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Tanks But No Tanks: The Dummy Weapons Of War
March 23, 2019 12:52 GMT
Once-secret photos reveal the extraordinary lengths armies will go to fool the enemy.
Military deception is probably as old as war itself, but the earliest photos of dummy weapons date from the 1861-65 American Civil War, when “Quaker guns” (pictured) were used by both sides. The “guns” were in fact logs, mounted to give distant, telescope-squinting generals a false impression of firepower.
A man pretends to fire a Quaker gun. The dummy weapons were sometimes used to buy a retreating army time as they hauled away their real cannons under cover of darkness. Quaker guns were named after a Christian sect devoted to nonviolence.
In World War I, the arrival of tanks on the battlefield was followed shortly afterward by crude wooden dummies like this German-made decoy, apparently attempting to replicate the chilling effect a tank would have on advancing troops.
But it was during World War II that fake weaponry became an art form that shaped history: On the dusty battlefields of Africa, British forces battling a shrewd German general used deception to win a decisive battle.
In the leadup to the second battle of El Alamein, British forces disguised tanks as trucks...
...and turned jeeps into phony tanks. This photo shows a dummy tank’s metal cage before it was fitted with wooden panels to complete the disguise.
A British tank dressed as a harmless lorry. In the autumn of 1942, British troops massed phony “tanks” at the south of their line and real, disguised fighting vehicles to the north.
When British Tommies pulled off their tanks’ disguises and charged into battle, the northern German forces were caught off-guard and Britain won its first major land battle against Nazi Germany.
A British soldier gives a two-fingered salute to captured German soldiers. Winston Churchill celebrated the victory in parliament, declaring, “By a marvelous system of camouflage, complete tactical surprise was achieved in the desert.”
Inspired by the British victory in Africa, the United States then founded its own secret “Ghost Army” made up almost exclusively of artists or art students whose job was front-line deception.
The 1,100-man unit was tasked with creating the “atmosphere” of large attacking forces to wrong-foot Nazi forces inside France. Their toolbox included inflatable tanks and aircraft...
...and even entire “landing barges” and ships that looked flimsy from up close...
...but were fairly convincing from the height of a reconnaissance plane.
The "Ghost Army" also deployed vehicle-mounted speakers (pictured) that blasted recordings of a large army on the move. According to Smithsonian, the "Ghost Army’s" deception saved thousands of lives as German defenses melted away in the face of apparently overwhelming Allied force.
This scene of fake Allied armor was created by running caterpillar vehicles over soft grass, then placing inflatable vehicles in the tracks. The activities of the "Ghost Army" remained secret until 1985.
But Americans also faced elaborate deception from Japanese forces in the battles of the Pacific.
Entire wickerwork fighter planes left behind by retreating Japanese were discovered on Okinawa in 1945.
A Japanese scarecrow wielding a bamboo weapon was discovered by U.S. forces.
This dummy tank was carved from volcanic stone on the island of Iwo Jima in 1945, as World War II drew to a close.
More recently, dummy weapons were used by Yugoslavia in 1999 to divert NATO missiles and by the militant group Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq. These Iraqi Christian soldiers discovered a wooden “jeep” during the battle for Mosul in 2016.
Today, private companies cater to the military market for dummy weapons, like this inflatable missile battery.
This dummy TOR missile system weighs around 100 kilograms and can be erected within 15 minutes. The decoy is produced by Czech company Inflatech, who now supply inflatable decoys to the U.S. military for both training and combat purposes.
This inflatable dummy of an American M1 Abrams tank is fitted with devices that mimic the radar and heat signature of a real battle tank. Inflatech CEO Vojtech Fresser explained to RFE/RL the economic logic behind much of the dummy weaponry like this: “If the enemy fires a $70,000 Javelin [antitank missile] at a $30,000 dummy tank, then we are the winners.”
Amos Chapple is a New Zealand photojournalist with a particular interest in the former U.S.S.R.
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