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10 Military Deceptions

Updated on March 13, 2021

Deception in Warfare

Definition of Deception: The manipulation of information and perceptions to induce a target to take or not take an action that would be favorable to the deceiver.

"Deception in warfare is probably as old as conflict itself" Caddell (2004)

There are three traditionally recognized types of deception for military purposes.

1-Strategic Deception- this is a deceptive act designed to disguise or misconstrue information on basic objectives, one's intentions, strategies, one's numbers (personnel and equipment) and one's own capabilities.

2-Operational Deception on the other hand is used to confuse an enemy on specific actions you are preparing to undertake, an example of this is Operation Quicksilver which was a deception used during WWII to deceive and confuse the Germans prior to the landings in Normandy. (Operation Quicksilver will be discussed further in this article)

3-Tactical Deceptions are deceptions used by a military force or operatives to mislead the enemy with whom you are already actively engaged in conflict.

"Categorization of deception into these three levels is not based on the type of deception being used, but rather on what the objective of the deception is." Caddell (2004)

Inflatable Tank

Operation Quicksilver (1944)

Operation Quicksilver was an operational deception subplan of Operation Fortitude South which was itself a deceptive subplan of Operation Bodyguard.

In Early 1944 Hitler knew Allied forces were going to enter Europe and create a second front, the big question was where. Two likely areas in the German's minds were East Anglia and Southeast England, where Allied forces could be positioned to be a threat to Calais, France, which is just what it looked like was going to happen thanks to set designers and a lot of ingenuity.

Operation Quicksilver a subplan of Fortitude South (which was also a subplan of another plan) was divided into six subplans of its own listed as Quicksilver I-VI.

Quicksilver I-the basic "story" which was the proposed invasion of Pas-de-Calais.

Quicksilver II-was the radio deception involving hours of prerecorded broadcasts of scripted false troop movements.

Quicksilver III- was the display of landing craft, more scripted radio traffic and marking of roads and special areas, where soldiers used wood stamps of treads to make it look like tanks and a large number of vehicles and troops were being moved.

Quicksilver IV- was the air operation portion plan of Operation Quicksilver including "plans" to bomb Calais and tactical railway bombings.

Quicksilver V-was an increase of activity around Dover, England to suggest the commencing of a large military invasion into France by way of Calais.

Quicksilver VI- was the night operation portion of Quicksilver and involved night lighting to simulate heightened state of activity at night where the "landing craft" were staged.

Contrary to what is widely written in books this deception was not carried out with inflatable tanks, inflatable air planes or other dummy equipment in a farmers field. While the Allies did have access to such equipment and did use inflatable equipment in deceptions in North Africa, at this time in the war the German's had only limited air reconnaissance capabilities and some experts say may have been unable to fly reconnaissance at all at this time so such effort would have been wasted.

Operation Quicksilver was so convincing that Hitler kept his Panzer's and 15 divisions penned in place across from the fake American/British forces long after the real landing occurred in Normandy on June 6th.

Result: Operation Quicksilver contributed to the success of Operation Bodyguard aka D-Day (the Landing at Normandy) by keeping German Panzer's and at least 15 German divisions in place and unable to reinforce Normandy's coast line.

Operation Zeppelin (1944)

Operation Zeppelin also known as The Balkan's Deception was designed to keep German's penned down in the Balkans for as long as possible by simulating invasions of Crete and several other Nazi held areas in an effort to prevent those troops from aiding German forces during the D-Day landings and keep reinforcements out of Normandy.

The "activities" against Nazi's at Crete and other areas were supposed to commence as far as the German's knew in mid to late March of 44', as the date neared however these "activities" were postponed due to "technical difficulties". The invasion was again postponed several times in April and again in May always because of "technical difficulties". The Allies kept holding the German's in the Balkans until it was too late for them to respond to the real threat in Normandy in June.

The "technical difficulties" that kept popping up all over the Balkans was that the invading Allied forces the German's were waiting for didn't actually exist. Operation Zeppelin was a clever word-of-mouth ruse with no substance behind it carried out by scripted radio chatter, "lost" brief cases with "plans" inside them and double agents giving their German handlers false reports.

Being Achilles for a Day

After a betrayal by Agamemnon the Greek hero Achilles refused to fight further in the Trojan War causing great losses on the Greek side and presented the very real possibility of the loss of the Greek fleet to Trojan forces.

