Sometimes luck charms on you and things go your way out of nowhere. In April of 1943, Hitler’s military intelligence service got their hands on a dead British marines soldier. The soldier’s body had washed away to the Spanish shores apparently after a plane crash. On his body, the intelligence service found photos of his girlfriend, and a few military documents. And while most of the documents were unimportant, there was one letter that gave away the British plans to invade Germany.
There was a top secret letter from the vice chief of the Imperial General Staff to the allied army commander in North Africa. The letter was long and rambling. Amongst the various paragraphs, it gave away the clues to what the British were planning:
“We have had recent information that the Germans have been reinforcing and strengthening their defences in Greece and Crete, and Chief of the Imperial General Staff felt that our forces for the assault were insufficient. It was agreed by the Chiefs of Staff that the 5th Division should be reinforced by one Brigade Group for the assault on the beach south of Cape Araxos and that a similar reinforcement should be made for the 56th Division at Kalamata.”
Hitler’s defensive plan
When the German military intelligence presented the letter to Hitler, he was overjoyed! The Britishers were planning to attack via Balkans and make headway through Greece! Hitler paused his plans to make inroads in USSR and quickly moved 7 divisions from the Eastern front to Greece. And a further 10 divisions were sent to Yugoslavia. To provide naval support, torpedo boats were moved from Sicily to Greek islands.
On 10th July, when the allied forces invaded Sicily, Hitler didn’t do much. It was just a ruse to get him to move his army from Greece to Italy. Boy was he surprised when it turned out that it wasn’t a ruse – and the allies hadn’t sent any resources towards Greece. They had instead focused all their effort to invade through Sicily!
In 38 days, Sicily was captured. The Mediterranean sea route was lost! Soon it was the end of Benito Mussolini’s regime! It changed the course of the whole war. It was the beginning of the end for Hitler.
But what made the Britishers change their minds and invade through Italy and not Greece?
The 007 James Bond trout memo
In 1939, a relatively unknown Lieutenant Commander wrote the “trout memo.” It listed 54 ideas on how to deceive the Germans. Idea number 28 was: “The following suggestion is used in a book by Basil Thomson: a corpse dressed as an airman, with despatches in his pockets, could be dropped on the coast, supposedly from a parachute that had failed. I understand there is no difficulty in obtaining corpses at the Naval Hospital, but, of course, it would have to be a fresh one.”
The idea was basically to plant deceiving papers on a corpse and getting the Germans to find it! The little known Lieutenant Commander who wrote the trout memo was none other than Ian Fleming – who later went on to write all the James Bond novels!
Two naval intelligence officers – Charles Cholmondeley and Ewen Montagu – read the 1939 memo in 1943 and went to work to execute the idea! The plan was always to invade Europe via Sicily. But to make Hitler believe that they were focusing on Greece!
Deception as a strategy
Deception as a strategy has won many a wars.
Arnold Schwarzenegger once read a screenplay that was simply atrocious. But yet, he showed interest in doing the movie. He knew how Hollywood worked. So he asked for an insane amount of money to do it.
So the producers go to Sylvester Stallone and ask him if he would be willing to do the movie. They tell him that if he wouldn’t then the movie would go to his nemesis Schwarzenegger. What do you know? Stallone agrees to do “Stop or my mom will shoot!”
Schwarzenegger laughs and laughs when he hears how Stallone has fallen for his ruse and agreed to do a dumb movie!
How do you pull this art of misdirection off?
Chinese general teaches the art of misdirection
2400 years back, the powerful Kingdom of Wei had laid siege on Handan – the capital city of the Kingdom of Zhao. Zhao had asked their allies the Kingdom of Qi to come to their rescue. Sun Bin – the military advisor of Qi knew that Wei was extremely powerful. Breaking their siege would be very expensive and lots of lives would be lost.
And so, he devised a strategy. Instead of going to Zhao’s aid, Qi’s army marched ahead and laid seige to Daliang – the capital city of the Kingdom of Wei! Wei turned their troops around and left Zhao to save their own city! Their siege was lifted and a surefire win was forfeited!
“Besiege Wei to rescue Zhao” became a lesson that all Chinese military books teach! The trick to misdirection is:
- Know what you want
- Focus your attention on a distraction
- Make your nemesis believe that it’s the distraction that you really want!
It’s the third point that is really crucial. Your opponent has to believe that you really want something that you don’t. Qi had no intention to capture Wei and take on the trouble – but they had to send an army big enough to lay siege to make the ruse work. Schwarzenegger had no wish to do a crappy movie, yet he had to show that he did!
The ideal way to make people believe you want something that you don’t is by getting the information to them indirectly.
The power of indirect communication
A Toyota dealership started running radio ads to recruit more salesmen. In the ad, they highlighted how many cars they were selling. Do you know what happened? That month, the sale of their cars shot through the roof!
You know what’s funny? When they created a similar ad that bragged about how many cars they were selling – directed towards the car buyers, nothing happened.
People believed the ad when it was directed towards recruiting folks, but not when it was directed towards them!
Hitler believed that the allies would invade through Greece because he stumbled on a message not directed to him.
Speak just loud enough so that your child can eavesdrop, and you can make them believe anything.
- Ideally you should not have nemesis. But if you do, never telegraph the things that you covet. Instead misdirect their attention elsewhere.
- The art of misdirection requires that they believe you to want something that you don’t. It’s easier to make them believe if information reaches them indirectly.