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  • Egypt, 1941.

  • In the deserts of North Africa the allied effort to defeat the Nazis is reaching critical

  • mass.

  • Luftwaffe bombers stationed in Italy are savaging Allied resupply ships making the dangerous

  • run across the Mediterranean and docking in the port of Alexandra.

  • The attacks are absolutely crippling the allied efforts to fend off the Germans in north Africa.

  • If the allies fail here, the Suez canal and the all-important oil trade routes to the

  • middle east will be in German hands, and the war all but lost.

  • Something drastic has to be done to take the heat off the incoming ships.

  • A major resupply force is incoming, and the loss of these ships will be a devastating

  • blow to the Allied forces.

  • In desperation, the British military turns to one man: Jasper Maskelyne, a simple stage

  • magician from London.

  • Jasper Maskelyne was third in a line of illusionists spanning back to his grandfather.

  • A very talented performer, Maskelyne did well for himself wowing crowds in London as he

  • swallowed razor blades and appeared to display telepathic powers.

  • His illusions were jaw-dropping, and had it not been for the Germans very rudely kicking

  • off another world war, who knows where his career may have taken him.

  • Sadly the Germans weren't exactly team players in the first half of the 20th century, and

  • when war broke out Maskelyne's ticket sales plummeted.

  • Nobody was interested in watching a magician make razor blades disappear when the Germans

  • were making soldiers and civilians disappear by the dozens with high explosives all across

  • Europe, completely upstaging Maskelyne.

  • This simply wouldn't do, and out of a sense of professional pride and patriotism both,

  • Maskelyne sought to do his duty and enlist.

  • At 37 years old he wasn't exactly a prime candidate for enlistment however, and the

  • British had yet to realize just how very close to losing the war they would come.

  • So instead Maskelyne sought to enlist in a camouflage unit, campaigning with the War

  • Office to put his talents as an illusionist to use.

  • However, the hard-nosed career soldiers running the War Office saw magic as entirely too unorthodox,

  • and untested, to risk putting up under real enemy scrutiny, preferring to stick to tried

  • and true camouflage techniques.

  • Ever insistent though, Maskelyne was finally accepted into the military and shipped off

  • to camouflage school.

  • In the days before high definition video cameras mounted on drones, or super powerful cameras

  • attached to satellites, battlefield surveillance was often conducted by high flying planes

  • or soldiers on fast-moving motorcyles.

  • Most of the efforts of camouflaging equipment then was thus directed at fooling aviators

  • high up in the sky or soldiers peering through binoculars from miles away.

  • At camouflage school, Maskelyne was once more met with derision when he suggested utilizing

  • stage techniques to enhance efforts to conceal friendly troops or mislead the enemy.

  • Maskelyne would find his chance to prove himself though when an Inspector General visited the

  • school on a tour.

  • Maskelyne set about concealing a machinegun bunker and creating a fake one.

  • Allegedly, the inspector general was impressed when he whacked his legs on a broom handle

  • that was supposed to be a machine gun barrel.

  • Maskelyne was soon dispatched to Cairo, Egypt, to join efforts in camouflaging vital equipment

  • and troop positions.

  • However, for a third time his efforts to use stage techniques and experimental trickery

  • was rebuffed, and he was relegated to entertaining the troops with his illusions.

  • However, eventually Maskelyne negotiated a deal with his superiors- in exchange for performing

  • for the troops and raising morale, Maskelyne would be allowed to assemble his own squad

  • of camouflage artists.

  • His superiors agreed, and the Magic Gang was born.

  • To form his ragtag bunch of experimental wartime illusionists, Maskelyne turned to the most

  • unlikely of recruits.

  • Interviewing over 400 prospective members, Maskelyne selected a murderer's row of cartoonists,

  • electrical engineers, chemists, carpenters, and other unlikely soldiers drafted or volunteered

  • into the war- men who's unique talents and viewpoints were less in line with the rigid,

  • orderly structure of the military, but perfect for Maskelyne's plans to fool Hitler using

  • magic.

  • Months later, Maskelyne would get his chance to put his techniques to the test.

  • After the loss of critical supplies to German bombers, a vital supply run was being planned

  • for the Alexandria port.

  • Somehow those bombers had to be convinced to strike elsewhere, and give the ships enough

  • time to dock, unload their supplies, and head back out to sea.

