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The Third Reich’s Bank of England

For the duration of the Second World War, the British fought a covert battle against a large-scale influx of forged bank notes that threatened to bust the economy. Marc Tiley traces the story of the largest counterfeiting scheme in history.

On September 24th, 1942, the Bank of England received a bundle of forged £10 notes from the British Bank of West Africa. They were recorded as being, ‘the most dangerous ever seen’. For Kenneth Oswald Peppiatt, the Bank’s steadfast chief cashier, it was the first of many discoveries that would emerge from across Europe, Africa, the Middle East, America and Asia. Unknown to the British authorities at the time, the notes were products of a Nazi scheme to undermine the Allied economies: an operation that led ultimately to the Führer himself.

The pre-war design of British bank notes was of exquisite detail; the inked Britannia design was specially-commissioned, the watermark was the work of a skilled master, the texture of the cross-laid linen-paper was tangible, the craft involved in the multi-layered production was unique, and the numbering system was highly sophisticated. Altogether it was almost a work of art, and almost impossible to forge. Yet by 1945, up to a third of all British bank notes in existence were counterfeit.

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