It’s pretty easy to hoax people. We all want to be deceived, but only up to a point. Some hoaxes are fun and pleasant, others malicious and unpleasant. We’d like a way to tell the difference (Robert Carroll).

Nov 12, 2011

French Built Fake Paris to Fool German Bombers during WWI

Towards the end of World War I, the French army developed up forward-looking plans to build a "fake Paris" in an attempt to get German planes to drop their bombs away from the real capital city.

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The plan, reported in French dailies Le Monde and Le Figaro, was to recreate major landmarks of the city so that German bombers, flying at night and without radars, would think they had arrived at their target and release their bombs.

The "fake city" placed makeshift buildings in the same configurations as the real Paris, along with street lights and signs of industry, to give the impression to planes up above that they were flying over the real thing.

London's Daily Telegraph explains that the fake city wasn't just a bunch of cardboard cutouts. Far from it… There were "electric lights, replica buildings, and even a copy of the Gare du Nord—the station from which high-speed trains now travel to and from London."

The painters went so far as to use paint to create "the impression of dirty glass roofs of factories." Fake trains and railroad tracks were lit up as well. There was a phony Champs-Elysées.

It stands to reason that in the early 20th century, the plan could have worked. "Radar was in its infancy in 1918, and the long-range Gotha heavy bombers being used by the German Imperial Air Force were similarly primitive," the Telegraph notes. "Their crew would hold bombs by the fins and then drop them on any target they could see during quick sorties over major cities like Paris and London."

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The plans were first revealed almost more than 90 years ago, in a November 1920 article in The Illustrated London News. Tuesday's Le Figaro published archive maps of the plans which it says it unearthed from a French publication at the same time, L'Illustration.

According to the French report in 1920, executing the plan was "very difficult." "It was necessary to make sure that the zones designated for enemy bombardments did not have people living in them," said a source quoted in the 1920 article in L'Illustration.

Ultimately, three zones rather than just one were chosen. One site close to the North West suburb of Maisons-Laffitte was selected because the river Seine curves through it in a similar way to the shape it takes in Paris.

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Makeshift buildings were created to give the impression of the Gare du Nord and Gare de l'Est railway stations. In another zone, plans were drawn up to create a fake Avenue des Champs-Élysées while a third zone was designed to look like the city's industrial areas, like Saint-Denis and Aubervilliers.

Great pains were taken to get the lighting to look realistic and efforts were led by Italian-born engineer Fernand Jacopozzi. Jacopozzi was a specialist in lighting who later received the Légion d'honneur award for his post-war work illuminating famous Paris sights including the Eiffel Tower and the Champs-Élysées.

The fake cities were built but never tested out as they were only ready after the last German raid on Paris in September 1918.

"It's an extraordinary story and one which even Parisians knew very little about," the Daily Mail quoted Professor Jean-Claude Delarue, a leading historian based in the French capital as saying.

"The plan was kept secret for obvious reasons, but it shows how seriously military planners were already taking the new threat of aerial bombardment," he said.

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For those who do not remember how the World War I ended, I would like to remind the outcomes of the First, but not the Last World War.

The Paris Peace Conference opened on 12th January 1919, meetings were held at various locations in and around Paris until 20th January, 1920. Leaders of 32 states representing about 75% of the world's population, attended. However, negotiations were dominated by the five major powers responsible for defeating the Central Powers: the United States, Britain, France, Italy and Japan. Important figures in these negotiations included Georges Clemenceau (France) David Lloyd George (Britain), Vittorio Orlando (Italy), and Woodrow Wilson (United States).

Eventually five treaties emerged from the Conference that dealt with the defeated powers. The five treaties were named after the Paris suburbs of Versailles (Germany), St Germain (Austria), Trianon (Hungary), Neuilly (Bulgaria) and Serves (Turkey).

The main terms of the Versailles Treaty were:

(1) the surrender of all German colonies as League of Nations mandates;
(2) the return of Alsace-Lorraine to France;
(3) cession of Eupen-Malmedy to Belgium, Memel to Lithuania, the Hultschin district to Czechoslovakia,
(4) Poznania, parts of East Prussia and Upper Silesia to Poland;
(5) Danzig to become a free city;
(6) plebiscites to be held in northern Schleswig to settle the Danish-German frontier;
(7) occupation and special status for the Saar under French control; (8) demilitarization and a fifteen-year occupation of the Rhineland;
(8) German reparations of £6,600 million;
(9) a ban on the union of Germany and Austria;
(10) an acceptance of Germany's guilt in causing the war;
(11) provision for the trial of the former Kaiser and other war leaders;
(12) limitation of Germany's army to 100,000 men with no conscription, no tanks, no heavy artillery, no poison-gas supplies, no aircraft and no airships;
(13) the limitation of the German Navy to vessels under 100,000 tons, with no submarines;

Germany signed the Versailles Treaty under protest. The USA Congress refused to ratify the treaty. Many people in France and Britain were angry that there was no trial of the Kaiser or the other war leaders. But, Germans were most unhappy from the status of the losers, and that point might be considered as beginning of World War II…

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