OPERATION BERTRAM – THE COVER PLAN FOR EL ALAMEIN I

In 1940 the War Office established the Camouflage Development and Training Centre at Farnham Castle in Surrey. It was the preserve of a mixed bag of individuals including Hugh Cott, a distinguished Cambridge zoologist who applied the coloration found on animal skins to guns and tanks. From the art world there was the Surrealist artist and friend of Picasso, Roland Penrose, who wrote the Home Guard Manual of Camouflage. Penrose’s party trick was successfully to hide his lover, the acclaimed American model, photographer and war correspondent Lee Miller, in a garden, naked, camouflaged from prying eyes with body paint and netting. He reasoned that if he could hide a naked woman in a garden full of people, anything could be hidden.

Perhaps the most famous of the British camoufleurs was the popular stage magician Jasper Maskelyne. Following the publication of his memoirs in 1949, Maskelyne has long been seen as the leading light in the deception world. However, the truth about the ‘war magician’ appears somewhat less fantastic under scrutiny. Maskelyne arrived in Cairo on 10 March 1941 as part of a detachment of 12 camouflage officers sent to work with Barkas. He spent much of his time performing magic shows for entertainment purposes and later went on to work for the escape and evasion department MI9, where he helped in devising concealed escape devices for POWs.

Maskelyne’s actual involvement in military deception appears to have been a bit of a sham. Curiously enough, people appeared much more confident with the dummy vehicles when they were told they had been devised by a well-known illusionist. It also appears that Dudley Clarke encouraged Maskelyne’s boasting to some extent, because it diverted attention away from A Force and himself. Somewhat ironically, then, Maskelyne’s main contribution to deception may have been to provide a cloak behind which others could work in secret.

Maskelyne’s more limited role is also suggested by the artist Julian Trevelyan, a fellow graduate from Farnham. An interesting character in his own right, Trevelyan was a member of the British Surrealist movement and before the war had experimented with injections of hallucinogenic synthetic Mescalin crystals, an experience which led him to exclaim: ‘I have been given the key of the universe.’ His feet firmly back on the ground, Trevelyan was sent from the United Kingdom on a fact-finding mission to the Middle East to witness the deceptions being carried out there by Barkas’s department.

In March 1942 Trevelyan visited Tobruk and then went to Barkas’s Camouflage Training and Development Centre at Helwan near Cairo. He was generally impressed with what he saw, except perhaps with a dummy railhead complete with dummy rolling stock and station, which he claimed that the Germans complimented by dropping a wooden bomb on. Having witnessed the hand of Barkas at work, the artist remarked: ‘It is thanks to Barkas, principally, that the formidable technique of deception has been elaborated. You cannot hide anything in the desert; all you can do is to disguise it as something else. Thus tanks become trucks overnight, and of course trucks become tanks, and the enemy is left guessing at our real strength and intentions.’

Returning to the situation at El Alamein, Barkas followed Auchinleck’s orders to congregate his dummies behind the main lines and was overjoyed that he, for the first time, received the magic words ‘operational priority’ to assist him. Operation Sentinel saw the land between El Alamein and Cairo become dotted with camps, complete with smoke rising from cookhouses and incinerators. Canteens were set up with dummy vehicles parked outside while their imaginary drivers were inside enjoying an equally notional ‘brew’. To thicken the defensive positions, the craftsmen at Barkas’s school at Helwan developed a wide range of decoys, including batteries of field guns that could be stowed inside a single truck. Within three weeks of starting the build up Barkas was simulating enough activity to indicate the presence of two fresh motorized divisions in close reserve to the main line.

After his failure to break through the Alamein line Rommel was forced onto the defensive. With an impatient Prime Minister anxiously watching proceedings, the British made their preparations for a counter-attack scheduled for 23 October. To cover this attack, two cover plans were developed, Operations Treatment and Bertram.

Shortly after Montgomery took command of the Eighth Army on 13 August he held his first meeting with Colonel Dudley Clarke and was given an appraisal of his command’s activities, which centred on maintaining a notional threat against Crete. Montgomery did not disapprove of Dudley Clarke’s tactics; in fact he endorsed them. When planning the counter-offensive, in addition to the notional threat against Crete, Montgomery wanted A Force to use its intelligence channels to make the Germans believe the start date, or D-Day, for the forthcoming Allied desert counter-offensive would be 6 November, two weeks later than actually planned. This A Force ruse was codenamed Treatment.

At the time, Dudley Clarke was heavily involved with the planning for Operation Torch. In October he was called to attend a meeting with the London Controlling Section, which was set up to ensure Anglo-American cooperation in deception once the US forces began operating in North Africa. As he would be away from Egypt at the crucial time, Clarke handed over management of Treatment to his deputy, Lieutenant Colonel Noël Wild.
Having been acquainted with him for some time before the war, in April 1942 Clarke had poached Wild from his job as a staff officer at GHQ Cairo. The circumstances of his recruitment were somewhat irregular. One evening Major Wild went to a Cairo hotel to cash a cheque and was ambushed by the A Force chief, who bought him drinks to celebrate Wild’s promotion to lieutenant colonel as Clarke’s deputy. When Wild enquired what the promotion entailed, and what exactly Clarke did, he was met with evasive replies. The only certainty was that Clarke wanted someone he knew and trusted in the post.

After a night’s sleep Wild accepted the position and was indoctrinated into the weird and wonderful world of A Force. By the time of Treatment, Wild was well enough versed in its techniques to use the A Force channels to hint that there were no plans to commit to a major offensive against Rommel. As long as German forces continued to advance into the Caucasus through the Soviet Union, the British were said to be apprehensive about their rear. Instead, Montgomery’s sole purpose was to use the lull in the fighting to train and test his troops for future operations. According to information sent out by the Cheese network, if there was going to be any major British attack it would be against Crete. This information was taken so seriously that Hitler ordered the island’s garrison to be strengthened on 23 September. He reiterated this order on 21 October, just two days before the British offensive was due to open.

To divert attention away from the last week of October, a conference was scheduled in Tehran. In attendance would be the British Commanders-in-Chief Middle East, PAIFORCE (Persia and Iraq) and India. This conference was scheduled for 26 October, three days after D-Day. In Egypt the last week of October was left open for officers to take leave and many had hotel rooms booked in their names.

The tactical counterpart to Treatment was codenamed Bertram and was given to Lieutenant Colonel Charles Richardson to devise and implement. An engineer by training, Richardson had only recently joined the planning staff of Eighth Army HQ after having spent a year with SOE in Cairo. Privately he was dismissive of the dummy tanks Auchinleck had used in Sentinel as a ‘pathetic last resort’. Richardson was sceptical about the chances of fooling the Germans, in particular the Luftwaffe and its photo-reconnaissance interpreters.

Richardson was summoned by Montgomery’s chief of staff, Freddie de Guingand, and received the outline of the British plan, which was a direct assault along the coastal road, on the right of the British position. He was then told to go away and come up with a suitable cover plan that would conceal the intention of the offensive for as long as possible, and when that was no longer possible, to mislead the enemy over the date and sector in which the attack was to be made.

For this purpose Montgomery wanted a plan that advertised false moves in the south, while concealing his real moves in the north of the sector. Pondering the situation from Rommel’s point of view, Richardson thought that the German field marshal might ‘buy’ the suggestion of a British attack from the south, as it was the sort of tactic he might resort to himself. The other thing Richardson had to consider was how to persuade Rommel the attack was not going to be delivered on 23 October, as was the case. The preparations for the battle were so vast that Richardson supposed they could only stall the enemy’s thinking by about ten days. The way he proposed to do this was ingenious. His idea was to construct a dummy pipeline bringing water to the southern flank. German reconnaissance would no doubt spot this pipeline and, by gauging the speed with which it was being constructed, they would be able to project the date on which the British would be ready to begin their operations. This date would be set at ten days after D-Day. Richardson took the plans to de Guingand, who approved them, and passed them on to Monty for his final endorsement.

With official approval granted, Richardson needed someone actually to implement the plans. Richardson was aware of A Force’s existence, probably through de Guingand, who had until recently been the Director of Military Intelligence in GHQ Cairo. However, Richardson was reluctant to use A Force because he believed Clarke’s work was so ‘stratospheric and secret’ it was best to keep well out of it. Instead Richardson used GHQ’s Camouflage Department under Barkas.

On 17 September Barkas and his deputy, Major Tony Ayrton, were invited to de Guingand’s caravan and warned that what they were about to hear was top secret. The Chief Engineer of the Eighth Army was about to make a number of bulldozed tracks running from an assembly area codenamed Martello towards the front line, running parallel with the coast road and railway. Shortly afterwards large concentrations of vehicles and tanks would begin concentrating at Martello along with vast quantities of stores and munitions. Beyond Martello, but about five miles behind the front line, a great number of field guns would be marshalled at an area codenamed Cannibal 1. These would then be moved closer to the front line to deliver an opening barrage from positions directly behind the front line codenamed Cannibal 2. De Guingand wanted to know if the Camouflage Department was able to assist with the following objectives:
1.   To conceal the preparations in the north.
2.   To suggest that an attack was to be mounted in the south.
3.   When the preparations in the north could not be concealed, to minimize their scale.
4.   To make the rate of build up appear slower than it actually was, so that the enemy would believe there were still two or three days before the attack commenced.

