Sep 23, 2022 I Nick Redfern

Weird Warfare: Bizarre Things on the Battlefield

In one part of RAND's The Exploitation of Superstitions for Purposes of Psychological Warfare, Jean M. Hungerford discussed a book that was written in the previous year, 1949. The title of that book was Magic: Top Secret. Its author was a man, magician and military figure named Jasper Maskelyne. The Magic Tricks website says this of Maskelyne: “Jasper Maskelyne, grandson of John Nevil Maskelyne, was an invaluable resource to his native Britain during World War II. Maskelyne became an integral part of a special unit focused on the action along the Suez Canal. With his great knowledge of illusion, Maskelyne was able to devise ingenious- and very large scale- illusion systems that virtually made tanks invisible from the air, hid whole buildings full of ammunition and supplies, and even made an entire city vanish and reappear several miles away.”

Hungerford, in her RAND paper for the U.S. Air Force, made an eye-catching quote from Maskelyne’s book. That same quote reads as follows: “Our men…were able to use illusions of an amusing nature in the Italian mountains, especially when operating in small groups as advance patrols scouting out the way for our general moves forward. In one area, in particular, they used a device which was little more than a gigantic scarecrow, about twelve feet high, and able to stagger forward under its own power and emit frightful flashes and bangs. This thing scared several Italian Sicilian villages appearing in the dawn thumping its deafening way down their streets with great electric blue sparks jumping from it; and the inhabitants, who were mostly illiterate peasants, simply took to their heels for the next village, swearing that the Devil was marching ahead of the invading English." Bizarre, for sure! There's even more to come.

(Nick Redfern) Secret files on bizarre military experiments

Now, let's have a look at spying in the sky - in a very intriguing way: Just one year before the dawning of the 21st Century, Britain's domestic intelligence agency, MI5, released an extraordinary batch of documents. They told an equally extraordinary story. It was a story that dated back to the Second World War. As the British equivalent of the United States' FBI, MI5 became deeply concerned when intelligence data gathered overseas suggested the Nazis were secretly training pigeons - in France, Holland, and elsewhere - for certain espionage operations. That's right: feathery 007's. Whether or not they had their very own equivalents of martinis shaken and not stirred remains unknown. Presumably, MI5 considers that to be a still-highly-classified matter.

The plan was a complex one: the "pigeon agents" would have coded messages strapped to their bodies and would make their way to specific locations in the UK. They were locations where German spies were hiding out and awaiting orders from Hitler's cronies. Faced with the possibility of squadrons of winged secret-agents doing the work of Adolf Hitler, MI5 went one step better. They hit back in fine style by hiring falcon-breeders to turn the tables on the Nazis and have the falcons take out the pigeons. MI5 files suggest, however, that there was far more rumor than reality to this dastardly plot. Indeed, MI5 said of the rumors: "For this purpose we started a Falconry Unit, with two falconers and trained falcons. Whilst they never brought down an enemy bird (probably because there never were any) they did demonstrate that they could bring down any pigeons that crossed the area they were patrolling - about two miles in diameter." In its conclusions, MI5 said: "It is felt that there is no need for any permanent section to cover this, but that the loft of some reliable civilian could be earmarked and subsidised for the purpose. An expert pigeon officer with experience in the use of pigeons for intelligence work could be paid a retaining fee for his services when required. In this way a thread of continuity would be kept going."

Perhaps the weirdest of all of Major General Edward Lansdale’s strange ideas was a plan to fake a “Second Coming” of Jesus Christ in the skies over Cuba! The story can be found in a November 20, 1975 document with the lengthy title of Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders: Interim Report of the Select Committee to Study Government Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities. It contains the curious testimony of a man named Thomas A. Parrott, who died at the age of ninety-two in 2007. Parrott was, as the staff that run the website of the Arlington Cemetery, note: “…a former official with the Central Intelligence Agency and a member of several hospital boards and citizen group. Mr. Parrott spent 24 years with the CIA and was Assistant Deputy Director for National Intelligence Programs. Early in his career, he was Deputy Chief of the Soviet Division of the Clandestine Services Unit, a base chief in Germany and an assistant to CIA Director Allen Dulles.”

As far as Lansdale’s mind-blowing idea is concerned, Parrott had this to say to the Select Committee in 1975: “I’ll give you one example of Lansdale’s perspicacity. He had a wonderful plan for getting rid of Castro. This plan consisted of spreading the word that the Second Coming of Christ was imminent and that Christ was against Castro who was anti-Christ. And you would spread this word around Cuba, and then on whatever date it was, that there would be a manifestation of this thing. And at the time – this was absolutely true – and at the time just over the horizon there would be an American submarine that would surface off of Cuba and send up some star-shells. And this would be the manifestation of the Second Coming and Castro would be overthrown.”

(U.S. Government) Major General Edward Lansdale 

Note: the photo of Lansdale was taken by an employee of the U.S. Government. That places the photo in the public domain

For those who may not know, star-shells are powerful flares used by military agencies, chiefly to light up the night-skies. Lansdale didn’t just bring star-shells to the table, however. His plan was to recruit a crack-team of U.S. Navy personnel who would be integral players in the operation. They would approach the coastal areas in fleets of small submarines, which would then project huge pictures of Jesus onto the clouds over Cuba, and as close as possible to the capital city of Havana. Lansdale was still not finished. He also planned to have compact aircraft fly with their engines muffled and hidden by those same clouds – and then broadcast the “voice of Jesus” via a number of powerful loud-speakers. The message was going to be clear and to-the-point: renounce Castro and embrace the West. The operation, however, proved to be too difficult to successfully execute and it was ultimately shelved. The plan, though, does show one important thing when it came to national security-based issues: that during the Cold War, UFOs were not the only high-flying, supernatural phenomena that intelligence agencies deemed ripe for manipulation. 

