As the French capital gears up to commemorate the 93rd anniversary of the Armistice, an unbelievable secret about military strategy in Paris has just been revealed, thanks to archives unearthed by Le Figaro newspaper.
Believe it or not, French military planners believed that German pilots could be fooled into destroying a pretend Paris, rather than the real one, and so, they set about building a life-size replica.
This dummy city was positioned on the northern outskirts of Paris in order to bring the danger as far away from civilians and the city’s infrastructure as possible.
The designers were really invested in making the dummy city feel as real as possible, even from above, and so, they hired an electrical engineer named Fernand Jacopozzi to illuminate each street with electric lights.
The idea was to lure the Germans into thinking that these electric lights meant population and that they should drop their bombs there.
Among the replica buildings was a copy of the Gare du Nord train station, the Arc de Triomphe and the Paris Opera, as well as industrial suburbs like Saint-Denis and Aubervilliers, which would have been a target for bombers.
But the ultimate gem of this plan was the minute artistic detail – the designers went to incredible lengths in their deception, including using translucent paint on the fake buildings in order to suggest the impression of the ‘dirty glass roofs of factories’.
There were also flashing white, yellow and red lamps installed to suggest that machines were in operation at night. Even false trains and railway tracks were part of the spectacle.
‘It’s an extraordinary story and one which even Parisians knew very little about,’ said Professor Jean-Claude Delarue, a leading historian based in the French capital, as reported in The Telegraph.
‘The plan was kept secret for obvious reasons, but it shows how seriously military planners were already taking the new threat of aerial bombardment’.
The idea was developed by the DCA Air Defence Group (Défense Contre Avions) in 1918, and while it may be one of the best military plans ever hatched, it never truly got to be tested – the replica was not finished before the last German air raid happened in September 1918.
According to Professor Delarue, the fake Paris was deconstructed almost immediately after the war and quickly built over, nonetheless, the resurgence of these maps provides a glimpse into its forgotten past.