one of their small band was able to gain access to the castle, a variant on the Trojan horse tactic, and let in his compatriots.[1]

Despite such early examples, warfare in the Middle Ages was disorganised and lacked any formal tactics or strategy. Armies were, unlike the previous Roman legions, untrained and unprepared. Military strategy was similarly ad hoc, and deception strategies varied in effectiveness across the civilised world.[1]


The dawn of the Renaissance period led to a change; military scholars rejected medieval tactics, instead referring back to earlier Roman and Greek writers for their strategems.[13]

Niccolò Machiavelli was a prominent political thinker of this era and often supported and advised the usage of deceit, although most notably in the political sphere. In Discourses on Livy, a treatise on how to build republics, he says:

Although to use deception in any action is detestable, nevertheless in waging war it is praiseworthy and brings fame: he who conquers the enemy by deception is praised as much as he who conquers them by force.

Machiavelli, Discourses on Livy[14]

American Revolution

American revolutionary general, and later President, George Washington successfully used secrecy and deception to equalize the odds in his otherwise unequal battle against the larger, better-equipped and better-trained British regular army and its mercenary allies. Following the American defeat at the Battle of Long Island in late August 1776, Washington's forces retreated to positions on Brooklyn Heights, with a superior British force surrounding them on three sides and their backs to the East River. The British confidently expected that Washington would find his position untenable and would surrender, bringing the Revolution to a close. But Washington instead called for a flotilla of small boats to ferry his 9,000 troops across the river to the relative safety of Manhattan Island under the cover of darkness. Washington ordered his troops to withdraw, unit by unit, so that it did not appear that a general retreat was taking place. The wheels of the supply wagons and gun carriages were wrapped in rags to muffle their noise and troops ordered to remain silent so as not to alert the nearby British to any activity. Rear-guard units stayed behind to keep the campfires blazing through the night to fool British scouts into thinking the colonial army was still there, until they too were withdrawn. A morning fog helped Washington complete his retreat, with all 9,000 men ferried safely across the river. When the British advanced, they were surprised to find the American force completely gone.[15]

Prior to the Battle of Trenton later that same year, Washington had used a spy, John Honeyman to gain information about the positions of Britain's Hessian mercenaries in the vicinity of Trenton, New Jersey. Honeyman posed as a pro-British Tory. A butcher and a weaver, he traded with the local British and Hessian troops and not only acquired intelligence but also spread disinformation, convincing them that morale of Washington's Continental Army was low and that an end-of-year attack against their positions was unlikely.[16]

After Washington had successfully attacked the Hessians at Trenton, the British dispatched a large army under Gen. Charles Cornwallis to chase down Washington's smaller force and neutralize it. Washington again resorted to some of the same tactics he had successfully used months earlier in Brooklyn, spiriting the bulk of his troops out of harm's way with a nighttime retreat, muffling the wheels of the wagons and gun carriages to reduce their noise and leaving a rear guard to keep the campfires burning in order to fool his British pursuers. Washington was able to move his army into a position from which he was able to defeat the British at the Battle of Princeton in early 1777.[17]

Revolutionary wars

In the late 1700s the newly formed French First Republic clashed with many of the other European powers. Deception began to be used formally on the battlefield as well as in broader strategy.[9]

In 1797, during the battle of Fishguard, British commander John Campbell, 1st Baron Cawdor, bluffed French invaders into surrendering to his much smaller force. In response to a French request for terms of surrender, including safe passage home, Cawdor replied; "The Superiority of the Force under my command, which is hourly increasing, must prevent my treating upon any Terms short of your surrendering your whole Force Prisoners of War."[9] Cawdor's response was an outrageous bluff, but inexplicably the enemy commander (American William Tate) believed the British to be substantially reinforced, and surrendered.[9]

In a notable use of a similar strategem at the Siege of Detroit during the Anglo-American War of 1812, British Major General Isaac Brock and Native American chief Tecumseh used a variety of tricks, including letters which exaggerated the size of their own forces, and repeatedly marching the same body of natives past American observers to fool the American Brigadier General William Hull into thinking that he faced overwhelming numbers of British regular troops and hordes of uncontrollable Indians. Fearing a massacre by the Indians, the elderly Hull capitulated, surrendering the town and the attached fort and an army which outnumbered Brock's and Tecumseh's forces.

