Dec 23, 2022 I Nick Redfern

Some of the Strangest Ways to Go Into War: Crop Circles, Robots and More!

When it comes to the matter of going into war, most of us think of aircraft, tanks, missiles, bombs and more. It's not always like that, however. Indeed, sometime warfare can be really weird, as we will see now. We'll begin with a strange way to freak out the enemy. Back in the Second World War, a man named Jasper Maskelyne came up with a fantastic idea to terrify the enemy. Maskelyne was someone who worked for British Intelligence, who was an expert magician, and who found various, strange ways to get rid of the enemy. The Magic Tricks website says this of Maskelyne and his bizarre contraptions: “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.” Although some of Maskelyne's experiments were secret, there's one particularly affair that stands out in the bizarre stakes. Maskelyne said, after Second World War was finally over:

“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 Gort-like 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." Or, a giant robot was! Maskelyne wrote these words: “Like all tales spread among uneducated folk (and helped, no doubt, by our agents), this story assumed almost unimaginable proportions. Villages on the route of our advance began to refuse sullenly to help the retreating Germans, and to take sabotage against them; and then, instead of waiting for our troops to arrive with food and congratulations of their help, the poor people fled, thus congesting the roads along which German motorized transport was struggling to retire. The German tankmen sometimes cut through the refugees and this inflamed feeling still more, and what began almost as a joke was soon a sharp weapon in our hands which punished the Germans severely, if indirectly, for several critical weeks.” It was all very bizarre, but it worked. And that, of course, was the goal.

(Nick Redfern) Robots on the battlefield?

Now, onto the matter of psychic dogs on the battlefield. The Parapsychological Association states: "J B Rhine (Joseph Banks Rhine) is widely considered to be the 'Father of Modern Parapsychology." Along with his wife Dr Louisa E. Rhine, Dr J B Rhine studied the phenomena now known as parapsychology at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. J B Rhine collaborated with Professor William McDougall who served as the Chairman of the Department of Psychology. Dr. J B Rhine coined the term 'extrasensory perception' (ESP) to describe the apparent ability of some people to acquire information without the use of the known (five) senses). He also adopted the term 'parapsychology' to distinguish his interests from mainstream psychology." The PSI Encyclopedia provides additional data on Rhine: "Throughout his career, Rhine was in great demand as a speaker and was a prolific correspondent. The Parapsychology Laboratory Records at the Rubenstein Library at Duke University contain thousands of letters he wrote during his lifetime, exchanging with colleagues detailed specifics of his work and methods, as well as responses to individuals, however humble, who sent accounts of their psychic experiences and prophetic dreams."

One of the strangest aspects of Rhine's work and research took place in the early 1950s. That was when the U.S. Army quietly approached Rhine to see if he could provide assistance on a particular, important project. It all began in January 1952. That was when Rhine received a phone call, from a source within the U.S. Army, that was quite unlike any other. It was explained to him that the Army was interested in trying to determine if psychic phenomena could be used on the battlefield. Specifically, the military wanted to know if dogs might be able to use ESP to find landmines. And, if so, would Rhine be interested in getting involved? Yes, Rhine was interested. He was both intrigued and excited, too. He agreed to see what he could do to help the U.S. government. It was approximately one month after being contacted that Rhine was fully on-board.

The program - Top Secret, no less - operated from the Army's Fort Belvoir base. It was at the base that Rhine was introduced to the two key players in the story. They were Tessie and Binnie: a pair of German shepherd dogs. The Army had heard of research that suggested dogs possessed psychic skills. So, feeling that there was nothing to lose, the Army decided to that they would go ahead. Although Fort Belvoir was the place from where the work was coordinated, the actual tests took place on stretches of quiet California beaches. A contingent of soldiers, Rhine, Binnie and Tessie hit the beach and the work began. It was pretty much brand new territory for everyone in the program. The role of the troops was to bury dummy mines (thankfully!) at varying depths in the sand and to see if the dogs could locate them. To begin with, both dogs were kept in the back of a covered, military truck - to ensure that they couldn't see what was going on at that same stretch of beach. That is, until it was time for the operations to begin. The project worked very well, however: the military were happy with the operation and the dogs had a fun day running around on a stretch of beach! Moving on...

Now, let's take to the sky. 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.

(Nick Redfern) Sometimes it needs nothing less than birds to help during war.

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." And the pigeon agents would successfully do their work for the Second World War.

Now, what about Crop Circles? You might very well wonder what on earth Crop Circles had to do with the Second World War. But, you'll see: there was a top secret operation hidden away. MI5 is the U.K.'s equivalent of the United States' FBI. When, from 1939 to 1945, the world was doing its very best to defeat that evil and deranged nutjob, Adolf Hitler, MI5 was quietly taking notice of strange formations found in the fields of not just the U.K., but of France, Holland and elsewhere. Could they have been coded signs laid down for Nazi pilots? Certainly, that was the primary theory on the collective minds of MI5. The agency reported: "Such ground markings might be the cutting of cornfields into guiding marks for aircraft, painting of roofs and the inside of chimneys white, setting haystacks on fire, and laying out strips of white linen in prearranged patterns. For guiding and giving information to advancing troops they would conceal messages behind advertisement hoardings and leave markings on walls and telegraph poles."

(Nick Redfern) When Crop Circles played a role in warfare - albeit a very strange role!

Finally, let's get to something designed to scare the enemy in a very strange way. History has shown that military agencies and the world of clandestine, secret activity go together hand in glove. A perfect example can be found in a May 1967 file with the intriguing title of Vietnam: PSYOP Directive: The Use of Superstitions in Psychological Operations in Vietnam. While the file covers a wealth of previously classified U.S. Army operations, one particular section really stands out from all of the rest. It is focused upon a near-elite band of warriors who chose to scare North Vietnamese personnel with the imagery of the Ace of Spades from a deck of cards. As for the reasons, consider the following words from the file in question: “A strong superstition or a deeply-held belief shared by a substantial number of the enemy target audience can be used as a psychological weapon because it permits with some degree of probability the prediction of individual or group behavior under a given set of conditions. To use an enemy superstition as a starting point for psychological operations, however, one must be sure of the conditions and control the stimuli that trigger the desired behavior.

“The first step in the manipulation of a superstition as an enemy vulnerability is its exact identification and detailed definition of its spread and intensity among the target audience. The second step is to insure friendly control of the stimuli and the capability to create a situation that will trigger the desired superstitious behavior. Both conditions must be met or the psyops [psychological operations] effort will not yield the desired results; it might even backfire. As an illustration, one can cite the recent notion spread among combat troops in the First Corps area that VC and NVN troops were deathly afraid of the ‘Ace of Spades’ as an omen of death. In consequence soldiers, turned psy-warriors with the assistance of playing card manufacturers, began leaving the ominous card in battle areas and on patrols into enemy-held territory. The notion was based on isolated instances of behavior among Montagnard tribesmen familiar from French days with the Western deck of cards. A subsequent survey determined that the ace of spades does not trigger substantial fear reactions among most Vietnamese because the various local playing cards have their own set of symbols, generally of Chinese derivation." As all of this shows, war can be not just deadly, but totally bizarre.

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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