A dummy tank, usually inflatable or wooden, is a type of decoy that either is intended to be mistaken by an enemy for a real tank or used for training purposes. Dummy tanks emerged soon after the introduction of real tanks in World War I, but were not widely used until World War II.
World War I
During World War I, Allied forces made use of dummy versions of the British heavy tanks. These were constructed from a wooden framework and covered with painted Hessian cloth. The tracks were non-functional so some were fitted with concealed wheels underneath and were towed from place to place by a pair of horses. Dummy tanks, representing Allied models, were also found to have been constructed by the Germans, even though they deployed only a small number of real tanks. It is possible they were used in training, rather than for military deception.
World War II
Dummy tanks saw significantly more use during World War II by both the Allies and the Axis. German forces utilized mock tanks prior to the start of the war for practice and training exercises. Their use in military deception was pioneered by British forces, who termed them "spoofs."
One of the first uses of dummy tanks during the Second World War was in the North African Campaign. The Royal Engineers stationed there constructed two per day; between April and June 1941, they were able to build three dummy Royal Tank Regiments, and another in November that same year. These were foldable, and thus portable; and the Royal Engineers improved them further. Jeeps were used to make the "spoofs" more realistic: a steel frame covered with canvas was placed on them, making a self-propelled dummy tank. The Jeep did not realistically simulate the noise or movement of a tank, but allowed the dummy to be deployed quickly. Meanwhile, the reverse was also done, to make tanks look like trucks. A further device was put into use that both created simulated tank tracks and erased real ones.
Inflatable dummies consisted of a fabric covering supported by a network of pressurized rubber tubes that formed a kind of "pneumatic skeleton". These were generally preferred in the field, despite their tendency to rapidly deflate if punctured by accident or shellfire. In one operation in September 1944, the British deployed 148 inflatable tanks close to the front line and around half were "destroyed" by fragments from German mortar and artillery fire, and by Allied bombs falling short.
Dummy tanks were used in Operation Fortitude prior to the landings at the Normandy Beaches. During this operation, they were used to confuse German intelligence in two ways: first, by making it seem that the Allies had more tanks than they did; and second, to hide and downplay the importance of the location of their real tanks in order to make it seem that the invasion would occur at the Pas-de-Calais rather than at Normandy. However, dummy vehicles played only a small part of the overall deception plan as, at that stage of the war, the Germans were unable to fly reconnaissance planes over England and such effort would have been wasted. Dummy landing craft were stationed at ports in eastern and southeastern England where they might be observed by the Germans but the Fortitude deception was largely carried out using double agents and false radio traffic.
During Operation Shingle at Anzio, Italy, inflatable Sherman tanks were deployed when the real tanks were elsewhere. In the Pacific Theater of Operations, the Japanese also utilized decoys; one recorded instance was during the Battle of Iwo Jima. A "tank" was surrounded by American infantry, which had been under artillery bombardment: they found it was not real, but merely a sculpture carved out of volcanic ash.
The United States Army has developed a modern dummy tank. It imitates the M1 Abrams tank not only in appearance, but also in its heat signature, in order to appear real to infrared detectors. One of these decoys can take fire from the enemy and still appear to be operational, thus delaying the enemy by as much as an hour, as they are forced to destroy the decoy. These M1 decoys cost only $3,300, compared to $4.35 million for a real M1. The decoy is also practical: when disassembled, it weighs only fifty pounds, and is roughly the same size as a duffel bag. Its generator—about the size of a 12 inch television—facilitates inflation, so that two people can erect the decoy in a few minutes. Occasionally, real tanks carry a dummy on board, to deploy when needed.
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