Although sobered when told he had about a month to achieve all this, Barkas was inwardly jubilant that at last Camouflage was about to make a ‘campaign swaying’ contribution.
Barkas and Ayrton left the caravan to formulate their plan and took a stroll along the beach where their voices were drowned out from prying ears by the waves breaking on the shore. Two hours later, having typed up an appreciation and report on the subject, they went back to de Guingand, offering to suggest

For this purpose Montgomery wanted a plan that advertised false moves in the south, while concealing his real moves in the north of the sector. Pondering that two armoured brigade groups were concentrating to the south. When Montgomery’s reply was delivered a few days later, Barkas was told to make provision for an entire phantom armoured corps in the south.

This entailed making 400 dummy Grant tanks and at least 1,750 transport vehicles and guns. Barkas was given ample resources, including three complete pioneer companies, a transport company and a POW unit. While he masterminded production of the material and devices, Barkas charged Ayrton and his colleague, the former Punch illustrator Brian Robb, with the actual deception work on the battlefield.

 

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OPERATION BERTRAM – THE COVER PLAN FOR EL ALAMEIN II

The deception scheme was composed of a number of separate plans, their component parts coming together to form a veritable symphony of deceit. The first problem was the approach tracks that were bulldozed from Martello to the front line. Although there was absolutely no hope of hiding their existence from the Luftwaffe, their purpose could be concealed. Ayrton went up in an aircraft to enact the role of a German reconnaissance pilot taking photographs. Ayrton’s solution to the problem of the tracks was ingenious. He called in at the Chief Engineer’s with annotated aerial photographs and suggested that rather than starting at Martello and driving directly to the front, the bulldozers should complete only patches of the track and join them together only much closer to D-Day.

More solutions were found to disguise the stores. Over 3,000 tons of stores had to be hidden at El Alamein train station, about five miles behind the front line. This included 600 tons of supplies, 2,000 tons of petrol, oil and lubricants and 420 tons of engineer stores. A similar amount required concealment at a second station about 15 miles to the east. In the forward area the most pressing problem was finding suitable storage for the cans of petrol. Ayrton and Robb found that there were about a hundred sections of slit-trenches in the area, all of which were lined with masonry. Supposing that these trenches were already well known to Germans from reconnaissance photographs, it was decided to line the trenches with a single course of petrol cans on each side. This slight reduction in the width of the trenches did not appear to change the shadows cast by the trenches, so 2,000 tons of fuel was successfully stored overnight. Confirmation of their success came when British air observers were sent out to locate the new fuel dumps and failed.

The food supplies arrived at the dumping ground in trucks by night. The trucks were met by guides and led to pre-arranged unloading sites in the open, featureless piece of terrain. As they were unloaded, the stores were stacked in such a way that they resembled three-ton trucks covered by camouflage netting. Further stores were stacked under the apron of the net, with the remaining boxes stacked and hidden under soldiers’ tents. To complete the illusion of a park of thin-skinned vehicles, a small unit of soldiers was moved into the area to animate it and real trucks were diverted to drive through it to create tracks and demonstrate the sort of activities associated with a vehicle park. Similar arrangements were made for the concealment of ammunition and other military stores close to the rail stations at El Alamein and also further back.

The British offensive was to be opened by an enormous barrage of around 400 25-pounder field guns. These guns had to be hidden at their assembly point and then again at their barrage positions. It was not simply a case of hiding the guns, but also their limbers and the distinctively shaped quad tractors used to transport them. It was found that by backing the limber up to the gun and rigging a canvas dummy vehicle over the top with the limber and gun’s wheels protruding, the effect was to produce a convincing three-ton truck. In turn the quads had a rectangular tent put over the back of them to make them also appear as trucks. Each gun crew was then trained in making the transformation from assembly area (Cannibal 1) to the barrage point (Cannibal 2) – the codename Cannibal deriving from the way the dummy ‘swallowed’ the thing it was protecting. When the time came to move the guns into position, the transition occurred at night and the gun crews had their tents and covers in place before the sun came up.

As for the Martello staging area, the problem was collecting hundreds of armoured vehicles in an area just 12 x 8 miles (19 x 13km). Since there was no way of hiding such an assembly, it was decided to fill up the Martello area with as many thin-skinned vehicles and dummies as quickly as possible. The Germans would no doubt notice this concentration area, but because nothing appeared to be happening there, they would come to ignore it.

Meanwhile, each tank that was destined to arrive at Martello was assigned a special point where it would be concealed. Each tank was provided with a ‘sunshield’, an invention that Barkas attributed to Wavell, who had earlier shown him a sketch of a tank with a canopy over it. The idea was that each tank would have a quickly detachable cover to make it look like a truck. In all, 772 ‘sunshields’ were issued before El Alamein. The tank crews were trained how to use them and then taken up to Martello and shown their hiding place in advance. On the night of 20–21 October Xth Armoured Corps began moving from its staging area to Martello. On arrival the crews had their ‘sunshields’ rigged before first light. Back at the staging area, the track marks were obliterated, the empty fuel cans were collected and a dummy tank was erected where the real tank had previously stood. From the point of view of German photo-reconnaissance, nothing had changed since the previous day, except the arrival of more trucks in an already busy assembly area behind the British lines.

The main focus of the build up in the south, where Montgomery wanted Rommel to think the attack was coming from, began on 26 September with the start of the dummy water pipeline codenamed Diamond. A five-mile-long section of trench was dug and a ‘pipeline’ laid parallel to it. The actual ‘pipeline’ was constructed from crushed, empty petrol cans laid along the ground in a line. Overnight the trench would be filled in and the ‘pipeline’ gathered up to be reused in the next section of trench. Dummy pump houses were built at three points along the line, complete with overhead tanks and can filling stations. To add further credence to the illusion, these areas were populated by dummy vehicles and mannequins of soldiers.

To the east of Diamond, an area codenamed Brian (after Brian Robb) was set aside for the build up of dummy stores. Despite a sandstorm and the unexpected arrival of a horde of British tanks on field manoeuvres, two days before D-Day Barkas’s men had created what appeared to be a huge stockpile of stores.

With the real artillery hidden to the north dummy batteries were set up at the eastern end of what was codenamed the Munassib Depression. This area was chosen for the site of a series of dummy gun batteries, which were set up on 15 October. They were camouflaged exactly the same way a genuine battery would be hidden, but after a few days the camouflage was allowed to lapse so that the Germans would realize the guns were dummies. Shortly after D-Day, the dummy field guns in Munassib were replaced with the genuine items, much to the surprise of a column of German armour which decided to probe against what it thought was a harmless decoy position.

Last, but by no means least, at the opening of the battle a non-existent amphibious landing was staged behind German lines between El Daba and Sidi Abd el Rahman. This operation saw the use of sonic deception – where battle sounds were played over loudspeakers mounted on fast motor torpedo boats operating just off shore. This technique was still in its early stages, but had been pioneered by GSI(d) almost a year earlier. Barkas was not overly impressed with sonic deception, complaining that the recordings of gunfire sounded like dustbins being struck. However, better amplification was being developed by movie companies in the United States and so the ruse would be used again later in the war.

The night of 23 October was clear and brightly illuminated by a full moon. At 9.40pm, the calm was ruptured by the detonation of hundreds of British field guns. For 15 minutes, just short of a thousand British guns pounded the German batteries in front of them. There was a five-minute pause before the barrage recommenced at 10pm, this time targeting German forward positions. Behind the barrage Allied infantry began advancing through the Axis minefields.

At the opening of the battle Rommel was not in Egypt. He had been in poor health since August and had returned to Germany in September on leave. On 3 October he was presented with his field marshal’s baton in Berlin and declared that he was at the gateway to Egypt and had no intention of being flung back.

His understudy was General Georg Stumme. On the night of 23 October Stumme and his chief signals officer went forward on a reconnaissance towards the British lines. It was an ill-chosen adventure moments before the opening of the British attack. In the opening barrage the signals officer was killed by machine-gun fire and Stumme suffered a heart attack. He was unused to the climate in North Africa and had been overworking: the shock of the barrage and the close proximity of the signals officer’s death finished him off. It was some time before he was missed and the body recovered. Meanwhile in Berlin it was a full 24 hours before the seriousness of the situation was realized and Hitler ordered Rommel to return and resume command.

With the charismatic field marshal missing for the first 48 hours of the battle and overwhelming Allied superiority, the end result of El Alamein was never really in doubt. The Axis troops fought hard but were gradually worn down in a battle of attrition. When a renewed offensive began on 2 November Rommel realized the game was up. Despite being told to stand and fight by Hitler, by 4 November the Afrika Korps began to retreat to the west. Four days later the Torch landings began.

The victory at El Alamein is often described as the turning point of the war against the Nazis, or, as Churchill put it, ‘the end of the beginning’. Along with the surrender of the German Sixth Army at Stalingrad on 31 January 1943, El Alamein marked a point in the war when the balance swayed in favour of the Allies, and one on which all future successes were built.

