Saturday, August 4, 2012

One should always have a conjurer on staff...

Yesterday I received my copy of Double Cross, the new book by Ben Macintyre, who is one of my favorite historical writers. This book tells the story of the group of spies (and the counterintelligence efforts) who successfully convinced Hitler that the D-Day invasion would land at Calais, rather than Normandy.

I plan to write a review after I have finished the book. In the meantime, here's a sample of Macintyre's writing from one of his other books on WWII spies:
When he first offered to contribute his magical skills to the war effort, [professional conjurer Jasper Maskelyne] was dismissed as a showman (which he was) and put to work entertaining the troops. But eventually General Archibald Wavell, the imaginative commander of British forces in North Africa, realized that Maskelyne’s talents might be applied to the battlefield. Maskelyne was sent to the Western Desert, where he assembled “the Magic Gang,” possibly the most eccentric military unit ever formed, whose members included an analytical chemist, a cartoonist, a criminal, a stage designer, a picture restorer, a carpenter, and a lone professional soldier to fill out the military paperwork. The gang set about bamboozling the enemy. They built fake submarines and Spitfires, disguised tanks as trucks, and successfully hid part of the Suez Canal using a system of revolving mirrors and searchlights that created a blinding vortex in the sky nine miles wide. 
For his greatest trick, Maskelyne helped win the Battle of El Alamein by creating an entire array of “tricks, swindles, and devices” to convince Erwin Rommel that the British counterattack was coming from the south, rather than the north. In 1942, the Magic Gang built over two thousand dummy tanks and constructed a bogus water pipeline to water this phony army. The half-built pipeline was easily spotted from the air, and the slow progress of its construction seems to have convinced the Germans that no attack was possible before November. Rommel went home on leave, and the attack started October 23.  
~Ben Macintyre, Agent Zigzag, 152-53
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