Now, let's get to vampires on the battlefield. Yes, you did read that right. It was in 2003 that I began digging very deeply into the strange world of one Major General Edward Geary Lansdale and his ties to the world of the vampire. Lansdale was a man highly skilled in the field of what is known, in military circles, as psychological warfare. Back in the early 1950s, Lansdale – who rose to prominence during the Second World War, while working with the Office of Strategic Services, a forerunner of the CIA – spread rumors throughout the Philippines that a deadly vampire was wildly on the loose. Its name was the Aswang, a blood-sucking monstrosity, of which the people of the Philippines lived in complete dread. The reason for Lansdale’s actions was as bizarre as it was simple. At the time, specifically 1952, the Philippines were in turmoil and chaos, as a result of an uprising by the Hukbalahap – or Huks, as they were also known. They were vehemently anti-government rebels and did their very best to oust the president of the Philippines, Elpidio Rivera Quirino, with whom Lansdale was friends. And when the major general was asked by Quirino to help end the reign of terror that the Hukbalahap had generated, he quickly came on-board.

One of the first things Lansdale noted was that the rebels were deathly afraid of the Aswang and its nocturnal, blood-drinking activities. So, he came up with a brainwave, albeit a grisly one. It was a brainwave that was kept secret for decades, until Lansdale, himself, finally went public, long after his prestigious military career was finally over. As the major general recalled, in his book, In the Midst of Wars: "To the superstitious, the Huk battleground was a haunted place filled with ghosts and eerie creatures. A combat psy-war squad was brought in. It planted stories among town residents of an Aswang living on the hill where the Huks were based. Two nights later, after giving the stories time to make their way up to the hill camp, the psywar squad set up an ambush along the trail used by the Huks."

That same psywar squad then did something that was very alternative, but which proved to be extremely effective. They silently grabbed one of the Hukbalahap rebels, snapped his neck, and then – using a specially created, metallic device – left two, deep, vicious-looking puncture marks on the neck of the man. But that was barely the start of things: they then quietly tied a rope around the man's ankles, hung his body from a nearby tree, and let just about as much blood as possible drain out of the body. After several hours, the corpse was lowered to the ground and left close to the Hukbalahap camp, specifically to ensure it was found by his comrades. They did find it. The result, as Lansdale noted, was overwhelmingly positive, from the perspective of the Philippine government, at least: "When the Huks returned to look for the missing man and found their bloodless comrade, every member of the patrol believed that the Aswang had got him and that one of them would be next if they remained on that hill. When daylight came, the whole Huk squadron moved out of the vicinity." And, now...

A prestigious author of books on numerous aspects of the world of magic and sorcery – including How to be Your Own Astrologer, Diary of a Witch, and Cast Your Own SpellSybil Leek was a woman who moved almost effortlessly in the worlds of secret, occult-driven groups, and those of influential and famous figures with which such groups have become associated. She was born in Normacot, England in 1917 and has been referred to as “Britain’s most famous witch.” Leek was someone who became exposed to the “old ways” by her father, and while she was still a child. The magical properties of herbs, the ability of some animals to “shape-shift,” and matters relative to curses, invocations, and magical rites were all part of young Sybil’s life.

They stayed with her until the day she died. It wasn’t just her father who inspired Sybil; it was also her grandmother: she, too, was well acquainted with the world of the witch and matters of a sorcery-based nature. Her grandmother was also an expert in the field of astrology, something else which rubbed off on Sybil to a significant degree. She had an alternative education, too: her family preferred to home-school her, albeit not in regular subjects, but chiefly in matters relative to all-things of a psychic and divination nature. A regular visitor to the Leek home was someone who surfaces on more than a few occasions in the pages of this book: Aleister Crowley. It was the “Great Beast” himself who pressed Leek to get involved in the field of writing. As history has shown, she did exactly that. 

It’s not at all out of the question that Leek – having lived in the New Forest – played a direct role in the matter of how the New Forest Coven, along with Gerald Gardner, allegedly thwarted Adolf Hitler’s plans to invade the UK. While we cannot be entirely sure, the fact that she lived in the area, and spent time with Gardner, strongly suggests that was the case. In addition, there is the fact that at the height of the Second World War, British Intelligence quietly hired her to create bogus horoscopes for the astrology-obsessed Nazis – horoscopes designed to adversely affect the Nazi moral by suggesting that Hitler’s hordes were destined to lose the war, which, history has shown, they thankfully did. In other words, the battlefield can be an extremely weird place.

Nick Redfern

Nick Redfern works full time as a writer, lecturer, and journalist. He writes about a wide range of unsolved mysteries, including Bigfoot, UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, alien encounters, and government conspiracies. Nick has written 41 books, writes for Mysterious Universe and has appeared on numerous television shows on the The History Channel, National Geographic Channel and SyFy Channel.

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