Achilles cousin Patroclus went to try to reason with Achilles to rejoin the fight which he refused to do. Patroclus being rather desperate at this point hatched a brilliant plan however that he was able to talk Achilles into, a masquerade.

Patroclus put on Achilles armor and took command of the feared Myrmidons, Achilles most loyal forces and lead them into battle. The ruse scared the Trojans into thinking that Achilles had rejoined the fight and the deception saved the Greek ships. Patroclus, however took his pursuit of the Trojans too far and ended up being killed by the Trojan hero Hector prompting the real Achilles to get involved once more in a classic example of an ancient revenge filled blood feud to avenge his cousin.

The Trojan War culminated with what is quite possibly the most famous deception in military history: The Trojan Horse.

The Trojan Horse

After 10 years of war/siege Odysseus came up with the idea of building a great horse which was the symbol of Tory, the horse according to early tradition of the story, would be able to house 30 special operations troops inside, though some historians say there may have been more.

The Greeks then made a show of burning their camp, getting on their ships and sailing away leaving the horse as an offering to the Goddess Athena. The Trojans then towed the horse into the city walls as a trophy. After dark the men came out of the horse, quietly killed the guards and let the bulk of the Greek forces who had snuck back to the city in and proceeded to destroy Troy.

While a famous story that most school children know the tale of the great horse hiding soldiers inside of it may be an example of literary license. Some experts believe that the "horse" was not a hollow piece filled with men but rather a large battering ram that looked like a horse as it was not uncommon in the ancient world for battering rams to be built to resemble animals of power such as the horse, the ram and bull. The use of a horse design could be seen as an insult/taunt from the Greeks to the Trojans, basically saying that your own symbol of power is being used against you, quite effectively as it turned out since Troy fell.

Ancient sources however do point to the possibility that there were men inside the horse but we will probably never know for sure if there were or not though several sources do give us numbers and one source actually names thirty individuals who were inside the horse, in late oral tradition the number was raised to forty men rather than thirty.

Early tradition tells us there were 30 warriors in the horse and 2 spies in it's mouth.

The Biblotheca states there were 50 warriors inside with no mention made of spies and Tzetzes a half Greek writer in the 12th century puts the number at 23 in his work the Homerica written about events that took place during the Iliad. Quintus Smyrnaeus lists the names of 30 individuals but stated in his work that there were more men inside, three of the famous Greeks he lists as having been inside of horse are Odysseus, Ajax and Menelaus.

The Empty Fort Strategy

The Empty Fort Strategy is an ancient and traditional strategy of the Chinese though many others have made use of it as well. This strategy involves using what we call today reverse psychology.

The strategy is used to deceive the enemy into thinking that an empty location is filled with traps and ambushes and therefore discourage the enemy from attacking that location or to force an enemy to change their plans into something you can use yourself.

An early example of this strategy occurred in 195 used by the warlord Cao Cao against Lu Bu. Lu Bu had gathered 10,000 men to attack Cao Cao, Cao Cao himself had less than 1000 men on hand since he had sent the bulk of his forces foraging for food and had women dress in men's clothing/armor up on the walls to make it look like he had men inside while he sent his men down to defend the base of the hilltop fort.

Lu Bu suspected there would be an ambush because of the terrain and how calm things seemed to be in the base so he lead his forces 10 miles away to the south of Cao Cao's location. While there was no ambush planned at the time Lu Bu's decision to not attack the base because he suspected an ambush gave Cao Cao plenty of time to gather his forces and the following day when Lu Bu moved to attack the fort he walked into an ambush that had been staged overnight at a nearby dyke and was defeated despite having had superior numbers.

The Fall of Krak des Chevaliers (1271)

The Mumluk Sultan Baibars began a siege at Krak des Chevaliers on March 3, 1271 though some historians believe he had already had an advance force there starting the siege for several days before his arrival.

Citizens caught between the invading force and the walls sought refuge in the lower ward of the fort and as soon as the Sultan arrived it was this area of the stronghold he immediately began attacking after assembling his siege engines including mangonels used to breach the walls which fell two days later where he encountered the terrified peasants who had taken refuge between the wards, the Crusaders themselves had withdrawn to the more formidable inner ward and the siege began again.

