War is far more than just two groups of people stabbing and shooting at each other. It is also a battle of the minds: one strategy versus another, in a complex process of deceit, trickery, disguise, and all sorts of tactics that would give you an advantage and get two, maybe three steps ahead of them. Throughout time, many different tactics have been made. Some of them worked, others were ridiculous, and there are a few that were ridiculous but worked. Here are some of those.

 

The Q-Ships

During World War I, the German U-boats became a major headache for the British shipping industry,  But the Germans were following the rules of war at the time. The U-boat would surface near the merchant vessel ordering it to heave too.  It would often send a boarding party over to the ship to inspect its cargo. If it was carrying stuff bound for England, the crew and any passengers would be allowed to take to the lifeboats and the U-boat would sink it by gunfire or a torpedo.  Since a U-boat then could not carry more than 10-12 torpedoes they would generally save them for warships rather than expend them against a small steamer. After sinking the small ship, the U-boat would then broadcast the location of the sinking so rescue ships could recover the passengers. The British were losing so many ships that they decided to do something pretty devious.   They began creating “Q-Ships,” armed vessels disguised as merchantmen.

The idea was not bizarre at all. It was how it was carried out that was really interesting.

First, they took the least likely ships they could find, old tramp steamers, wooden sailing craft, and large fishing boats, and added cannons and machine guns to them.  They wanted to use vessels the U-boats would be more likely to sink with gunfire than with a torpedo.  They created false fronts and drop away hull sections to conceal the guns and would fly the flag of a neutral country as well. The crew would be disguised as civilians, some even dressing as women. To ensure that the disguise was convincing, sailors would lounge on deck with their “wives” and stroll on the deck with a parasol over her head.

They would also repaint the vessels frequently to change their appearance along with using fake structures made of wood and canvas to change her silhouette on the horizon.  These ships would leave under one flag and name only to arrive at another port under a different flag and a new name painted on their hull. Their cargo holds would be filled with light woods or other buoyant materials to make them hard to sink.

Crews also worked out an elaborate pantomime knowing they would be under periscope observation by the submarine.  They drilled on   “abandoning the ship” once the U-boat appeared, in a mock panic as they screamed and ran around the decks before half of them would actually make for the lifeboats while the rest used the chaos on deck to man their guns.

When the U-boat surfaced they would allow it to come in close and then on signal, drop the false fronts and hinged hull plates and just blast the submarine at point-blank range.

And it worked, as long as no U-boat survived the encounter to give warning, the secret of the Q-Ships would be safe.

Then a U-boat managed to get away and report back that it had been attacked by s small steamer armed to the teeth.

The secret was out. In about 150 encounters between U-boats and Q-Ships, 14 subs and 25 Q-Ships were sunk.  The ratio was a bit lopsidded for this reason, the Q-Ship would often have to absorb the sub’s attack first by deck gun or torpedo and then pretend to be crippled and abandoned to draw the U-boat closer in order to spring the trap.

The Q-Ships made U-boat commanders pretty nervous about attacking small, seemingly defenseless coastal steamers and fishing boats which helped keep the U-boats away from England’s coastal traffic.

 

The Horse Carcass

The soldiers in the trenches of World War I would usually blast and try to obliterate each other into oblivion on the land between one another’s trenches called the No Man’s Land. The problem was that it was too perilous to even just peek at your enemy while there, and the enemies would bombard you and everything around you nonstop until the landscape was just a flat, barren land of pulverized dirt, smoke, and corpses—what a fitting name for that place.

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The French Army came up with a solution: Sneak into the No Man’s land and the enemy trenches by pretending to be a dead horse. The idea came when one of their horses broke loose, ran toward the enemy trenches, and got shot. Upon seeing that horse, they thought they could almost stuff one soldier inside the horse’s body.

Papier mâché simulation of a horse carcass, with a sniper hidden inside. (camoupedia.blogspot.com)

Now, you wouldn’t really want to hide a soldier in a carcass of a horse, so they instead started creating a hollow papier-mache replica of the horse whose death was not in vain anymore. They placed a gun port in the anus. The French soldiers waited until dark before sneaking into the No Man’s land near the German trenches, taking away the real dead horse and replacing it with their paper replica with the sniper. He had with him a telephone wire, too, so that he could report back to his comrades about the German movements.

Soon, one of the German soldiers perhaps horrified at first, saw the horse they killed a few days ago giving birth to a soldier. They destroyed the decoy, but the French would still keep on trying the same tactic a few more times before completely giving up.

Pretended to be Women

In 1973, a group of Israeli special forces commandos was on a mission to eliminate the three key leaders of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) who were the main ones responsible for the Munich massacre during the 1972 Olympics. The operatives knew that if they wanted to succeed, they should come up with a brilliant and discreet approach, something that the PLO would not see coming.

The most logical idea for them at that time was to dress up as women to infiltrate the PLO. With their wigs, fake boobs, and shoes, these Israeli special forces walk down the streets of Beirut in the arms of the other members, who were normally dressed men.

The seemingly buffed women walk past right the police without raising suspicions and to the apartment buildings of the PLO targets. Once inside, the couples pulled out their guns and explosives and successfully killed their targets.

Ehud Barak in the military. (Barak Weizmann, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons)

More surprisingly, one of the fake women was Ehud Barak, who would one day become both the Prime Minister and Defense Minister of Israel.