Although one might speculate that the German defeat was down to a lack of air superiority, a lack of operational intelligence, the inferiority of their numbers and the disruption of their supplies, the success of Treatment and Bertram cannot be overlooked. Barkas modestly and rightly noted that none of his colleagues was ‘so foolish’ as to think that El Alamein had been won ‘by conjuring tricks, with stick, string and canvas’ and attributed the success to the bravery of the fighting men. However, in a speech in the House of Commons on 11 November Churchill acknowledged the importance of ‘surprise and strategy’ in the battle:

By a marvellous system of camouflage, complete tactical surprise was achieved in the desert. The enemy suspected – indeed, knew – that an attack was impending, but when and where and how it was coming was hidden from him. The Xth Corps, which he had seen from the air exercising fifty miles in the rear, moved silently away in the night, but leaving an exact simulacrum of its tanks where it had been, and proceeded to its points of attack. The enemy suspected that the attack was impending, but did not know how, when or where, and above all he had no idea of the scale upon which he was to be assaulted.

For the first time on a large scale, the planning of a cover for an operation involving camouflage, decoys, bogus signals traffic and double agents, had been successfully achieved. With varying degrees of success, this same recipe would now be applied to every major Allied operation in the build up to the Normandy invasion in 1944.

OSS In the European Theater I

Before parachuting into occupied France, an OSS Jedburgh team is briefed on numerous topics. Agent John K. Singlaub is shown second from the right.

OSS operatives interrogate a German prisoner recently captured by French partisans known as Maquis. John Singlaub is at the left with his hand on his hip.

In the European Theater, Office of Strategic Services [OSS] special operations forces began in the same manner as the rest of the OSS in Europe, as a caboose hitched onto the long train of British secret activities. Winston Churchill had created the Special Operations Executive (SOE) in the summer of 1940 with an injunction to its chief to “set Europe ablaze.” In its first years, though, the SOE had set only a few brushfires, most of which were stomped out by the black boots of fascism. Efforts to support French resistance fighters had run up against French resentment stemming from the Dunkirk evacuation in June 1940 and the Royal Navy’s annihilation of French ships at Oran the following month, as well as the effectiveness of German and Vichy authorities in hunting down subversives. German intelligence smashed the main French resistance network in 1942 after one of its members fell asleep on a train with a briefcase containing the names of the network’s 250 leading members. A German Abwehr agent swiped the briefcase and passed it on to his superiors, who tracked the 250 individuals for several months before rounding them up in one fell swoop.

Donovan wanted to parachute OSS commandos into France right away, but he was rebuffed by the British, who feared that inexperienced Americans would, in their overconfident and overeager manner, inadvertently tear through the fine webs of espionage and resistance that the Special Operations Executive had been spinning across France. Donovan’s first effort to support anti-Nazi resistance would take place in French North Africa, where anti-British sentiment made US involvement a more attractive option. During the run-up to the Operation Torch landings, the OSS did not yet have any military forces aside from Detachment 101, so Donovan assigned the task of resistance support to his intelligence chief for the region, William Eddy.

Born in Syria to American missionaries, Eddy had lost a leg in World War I as a Marine, then had joined the English Department at the American University in Cairo, where he distinguished himself by introducing the sport of basketball to the Egyptian people. To find Frenchmen willing to risk their hides in support of the Allied invasion, Eddy maneuvered among French exiles and Vichy French officers in North African bistros and bordellos. Securing promises from a variety of senior French leaders, he became convinced that French military officers in Algeria and Morocco would turn against the Germans en masse on the eve of Torch. Eddy assured Lieutenant General Dwight D. Eisenhower, commander of the invasion, that these turncoats would allow US forces to seize much of French North Africa unopposed.

When the Allied invasion forces came ashore on November 8, 1942, most of the expected antifascist resistance failed to materialize. Pro-Allied Frenchmen seized only two facilities, a military headquarters and a communications complex in Algiers, and both were quickly retaken by Vichy French officers loyal to the Germans. As news of Eddy’s failure filtered in from North Africa, Donovan attempted to stave off defeatism among the headquarters staff by pointing to times in US history when even more severe setbacks had not precluded ultimate success. At daily staff meetings, he read aloud from a history of the War of 1812, ending each recitation by shutting the book and pronouncing, “They haven’t burned the White House yet.”

After Torch, Donovan shifted his attention to southern Europe. Using 1,100 newly acquired Army personnel, he formed a small number of commando-type forces, which he named Operational Groups. Composed of four officers and thirty noncommissioned officers who were fluent in European languages, the groups received training in parachuting, sabotage, and guerrilla warfare. Donovan planned to insert an Operational Group into Sicily to organize an antifascist uprising ahead of the Allied invasion, but invasion commanders aborted his plan as the invasion date neared out of concern that it would tip off the enemy about the main invasion. The only OSS man to land in Sicily on the invasion date was Donovan himself, who managed to scrounge a ride on a landing craft that took him to Gela just a few hours after Darby’s Rangers had stormed the mine-strewn beach. Donovan convinced General Theodore Roosevelt Jr. of the 1st Army Division to order a staff officer to drive him toward the front, and then Donovan talked that officer into approaching Italian forces, upon whom he could fire the jeep’s machine guns. “Donovan got behind the machine gun and had a field day,” the officer recalled. “He was happy as a clam when we got back.”

Donovan’s efforts to put an Operational Group ashore ahead of the Salerno landings likewise fell victim to the caution of four-star generals, but he was able to land a twenty-man group at Salerno on the first day of the invasion. To the dismay of Donovan, who again found his way onto the beach on opening day, the OSS team evidenced more concern about requisitioning fancy cars and other luxury items than organizing resistance fighters. The group leader commandeered the finest hotel in the area and compelled the wait staff to serve him seven-course dinners in black tie. One OSS veteran attributed the problems to the presence of “too many prima donnas who were driven by ambition without the sterner stuff which is a prerequisite for success.” The Operational Groups redeemed themselves to a degree in subsequent raiding operations on Italian islands and the Italian coast, blowing up rail-track and machine-gun emplacements to draw German troops away from the Winter Line.

When Donovan was read in on the plans for the invasion of France, he beseeched high authorities for permission to insert OSS special operators into Normandy in support of the conventional forces. The Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force consented to the use of the Operational Groups and the Jedburghs, the latter a joint venture between the OSS and SOE, in helping the French resistance blow up bridges and railroads and otherwise discombobulate German efforts to reinforce the Normandy defenses. Resistance operations were one of three delaying instruments that the Allied high command would employ, the other two being deception and aerial bombardment. By Allied estimates, the Germans had thirty-one divisions that could reach Normandy by the twenty-fifth day of the offensive. They could throw the invasion force back into the sea if they could get just fifteen of those divisions to Normandy by the sixtieth day.

Of the hundreds of OSS operators whom destiny was to toss into occupied France, none would be more significant to the history of special operations than Aaron Bank. One day in the spring of 1943, as a young railroad training officer at Camp Polk, Louisiana, Bank was strolling by the adjutant’s tent when a recruiting notice on the bulletin board caught his attention. His pulse quickened as he read that volunteers with foreign language skills were needed for special missions. Bank had been looking for a chance to escape Camp Polk and the Louisiana swamplands, having been subjected daily to wet heat, oversized mosquitos, snakes that slithered into sleeping bags, and a boring job. He knew German from speaking with his grandfather, and French from conversing with his mother, whose wealthy Russian family had sent her to high school in France before their emigration to the United States. During the 1930s, he had spent time in France as a lifeguard and swimming instructor at one of the private beaches of Biarritz. While presiding over aquatic recreation on the Bay of Biscay, he had practiced his languages with wealthy tourists, both French and German.

Bank contacted the recruiting office at once. The captain who interviewed him began by testing his fluency in French. It became clear immediately to both men that Bank’s French was superior to the captain’s, so they quickly dispensed with that part of the interview. The captain then asked, “Would you volunteer to operate behind the lines in uniform or civilian clothes?”

So nervous was Bank that he blurted out an answer before thinking the question over. Yes, he said, he would be willing to volunteer for those operations.

That was it. The captain told Bank that he would receive reassignment orders within the week. Bank recollected that upon hearing the news, “I was in a state of euphoria, floating on a cloud, eagerly awaiting my release from an unpleasant assignment.”

Bank received orders to report to Washington, DC, in civilian attire. When he arrived in the nation’s capital, an OSS duty officer directed him to the Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland. Depleted of members by the Depression, the club had come to such dire financial straits that its board had decided to lease the club’s 406 acres and facilities to the OSS for the modest sum of $4,000 per month. The fairways of the golf course had been converted into obstacle courses and rifle ranges, the sand traps into demolition beds. In the early-Italian clubhouse, the ballroom now served as a hall for lectures on the arts and sciences of modern war. The dining room, once the place for Maryland’s well-heeled to take their families for a prime rib dinner or a Sunday brunch, was now a military mess hall where cooks dished up mass-produced meats and starches.

Bank and the other volunteers began with a battery of physical and mental tests aimed at weeding out those unfit for the highly dangerous and unusual missions that lay ahead. Instructors ran them for hours on the obstacle course and cross-country trails to measure their stamina. Under the observation of clipboard-toting psychologists, sleep-deprived candidates took part in guerrilla exercises that subjected them to high stress levels and compelled them to essay impossible tasks. As a means of assessing resourcefulness and creativity, they were required to solve difficult problems, such as moving a large object that was too heavy for a man to carry.

