Ruse of war
A ruse of war, or ruse de guerre, is an action taken by a belligerent
A belligerent is an individual, group, country or other entity which acts in a hostile manner, such as engaging in combat. Belligerent comes from Latin, literally meaning "to wage war"...

 in war
War is a state of organized, armed, and often prolonged conflict carried on between states, nations, or other parties typified by extreme aggression, social disruption, and usually high mortality. War should be understood as an actual, intentional and widespread armed conflict between political...

fare to fool the enemy in order to gain intelligence or a military
A military is an organization authorized by its greater society to use lethal force, usually including use of weapons, in defending its country by combating actual or perceived threats. The military may have additional functions of use to its greater society, such as advancing a political agenda e.g...

 advantage against an enemy.

Modern history

  • American Civil War
    American Civil War
    The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

     General George Meade
    George Meade
    George Gordon Meade was a career United States Army officer and civil engineer involved in coastal construction, including several lighthouses. He fought with distinction in the Second Seminole War and Mexican-American War. During the American Civil War he served as a Union general, rising from...

    's General Order No. 13 of 1865 was retracted after it was determined that his criticism of Brigadier-General McLaughlin was based on "nothing more than the obvious result of those ruses de guerre, by which the very best officers may, at times, be victimized", after the Confederate Army falsely claimed that it had gained a foothold in the Union Army
    Union Army
    The Union Army was the land force that fought for the Union during the American Civil War. It was also known as the Federal Army, the U.S. Army, the Northern Army and the National Army...


  • An effort by the Japanese Navy
    Imperial Japanese Navy
    The Imperial Japanese Navy was the navy of the Empire of Japan from 1869 until 1947, when it was dissolved following Japan's constitutional renunciation of the use of force as a means of settling international disputes...

     to lure the Russian fleet out of its harbor during the Russo-Japanese War
    Russo-Japanese War
    The Russo-Japanese War was "the first great war of the 20th century." It grew out of rival imperial ambitions of the Russian Empire and Japanese Empire over Manchuria and Korea...

     in 1904 was described by The Times as "a clever ruse of war to entice the Russian ships out of Port Arthur".

  • The use of the American flag flown on the RMS Lusitania
    RMS Lusitania
    RMS Lusitania was a British ocean liner designed by Leonard Peskett and built by John Brown and Company of Clydebank, Scotland. The ship entered passenger service with the Cunard Line on 26 August 1907 and continued on the line's heavily-traveled passenger service between Liverpool, England and New...

     during a crossing of the Irish Sea
    Irish Sea
    The Irish Sea separates the islands of Ireland and Great Britain. It is connected to the Celtic Sea in the south by St George's Channel, and to the Atlantic Ocean in the north by the North Channel. Anglesey is the largest island within the Irish Sea, followed by the Isle of Man...

     to avoid attack by German submarines was criticized in debate in the United States House of Representatives
    United States House of Representatives
    The United States House of Representatives is one of the two Houses of the United States Congress, the bicameral legislature which also includes the Senate.The composition and powers of the House are established in Article One of the Constitution...

     by Republican
    Republican Party (United States)
    The Republican Party is one of the two major contemporary political parties in the United States, along with the Democratic Party. Founded by anti-slavery expansion activists in 1854, it is often called the GOP . The party's platform generally reflects American conservatism in the U.S...

     Eben Martin
    Eben Martin
    Eben Wever Martin was a U.S. Republican politician.He was born in Maquoketa, Iowa. He studied at the University of Michigan....

     of South Dakota
    South Dakota
    South Dakota is a state located in the Midwestern region of the United States. It is named after the Lakota and Dakota Sioux American Indian tribes. Once a part of Dakota Territory, South Dakota became a state on November 2, 1889. The state has an area of and an estimated population of just over...

    , who stated that "the United States cannot be made a party to a ruse of war where the national colors are involved".

  • Wehrmacht
    The Wehrmacht – from , to defend and , the might/power) were the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1945. It consisted of the Heer , the Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe .-Origin and use of the term:...

     Field Marshal
    Field Marshal
    Field Marshal is a military rank. Traditionally, it is the highest military rank in an army.-Etymology:The origin of the rank of field marshal dates to the early Middle Ages, originally meaning the keeper of the king's horses , from the time of the early Frankish kings.-Usage and hierarchical...

     Erwin Rommel
    Erwin Rommel
    Erwin Johannes Eugen Rommel , popularly known as the Desert Fox , was a German Field Marshal of World War II. He won the respect of both his own troops and the enemies he fought....

