The military is a world of its own— from the rituals and training to the jargon and traditions. Unless you have served in the military yourself, a lot of the processes and procedures they go through can be difficult to understand. A successful military is one that focuses on strategy. There are extensive training protocols that soldiers go through and for very good reasons. But sometimes, in the past, soldiers have turned to other, non-traditional methods to advance themselves or their countries in battle. Some of which can be considered quite dirty. Here are some of the dirtiest tricks ever pulled in military history.
35. Straight Into Explosion
During the second world war, German forces would rig crooked wall paintings to explode when straightened with hopes that it would harm allied officers when they came in to set up command posts.
34. Buried Alive
When Timur the Lame was about to attack the city of Sivas, he promised the 3,000 Christian Armenian sipahis that he would not shed any of their blood if they surrendered.
They did, and, true to his word, he had them all buried alive.
33. Drinkable Water Isn’t A War Crime
The British pulled a dirty trick during the African campaign in WWII. At every well and oasis they could find, they hung a sign that said “Danger! Poison!” In English and German.
It was only when the Germans complained that poisoning wells was a war crime that the British pointed out that yes, poisoning wells was a crime, but merely hanging signs was not. The water was perfectly drinkable.
32. Cats On Fire
Genghis Khan, in a large-scale attack against the fortress at Volohai, after being unable to breach the walls demanded 1,000 cats and 10,000 Chinese Swallows in exchange for lifting the siege. When the defenders sent out the animals Genghis took them and tied tufts of cotton to their tails and ignited them, at which point the animals rushed back to their homes within the city, igniting hundreds of small fires, while Genghis’ army attacked again and took the fortress amidst the panic
31. Hallucinating On Honey
So there’s this kind of honey made in Turkey called “mad honey”. It’s made from the pollen of Rhododendron flowers. If you eat very much of it you get very inebriated, and you often hallucinate. You can even go overboard on it. A few times in antiquity, it was used as a weapon of war. For example, the Persians left some out for the Romans to find. The Romans ate that sweet stuff right up, and then the Persians attacked them while they were all inebriated and defenseless.
30. Approaching From The Side
Back in the English Civil War there was a certain nobility in battle where you were supposed to be able to see your opponents and you would stand and fight. Cromwell decided this was stupid and in numerous battles would send troops around the side hidden by trees and bushes to tear through the Cavaliers before the fight properly began. Was a lot dirtier a trick at the time.
29. Spreading The Plague Via The Sea
During the Siege of Kaffa, the Mongols hurled the corpses of the deceased soldiers decimated by the black plague into the besieged city. It is considered one of the key events that help spread the disease in Western Europe, harming millions.
28. The Deception Of Overshooting V1s
The first V1 flying rockets (if you’re under the age of 40, think first-generation cruise missiles) were being launched by Germany against London.
And they were hitting. They were ‘area weapons’, as ‘accuracy’ was pretty much a mile on any side of the aiming point, but they were coming down in Central London.
Germany had no agents in Britain. Not. One. They thought they did, but every agent they sent over was caught and then either ‘turned’ or disposed of, and the other agents were all fictitious: imaginary ones dreamed up in a British campaign of disinformation that was—and is—breathtaking.
The Government decided that they simply didn’t want to risk the buildings and architecture and heritage of the heart of London (quite a lot had been destroyed anyway), and so the ‘agents’ reported back to Berlin that the V1s were overshooting their targets and coming down in North London. Fake stories planted in newspapers reinforced the deception.
The Germans dutifully shortened the range, and the V1s knocked out of areas of South London. One reason why a lot of Croydon is 1960s concrete is because of the damage done by the V1s in 1944.
In short, someone said: “Our people are going to lose their lives and our buildings are going to be flattened whatever happens, so let it be here.”
27. Attempts To Assassinate Fidel Castro
Some of the USA’s tricks during the Cold War to assassinate Fidel Castro were pretty mad.
One idea, attempted by the CIA, included putting thallium salts into his shoes so that his beard, eyebrows, and body hair fell out. It was considered that this would cause his downfall as no one would take him seriously after that.
