Now, where did I put that plane factory?
June 8, 2009 1:28 PM   Subscribe

Hiding in "plane" sight. Images and details of the significant efforts made by the United States to prevent the Japanese from bombing our west coast aircraft factories. I wonder what this effort would take today to "fool" Google Maps/Earth.

From the article:

"The idea of deceiving the enemy as to what you are doing is not new. Trying to hide individual items from observation is not new, trying to hide whole factories from aerial bombing during The Second World War was new.

After December 7, 1941 the Lockheed and Boeing aircraft factories along the West Coast were put under netting to try and hide them from Japanese aircraft attack."
posted by hrbrmstr (15 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
This building in Downsview Park, a former Canadian air base, had its roof full of water during active use. I'm not exactly sure why, but apparently they though it would provide some sort of camouflage.

Of course, bombing Toronto is far more ridiculous than bombing LA or San Francisco. I suppose there may have been some cold war fears, but still, if you bomber makes it to Toronto from Moscow I doubt a little water is going to throw you off.
posted by GuyZero at 1:38 PM on June 8, 2009

I seem to recall a post about a recently 'revealed' Russian city that was built this way during the cold war - the tops of all the buildings were covered in sod and trees and such, so that spy planes would end up taking pictures of what looked like a forest instead of a thriving population center. Anyone else remember that?
posted by FatherDagon at 1:45 PM on June 8, 2009

i don't know if it's weird, but my first thought on seeing those tarps was 'that'd be fun to make'.
posted by fuzzypantalones at 1:45 PM on June 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

The Germans were masters of camouflage. They once recommissioned a bombed airfield while maintaining the illusion that it was still in bombed condition including a stream running across the runway. A camouflage job that lasted all summer and into the fall until the stream on either side of the runway froze and the painted stream across the runway didn't.
posted by Mitheral at 1:53 PM on June 8, 2009

These days in the US they are more likely to camouflage suburbs with images of factories.
posted by srboisvert at 1:55 PM on June 8, 2009

The stuff at the bottom of the page about not painting the planes to save weight was interesting also.

Prior to the Normandy Invasion in WWII, Operation Fortitude used fake military bases and inflatable to tanks to deceive the Germans.
posted by marxchivist at 1:58 PM on June 8, 2009

Bruce Bickford creates lots of miniatures for his animated films. In the documentary about him, he recounts seeing lots of pictures of the hidden factory (I think he visited it, too) because his father worked for Boeing.
posted by bonobothegreat at 2:03 PM on June 8, 2009

I wonder if they consulted any colorblind folks when setting these up.

My grandfather was in US Army Air Corps, stationed at the Isle of Wight in WWII. He was colorblind, as am I. He cheated his way through the pilot's tests in order to maintain his flight status.

About 6 or 7 months into his tour, he flunked a routine exam and was grounded. (Again, color blindness -- they handed him a box of fluff balls and told him to pull out the green ones.) So, his superiors sent him up in the belly of a bomber with a map and sketch pad. Grandpa was both red-green and blue-yellow colorblind. Through a quirk in his eyesight, he could see that the pattern on camouflage netting or tarps wasn't natural foliage. They put him in the belly gunner's position, and had him sketch out on a map where he saw what he thought were emplacements.

The ability to discern certain types of camouflage is apparently common for certain types of colorblindness. I can do it. The texture and shapes don't look right.
posted by zarq at 2:09 PM on June 8, 2009 [40 favorites]

That's right next to Boeing Field.
posted by milkrate at 2:16 PM on June 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you're interested in that kind of stuff I heartily recommend Masquerade by Seymour Reit - apart from a slightly impartial tone (the clever Brits used tricks and feints to fool their enemies, the conniving Nazis used deception and lies) it is very accessible and has quite a few examples of the kinds of misdirections used in wartime.

I like it especially because it introduced me to Jasper Maskelyne^, a stage magician who turned out to have a knack for creating military illusions like fake tank battalions or copies of important bombing targets away from the real site; it is fascinating to read how much he could do with what was basically garbage that no one in the military saw any use for.

Much of the info on those military actions was classified until relatively recently; I'm glad that at least some people now get the recognition they deserve.
posted by PontifexPrimus at 2:33 PM on June 8, 2009

Great article, thanks for the post. And thanks, zarq -- now I can tell my friends that my "handicap" carries advantages they never dreamed of...
posted by Pantengliopoli at 2:37 PM on June 8, 2009

Helsinki avoided a huge load of bombs from USSR by putting the city in blackout and putting air defence to defend furiously the island next to the actual city and setting lights all around there. 16,000 bombs were dropped by 2,000 planes, totalling 2,600 tons of bombs in three nightly raids, where f.ex destruction of Dresden took 1,320 planes and 3,900 tons of bombs, but only 530 bombs hit the actual city, 146 dead. LOL.
posted by Free word order! at 3:17 PM on June 8, 2009

Pantengliopoli, You're very welcome! It's a fun bit of trivia.

If you're red-green colorblind, you can most likely see the difference. I'm both red-green and blue-yellow.
posted by zarq at 3:41 PM on June 8, 2009

Thanks for the book tip, @PontifexPrimus. Looking forward to seeing more examples of allied ingenuity.
posted by hrbrmstr at 6:19 PM on June 8, 2009

They also used camouflage in Long Beach California.
posted by sweetmarie at 4:41 PM on June 10, 2009

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