Three authors (from Belgium, Germany and France) have been working for years on a bizarre subject: the dropping of dummy wooden bombs on wooden airplanes.
In order to deceive the Allies during the Second World War, the Germans built fake airfields on the continent, often with runways and sometimes with buildings, but always with fake wooden planes, called "Attrappen". Strange stories can be heard in which allied airplanes made fun of them by dropping wooden bombs on which they had sometimes painted remarks like "Wood for Wood".
The French writer, Pierre-Antoine Courouble devoted himself to a structural inquiry to unearth the facts behind this vague legend. His investigations resulted in 137 testimonies from resistants, former employees on German basis, and pilots of the Luftwaffe. His research has been condensed in the book The Riddle of the Wooden Bombs, published at the "Presses du midi" and translated in four languages. He found original sources on this matter in the form of testimonies of servicemen, pilots and veterans' children. He met a dozen witnesses who had personally seen the famous bombs, two of whom were eye witnesses to their droppings. Today, these wooden bombs can be found on the internet. We bought them.
Peter Haas, the German translator of the book, found a pilot from the Luftwaffe named Wern Thiel, who happened to be stationed in 1943, on the fake airfield nearby Potsdam in Germany. He is the living witness of the dropping of a dozen of wooden bombs, with the mention Wood for Wood! At the end of the filmed interview (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r_tGOxoIhIE) he addresses the allied pilot who had that typically peculiar sense of humour.
Today we are confronted with a difficulty named TIME! The men who survived (they must be aged between 75 and 95) are very hard to find via internet (we tried!). As the official (mostly British) authorities still deny the existence of the droppings (war is not a game, it's an urban legend, etc.) we eventually decided to explore another possibility.
As we notice that most of the testimonies are American, a basic idea started growing. Couldn’t this typically peculiar sense of British humour not simply be an example of AMERICAN sense of humour? This would explain lots of things and is the reason why we try to contact pilots or members of the American Forces stationed in Europe during WW2 who could have been involved in the dropping of these wooden bombs.
In the meantime we are working on the French-American project to produce a documentary film about the subject. Olivier Hermitant, from « Route07 production », (http://vimeo.com/11526361) is offering his services in order to find the rare bird, a veteran of WW2 who was witness or perhaps actor of the dropping of these wooden bombs on German targets.
Could you help us in our quest finding the rare (American) bird? We would be extremely grateful if you could inform your members about this riddle of the Second World War.
I hope Dewaerheid, Haas and Courourble do succeed in finding new eyewitnesses. I did argue in my review of Courouble's book that the focus should move to searching for documentary evidence in operational records and other archives, but I suppose they aren't going anywhere whereas the veterans are. (But I'd note that it's not the job of 'the official (mostly British) authorities' to confirm or deny the wooden bomb stories, somebody has to go into the archives themselves and do the actual research.)
I'm dubious, though, about this new theory that American airmen were the ones who dropped the wooden bombs. In part this seems to be thanks to the new witness mentioned above, Wern Thiel, a Luftwaffe pilot stationed on a decoy airfield near Potsdam during the war. He does specifically say he'd like to meet the American pilot who dropped wooden bombs on his dummy aeroplanes. But in the brief excerpt shown, he says that when the air raid in question took place (in October 1942 according to the video caption, though it's 1943 above and I can't actually hear him saying the year) that they 'activated the light beacons' which implies it was a night raid. Aside from the question of identifying the nationality of aircraft at night, the Americans of course very rarely carried out night bombing.
It would also need to be explained why the majority of the stories claim it was the British — even when told by Americans? It could perhaps be claimed that this is a later accretion to the story, but then that puts us back into urban legend territory. Perhaps that's not a problem, as the wooden bomb story clearly is an urban legend as well as (probably) a true story; maybe cross-fertilisation took place.
And then there's the fact that the wooden bomb stories predate American involvement in the war. William Shirer recorded one version in his diary in November 1940; and there are other examples too. Obviously these can't be attributed to Americans.
It does seem odd that it's so hard to find accounts from Allied airmen who dropped wooden bombs, as opposed to accounts of Allied airmen who dropped wooden bombs. This, along with the wide variation in details from story to story, suggests to me that most of the wooden bombs were urban legends, rumours or just jokes. But given the evidence Courouble and his colleagues have come up with, I think wooden bombs were really dropped, sometimes, rarely. Whether reality inspired rumours or rumours inspired reality may not be possible to determine now.
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