In A Nutshell
In the opening days of World War II, a panic broke out across the eastern seaboard of the United States when papers ran the story that the military was on the lookout for more mysterious signs like that ones that had already been popping up in farmers’ fields up and down the coast. Fields were being plowed in such a way that they appeared to point toward valuable military targets, and it could very well all be in preparation from a German invasion. It was absolutely not true, even though the same thing had been happening in Britain at the same time. (The Brits just kept it quieter.)
The Whole Bushel
In 1942, major outlets of the United States press released some terrifying news: All along the eastern seaboard, farmers’ crops were being plowed and harvested in such a way that they were leaving coded messages that could be seen from the air and were in complete preparation for a German invasion.
And they had the pictures to prove it.
The papers ran photos of what seemed to be arrows plowed into fields, and hay bales arranged in some suspicious patterns. It was said that sacks of grain left out in a field, lying in the shape of a “9” were, like other markers, pointing toward high-value military targets.
It wasn’t just the United States, either—the same thing was happening in Britain, but there, the government was keeping it quieter. According to the memoirs of Western Command counterintelligence agent Major H.R.V. Jordan, RAF pilots began reporting seeing strange crop formations about the same time the story was hitting the American papers. These formations were very, very similar to those that would later create such a UFO panic in the 1990s, and for a time, it was thought that they might be created by Nazi sympathizers.
MI5 investigated a lot of the claims, and found that they were pretty innocent occurrences, except, perhaps, the pretty clueless farmer who thought that plowing a hammer and sickle pattern into his field would be funny.
Other so-called signs were nothing more than roads being constructed, or the gradual use of leftover seed in a time when nothing was left to waste.
Eventually, it was found that the so-called coded messages on the American side were pretty innocent, too. More than that, the government had even had a hand in creating some of them. One of the arrows that was supposedly pointing directly at a military base had been created by the state’s Fish and Game Warden as a feeding ground for native birds.
Others, like the grain sacks, were complete accidents. That one was made by farmers throwing the sacks off the back of a truck, leaving them to dry in the sun. Papers, including The Milwaukee Sentinel, reported that the farmer who owned the field in question wasn’t just interviewed by military personnel, but that he was a well-known, upstanding citizen of the town whom no one had any real cause to doubt in the first place.
The whole thing got even less popular when it was discovered that the photos that ran in the papers were months old.
The backlash was fast and it was hard. Papers claimed they had been misled by the government, and they were victims just like their readers. The public claimed that the government was guilty of nothing less than a black propaganda campaign that the Nazis themselves would have been proud of, getting neighbors to look at each other with suspicion and contempt. Papers began calling for a full investigation and a court martial of those that were responsible for the information.
The US military apologized, saying that they had been mistaken.