Those who passed these tests underwent a training regimen similar to that of the British Commandos. They learned raiding and ambushing, and they practiced the destruction of bridges, culverts, railroads, canal locks, and electric transformer stations. To hone their physiques, they climbed ropes, performed pushups with packs on their backs, and punched out five-mile runs.

From the Congressional Country Club, the recruits were taken to Area B, a secret training site in the Catoctin Mountain Park. Chestnut, hickory, and black birch trees shaded the site’s log cabins, which were only one ridge away from the airy presidential retreat that Franklin Roosevelt called Shangri-La, later renamed Camp David by Dwight Eisenhower. At Area B, the trainees learned hand-to-hand combat from William Ewart Fairbairn, a thirty-year veteran of the Shanghai police. Fairbairn demonstrated how to strike a man’s nerve centers and pressure points with fists, elbows, and knees, and how to break a man’s bones with a rapid strike from the side of the hand. During knife exercises, he trained them in the severing of arteries and the piercing of vital organs.

Bank was one of the trainees deemed worthy of participation in the Jedburgh program. He and the other selectees traveled to Britain for advanced training at a series of specialized schools, culminating in final exercises at a site that in classified correspondence was called Area D or ME-65. Located in the flatlands of Peterborough ninety miles north of London, it was an Elizabethan manor whose real name was Milton Hall. The manor’s massive gray castle, built of stone walls measuring three feet in thickness, was surrounded by a 500-acre park of gardens, terraces, and fields, and beyond lay 20,000 acres of forests and pastures.

The Jedburgh candidates were housed among the castle’s fifty rooms, whose oak-beamed ceilings overlooked collections of Cromwellian armor and swords. In the sunken gardens and rose-bordered terraces, the Jedburghs practiced wrestling and martial arts, while the snapping of small arms fire could be heard from the croquet court. A climbing wall, built onto a corner of the castle, served as the training ground for scaling operations. Instructors taught the trainees how to dress like Frenchmen, and required them to memorize the multitudinous uniforms of German and French military and police forces. Bank filed every facet of the experience into his memory, where all of this knowledge was to remain until, nearly a decade later, he would draw upon it in forming a new organization on the Jedburgh pattern, the US Army Special Forces.

Despite the rather comfortable conditions of Milton Hall, morale sagged during Bank’s first weeks. The British commanding officer was a strict disciplinarian, better suited to whipping teenaged enlisted men into shape than cultivating maverick officers in their twenties and thirties. When no other activities were scheduled, the martinet refused to let the aspiring Jedburghs leave Milton Hall, instead forcing them to participate in inane drills and roll calls, or subjecting them to long and boring monologues about his own service in India years ago.

American and French trainees groused about the British food. The Americans found the British to be snobbish and the French to be petulant, while the Europeans bemoaned the crudeness of the Americans. After an inebriated American spouted off in the presence of foreign officers, the British lodged an official complaint against the offender for “violently insulting and abusing the British people, their army, and their part in our mutual war effort.”

By February 1944, the atmosphere had become so toxic that Bank and another officer went to the London headquarters of the OSS to plead for intervention. The Americans at Milton Hall, they reported, were on the verge of mutiny. The OSS leadership took the matter up with the Special Operations Executive, which acted promptly to rectify the situation. Jedburgh trainees were given weekend passes to London, where they could drink pints of strong English ale at the pubs of Covent Garden or dance with English girls at the Palladium Ballroom. Frenchmen were ushered into Milton Hall’s kitchen to add flair to the cuisine. The trainees were assigned batmen, who tended to all of their laundry, ironing, boot shining, housekeeping, and gear cleaning. Soon, men of all nationalities were gathering together at the castle’s drawing room for evenings of song, drink, and good cheer.

The planners for Operation Overlord decided that the Jedburgh teams would consist of three men, with one French officer, one American or British officer who spoke French, and one enlisted radio operator. Because the Yanks and Brits heavily outnumbered the Frenchmen, the French officers were allowed to pick the members of their teams. Like suitors seeking the hands of the princesses with the largest family fortunes, American and British officers courted the Frenchmen who seemed the most likely to stay alive in occupied France. Bank went after a small French lieutenant, Henri Denis, paying for extravagant weekends in London’s finest hotels and restaurants to seal the deal.

Bank’s team, and most of the other Jedburgh teams, would not parachute into France until well after D-Day. As with the Italian landings, Allied leaders worried that inserting large numbers of special operators ahead of the invasion would put the enemy on alert that something large was afoot. Allied planners also anticipated, correctly as it turned out, that few French civilians would assume the risks of backing the resistance until the Allied invasion force had firmly established a foothold on the continent and begun to roll the Germans back.

Most of the OSS men to enter France, like most who had entered Italy, would arrive long after their organization’s leader. General Marshall and Navy Secretary James Forrestal had notified the invasion commanders that under no circumstances was Bill Donovan to be permitted ashore at Normandy. They had not been amused by Donovan’s appearances in Italy, which had posed a grave security risk, since Donovan had knowledge of the Allies’ most vital secrets. The wily Donovan nonetheless wormed his way aboard the flagship of one of Overlord’s top naval commanders, who happened to be an old friend. The admiral had the good sense to prevent Donovan from disembarking until the second day of the invasion, after large sections of the Norman shoreline had been secured. Donovan hitched a ride to the shore on a Duck amphibious truck, taking with him the head of the OSS London station, David Kirkpatrick Este Bruce, a former state legislator who was married to the daughter of banker Andrew W. Mellon.

Once on land, Donovan led Bruce toward the sound of the guns. They reached an American antiaircraft battery, whose commanding officer was astonished by the appearance at the front lines of an old man wearing the Congressional Medal of Honor. Before them lay a large open field in which three French peasants were digging up vegetables. Intent on getting even closer to the fighting, Donovan gave the battery commander the preposterous story that the peasants were his French agents. They were expecting him, Donovan continued, so he needed to move forward without delay to glean vital information. The artillery captain warned Donovan against stepping any farther, stating ominously that Germans lay not far ahead. Paying him no heed, Donovan proceeded toward the French peasants.

The peasants disappeared when they saw Donovan and Bruce approaching. The two American spy chiefs then headed to a hedgerow at the edge of the field. German machine guns opened fire, forcing them to dive into the nearest shrubs.

Turning to Bruce, Donovan intoned, “David, we mustn’t be captured. We know too much.”

“Yes, sir,” replied Bruce.

“Have you your pill?” Donovan inquired. He was referring to the suicide pill that OSS officers carried in case they fell into enemy hands.

Bruce admitted that he was not carrying the pill. He had not expected to be anywhere near German forces.

“Never mind,” Donovan grunted, “I have two of them.” Donovan dug into his pockets to retrieve the pills, but he could not feel them. In frustration, he began to empty the pockets. Out came several hotel keys, a passport, newspaper clippings, travel orders, photographs of grandchildren, and currencies from various countries. The pills were nowhere to be found.

“We can do without them,” Donovan said finally, with the resignation of a miner who has dug in every direction without finding quarry. “But if we get out of here,” the OSS boss continued, “you must send a message to Gibbs, the Hall Porter at Claridge’s in London, telling him on no account to allow the servants in the hotel to touch some dangerous medicines in my bathroom.”

The German machine-gun fire continued. Donovan whispered to Bruce, “I must shoot first.”

“Yes, sir,” Bruce responded, “but can we do much against machine guns with our pistols?”

“Oh, you don’t understand,” Donovan said. “I mean if we are about to be captured I’ll shoot you first. After all, I am your commanding officer.”

Fortunately for the two men, Allied forces arrived and put an end to the German gunfire. Donovan and Bruce were able to return safely to the beach later in the day, and by evening, they were back on a US warship, enjoying a hot meal.

 

OSS In the European Theater II

Aaron Bank’s team parachuted into occupied France at the end of July. They were met at the drop site by a motley group of Frenchmen toting Sten submachine guns, which had been smuggled in previously by the British. After the Jedburghs provided a secret password to confirm their identity, the greeting party loaded them and their equipment bundle onto a charcoal-fueled truck that emerged from its camouflaged position beneath a cluster of trees. Driving to a local farmhouse, the resistance men delivered Bank, Denis, and their radio operator to a local chief of the Maquis, as the resistance was known.

The Maquis leader, who referred to himself as Commandant Raymond, briefed the Jedburghs on the local situation. His nationalist resistance forces had not yet attacked the Germans, he explained, because they first wanted to receive more Allied weaponry and an explicit authorization from the Allied high command to commence guerrilla warfare. Raymond also filled them in on the activities of the French Communists in the area, who were running a separate resistance organization. The Communists were hijacking his supply trains, and they had stolen supply drops intended for his forces.

Bank and Denis wanted to work behind the scenes and keep their presence hidden from the local population, which was certain to contain enemy informants. They insisted that their parachutes be buried, as otherwise the Maquis would give the fabric to their wives or girlfriends, who would spin it into garments of such striking composition as to arouse suspicions. Their efforts to maintain a low profile were quickly sabotaged when some of the resistance members leaked word of their presence to local villagers. With a mixture of delight and dread, the Jedburghs were feted in village after village with champagne toasts and chants of “Vive les Américains!”

The nationalist resistance fighters in Bank’s area of operations had all served in the French Army and thus already possessed basic military skills. Bank nevertheless insisted that they receive training in guerrilla tactics, explosives, and firearms before guerrilla warfare commenced. “I explained to Commandant Raymond that the organization should be trained properly and achieve reasonable strength before we started needling the enemy,” Bank recalled. Bank and Denis trained the resistance leaders, who then gave the training to their rank and file while the Jedburghs went on to the next group.

