Strange Harvest
Architecture / Design / Art
StrangeHarvest is written and collated by Sam Jacob.

Military Deceptions

As promised, some pictures from a great book called 'Masquerade, The Amazing Camouflage Deceptions of World War II' by Seymour Reit.

Here, an stylistically accurate addition to the boudary wall of the Houses of Parliament disguses a machine gun emplacement.




A US army HQ disguised as a rubbish pile.

Along side these great photos (and many more) is the story of Basil Spences role in Hitler's downfall.

The Quicksilver plan was developed as the planning of D-Day took place and was intended to 'conceal the real date of the invention, to indicate a false invasion area, and finally to convince the enemy (after the blow fell) that another and greater attack would come elsewhere.

The Dover 'pipeline', part of this intricate hoax, was designed by one of England's leading architects, Professor Basil Spence, whose sketches and blueprints were followed by the set builders of Shepperton.

Spence's counterfeit docks proved to be good box office. German planes came over periodically to photograph them, but fighter patrols and antiaircraft kept the intruders at altitudes of thirty thousand feet, and at that height it was virtually impossible for enemy cameras to pick up any remaining flaws. On German prints, the Docks looked authentic. Now and then, Nazi long range artillery on Cape Gris-Nez would even lob a few inaccurate shells at the terminus - and whenever these landed the camouflage crews would create suitable 'fire damage' using sodium flares and mobile smoke generators'

[Of course, after the war, Spence was involved in many reconstruction projects. Coventry Cathedral explicitly combines the bombed-out ruins of the old cathedral with the new post-war building]

The book is full of stories such as this - grand Q-from-James-Bond type schemes and devices. What's amazing is the scale: whole towns disguised, canals made invisible, lakes turning instantly into fields, phantom armies, trick train tracks and so on. As though the landscape itself turns into a shifting hallucination.

The sophistication of these tactics was borne out of desperation. They also shame our current response to international terrorism where concrete blocks have been roughly manoeuvred into seemingly temporary positions around important locations.

On this point, Mark Field MP is quoted in Hansard remarking upon the security measures in place around the American Embassy in London:

"Following the 9/11 bombings in New York, the US Government understandably increased security at American embassies throughout the world. In November of that year--more than five years ago, following the invasion of Afghanistan--roads east and west of the square were closed to traffic by cement bollards. To paraphrase one of my constituents, chicken wire was erected, which made visitors and everyone living in the area feel that they had stumbled upon some low-grade prison or military camp."

As seen in the photos above, the measures described in Masquerade hide military presence amongst nature or historical sites or everyday human life. Today's War on Terror measures ramp up the sensation of barricading. Maybe it is a way of visually manifesting the fear of attack amongst everyday urbanism - propaganda of fear.

Posted by anothersam at November 10, 2007 4:09 PM.


Dan Hill said:

Great stuff. See also dazzle ships, from an earlier war. And now see incursions like the APEC fence here in Sydney, which has a vague sensibility of portability and transience about it - although only if it does move on! But very much about making something military/security obvious and visible, as opposed to the art of hiding. That US army HQ as rubbish tip is amazing - almost like the James Wines 'BEST Indeterminate facade' in Houston.

Alex said:

And see the works of magician Jasper Maskelyne, who hid the Suez Canal with "a revolving cone of mirrors that created a wheel of spinning light nine miles wide".

And, hi Dan!

kingkong said:

Bill Blass the fashion designer:

In 1942 Blass enlisted in the army. He was assigned to the 603rd Camouflage Battalion with a group of writers, artists, sound engineers, theater technicians, and other creative professionals. Their mission was to fool the German Army into believing the Allies were positioned in fake locations. They did this by using recordings, dummy tanks, and other false materials. The US Camouflage Battalion proved to be more successful than the European Camouflage Battalion.

Rusty said:

Not sure if the book mentions this or not, but during the war, in Seattle, WA the Boeing Company built an entire village on the plant's building roof that the B-17 bombers were being built in, using burlap and chicken wire.

kmoser said:

Many WWII inflatable decoys were made by the Patten Company:

Rupe said:

Also recommended on a related topic - a cool book called "Secret Soldiers". There are probably 2 or 3 films that could be made out of the stories in this compendium:

Brilliant book!

Lauren said:

My grandfather was based at Shipmate - Eisenhower's camp in Britain. There was a nearby lake that they filled in to decrease the likelyhood of the location to Axis forces.

Kamic said:

Amazing, just think of the stuff we would have now...

wiggles said:

err...these decoys protect against air surveillance. How would inflatable trucks help prevent a terrorist attack which a largely against civilian target by individuals on foot?

Zatoichi said:

Claims of Jasper Maskelyne to have done wartime magic tricks have been very thoroughly debunked by magician and military historian Richard Stokes. See

Clutch said:

Awesome. pure genius.

Steve said:

A quick point on the barriers that have popped up in the course of the war on terror:
The camouflage techniques outlined above were all about deception. You either wanted to create the illusion of strength where there is none, or make your real strength disappear. These are largely strategic techniques; they apply to large targets. To relate this to the war of terror, you could use these techniques to hide things of interest from the terrorists. However, there's a lot of things that you can't just hide or create duplicates of. For instance, trying to make the Golden Gate bridge disappear isn't going to work. Instead, you need something on the "tactical" level that will act as a deterrent. To do that, big fences, barbed wire, or guard posts fit the bill. In order for those to be truly effective, the need to be visible.

Frank said:

"A US army HQ disguised as a rubbish pile"

I love this one!

Can you imagine a general or even a colonel going into this pile of rubbish?

j said:

"A US army HQ disguised as a rubbish pile"

Doesn't sound like a disguise at all!

kader said:

The music conveys a sense of urgency to watch and that I believe is a strong point. But the quick change from scenes is a bit difficult to follow. A audible comment during the presentation about what is going to take place would be helpful. The quality of the production overall is very good and the ending does look very much like a movie.

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