Read the two book extracts carefully and answer the questions that follow each extract. Use your own words throughout as far as possible.

From 1940 onwards, it became increasingly obvious that the Allies would eventually have to launch an invasion of France to wrest1 European countries from German control. Until 1942, any thought of an immediate invasion was out of the question. Britain lacked the men, planes, tanks, and other resources to take on the powerful and highly successful German war machine.

Then in 1941, Germany and Japan each made a fatal mistake2. Hitler (long an opponent of Communism) attacked the USSR and, after initial successes gained largely through the element of surprise, found—like Napoleon before him—that the task was much greater than he had anticipated. By the end of 1941, Japan had decided that the time was opportune for an attack on its enemy and rival, the USA. Without declaring war, it launched a highly damaging surprise attack on the American fleet in Pearl Harbour, Hawaii. The effect, as one Japanese commander correctly prophesied, was to ‘awaken a sleeping giant.’3

The hitherto4 neutral population of the USA were furious at what they saw as Japanese treachery. American leaders promptly considered the new situation and declared war on both Japan and Germany (its ally). A plan was quickly devised to concentrate on Europe and Germany first. Japanese aggression in the Far East would be contained prior to a final attack after the defeat of Germany. Meanwhile, research into producing an atomic bomb was sped up in the hope that the lives of thousands of Allied troops could be saved by using atomic bombs to bring the war to an abrupt close.

By the middle of 1944, plans were virtually complete for a massive invasion of France. Tanks, troops, and equipment were spread out along the south coast of England and parts of it were closed to the public. German fortifications along the northern coast France were bombed repeatedly. Every effort was made to prevent the Germans from discovering which section of the French coast would be invaded. The date of D-day (the start of the invasion) was a closely guarded secret but depended to some extent on the weather.

The night before D-day, hand-picked officers were ordered to leave their units for special duty. Separately each one was driven on a random course through the English countryside. Transferred from one staff car to another, they were at last brought nerve-centre controlling the entire (Allied) invasion. Each officer was then handed a sealed package containing detailed orders for a specific unit.

‘Take these,’ he was told, ‘to the officer commanding…’ A code name for a particular unit followed. No destination. No destination. No details, but a grim rider: ‘Demand the password. If he doesn’t give it, shoot him dead. Then return these to me.’

The officers were then escorted away. Each spent the night in a special, wired-off security area, completely alone. Patrolling sentries carried live grenades. The pin had been removed so that only hand pressure kept the grenade from exploding, thus dramatically preventing them from falling asleep. In the early dawn, the officers were returned to their transports to be driven on another long confusing route. Ultimately, each was brought face to face with the commander of a spearhead detachment to request the vital password.

The story demonstrates how security had improved as a result of experience. The Allies had suspected at Dieppe and during the bitter Norwegian campaigns, that their security had been inadequate. The way these D-day orders were delivered was an indication that, whatever else, they had learnt a major lesson in the long war years. Secrecy cannot be overdone in a fight with a clever, ruthless enemy.

Providing materials for camouflage—often of a highly ingenious and sophisticated nature—was an important part of my work at the Ministry of Supply. As a boy and young man, I had always been interested in ‘legerdemain’—conjuring, deception, and cunning devices. I had never missed the ‘magic shows’ put on by Jasper Maskelyne in London. He was a marvellous illusionist1.

In World War II, this great magician was made a major, and he and his ‘gang’ adapted his conjuring and illusionist expertise to the battlefield on a very large scale. Their ‘magic’ was used to mislead German aerial photography seeking intelligence on reconnaissance flights. Maskelyne’s H.Q. was at the Camouflage Experimental Station of the Royal Engineers. There, he and his teams created dummy tanks and dummy guns, along with dummy men. They even perfected operational dummy submarines and a battleship: anything to mislead the German reconnaissance planes and German intelligence H.Q. In one special case, with the help of mirrors, he ‘conjured’ up thirty-six tanks in the desert where in fact there was only one.

The value of this work was never better demonstrated than in an incident which occurred after the Germans occupied the Channel Islands in 1940. They found an English safecracker in jail there. Thinking that he had every reason to loathe the British, and that he would make a useful agent, they put a proposition2 to him which he promptly accepted. He was fully trained by them in sabotage work, and then landed England from a U-boat under the code name Zigzag (ZZ).

His first job was to disrupt the vital production of aircraft at de Havilland’s plant at Hatfield. But Zigzag had other ideas. Regardless of his peacetime activities, he had decided that his real allegiance was to England. So he went immediately to the police, to whom he was well known for his felonies. They passed him on to the Double-Cross (XX) section of M.I.5, who were delighted to receive him. There as only one snag3.

In order that he could be used for the rest of the war as an XX agent, he had first to convince his German ‘employers’ that he was a useful and successful operative. But this meant carrying out his first assignment, which was to blow up the powerhouse of de Havilland plant4, and to radio back after accomplishing it.

It was at this highly tricky moment that Maskelyne was called in and a scheme devised. In one of the three factories being used he built papier-mâché dummies to look like pieces of broken generators. There were strewn with smashed bricks, blocks of concrete, and other rubble around the powerhouse. A big relief canvas was made to cover the whole plant. painted to look from the air as if the place had been blown to Kingdom Come. ZZ then radioed to German: ‘Mission accomplished.’

The following day, a German plane reconnoitred and photographed the damaged plant, or rather Maskelyne’s masterpiece. The double-agent safe-breaker received a warm signal of praise from his German instructors. ZZ became a most useful man to XX.

Maskelyne was used in the D-day landing in Normandy in June 1944. This was the greatest deception and most important of all. Following Maskelyne’s inspiration, and using my materials, false airfields were laid out filled with masses of dummy planes, dummy lorries, dummy landing craft, and dummy military equipment in Kent, opposite the areas of the Pas de Calais. The Germans were convinced we would attack at this short crossing. Their crack forces were concentrated there. When they heard reports of Allied Forces landing miles away on the Normandy beaches they scoffed5 at these6—believing them to be mere diversions, instead of the other way about. It gave us vital time to establish our position in France.

(adapted from ‘The Secret War of Charles Fraser-Smith’ by Charles Fraser-Smith with Gerald McKnight and Sandy Lesberg, published by Michael Joseph; the author worked for the British Government during World War II, and one of his duties was to attempt to deceive the Germans about the preparations which the Allies were making to invade Europe on D-day in 1944)


1 Explain what the word ‘wrest’ tells us about the nature of the invasion of France.

2 In what way did the Japanese ‘mistake’ prove to be fatal?

3 Explain what a Japanese action commander meant by saying that Japanese action would ‘awaken a sleeping giant.’

4 What does ‘hitherto’ mean in this context?

5 Why did the USA not drop atom on Japan in 1941?

6 Why were the German fortifications bombed?

1 Which word in the first paragraph best echoes the meaning of ‘illusionist’?

2 How was the ‘proposition’ intended to benefit both of the parties? Why was it accepted promptly?

3 What plan contained a ‘snag’? What was it, and how was it overcome?

4 Why did the Germans send a plane to photograph ‘de Havilland plant’?

5 Who ‘scoffed’ and why?

6 What does ‘these’ refer to?

7 In a paragraph of about 160 words, summarise relevant information from this extract about Maskelyne and his contributions to the Allied effort in World War II.

Sample Answers

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