The story began as a bizarre but hilarious urban legend of fake bombs by the Allied military forces in World War II, but it began to catch on as more and more witnesses to the actual event came forward in the years following the war. A French historian began collecting these accounts from pilots, military personnel on the ground, and even Dutch Resistance fighters. It’s the story of a deception effort on the part of the Nazi Wehrmacht at the beginning of World War II.
In order to keep its Luftwaffe in the air, the Germans had to keep Allied aircraft from destroying their airfields in occupied territories. The result was either a hilarious prank by Allied air power toward a regime bent on dominating the continent or a case of mistaken equipment
Was a prank worth the effort amid a World War and fight for survival? Or did the Wehrmacht mistake something else for a wooden bomb? You be the judge.
This particular story is believed to have taken place in Nazi-occupied Holland before the Allied invasion of Europe, though at least one source says it happened in Potsdam. Axis airfields were by and large well-hidden, but as Allied air power over Europe increased, they began to be targeted more and more by Allied bombing missions.
The Germans decided they would draw the Allies’ fire using a fake airfield. This would keep their enemies from discovering the real airfields and allow for German forces to quickly rebuild the fake one for the next Allied bombing run. And if you know anything about Germans, you know they are nothing if not detail-oriented and exact.
Rather than just make the project look good from the air, they went all out, constructing wooden runways, wooden hangars, wooden defensive guns, fuel tanks, and even vehicles. The resources committed to the fake airfield project kept many German engineers and soldiers busy for months on end. By October 1943, the story goes, the airfield even had fake wooden aircraft.
The deception plan was completed after months of hard labor, but would the plan fool Allied airmen looking for targets to hit? They didn’t have to wait long to find out. Not even weeks after the dummy airstrip was completed, air raid sirens began to ring and German personnel took to their shelters to ride out the storm.
Inside their safety bunkers, they could hear the enemy aircraft make their pass on the airfield and buzz away, but no explosions ever sounded. After a while, they got curious and cautiously stepped out onto the flight line. There, they discovered what had occurred. They found a number of wooden bombs.
It turned out the Allies knew the whole airfield was a fake from the start. When they saw the level of commitment the Germans were making, they decided to allow them to finish because it drew resources the enemy could have been using elsewhere. Allegedly, the Allies had written “Wood for Wood” on the bomb (or bombs).
The truth about the incident has been disputed, but “Wood for Wood: The Riddle of the Wooden Bombs” written by French historian Pierre Antoine Courouble, attempted to prove through survivor accounts that the wooden bombing had indeed occurred. He found dozens of sources from both sides saying it had.
Conversely, critics and detractors say the Allies would never have allowed air resources to be used as a practical joke, and if they had, the “bombs” were more likely aircraft float lights used by American and British Air Forces during the war, which look a lot like bombs. No matter how true the story is or how it ends, it endures because it feels like it could be true, one more instance of humor found in an otherwise brutal war.