The Martin Pollins Blog

History, economics, business, politics…and Sussex

A picture containing tree, outdoor, military vehicle, transport Description automatically generated
Picture Credit/Attribution: An example of Deception: Inflateable Dummy M4 Sherman Tank, used to fool the Germans. 
Deliberate Misrepresentation

A false flag operation is an act committed with the purpose of disguising the actual source of responsibility and thus deliberately pinning the blame on another party. The term originated from the 16th century as a purely figurative expression to mean a deliberate misrepresentation of someone’s affiliation or motives[1].  It described how pirates and privateers flew the flag of a friendly nation to deceive merchant ships into allowing them to draw near.  It was later used to describe a ruse in naval warfare whereby a vessel flew the flag of a neutral or enemy country to hide its true identity. According to international maritime laws, it was later deemed an acceptable practice during naval warfare, provided the attacking vessel displayed its true flag once an attack had begun.[2] The term today extends to include countries that organise attacks on themselves and make the attacks appear to be by enemy nations or terrorists, thus giving the nation that was supposedly attacked a pretext for domestic repression and foreign military aggression.[3] Similarly, deceptive activities carried out during peacetime by individuals or non-governmental organisations have been called false flag operations, but the more common legal term is a “frame-up”, “stitch-up”, or “set-up”.

In land warfare, the use of a false flag is similar to that of naval warfare: the trial of Otto Skorzeny, who planned and commanded Operation Greif, by a US military tribunal at the Dachau Trials[4] included a finding that Skorzeny was not guilty of a crime by ordering his men into action in American uniforms. He had relayed to his men the warning of German legal experts: if they fought in American uniforms, they would be breaking the laws of war; however, they probably were not doing so simply by only wearing the American uniforms. In the transcript of the trial[5], it is mentioned that Paragraph 43 of the US Field Manual 
published by the War Department, United States Army, on 1st October 1940, under the entry Rules of Land Warfare states:

“National flags, insignias and uniforms as a ruse – in practice, it has been authorized to make use of these as a ruse. The foregoing rule (Article 23 of the Annex of the IV Hague Convention) does not prohibit such use, but does prohibit their improper use. It is certainly forbidden to make use of them during combat. Before opening fire upon the enemy, they must be discarded.”

African nations are no strangers to the concept of the false flag tactic and its use historically to pursue illegitimate geopolitical aims and interests. An ebook[6] draws on recent African history in this regard, as well as on deeper twentieth-century European and American history, to lay a foundation for entertaining the possibility that the 9/11 was a false flag attack. It makes interesting (and worrying) reading. It argues that the United Nations should seek to fulfil its core and incontrovertible ‘jury’ function of determining the existence of inter-state aggression to exercise a long-overdue oversight of the official 9/11 narrative.

Recent Examples
A false flag is a political or military action carried out to blame an opponent for it. Nations have often done this by staging a real or simulated attack on their own side and saying the enemy did it as a pretext for going to war. False flag attacks have a long and ignoble history. A few of them (all military operations) are detailed below.

The Nazi Attack on German radio trans­mitter sta­tion in Glei­witz[7]
It has been said that ‘in war, truth is the first casualty’. Hiram Johnson, a Republican politician from California who served in the US Senate for nearly 30 years, coined this phrase in 1918. He died in 1945 – on the same day that the US Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber Enola Gay dropped its deadly atomic bomb cargo on the Japanese at Hiroshima.

A picture containing tower, rocket

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Picture Credit/Attribution: Gliwice Radio Tower, File URL:
Andrzej Jarczewski at Polish Wikipedia, CC BY 3.0 <;, via Wikimedia Commons

The Gliwice Radio Tower is 387 ft tall (including the 26 ft long spire on its top), with a wooden framework of impregnated larch linked by brass connectors. The tower has four platforms, and a ladder with 365 steps provides access to the top. The transmission facility survived World War II. From 4th October 1945 until the inauguration of the new transmitter in Ruda Śląska in 1955, the Gliwice transmitter was used for medium-wave transmissions by the Polish state broadcaster Polskie Radio. After 1955, it was used to jam medium-wave stations broadcasting Polish-language programmes from Western Europe.

