Rare forged £50 banknote made by the Nazis as part of a failed secret plot to destabilise the British economy during WWII goes up for auction
- A forged £50 note made by the Nazis to cripple the UK is going up for auction
- Operation Bernhard was aimed at destabilising the British economy in WWII
- The note is expected to fetch between £80 and £120 when it is sold this month
A rare banknote forged by the Nazis in an attempt to destabilise the British economy during World War II is being sold at auction.
The £50 note, bearing the signature of the Chief Cashier ‘B.S. Catterns’, is dated June 15, 1933 and was made as part of Operation Bernhard – a scheme dreamt up by Adolf Hitler.
The plot by the Nazis was launched in the 1940s and a designated unit successfully duplicated the rag paper used to make money in Britain.
The forged £50 banknote dated 1933 bears the signature of the chief cashier ‘B.S. Catterns’
The forgeries were supposed to be air-dropped over Britain and enter circulation.
Hitler dreamt up the bizarre strategy as a means of dangerously inflating the British pound so that no one would trust the UK economic system.
This would have caused an economic collapse – weakening the nation and thus making it easier to invade.
The scheme, initially called Operation Andreas, had earlier been abandoned after Alfred Naujocks, who had led the operation, fell out with Reinhard Heidrich, a high ranking official in the German SS, in 1942.
The plan to destabilise the English economy was dreamt up by Nazi leader Adolf Hitler
But it was revived later in the year, with 141 Nazi prisoners sent to Sachsenhausen concentration camp to work under Major Friedrich Walter Bernhard Krueger.
They were tasked with producing near-identical engraving blocks and working out an algorithm to copy serial codes.
The workers were kept isolated from the rest of the camp in a block that was fenced off with barbed wires and protected by guards.
Around 12,000 sheets of banknote paper was delivered to the facility, enough for four notes to be printed on each one.
Production officially began in 1943, with the prisoners split into roles of printers, binders, photographers and engravers. The notes were dried and cropped using a steel ruler, with the edges roughened to imitate the finish of the British notes.
Prisoners even passed them around each other to add dirt, sweat and general wear and tear and give them authenticity, with some folding them in different places.
At the height of production prisoners had been churning out 600,000 fakes notes every month – which amounted to between £4.6billion and £5.6billion in today’s money.
Nazi prisoners were taken to Sachsenhausen concentration camp (pictured) to work on the fake notes
To maintain their work ethic, Krueger offered them better quality food and other luxuries in exchange for their efforts.
Heidrich said the notes ‘must be such a perfect copy of the original that even the most experienced bank-note experts cannot tell the difference’.
They would be dropped on the assumption that – while some honest people would hand them in – most would keep the cash.
141 prisoners began producing near-identical engraving blocks to produce the forged notes
But, in reality, only a fraction of the fakes ever made it to these shores – mostly through money laundering and the payment of foreign agents.
It is thought that production shortages meant that only about ten per cent of the 134 million ‘pounds’ were good enough to be circulated.
And operational problems meant an even smaller percentage reached the desired destination – although the notes that did caused a stir.
The scheme eventually evolved and became a way of laundering money and creating fake notes to pay German spies.
The quality of the forgeries worried the Bank of England enough to force the institution to redesign its notes after the war.
As the war drew to a close, Operation Bernhard was shut down and Nazi soldiers attempted to cover up evidence of it taking place, with prisoners transported to tehe Ebensee camp in Austria.
Soldiers had orders to kill the prisoners, but that they were all to be killed together when they had arrived at Ebensee. They were split into three groups, two of which had been taken to the camp. But on the third journey the truck broke down and decided to march them to Ebensee.
When they arrived they discover that their fellow SS guards had released the first two groups and fled upon hearing that the allied army were advancing, forcing them to follow suit.
It is set to be sold by Sworders later this month and is expected to fetch between £80 and £120.
Started by Nazi leader Adolf Hiter in 1940, the scheme was aimed at counterfeiting British banknotes to cause inflation of the pound.
Germany had previously attempted to pull this off under Operation Andrew, but failed after disagreements between former chief Alfred Naujocks and officials in the Nazi Party.
Now headed by Friederich Walter Bernhard Krueger, 140 men formed of prisoners from concentration camps were recruited to forge 400,000 bank notes every month at Sachsenhausen concentration camp.
Their job was to produce near-identical engraving blocks and calculate an algorithm to copy serial codes.
Prisoners were held in a block at the camp seperate from their fellow inmates and gated off with barbed wires with guards protecting the facility. Around 12,000 sheets of banknote paper was delivered to the facility, enough for four notes to be printed on each one.
The operation was taken over by Major Friedrich Walter Bernhard Krueger, who restarted the scheme after it was abandoned under the leadership of Alfred Naujocks
Production officially began in 1943. The notes were dried and cropped using a steel ruler, with the edges roughened to imitate the finish of the British notes.
Prisoners attempted to make the notes look authentic by handling them to add dirt, sweat and wear and tear. Some tried to fold the corners and crease them in different places.
At the height of production prisoners had produced around 600,000 fakes notes every month – which amounted to between £4.6billion and £5.6billion in today’s money.
The notes would be air-dropped into the UK and enter circulation in order to flood the economy with fake money.
This would have caused a inflation of the British pound and distrust in the economy, weakening the country and making it easier for Hitler to invade.
By 1945, it is estimated that 70million notes were printed, but only a fraction of the fakes ever made it to the UK due to production and operational issues.
Germany attempted to destroy all evidence of their plans at the end of the war, as the operation was shut down and prisoners transported to the Ebensee camp in Austria.
After all the prisoners had been taken to the camp, news filtered in that the Allied forces were advancing, forcing the SS guards to release them and flee.