Fake Trees Were an Innovation of WWI

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Two unidentified Australian officers examining a tree trunk which was used as an observation post at German House. The opening to the post is located at the base of the trunk. The color patches indicate the officers are members of the 3rd Division Army Services Corps. Note behind the post a dugout (center, right) and trenches. (Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial)

These Fake Trees Were Used as Spy Posts on the Front Lines of World War I

Jennifer Billock/Smithsonian.com

A a result of World War I, we now count among our military innovations the likes of tanks, flamethrowers, tracer bullets…and fake trees. Amid the war, they were called observation trees and were tucked into the woods along the front lines—faux wooden housing for soldiers to ascend and gain an otherwise unseen advantage.

The French, the British, and the Germans used these trees throughout Great War. The French were the first to use one, in 1915, and they then tutored the British on the approach—which was adopted by the Germans soon thereafter. Creating the trees was a lengthy and detailed process since, with such close proximity to the front lines, everything needed to be carried out in secret.

First, engineers would find a dead tree near the front that had (ideally) been blasted by a bomb. They would then take extensive photos, measurements, and sketches of the dead tree. From there, work commenced behind the scenes. All of the detailed information would be brought back to a workshop, where artists would create an exact replica of the tree: life-size, with the same dead and broken limbs, and with expertly crafted “bark” made from wrinkled, painted iron.

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