Articles

4 times the US military won by tricking the enemy

Wars are never fought fair and square.


In order to win, militaries try to beef up their own numbers, acquire better technology, or in some cases: totally bullsh-t the other side into thinking they are going to do something they aren't really doing.

It's called a feint. In a nutshell, a military feint is a tactic employed in order to deceive the other side. A military might feint that it's going to attack Town A so the enemy shifts all its forces there, only to later attack Town B.

Here are four times the U.S. military pulled it off to great effect:

1. Both sides made fake guns out of painted logs in the Civil War.

Since photography wasn't as widespread and there weren't any reconnaissance planes, feints were arguably easier to pull off during the Civil War. That was definitely the case for the both sides, which sometimes used fake guns to trick each other into thinking they were going to attack somewhere else, or the place they were defending was heavily-fortified.

Known as "Quaker Guns," soldiers would take wooden logs, paint them black, and then prop them up on a fence or in a mount, making them look like artillery pieces from a distance. From the official US Army magazine:

When Confederate forces advanced on Munson's Hill after the first Battle of Manassas, they held the hill for three months, but when Federal troops gained the hill in October of 1861, they discovered they had been tricked. There was nothing on the hill except Quaker guns.

Quaker Guns were used before and after the Civil War. But the tactic saw extensive use by the Confederates, to make up for their lack of actually artillery.

2. The Allies misled the Germans so well in World War II, Nazi leaders thought the real D-Day invasion was a feint.

Troops in an LCVP landing craft approach Omaha Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
Photo: Wiki Commons

In what is perhaps the best feint ever, Allied forces during World War II confused the Nazis so well that they didn't even know what was happening when the real D-Day landings began.

The deceit goes back to a plan developed prior to the June 6, 1944 landings called Operation Fortitude. Split into two parts — North and South — Fortitude had the goal of convincing the Nazis that the Allies wanted to invade occupied Norway, and Pas de Calais in France. They really wanted to invade Normandy, but the Germans had no clue.

The Allies literally created a fake army consisting of inflatable tanks and trucks, and broadcast hours-long transmissions about troop movements that the Germans would intercept.

When the landings finally came at Normandy, German commanders thought it was a smaller force, and the much larger attack was happening later.

"North of Seine quiet so far. No landings from sea. Pas de Calais sector: nothing to report," a German message on June 6 reads. Then about a day after invasion, forces were warned: "Further enemy landings are to be expected in the entire coastal area. Enemy landings for a thrust toward Belgium to be expected."

The Allies were pretty awesome at this deception game. Just one year prior, they fooled the Germans using a uniformed corpse with "top secret" documents into preparing for an invasion in the wrong place, when the Allies instead invaded Sicily.

3. The US Army built a fake base to fool Saddam Hussein, and it worked.

The ground war of the Persian Gulf War was over pretty quickly, thanks to Gen. Schwarzkopf's extensive planning and leadership. Schwarzkopf wanted to use a "left hook" or "Hail Mary" play of his forces, effectively cutting off Iraqi forces in Kuwait by going behind their lines.

Photo: US Army

But in order to achieve it, Schwarzkopf needed to trick the Iraqi Army. Instead of Iraq thinking they would get hit with a "left hook," Army planners wanted them to think the U.S. would invade near Kuwait's "boot heel." FOB Weasel was how they did it.

It was eerily similar to Operation Fortitude. From a previous article by our own Blake Stilwell:

FOB Weasel was what Rick Atkinson, author of Crusade: The Untold Story of the Persian Gulf War called "a Potemkin base… giving the impression of 130,000 troops across a hundred square kilometers." Army truck drivers wearing the red berets of paratroopers would shuttle vehicles between FOB Weasel and logistic bases.

The U.S. army's XVIII Airborne Corps established FOB Weasel near the phony invasion area. They set up a network of small, fake camps with a few dozen soldiers using radios operated by computers to create radio traffic, fake messages between fake headquarters, as well as smoke generators and loudspeakers blasting fake Humvee, tank, and truck noises to simulate movement. Inflatable tanks with PVC turrets and helicopters with fiberglass rotors were lined up on the ground as well. Inflatable fuel bladders, Camo netting, and heat strips to fool infrared cameras completed the illusion. The Americans even taped "Egyptian" radio traffic messages about the supposed American presence to be intercepted by the Iraqis.

As Stilwell notes, even well after the Iraqi Army was expelled from Kuwait on Feb. 21 1991, Iraqi intelligence still thought American forces were near the "boot heel."

4. The insurgents knew US troops were coming before the Second Battle of Fallujah, but they had no idea of when or where.

Before the Second Battle of Fallujah in 2004, insurgents were well aware that an attack was on the horizon. The city had become completely lawless, swept up by a large number of insurgents, who were spending their time building up defenses in the city.