The truth was undoubtedly a casualty on 31st August 1939. Adolf Hitler told his Generals earlier that month that he would make up a fairy tale to justify his plan­ned invasion of Poland. The carefully contrived plan was for Nazi Party Schutz­staffel (SS) opera­tives to dress in Polish uni­forms, attack a German radio trans­mitter sta­tion in Glei­witz, Upper Silesia (now called Gli­wice, Poland) and give the impression to the world that the Poles had attempted to usurp Germany.

A 43-year-old, unmarried ethnic Polish Catholic farmer and agricultural equipment salesman – Franciszek (Franz) Honiok – was to die on the last day of August 1939. Although guilty of no crime, he died because the charade about to happen was designed to be used as an excuse for Nazi Germany to invade Poland. The SS had arrested Honiok in the Polish village of Polonia on the previous day. He had been chosen, specifically, as the person to provide ‘the undeniable proof of Polish aggression against Nazi Germany’ following orders from the very top of the Nazi regime – from no less than Reinhard Tristan Eugen Heydrich. Perhaps Honiok had already pushed his luck too far by being involved in several minor local disturbances against German rule in Silesia – he was well known for his Polish patriotism in his German home village of Hohenlieben (now, Lubie). The village was located about 10 miles north of the radio station at Gleiwitz, where he was murdered on 31st August 1939. This sham, codenamed Operation Himmler (also, but less often, known as Operation Konserve or Operation Canned Goods), was carried out under an operation falsely identifying Honiok as the person who would provide proof of Polish aggression against Germany. It was just the excuse needed by Germany to invade Poland. It fitted well with the Nazi propaganda campaign in German newspapers, with senior Nazis accusing Polish authorities of organising or tolerating violent ethnic cleansing of Germans living in Poland.

Two cars passed through the gates of the Gliwice radio station situated just four miles inside Germany, on the border with Poland. The vehicles carried seven German SS officers masquerading in suitable attire as Polish partisans. Accompanying SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Alfred Naujocks and his elite six-man team was Honiok, an unwilling companion, drugged to his eyeballs, and a few Polish prisoners from a concentration camp, who were equally reluctant to participate in what was about to happen.

One of the SS officers, who spoke Polish well, grabbed the main microphone and shouted something like ‘Uwaga! To jest Gliwice. Stacja nadawcza znajduje sie polskich rękach’ (English translation: Attention! This is Gliwice. The broadcast station is in Polish hands), together with an anti-German, anti-Nazi diatribe in both Polish and German. It was an Oscar-winning performance and very believable to those who heard it. Franz Haniok, dressed in a stolen Polish army uniform, was then given a lethal cocktail of chemicals by injection and shot through the forehead. His lifeless body was dragged to the entrance of the building. The first victim of World War II had been killed.

To make the event seem utterly rea­lis­tic and believable, ‘casual­ties’ were needed. The six concen­tra­tion camp inmates, all dressed as Polish sol­diers, were shot and killed at the cus­toms post by Germans who pretended to be responding to gunfire upon themselves. The inmates were the second to seventh victims of the war, which was to start in earnest the next day. Across Germany, every radio station announced the incident. It was no surprise to anyone that the following day, 1st September 1939, Adolf Hitler used the incident as an excuse to invade Poland by land, sea and air. More than 1.5 million Germans poured into Poland. How Hitler had amassed such an enormous army without anyone noticing or doing something to stop it, nobody knows. The attack at Gliwice is widely regarded as a false flag operation, staged alongside some two-dozen similar German incidents on the eve of the invasion of Poland leading to World War II in Europe.

The Winter War (aka The War of Finland)[8]

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Picture Credit/Attribution: On 9th November 1939, foreign journalists at Mainila, where a border incident between Finland and the Soviet Union escalated into the Winter War.
Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. File URL:

In November 1939, the Russian village of Mainila[9] came under shell fire. It was close to the Finnish border, and the Soviet Union used the alleged attack to break its non-aggression pact with Finland, starting the so-called Winter War. Historians have now concluded that the shelling of the village was not carried out by the Finnish army but was a fabrication carried out by the Soviet NKVD state security agency. The Russian invasion of Finland in November 1939 was a critical turning point in world history. With the opening of the Russian archives, this extraordinary story emerged. Two months after his cynical alliance with Hitler and their joint invasion of Poland, Stalin ordered the Red Army to crush the Finns. Everybody expected a walk-over: the odds were ten to one in Stalin’s favour. But the Finns fought bravely, and the Red Army – its high command decimated by Stalin’s purges – fumbled their way to defeat after defeat.

