Magic shows, although very fun, can be much more. In fact, during World War II, a wizard created armies where there were no people and a port ‘disappeared’ or, at least, that’s what some historians say.
I can make cannons see where there are none and ghost shots cross the sea
Jasper Maskelyne was born in London, England, into a wealthy family that, strangely for the time, was very interested in magic..
In that sense, the illusion and the “powers from beyond” accompanied him in his growth. His grandfather, Josh Nevil Maskelyne, was considered the “father of modern magic” when he made the Fake Box, a show in which two people changed positions in an instant.
It didn’t take long for Jasper to become a part of the family business as well, and in fact, he attracted more audiences than he usually did for the ‘shows’.
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When World War II broke out, Jasper Maskelyne was 38 years old, making him no longer eligible for military service. Nevertheless, his desire to help his country led him to propose an idea that for many at the time, and even now, seemed far-fetched.
According to David Fisher, writer of the book ‘The Wizard of War’, in which he recounts the life of Maskelyne, the man promised the English army to help them. His words seemed taken from a story about witchcraft.
“Give me freedom and there will be no limits to the effects I can create on the battlefield. I can make cannons be seen where there are none and ghost shots across the sea. I can put an entire army on the ground if that’s what you want.”, Maskelyne promised the commanders who listened to his proposal.
A magic show in the midst of war
Maskelyne proved that he could do it. In a demonstration of her magic, performed a trick with mirrors, thanks to which a German warship could be seen crossing the River Thames.
So it was that he managed to convince the high command of the British Army, who sent him to Farnham Castle, where the Army Camouflage Training and Development Center was located.
From there and together with a rather artistic group – sculptors, designers, artisans and electricians – they left for Cairo.
The group’s first task, especially to test Maskelyne’s skills, was to camouflage English vehicles from the German army. Once again, the wizard succeeded.
This is how Maskelyne became the trusted man of the military for camouflage tasks. In fact, one of his most important assignments was the ‘disappearance’ of a port.
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Where was the port?
The port of Alexandria, located in Egypt, was one of the most important during World War II for the British Army. The supplies for the soldiers and other types of material necessary for the teams on the ground arrived there, so it was extremely necessary to protect it.
For this, Maskelyne had the idea to ‘hide’ the port through an optical illusion. Together with his group they made a model as similar as possible to the original, they even created fake ships and installed a lighthouse.
In addition, they placed lights exactly the same as those in the port so that at night, when aerial bombardments usually took place, the lights of the original would go out and those of the replica would come on.
Jasper Maskelyne was a famous British magician who played an important role during World War II creating the illusion of a false army that would attack the Nazis from the south, mistaking them for inflatable tanks, barracks… thus misleading the Germans in the battle of El-Alamein pic.twitter.com/OP5BYIjhmb
– TellingHistory (@tellinghisto1) October 6, 2019
His plan worked once again and German planes attacked a port that did not really exist, believing it to be Alexandria.
In fact, Fisher, writer of the book, comments that the plan also meant that the morning after the attack the original port had rubble so that word would spread in Germany that the objective had been achieved.
As some historians have collected, all this was so credible that for a long time some directors of the German army believed that they had destroyed the port of Alexandria. But it was all an illusion.
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The wizard vanished
The role of Maskelyne’s deceptions in the war was huge for the British Army. However, when it was over, the ‘Magic Squad’, as they apparently called him and his group of artists, he did not receive any kind of recognition for his time on the battlefield.
In fact, many historians doubt that his ‘magical’ tricks really happened, but others say that accounts from the time agree.
When Maskelyne returned to civilian life, he decided to return to performing his magical shows, which had previously been very successful, but found himself with a world that was beginning to absorb the technology of the first televisions, so that his audience dropped drastically.
As Jasper Maskelyne discovered, you can safely invent tall tales about something as secret as “Operation Bertram,” a successful deception campaign to hide British materiel for the 2nd Battle of El Alamein. The professional magician claimed to have been its chief architect. pic.twitter.com/sA55peWMVQ
— Richard AM Špaček (@ramspacek) March 2, 2022
Maskelyne died in 1973 in Kenya, where he moved after returning to England., without any kind of recognition by their country. Until today, the files of the British Army – in which the story of Maskelyne is found – have not been allowed to be declassified; It will be in the year 2046 that it will be known if her magic really helped in the midst of the conflict.
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