26. Slaughtered While Intoxicated
Olga of Kiev’s entire campaign against the Drevlians.
She had the first set of emmisaries beheaded, had a second set locked in a bathhouse and then burned. Then she invited a whole bunch more for a funeral feast and had them disposed of while they were inebriated. Then she just marched her soldiers over and took out the rest.
25. False Sense Of Safety
A British ship disguised itself as a cruise liner complete with men dressed as women to lure German U-boats into a false sense of safety.
24. The End Of Live And Let Live
There was a time of WWI called “live and let live”— both sides essentially refusing to fight and coming out of the trenches together (socializing). After the generals on one side (I think it was the British, but could be wrong) found out about this, they devised a dirty trick. The British lured the Germans out of their trench by playing a traditional German anthem and cut them all down, thus ending the days of “live and let live”.
23. Burning A City Of Wood
The US rained fire on Tokyo, because the houses were mostly made of wood, they knew the city would burn. Even the guy who drafted the plan, Robert McNamara, was ashamed of it.
22. A Delayed Contract Of Peace
Maybe not the dirtiest, but according to my point of view a very unethical trick. Near the end of the Great War, Italy and Austria signed a contract of peace on the November 3rd, 1918. The Austrians thought that the contract was valid from the moment the signature was written, but in fact, the contact became valid on the several days after the third. But the Austrian troops have already started to travel back home, thus South Tyrol was unprotected. The Italian army recognized that and silently invaded South Tyrol. The dirty trick comes now, an Italian namen Ettore Tolomei always wanted South Tyrol to become a part of Italy, so he translated the names of very common locations into the Italian language. Then he presented his map the Allies, claiming that South Tyrol had previously been a part of Italy. Due to that lie, South Tyrol was promised to Italy in the Treaty of London. Since then our small region is a part of Italy.
21. A Firey Town Meeting
Back in the 15th century when the Spanish invaded Holland, in a town called Naarden, they organized a town meeting where they were going to inform everyone how Spanish and Dutch could peacefully co-exist. When all the Dutch gathered in the town hall, they were locked up and it was set on fire.
20. Tricked Into Turning Around
I read somewhere about a high-ranking officer in the Chinese military that was infamous among enemies and allies for his cleverness and ability to come up with unique war tactics.
During some war, the enemy army was marching towards some strategically valuable location. The General, knowing he could not let this army take the location, rode to a town that the army had to pass through to get there, and set up his plan.
As the enemy army approached the town they see this general, all alone, sitting on an arch above the entrance playing a flute. They turn right around and abandon the plan, fearing some brutal and elaborate ambush. The General was bluffing, he was the only person there.
19. Grenades And Canned Beef
Despite their reputation, Canadian soldiers in WW1 were prone to the vicious behaviour of the war as any other of the period. By the later half of the war, the concept of trench raids became a prevailing method of engaging the enemy. One Canadian soldier recounted a particularly sneaky incident involving cans of beef. Discovering that the Germans had a knack for Canadian canned beef, a Canadian raiding party snuck up on the German trench line and lobbed a can over. At first, the Germans reacted as if it was a grenade, but when a second can went over they started to gather to see the event. They called for more, grouping together, excited to finally get a taste of some long missed meat. Eventually, once a large enough group had gathered, the Canadian soldiers called out “Eat this!” And lobbed all their grenades in on their quarry.
18. Explosive Maze Of Underground Tunnels
Battle of Messines Ridge during WW1 is an interesting one.
Basically a series of tunnels dug beneath tens of thousands of Germans occupying the ridge. It was detonated with 450 tons of explosives without them knowing, vaporizing everyone above and leaving a crater still visible today. It was one of the biggest man made explosions ever created at the time.