Tens of thousands of Russian soldiers died in the snow. On 30th November 1939, Soviet bombers were disgorging their bombs on Helsinki, the capital of Finland. The Winter War started just under three months after the outbreak of World War II and ended three and a half months later with the Moscow Peace Treaty on 13th March 1940. Soviet leader Josef Stalin’s ultimatum, demanding the cession of huge tracts of territory as a buffer zone against Nazi Germany, had been rejected by the Finnish government – and the small Baltic republic of Finland was at war with the giant Soviet military machine. Only after more than three months and the massing of over a million men and thousands of guns did the Russians finally break through and force the Finns to accept cease-fire terms with the signing of the Moscow Peace Treaty in which Finland ceded 9% of its territory to the Soviet Union. Soviet losses were heavy, and the country’s international reputation suffered.[10]

The League of Nations deemed the Soviet attack illegal and expelled the Soviet Union from their organisation.

The poor performance of the Soviet Red Army encouraged German Chancellor Adolf Hitler to believe that an attack on the Soviet Union would be successful and confirmed negative Western opinions of the Soviet military. After 15 months of Interim Peace, in June 1941, Germany commenced Operation Barbarossa, and the Continuation War between Finland and the Soviets began.[11]

Boris Yeltsin, the first President of the Russian Federation, admitted in 1994 that the Winter War was a Soviet war of aggression. In other words, a false flag operation.

Gulf of Tonkin incident, 1964
On 2nd August 1964, a sea battle occurred between a US destroyer and North Vietnamese torpedo boats in the Gulf of Tonkin, off the Vietnamese coast. Both sides experienced damage to their vessels, and the North Vietnamese lost four men and suffered six other casualties. The US National Security Agency claimed that two days later, another similar battle occurred. However, it is now likely the second attack by the North Vietnamese never happened.

Declassified documents released in 2005 suggest the North Vietnamese navy was not attacking the US ship but trying to salvage two of the boats damaged on 2nd August 1964.[12] However, President Lyndon B. Johnson and staff decided to believe and run with the initial version of events and presented the incidents to Congress as two unprovoked attacks on US forces by North Vietnam. It led to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which allowed President Johnson to start bombing raids on North Vietnam and greatly escalate US military involvement in the Vietnam War.

Russo-Swedish War
In 1788, the head tailor at the Royal Swedish Opera received an order to sew a number of Russian military uniforms, which were then used by the Swedes to stage an attack on Puumala, a Swedish outpost on the Russo-Swedish border. These events caused an outrage in Stockholm and impressed the Riksdag of the Estates, the Swedish national assembly, who until then had refused to agree to an offensive war against Russia. The Puumala incident allowed King Gustav III of Sweden, who lacked the constitutional authority to initiate unprovoked hostilities without the Estates’ consent, to launch the Russo-Swedish War (1788–1790)[13].

The Russian invasion of Ukraine[14]
During January and February 2022, Western government agencies were predicting that Russia would use a false flag operation in Ukraine[15]. In the days leading up to the 24th February Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Russian government intensified its disinformation campaign, with Russian state media promoting false flags on a nearly hourly basis purporting to show Ukrainian forces attacking Russia, in a bid to justify an invasion of Ukraine[16]

Many of the disinformation videos are poor and amateur in quality, with mismatching metadata showing incorrect dates, and evidence from
Bellingcat researchers, and other independent journalists, showed that the claimed attacks, explosions, and evacuations in Donbas were staged by Russia.

Operation Fortitude[17] 
Operation Fortitude was the code name for a World War II military deception employed by the Allied nations as part of an overall deception strategy (code named Bodyguard) during the build-up to the 1944 Normandy landings. Fortitude was divided into two sub-plans, North and South, to mislead the German High Command as to the location of the invasion.