By the time these resistance forces were ready, the Germans had abandoned hope of retaining Normandy and were retreating eastward toward their homeland. Resistance forces therefore sought to trip up the Germans and help advancing Allies smash them before they could get away. Raymond’s fighters began with several hit-and-run attacks, including an ambush of a twenty-vehicle German convoy. The Germans responded with counterinsurgency tactics that would have garnered plaudits from Genghis Khan. Descending upon the town nearest to the guerrilla attack, they hauled out a dozen men and executed them on the spot.

In the interest of protecting innocent men from reprisals, several mayors urged the resistance to stop ambushing the Germans. Denis notified the mayors that “sacrifices had to be made if they wanted France liberated.” The resistance fighters “would be considerate,” Denis maintained, but “we would not reduce the activities we consider necessary.”

Commandant Raymond was apparently more sympathetic to the views of the mayors, for he reduced guerrilla activities for a time. The resistance stepped up its attacks when German forces began a full-scale evacuation of the area in the face of the advancing US Seventh Army. Rebels ambushed German convoys, built roadblocks across avenues of retreat, and hunted down German stragglers. Traveling to see friends and relatives near the front lines, they obtained information on German troop dispositions and passed it on to Bank and other Allied officers. Their efforts did little, however, to impede the departure of the main German force in the area, the 11th Panzer Division.

Once the Germans had completed their withdrawal from Bank’s operational area, the usefulness of the French resistance forces fell sharply. With no Germans left to bother, resistance groups busied themselves fighting one another. The nationalists clashed with the Communists, who had proven more intent on seizing towns abandoned by the Nazis than on harassing the withdrawing German forces.

The life-span of resistance operations was similarly short in most of the other areas of France where the Allies sent men and materiel. Still, even a few weeks of interference with German movements could contribute meaningfully to the Allied campaign, and many of the Jedburghs and Operational Groups did help the Maquis reach that level of achievement. General Eisenhower, now the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe, was sufficiently impressed with the results attained by the OSS in supporting the resistance that he decided, in late summer, to give the OSS more personnel, aircraft, and supplies for the mission.

Casualties among the Jedburgh teams and Operational Groups were surprisingly light. A significant minority of teams, however, fell into German hands, a misfortune that usually involved torture and ended in death. Several groups landed in the wrong place. Others were betrayed by French collaborators. One French spy notified the Germans when Marine Operational Group Union II entered the village of Montgirod in the company of French guerrillas. The Germans killed several of the guerrillas, along with a number of residents of the village, but the OSS men managed to escape. On their way back to the limestone plateau where the local Maquis were based, they ran into a German column of two hundred soldiers. The Germans chased the OSS team to a nearby village, encircling the community after the Americans took refuge in its houses. Residents begged the Americans to surrender in order to spare the village from annihilation by the Germans, whose reputation for draconian punishments had preceded them. Surrounded and outmanned, the Americans laid down their weapons. Their surrender may have contributed to the fact that the Germans sent them to POW camps instead of putting them to death.

The Jedburghs and Operational Groups were also constrained in their effectiveness by the small size of the two programs. Only 9 Jedburgh teams dropped into France during the first 19 days of the Normandy invasion. Between June 25 and the end of July, another 15 teams entered France, and 50 more arrived during August and early September, bringing the total number of Jedburghs to 222. A total of 20 Operational Groups, with roughly 640 men, dropped behind German lines. By comparison, the British Special Air Service, a unilateral British special operations force, inserted 1,574 personnel into occupied France during the same period.

The Allied resistance support effort, of which the OSS contribution was only a small fraction, was itself but a small fraction of the Allied disruption of the German reinforcement of Normandy. Although the Maquis caused some delay to German force movements by sabotaging rail lines and miring German forces in counterinsurgency operations, the other two tools for keeping German divisions away from Normandy—deception and bombing—figured far larger. Operation Bodyguard, an extraordinary deception plan involving dummy aircraft, ghost armies, and false disclosures to double agents, convinced Hitler to keep several dozen divisions in north-central France and Norway to contend with invasions that never materialized. American and British bombing of logistical targets in France did much more than the Maquis to slow the transit of German reinforcements toward Normandy, a point conceded even by the greatest OSS advocate, Donovan. The impact of Maquis depredations on the subsequent German retreat from France was similarly modest. Resistance forces accounted for the liberation of only 2 percent of France’s 212 urban centers.

As the end of the war approached, with Allied thoughts turning from the defeat of the Axis powers to the future political landscape, the Jedburghs and other OSS special operators found themselves enmeshed in a multitude of struggles between nationalist and communist resistance movements for control of the postwar world. The OSS men seldom had the knowledge or the experience to influence events to the advantage of the United States. As one British officer lamented, the OSS demonstrated a “capacity for blundering into delicate European situations about which they understand little,” not to mention a “permanent hankering after playing cowboys and red Indians.”

In Yugoslavia, OSS Major Louis Huot threw American support behind Josip Broz Tito after concluding, quite erroneously, that “Tito was planning no Communist revolution for his country” and was instead “working out the pattern of a new and democratic popular front movement which would embrace all the elements in his community.” In Italy, the OSS unwittingly abetted Communist guerrillas through the indiscriminate distribution of weapons to resistance groups. The OSS men handed out firearms to all Italian factions equally on the presumption that they would use the weapons solely to dislodge the Nazis, when in actuality the Communists used their weapons more against nationalist rivals than against the Germans.

The British, who were considerably more attuned than the Americans to the perils of communist resistance organizations, choked off assistance to communists and bolstered nationalists in key European countries during the war’s last months. This foresight may ultimately have saved France, Italy, and Greece from falling into Moscow’s orbit after the war. The British were unable, however, to prevent OSS bungling from facilitating communist subversion in parts of the Far East. The most serious consequences were to be felt in French Indochina.

Like Major Huot in Yugoslavia, the OSS men who parachuted into Indochina in July 1945 took at face value Vietnamese Communist professions commitment to an inclusive postwar government. Communist leader Ho Chi Minh assured the young OSS officers that his Viet Minh guerrillas needed American weapons only to defeat the Japanese. Yet the Viet Minh made little use of the duly provided weapons until the Japanese surrender, at which time Viet Minh troops brandished them in seizing Hanoi ahead of Vietnamese nationalists and the French. That seizure made possible Ho Chi Minh’s establishment of a Marxist-Leninist dictatorship in northern Vietnam, leading to a prolonged war between France and the Viet Minh, and an ensuing war between the United States and North Vietnam.

As the death knells began to toll for the Axis powers, William Donovan embarked on a campaign to write the OSS into the federal government in permanent ink. Even in times of peace, he argued to Roosevelt, and after Roosevelt’s death to Harry Truman, the nation would need a strategic intelligence agency and an arm for covert and clandestine operations. Donovan convinced friends in the media to write positive stories about the OSS, in some cases leaking classified documents on sensitive operations to showcase the organization’s triumphs. A number of heavyweights weighed in on the side of the OSS, the heaviest being Eisenhower, who declared that in Europe the value of the OSS “has been so great that there should be no thought of its elimination.”

Other men of influence, however, lobbied for the abolition of the OSS. Principal among them were individuals whom Donovan and his lieutenants had antagonized in recent years, mainly through intrusions into their perceived bureaucratic territory. J. Edgar Hoover and John Grombach of Army intelligence deluged President Truman and the press with allegations of incompetence and scandal within the OSS, sprinkling a good bit of fiction in with the incriminating facts. Truman received a scathing report on the OSS written by Colonel Richard Park, who had served as Roosevelt’s military aide, in which it was alleged that “poor organization, lack of training and selection of many incompetent personnel has resulted in many badly conceived, overlapping and unauthorized activities with resulting embarrassment to the State Department and interference with other secret intelligence agencies of this government.”

At war’s end, Truman decided to close the OSS down. He transferred select pieces of the OSS to the State Department and War Department, but most, including the special operations forces, were buried in toto in the OSS graveyard. The influence of the harsh critiques on the decision remains something of a mystery. Truman had other reasons to shutter the agency, foremost among them the tide of demobilization that was sweeping away most of America’s machinery of war.

Lockheed U-2S

A Lockheed U-2S in flight.

A pilot guides a U-2 Dragon Lady across the air field in front of deployed E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft April 24 2010, en route to a mission in support of operations in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility from a non-disclosed base in Southwest Asia.

The USAF planned to retire its entire U-2 fleet by 2019 and upgrade its Global Hawks to match the capability of the venerable Dragon Lady’s sensors. Northrop Grumman in February 2016 flew the first demonstration of a Universal Payload Adapter, a 17-point system on the belly of a Global Hawk that permitted the remotely operated aircraft to carry multiple sensors, such as the Senior Year Electro-Optical Reconnaissance System. Later in the year 2016, the U-2’s Optical Bar Camera and an MS-177 multispectral sensor flew on the Global Hawk.

Now a 60-year program, the U-2 had evolved since its first flight in 1955 as an A model. In the late 1960s, Lockheed redesigned the U-2 and went through production with the U-2R designation. The 12 R models produced 40 percent larger than the 1950s U-2A and U-2C models carried a modular payload, and a larger cockpit was accommodating a pilot’s full pressure suit.

