Faber £9.99 (645pp) (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 0870 079 8897
Churchill's Wizards, By Nicholas Rankin
Friday 08 May 2009
Camouflage and propaganda, fakery and impersonation, phantom generals and mirage armies: "Monty's Double" was the actorly tip of an iceberg of subterfuge that stood the British in good stead through both world wars.
This enthralling, bizarrely comic history of the national "genius for deception" collects the rackety secret careers of figures from TE Lawrence (a "fake sheikh" if ever there was one) to Dudley Clarke – the man who invented a fictitious "Special Air Service" to frighten the Nazis before any real SAS existed.
Rankin shrewdly connects the British triumphs of illusion to a flair for acting and pretence. It's a miracle so many stunts worked: above all, the ghost army of Fusag – a mighty but non-existent US force – that the Germans feared would invade France from Kent. These huge fibs changed – and maybe saved – the world.
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