On June 1st, 1943 KLM’s flight No 777 took off from Portugal to England. Believing that Winston Churchill is on board, the German air force – the Luftwaffe – shot it down.
All 17 passengers and crew members were killed, including one of Hollywood’s ‘Gone with the Wind’ star – Leslie Howard.
To be sure, British intelligence knew about the attack beforehand, as they deciphered the kill order via a captured German Enigma machine. Nonetheless, Churchill decided not to warn the passengers and, indeed, to sacrifice them to keep the captured Enigma a secret.
R.I.P Leslie Howard.
Bonus Fact: Winston Churchill was a great believer in wartime deception. In 1943 – during the Tehran conference, – he told the USSR leader, Joseph Stalin, “In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies”.
Stalin, who not endowed with Churchill’s poetic ability, replied: “This is what we call military guile.”
Thee meeting at Teheran was the starting pistol and the initial inspiration for one of history’s most complex military fraud programs – operation ‘Bodyguard’. The code name was given to the WWII strategic fraud program aimed to mislead the German High Command as to the time and place of D-Day – the allied forces’ invasion to occupied France.