Operation ELSENBORN Part I

3–12 November 1944

During the month of October, the Allied Army was at a standstill along the German border. One place where the Americans were taking a great number of casualties was the wooded and hilly area known as the Hurtgen Forest. There the 9th Infantry Division was slowly moving forward against strong German defenses. To get his army moving again—across the Roer River into Germany—General Bradley proposed Operation QUEEN to clear the plain between the Roer and Wurm Rivers. This called for the largest amount of air support for any ground operation in WWII. Part of his plan to press forward into Germany involved a fresh division suddenly making an appearance in the Hurtgen Forest for a surprise attack.

In late October, the V Corps discussed the idea of the 23rd notionally keeping a division in a rest camp, while the actual division was secretly moved into the front lines. This would be known as Operation ELSENBORN, named after Camp Elsenborn, a military barracks area one and a half miles southwest of the town of Elsenborn, used as a rest center for units pulled off the front line.

The V Corps was convinced there were enemy agents operating in the Elsenborn area keeping an eye on troop movements. Just across the front lines to the east were three German divisions and their corps headquarters. This caused the Americans to feel certain that there would be some German radio interception units in the immediate area.

The 28th Infantry Division, resting up in Camp Elsenborn, was scheduled to replace the 9th Infantry Division in the Hurtgen Forest on 1 November. That left no time for the 28th Division to be used in setting up a deception operation. Plans were then made to set the stage for ELSENBORN with the arrival of the battered 9th Infantry Division in the rest camp, and to make the main focus of the operation the simulation of the next unit to move into the camp. This would be the 4th Infantry Division, which was occupying the front lines just to the west of Elsenborn.

The 4th was to be replaced in the front lines by the 99th Infantry Division. While the 4th was being simulated in the rest camp, it would secretly be shifted roughly thirty miles north, where it would hopefully make a surprise appearance in the Hurtgen Forest. The deception operation was to last no longer than four days, by which time the Germans would have discovered the real location of the 4th.

The 23rd was involved in two other missions during this same time (CASANOVA and DALLAS), so only a third of the deception unit was available to take part in ELSENBORN. Due to the multiple operations, no decoys or sonic troops would participate in ELSENBORN, only radio deception and special effects. Task Force ELSENBORN, under command of Lieutenant Colonel Edgar W. Schroeder, consisted of thirty-six officers, four hundred and thirty-one enlisted men, and one hundred and eight vehicles. Due to the heavy demand for radio operators in this mission, one hundred and ninety-three of the men were from the 23rd Signal Company. On 3 November 1944, Task Force ELSENBORN headed to the camp to prepare for the operation.

One of the problems for ELSENBORN was that the 23rd had previously only simulated units in the field. They had no information on how a division appeared in a barracks area. To prepare for the operation they sent out teams to reconnoiter the 9th Division once it had been pulled out of the line. Careful notes were taken on such items as signage, distribution of military policemen, local patrols, and water distribution points. Other teams were sent to the 4th Infantry Division to make sure the poop sheets for that unit were up to date.

One of the other problems with this operation was that while in a rest camp a unit’s radios were normally silent. This meant that either the 23rd would have to forgo one of its greatest tricks, or else come up with a reason for radios to transmit while in camp. Thus the signalmen of the 9th Division had expected a chance to rest and clean up, but instead were presented with an order mandating a daily test of all CW radio sets and operators.

Going out over the name of William C. Westmoreland, chief of staff of the 9th Infantry Division (and later Commencing at 1400 on——October 1944 the following messages (enciphered by means of the M-209 Converter) will be transmitted on your –——net. The net control station will divide the traffic as equally as possible among the subordinate stations.

  1. commander of U.S. forces in Viet Nam), was the order for a radio operation test:
  2. All stations will turn in their logs and files covering these transmissions to the Division Signal Officer.

What followed was a list of sixteen messages ranging from (message #1) “Patrols third Bn have taken seven enemy prisoners,” to (message # 16) “Activity slight. Baker and Charlie reported nothing and Able reported only slight patrol action. Dog Company had some trouble in their sector but OK now.”

What this did was set the stage for the Germans to see that American divisions in a rest area might be called upon to test their equipment and operators’ competency with transmissions and cipher machines. When the 9th moved out, the Germans would not suspect anything when 4th Division radios began sending the same type of test messages. It was even possible that a German agent might hear some grumbling from signalmen who had to give up some of their free time to take part in some ridiculous radio test.

