In order to deceive Allied bombers, the Germans had created fake airfields in Europe with perfectly imitated planes made out of wood. Strange stories circulate around these ghost airfields saying that the Allies dropped wooden bombs, often with the words “Wood for wood” written on them. This story has been denied officially by the British authorities, and the American site Snopes has called it an urban legent. Historian Pierre Antoine Courouble, who is a member of the French association “Former Airfields”, has looked into it. In fact, the story would appear to resemble La Fontaine’s fable about the trick backfiring, and at first sight seems quite improbable. War is not a game, why expose pilots’s lives and precious war materials to make such jokes?
The matter is nothing but a few mess jokes for pilots, transformed into pub boastings that popular rumour reinforced by revenging patriotism, developed and exaggerated.
> PA Courouble has found and recorded a number of testimonies coming from members of the Resistance, civilians or employees on German airfields, and German pilots themselves, who declare that they witnessed these droppings of wooden bombs.
The Germans made fake wooden bombs for their fake planes. After Allied raids, witnsses thought that the wooden missiles found on the ground came from the Allies.
> No testimonies on the part of Germans, or from employees, prisoners, or the local Resistance mention the presence of fake bombs made by the Germans. The latter did not go to such lengths for the sake of realism.
The Allies used a large number of wooden bombs for training purposes, and these cluttered up the armourers’ depots. To get rid of them little by little, the latter loaded them on to bombers in the midst of real bombs.
> All the testimonies talk of targetted bombings in which wooden bombs were not found scattered about the airfields. Wooden bombs on fakes AND real bombs on real sites, with, sometimes, the words “Wood for wood” and “Steel for steel”.
The pilots were 20 years old, and some of them took initiatives of this sort to make fun of the enemy, using humour as an escape from the horrors of war. These initiatives were not authorised by the military hierarchy.
> Numerous testimonies mention droppings of wooden bombs undertaken after information received from the Resistance in London. These cases suggest that the Allies knew all about the Germans’ doings, and replied accordingly, therefore with authorisation.
The SOE, an English secret service working closely with the Resistance networks, had at its disposal a squadron dedicated to spychological warfare operations. Some of their missions consisted in dropping leaflets and wooden bombs in order to demoralise the enemy.
> The British authorities have always denied these facts. They never dropped wooden bombs. They even show offence at the idea: “We are not Monty Python! War is not a game!”
“Truth, they say, is but too often in difficulties, but is never finally suppressed” Livy
Neverending objections are to be found on the web concerning the matter of the wooden bombs, and die hard in some forums, although they have been refuted with precision in the book “The enigma of the wooden bombs.” To quote:
“A site for urban myths demystifies this story.”
=> The American site Snopes demystifies strictly nothing and does nothing but state without proof and criticise only ONE witness (the article by journaliste William Shirer), whereas we have collected several hundred witnesses for the most part actual witnesses of or participators in these droppings. In addition, the article’s arguments are based on historical falsehoods: “such airfields made entirely of wood would have been an extraordinary waste of resources for the Germans” (nevertheless they did indeed exist and are are in fact listed). “The latter did not need to be realistic in the eyes of those on the ground.” (Witnesses’ statements and photos taken at the time prove the opposite)…
“A wooden object dropped from several thousand feet would have been smashed to millions of toothpicks.”
=> During the 30s and 40s the Dutch, the English and the Americans made wooden bombs for exercise purposes which not only did not shatter on contact with the ground, but could be reused. It is true (GB) that some of them were filled with sand, and made especially to explode on the ground, but others that were smaller (NL and USA) were fitted with metal noses. They did not shatter on hitting the ground and have even come down to us intact.
“Dropping a large wooden bomb fitted with a parachute would not guarantee its reaching its target.”
=> The (slow) SEO planes were accustomed to this. Dropping an obect weighted with a parachute from the air on to a false airfield the size of several football grounds was not more difficult than dropping containers on to a field or a pasture.
“These joke-missions were unthinkable since the Germans did not repost with pine cones!...”
=> Another false idea. The risks from flying over these fake airfields was NIL, for the Germans did not defend them. Numerous witnesses collected even state that children from the neighbouring farms used them as playgrounds, especially from 1943!
“What strategic interest would the Allies have had informing the Germans that their trick had been seen through?”
=> Almost all the sites studied prove that the Allies NEVER bombed the fake ones. This was indirect proof that the Allies were not taken in. On the other hand, numerous witnesses state that the dropping of wooden bombs annoyed the Germans to a great extent and contributed to demoralising them.
In January 1941, the English military propaganda services had thought of putting out this story of wooden bombs, but they had changed their minds, fearing they would expose their sources of information (contacts in the Resistance)
=> Exactly, this is indeed proof that the English considered such droppings as a valid part of psychological warfare. But what may have been true in January 1941, was less so in the spring with the redeployment of German troops on the Russian front, and not at all so in 1942, 1943 and 1944, when German fakes were rotting away in the sunshine and the rain.
Carrying out a bombing mission with a lone plane would have been suicidal, the defence of the bombers was guaranteed by accompanying fighter planes.
=> Another falsehood. From 1942 onwards, isolated attacks by fighter bombers had become common. Some planes carrying out reconnaissance or observation missions for tactical support on the ground, were equipped with these wooden bombs to be used as signals or markers of targets (especially the drift signal Mk4 or Mk5 models equipped with a smoke device).
It was expensive and counterproductive to organise a mission to drop wooden bombs on fakes when there was so much to do elsewhere.
=> All the testimonies concerning the dropping of several wooden bombs on fake airfields show that these missions were combined with the real bombing of the genuine airfield nearby. It was therefore a combined operation, with no waste of time or energy. During a real raid, as they went over the fakes, they left a few “visiting cards”.
No English archive document in the mission reports or ORB (Operations Rercord Books) mentions dropping wooden bombs.
=> According to former airmen, if these missions were carried out without the hierarchy knowing about them, there would be no reason to find a trace of them in the ORBs. Dr Benamou states that these were “psywar” missions, carried out by the SOE, and that since 90% of the archives burned “accidentally” after the war and only 1% of the rest are available for consultation nowadays, it would be a miracle to find any trace. Moreover, all the members of the SOE swore an oath not to talk about anything “for life”.