17. Trickery Used To Save A Life
We were on patrol in our stryker cruising through Kandahar city. I was a medic so we were in the rear vehicle and I was told to NEVER let anyone pass the convoy. Usually, all it took was a wave of the M240 mounted on the back to get them to back off our convoy, but not this fearless Afghani. I waved that weapon towards his head and he kept getting closer and closer, pointing at the middle of his skull as to taunt me into blowing him away. As he got closer and closer, I knew I had to act. As he got within a stone’s throw I realized I had a yogurt sitting next to me above the stryker. He was still taunting me, pointing at his head, pushing his fingers into the front of his skull. I had had enough of this guy, but I wasn’t there to harm people, I was there to help them. So I grabbed the yogurt and chucked it at his windshield. It was a perfect Tom Brady, Superbowl touchdown throw as it splattered all over his windshield. He couldn’t see anything and had to slam on his brakes, causing the person behind him to ram into the back of his car. He stopped and got out and flipped me off. I waved back to him as we drove off into the harsh sunset of Afghanistan.
16. Rolling Over Land And Olive Oil
During the Ottoman Siege of Constantinople, the Byzantines put a spiky chain across the mouth of the Golden Horn, preventing any ships from mounting a naval assault from their harbor. In order to get the ships where they needed them to take over Constantinople, the Sultan ordered that they roll the ships over land on logs and olive oil to get them into the harbor.
The look on the Byzantines faces when they woke up to Ottoman ships in their harbor.
15. The Propaganda Campaign Of Carrots
Probably during WW2 when the British adopted radar. The radar allowed them to see the location, speed, and direction of travel of German bombers in the night. It was hugely successful. And this is where the trickery comes in. In order to protect this technological advantage, Britain instead launched a propaganda campaign claiming carrots gave you night sight! The British ministry of health even backed it up. This spread like wildfire throughout the world. Your parents probably still tell you carrots improve your sight! It’s all a lie!
14. Sowing Distrust And Paranoia
I don’t know that it was the dirtiest trick, but Project Eldest Son certainly deserves note:
The project focused on placement of exploding cartridges into supplies used by communist combat forces in southeast Asia.
Basically, Special Forces would find ammo caches in the jungle while out on recon, but instead of destroying it, they would replace one in every few dozen or so rounds with specially crafted rounds packed with high-explosive instead of smokeless powder. An AK47 chamber is rated for about 50,000 pounds per square inch. The high explosive they used produced around 250,000 pounds per square inch. The resulting random explosions maimed users, sowing distrust and paranoia toward their weapons among the rest of the forces, heavily demoralizing them.
13. A Sneak Attack Through Suicide Charge
When the Great Wall of China was built to keep out the Mongols, one tactic was to lead a small lunatic charge at the wall. They would then play dead, to the point of having limbs broken and not reacting, and when they came out to collect the bodies would all rush through with reinforcements.
The Mongols did a lot of smart, dirty stuff like this.
12. The Traumatizing Teddy Bear Trick
During the Soviet-Afghan war, the Soviets would leave teddy bears with explosives in them for children to find. They were intended to severely injure the children, but hopefully not end their lives. The rationale being that parents couldn’t evacuate an area as quickly because they would be caring for the injured child.
11. Bulldozing Over The Enemy
I have an uncle who was a tank commander in the first Gulf War, I don’t know many specifics but what I do know is that the Iraqi insurgents had dug trenches in the ground to wait for tanks to drive over them so they could blow them up from the bottom. However, instead of driving tanks over the trenches, the US military drove bulldozers directly at the trenches burying many of the insurgents alive. Also, the tanks would fire smoke shells and completely obscure the battlefield. The Iraqis thought they could move freely because the tanks could not see them, but little did they know that the US has IR (Infrared) and Heat vision optics. They were quickly shot down through the smoke.
10. The Siege Full Of Deceptions
In the Siege of Mafeking in the second Boer War, Colonel Baden Powell ordered soldiers to bury wooden boxes, pretending they were explosives, unspool yarn to look like barbed wire, build fires to make it look like they had many men, and even sent a train with explosives out of the city toward a barricade. The siege lasted 212 days, but Boers could have taken it in one afternoon. Later, Colonel Powell took inner-city kids from London and put them on an abandoned island, creating the Boy Scouts.
9. More Campfires Than Men
Not really dirty so much as brilliant, but general Belisarius of the late Roman/early Byzantine Empire. There are several instances of him lighting many more campfires than he had men so enemy scouts would see his camp lit up at night and think he had way more men than he actually did.
