With World War II raging in Europe, the Germans were fighting a losing battle. They needed to look more powerful than they actually were. In order to deceive the Allies during the Second World War, the Germans built fake airfields on the continent, often with runways and sometimes with buildings, but always with fake wooden planes, called “Attrappen”. It’s not as stupid as it sounds; a good fake can look just like the real thing from 30,000 feet.

View of a Messerschmitt Bf 109 decoy sitting on the ground. Two other Messerschmitts are visible in the background. SI A-50270, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Archives.

Both sides tried to fool each other.

Allied nations Operation Fortitude involved the creation of phantom field armies (based in Edinburgh and the south of England) which threatened Norway (Fortitude North) and Pas de Calais (Fortitude South). The operation was intended to divert Axis attention away from Normandy and, after the invasion on June 6, 1944, to delay reinforcement by convincing the Germans that the landings were purely a diversionary attack. Germans painted bomb damage on existing airfields to make them look unusable and spare them from further bombing.

This fake bomb was dropped in 1944 on a fake airfield in Normandy. The Allied Airmen had a sense of humor!

Strange stories can be heard in which allied airplanes made fun of decoy German airfields and wooden aircraft by dropping wooden bombs on which they had sometimes painted remarks like “Wood for Wood”. However a book has been written on the subject, French writer Pierre-Antoine Courable devoted himself to unearth the facts behind this vague legend. His investigations resulted in 137 testimonies from locals, former employees on German basis, and pilots of the Luftwaffe.

Peter Haas, the German translator of the book, found a pilot from the Luftwaffe named Wern Thiel, who happened to be stationed in 1943, on the fake airfield nearby Potsdam in Germany. He is the living witness of the dropping of a dozen of wooden bombs, with the mention Wood for Wood!

“At the end of October 1942, there was an Air Raid Alert. We activated the light beacons and moved the planes on the dummy airfield. We had about ten airplanes made out of wood, strings and canvas… There were between 6 and 10 bombs with remarks Wood for wood.

I’d like to clink glasses with the American pilot who dropped those wooden bombs on me. “

Young Leutnant Werner Thiel (left) around the time he witnessed the legend in the making and a photograph of him in 2010 holding a mock-up of the bombs he saw lying on the airfield at Luftkriegschule Werder in 1943 after the night’s air raid. Source: Vintagewingsofcanada.com

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