In the 1980s, the TR-1 that was structurally identical to the U-2R went into production. The TR-1 included provisions for more developed sensors. With the stand-up of Air Combat Command, all U-2s updated to a common configuration and designated U-2R.

When outfit with a new GE F118 engine and power generation, the U-2Rs received a U-2S designation.

The U-2 remained in front-line service more than 50 years after its first flight with the current U-2. In the mid-1990s, the U-2R converted to the U-2S, receiving the GE F118 turbofan engine due to its ability to direct flights to objectives at short notice, something surveillance satellites could not do.

The U-2 outlasted its Mach 3 A-12 replacement, retired in 1968, and the SR-71 replacement retired in 1998. On December 2005, the Pentagon approved a classified budget document calling for the U-2s termination no earlier than 2012, with some aircraft retiring by 2007. In January 2006, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld announced the U-2s pending retirement as a cost-cutting measure during a larger reorganization and redefinition of the USAF’s mission. Rumsfeld said this would not impair the USAF’s ability to gather intelligence, which satellites and a growing supply of unmanned RQ-4 Global Hawk reconnaissance aircraft would do.

In 2009, the USAF stated it planned to extend the U-2 retirement from 2012 until 2014 or later to allow more time to field the RQ-4. In 2010, the RQ-170 Sentinel replaced the U-2s operating from Osan Air Base, South Korea. Upgrades late in the War in Afghanistan gave the U-2 greater reconnaissance and threat-detection capability. By early 2010, U-2s from the 99th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron had flown over 200 missions in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, and the Combine Joint Task Force–Horn of Africa.

A U-2 station in Cyprus in March 2011 helped in the enforcement of the no-fly zone over Libya, and a U-2 station at Osan Air Base in South Korea provided imagery of the Japanese nuclear reactor damage from the 11 March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

In May 2014, U-2 faced accusations of causing an air traffic disruption in the Western US because of an apparent ERAM software glitch. The USAF stated the U-2 did not cause the problem as it did not emit any electronic signals capable of scrambling the control center’s computers. The FAA later determined the caused a flight plan entry error overwhelming the air traffic system’s memory capacity.

From March 2011 until 2015, the US Air Force project operated a fleet of 32 U-2s. However, in 2014, Lockheed Martin determined the U-2S fleet having used only one-fifth of its design service life, and it remained one of the youngest fleets within the USAF.

In 2011, the USAF stated its intent to replace the U-2 with the RQ-4 before the fiscal year 2015. The proposed legislation required any replacement to have lower operating costs.

In January 2012, the USAF announced plans to end the RQ-4 Block 30 program and extended the U-2s service life until 2023. The US Air Force changed its planned and kept the RQ-4 Block 30 in service because of political pressure despite its objections. The US Air Force argued the U-2 costs $2,380 per flight hour compared to the RQ-4’s $6,710 as of early 2014. Critics point out the RQ-4’s cameras and sensors having less capability, and lacking all-weather operations capability even with some of the U-2’s sensors installed on the RQ-4. A decrease in the RQ-4’s per flying hour costs and it’s matching the U-2’s capabilities motivate it replaced the U-2s by FY 2016.

The US Air Force calculated the U-2s retirement would save $2.2 billion. It proposed spending $1.77 billion over ten years to enhance the RQ-4, including $500 million on a universal payload adapter to attach U-2 sensors onto the RQ-4. USAF officials feared it was retiring the U-2 amid RQ-4 upgrades creating a capability gap. The US Air Force proposed using other high-altitude ISR platform to substitute for the U-2 and RQ-4 during the interim. The US Air Force proposal included using satellites and the secretive RQ-170 and RQ-180 UAVs. The House Arms Services Committee’s markup of the FY 2015 budget included language prohibiting the use of funds to retire or store the U-2; it requested a report outlining the transition capabilities from the U-2 to the RQ-4 Block 30 considering capability gap concerns.

In late 2014, Lockheed Martin proposed an unmanned U-2 version with greater payload capability. However, the concept did not gain traction with the USAF. In early 2015, the USAF received a directive to restart modest funding for the U-2 for operations and research, development, and procurement through to FY 2018. The former head of the USAF Air Combat Command, Gen. Mike Hostage help extended the U-2S to ensure commanders received sufficient intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) coverage. He states, “It would take eight years before the RQ-4 Global Hawk fleet could support 90% of the coverage of the U-2 fleet.” Although the US Air Force intended for the RQ-4 to replace the U-2 by 2019, Lockheed claims it could remain viable until 2050.

On 23 May 2017, it became official that the U-2 was not retiring. The US Air Force Fiscal Year 2018 funded both the Global Hawk and the U-2 to meet the demand for ISR.I funded the upgrade to the ASARS-2B radar and the stellar tracking initiative, the star tracker that provides an alternative means of navigation in case of GPS jamming. Also funded is the enhancements to the optics and focal planes of the SYERS-2C imaging sensor; the SIGINT system; and the defensive electronic warfare system. There’s even some funding for a “technical refresh” of the good old wet-film Optical Bar Camera (OBC).

There’s more money to continue development and testing of  the U-2’s ability to act as an airborne communications node. These include the ubiquitous Link 16, the F-22’s InFlight Data Link (IFDL) and the F-35’s Multifunction Advanced Data Link (MADL).

Also in the works: upgrades to the pilot helmet and pressure suit, a new look at the ejection system, and the installation of a flight data recorder.

It goes to show that you can’t keep a Good Lady down!

The Battle of Tannenberg – SIGINT

A German communications squad behind the Western front, setting up using a tandem bicycle power generator to power a light radio station, much later than the 1914 Battle of Tannenberg, in September of 1917.

The German High Command’s nightmare was to be involved in a war on two fronts, but that is precisely what happened in 1914: they faced the Russians on their borders in the east and the French and British in the west. The majority of Germany’s troops were committed to the Schlieffen Plan, an offensive formulated by General Schlieffen, which planned to attack France by passing through Belgium. The German strategy was to hold back the Imperial Russian Army using defensive tactics while seeking a swift decision over the French and British in the west. The High Command estimated that the Russians would need about six weeks to mobilise their immense army, but the Russians surprised everyone by going into action sooner than expected. They crossed the border and advanced well into East Prussia within days of war being declared and the way to Berlin was open. An early Russian victory could have knocked Germany out of the war within weeks and the implications of this opportunity were immense; if the Imperial Russian Army had advanced on Berlin then Germany would have had to admit defeat. There would not have been the dreadful slaughter and suffering of the next four years and it is even possible that the Second World War would not have happened.

The Imperial Russian Army had 416,000 men and almost 1,300 guns in the field, twice the size of the German Eighth Army facing them, which mustered 166,000 men and 846 artillery pieces, commanded by General von Prittwitz und Gaffron. The Russians were divided into two armies: the First Army with 210,000 men was commanded by General von Rennenkampf; and the Second Army with 206,000 men by cavalry General Samsonov. It was said that these two officers disliked each other but, for whatever reason, the fact is that they did not work well together. Prittwitz had earlier fought the indecisive Battle of Gumbinnen against the advancing Russians, the outcome of which was to position the armies in a way that would decide the course of the future campaign. After the battle, Prittwitz exuded defeat and talked of retreat to Berlin in long telephone calls to his superior General von Moltke in his headquarters in Koblenz, over 1,000km away. The telephone network that the German government had installed a few years before was going to repay them handsomely. Prittwitz was immediately sacked by telephone. A few years earlier it would have taken a messenger on horseback a week to deliver the news by a written despatch. A further telegraph message to 66-year-old General von Hindenburg brought him out of retirement to lead the Eighth Army; he famously replied ‘Am Ready’ and immediately took command. He appointed von Ludendorff as his chief of staff and made plans to fight the battle in a place called Tannenberg. The battle was to prove the first military engagement where the emerging radio technology would play a decisive role. This was remarkable because the German intercept service hardly existed, but signals intelligence gave Hindenburg a decisive advantage just by listening to Russian radio traffic.

Two Russian armies crossed the German/Russian border and pressed on past the Masurian Lakes, which consisted of a series of stretches of water and marshes just north of Warsaw; the lakes separated the two armies, with First Army passing to the north of these watery obstacles and Second Army to the south. Hindenburg decided that he would attack Samsonov in the south if Rennenkampf’s First Army, some distance away in the north, was not in a position to attack his flank. The Germans had five of the new mobile radio stations for their army, but it was the heavy ones in their fortresses of Koenigsberg, Graudenz and Thorn that were going to count. There was little transmission traffic in the fortresses to keep the operators busy so they listened to Russian transmissions to pass the time. The Imperial Russian Army was equipped with the most up-to-date wireless sets which were attached to every large formation of their army. Unfortunately for them, their operators were not well trained; in fact, not trained at all. The possibility that their messages could be heard by the enemy probably had not occurred to them so they sent virtually all their messages to each other in clear text. A Russian message was intercepted by Fortress Thorn indicating that Rennenkampf would not pursue retreating German forces to his front. On the initiative of the commandant Colonel Nicolai, the message was immediately despatched by motorcycle to Hindenburg. This was probably the world’s first electronic interception of a military signals message in battle conditions and it was an important one. As a result, Hindenburg decided to let the whole weight of his Eighth Army fall on Samsonov’s Second Army. The value to the Germans of this intercepted message was incalculable.

