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How Carrot Vitamin A Changed Battles in World War 2

Updated on August 21, 2014
Schatzie Speaks profile image

Pilar has two bachelor's degrees in Science and English. She is working on her master's degree in elementary education.


Using the Carrot to Hide AIR

The Carrot

There is nothing exceptionally impressive about a carrot. It does not have the shiny plastic-like texture, vibrant hue or taste bud assaulting fire of the chili pepper. Nor does it grow up to three feet in length and hang upon climbing twelve foot vines as do blood red Chinese noodle beans.

The carrot does not develop protruding spikes, branch out in clusters amid silver-green foliage, or develop bright, edible blossoms as does the artichoke.

Instead, carrots are dug out of the ground and emerge covered in hairs and dirt.

Yet, this dusty root is the vegetable that helped defeat one of the most notorious, human-rights-violating villains in history: Adolf Hitler.


Airborne Interception Radar

The power of the carrot first came into play with the installation of airborne interception radar (AIR) in planes of the British Royal Air Force (RAF) during World War II. Before the use of AIR, the British were being dealt a heavy blow by German nighttime raids (1).

However, radar gave RAF pilots a distinct advantage in the darkness, allowing them to use radio waves to determine the position of enemy forces, and as a consequence, turning the tides of airborne battle (1, 2).

This tactical superiority was only guaranteed as long as the new technology remained undiscovered by the Germans.

To conceal the power of radar, British Intelligence developed a convincing propaganda campaign attributing their pilot’s impressive nighttime performance to the power of a high-carrot diet (1). This propaganda was so convincing, in fact, that a majority of Britain’s own populace was fooled as well.


Carrot-themed propaganda

Newspaper articles were published quoting Royal Air Force Officer John Cunningham, soon to be nicknamed “Cats Eyes”, as he confessed his and the other RAF pilots’ love of carrots (1).

Not only did Cats Eyes claim to have improved eyesight; he credited his vegetable binges with providing him and the rest of the Royal Air Force with the actual ability to see in the dark (1).

Reading this, Germans were not the only ones soon modifying their diets. British citizens gobbled the roots down as well in hopes of improving their vision; rolling blackouts were very common at the time, and they believed that having the ability to see at night would prove quite useful (3).

Because it may seem implausible that a man such as Hitler could be duped in so seemingly absurd a fashion, it is important to view the situation from a cultural perspective.

Common German folktales had already perpetuated the link between carrots and excellent eyesight long before the British published their fictitious reports; it was believable carrots would improve vision because it was something the German people already believed (2). However, John Cats Eyes Cunningham took this concept to a whole new level.


The Ministry of Agriculture

Fighting hunger

The population’s interest in the carrot not only benefitted the British Intelligence in their deception of the Germans but also benefitted the Ministry of Agriculture in their mission to keep the British population fed and reduce a surplus in carrots (a far from common staple in the British diet) while compensating for shortages in most other vegetables and fruits (4).

Over seven hundred thousand tons of imported food was being sunk before making it to British shores and the populace was headed for starvation unless they developed alternative food sources (4).

Dr. Carrot and Potato Pete

To motivate the public to help themselves, the Ministry used the cartoon characters of Dr. Carrot and Potato Pete in a campaign entitled Dig for Victory that promoted home gardening and advertised new and unique recipes with vegetables, such as carrots, as main ingredients (4).

Public parks, lawns, and vacant land were used to plant cabbages, carrots, beans and potatoes; even the Kennsington Gardens replaced flower beds with crops (4). Recipes were published using these vegetables and those with carrots added them to such things as curry, jam, fudge, toffee, pie, pudding, and even to rutabaga juice to create a drink named “Carrolade” (4).


Carrots as a healthy "candy"

To further guide and inspire the public, cooking demonstrations were given in stores and movies on cooking were screened in cinemas (4). BBC radio even broadcast its own food preparation programs, such as "Kitchen Front" (4).