However, the master deceiver of this period was Napoleon Bonaparte, the French military commander and politician whose strategies influenced much of modern warfare. Napoleon made significant use of tactical deception during his campaigns and, later, of strategic deception. In 1796, at the Battle of Lodi, he successfully achieved a crossing of the River Po. In a reversal of Caesar's tactic centuries earlier, Napoleon mounted a token crossing attempt against a strong Austrian force under Johann Beaulieu. Meanwhile, the bulk of his force moved up river and obtained an uncontested bridgehead at Piacenzam before attacking their enemy's rear guard. He referred to this tactic as manoeuvre sur les derrières (strategic envelopment).[9]

First Barbary War

After the U.S. frigate USS Philadelphia ran aground off the North African port of Tripoli during the First Barbary War and was captured by the Tripolitan forces, an American military detachment under the command of naval Lieutenant Stephen Decatur, Jr. was assigned to either retrieve the ship or destroy it. The raiding party sailed into Tripoli harbor aboard the ketch USS Intrepid – itself a captured former Tripolitan war vessel – which was disguised to look like a Maltese merchant vessel, flying British colors. The pilot of the ship claimed to have lost its anchors in a storm and sought permission to tie up next to the captured Philadelphia. When the two ships had tied up, Decatur and his crew overwhelmed the small force guarding the vessel, using only swords and pikes, so as not to alert the Tripolitan authorities to their presence by firing any gunshots. Unable to be sailed away, the Philadelphia was destroyed by Decatur and his crew, who then safely escaped. Famed British admiral Lord Nelson later called Decatur's feat "the most bold and daring act of the age."[18]

American Civil War

Stonewall Jackson made good use of deception during the American Civil War. In 1862, following a series of harrying attacks along the Shenandoah valley, his army marched in secret to attack forces under George B. McClellan at Richmond, Virginia. Jackson spread rumours that he was heading in a different way and even sent engineers to survey the fictional route. His army was kept under strict orders not to talk about or even know where it really was or going.[19]

McClellan, often given high marks by military historians for his organizational abilities in building armies but poor marks for his lack of initiative in the field, was the victim of another ruse, by Confederate General John B. Magruder during the Siege of Yorktown in 1862. "Prince John" Magruder, who had acted in numerous amateur theatrical productions in his youth, put on a giant show for McClellan's benefit, noisily and ostentatiously marching his relatively small force of about 10,000 troops, a fraction of the size of McClellan's army, back and forth in front of Union advance positions while redeploying his artillery to fire barrages from various points. Magruder's elaborate charade helped convince the cautious McClellan that he faced an army considerably more formidable than it really was. McClellan delayed advancing his army, allowing time for Confederate reinforcements to be brought up.[20]

In early 1863, Union naval commander David Dixon Porter resorted to a strange hoax after one of his best ships, the new ironclad USS Indianola, had run aground on the Mississippi River near Vicksburg, Mississippi, and was captured by Confederate forces. As the latter were trying to repair the damaged Indianola and refloat her so that her powerful guns could be turned against Porter's remaining fleet, Porter ordered the construction of a giant dummy ironclad out of barges, barrels and other materials at hand. Fashioned to look like a real warship, even down to logs sticking out of the sides and painted to resemble cannons. The huge craft was painted black to give it a sinister appearance and flying the pirate Jolly Roger flag, was put on the water and floated downstream. It silently sailed in the night past Rebel shore batteries, impervious to their gunfire and not returning their fire at all. News and exaggerated rumours of the mysterious and seemingly indestructible super-ship quickly spread through Vicksburg and reached the Confederate salvage crews working on the Indianola; in a panic, they halted their salvage efforts, instead just blowing up the Indianola and abandoning the wreckage site, thus failing in their mission to salvage and reuse the ship. When the giant dummy ship finally ran aground and was captured and inspected by the Confederates, Southern newspapers got hold of the story and roundly criticized their military and naval authorities for having been unable to tell the difference between a real warship and a fake one.[21]

Second Boer War

Probably one of the best-known deceptions of the modern era was Robert Baden-Powell's defence of Mafeking during the Second Boer War. Baden-Powell had been dispatched to the North West province of South Africa shortly before the outbreak of war with orders to raise a small force and conduct a harrying war against the Boer flanks (to draw their forces away from key British positions on the coast).[22]