The first time, the Ostrogoths were besieging the city of Ariminum, and Belisarius came up with a three-pronged plan, where one force would attack from the hills on the left, one would come by sea on the right, and then one would go up the middle. However, the middle force was only a group of men tasked with lighting fires to make it look like a massive army camped out at night. The next morning, the fleet arrived, the left flank arrived, and the Ostrogoths, believing they were surrounded, broke their siege and ran for the hills.
The second time, Constantinople was at risk of being sacked by the Bulgars. Belisarius again had his men light way more fires than necessary, then had them make as much noise as possible to make it sound like there were many more of them than there really was. When the Bulgars attacked, he had a small ambush force attack them, so, being attacked by forces they didn’t know were there on one side, and hearing the noise coming from what they thought was already a sizeable force (due to the fires) on the other, they were made to believe they were now vastly outnumbered and retreated, saving the city.
8. How D-Day Could’ve Been Different
D-Day had so many sneaky aspects leading up to it. The Germans knew an invasion was coming but the question was where. The two suspected points were either Normandy or Calais (which was a bit closer to England so more expected). Well, the Allies fed the expectation of Calais nonstop with fake balloons of tanks for Germans to spot and even an entire army run by none other than George S Patton that didn’t even exist, but it did send messages to conveniently be intercepted by Germans.
Unfortunately, German commander Rommel wanted to check things out himself at Normandy and was shocked at the lack of preparation. In a few months they built up defenses nonstop and it was at the defensive levels of a fortress by the time of the invasion. Fortunately for the Allies, even during the initial stages of the actual invasion, the Germans still expected a Calais attack while they were distracted with Normandy. Rommel ordered supplies to Normandy but the other Germans didn’t like Rommel so they demanded they go to Calais to prepare, expecting the Normandy raid to be only a foreshock of the true attack. Well, the French Resistance decided to put a dent in the plans and cut down electrical wires, damaged infrastructure and made the German logistics go through hell just to deliver supplies. Had Rommel been listened to D-Day could have been very different, except, Patton managed to complete his task at Calais.
7. A Test Of Reaction Turned Attack
The Egyptians would test Israeli response time by rushing their position with tanks and then backing off before crossing the border. They did this day after day until the Israelis got used to it. Then, when the Israelis were expecting another test, the Egyptians attacked.
At the start of the Six Day War, the Israelis figured out that the Egyptian air force would run their sorties and then return to base for tea and prayer. Most airforces keep only a proportion of their total planes in combat ready status at any time with the rest down for maintenance or kept in reserve. The Israeli air force kept their planes in a much greater proportion of combat-capable so that when the time was right nearly the whole Israeli air force could be unleashed to destroy Egyptian runways when the pilots landed to go about their routine.
6. The Illusion Of A Giant Jet
Operation Opera. During the mission in which Israel destroyed Iraq’s nuclear reactor. Their F-16 pilots flew in such a tight formation that they wanted to give off the appearance of being a jumbo jet on any radar screen.
5. The Cold War’s Cardboard Planes
During the Cold War, the US knew when the Russian spy satellites would cross over Area 51 so Area 51 crews began constructing fanciful fake planes out of cardboard and other mundane materials, to cast misleading shadows for the Soviets to decipher.
4. Bombing A City That Wasn’t There
In WW2, the Allies put tons of spotlights east of Alexandria, and at night turned off all of the lights in Alexandria, so the German and Italian bombers thought the spotlights east of Alexandria was the city and bombed them instead.
3. Forced To Fight To Death
According to some records in the Art of War, it is considered a good strategy to corner your men and have the enemy attempt to wipe them out, because when the only means of escape/survival is through the enemy then your own men will fight to the death.
2. Going Scorched Earth
The Russians and their use of a scorched Earth policy. I can’t think of a better way to flip off your invaders than ruining all your own stuff so when they do take it, it’s worthless. Not only that, but the land itself is just too cold. So go ahead, take the land. You will just freeze to death. Congratulations.
1. Post-War Bombing
The destruction of the German cities after the war was already won.