The 5 Most Outrageous Bluffs In the History of War
The pen is mightier than the sword, especially if said pen is writing bullshit. For instance, every good military strategist knows that a well-constructed bluff can overcome almost any odds. You just have to really sell it, that's all.
And sometimes, it's the most ridiculous lies that are the most effective ...
The CIA Fakes Vampire Attacks
You wouldn't think that, in a real guerrilla warfare scenario, "Let's tell the enemy a vampire is after them" would be treated as a legitimate strategy. Well, don't tell that to Edward Lansdale.
He was one of the CIA's most notorious operatives during the Cold War, his practical-joke-based "psywar" approach turning up in everything from the agency's enthusiastic attempts to assassinate Castro to the war in Vietnam. For instance, Lansdale learned Vietnamese just to write a best-selling astrological almanac ... that he then smuggled into enemy territory so he'd know what advice the Viet Cong were getting from local soothsayers.
"June is the perfect month to replace all of your commanding officers with unarmed children."
But Lansdale's unique combination of genius and borderline insanity reached its height when he was leading operations against communist guerrillas in the Philippines. He had become aware of the local myths surrounding the aswang, an evil vampire creature that used a pointed, prehensile tongue to drain its victims' blood. So, when a communist unit had adopted a virtually impregnable position atop a hill in Luzon, Lansdale grinned and leaped into action. He set up a deeply terrifying mind game that began with spreading rumors about an aswang living in the area. Of course, to really sell such a story to hardened soldiers, he'd need some convincing evidence, so he started organizing fake vampire attacks on the enemy.
Oh, we're not talking about fake blood and mannequins here. He'd set up an ambush, and when an enemy patrol came along, Lansdale's people would silently snatch the last man in the patrol. They'd puncture his neck with two holes, vampire style, then hold the body up by the heels, drain it of all blood, and put the corpse back on the trail.
Sorry, lady, but your day is about to get ten kinds of fucked up.
Sure enough, the communists abandoned the area in no time. Although we guess it's possible they weren't afraid of the vampire, but rather that CIA nutjob who kept kidnapping people and draining their blood.
Napoleon's Officers Take a Bridge by Calmly Strolling Across It
So you need to capture a crucial bridge, but force alone isn't going to do it, since such an action would destroy the bridge in the process. Once again, it's bullshit to the rescue.
It was 1805, and Napoleon was having trouble conquering the Austrians, who had adopted a strong defensive position on the east bank of the Danube. The French needed to get across, but the only bridge within marching distance was wired with explosives, and the Austrians had orders to blow it up the second France attacked. Knowing that trying to take the bridge by force would simply result in it getting blown to rubble, Napoleon's officers came up with a plan so stupid, it had to work.
Text them and ask nicely?
Two marshals named Lannes and Murat just casually strolled up to the bridge guards and started chatting about how glad they were that an armistice had finally been signed and that the fighting was now over (in case you're not following along, this was a blatant lie). The guards, being unaccustomed to idle banter with high-ranking enemy officers, remained unconvinced and kept them at gunpoint. Lannes and Murat didn't give a damn. They continued to saunter across, laughing off any attempts to stop them.
Meanwhile, an elite squadron of French grenadiers also started heading for the bridge. They had been ordered to behave as casually as possible -- their guns were slung across their backs and they walked instead of marching, laughing and joking among themselves as they slowly but surely advanced.
"Hey, guys. Where should we put the beer?"
When they reached the other side of the bridge, the two marshals noticed an Austrian sergeant preparing to light the fuse to blow the bridge. Lannes, displaying such huge balls that their gravity started attracting debutantes, snatched the match from his hand and angrily insisted that since a truce had been signed, the sergeant was destroying public property, and if he tried it again, Lannes would have him arrested, goddammit.
A nearby Austrian artillery force prepared to fire on the sauntering grenadiers, but the officers persuaded them to back down -- Lannes actually stopped a cannon from being fired by nonchalantly sitting on the barrel to light his pipe. When a particularly persistent sergeant insisted that the whole thing was clearly a trick, Murat demanded to know if the Austrian officers were going to let an enlisted man talk to them like that. At which point the humiliated Austrian officers ordered the man imprisoned.
"You can just stay there until you learn to trust the men we're actively warring against."
The fact that the French grenadiers crossed the bridge and seized said Austrian officers immediately after probably made for a very bittersweet "I told you so!" moment.
Tecumseh Takes Fort Detroit by Marching Around in Circles
The War of 1812 is famous for two things: lasting until 1815, and the Native Americans getting in on the action. Chief among them was the legendary Shawnee leader Tecumseh, who fought with the British. He and Isaac Brock, his equally badass English counterpart, were assigned to capture a heavily armed American base called Fort Detroit. They were massively outnumbered and had no way in. Once again, it was time to dip into the old bag of tricks.
What the Indians and British did have were a few captured letters from the commander of the fort. From these, they learned that the man was terrified of "the savage Indians." So, Brock wrote a letter of his own to his superiors saying that he wouldn't need reinforcements because he had 5,000 bloodthirsty Native American warriors he was about to set loose on Detroit (of course, in reality this was only about 10 times the actual number). He then let said letter fall into American hands.
Tecumseh then marched his 600 men toward the fort. They embarked on a campaign of fear on the night watchmen on the stockades, howling and chanting and whooping like men possessed, playing up the role of the violent natives. As daylight emerged, a fearful sight met the Americans: a massive, savage army of horribly war-painted Indians circling their fort, hidden in the woods save for a small clearing. The horrified soldiers at the fort managed to count at least 1,500 savage warriors from what little the clearing revealed. In reality, Tecumseh's troops were moving single file across the clearing. Every man walked the small open space, giving the guys at the fort his best "bloodthirsty injun" impression, until he was safely under the cover of the forest again. Then he'd run a large loop back until he was at the end of the line again.
This created a never-ending conveyor belt of intimidating warriors, making the surrounding army look massive. As their coup de grace, Brock warned Fort Detroit he was "losing control" of Tecumseh (who was probably trying not to burst into laughter in the background) and would sadly be unable to prevent an unholy scalpin' party if the fort had to be taken by force. The fort's commander, terrified to his very bones, surrendered without consulting his officers or even firing a shot. Incidentally, this makes Detroit the only American city that has ever surrendered to a foreign power. (Insert your own "If only they'd kept it" joke here.)
The "Spirit of Detroit" statue, signifying their cowardice and gullibility in the face of danger.
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.
"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).
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.