In battles, often military deception is used to bait the enemy into thinking that a certain move will be made, forcing them to act accordingly and attack from an unexpected angle. Intuitively, I would think that there is a fine line between being too obvious of a bait and being too subtle to be noticed.

Operation mincemeat from WW II is an example of a successful bait along with other examples in pretty much every war ever but I am having a hard time finding examples of failures. Particularly if there is ever a case of an attempted bait so subtle that it was entirely overlooked by the enemy hence not causing enemy to move in the anticipated manner

Edit: another similar but almost opposite example is Battle of Long Island, where Washington believes incoming British soldiers to be a ruse and doesn't react, but there is no ruse and he ends up letting the main force in

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    If the "attempted bait so subtle that it was entirely overlooked by the enemy", it may be difficult to prove that it caused the defeat of the baiting side - it could just be that the enemy had a better battle plan from the start and stuck with it.
    – Steve Bird
    Oct 16, 2018 at 22:00
  • Hmm I could relax my criteria there. Primarily curious about cases where they just didn't notice. The outcome matters less
    – OganM
    Oct 16, 2018 at 22:03
  • And sticking to a plan with intel about the bait (knowing that it is a bait or ignoring it even though they think its real) is a different scenario than being totally oblivious and moving without any knowledge of said bait
    – OganM
    Oct 16, 2018 at 22:07
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    If I was commanding at a battle and I completely missed a subtle enemy ruse but I won anyway, how would anyone know? If the enemy told me after the battle, I'd claim I saw it and ignored it because it was so obvious. If they didn't, I'd be none the wiser...and since the winners generally write the history, my version would omit mention of the ruse completely.
    – Steve Bird
    Oct 16, 2018 at 22:14
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    Win lose conditions are less important then some recorded case of obliviousness. Also not everything is re-written by the winning generals. In battle of edgehill, we know that both sides practically ran into each other because their intelligence networks were shoddy even though the parliament ultimately won the war. Not the best example perhaps but it is not implausible for accounts to survive
    – OganM
    Oct 16, 2018 at 22:32

4 Answers 4


Midway battle.

Japan planned to invade Midway on 1942. This invasion included a diversion in the Aleutian islands. But the United States, having broken Japanese naval codes, knew that main battle would be around Midway.

The United States concentrated their forces at Midway, and ignored the Aleutians. As result, they won at Midway, the turning point of the Pacific war. The diversonary Aleutians invasion was successful for Japan, but it was only of negligible importance.

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    would argue that Halsey and Nimits were always going to defend Midway rather than the Aleutians - breaking the codes was simply serendipitous. Splitting the fleet would have guaranteed defeat of half, for negligible gain against the feint. There simply wasn't sufficient strategic advantage to either side in fighting a major engagement over Dutch Harbour. Oct 19, 2018 at 0:13
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    Further, the entire Japanese strategic plan was to risk all over and over for two years; and keep rolling double-sixes on the dice. That simply wasn't a high odds strategy. Oct 19, 2018 at 0:14
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    The Aleutians were never intended to be a diversion, Midway was intended to be the bait to draw the Pacific fleet into a battle with the entire IJN, if you're using that as bait with that being the intended goal, why would you then want to draw ships away from the intended bait?
    – Davidw
    Oct 19, 2018 at 0:50
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    @Davidw: That's easy - half a fleet is very much easier to crush decisively than the whole fleet. Oct 19, 2018 at 3:42
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    Parshall and Tully, in "Shattered Sword" (the best book I've seen on the battle) looked extensively at the Japanese side, and concluded that the Aleutians attack was not a bait operation, but was intended to seize some Aleutian islands while the US main force was fighting at Midway. It may be that people thought it sufficiently pointless an operation that they thought it must have had some other motive. Oct 19, 2018 at 14:31

Russian diversion before the Battle of Tsushima

During the 1904-1905 Russo-Japanese war, a Russian navy fleet was trying to get from South East Asia to Vladivostok. The Russia Admiral Rozhestvenski detached two armed merchants Terek and Kuban to hopefully distract or divide the Japanese fleet away from the Tsushima Strait whilst the main part of the Russia fleet passed through. The two ships seemed to have passed completely unnoticed to the Japanese until after the main Russia fleet suffered a disastrous defeat at the Battle of Tsushima.