As battle intensified the Russians sent all their radio communications in plain text, not appreciating the finer points of radio security. They were to pay a heavy price, as the Russian General Danilov wrote in his report after the battle on their communications failures: ‘The use of radio was entirely new and therefore unfamiliar to our staffs. The enemy, however, were also guilty of some errors, although this does not absolve us from the charge of unpardonable negligence.’ Danilov considered that faulty functioning and, in most cases, non-existent use of radio security was the major cause for the Imperial Russian Army’s catastrophic defeat. The Russians became aware of some of the ways wireless communications could be used later, but they did not appreciate the importance of the maintenance of a dependable radio network until the beginning of the Second World War.

The Battle of Tannenberg began on 23 August as the Russians attacked German positions and several radiograms were intercepted revealing the Russian objectives, including their unit strengths and line of march. Two of the most important interceptions on the night of 24 and 25 August 1914 still reside in the Bundesarchiv and read:

To the Corps Commander of XV Corps

Your Corps will deploy along the Komusing-Lykusen-Persing line till 0900, at which time attack is desired. I shall be in Jablonica, Kljujew with XIII Corps

Then to the 2nd Army Chief of Staff

The XIII Corps will go to the support of General Martos XV Corps and deploy along the flank and rear of the enemy at 0900

This information enabled German generals to avoid an encirclement of part of their army. On the next day of the battle, 24 August, Hindenburg was handed another intercepted message containing the complete operational order of First Army, giving their objectives and timetable. A further intercept indicated that the Russians could not reach those objectives until the 26th, so that told Hindenburg that the Russian First Army would not be able to attack the flank of his army for a couple of days. This gave him time to deal with the Russian Second Army passing to the south of the Masurian Lakes. He moved his headquarters southwards and, on his way, received another intercepted message on the 25th, still in plain text, with details of the organisation and destination of the Second Army. It also contained a somewhat garbled order from General Samsonov to a corps of the Second Army. The text omissions we represent as ‘…’ so the text reads:

After battling along the front of the XV Corps the enemy retreated on 24th in the direction of Osterode. According to information … the land defence brigade …The 1st Army pursues the enemy further, who retreats to Konigsburg-Rastenburg. On 25th August the 2nd Army proceeds to Allenstein-Osterode line; the main strength of the army corps occupies; XIII Corps the Gimmendorf-Kirken line; the XV Corps Nadrau-Paulsgut; the XIII Corps Michalken-Gr. Gardiene, boundaries between the army corps on advance; between XII and XV the Maschaken-Schwedrich line; between XV and XXIII, the Neidenburg-Wittigwalde line. The 1st Corps to remain in District 5, to protect the army’s left flank … The VI Corps to advance to the region of Bischofsburg-Rothfliess to protect the right flank. To protect station Rastenburg the 4th Cav. Div, subordinates to VI Army Corps will remain in Sensburg to observe region between Rastenburg-Bartenstein line and Seeburg-Heilsburg line. The 6th and 15th Cav. Div … staff quarters in Ostrolenka.

Hindenburg now knew the order of battle of both Imperial Russian Army’s and the other intercepts gave him their objectives.

Another aspect of the battle determined by the interception of plain text transmissions was the manoeuvring and engagement of the Russian XIII Corps of the Second Army at Allstein. Hindenburg was completely in the dark as to this unit’s position and its intentions, but he was concerned that it represented a threat to the flank of his own Eighth Army. During the morning of the 28th, further intercepted radiograms describing the Russian XIII Corps’ movements and intentions were received. In an innovative move, orders were despatched by airplane to Hindenburg’s reserve forces to counter Russian moves. Further intercepts allowed him to feel safe in concentrating German forces on the destruction of the Russian’s Second Army. Hindenburg’s victory was one of the most complete in military history, with 78,000 Russian soldiers killed or wounded against 5,000 Germans killed and 7,000 wounded. The Germans took 500 guns and 92,000 prisoners. This savage blow kept the Imperial Russian Army off balance until the spring of 1915 and probably accelerated the Russian Revolution. Meanwhile, Rennenkampf’s army had gone on the defensive until Hindenburg attacked him, so consequently the Russians drew back beyond their own borders with very heavy losses.

One of Hindenburg’s last strokes in the campaign was a deception using radio transmissions. During the Masurian Lakes campaign later in September, he needed to mislead the Russians into tying down their large reserve force around the city and fortress of Koenigsberg. Hindenburg had no extra troops available to engage this reserve force so he decided on a tactic of misinformation. On 7 September the radio station at Koenigsberg sent a purposely disjointed message:

To the Corps Chief, Priority Telegram

Guard Corps

Tomorrow the Guard Corps will join the … Immediately west of Labiau, parts of the V army unloaded

Army Staff Headquarters.

The Russians intercepted this deliberately plain text message and were completely taken in by it. The Russian reserves did not move to support their comrades who were under attack, but waited patiently for an attack from a German formation that did not exist. This is one of the first recorded ‘double cross’ messages that became an art form later in the war and particularly in the Second World War. German operators began to recognise the style of Russian transmitters, but were put under orders not to jam them on the principle that a poorly secured transmitter was of such value as an intelligence source that they should be given a clear field. As Napoleon said, ‘never interfere with the enemy when he is making a mistake’.

The Battle of Tannenberg and the following campaign were shaped by a number of things. The Russians crossed the border into East Prussia just a few days after war was declared. They were able to move quickly because they had not taken the time to prepare the logistic supplies and neglected the needs of their armies in the field. Also the German Army was of superior quality to the Russians, having better equipment, training and leadership. Rapid movements using Prussia’s rail system enabled the German staff to entrain and move complete corps formations around the battlefield and concentrate them against threats or opportunities posed by the enemy. Russian signals transmissions consisting of over a hundred messages in plain text had enabled Hindenburg to know the enemy’s position, strength and intentions days in advance of their being committed to action. None of these advantages would have been worthwhile if the German commander had not been a superior general who was able to inflict grievous damage on the Russians at little cost to himself. His victory virtually cancelled out the threat of the Imperial Russian Army on Germany’s eastern border, enabling the German High Command to concentrate on the battle in France. However, on reflecting on the battle, Hindenburg said almost nothing about the intercepted messages from which he had benefited.

Neate trick!

Informal group portrait of headquarters staff of the Desert Mounted Corps on the steps of the house of Lazar Slutzkin, where they were based. Identified from left to right, back row: Lieutenant (Lt) Frederick W Cox, Aide de Camp (ADC) to General Officer Commanding (GOC), 10th Australian Light Horse (ALH) Regiment; Reverend W Maitland Woods, Senior Chaplain; Lt R Rowan, Scottish Horse Attache; Major (Maj) A J Love, General Staff Officer (GSO) Second In Charge (2IC), 10th ALH Regiment; Acting Capt A M Furber, West Indies Regiment Camp Commandant; Lt D G Thomson, 6th ALH Regiment Attache; Lt W G Lyons, New Zealand Mounted Rifles. Fourth row: Maj R A Allen MC, Deputy Assistant Adjutant General (DAAG) Royal Field Artillery; Maj T E Robins, Assistant Provost Marshal (APM), 1st City of London Yeomanry; Capt ? W E Bruce, Deputy Assistant Director of Ordnance Service (DADOS); Lieutenant Colonel (Lt Col) R E M Russell DSO, Commander Royal Engineers (CRE); Capt Mare, 7th Battalion Middlesex Regiment, General Routine Order; Lt Col A A Corder CMG, AOD ADOS; Capt Hunter AAMC, Military Observer (MO). Third row: Capt H Astley ADC to GOC, RFA, Royal Regiment of Artillery (RA); Lt Col Paravicine ADR; Lt A Whittall, Intelligence Officer; Capt G T Leonard Corps Chemical adviser, RFA; Lt G Nicol R E DADAPS; Lt C L Gray, Adjutant R E. Second row: Lt W J Attfield, Field Cashier; Capt A C B Neate RFA, GSO (2); Maj N N C Russell DSO, Leinster Regiment GSO (2); Lt Col M McBidder DSO RE ADAS; Lt Col L Partridge DSO, Pembroke Yeomanry CMGO; Col R O Downes CMG, Deputy Director of Medical Services (DDMS), AAMC; Maj F G Newton, Assistant Adjutant General, 5th ALH Regt; Maj F P Howell-Price DSO, Australian Army Service Corps, DAST. Front row: Brigadier General R G Howard-Vyse CMG DSO, Royal Horse Guards; Lt Gen Sir H G Chauvel KCMG CB; Brig Gen E F Trew DSO, DAA and QMG Royal Marines; Brig Gen A D’a King OB DSO, GOC, RA; Lt Col W P Farr, AA and QMG, Australian Permanent Staff.

After the debacle on Gallipoli, the British were searching for a success on the battlefield that would boost morale on the home front. Perhaps they would have some good news in the Middle East, where hostilities had spread from western Europe through the Balkans and had reached as far as Egypt and Palestine.

The British feared that the Turks would now attack the Suez Canal, which the British controlled. Connecting the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea, the canal provided the quickest water route between Europe and India and other British colonies in the Pacific. The British would never allow that trade and supply route to be threatened.

