War: The Art of Disguise and Deception

War is much more than two groups of people stabbing and shooting each other. It’s also a battle of wits: one strategy against another, in a complex process of deception, cunning, disguise and all sorts of tactics that would give you an advantage and put you two or even three steps ahead. Over time, many different tactics have been developed. Some of them worked, some were ridiculous, and there are a few that were ridiculous but worked. Here are a few.


During the World War One, German submarines have become a major headache for the British maritime industry, But the Germans were following the rules of war back then. The submarine would surface near the merchant ship ordering it to rear up as well. He often sent a boarding party to the ship to inspect its cargo. If she was carrying anything bound for England, the crew and all passengers would be allowed into the lifeboats and the submarine would sink her by gunfire or a torpedo. Since a submarine could then carry no more than 10–12 torpedoes, they usually saved them for warships rather than spending them on a small steamer. After sinking the small vessel, the submarine would then broadcast the location of the sinking so that salvage vessels could pick up the passengers. The British were losing so many ships that they decided to do something pretty sneaky. They began to create “Q-Ships”, armed ships disguised as merchants.

The idea was not at all bizarre. It’s the way it was done that was really interesting.

First, they took the least likely ships they could find, old steamers, wooden sailboats and large fishing boats, and added cannons and machine guns to them. They wanted to use ships that submarines would be more likely to sink with gunfire than a torpedo. They created false fronts and removed hull sections to conceal guns and would also fly the flag of a neutral country. The crew would be dressed as civilians, with some even dressing as women. To ensure that the disguise was convincing, sailors lounge on deck with their “wives” and walk around the deck with a parasol over their heads.

They also frequently repainted ships to change their appearance and used fake wooden and canvas structures to change its silhouette on the horizon. These ships would leave under the same flag and one name to arrive in another port under a different flag and a new name painted on their hull. Their holds would be filled with light woods or other buoyant materials to make them difficult to sink.

The crews also pulled off an elaborate pantomime knowing they would be under periscopic observation by the submarine. They practiced ‘abandoning ship’ once the sub appeared, in mock panic as they screamed and ran around the decks before half of them actually made their way to the lifeboats of rescue while the others used the chaos on the bridge to cock their weapons.

When the sub surfaced, they would allow it to close in, then on a signal, drop the false fronts and hinged hull plates and simply blast the sub at point-blank range.

And it worked, as long as no sub survived the encounter to give the warning, the Q-Ships’ secret would be safe.

Then a submarine managed to get away and report that it had been attacked by a small steamer armed to the teeth.

The secret was out. In approximately 150 encounters between U-boats and Q-Ships, 14 submarines and 25 Q-Ships were sunk. The report was a bit lopsided for this reason, the Q-Ship often had to absorb the sub’s attack first by a deck gun or torpedo, then pretend to be crippled and abandoned to bring the sub closer. sailor to trigger the trap.

The Q-Ships made U-boat commanders quite nervous about attacking small coastal steamers and seemingly defenseless fishing boats, which helped keep the U-boats away from English coastal traffic.

The horse carcass

Soldiers in World War I trenches typically exploded and tried to fade into oblivion on the ground between each other’s trenches called No Man’s Land. The problem was that it was too perilous to even take a look at your enemy there, and the enemies were bombarding you and everything around you nonstop until the landscape is nothing more than a flat, barren land of pulverized earth, smoke and corpses – what a fitting name for this place.

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The French army has found a solution: Sneak through no man’s land and enemy trenches pretending to be a dead horse. The idea came when one of their horses went wild, ran towards the enemy trenches and got shot. Seeing this horse, they thought they could almost ram a soldier into the horse’s body.

Paper mache simulation of a horse carcass, with a sniper hidden inside. (camoupedia.blogspot.com)

Now, you wouldn’t really want to hide a soldier in a horse carcass, so instead they started creating a hollow papier-mâché replica of the horse whose death was no longer in vain. They placed a gun port in the anus. The French soldiers waited until nightfall before sneaking into no man’s land near the German trenches, carrying off the real dead horse and replacing it with their paper replica along with the sniper. He also had a telephone wire with him, so that he could report German movements to his comrades.

Soon one of the German soldiers, perhaps horrified at first, saw the horse they had killed a few days ago give birth to a soldier. They destroyed the decoy, but the French kept trying the same tactic a few more times before giving up completely.

pretend to be women

In 1973, a group of Israeli special forces commandos were on a mission to eliminate the three main leaders of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) who were mainly responsible for the massacre in Munich during the 1972 Olympics. knew that if they wanted to succeed, they had to come up with a shiny, low-key approach, something the PLO wouldn’t see coming.

The most logical idea for them at the time was to disguise himself as a woman to infiltrate the PLO. With their wigs, fake breasts and shoes, these Israeli special forces walk the streets of Beirut in the arms of the other members, who were normally dressed men.

The seemingly polite women walk past the police without arousing suspicion and on their way to the apartment buildings of the PLO targets. Once inside, the pair pulled out their guns and explosives and managed to kill their targets.

Ehud Barak in the army. (Barack WeizmanCC0, via Wikimedia Commons)

More surprisingly, one of the fake wives was Ehud Barak, who would one day become both prime minister and defense minister of Israel.

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