France Built a Decoy Paris to Fool German Bombers During World War I

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Arc de Triomphe, Paris, 1918

How do you save Paris from German World War I bombers? By building a life-sized decoy city, of course.

According to The Telegraph, the faux City of Light was created near the end of the war, in 1918, to draw German pilots away from the real Paris in the era before radar.

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If this seems far-fetched, consider the enemy: the German Gotha bomber, an open-top wooden and fabric biplane in which crews clung to, aimed and dropped bombs – by hand.

To deceive the German airmen, military planners went to great lengths recreating Paris’ famous quartiers and buildings. Along with a fake Arc de Triomphe, the French built a replica wooden Opera house, Gare Du Nord and Champs-Elysées. For verisimilitude, they added careful touches like translucent paint to mimic dirty glass roofs of factories. Alongside Hausmann’s boulevards, they constructed lifelike industrial suburbs.

Electrical engineer Fernand Jacopozzi, who later went on to illuminate the Eiffel Tower, was hired to create the impression of trains and machines whirring away at night with white, yellow and red lamps.

The fake city, built 15 miles outside of Paris along the River Seine, was never put to use; German bombing raids ended before it was completed. Luckily, the real Paris remained unscathed. The same cannot be said for secret Paris II, which was dismantled rapidly and built over, surviving only in the pages of forgotten archives.

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