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.