Baden-Powell realised his small force was not capable of offensive operations. So he bluffed entry to Mafeking by obtaining permission for an "armed guard in Mafeking to protect the stores". As authorities had not specified the size of the guard, Baden-Powell moved his whole force into the town, his first of many deceptions over the next year.[22]

The Boers sent 8,000 men to besiege Mafeking. Baden-Powell's force amounted to less than 1,500 men and officers; he realised that deceit would be key to holding the town. The scale and audacity of his subsequent deceptions made Baden-Powell a war hero in England.[22]

As the Boers advanced, Baden-Powell sent a letter to a friend inside Transvaal warning of the imminent approach of more British troops. He knew the friend was dead and hoped the letter would fall into Boer hands, which it did, and 1,200 troops sat uselessly watching the southern approaches for this fictional force. At Mafeking Baden-Powell set up fake forts at some distance from the town; one marked as his own headquarters soon drew enemy attention. These fortifications held up the Boers, allowing Baden-Powell to improve Mafeking's defences. He set locals to carrying boxes of "mines" around the town (in fact, they were full of sand), information which soon leaked back to the enemy. When "minefield" signs sprang up around the town a short while later the Boers took it for granted they were real.[22]

World War I

By the modern era, wars had become large and complex endeavors. Battlefields might contain troops under several different commanders, and tactical deceptions could have unexpected effects. Because of this, opportunities for an individual to undertake military deception declined. Throughout the First World War deception began to shift to the strategic planners higher up the chain of command, and during the Second World War deception planning departments sprung up in all of the major theaters.[10]


Deception carried out on part of the Hindenburg Line in September 1918.


Also in September 1918, before the Battle of Megiddo (1918) the Egyptian Expeditionary Force commanded by General E. Allenby masked the movement of three cavalry division from the eastern end of the front line to the western end on the Mediterranean Sea, where the successful infantry breakthrough was exploited by the mounted divisions. These divisions moved under cover of darkness to naturally camouflaged areas in olive and orange groves behind the front line. Meanwhile, the remaining mounted division, reinforced with infantry, maintained the illusion that the valley was fully garrisoned.[23][24]

They achieved this deception by building a bridge in the valley; infantry were repeatedly marched into the Jordan Valley during the day, driven out by motor lorry at night, and marched back in the next day. In the vacated regimental lines the tents were left standing, 142 fires were lit each night, and 15,000 dummy horses, made from canvas and stuffed with straw, wore real horse rugs and nose bags. Every day mules dragged branches up and down the valley (or the same horses were ridden back and forth all day, as if taking the animals to water) to generate thick clouds of dust.[24][25][26]

Further, Allenby's staff disseminated a mass of false information and clues, including a grand race meeting to be held on the day the battle began. And Fast's Hotel in Jerusalem was suddenly evacuated, sentry boxes placed at its entrances and rumours spread that it was to become Allenby's advanced headquarters in preparation for a renewal of the Transjordan campaign eastwards towards Amman and Es Salt.[27][28]

During the concentration of Allenby's force on the western end of the front line, German and Ottoman aircraft were unable to carry out reliable aerial reconnaissances as the British and Australian aircraft had almost complete dominance of the skies. Only four of their aircraft succeeded in crossing the lines during the period of concentration prior to Megiddo, as against over 100 during one week in June.[29][30]

Though these deceptions did not induce Liman von Sanders, commander of the Ottoman Army in Palestine, to concentrate his forces on the eastern flank, nor did he concentrate his forces on the western flank. Allenby was thereby able to concentrate a force, superior by five to one in infantry and even more in artillery, on the Mediterranean flank opposing the Ottoman XXII Corps, where the main attack was successfully made.[31][32]

At sea

Britain's Royal Navy made extensive use of Q-ships to combat German submarines. Looking like a civilian sailing vessel or a decrepit tramp steamer – but actually carrying concealed heavy guns – a Q-ship's function was to appear to be a helpless target, luring a submarine to the surface to try and sink the ship with the sub's deck gun and thus save its limited supply of expensive torpedoes for bigger targets. Once the U-boat had surfaced, the Q-ship would immediately run up the Royal Navy's White Ensign flag and would use its previously hidden on-board guns to sink the sub.[33]

World War II

The Soviet military doctrine of Russian military deception (also called maskirovka) was developed in the 1920s, and used by Zhukov in the 1939 Battles of Khalkhin Gol against Japan. For example, the Field Regulations of the Red Army (1929) stated that "Surprise has a stunning effect on the enemy. For this reason all troop operations must be accomplished with the greatest concealment and speed." Concealment was to be attained by confusing the enemy with movements, camouflage and use of terrain, speed, use of night and fog, and secrecy.[35]

Before Operation Barbarossa, the German High Command masked the creation of the massive force arrayed to invade the USSR and heightened their diplomatic efforts to convince Joseph Stalin that they were about to launch a major attack on Britain.

