World War II History: Nazi Operation Bernhard

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Nazi Germany Tried to Beat Britain With Counterfeit Cash

The plot was incredibly stupid

In 1967, organ experts cracked open an old organ at the church of San Valentino in Merano, Italy in an attempt to find markings which could date the instrument. Instead of a production label, the workers found £5 million in cash and the ghost of a Nazi covert operation.

Bankers would later determine that the cash was counterfeit — the product of a wartime Nazi effort to undermine the British economy.

Under the auspices of Operation Bernhard, Germany printed up millions in counterfeit British currency, using the proceeds to fund intelligence operations.

Though Bernhard ended with the war, anxious Allied officials and treasure-hunting amateurs would continue to seek out the remnants of its equipment, personnel and loot for decades afterward.

Bernhard drew its namesake from Bernhard Kruger, the SS major who ran the operation on behalf of the Reich Main Security Office (RSHA). Kruger, along with another SS major, Alfred Naujocks, had the germ of the idea for a counterfeiting campaign in 1939.

Early on, SS commander Heinrich Himmler wanted to print fake British pounds to drop on Britain in a bizarre airborne mission.

Raining down phony cash on the British public, according to Himmler’s thinking, would provoke civilians struggling under wartime rationing to snap up the cash and push it into circulation, aggravating inflation and weakening the British economy.

By 1942, however, the Nazis settled on a more practical course of action for the counterfeiting campaign.

The RSHA would forge British pounds and use them to buy valuables, instead of just giving them away. That year, SS personnel in Operation Bernhard began studying the serial numbers on British pounds and buying up the raw materials to manufacture the currency.

 Read the Remainder at War is Boring
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