#2. Britain Convinces Nazis They Can Set the Ocean on Fire
It was one year into World War II, a time when things weren't going well for Britain. They'd been unceremoniously bitch-slapped out of France at Dunkirk. German U-boat attacks were gnawing into their food supply routes, invasion rumors ran rampant, and you couldn't even light a cigarette without the Luftwaffe horror-bombing everything within a 40-mile radius. So how do you keep Hitler from crossing the English Channel? By telling him that you'll set the goddamned ocean on fire.
It actually wasn't an entirely hollow threat -- thanks to Shell and BP, Britain had managed to collect a hefty surplus of oil and did tests to see if they could use it to re-enact the Battle of the Blackwater from Game of Thrones. Sadly, what would have been the most metal thing ever created (until Ronnie James Dio would be born two years later) was not to be. Trial runs did manage to produce a "frightening spectacle" of fire and smoke, but ultimately the oil spread way too slowly. What's worse, a single mortar strike on the pipe system carrying the oil to the sea would cause a backfire and turn the entire coastal area into the world's largest decorative glasswork. But, of course, the Nazis didn't need to know that.
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"That's what we call 'burn off.' Let's keep that up there instead of engulfing everything we've ever known."
So British intelligence swung into action, spreading the story of their newly acquired pyrotechnic powers throughout occupied France, including whispering it to German patients at the hospitals of Paris. Before long, half the German army was convinced that anyone invading England would have to sail through a coast-to-coast tsunami of flame. And as they grew fearful, the locals got cocky. Soon, French resistance members started amusing themselves in bars by pretending to warm their hands on the backs of German soldiers.
By the time the rumor reached Nazi high command, the story had grown into a magic mine weapon that ignited the sea. They started experimenting with asbestos-coated invasion barges, which worked pretty well until the live test that involved loading a barge with troops and sailing it into a pool of burning gasoline. This did not end well.
Meanwhile, the British intelligence was astonished by the success of their plan and got a little carried away. They started circulating a follow-up rumor, which involved the British importing 200 man-eating sharks from Australia and releasing them into the channel. This story was a lot less successful (since the sharks would be boiled alive by the flaming water, duh).
#1. Robert Baden-Powell Gives Boers a Crash Course in Bullshit
Longtime Cracked readers may remember Lord Robert Baden-Powell as the slightly creepy eccentric who started the Boy Scouts to stop kids from masturbating. However, Baden-Powell was also something of a living legend in army circles for his heroic and somewhat hilarious defense of the town of Mafeking during the Second Boer War.
Baden-Powell's orders were to secure Mafeking for the British. The problem was that the Brits and the Boers were still at the "diplomats shouting at each other" stage and the war hadn't been declared yet. He couldn't just force his way into the town -- because manners -- and they'd never give his troops permission to enter. So Baden-Powell asked the townspeople for official permission to move a guard into the town in order to protect his supplies there. The second he got the permit, he marched his entire army in. When people complained, he simply pointed out that the size of the guard had never been specified and his supplies need a lot of protectin'.
"Can you see the supplies? Absolutely, they're right here."
Now Baden-Powell had Mafeking, but how could he keep it from an incoming Boer force five times stronger?
With shenanigans, that's how! Baden-Powell's men started burying mysterious boxes around the town's perimeter. When questioned about them, Baden-Powell announced that they were powerful landmines from England, specifically designed to wreck Boer shit. He proved this by blowing up a couple, making sure that enemy sympathizers saw the massive explosions and managed to slip out of town to warn the Boers. Of course, there were no mines. The boxes Baden-Powell had detonated were filled with dynamite from his extremely limited supply. The rest were full of sand.
"Don't you worry your pretty little head about it none."
Baden-Powell's other problem was that he didn't have barbed wire, or facilities to make any -- a key tool in stopping the advance of ground troops. What he had was a bunch of wooden posts of the kind barbed wire is strung on, and he knew that barbed wire was really hard to see from a distance. So, he hammered the posts in a massive circle around the town, and whenever his men came near the posts, they would hurl themselves to the ground and inch along as if trying to crawl under barbed wire. To an enemy with binoculars, it totally looked like the city was now guarded from all sides with barbed wire, in addition to the supermines.
The Boers decided that attacking Baden-Powell would be suicide and, after some obligatory warring, the siege situation settled to an almost amiable stalemate. In the end, Baden-Powell held Mafeking for 217 days, due to what he himself called "largely a piece of bluff."
And then added, "So suck it. All of it."
Related Reading: If you enjoyed reading about military bluffs, why not read our article about hilarious wartime pranks? You'll learn about the Vietnamese soldiers who mooned American aircraft rather than fire at them. And no, that isn't even close to the most embarrassing moment in the history of war: We'll award that crown to the Japanese navy. They built a battleship so massive, it flooded the city of Nagasaki. Not all battlefield fuck-ups are bad, though. Russia's disastrous war with Finland lured the Nazis into a false sense of security. And we all know how THAT worked out.