Jasper Maskelyne was the 7th in a line of famous magicians of the Maskelyne family. While an accomplished British stage magician, Jasper Maskelyne is best remembered for joining the fight in WWII and using his magic skills to help defeat Rommell and the Nazi war machine. His amazing visual illusions and tricks fooled the mighty German army.
Maskelyne was very clever in his use of camouflage and deception. For example, he found a way to completely hide the Alexandria harbor in North Africa - a strategic target for the Luftwaffe bombers.
He found a similar shaped harbor three miles away and set up searchlights and "Ack-Ack" guns to shoot up into the air at enemy planes. When the night bombings came, the lights of the actual harbor were turned off and the "fake" harbor lights were turned on and the guns started shooting into the sky. This duplicate harbor was the perfect illusion and the German planes diverted over and bombed sand.
To complete the illusion he made the original harbor into a mess of wreckage by having crews strew debris all over the ground. Like a theater set, chunks of material were made to look like smashed buildings and cracks were painted on roofs of buildings and even the water tower to make it appear that great damage had been inflicted. The next day, during daylight when the enemy surveillance planes came over, they took pictures of the rubble of the town and harbor.
Maskelyne’s Finest Hour
Jasper Maskelyne's finest hour came in 1942, when he was told to convince Field Marshal Erwin Rommel that the Eighth Army was in the South of the Egyptian desert and that an attack would come up from there and not from the North. He was asked to conceal 150,000 men with 1,000 guns and tanks. Somehow he cleverly did this without the Germans knowing anything about it.
Part of the effort involved having a crew of soldiers apparently bury a long tunnel of pipeline in the south and the result was that General Rommell thought they were putting a supply line in for the big assault. The team actually dug and buried over and over a number of half barrels that from the spy planes, looked like pipeline. Rommell braced for attack from the south and the surprise attack from the North was a major victory for the Allies.
Back home in England, earlier in the war, the nation was not ready for battle with too few weapons to fight off a German attack. To compensate for this, Maskelyne created dummy tanks and model men so to the spy planes flying above, it looked like a huge army was ready to defend England in the south.
Despite his remarkable feats during the war, his magic shows abruptly went out of fashion after the war and Maskelyne moved to Kenya to be a farmer. He died there, aged 71.
To learn more about this fascinating magician in history, there’s a great book, “The War Magician,” which tells the incredible true story of British magician, Jasper Maskelyne.
Norm Barnhart is a comedy magician in Minnesota who has entertained corporate and family audience for over 28 years. Check out NormBarnhart.com and MagicNorm.com.