The Illusionist Who Defeated The Nazis With Magic
martes, 13 de diciembre de 2016 4:51|Roberto Soberanis
Amidst the several curious and unexpected strategies of the Second World War, there was one case were mysticism and magic was used to defeat enemies. This is the tale of British soldier Jasper Maskelyne, who became known as The War Magician.
Born in 1902, Maskelyne was the son and grandson of famous magicians. From them he learned the trade and worked as such for several years. In 1940, at the brink of war, he enlisted in the Royal Engineers and was stationed in Alexandria, were he designed several ruses to trick the Germans by using his most valuable weapon: magic.
When he first joined the corps, Jasper was sent to the Camouflage Development and Training Centre, a squadron destined for Cairo. Their mission was to disguise and conceal machine guns and vehicles so they would not be discovered by the enemy.
He received the name of War Magician following a confrontation with Prince Hassan, leader of the Dervish tribe. The prince had been warned that there was a foreigner with special powers in his territory, Turkey, so he challenged the intruder. If the Brit won, the prince would allow passage to the foreign troops. If Maskelyne lost, they would not gain access.
Jasper and Hassan faced each other with tricks which became more and more sophisticated, leading to the Dervish man to stab a spear into his stomach. All of the witnesses stood in shock, except for Maskelyne who remembered his grandfather doing the same trick. He approached the prince to uncover a leather girdle that simulated the strike. This earned him respect from the Prince, who then permitted the British to cross through his land.
From then on, Jasper’s superiors were so impressed with his use of the art of magic that they decided to create a special division named the Camouflage Experimental Section. This task force was entrusted with fighting against Rommel and the famous Afrika Korps, the German military unit sent to North Africa in 1941.
Their first mission was to disguise 200 tanks docked at the port of Alexandria. Jasper had thought up using paint but there was not enough to cover all of them. Instead, the illusionist and his team scoured their surroundings and found a warehouse full of expired Worcestershire sauce. This mixed with sundried camel feces produced a color similar to sand, making the tanks easier to hide.
In a site that was designated as Magic Valley, the team created submarine replicas, as well as entire armies made out of cardboard to fool German pilots. But Jasper’s greatest feat was the task of camouflaging the port of Alexandria, a crucial target for the enemies. The magician knew that hiding an entire city was not possible, but came up with a solution: to create a fake Alexandria a few miles south of the actual location. Over 200 men were needed to complete this mission.
The plan was that as soon as the German planes were close enough to bomb the port, the lights of the real city would be turned off and the ones of the replica city would be turned on in order to trick the pilots. Though it seemed impossible, it proved to be a successful endeavor.
The German pilots were positive that a nighttime attack would take the city in the African desert by surprise, but when they arrived, they were confused when noting that the assigned area was in total darkness. As they thought their mission had failed, they saw a sliver of light telling them they were near Alexandria.
Maskelyne fulfilled one if his greatest illusions: the German soldiers returned to their base assuming they had completed a step in the expansion of the Third Reich. In reality their bombs had raised a mockup of the Egyptian city. Ruses like this continued to trick the other side until Germany’s conditional surrender.
Maskelyne returned home in 1946, hoping to continue his career as a magician. But the English population was not as keen on his tricks. It seemed everyone wanted to forget about the war, even if it meant stories of smoke and mirrors. Disappointed by the rejection, he went to Kenya to continue assisting the British troops in the war against the Mau Mau.
Still, Jasper Maskelyne’s use of his talent to create spectacular diversions in the war proved that the same tricks to surprise crowds could also fool entire armies.
Translated by María Suárez