Nazi bombers flying over British cities dropping not bombs, but bank notes. This may sound like a fantasy, but in fact it formed part of secret German plans to invade Britain. At Hitlerâ€™s specific orders the Nazi war machine printed millions of pounds of forged British bank notes and sought to use these as a weapon of war. The extraordinary story of this escapade is documented in files held here at The National Archives.
On 19Â October 1944 a German civilian was arrested by troops from the 102nd US Cavalry Reconnaissance Group, trying to cross Allied lines near Wirtzfeld in Belgium. Although carrying a false passport this individual was quickly recognised as Alfred Naujocks, a well known member of German intelligence. He was described by MI5 as â€˜a thug of the New Orderâ€™ and that his â€˜entire life is a grim record of political crime and bullying arroganceâ€™ (KV 2/279). Naujocks was, however, desperate to save his own skin and so proved a treasure trove of information. One of the most extraordinary revelations to come from his interrogation was that he had set up a top secret unit to forge British bank notes on a vast scale.
In early 1940 Naujocks, who was head of a technical bureau in German intelligence, was instructed to develop a factory capable of forging British bank notes. The instructions came from Hitler himself, who wanted to drop huge quantities of forged bank notes from German aircraft. The idea was that the forgeries would be picked up by British civilians and so undermine the value of the real bank notes. This would destabilise the entire economy:Â no one would know which notes were real or which ones were fake. Hitler intended to use the chaos caused by such a scheme as the perfect cover for his invasion of Britain.
Although this plan never came to fruition, the Germans continued to perfect the forging process as part of what was called Operation Bernhard. In December 1942 the forging factory was set up at the Sachenhausen concentration camp just outside Berlin. The Germans brought in experts, often in the form of slave labour, from across Europe. Among those working on the project were a number of people who had previously been convicted of forging bank notes. The German government provided them with all the resources necessary to create forgeries on an industrial scale, including specially produced paper with the watermark in it. Continue reading »