    's withdrawal of his Afrika Korps
    Afrika Korps
    The German Africa Corps , or the Afrika Korps as it was popularly called, was the German expeditionary force in Libya and Tunisia during the North African Campaign of World War II...

     at the Second Battle of El Alamein
    Second Battle of El Alamein
    The Second Battle of El Alamein marked a major turning point in the Western Desert Campaign of the Second World War. The battle took place over 20 days from 23 October – 11 November 1942. The First Battle of El Alamein had stalled the Axis advance. Thereafter, Lieutenant-General Bernard Montgomery...

     in November 1942 was described to the German people as a ruse de guerre and not as a retreat.

  • German commando
    In English, the term commando means a specific kind of individual soldier or military unit. In contemporary usage, commando usually means elite light infantry and/or special operations forces units, specializing in amphibious landings, parachuting, rappelling and similar techniques, to conduct and...

     Otto Skorzeny
    Otto Skorzeny
    Otto Skorzeny was an SS-Obersturmbannführer in the German Waffen-SS during World War II. After fighting on the Eastern Front, he was chosen as the field commander to carry out the rescue mission that freed the deposed Italian dictator Benito Mussolini from captivity...

     led troops wearing American uniforms behind the American lines during the Battle of the Bulge
    Battle of the Bulge
    The Battle of the Bulge was a major German offensive , launched toward the end of World War II through the densely forested Ardennes mountain region of Wallonia in Belgium, hence its French name , and France and...

    . Skorzeny later reported that he was told by experts in military law that wearing the American uniforms was a defensible ruse de guerre, provided his troops took off their American uniforms, and put on German uniforms, prior to firing their weapons. Skorzeny was acquitted by a United States military court in Dachau
    Dachau is a town in Upper Bavaria, in the southern part of Germany. It is a major district town—a Große Kreisstadt—of the administrative region of Upper Bavaria, about 20 km north-west of Munich. It is now a popular residential area for people working in Munich with roughly 40,000 inhabitants...

     in 1947, after his defense counsel argued that the "wearing of American uniforms was a legitimate ruse of war for espionage and sabotage" as described by The New York Times
    The New York Times
    The New York Times is an American daily newspaper founded and continuously published in New York City since 1851. The New York Times has won 106 Pulitzer Prizes, the most of any news organization...


  • The Allied Combined Operations
    Combined Operations
    Combined Operations Headquarters was a department of the British War Office set up during World War II to harass the Germans on the European continent by means of raids carried out by use of combined naval and army forces...

     raid on the Normandie Dock
    Louis Joubert Lock
    The Louis Joubert Lock also known as the Normandie Dock, is a lock and major dry dock located in the port of Saint-Nazaire, in Loire-Atlantique northwestern France...

      in Saint Nazaire employed several legitimate Ruse de Guerre during their voyage up the Loire estuary
    Loire (river)
    The Loire is the longest river in France. With a length of , it drains an area of , which represents more than a fifth of France's land area. It is the 170th longest river in the world...

    , including flying German colours and replying to signal challenges by giving misleading replies in German. These measures were all designed to buy time for the attacking force. When these tactics ceased to be effective and German shore batteries opened fire in earnest, all the British ships lowered their German colours and hoisted White Ensign
    White Ensign
    The White Ensign or St George's Ensign is an ensign flown on British Royal Navy ships and shore establishments. It consists of a red St George's Cross on a white field with the Union Flag in the upper canton....

    s before returning fire.

Good faith

Good faith in dealing with an enemy must be observed as a rule of conduct; but this does not prevent measures such as using spies
SPY is a three-letter acronym that may refer to:* SPY , ticker symbol for Standard & Poor's Depositary Receipts* SPY , a satirical monthly, trademarked all-caps* SPY , airport code for San Pédro, Côte d'Ivoire...

 and secret agent
Secret Agent
Secret Agent is a British film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, loosely based on two stories in Ashenden: Or the British Agent by W. Somerset Maugham. The film starred John Gielgud, Peter Lorre, Madeleine Carroll, and Robert Young...

s, encouraging defection
In politics, a defector is a person who gives up allegiance to one state or political entity in exchange for allegiance to another. More broadly, it involves abandoning a person, cause or doctrine to whom or to which one is bound by some tie, as of allegiance or duty.This term is also applied,...

 or insurrection among the enemy civilian
A civilian under international humanitarian law is a person who is not a member of his or her country's armed forces or other militia. Civilians are distinct from combatants. They are afforded a degree of legal protection from the effects of war and military occupation...

 population, corrupting enemy civilians or soldiers by bribes, or inducing the enemy’s soldiers to desert
In military terminology, desertion is the abandonment of a "duty" or post without permission and is done with the intention of not returning...

