Friday, August 15, 2008

[Image] The Hessian Spitfire of Tobruk

23rd September, 1941. Tobruk, Libya.

9th Division Sappers show off their hessian Spitfire.

Engineers from the 9th Division proudly display one of their latest achievements. A dummy Spitfire made from wood and hessian. Whilst boredom was a major obstacle of the Australian soldier in Tobruk, this display of modelling did have a military application.

The German's relied heavily on aerial reconnaissance of the Allied positions at Tobruk, with even Rommel himself known to fly his Storch occasionally for a personal view of the battlefield. With Allied aircraft numbers rapidly dwindling in the Western Desert with each sortie and the Luftwaffe possessing unprecedented air superiority a need for deception was required. Australian Sappers built these dummy aircraft to fool German reconnaissance pilots into thinking that Tobruk possessed a higher number of serviceable fighter planes than they actually did. They also served the added purpose of drawing Luftwaffe bombs away from actual planes, thus increasing their survival chances.

This campaign of deception was used again to great effect by Montgomery at Alamein where the widespread use of dummy troop trucks and tanks gave the Germans an inflated estimate the the Allied numbers that they were facing.

image 020685 Australian War Memorial.