May 05, 2011

Jasper Maskelyne

"Clever Disguise" as Told by Ivan Amodei (from the book)

In one of the darkest chapters in our world’s history came an unassuming hero, Jasper Maskelyne. What possible use could a magician be to the war effort? Did he help win World War II with his illusions? In the Thirties, Jasper became famous in the music-hall scene with his feats of magic.
Then he enlisted in the army, unaware that his skills and knowledge of legerdemain would actually become an integral part of magic’s history.

At first his abilities were overlooked, and he was sent to the Royal Engineers Camouflage Corps. They sent him to North Africa, where there was a shortage of soldiers and equipment.  There, Maskelyne believed that if he could fool an audience merely yards away, then he could easily fool an enemy who was a mile or more away.
He worked tirelessly in Africa, designing great deceptions to fool the enemy into thinking army tanks were just useless, old, broken-down trucks. He cleverly hid machine guns using mirrors. Mirrors also helped him create the illusion that a German warship was casually patrolling the river Thames.
German planes were tricked into bombing the wrong targets. In the north, thousands of tanks were made to look like harmless vehicles. In the south, he created two-thousand fake tanks with sound effects and all to complete the illusion. He constructed a false railway line and water pipeline, mimicking all the characteristics to a tee.
All these feats paled in comparison to when, in 1942, he threw all his efforts into convincing enemy generals that the attack would come from the south, not from the north. When the unexpected attack came from the north, it caught the Germans so off guard that it forced them to retreat.
Whether this brief piece of Maskelyne’s story is fiction or fact, his tale had enough buzz to capture the attention of Hollywood producers. At one time Tom Cruise was cast to play Maskelyne in a movie centered around his magic and skillful disguise techniques that he used in battle.
Because most of Maskelyne’s work is loosely documented, some experts believe that his claims are exaggerated and made up. 
But if they are true, what an amazing story!