Maskirovka was put into practice on a large scale in the Battle of Kursk, especially on the Steppe Front commanded by Ivan Konev. The result was that the Germans attacked Russian forces four times stronger than they were expecting. The German general Friedrich von Mellenthin wrote "The horrible counter-attacks, in which huge masses of manpower and equipment took part, were an unpleasant surprise for us... The most clever camouflage of the Russians should be emphasized again. We did not .. detect even one minefield or anti-tank area until .. the first tank was blown up by a mine or the first Russian anti-tank guns opened fire".[34]

Amongst the Western Allies, several individuals pioneered deception at both the strategic and operational level. Dudley Clarke and his 'A' Force, based in Cairo, developed much of the Allied deception strategy from early 1941. Clarke learned an important lesson during the deception named Operation Camilla in Jan/Feb 1941.[36] The British intended to retake British Somaliland by an advance from Sudan into Eritrea and from there to British Somaliland from the north-west and west. Operation Camilla deceived the Italians into thinking that the British intended to retake British Somaliland from the north with an amphibious attack from Aden. However, instead of moving their troops to meet the potential amphibious landing, the Italians withdrew into Eritrea and were in greater strength when the genuine attack occurred. Clarke thus learned that the focus of military deception is not what you want the enemy to think but what you want him to do.[37] The London Controlling Section was formed in September 1941 in response to Clarke's success; after a slow start the department was taken over by John Bevan in 1942, who worked on successful strategies such as Operation Bodyguard.[38]

Deception played an important part in the war in North Africa. Steven Sykes built a dummy railhead to protect the real railhead at Misheifa for Operation Crusader.[39] Geoffrey Barkas led Operation Sentinel and Operation Bertram which succeeded in deceiving Rommel about allied strength and intentions before the decisive Second Battle of El Alamein.[40]

Before D-Day, Operation Quicksilver 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, the Germans were persuaded that FUSAG would invade France at the Pas-de-Calais. British and American troops used false signals and double agents to deceive German intelligence as to the location of the invasion. Dummy equipment played a negligible role as the Germans were unable to carry out aerial reconnaissance over England. The Germans awaited the Pas-de-Calais landing for many weeks after the real landings in Normandy, diverting several divisions from the battle for Normandy.

In the Pacific theater, Japan continued its diplomatic engagement with the United States through late November and into early December 1941, even while the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was being planned and after the attacking ships had actually sailed, in secret, from their base in the remote Kuril Islands in northern Japan, bound for their eventual destination several hundred miles northwest of Hawaii. The fleet proceeded in secrecy, clinging to the foggy latitudes of the northern Pacific Ocean and maintaining radio silence as it approached its target so as to avoid premature detection. The attack on Dec. 7, 1941 took place several hours before a formal declaration of hostilities by Japan against America had been delivered, leading the U.S. to charge that what had taken place was an illegal surprise attack. In recent years, Japanese researchers and historians have asserted that formal notice had not been given to the U.S. until the actual attack was already under way due to inefficiency and neglect on the part of Japan's embassy in Washington D.C. that led to delays in deciphering the war message and delivering it in a timely manner, rather than due to any deliberately planned deception.[41] Other documents, though, would seem to indicate that the delay in sending the message until after the attack had begun was in fact deliberate.[42]

The retaliatory Doolittle Raid on Tokyo and other Japanese cities in April 1942 by U.S. Army Air Forces B-25 bombers flying off of the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Hornet was conducted under similar conditions of top secrecy, resulting in a virtually complete element of surprise. The air crews were directed to not throw out empty fuel cans or other debris from their planes in flight, lest such a trail of debris lead potential Japanese pursuers back to the Hornet, and to make no markings on their maps for the same reason, lest those documents fall into enemy hands. When President Franklin D. Roosevelt was asked by reporters after the raid where the attacking planes had come from, he added to the mystery by playfully answering "Shangri-La" – the name of the fictional utopia high in the Himalayas made popular in the novel Lost Horizon.[43]

