All is fair in love and war is a saying that often proves to be true.
People usually like principles and breaking them is often criticized. However, when it comes to war, resorting to decoys in order to defeat the enemy is not regarded as a negative thing. Quite the contrary, using anything that can make the enemy surrender is allowed. During WW2 Romania used deceptive tactics against the Soviet enemy that the country had been in open conflict with since 1941.
Romania entered WW2 in the summer of 1941, having had its borders amputated a year before, in June, August and September 1940. Thus, the area around the town of Ploiesti, which was rich in oil deposits, became of outmost strategic importance, being the only source of fuel in the entire region. Defending it was vital. The original idea of defending it by means of deceptive tactics was put into practice by the German command. Mock armies and fake industrial areas were used by both sides. Photos from that time show us dummy tanks, trucks and planes and even industrial plants and cities.
Historian Lucian Vasile with the Institute for the Investigation of Communist Crimes and the Memory of the Romanian Exile is the author of a history of the town of Ploiesti. He told us more about the military dummies created in order to divert the Russians: ”Those large-scale dummies and decoys were aimed at protecting the oil plants around the town of Ploiesti. The idea was first discussed in 1941. Before Romania entered the war, all possible dangers to it were only theoretical. That is why, the German troops, together with the Romanian ones, discussed about all possible defense means. Alongside bringing anti-air cannons, and installing balloons around the town, the German authorities considered building some dummies and decoys. The first fake industrial area was set up in the spring of 1941. The location was not picked randomly. It was clear that once the Barbarossa operation was initiated, the Soviets would try to attack the refineries. Attacks were to come from the east, so a fake area needed to be created to divert Soviet attackers before they reached Ploiesti. ”
Such a large-scale deception needed to be both light and cheap. According to Lucian Vasile, the dummy was detailed enough to look authentic: ”Structures were made of wood and walls were made of fabric. They were designed to be used during the night. The dummy consisted of some wooden frames with fabric, and lights were added to draw the attention of attackers. There were also several furnaces in which all sort of things were burned, so as to give the impression that a functional refinery was there. There are no photos of it unfortunately, only written descriptions.
These dummies, aimed to draw the attack away from the vulnerable area, were not very effective. Lucian Vasile: ”If it was worth the effort is still debatable, since the visual deception would have only been efficient if bombardments had taken place at night. That is why the operation was easily debunked during the first air strike that took place during the day, on June 13, 1941. The Soviets found out there was a mock industrial platform before the town of Ploiesti, meant to divert them. So the German authorities started to build a new one, in Ciorani, 20 km east from the first dummy. They used the first strategy. When the Russian aircraft was getting close, the lights in Ploiesti were turned off and the ones on the dummy were turned on. This was useful for one month, until August 18, when it was also revealed. ”
The last attempt to fool the enemy came along with a change in strategy: ”Just like in a cat and dog game, German authorities built the third model, not in the east this time, but in the west. The Soviets were expecting to first see the dummy and then the town. Only that the Germans played the reverse game this time. The new mock building was located in Bratasanca, 17 km west of Ploiesti. The Soviet raids were minor in terms of destructive power. There were only several dozens rudimentary planes, if we compare them with what the Americans had a few years later, that is hundreds of bombardiers accompanied by hundreds of fighter jets.”
The idea of resorting to visual deceit in the area of Ploiesti was eventually abandoned, due to its high cost and low efficiency and also due to the fact that the parties involved in the conflict had perfected their science of war.