  • Maskelyne knew exactly what to do, but it would require a lot of faith from the British

  • military and a whole lot of manpower.

  • Maskelyne's plan was simple: he'd just make the entire Alexandria harbor disappear, and

  • give the Germans a new, fake harbor to bomb instead.

  • A few miles away from the real harbor, at an inlet named Maryut Bay, the Magic Gang,

  • with the help of hundreds of soldiers, began to construct a smaller scale version of Alexandria

  • harbor using cardboard.

  • Rather than create full-size replicas of the buildings, the entire operation was down-scaled,

  • but used perspective tricks to fool the high flying German bombers into thinking it was

  • the real deal.

  • Vehicles and other objects that could be used for reference were recreated at smaller scale,

  • making the also smaller scale buildings look the right size by comparison.

  • Lights were strung up all across the fake harbor, and explosive charges were buried

  • in the ground.

  • As the convoy of ships arrived at port, the lights at the real harbor were turned off,

  • and when the Luftwaffe attack came, the Magic Gang began to set off explosives in the fake

  • harbor.

  • This made the German bombers believe that their fellow airmen were already bombing the

  • target, and convinced them to drop their own loads.

  • For three straight nights the German bombers dropped their loads all over empty desert,

  • failing to hit anything of value.

  • Makelyne was immediately promoted for the success of his harbor illusion, and his use

  • of light and shadow to enhance existing camouflage techniques were spread all across the allied

  • forces.

  • His next test would be even more critical- helping protect the Suez Canal from enemy

  • bombers.

  • If the Germans managed to shut down the Suez Canal, the Allies' oil supply routes would

  • be seriously compromised, and so would the war effort.

  • Moving a feature as large as the Suez Canal would be completely impossible, no matter

  • the amount of trickery involved.

  • So instead, Makelyne focused on simply making the harbor itself extremely difficult to accurately

  • target by high flying bombers.

  • The Magic Gang set to work by installing 21 powerful search lights all along the length

  • of the canal.

  • Multi-faceted, rotating mirrors would send up beams of blinding light up to 100 miles

  • in the sky, making it incredibly difficult for German bombers to accurately target the

  • canal.

  • Next, Maskelyne was ordered to aid General Montgomery in his attempts to defeat the formidable

  • German Field Marshal Rommel at the second battle of El Alamien.

  • Montgomery's plan was simple- he would attack from the north with his main forces, while

  • sending a smaller, diversionary attack south.

  • Maskelyne was tasked with making the southern force look like the real attack by disguising

  • trucks and jeeps as tanks and anti-tank guns.

  • With the aid of plywood and canvas, hundreds of vehicles were made to look like Montgomery's

  • main forces, bolstered by over a thousand inflatable dummy tanks.

  • The deception was aided with the addition of fake tank tracks in the desert and by setting

  • up a daily chatter of fake radio conversations as well as the sounds of construction.

  • This plot would end up fooling the wily Rommel, and ultimately lead to Montgomery's famous

  • victory.

  • Maskelyne would go on to continue practicing his art of illusion and trickery and aiding

  • the allies to victory.

  • Well, at least that's Maskelyne's version of events.

  • A well-known stage performer, official investigations into Maskelyne's war record shows that many

  • of his so-called accomplishments were likely completely overstated- seen as most of the

  • accounts of his exploits came from his ghost-written autobiography.

  • In truth, the official record shows that while Maskelyne did aid in allied efforts to camouflage

  • friendly forces, he never received any official recognition.

  • His so-called Magic Gang was also discovered to be yet another illusion, as no such unit

  • ever existed.

  • Furthermore, his efforts to aid in the camouflage of the Suez Canal were met with modest success,

  • and it was more the dedicated British anti-aircraft gunners and fighter pilots who kept the canal

  • open than Maskelyne and his magic lights.

  • In the end Maskelyne's account of his own exploits are much like his magic act, in that

  • the audience is largely left wondering how much of it was real, and how much of it merely

  • a fabrication.

  • Now watch this, Hitler's Child Army, or click this other video instead!

Egypt, 1941.

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B2 camouflage harbor canal magic allied german

Why The British Hired A Magician To Defeat the Nazis

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    林宜悉 posted on 2021/02/14
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