With the stage set for radio transmissions from a rest camp, the signal experts of the 23rd had to begin preparations for the next phase. They had to assume the guise of the 4th Infantry Division radio net so that the Germans would have no question about the authenticity of the notional radio network operating in Camp Elsenborn. The radio experts of the 23rd were dispatched to the 4th Division at Bullange to observe the idiosyncrasies of their transmissions.

On 27 October 1944, ten radio teams from the 23rd arrived at the 4th Infantry Division. Message center personnel of the 23rd were instructed by their counterparts in the 4th Division on how they actually wrote up messages to be sent. The 23rd radiomen took notes on the style of the 4th Division radio operators. The division had a distinctive way of using the SLIDEX code, and the 4th Reconnaissance Troop message center had their own TPC (Troop Prearranged Code). Records indicate that the 4th Division gave their full cooperation and understood that a successful deception operation could save the lives of their men.

One of the findings was that each message center of the division had its own style of partially encoding their messages. The division headquarters habitually left a few words in clear (not encoded) while the staff of the 8th Infantry Regiment coded every word. The signalmen also discovered that the 8th Infantry Regiment operators dragged out an “R” to indicate a message received. Division artillery always repeated the all-clear text words in their SLIDEX messages, and the transmissions of the 4th Recon Troop were slow and methodical in style. To ensure that this style remained consistent throughout the operation, the actual 4th Division message center personnel coded the proficiency test messages in advance. Once they were familiar with the 4th Division operations, the 23rd signalmen slowly took over operation of the division’s radios and began to handle the actual transmissions of the 4th Division while still in the front lines.

On 5 November, the 4th Division’s radio net was operated by 23rd signalmen only. At 0100 on 6 November, the division was ordered to observe radio silence, as it normally would during a move. The 23rd signalmen moved to Camp Elsenborn and set up their radios to prepare for the notional radio proficiency test. The genuine 4th Division radio operators were instructed to only listen in to their assigned frequencies in case of an emergency call. Under no circumstances were they to transmit unless they received a message classified as urgent.

The radio deception teams at Camp Elsenborn briefed the rest of their comrades on what they had learned about the 4th Division’s style of operation from 6 to 8 November. From 8 until 11 November, the notional 4th Division radio net in Camp Elsenborn transmitted the prepared messages of the radio test. All radios were physically dispersed throughout the camp area in a pattern similar to that used previously by the 9th Division. Transmissions were made using the 4th Division’s SOI (Signal Operation Instructions), authenticators, and frequencies.

To simulate the division, twenty-two radio sets and over one hundred operators were used. Special care was taken to make sure that each operator transmitted only on a specific radio. This was to prevent the Germans from identifying an individual by his “fist” and discovering him transmitting from two different units. Each radio transmission was monitored both by an officer and the man who was to send on that radio the next day.

Major Yocum, the 23rd signal officer, was so pleased that he wrote, “It is recommended that this operation be used as a guide in the future, both for BLARNEY and for the units with which we operate. The time allowed for planning and coordinating, the cooperation given by all headquarters involved, were the best encountered so far.”

The one element of the 4th Division not simulated on the radio net was the 12th Infantry Regimental Combat Team. By the time the preparations were under way, the 28th Infantry Division had taken such a beating in the Hurtgen Forest that the 12th was sent across the corps border to help out. This infantry regiment, plus attached artillery, engineer, and medical troops, was desperately needed to bolster the line in the Hurtgen. Sending this part of the 4th Division ahead to the battle may have helped the situation temporarily, but in the long run it may have compromised the entire deception operation.

The special effects aspect of the mission called for close cooperation with the 4th Division. 4th Division patches were sewn on 85 percent of the deception troops’ uniforms, and vehicles were marked with correct 4th Division bumper markings. Starting on 6 November, the men put on raincoats to conceal the patches and covered over the bumper markings as they drove singly to the 4th Division area. Everyone was given a briefing on the history and commanding officers of the 4th Infantry Division so the men could play their parts.


