'Second Paris' built towards end of First World War to fool Germans
A second Paris, complete with a Champs-Elysées and Gard Du Nord, was built towards the end of the First World War to fool German bombers, it has emerged.Details of the incredible creation emerged as the French capital prepares to commemorate the 93rd anniversary of the Armistice.
According to archives unearthed by Le Figaro newspaper, military planners believed German pilots could be fooled into destroying the dummy city rather than the real one.
It was situated on the northern outskirts of Paris and featured sham streets lined with electric lights, replica buildings and even a copy of the Gare du Nord – the station from which high-speed trains now travel to and from London.
"It's an extraordinary story and one which even Parisians knew very little about," said Professor Jean-Claude Delarue, a leading historian based in the French capital.
"The plan was kept secret for obvious reasons, but it shows how seriously military planners were already taking the new threat of aerial bombardment".
The scheme to lure German pilots to the wrong targets was hatched by the DCA air defence group (Défense Contre Avions) in 1918, as the war was coming to an end.
Radar was in its infancy in 1918, and the long-range Gotha heavy bombers being used by the German Imperial Air Force were similarly primitive.
Their crew would hold bombs by the fins and then drop them on any target they could see during quick sorties over major cities like Paris and London.
French planners chose an area around the commuter town of Maisons-Laffitte, some 15 miles from the centre of Paris, and on a stretch of the River Seine similar to the one in the capital.
Famous quartiers of Paris, including those around the Arc de Triomphe and Opera, were created, as well as industrial suburbs like Saint-Denis and Aubervilliers.
Private firms were used to create the city, with an electrical engineer called Fernand Jacopozzi hired to illuminate the second 'City of Light'.
Wooden replicas of buildings were completed with ingenious details, including translucent paint creating the impression of the 'dirty glass roofs of factories'.
White, yellow and red lamps were also used to create the effect of machines in operation at night, while false trains and rail tracks were also partly illuminated at night.
But, despite such details, the replica Paris was not quite finished before the last German air raid in Paris, in September 1918, meaning it was never tested.
The fake Paris was rapidly deconstructed after the war, said Professor Delarue, who suggested that it had long since been built over.
While Paris remained largely unscathed from both World Wars, London was severely damaged, with thousands killed or injured.
A raid by Gothas on the English capital in June 1917 saw 162 people killed, including 46 children at a kindergarten in Poplar, in the East End. Up to 500 more people were injured.
One of the reasons for the high number of casualties was because bombing raids were a relative novelty in Britain, with many civilians crowding together to watch them.
Paris, in contrast, prepared far better. At the end of the war Jacopozzi was honoured for his defensive work, and went on to find fame illuminating the Eiffel Tower for the first time.