World War II Deception Story

Great security story from an obituary of former OSS agent Roger Hall:

One of his favorite OSS stories involved a colleague sent to occupied France to destroy a seemingly impenetrable German tank at a key crossroads. The French resistance found that grenades were no use.

The OSS man, fluent in German and dressed like a French peasant, walked up to the tank and yelled, “Mail!”

The lid opened, and in went two grenades.

Hall’s book about his OSS days, You’re Stepping on My Cloak and Dagger, is a must-read.

Posted on July 29, 2008 at 1:50 PM28 Comments


Beta July 29, 2008 2:58 PM

The Germans have a centuries-old reputation for orderliness.

An old joke: the French and German trenches are only a dozen yards apart. A German yells “Hey, Pierre!” Half the French soldiers stand up and are cut down by machine gun fire. Another German yells “Hey, Marcel!” and the other half stand up and die. The last surviving Frenchman (whose name has been lost to history) vows revenge, rigs the triggers of all the French machine guns with string and screams “HEY, FRITZ!” All of the germans stand up and say “sorry, we heff no Fritz here, can ve help you?”

cassiel July 29, 2008 3:43 PM

No… the way I heard the old joke was:

For quite a while, the British had this routine where they’d shout “Hey, Fritz!” over the trenches – a German soldier named Fritz would stand up, say “Ja?” and so of course: bang.

The Germans got a bit sick of this, so they hatched a counter-plan. They called out “Hey, Tommy!”

No movement, but a reply was shouted back: “Is that you, Fritz?”

“Ja!” bang.

Monty Python July 29, 2008 4:52 PM

Wenn ist das Nunstück git und Slotermeyer? Ja! … Beiherhund das Oder die Flipperwaldt gersput.

Greg July 29, 2008 5:28 PM

The worst part is that I broke out laughing in the middle of work after reading that last comment. That joke is dangerous! If I actually knew German, I’d be dead by now.

Petréa Mitchell July 29, 2008 6:16 PM

Sad to hear. I actually wasn’t even sure he was still alive.

I second the book recommendation– a great inside look at real spy training, and absolutely hilarious.

Davi Ottenheimer July 29, 2008 7:30 PM

Ah, those were the days…when bad guys drove seemingly impenetrable tanks while good guys dressed as peasants and had to use their wits with improvised explosives. Funny how things change.

2JokersWild July 29, 2008 10:39 PM

Good story and joke!
Security can make this happen all to easy!
Probably the same with some BSD systems, you got mail…
Not many humans can live well with full on paranoia, and distrust. Hence strict rules help, but even still, humans are *easy
to hack and break down.
XXX:State of the Union, movie had a tank jacking, cool.

Anonymous July 30, 2008 2:19 AM

“Ah, those were the days…when bad guys drove seemingly impenetrable tanks while good guys dressed as peasants and had to use their wits with improvised explosives. Funny how things change.”

How did they change?

bad Jim July 30, 2008 3:27 AM

Nowadays the occupying army in tanks and armored vehicles who don’t speak the language are the good guys.

Suspicious July 30, 2008 4:32 AM

Too bad the story seems as realistic as the Pierre, Fritz and Tommy story..

Or were the Germans so good in logistics that their mail got delivered to their tanks by French peasants who speak perfect German (well, believable in eastern France), and who would be trusted to carry military mails.. Too hard to believe for me

Calum July 30, 2008 5:36 AM

This exact same trick is (or was)regularly used for drug busts on houses/flats that have been steel-doored and generally fortified by dealers or growers. Dress up as a postie, bring a big box that requires the door to be opened to accept, and Bob’s your uncle. I’ve done similar spoofs on TA exercises.

I find this story pretty easy to beleive. Mail delivery in a combat zone can happen at any time of day or night, you can’t hear very well inside a steel shell, and after six years of occupation I’m sure most Frenchmen could manage to pronounce one convincing word of German.

supersnail July 30, 2008 7:46 AM

The OSS and the SOE (eqiivalent British oganisation) were not spys.

They were effectively terrorist organisations whose members were sent behind enemy lines to carry out illegal assasinations and sabotage operations.

Those who were caught by the Germans were shot by firing squad in accordance with international law and all OSS/OSI operatives knew and acceptated this before they went on thier missions.

Because they were our terrorists on our side fighting for a rightious cause it is polite to refer to them as spys.

bob July 30, 2008 8:54 AM

@Nocturn, Davi: Oh, I assumed he was referring to nowadays in the US when every city of more than 5,000 has a SWAT team constantly riding around in armored vehicles and shooting people for inadvertently resisting when they bust down the door unannounced at 0230 to deliver an overdue library book notice.

Suspicious July 30, 2008 10:34 AM


I wonder what would happen to an Iraqi peasant if he tries to deliver some mail to an American tank, and at night.. lol.

I want to believe..

cjk July 30, 2008 11:09 AM

The peasent calling out “Mail!” — I would not consider this packet spoofing (alone), but social engineering…

TS July 30, 2008 12:39 PM

No, it’s not really social engineering, unless there are parts of the story that were left out. At this point, from the simple details, the commander opened the door at a simple word, meaning that it was already routine. No SE was required, so it was purely packet spoofing.

Early on in the war, when tank commanders weren’t used to routinely getting mail, when mail only came from military couriers… if the OSS agent had to convince the tank commander that he really did have mail, then that would have been social engineering.

Haceldama July 30, 2008 2:59 PM

Spies are terrorists and Soldiers murderers.
Not polite, but many people find these statements debatable even though they’re true.

Calum July 31, 2008 5:59 AM

@Suspicious – I wouldn’t be in the slightest bit surprised to discover that attempts in a similar vein have been made by both sides in Iraq. Deception is as old as warfare itself, and while this is a brazen example, it’s really no different from Churchill knocking on the door of Calais during Operation Fortitude – while chucking a couple of grenades onto the Normandy beaches.

Matt from CT August 2, 2008 7:10 PM

Spies are terrorists and Soldiers
Not polite, but many people find these
statements debatable even though
they’re true.

Only true to someone who reads George Orwell as a training manual for how to manipulate language.

No reasonable definition of the words can cause any confusion, or debate. They are different.

Eoghan Farquhar August 5, 2008 10:19 AM

Soldiers are Murderers

Not true. State sanctioned murder is never called murder by the state.

No different than “suicide by police” where someone makes the police to commit deadly force.

If opposiing forces did not commit threatening movements there would be no one to “murder”, correct?

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