Operation ELSENBORN Part II

Over the next few days, the deception troops would work closely with the genuine 4th Division in a series of moves to make any enemy agent think the 4th was being pulled back to Camp Elsenborn. The 4th Division made sure that during the upcoming move every bumper marking, helmet insignia, and shoulder patch was hidden. To assist in the shift north, the 4th Division was to use the code name RED WING. Combat elements were to move only at night, while the support units were to move during the day in a strictly controlled fashion. Some groups would travel in a standard column while others would move individually with roughly two-minute intervals between them.

Men assigned as road guides, to be left at key junctions along the route to direct traffic, were ordered to put a four-inch cross of one-inch white tape on their helmets for increased visibility. At night, traffic was directed by using a flashlight with half of the lens covered by a blue filter and half by a red filter.

Signs directing the way were to bear no relation to what was normally used by the 4th Division. A new system of signage was created, based on a cross with a symbol in one of the four quadrants. A mark in the upper right quadrant indicated the route for the 8th Regiment, the lower left quadrant for the 22nd Regiment, and all other troops used a specific letter in the upper left quadrant. (M was for the division command post, J for the 70th Tank Battalion, B for the 4th Medical Battalion, and so on.)

While preparing for the mission, the 23rd troops discovered that trying to hide their bumper markings with mud was not practical. This tended to smear the fresh paint. The solution was to use canvas bumper covers to hide the markings. The men, however, then discovered that wet roads caused the tape used to hold the covers in place to loosen and fall off. Finally the men learned to use wire or string to tie the covers in place until the time came to remove them.

On 6 November, a detachment of deception troops in fifteen vehicles infiltrated into the 4th Division Command Post area. There they assumed the guise of the 4th Division headquarters. While a great show was made of the newly formed 4th Division convoy heading to Elsenborn, the genuine vehicles of the divisional headquarters made their way via a circuitous route north to an assembly area behind the Hurtgen Forest.

The following day, another group of fifteen vehicles quietly entered the 8th Infantry Regiment area and took on the appearance of a convoy from that unit. They headed back to Camp Elsenborn while the genuine 8th, with their identity concealed, headed north. On 8 November, twenty-three vehicles assumed the guise of a convoy containing troops from the 22nd Regiment, 44th Field Artillery Battalion, plus the 4th Engineers, and made the journey to their assigned area in Camp Elsenborn. They shared the road with another convoy of eight vehicles playing the role of the 4th Quartermaster Company. The move was marred only by a road accident that demolished one of the message center vehicles. No one was hurt, but an appropriate show was made to make sure anyone watching could see that the wrecked vehicle was from the 4th Division.

One of the 4th Division men making the secretive journey north was Lieutenant George Wilson from the 22nd Infantry Regiment. As he recalled, “Long after darkness on about November 10, 1944, the 4th Division leapfrogged some thirty miles further north along the German–Belgian border. This was to be a highly secret maneuver, so elaborate that pains were taken to erase all signs of our identity. Divisional and regimental numbers were blocked out on all vehicles, and the green, four-leafed ivy shoulder patches, of which we were so proud, were removed from our uniforms… . Our blacked-out trucks took long confusing detours to the rear to mislead enemy agents.”

Once the notional convoys arrived at Camp Elsenborn, they were directed to the area of the camp where they were to set up a display of the unit at rest. On the night of 9 November it began snowing, which added an extra element of difficulty to the operation. Just driving vehicles around the area became increasingly difficult as the military tires were designed for off-road use and provided little traction on a slippery road. Chains had to be put on to increase traction, and the men hoped that the noise made by the chains added a new element of reality to their show.

Once the notional convoys had arrived in the camp they were directed to set up operations in their assigned buildings. Signs and sentries were posted in a manner similar to what the 9th Division had used during their stay there. Roving patrols of MPs moved about the camp and surrounding area. Signs bearing the name CACTUS (the code name of the 4th Division) were prominently displayed around the same building where the 9th had based its headquarters.

Military police posts were stationed in neighboring towns and manned night and day. Two jeeps marked as 4th Division MP vehicles were used to bring food to the posts and patrol the area. Water points continued to operate in the manner used by the 9th Division, but with 4th Division–marked personnel. Anyone observing their actions would see water being drawn for a full division, less the one combat team.