Vietnam War

Deception was used tactically and strategically by both sides. One of the most successful deceptions used by the American military in a tactical sense was the fake/false extraction ruse. After the American military had engaged NVA/Viet Cong forces, driving them out of the area, or had performed reconnaissance without encountering any enemy resistance, the American military would stage an evacuation of the area they had been operating in. The purpose of this fake extraction ruse by American troops was to trick the enemy into thinking the area had been abandoned entirely, in order to lead them into a false sense of security. The Americans would deliberately and noisily evacuate the area either by vehicle, by helicopter, or on foot, apparently withdrawing all of their forces. However, the Americans would leave behind a small yet well armed force of troops concealed in the area, intending to ambush any NVA or Vietcong that came back to the seemingly evacuated location. The American troops - either being Navy Seals, American LRRPs, or U.S. marines - would set up M18 Claymore mines and hidden firing positions, unbeknownst to the Vietcong and NVA forces. Under the impression that all of the American forces had left the area, the NVA/Viet Cong troops would return to the area, to either scavenge any material left behind by US forces or to secure the territory, at which point the American troops would initiate an ambush and kill large numbers of NVA or Vietcong guerillas, gaining the tactical initiative.

A good example of this American trick was at these bunkers twenty kilometers southwest of Da Nang, company D, 1/7 of the U.S. marines found an enemy platoon in bunkers. Under the protective umbrella of a well-coordinated artillery barrage, the U.S. marines with their M16 rifles and M60 machine guns overtook the position, and the NVA retreated and left sixteen of their dead comrades. Wise to the way of the enemy, the company commander left behind a squad-sized ambush in the area. The rest of the marines made a lot of noise loudly withdrawing. Soon after dusk the enemy returned to reoccupy the bunker complex. The squad leader of the small group sprang the ambush. Two claymore mines were detonated by the marines and erupted in sharp explosions, sending thousands of lethal steel ball bearings across the ambush site. The Marines then poured in heavy fire with their M16s and M60s. When it was over, fourteen more NVA soldiers had died. One more good example of this would be when American operative Thomas P. Dineen of E company, 50th infantry (LRP) of the 9th infantry division and five other American LRP rangers would insert into an area to ambush NVA or Vietcong. As an infantry battalion was sweeping the area, the six American LRP rangers would land on the ground by helicopter while seven other helicopter flew with them. The LZ was a large, open area of rice paddies surrounded by tree lines. When the helicopters landed, Thomas P. Dineen and his fellow LRP rangers mingled with the infantry battalion that was already on the ground and then disappear into the tree line before anyone else noticed. By the time the last birds lifted off, the American LRP rangers had their claymores set out and well camouflaged in the edge of the canal overlooking a trail that snaked from the woods to the LZ. After some time, twelve NVA and VC thinking that all the Americans had pulled out walked out into the kill zone when the team leader sprung the ambush by blowing the claymore mines. The American poured in m-16 rounds and hand grenades into the screaming mass of dying men. The twelve dead NVA/VC were so surprised by this deception that they had not been able to return a single shot of fire. The Americans gathered all the enemy weapons and searched for documents. They extracted for real by helicopter and made it back to base.

The communists were also practitioners of deception. One of their one most infamous tricks was the combination of the POMZ-2 mine with the F-1 grenade. The POMZ-2 mine was set with a trip wire. However, buried underneath the ground rigged next to the mine with the pin removed was the F-1 grenade. Even if the POMZ-2 mine was spotted and disabled. If disabled and pulled out of the ground, it would trigger the hidden booby trapped F-1 grenade that was buried and rigged next to the mine in the first place. It was reported that many American casualties were caused by this deception.

Cuban Missile Crisis

The months preceding the Cuban Missile Crisis involved a complex deception and denial campaign. The Soviet attempt to position nuclear weapons on the island nation of Cuba in Operation Anadyr in 1962 occurred under a shroud of great secrecy, both to deny the United States information on the deployment of these missiles to the island and to deceive the United States' political leadership, military, and intelligence services about Moscow's intentions in Cuba. The parameters of Anadyr demanded that both medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles be deployed to Cuba and operable before their existence was discovered by the United States, and the Soviet General Staff and Soviet Communist Party leaders turned to radical measures to achieve surprise in this manner.

