10 Greatest Successful Bluffs in History

by Binupriya Tomy2 years ago
Picture 10 Greatest Successful Bluffs in History

Deception techniques were one of the most effective ways to win over enemies during wartime. There have been several instances in history where a bluff has done the job to an extent where wars were won and lives were saved. During WWII, British and US military agents have bluffed their way into saving their country. In one instance they went to the extent of placing inflatable tanks to drive off the enemies in front of them. Here are the 10 greatest successful bluffs in history.

1 The enigma code was broken by the intelligence team in 1941 including Alan Turing but they bluffed their way into making the German’s believe that they hadn’t cracked it and planned defenses accordingly. Many attacks were let to happen and many died as planned by Germans so that they didn’t get to know that they have broken the code. It was crucial in winning the war. 

Alan Turing
Alan Turing (Image to the left), the Enigma machine. Image credit: snl.no, EQRoy/Shutterstock

Much of Germany’s communications were encrypted by the enigma machine. After cracking the code, the British strategized that they must use the information gleaned from the decrypted messages very carefully.

The Enigma machine was considered impossible to break and was the main crypto-system. The world war would have possibly been three to four years longer if the enigma machine encrypted messages were not cracked. The details of the mission were only declassified by 1970. 

They were decrypting almost 2,000 messages per day but also making sure that Germans still believed that enigma was a safe communication line. Before they took action on any warnings or messages they got from the Enigma machine, they made sure there was a cover story and even sent encrypted fake messages to make them believe that their communications were safe.

The existence of Ultra was a guarded top secret until the late 1970s. It is now considered one of the crucial aspects of British history. (1, 2)


2 Nat Sherman ruled the cigar industry by a bluff that kept rivals away for 32 long years from 1950. They introduced plastic-tipped cigars in the industry and printed “Patent Pending” on them. They also threatened legal action against anyone who tried to copy their product when they actually haven’t applied for any patent. 

Nat Sherman
Image credit: RYO Alexandre/Shutterstock

Nat Sherman is the company that ruled the luxury handmade cigarette business. In 1950, they introduced plastic-tipped cigars to the industry for the first time. The cigar was manufactured by the same producers who manufactured for Partagas based out in Tampa. The Nat Sherman company applied for a patent in the plastic cigar tip idea several times but it was never granted. 

They successfully managed to bluff every rival in the history of the tobacco business to stay away from trying to recreate their trademark by just printing “Patent Pending” on their packaging and managed to pull that off for 32 years. They also threatened legal action with the printings in their package. (1, 2)


3 Colonel Tommy Macpherson, a highly decorated British army officer during the Second World War, single-handedly managed to surrender 23,000 German soldiers, showing up in a highland uniform and bluffing he had reinforcements ready. 

Colonel Tommy Macpherson
Image credit: plutarchproject.com

Tommy Macpherson is a celebrated commando who led several daring operations during wartime in France and Italy. He had pulled off one of the most successful bluffs in history. He managed to convince German troops that about 7,000 tough fighters were waiting to fight the Germans inexperienced irregulars. He also said he had artillery and tanks. He added that he was in full contact with people in London through radio. 

He bluffed that he could make a call to the RAF and make the whole place blow up when he had only a French squadron and four guns. They surrendered to the bluff and Macpherson successfully handed off 23,000 German soldiers to US forces. Macpherson was infamously known as the “Kilted Killer.: He was awarded several high honorary awards for his military service. (1, 2)


4 The Cardiff giant is one of the most successful bluffs in American history. George Hull, after an argument with Methodists against giants being mentioned in the Bible, decided to make a giant sculpture and bury it. After a year, he made it look like an artifact of archeological value and made around $23,000.

Cardiff Giant
Excavation of the Cardiff Giant, 1869. Image credit: history.com

The Cardiff giant bluff was convincing to archeologists and art enthusiasts in 19th century America, but it was set up by a New York-based tobacconist who wanted to prove Methodists were wrong to believe giants lived in the past. He was an atheist and planned for the whole sculpture to be made and shipped to his cousin’s farm to be buried, only to uncover it after a year and get noticed by authorities and civilians. 

The giant, when uncovered gathered, a lot of attention as he charged people to see it. Later, after it was moved to New York, it started getting a larger price tag, Hull decided to make one more and claim the one sold was not the original. By 1869, he confessed to the press. This story has inspired several hoaxes. (Source 1,2)


5 To show that psychiatric diagnoses were sometimes wrong, psychologist David Rosenhan conducted the Rosenhan experiment in 1973. He sent pseudopatients to psychiatric hospitals saying they have hallucinations but asked them to act normal once they got there. They were all diagnosed schizophrenic and released after giving antipsychotic medications. 

David Rosenhan
David L. Rosenhan, Professor of Law and Psychology, The Center Building at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, D.C. Image credits: law.stanford.edu, Tom via Wikimedia.org

Rosenhan’s experiment was an interesting take on being sane in insane places. Prof. David Rosenhan sent pseudopatients with no symptoms or any history of mental health disorders. All the 12 patients he sent were diagnosed and hospitalized. The experiment was to show how often people are misdiagnosed in the mental health area. 

As a follow-up study for the same experiment, he asked the staff at these hospitals to rate patients getting admitted on a 10-point scale. As the staff was aware of the previous study, they marked around 193 patients as pseudopatients.

The staff was also told that he will be sending pseudo patients their way unannounced. In the second study, he did not send any patients but still got a whopping 193 individuals marked as being them. The experiment proved that accuracy and diagnoses in psychiatry were to be questioned. (1, 2)

Also Read:
10 Famous Whistleblowers Who Changed History

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