, surrender
Surrender (military)
Surrender is when soldiers, nations or other combatants stop fighting and eventually become prisoners of war, either as individuals or when ordered to by their officers. A white flag is a common symbol of surrender, as is the gesture of raising one's hands empty and open above one's head.When the...

, or rebel
Rebellion, uprising or insurrection, is a refusal of obedience or order. It may, therefore, be seen as encompassing a range of behaviors aimed at destroying or replacing an established authority such as a government or a head of state...

. In general, a belligerent may resort to those measures for mystifying or misleading the enemy against which the enemy ought to take measures to protect itself.

Legitimate ruses

Legitimate ruses include:
  • surprises, ambush
    An ambush is a long-established military tactic, in which the aggressors take advantage of concealment and the element of surprise to attack an unsuspecting enemy from concealed positions, such as among dense underbrush or behind hilltops...

    es, feigning attacks, retreat
    Withdrawal (military)
    A withdrawal is a type of military operation, generally meaning retreating forces back while maintaining contact with the enemy. A withdrawal may be undertaken as part of a general retreat, to consolidate forces, to occupy ground that is more easily defended, or to lead the enemy into an ambush...

    s, or flights
  • simulating quiet and inactivity (to lull the enemy into complacency)
  • use of small forces to simulate large units (for example, inducing an enemy unit to surrender by pretending that it is surrounded by a large force)
  • transmitting false or misleading radio
    Radio is the transmission of signals through free space by modulation of electromagnetic waves with frequencies below those of visible light. Electromagnetic radiation travels by means of oscillating electromagnetic fields that pass through the air and the vacuum of space...

     or telephone
    The telephone , colloquially referred to as a phone, is a telecommunications device that transmits and receives sounds, usually the human voice. Telephones are a point-to-point communication system whose most basic function is to allow two people separated by large distances to talk to each other...

  • deception of the enemy by bogus orders purporting to have been issued by the enemy commander
  • making use of the enemy’s signals and password
    A password is a secret word or string of characters that is used for authentication, to prove identity or gain access to a resource . The password should be kept secret from those not allowed access....

    s or secret handshakes
  • pretending to communicate with nonexistent troops or reinforcements
  • deceptive supply movements (which might make the enemy think you are preparing an action you're not)
  • deliberate planting of false information
  • use of spies and secret agents
  • moving landmarks (to confuse an enemy operating in unfamiliar territory)
  • putting up dummy guns and vehicles or laying dummy mines
  • erection of dummy installations and airfields (to intimidate or encourage useless attack)
  • removing unit identifications (but not those that identify the belligerent while in combat) from uniform
    A uniform is a set of standard clothing worn by members of an organization while participating in that organization's activity. Modern uniforms are worn by armed forces and paramilitary organizations such as police, emergency services, security guards, in some workplaces and schools and by inmates...

  • psychological warfare
    Psychological warfare
    Psychological warfare , or the basic aspects of modern psychological operations , have been known by many other names or terms, including Psy Ops, Political Warfare, “Hearts and Minds,” and Propaganda...

  • disguising a warship
    A warship is a ship that is built and primarily intended for combat. Warships are usually built in a completely different way from merchant ships. As well as being armed, warships are designed to withstand damage and are usually faster and more maneuvrable than merchant ships...

     to appear to be a neutral merchant vessel
    Merchant vessel
    A merchant vessel is a ship that transports cargo or passengers. The closely related term commercial vessel is defined by the United States Coast Guard as any vessel engaged in commercial trade or that carries passengers for hire...

    , or a merchant vessel on your opponent's side, has traditionally been considered a legitimate ruse de guerre, provided the belligerent raises their own flag, to break the deception, prior to firing their guns. This was called sailing under false colors. The Germans routinely disguised their armed merchant cruisers
    Merchant raider
    Merchant raiders are ships which disguise themselves as non-combatant merchant vessels, whilst actually being armed and intending to attack enemy commerce. Germany used several merchant raiders early in World War I, and again early in World War II...

     during World War I
    World War I
    World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

     and World War II
    World War II
    World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

