Faux Paris: A Wartime Ruse to Create a Decoy City

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Faux Paris: A Wartime Ruse to Create a Decoy City
Paris is without doubt one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Part of its continuing splendor is owed to the relative lack of damage during both World Wars. However, during World War I, air attacks on the city were becoming more accurate and more frequent. In 1918, an idea to create a decoy city, a twin to keep Paris safe, had moved from the drawing board to reality. Silent, stealthy Zeppelins and heavy-duty airplanes called Gothas had been dispatched to the nighttime skies above France. The enemy had bombed Paris in 1914 and 1915 with not only incendiary devices, but also leaflets demanding that French surrender. On January 29, 1916, 17 bombs dropped by a Zeppelin on the neighborhoods of Belleville and Ménilmontant killed 26. Paris continued to be a target for bombardment in 1917. A bomb flung from a Zeppelin left a substantial crater on a major thoroughfare. In January of 1918, a bombing raid dropped 200 shells, causing death, destruction and another sizeable pothole on Rue Drouot. More raids happened in the spring of 1918; over 70 citizens died as a result of a panicked reaction in the Bolivar Métro. Long-range artillery began firing into Paris. During Mass, one shell hit the centrally located Saint Gervais church killing 82 and injuring many more. Shelling continued into September 1918. Crater of a Zeppelin bomb in Paris, 1916. Image credit: Willy John Abbot – The Nations at War. Public domain Despite these attacks on Paris, German pilots struggled to find their bearings. Before planes were equipped with radar, aerial bombardment was imprecise; aviators had to fly purely by sight. When they found their assumed target, bombs were physically thrown onto the unsuspecting population below. French fighter pilots confirmed this, stating that during night flights they looked for familiar landmarks when attempting to locate their mark. Their findings revealed that rivers, railways and roads were the most useful indicators of their bombing targets. The mastermind behind the grand scheme to duplicate Paris was an expert electrical engineer named Fernand Jacopozzi. He proposed this idea to the French government early in 1918. Jacopozzi thought it would be easy to divert German bombers away from the real Paris with some crafty visual deception. City officials quickly got onboard; the logic behind an illuminated mock Paris began to take hold. Fernand Jacopozzi. Credit: Credit: British Newspaper Archive
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Lead photo credit : Paris at night. Credit: Benh LIEU SONG/ Wikimedia Commons

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A freelance writer and amateur historian, Hazel knew she wanted to focus on the lives of French artists and femme fatales after an epiphany at the Musée d'Orsay. A life-long learner, she is a recent graduate of Art History from the University of Toronto. Now she is searching for a real-life art history mystery to solve.

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