How the British Fooled Hitler
Using the Carrot to Hide AIR
There is nothing exceptionally impressive about a carrot. It does not have the shiny plastic-like texture, vibrant colored hue or taste bud assaulting fire of the chili.
The carrot does not develop protruding spikes and 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 root 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 dealt a heavy blow by nighttime raids carried out by the Germans (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. As a consequence, it boosted the success of the RAF and turned 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 radar, British Intelligence developed a convincing propaganda campaign attributing their pilots' improved nighttime performance to the power of killer eyesight. They claimed they developed this due to a high-carrot diet (1). This propaganda was particularly effective. It was so convincing, in fact, that a majority of Britain’s own populace was fooled in addition to its intended targets.
Would the Germans believe it?
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 darkness (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 without light. Rolling blackouts were very common at the time, and they believed that having the ability to see at night would help during them (3).
Because it may seem implausible that a man such as Hitler could be duped so easily and strangely, 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 thought was true (2). However, John Cats Eyes Cunningham took this concept to a whole new level.
The Ministry of Agriculture
Interest in the carrot not only benefitted the British Intelligence in their deception of the Germans but also helped the Ministry of Agriculture. It was its mission to keep the British population fed as well as to reduce a troublesome surplus in carrots. This was no easy task, as carrots were uncommon in the British diet, and it had to compensate for shortages in popular fruits and vegetables (4).
The situation had been getting serious. Due to the war, over seven hundred thousand tons of imported food never made it across the sea to British shores. In other words, 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 created the cartoon characters of Dr. Carrot and Potato Pete for a campaign entitled Dig for Victory. This campaign promoted home gardening and advertised new and unique recipes with vegetables, such as carrots, as main ingredients (4).
Public parks, lawns, and vacant land became plots for cabbages, carrots, beans, and potatoes. Even the Kennsington Gardens replaced its flowers beds with crops (4). Recipes were published using these vegetables, and those with carrots added them to sometimes quite unusual things. These included curry, jam, fudge, toffee, pie, pudding, and even to rutabaga juice to make “Carrolade,” a vegetable drink (4).
Carrots as a healthy Candy
To further guide and inspire the British people, stores launched cooking demonstrations and cinemas screened movies dedicated to cooking techniques (4). BBC radio even broadcast its own programs, such as "Kitchen Front" for those who needed additional help with food preparation (4).
In time, the carrot even went from something seemingly a bit disgusting to a delectable and drool-worthy treat. With sugar in short supply and rationed at eight ounces per week, carrots were touted as a good substitute. It wasn't long before children were walking around town, licking carrots stuck to sticks in place of lollipops (4). To them, they tasted nice and sweet.
It's no surprise that by February of 1941, an official had declared the Dig for Victory campaign a success. Consumption of carrots had increased, and supplies remained plentiful (4). In fact, by January of 1942, they there were a bit too big again. At this point, there were one hundred thousand tons of surplus carrots that needed to be gotten rid of. Farmers were given them at a discount to use as feed. (4).
Thanking the carrot
The carrot was a true war-time hero. It had functioned as an excellent diversion for inquisitive enemy forces and provided an easy and nutritious crop during a time when there was a shortage of food.
But don't carrots actually help vision?
Carrots contain beta carotene, converted to vitamin A in the body. This vitamin is essential for eye health but will not improve vision unless an individual is suffering from a deficiency in the nutrient. In fact, a lack of vitamin A may lead to blindness.
This surprises many people. That's how truly effective the World War 2 British propaganda campaign was. It has led to the widely held belief, even today, that carrots, in general, improve vision.
- Lint Center for National Security Studies: PSYOP WWII -- Propagating Carrot Propaganda. Tue Apr 03, 2012. Accessed at http://www.lintcenter.info/blog/entry/3053573/psyop-wwii-%E2%80%93-propagating-carrot-propaganda
ABC Science: Carrots & Night Vision. Accessed at http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2005/10/26/1392430.htm
TLC Family: Are carrots really http://tlc.howstuffworks.com/family/carrots-eyesight.htm
World Carrot Muesum accessed at http://www.carrotmuseum.co.uk/history4.html