Perhaps the most fundamental deception in Operation Anadyr was the deployment's codename itself, which is associated with the sparsely populated and somewhat inaccessible areas of the Russian north, certainly did not suggest an operation in the Caribbean. Only five senior officers on the general staff, moreover, were privy to the details of the deployment or its actual location during the planning. The plans that were made were even handwritten to deny knowledge of the operation to even a single secretary.[44][45]

Prior to the voyage to Cuba, troops awaiting the journey were restricted to barracks prior to departure and were denied contact with the outside world. Soviet soldiers constructed false superstructures with plywood to hide the ships' defenses and even on-deck field kitchens. Metal sheets were placed over missiles and missile launchers to prevent detection by infrared surveillance. Agricultural equipment and other non-military machinery was placed on deck to add to the subterfuge. Once underway, the Soviet troops were not allowed on deck, except at night and only in small groups. Instructions to the troops and ships' crews were carried by special couriers to deny Western intelligence services the opportunity to intercept electronic communications regarding the operation. The ships' captains received instructions which revealed their final destination only after they had put out to sea.[46]

Soviet denial and deception measures were equally rigid upon the ships' arrival in Cuba. The Soviet vessels unloaded at eleven different ports to complicate American surveillance. Military equipment was offloaded only under cover of darkness. The same applied to major troop movements, and all Soviet military positions were generally in sparsely populated areas of the island. The Soviet troops were even forbidden to wear their uniforms. Simultaneously, the Soviet media trumped the massive agricultural assistance that the Soviets ostensibly were providing to their Cuban comrades as a false explanation for the men and equipment.[47][48]

The Soviet denial and deception campaign in Operation Anadyr, which led to the Cuban Missile Crisis, proved highly effective, and the eventual discovery of the missile emplacements only occurred after they were operational. Thus, the operation was a success.

Yom Kippur War

In the 1973 Yom Kippur War between Israel and the joint forces of Egypt and Syria, Egypt used a deception to fool the Israelis about the timing of the attack. President Anwar Sadat created an annual maneuver well in advance, which tricked the Israelis to thinking that the moving forces were in fact part of this drill. The Egyptians also created the impression that they were going to attack several months before the war, making the Israelis announce an emergency draft. Since the draft was rather expensive, the Israeli government, including prime minister Golda Meir, was reluctant to repeat it when the real attack took place.

Operation Entebbe Rescue Mission

After an aircraft hijacking had occurred on board an Air France plane in late June 1976 and the hijackers had diverted it to Entebbe Airport in Uganda, threatening to kill all of the captive Jewish and Israeli passengers if their demands were not met, the Israeli Defense Forces planned a rescue mission. Israel kept pursuing diplomatic efforts to free the hostages while the raid was being planned in top secrecy, giving the outward appearance that it would not pursue military action. When the raid was launched, the advance party of IDF commandos invading the airport rode in a black Mercedes Benz automobile made up to look like Ugandan leader Idi Amin's personal limousine, followed by two Land Rover vehicles similar to those customarily used by Amin's entourage in order to confuse the guards at the airport perimeter, so as to buy the raiding party extra time. The ruse was only partly successful, as one of the guards realized it was a trick, precipitating a gunfight in which the element of total surprise was lost, although the overall raid still turned out successfully.[49]

Cherbourg Project

In 1969, France, heretofore Israel's main supplier of advanced weaponry, abruptly cancelled a contract to build patrol boats for Israel's navy, declaring an arms embargo and refusing to release the last five boats built under the contract, even though they had already been paid for. In response the IDF mounted an elaborate scheme involving, on paper, the legal purchase of the boats by a supposed civilian company for ostensibly non-military purposes. Secretly staffed by crews of Israeli navy officers and seamen disguised as civilians who gradually arrived at the French Atlantic seaport of Cherbourg, the five boats, without proper authorization, slipped out of the harbor on the night of Christmas Eve 1969, sailing into a winter storm. They made it through the storm, eventually reached the Mediterranean Sea and completed the more than 3,000-mile voyage to Israel safely. The ruse – which the Israelis called "Operation Noa" but which came to otherwise be known as the Cherbourg Project – was assisted by some sympathetic mid-level French shipyard and commercial officials, but the higher-ups in the government were kept totally in the dark about what was going on in the several months of preparations leading to the boats' secret departure.[50]


