Counterfeit British Pound Notes from the Second World War
During the Second World War, the Nazis created one of the most significant counterfeiting operations in history. Operation Bernhard planned to undermine the British economy by flooding it with forged pound notes through dropping the notes from airplanes onto the British Isles. To create the forgeries, the Nazis selected approximately 140 concentration camp prisoners with relevant skills for counterfeiting—including typesetters, bankers, engravers, printers, draftsmen, and physicians—and forced them to work on the operation. Held at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Germany, the prisoners developed the finest counterfeit British pound notes ever seen by the Bank of England. They produced 8,965,080 banknotes with a total value of £134,610,810 by 1945. During the operation, the Nazis deviated from their original plan to airdrop the notes and instead used them to buy war materials and finance espionage operations, placing the notes into international circulation. The quality of the Operation Bernhard notes can be seen through comparison with genuine British notes from the period. The ten pound note was made in Operation Bernhard and the five pound note was issued by the Bank of England. These two notes were generously donated to the National Numismatic Collection by Jeff Garrett, and they help to preserve the history of counterfeiting and the Second World War.