As a force of twenty-five thousand Turkish soldiers began the 180-mile march across the desert from Beersheba to the Suez Canal on January 14, 1915, the British were ready to defend the canal, adding thirty thousand Indian soldiers to the Suez defense. Three weeks later, the Turks began their attack. The Indian soldiers, reinforced by Australian infantry, beat back the Turks. The Turks were “heavily reliant upon total surprise for any possibility of success, [but] the British were nevertheless warned of impending attack by reconnaissance aircraft.” After losing two thousand soldiers (to the British 150), the Turks retreated to Beersheba. However, the victory “led to pressure from the British government . . . to invade [Turkish]-controlled Palestine.”

The British army was stalled in its march from Egypt to Jerusalem by strong and well-trained German and Ottoman troops. Late in June 1917, command of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) was given to General Sir Edmund Allenby, a “soldier of great vigour and imagination, who was able to create a personal bond with his troops.” Allenby was known to his men “(with both fear and affection) as ‘the Bull.’” And British prime minister David Lloyd George was counting on the Bull to change the progress of the EEF and defeat the German and Turkish forces at three spots:

•  the walled city of Gaza on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea

•  Beersheba, thirty miles to the east and one of the primary supplies of water in the desert of Palestine, with artesian wells that had been rigged with explosive charges by the Germans

•  Jerusalem

Twice, British and ANZAC troops had suffered severe casualties in their assaults of Gaza. Morale in the U.K. had dropped. The British war cabinet was “close to desperation.” The country needed a victory on the battlefield in Palestine. The prime minister left no room for doubt about what he expected from Allenby when he sent him a three-word message: “Jerusalem. By Christmas.”

But what was Allenby to do? He couldn’t get to Jerusalem without dislodging the Turkish and German troops in Gaza. And his predecessor had been beaten back twice when British forces tried to take the walled city with frontal attacks. Perhaps he could expect help from the Royal Navy off the coast in the Mediterranean. But one of the rules of thumb for an attacking army is that it must always outnumber the defenders. Any way he counted them, Allenby’s troops did not.

Allenby considered his options and decided that he would create a deception that would lead the Central Powers to believe that he was attacking Gaza, when his real target was Beersheba. With the momentum of a victory (and the water) at Beersheba, Allenby could swing to the west and take Gaza, then move northeast to Jerusalem. If he could get the enemy to believe that his primary objective was Gaza, the Central Powers would move no troops to reinforce Beersheba, Allenby’s true objective.

To draw the Germans and Turks into their bluff, the British used a strategy that became a classic deception practice: the haversack ruse. This ruse relied on the Germans and Turks believing that secret intelligence had fallen into their hands because of a mistake by the British. (The British would use the same strategy in World War II in Operation MINCEMEAT.) In this case, the mistake would be the dropping of a haversack (a canvas bag with a long strap that allowed it to be hung across the shoulders) in the desert to be picked up by a Turkish patrol. The sack would be filled with misleading documents, along with other items designed to convince the enemy that the documents were genuine.

The haversack ruse was part of an overall deception operation created by Brigadier General Sir Philip Chetwode, Allenby’s commanding officer. The haversack ruse itself was the brainchild of James D. Belgrave, a twenty-one-year-old lieutenant colonel who proposed its use, including detailed suggestions of what to include in the sack, in a long-secret memo to Allenby.

To make the ruse seem more convincing, Allenby wrote to headquarters in Cairo asking for assistance — troops, air support, field artillery — and leaked the request to German and Turkish intelligence operatives. He knew that such assistance simply wasn’t available, but he wanted to create the illusion that he didn’t have enough troops or equipment to wage a successful Palestine campaign.

One morning in early October 1917, a British intelligence officer, believed to be A. C. B. Neate, rode out into the desert toward the village of el Girheir, northwest of Beersheba, where he was certain to encounter Turkish troops. But that was part of his plan. He wanted to be noticed. Turkish scouts, as expected, gave chase, but soon lost interest in the solitary rider. Neate dismounted and fired a couple of shots at the Turks, not really caring if his aim was true. The Turks renewed the chase, this time firing at the British intelligence officer as he rode.

At a safe distance, Neate began the charade that was part of his plan. He slumped in the saddle, dropped his rifle, then slid to the sand. He appeared to have been wounded by the Turkish shots. He staggered around, making a feeble attempt to gather some items that had fallen to the ground. Then he hurriedly pulled himself back into the saddle, “accidentally” dropping his haversack, canteen, and binoculars before racing off again, hunched in the posture of a wounded soldier. He outdistanced the Turks and made it back to camp safely.

The Turks quickly recovered the haversack that he left behind. They found it filled with items of interest that had been carefully created to fool them: “all sorts of nonsense about [British] plans and difficulties.” The sack contained a number of documents, some official, others personal. All the items created a sense of authenticity: a twenty-pound Bank of England note, a “tidy sum in those days — to give the impression that the loss was not intentional”; a handwritten letter from an English woman to her husband, chatting about their baby, whom he had not seen; a letter from a resentful officer complaining about the foolishness of the British plans; information about a British code system that would allow the Turkish and German intelligence staff to decode British wireless communications; and, the most important pieces of the haversack ruse, orders and a notebook commonly used by the British staff officers.

An agenda for a staff meeting suggested that the British would mount a two-part operation in the desert. The first part would be a feint attack on Beersheba, a diversion from the major attack of Gaza. In addition, the notes indicated that the attack on Gaza would take place in November (some weeks after the date of the real attack).

Knowing that the haversack, once discovered by the Turks, would be rushed to German intelligence agents for analysis, the British wanted to add more credibility to the deception. The enemy needed to be convinced that the material in the haversack was legitimate. So, the day after the haversack was dropped, the British ordered a scouting party to search for it near the front.

To authenticate the fake code that was in the haversack, the British used it to send low-level intelligence about the offensive against Gaza. They also sent an encoded message that General Allenby would be visiting Cairo until November 7, leading the Germans to believe that any attack would not happen before that date. Finally, they sent a message stating that Neate needed to report to General Headquarters to face an investigation into the “lost secret papers.”

Apparently, the deception operation worked because the German commander, Major General Friedrich Kress von Kressenstein, remained convinced that the British would attack Gaza yet again. He refused to move any troops to reinforce Beersheba. He readied his troops for an attack on the fortress city from the desert and from the Mediterranean.

In the meantime, the British had an order of battle for their two attacks. The XXI Corps would feign an attack on Gaza, making as much noise as possible while, at the same time, limiting the number of casualties. The surprise attack on Beersheba would be led by General Harry Chauvel, an Australian, and his Desert Mounted Corps. On October 30, as Gaza fell under an artillery barrage from “218 guns . . . to fool the Turks into believing that a full frontal attack was imminent,” forty thousand British troops slipped through the desert, double-timing the thirty miles to Beersheba, arriving for a daylight surprise attack. The success of this march was, in part, made possible by the presence of planes from Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service that constantly patrolled the skies above Gaza. These British aircraft prevented Germans from flying and observing the huge troop movement to the east.

The march itself was remarkable because, despite the constant and deafening noise of the bombardment of Gaza that obliterated other noise, it was still extremely difficult to quietly move tens of thousands of troops and animals. The troops needed to “muffle the thud of hoof beats, the creak of leather, the snort of horses, and the bang of metal gear.”

The attack on Beersheba was an astounding success of “heroic magnitude.” The Desert Mounted Corps easily penetrated the first ring of defense around Beersheba. The Turkish commander then made a series of errors that would doom him and the precious water that he was to protect. As he looked out over the desert, he saw no large mass of British infantry that was close enough to worry him. What he didn’t know was that Allenby and Chauvel were not infantry officers. They were cavalry officers, leading thousands of troops on horseback, troops that could cover ground at an astonishing clip. And they did, quickly overpowering the Turkish troops at Beersheba with such “a spectacular charge” that the Turk commander did not have the time or the men to detonate the explosives set in the wells.

With victory assured, the British troops drank deeply from the wells that they had conquered. But, in about a week, they returned to the road, this time riding toward Gaza, a city that continued to get pounded by British heavy guns. In less than a day of fighting, the city fell and the German and Turkish troops, shocked by the defeat, abandoned Gaza and retreated in disarray into desert north of the city. But the British army had one more conquest before it could claim its final objective. Chauvel’s battle-tested Desert Mounted Corps pushed on to Jerusalem, entering the city on December 10, 1917, two weeks before the Christmas deadline imposed on Allenby by Prime Minister Lloyd George, who considered Jerusalem a “Christmas present for the British nation.”

Luckily for the British, the Germans appear to have fallen for the leaked information, the fake coded messages, and the bogus documents in the haversack because they did not stop to think that if this plan — a feint to attack Beersheba when the real target was Gaza — was a fake, then the real plan was the opposite, that is, that the Gaza attack was the diversion for the real attack on Beersheba. Had they shifted reinforcements to Beersheba and awaited the British forces, the outcome of the whole campaign could have been different. But they remained convinced that the British would attack Gaza. The early bombardment added to that conviction. As a result, they made no substantial change in the number of troops at each city, which, in a sense, weakened both. Neither Beersheba nor Gaza could withstand the ferocious attack of the Desert Mounted Corps and the other troops. In a matter of days, the Germans had lost the Palestine desert.