After a ten day lull a "letter" was "allowed" to be delivered to the knights in the besieged garrison by the sultans forces supposedly from the Grand Master of the Knights Hospitaller which granted the Crusaders permission to surrender which they did.

The "letter" was a fake sent by the Sultan but by the time the knights knew this the sultan was in charge of the city/fort, though since the knights surrendered the city the sultan did spare their lives.

Battle of Lodi (1796)

Many generals in the 1700's used deception effectively however the master deceiver of this time was Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon made massive use of tactical deception in his campaigns and later in his career made use of strategic deception as well.

In 1796 Napoleon made a successful crossing of the River Po and mounted a token attempt at a stronger Austrian force while the bulk of his forces were moving unseen upriver and took control of an uncontested area before attacking the Austrian rear guard in a similar tactical deception used by both Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar many centuries before.

While this was not a decisive victory for Napoleon it did become part of his personal myth and played a part in his delusion that he was far superior to all other commanders.


France 15,000 infantry, 2000 cav and 30 guns

Austria 9,500 infantry and 14 guns


French 500-2000 men killed

Austrians 2,036 men killed and 14 guns captured/destroyed

The Yom Kippur War (1973)

In 1973 during the Yom Kippur War between Israeli and Arab forces lead primarily by Egypt and Syria, Egypt used deception to disguise the timing of a military event.

The Egyptian President Anwar Sadat created an annual maneuver well in advance of the real attack and because this was not unusual behavior for the Egyptians the Israelis' thought that the moving troops were part of the annual drill. In addition to using an annual event to mask troop movements the Egyptians created the impression/fear that they were going to attack months before they actually planned to do so causing the Israelis to enact an emergency draft that proved to be financially costly. Since the draft had proved to be so expensive the Israeli government was reluctant to institute a second draft when the real attack took place.


Israel- 375,000-415,000

Arabs- 650,000-917,000


Israel- 2,521-2800 dead, approx. 8000 wounded and 293 captured

Arabs-50,301 dead, 975 wounded and 8,783 captured


While a decisive victory for Israel the Yom Kippur War was costly not only monetarily but also mentally. The shock of the six day war was a stunning psychological blow to the population and demonstrated how complacent the Israeli military had become.

The Second Boer War (1899-1902)

Probably one of the best known uses of deception in the late 19th century was British officer Lord Robert Baden-Powell's defense of Mafeking.

Baden-Powell had been dispatched to conduct harrying attacks against the Boer's to draw them away from key British positions. Baden-Powell realized his force was not able to mount offensive operations so he used hit and run tactics and deception instead.

To gain entry into Mafeking he first bluffed his way in then obtained permission for an "armed guard in Mafeking to protect the shores", as no one had specified how large this "armed guard" was to be Baden-Powell took the opportunity of vagueness and moved his entire force into the town, the first of his many deceptions throughout the war.

The scale and audacity of his subsequent deceptions made Baden-Powell a war hero in England. In addition to gathering his forces in one place Baden-Powell also made liberal use of "letting" information get to the wrong hands which swiftly made its way to enemy commanders, a time honored military deception.

Baden-Powell also used fake mine-fields to funnel enemy troops where he wanted them to go. Baden-Powell was hard pressed to hold Mafeking until reinforcements arrived and by the time fresh troops had arrived to relieve his forces his troops had, had to resort to eating his Calvary's horses as supplies were exhausted.

52 B.C. Crossing of the Allier River

During his conquest of Gaul Julius Caesar successfully used tactical deception to achieve a difficult river crossing while under observation from his enemy Vercingetorix on the other side of the river.

The Gaul's shadowed Caesar's movements from the opposite bank as he paraded back and forth looking for a good crossing point in an effort to contest any crossing attempt made by Caesar.

During the day Caesar marched his troops up and down for hours while the Gaul's followed along on their side and later that night Caesar set camp some distance away in a wooded area for concealment, the next day he left behind a third of his forces in the woods, Caesar then had his remaining men spread out more to give the illusion of being at full force and moved further down the coast causing the Gaul's to follow him, while Caesar was distracting the Gaul's the troops he had left behind made the river crossing and when Caesar and his remaining troops made the crossing themselves later that day the Gaul's found themselves trapped between the two forces.


Caddell, J (2004) Deception 101: Primer on Deception Tactics 101: Military Deception: Means and Techniques

Military Deception


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