Saturday, May 16, 2009

Pedagogical blogical

I like reading. I like watching documentaries. I learn a lot. Sadly, I also forget a lot. So while my film viewing is in hiatus*, this blog will now become my aide-mémoire. We're going educational!

Feeling exceedingly grown up by reading some non-fiction that wasn't a cookbook. Spent almost two weeks sick on the sofa, encouraging moral, spiritual and educational improvement by imparting fascinating facts to Mr Chairman. I know he appreciated it. The book? Churchill's wizards: the British genius for deception, 1914-1945. And my, isn't it just chock-full of interesting tit-bits. Which, dear reader, I will now share with you.

Camouflage is fairly new. The Germans had it sussed when they marched into Belgium in WWI, wearing mud grey uniforms. The French, on the other hand, chose to go into battle wearing royal blue and red, white gloves and dress swords. This uniform did not last long.

The charmingly named, Operation Mincemeat, involved the dumping of a dead body at sea, apparently carrying 'secret documents', a photo of his 'girlfriend', a stern letter about 'his' bank overdraft. Actually, this account does nothing to convey the sneakiness of the whole episode. It's worth reading more about it : Wikipedia says.

The British used dummy tanks made of plywood. A skeleton staff would move them around, create tyre tracks and fake fuel depots to give the impression of a huge force. They painted canvas to make jeeps look like tanks. They built fake buildings and even constructed an entire fake harbour with anti-aircraft batteries complete with sound effects and fireworks. They dropped platoons of dummies with parachutes and conjured up fake armies. The entire D-Day manouveurs depended on such trickery and bluff (and very nearly came a cropper).

The whole tissue of lies was largely created by artists, actors, stage folk and an impressive array of writers: John Buchan, Kipling, J.B. Priestley, Roald Dahl, George Orwell... I have, of course, forgotten the rest. But can you imagine Ian McEwan creating fake personas for fake a British airman?

It's surprising the British got anything done - their beauracracy was a nightmare. 17F, NID17, SOE, ISLD, PWE, MI(R), MI9.... all doing much of the same thing and all hating each other.

In WWI a stage set designer made fake trees out of metal, hollow inside so
a soldier could climb up and spy on the enemy. To make them more lifelike they used bark cut from a tree at Buckingham Palace. It would take about 16 men to carry the trees around and several hours to set them up. Why didn't the Germans notice trees springing up?

Planes dropped loads of tinselly reflective material to fool the newly devised RADAR equipment. I have a wonderul image of how pretty this must have been in such horrifying circumstances.

The early days of camouflage saw some ill advised experiments. Like palm trees adorning London factories.

One of the major forces behind British deception was arrested in Spain, wearing woman's clothing complete with pearls, turban and handbag. Why he is dressed like this is unknown. Why the Spanish let him go is just as puzzling.

It's a cracker of a book and I've not done it justice. Read it and entertain your loved one today.

*Since we've bought ourselves a NEW TELEVISION, gigantor size, we're having too much fun watching television to bother with movies. MegaTV makes even ads look captivating.


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