Vehicles were sent out in a pattern based on that previously observed. On the recommendation of the 4th Division, these movements were made by trucks marked according to individual regiments and battalions, since the quartermaster trucks of the genuine 4th Division were badly in need of maintenance. Messenger vehicles, wire patrols, and mail trucks made their rounds so as to conform to the normal practices of the 4th Division. Other trucks made runs to the garbage disposal point, shower point, and ration depot.

This did not always entail a large number of vehicles. On 10 November, the special effects section noted that the following vehicles were sent outside the camp: at 1000 one 2½-ton truck to the water point, 1000 one jeep sent to Malmedy, 1100 one truck sent to the ration depot, 1350 two trucks sent to nearby towns, and at 1500 one truck sent to the garbage disposal point. From 1300 to 1600 vehicles drove about the camp area to lay new tracks in the snow. This was done in the late afternoon so they would be ready for any German aircraft making a twilight reconnaissance run.

The snow posed an additional problem because an enemy agent could see from the tracks that only a few vehicles had actually passed by. Trucks were sent out specifically to increase the number of tracks in the snow. This would not only deceive an agent watching the roads, but also any German observation aircraft looking for activity in the area. A regimental headquarters was set up in the town of Elsenborn, properly marked as a 4th Division unit.

Most of the local population had been evacuated from the area before the operation, and the snow and cold weather kept the remaining few indoors most of the time. However, a number of American soldiers looking to visit friends in the 4th Division turned up at the notional divisional HQ, and a handful of men from the genuine 4th trying to find their unit ended up at the camp, totally confused by the familiar signs but the unfamiliar faces.

The display of a division at rest was slowly built up over three days as the new notional convoys arrived. Left out of the display were all the elements that had gone with the 12th Regiment to the Hurtgen. It would not do to try and simulate a unit that was already fighting in the front lines.

There was some confusion on 10 November when an advance party of the 9th Infantry Division arrived at the camp to prepare for their division’s move back. The camp could not house two divisions at once, so the return of the 9th would indicate that it had all been a deception. Calm heads prevailed, and it was eventually decided that the 23rd would shift their activities and signs to another area of the camp while the 9th prepared to move in.

Finally, at 1800 on 11 November, the word was received that the operation would end the following day and the 9th Division would once again take over the camp. All visual aspects of the 4th Division were slowly dismantled that night. Starting at 1000 the following morning, the now unmarked vehicles of the 23rd began infiltrating out of the camp, at three-minute intervals, heading back to Luxembourg City.

The radio aspect of the deception had gone off without any problems. It had been carefully planned out, so everyone knew exactly what he was supposed to do. To keep the radio aspects of the deception from standing out, the next unit to arrive at the camp, the 99th Infantry Division, was also requested to transmit radio proficiency test messages. This would also allow the Americans to use the same ruse of a radio test in a rest camp for any future operations without drawing attention to it.

Overall, the staff at the V Corps and 12th Army Group were happy with the operation. It was claimed in the 23rd’s records that a German intelligence document was captured shortly afterward indicating that the 4th was still in Camp Elsenborn. George Wilson, of the 22nd Infantry Regiment, however, recalled that the 4th Division had been welcomed to the Hurtgen Forest by Axis Sally, the German radio propaganda broadcaster, when they entered the area. This could indicate the operation was a failure, but also could have been only hearsay information obtained from other troops, or, more likely, a reference to the 12th Infantry Regiment that had previously been fighting in the forest. Thus a well-performed deception might have been ruined by the necessity to send part of the division on ahead. There is little use in trying to hide the movement of a unit if part of it has already been sent on ahead.

One of the lessons learned was that the 23rd could pull off appearing as a division in an enclosed rest area, but the officers realized that they could not have pulled off the same deception if the division had been bivouacked in a less controlled or more open area, due to the lack of men and vehicles. Nevertheless, everyone was very happy with the cooperation they had gotten at every level. The 4th Division’s quartermasters had happily handed over a supply of divisional patches when asked, and the 23rd’s signalmen had no trouble obtaining any information they requested.