Both Fortitude plans involved the creation of phantom field armies 
(based in Edinburgh and the south of England), which threatened Norway (Fortitude North) and Pas de Calais (Fortitude South). The operation was intended to divert Axis attention away from Normandy and, after the invasion on 6 June 1944, to delay reinforcement by convincing the Germans that the landings were purely a diversionary attack.

Fortitude was one of the major elements of Operation Bodyguard, the overall Allied deception stratagem for the Normandy landings. Bodyguard’s main objective was to ensure the Germans would not increase troop presence in Normandy and to do so by promoting the appearance that the Allied forces would attack in other locations.

Sources and Further Reading

A picture containing tree, outdoor, military vehicle, transport

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Picture Credit/Attribution: An example of Deception: Inflateable Dummy M4 Sherman Tank, used to fool the Germans. 
US Army.

  1. Source: O’Conner, Patricia; Kellerman, Stewart (11 May 2018). “The True History of False Flags”

  2. Sources: (i) Christopher Hodapp; Alice Von Kannon (4 February 2011). Conspiracy Theories and Secret Societies For Dummies published by John Wiley & Sons. pp. 137–. ISBN 978-1-118-05202-0. (ii) Politakis, George P. (2018). Modern Aspects of the Laws of Naval Warfare and Maritime Neutrality published by Taylor & Francis. pp. 281–. ISBN 978-1-136-88577-8 (iii) Faye Kert (30 September 2015). Privateering: Patriots and Profits in the War of 1812 published published by JHU Press. pp. 62–. ISBN 978-1-4214-1747-9 (iv) Donald R. Hickey; Connie D. Clark (8 October 2015). The Routledge Handbook of the War of 1812

  3. Source: deHaven-Smith, Lance (2013). Conspiracy Theory in America. Austin: University of Texas Press. p. 225

  4. The Dachau Trials handled the prosecution of every war criminal captured in the U.S. military zones in Allied-occupied Germany and in Allied-occupied Austria, and the prosecutions of military personnel and civilian persons who committed war crimes against the American military and American citizens. The war-crime trials were held within the compound of the Dachau concentration camp by military tribunals authorised by the Judge Advocate General of the US Third Army. Unlike the International military trials in Nuremberg that prosecuted the major Nazi war criminals under the jurisdiction of the four Allied Occupying Powers, the Dachau tribunals were held exclusively by the United States military between November 1945 and August 1948. The proceedings were similar to the 12 post-1946 Nuremberg trials that were also conducted solely by the United States. All the hearings were held within Dachau because it was, at the time, the best known of the Nazi concentration camps and it would act as a backdrop for the trials by underlining the moral corruption of the Nazi regime. They were held by the American Military Tribunal, without a jury, but instead by a panel of seven men, one of whom was versed in international military law. The prosecution was different from most trials, in that the burden of proof was on the defense.

  5. See: Law Reports of Trials of War Criminals. United Nations War Crimes Commission. Vol. IX, 1949: Trial of Otto Skorzeny and others. Archived 2 October 2008 at the Wayback Machine. General Military Government Court of the U.S. zone of Germany 18th August to 9th September 1947.

  6. Source: 9/11 as False Flag: Why International Law Must Dare to Care, at:

  7. Source: Nothing Compares To What We Have All Been Through, by Norman Spillit, excerpted by permission, © Copyright all rights reserved.

  8. Source:

  9. See:

  10. Excerpted from Anazon description at: and

  11. Source:

  12. Source:

  13. Source: Mattila, Tapabi (1983). Meri maamme turvana: Suomen meripuolustuksen vaiheita Ruotsin vallan aikana (in Finnish). Jyväskylä: Suomi Merellä-säätiö. p. 142. ISBN 951-99487-0-8.

  14. Main source:

  15. Source: “False-Flag Invasions Are a Russian Specialty”. Foreign Policy, by Calder Walton, the assistant director of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Applied History Project, and director of research of its Intelligence Project. See:

  16. Sources: Gilbert, David (21 February 2022). “Russia’s ‘Idiotic’ Disinformation Campaign Could Still Lead to War in Ukraine”. Vice Media and

    “Four Russian false flags that are comically easy to debunk”. The Telegraph. 21 February 2022.

  17. Source:

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