The Nazis planned to defeat the UK with counterfeit banknotes

The United States Department of the Treasury currently estimates that there are approximately $ 70 million in counterfeit banknotes in circulation, a number that is rapidly increasing. In 2016, $ 30 million in counterfeit banknotes were recovered as part of a joint Peruvian / US operation. It was the biggest bust of all time. Today criminals use counterfeit money to finance other criminal activities. During World War II, however, Nazi Germany attempted to ruin Western economies with bogus bills.

Operation Bernhard began in 1939, when the Sicherheitsdienst (SD), the intelligence arm of the SS, succeeded in duplicating the rag paper used by the British to print their money. In addition, the SS combed the concentration camps and recruited inmates who showed talent in producing engraving blocks. Ultimately, more than 140 people were based at the Sachsenhausen camp in Brandenburg, where they began the process of counterfeiting British currency.

Under the leadership of SS Major Bernhard Krüger, the team of forgers and counterfeiters created banknotes that could fool not only small traders and taxi drivers, but could also pass through financial institutions undetected. The ambitious goal was to destroy the entire British economy.

By mid-1942, the team had successfully produced over eight million banknotes in denominations of £ 5, £ 10, £ 20 and even £ 50, for a total ‘value’ of around £ 132 million. It was more than what the Bank of England even had in its reserve. Additionally, it was reported to amount to around 15 percent of all banknotes in circulation during WWII. The Germans focused on the largest number of banknotes in circulation, which was £ 5.

However, there was a loophole in the plan regarding how to distribute the money. The original idea was that money could be dropped from the sky because money falling to earth could cause chaos. Yet by the time the Germans had produced enough banknotes, they no longer had the plane available to deposit caches of money. Instead, much of the money was used by the Germans for special operations. Many banknotes may have remained in circulation around the world for years. Today, the genuine counterfeit banknotes of the exploitation are even sought after by collectors.

A bank official described the quality banknotes as the most dangerous ever, but they had little impact on the outcome of the war as far as the war was concerned. In fact, by 1943 the Bank of England had stopped releasing all notes over £ 10.

The Germans did not give up and Krüger even turned his attention to creating fake US dollars. Things were taking shape at the end of the war. Obviously, some Nazis may have used the money caches to escape. During this time, some of the Jewish prisoners probably used their skills to create (or had their own stocks of counterfeit banknotes), as counterfeit books and a few dollars were even used to fund their efforts to achieve an independent state in the Middle. East. The fact that a Nazi effort was used in this way is just another strange twist in history.

As for Krüger, he hid after the war until the end of 1946 when he surrendered to the British. As forging an enemy’s currency was not a war crime, he has not been charged. He was held for a while and then handed over to the French who wanted him to forge passports for their intelligence service. He refused and after being cleared of the denazification process – many inmates testified that it helped save their lives – and went to work for a paper company.

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to over four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites. He writes regularly on military small arms and is the author of several books on military hairstyles, including A gallery of military hairstyles, which is available on

Image: Reuters

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