With sugar in short supply and rationed at eight ounces per week, carrots were touted as a good substitute; children were soon licking carrots stuck to sticks in place of lollipops! (4).

By highlighting the health and versatility of the vegetable as well as its sight-enhancing abilities, the Minister of Food was able to declare the Dig for Victory campaign a success in February of 1941: consumption had increased and supplies remained plentiful (4). In fact, by January of 1942 there were one hundred thousand tons of surplus carrots that needed to be gotten rid of and were given to farmers for feed at a discount price (4).

Thanking the carrot

The carrot had proved a true war-time hero: it had functioned as an excellent diversion to inquisitive enemy forces as well as providing an easy and nutritious crop for the English population to grow and eat during a time when most other foods were scarce.

But don't carrots actually help vision?

Carrots contain beta carotene, converted to vitamin A in the body, which is essential for eye health but will not actually improve vision unless an individual is suffering from a deficiency in the nutrient. In fact, a lack of vitamin A can lead to blindness.


  1. Lint Center for National Security Studies: PSYOP WWII -- Propagating Carrot Propaganda. Tue Apr 03, 2012. Accessed at
  2. ABC Science: Carrots & Night Vision. Accessed at

  3. TLC Family: Are carrots really

  4. World Carrot Muesum accessed at


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    • Schatzie Speaks profile image

      Schatzie Speaks 5 years ago from US

      Thanks again, DS Duby! Moonlake, thanks for stopping by and reading! So glad you enjoyed it and thank you for your vote. :)


    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 5 years ago from America

      Great Hub. Enjoyed reading it and had never heard of this. Voted Up.

    • DS Duby profile image

      DS Duby 5 years ago from United States, Illinois

      I do believe I've heard that before as well. Again, great article.

    • Schatzie Speaks profile image

      Schatzie Speaks 5 years ago from US

      Greetings, DS Duby!

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. As a child with glasses it was astonishing how many carrots I ate in attempts to improve my vision; finally my parents scared me off overconsuming them by telling me that eating too many would turn my skin orange (this is actually true!).

    • DS Duby profile image

      DS Duby 5 years ago from United States, Illinois

      Awesome hub, I had heard that carrots improved eyesight many times growing up, but knew as an adult that it wasn't necessarily true. It's nice to know how that got started.

    • Schatzie Speaks profile image

      Schatzie Speaks 5 years ago from US

      Hi, Jeff!

      Thank you so much for your comment and vote! Reality can be so fascinating, who needs fiction? I love this story also because it reminds us what we can accomplish when we work together: thing like the cultivation of 100,000 tons of vegetables! That's a whole lot of carrot-flavored toffee! :)


    • Jeff Berndt profile image

      Jeff Berndt 5 years ago from Southeast Michigan

      Great stuff, Schatzie!

      I love little historical tidbits that help us understand a given era. This carrot story is brilliant. Voted up, useful, and interesting.

    • Schatzie Speaks profile image

      Schatzie Speaks 5 years ago from US

      Thank you, UnnamedHarald! I learn new things all of the time also, which is one reason I love this site! I think I was looking up the Battle of Britain when I came across the mention of carrots, it was by accident and is such a great story! Thanks again for your comment.


    • UnnamedHarald profile image

      David Hunt 5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      I learn something every day on hub pages. Great hub, Schatzie. This is why I love history-- it's not all dates and names.

    • Schatzie Speaks profile image

      Schatzie Speaks 5 years ago from US

      Hi Jackwms,

      Thank you for reading! I forgot to list my sources but did just now. Did you know there's an actual carrot history museum? That was one source!


    • Schatzie Speaks profile image

      Schatzie Speaks 5 years ago from US

      Hi Cruelkindness! Thanks again for stopping by and reading! :)

    • Jackwms profile image

      Jackwms 5 years ago

      This is one good hub and very interesting. Where did you come up with this information?

    • cruelkindness profile image

      cruelkindness 5 years ago from an angle view.

      What an amazing interesting hub!

      Thank you

      Cruelkindness (Subliminally Thoughtless)