World War II saw the first widespread use of inflatable tanks. The whole point of a tank is protective armour. Why would you want to make an inflatable one?
So much of military strategy relies on good intel. Where are your opponent’s forces? Where are they strong, and where are they likely to attack? Recon planes and scouts reported back about the enemy’s strength and that shaped plans for defence and offence.
Tanks are serious business – some people say they were what won World War I. So it makes sense to make the enemy think you have as many tanks as possible. But they’re not cheap, or easy to move around.
The solution: make fake tanks out of canvas and rubber tubes. And not just one or two – the British army used 148 inflatable tanks in one September 1944 operation alone. Sure, as soon as they are hit by enemy fire they just deflate (and, in my imagination, fly around the battlefield like a punctured balloon), but the misinformation and redirection beforehand was enough.
There are many other non-inflatable tank decoys in military history: jeeps dressed up like tanks, tank sculptures, and horse-drawn tanks. But the inflatable ones are my favourite.