  • Interesting, but the issue here is that the Russian fleet did not end in a worse position than before due to the failure of the bait.
    – SJuan76
    Oct 19, 2018 at 17:22

Another more recent opposite case, similar to your Battle of Long Island example, is the stunning success of Operation Bodyguard (especially Juan Pujol García's / "Garbo's" role in Fortitude) in convincing OKW that Overlord was a feint and the real Allied invasion would come at the Pas de Calais (Fortitude South II) led by General George S. Patton.

This deception convinced the German High Command to withhold a massive counterattack against the real June 6 invasion force at Normandy (even though Rommel and Speidel tried to get Jodl to commit the Panzer reserves to Normandy), thinking it was a feint - and they continued to believe this until as late as September.

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    I think that the question was aimed at getting examples of feints that were overlooked by the enemy forces. As you say here, Operation Bodyguard wasn't overlooked at all, it was a great success. Oct 20, 2018 at 7:04
  • @KillingTime - Yes, I was responding with another example of an opposite case where a main attack was mistaken for a feint and went largely unresponded to, thus allowing the main attack to succeed, like the OP’s added counter-example of the Battle of Long Island. OKW Thought Overlord was a feint and didn't commit the Panzers. OKW was mistaken. Overlord succeeded as a result of OKW thinking it was a feint, like Washington at the Battle of Long Island.
    – Kerry L
    Oct 20, 2018 at 13:12

Actually, Operation Mincemeat did more harm than good

Operation Mincemeat was designed to fool Axis (Germans and to less extent Italians) that main targets for Allied invasion of South Europe would be Balkans or Sardinia and Corsica, with Sicily serving only as secondary target. Apparently Germans did fall for the trap, but ironically it had negative consequences for Allies.

Considering Sicily only as secondary target, and already suspicious about Italian wiliness to fight, Germans held relatively modest forces on island. What is more important, they already decided to abandon Sicily and made plans to evacuate across Strait of Messina. As a consequence, German loses during the fighting were not that high, they managed to evacuate large portions of their army .

Real damage for Allies came latter. Since German forces in Italy were largely intact, Allied advance in Italy was very slow and costly, from landings in Salerno right until the end of the war. Italy in fact was not "soft underbelly of Europe" as Allies (Churchill) had hoped. Also, partisans in Yugoslavia and Greece had harder times fighting against German troops that reinforced Balkans.

Without Operation Mincemeat, fighting for Sicily would be harder, but Allies would have chance to isolate and destroy German forces on island, considering their naval and air superiority. Also, way for invasion of Southern Europe via Greece or Yugoslavia would be open. Instead, they got two years of mostly useless but bloody Italian campaign.

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    Far too much contra-factual speculation in this answer. Oct 19, 2018 at 0:06
  • @PieterGeerkens It is not speculation. Sicily was never strategic goal. Strategic goal was to advance as quickly as possible into Southern Europe, and tie-up German forces thus easing the situation on Eastern front. Instead, Germans managed to reverse that, with relatively few divisions they tied up considerable Allied force right until the end of the war. Those troops could have been used elsewhere.
    – rs.29
    Oct 19, 2018 at 7:18
  • @PieterGeerkens Nope. Ever heard of concept called logistics ? In autumn of 1944 Allies had to pause offensive in France because of lack of supplies. Essentially, supplying army in Italy drained resources that could be used elsewhere. Remember, unlike Germans or Soviets, Allies depended on shipping, ports and industry that was overseas.
    – rs.29
    Oct 19, 2018 at 19:54
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    AFAIR, the issues with supplies in France were not due to a lack of available supplies, but due to the lack of means of transporting them to France (because the Germans did destroy or kept the main ports) and to then send to the units (mainly due to the damage to the infrastructure by Allied air bombing previous to the invasion). If the bottleneck were ports and roads/rail, putting more ships and supplies would not have helped.
    – SJuan76
    Oct 19, 2018 at 21:20
  • @SJuan76 Quite right, but supplies had to be diverted to Italy and ships bound there could not go to France . Italian infrastructure was also damaged, so instead of rail trucks had to be used, they required fuel, fuel had to be shipped ...
    – rs.29
    Oct 19, 2018 at 21:26

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