There are different opinions among military pundits as to the value of military deception. For example, the two books that are usually considered the most famous classics on warfare Sun Tzu's The Art of War and Clausewitz' On War seem to have diametrically opposed views on the matter. Sun Tzu greatly emphasizes military deception and considers it the key to victory.[nb 1] Clausewitz on the other hand argues that a commander has a foggy idea of what is going on anyway[51] and that creating some sort of false appearance, particularly on a large scale, is costly and can only be acceptable from a cost-benefit-analysis point of view under special circumstances.[52][53]

As a more modern example, British military writer John Keegan seems to come close to Clausewitz' opinion in this particular matter, despite normally being highly critical of Clausewitz. In his book Intelligence in War: Knowledge of the Enemy from Napoleon to Al-Qaeda he gives several historical examples of situations where one side held a great information advantage over its opponent and argues that in none of these cases was this decisive in and of itself for the outcome.

See also


  1. Such as in the chapter on estimates, verse 17: "All warfare is based on deception"


  1. Latimer (2001), pg. 6–14
  2. Newark, Tim (2007). Camouflage. London: Thames and Hudson. pp8, 17.
  3. Smith (1988)
  4. Glantz, 1989. Page 6 and throughout.
  5. Clark, Lloyd (2011). Kursk: the greatest battle, eastern front 1943. Headline. p. 278.
  6. Latimer (2001), pg. 10–11
  7. Howard (1995), pg. 31–35
  8. Latimer (2001), pg. 12
  9. Latimer (2001), pg. 20–26
  10. Handel (2000), pp. 215–216
  11. Liddell Hart, Strategy p. 59
  12. Hughes, Ian (Historian) (2009). Belisarius : the last Roman general. Yardley, Pa.: Westholme. ISBN 9781594160851. OCLC 294885267.
  13. Latimer (2001), pg. 14–20
  14. Handel (2000), p. 421
  15. "George Washington: Defeated at the Battle of Long Island". HistoryNet. 12 June 2006.
  16. Van Dyke, John (1873), "An Unwritten Account of a Spy of Washington", Our Home
  17. "The Battle of Princeton".
  18. Kennedy Hickman. "Commodore Stephen Decatur in the War of 1812". Education.
  19. Holt (2004), pg. 1
  20. ""Prince" John Magruder: Confederate Showman". Presidential History Blog. 13 August 2014.
  21. "Admiral Porter's Ironclad Hoax During the American Civil War – HistoryNet". HistoryNet. 12 June 2006.
  22. Latimer (2001), pg. 31–36
  23. Bruce 2002 p. 205
  24. Powles 1922 pp. 234–5
  25. Hamilton 1996 p. 135–6
  26. Mitchell 1978 pp. 160–1
  27. Paget pp. 255–7
  28. Woodward 2006 p. 192
  29. Powles 1922 p. 235
  30. Falls Vol. 2 Part II p.463
  31. LiddellHart 1972 p. 437
  32. Ericson (2007), pp.134–135
  33. "RN Q-ships".
  34. Glantz, 1989. Pages 153–155.
  35. Glantz, 1989. Page 6.
  36. "Operation Camilla". Codenames. Operations of World War 2. 2016. Retrieved 21 April 2017.
  37. Holt, Thaddeus (2008). The Deceivers. Folio Society. p. 18.
  38. Rankin (2008), pg. 298–302
  39. Stroud, 2012. Pages 123–133.
  40. Stroud, 2012. Pages 183–208.
  41. Kawabata, Tai (9 December 2014). "Historian seeks to clear embassy of Pearl Harbor 'sneak attack' infamy – The Japan Times". The Japan Times.
  42. "Pearl Harbor Truly a Sneak Attack, Papers Show". The New York Times. 9 December 1999.
  43. "He Flew From 'Shangri-La' to Bomb Tokyo".
  44. Hansen (2002), pg. 50.
  45. Gribkov and Smith (1994), pg. 24.
  46. Hansen (2002), pg. 52–53.
  47. Ibid.
  48. Gribkov and Smith (1994), pg. 38–40.
  49. "Remembering Entebbe, Larry Domnitch". Archived from the original on 23 March 2011.
  50. "The Boats of Cherbourg – Jewish Virtual Library".
  51. Bruce (2002), Ch. 6
  52. Erickson (2007), Ch. 10
  53. Liddell Hart (1972), Ch. 20


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