The Secret Nazi Plot to Destroy Britain’s Economy That Almost Worked

The covert counterfeiting mission was dubbed “Operation Bernhard.”

A forged 5 pounds banknote is on display at the Geldmuseum (Money Museum) of the German Central Bank in Frankfurt, 16 April 2013. These banknotes were forged by a team of 142 counterfeiters from Sachsenhausen concentration camp at first, and then from other camps. Operation Bernhard was a secret Nazi plan devised during WWII by the RSHA and the SS to destabilize the British economy by flooding the country with forged Bank of England 5, 10, 20, and 50 pounds banknotes. (Photo by Horacio Villalobos/Corbis via Getty Images)
Corbis via Getty Images

Not all of the fighting during WWII occurred on the ground; the Nazis used espionage in an attempt to destroy the British economy.

“Operation Bernhard,” was launched by Germany in an effort to create “elaborate printing plates that mimicked British currency, in order to flood the enemy economy with counterfeit bills,” Atlas Obscura reported.

Dr. Vince Houghton, a historian and curator at the International Spy Museum, says the museum exists to educate the public the importance of intelligence work throughout our history.

“The idea was to flood Britain with fake currency, so that no one could trust the British economic system. It evolved later on to a way to launder money and create fake money to pay German spies.” Dr. Houghton explained. “This plate represents an extraordinary moment in the second World War.”

Multiple security features were included in the British currency like paper type, watermarks, and serial numbers. The Germans still managed to crack the code and printed over 8 million counterfeit bills.

As the end of the war for loomed, Germany attempted to destroy and hide any and all evidence of the intelligence operation. The only remaining plate, found at the bottom of a lake in Austria, is currently in the hands of the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.

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