Photo: USMC

On the outskirts, Fallujah was completely cut off by U.S. troops surrounding it. Insurgents inside the city knew they would eventually be attacked, but a series of feint attacks made it hard to pinpoint from where or when. And beyond deceit, the feints allowed troops to test out enemy capabilities before the main effort.

From the Marine Corps Gazette:

Marine battalions manning vehicle checkpoints (VCPs) or participating in feints were extremely successful in targeting fixed enemy defenses and degrading insurgent command and control capabilities. A series of feints conducted by 1st Marine Division (1st MarDiv) deceived the insurgents as to the time and location of our main attack. They knew we were coming, but they didn't know when or from where. The feints also allowed us to develop actionable intelligence on their positions for targeting in Phase II. The Commanding Officer, 3d Battalion, 1st Marines, whose Marines manned the southern VCPs around Fallujah, described this period as a real-world fire support coordination exercise that provided a valuable opportunity for his fire support coordinator and company fire support teams to work tactics, techniques, and procedures and to practice coordinating surface and air-delivered fires.

In an interesting example from a grunt on the ground, a feint attack from Lima Co. 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines tested enemy defenses and helped planners realize the spot they feint attacked wasn't the best for the real thing.

"Had we decided to attack from the south, the battle would have been hellacious from day one," one Marine recalls in the book "We Were One." "The thing we discovered after the battle was they oriented a lot of their defenses to the south."

Humor

The truth about cell phones in Basic Training

Thank god you got out when you did! The moment you received your DD-214, it was officially an end of an era. Hopefully, your branch won't fall victim like all those other, weaker branches did. It's Lord of the Flies in here.

New recruits are arriving in droves and they're pulling out their cell phones to record themselves talking back to their drill sergeants. If the drill sergeants have a problem with it, they whip out their stress cards, go back to eating their Tide Pods, and continue listening to their music (which, coincidentally, has gotten progressively worse since your generation, too).

Keep reading... Show less
Articles

How R. Lee Ermey's Hollywood break is an inspiration to us all

While there have been many outstanding actors and celebrities who have raised their right hand, there has never been a veteran who could finger point his way to the top of Hollywood stardom quite like the late great Gunnery Sergeant R. Lee Ermey.

Keep reading... Show less
Military Life

5 reasons your troops are more important than promotion

If there's one complaint common across the military, it's that commanders too often care more about their careers than the well-being of their troops. It's problematic when higher-ups are willing to put lower enlisted through hell if it means they look good at the end of the day.

Keep reading... Show less
Military Life

'Operation Cure Boredom' is a funny, unrepentant look back at life in the 1990s Air Force

The following is an excerpt from the first book by Air Force veteran and Hollywood writer Dan Martin. Titled Operation Cure Boredom, it's a hilarious collection of short stories chronicling the adventures of Martin's 1990-1994 enlistment in the world's best Air Force.

This chapter, called "Guest on the Range," is about the extraordinary lengths Martin went to in order to qualify on the firing range as a junior enlisted Crew Chief.

Keep reading... Show less
Military Life

The top 6 reasons people decide to join the infantry

Deciding to join the military is a huge step for anyone looking to make a life-altering change. One of the most appealing aspects of becoming a member of the armed forces is the vast array of professional opportunities the service offers.

You can sign up, ship out, and, within a few short months, be guarding a military installation as your newfound brothers- and sisters-in-arms sleep.

Keep reading... Show less
GEAR & TECH

These high-tech glasses could change how sailors train

Training has evolved over the years but the core elements have always remained the same. There's an instructor and a bunch of students. They go over material, both in theory and in practice, mastering the skills required by the job. But no matter how good the teacher, students will always need a refresher from time to time. So, that means it's time to go back to school — or does it?

Now, mixed-reality technology — including smart glasses — could change the way sailors learn the skills they need to serve.

Keep reading... Show less
Entertainment

6 US conflicts that would (probably) make terrible video games

When developers set out to make video games, their focus should always primarily be on crafting a fun and engaging experience. Oftentimes, you'll see video games set far in the future so that developers can place an arsenal of advanced, sci-fi weaponry in the hands of the player — because it's fun. Other times, they'll take cues from real wars and toss the player directly into the heat of a historical battle — because that's fun, too.

Keep reading... Show less
Tactical

How to start a fire with only one hand

Heading out into the wilderness for a camping trip is exhilarating and refreshing. Starting a campfire and roasting some marshmallows under the stars is a great way to get in touch with Mother Nature. Although the idea of spending a night in the great outdoors sounds incredible, campers should always remember to bring specific tools and learn important survival skills in the event they sustain an injury and help is far, far away.

It gets cold out there at night, so it's important to know the basics of starting a fire to keep warm — even in the dire circumstance that you've been injured. Do you know how to start a fire with just one hand? You never know — this skill might just save your life.

Keep reading... Show less