  • disguising a warship to appear to be one of your opponent's warships has traditionally been considered to be a legitimate ruse de guerre, provided the belligerent raises their flag to drop the disguise, prior to firing their guns. The Germans took steps to disguise their pocket battleship
    Deutschland class cruiser
    The Deutschland class was a series of three panzerschiffe , a form of heavily armed cruiser, built by the Reichsmarine officially in accordance with restrictions imposed by the Treaty of Versailles...

    s as allied cruisers during World War II
    World War II
    World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

    . This tactic was also used by the Royal Navy
    Royal Navy
    The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

     to great effect during the Napoleonic Wars
    Napoleonic Wars
    The Napoleonic Wars were a series of wars declared against Napoleon's French Empire by opposing coalitions that ran from 1803 to 1815. As a continuation of the wars sparked by the French Revolution of 1789, they revolutionised European armies and played out on an unprecedented scale, mainly due to...

    , since the boarding and capture of enemy vessels was quite common during that time, and information about the current ownership of vessels was not easy to disseminate rapidly.

No treachery or perfidy

Ruses of war are legitimate so long as they do not involve treachery
Treachery is a statutory offence in Australia. There was also an unrelated statutory offence bearing that name in the United Kingdom, but it has been abolished. Both of these offences were derived from or inspired by the related offence of treason. The name treachery was chosen because it is a...

 or perfidy
In the context of war, perfidy is a form of deception, in which one side promises to act in good faith with the intention of breaking that promise once the enemy has exposed himself .The practice is specifically prohibited under the 1977 Protocol I Additional to the...

 on the part of the belligerent resorting to them. They are, however, forbidden if they contravene any generally accepted rule.

When landmines were not marked or reported, or when they are disguised, they are perfidious per the Geneva Conventions, annex 10 October 1980:
  • traps that are apparently harmless portable objects, that contain an explosive charge, and are specifically designed to produce a detonation when you move or approach it;
  • traps that are attached or associated in any way with:
    • emblems, signs, or signals internationally recognized;
    • sick, wounded, or dead;
    • burial, cremation, or graves;
    • facilities, equipment, supplies, or medical transportation;
    • toys for children or other portable objects;
    • food or drink;
    • kitchen utensils or appliances;
    • objects of a religious nature;
    • historic monuments, works of art, or places of worship which constitute a cultural or spiritual heritage of people.

Prohibited ruses

The line of demarcation between legitimate ruses and forbidden acts
of perfidy is sometimes indistinct. In general, it would be an improper practice to secure an advantage over the enemy by deliberate lying or misleading
conduct which involves a breach of faith, or when there is a moral obligation
Moral obligation
The term moral obligation has a number of meanings in moral philosophy, in religion, and in layman's terms. Generally speaking, when someone says of an act that it is a "moral obligation," they refer to a belief that the act is one prescribed by their set of values.Moral philosophers differ as to...

 to speak the truth
Truth has a variety of meanings, such as the state of being in accord with fact or reality. It can also mean having fidelity to an original or to a standard or ideal. In a common usage, it also means constancy or sincerity in action or character...

. For example, it is improper to pretend to surrender
Surrender (military)
Surrender is when soldiers, nations or other combatants stop fighting and eventually become prisoners of war, either as individuals or when ordered to by their officers. A white flag is a common symbol of surrender, as is the gesture of raising one's hands empty and open above one's head.When the...

 to secure an advantage over the opposing belligerent.

To broadcast to the enemy that an armistice
An armistice is a situation in a war where the warring parties agree to stop fighting. It is not necessarily the end of a war, but may be just a cessation of hostilities while an attempt is made to negotiate a lasting peace...

 had been agreed upon when such is not the case would be treacherous. Abuse of the protections afforded to medical personnel (by disguising combat soldiers as medics, or by putting a red cross on a combat vehicle) is also considered unacceptable.

It is especially forbidden to make improper use of a flag of truce
White flag
White flags have had different meanings throughout history and depending on the locale.-Flag of temporary truce in order to parley :...

, of the national flag
National flag
A national flag is a flag that symbolizes a country. The flag is flown by the government, but usually can also be flown by citizens of the country.Both public and private buildings such as schools and courthouses may fly the national flag...

, or of the military insignia and military uniform
Military uniform
Military uniforms comprises standardised dress worn by members of the armed forces and paramilitaries of various nations. Military dress and military styles have gone through great changes over the centuries from colourful and elaborate to extremely utilitarian...

 of the enemy, as well as the distinctive badges of the Geneva Convention in a ruse of war. [Annex to Hague Convention No. IV, 18 October 1907, embodying the Regulations Respecting Customs of War on Land., art. 23, par. (f).]
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