This time, the problem of men looking for their friends had been anticipated. Anyone who came to the notional 4th Division area looking for someone was told that, while most of the division was in the camp, that specific unit was located elsewhere. This worked, with the exception of one time when a soldier came looking for his brother in the 4th MP Platoon. Since he was asking men dressed as 4th Division MPs, they could not claim the unit was elsewhere. At first they replied, “Never heard of him.” “Why, he’s your cook, you must know him,” argued the brother. The quick thinking MP replied, “Oh, you must mean ‘stinky.’ I didn’t recognize the name. Sure I know him. He just moved out with a bunch that went north.” On another occasion, a 23rd man replied that the reason he did not know many others in his unit was that he had been wounded in the infantry and had just arrived as a replacement.

Espionage During the Napoleonic Wars


Charles Schulmeister

The Napoleonic wars pitted France, led by Napoleon Bonaparte, against a number of countries in Europe from 1797 through 1815. At different times during this period, Great Britain, Austria, Russia, Prussia, Denmark, Sweden, and the Neapolitan Kingdom all waged war against France in various coalitions. The main rivals in this struggle were Great Britain and France. During this time, the methods of intelligence gathering, espionage, and counterespionage did not differ so much from modern methods, apart from the differences in technological progress. Compared to other periods, however, espionage was a much more intense activity during the Napoleonic wars. This rise in espionage activity resulted mainly from revolutionary events in France and the following French emigration, which was in turn, used by Britain to achieve their own goals.

France had one unsurpassed master of intrigue in the famous person of Joseph Fouché, who spied rampantly on his social and professional contacts alike. Fouché remained as permanent minister of police during four consecutive regimes: directory, consulate, empire, and the restored monarchy.

During this period, Switzerland became a place of intensive intelligence activity by Britain, mostly against France. In 1794 the new charge d’affaire of Great Britain was the newly arrived William Wickham (1761-1840), for whom his diplomatic work in Bern was a cover. Wickham’s main activity was to collect information about France and to lead various royalist organizations, which acted inside France as well as abroad. In particular, Wickham organized invasions of royalist armies into France, one of which was the Quiberon Bay invasion of 1795; the effort failed within one month. Both Wickham’s agents and those of the royalist organizations actively participated for almost three years in different conspiracies against France, but in 1797, many of those involved were arrested. Wickham was forced to leave Switzerland in 1798, but the successive charge d’affaire continued the same activity.

British espionage against the Italian Army of France was also well organized. Here, the main figures were Count d’Antreg, one of the organizers of the royalist underground, and the British diplomat Francis Drake. D’Antreg received information from the generals of the French army, such as key information about the Egyptian expedition of Bonaparte. D’Antreg was arrested in 1797 by the French in Venice and was scheduled for extradition to France, but was first granted an audience with Napoleon. After gaining Napoleon’s favor, d’Antreg was released on his word of honor. He was then quickly aided in an escape to Switzerland.

British intelligence agents pursued Napoleon and his army during the Egypt expedition, and even attempted to organize the general’s assassination. One well-known attempt was organized by one of the top officers of the British intelligence service. A fellow officer named Foure was married to one of Napoleon’s mistresses; the plan called for Madame Foure to carry out the assassination during one of her dalliances with Napoleon. Foure eventually refused his mission, and the plan was not executed.

Another attempt to assassinate Napoleon was made on December 24, 1800. The First Consul Napoleon was required to be present at a performance in the Paris Grande Opera. When Napoleon’s carriage rushed along Saint Nicolas Street, an explosion resounded. Napoleon did not suffer; his carriage was driving too quickly, but the power of the explosion was such that almost 50 people were killed or wounded and 46 neighboring houses were damaged. The source was a barrel of gunpowder laced with shrapnel that was hidden in a harnessed wagon at the roadside. At first, the Jacobins were accused of the attempt, and some were executed. But those who headed the investigation quickly determined that it was the work of royalists through whom was apparent “the hand of London.”

Yet another attempt on Napoleon was undertaken by royalists (again supported from London) in 1803 to 1804, but it was stopped by Fouche’s police. Fouche identified the plotters using his “Chouan’s Geography,” an elementary data base (card-index) compiled in his ministry containing detailed information about 1000 active royalists. The French word chouan is associated with royalty, or in this case, royalists.

Britain also actively collected all possible information about France during the Napoleonic period. For this purpose they used (in addition to traditional methods) various royalist organizations (in particular the “Correspondence,” which mainly collected intelligence data). Smugglers, and fishers, and the inhabitants of Jersey Island were also actively recruited, especially during the continental blockade, for contact between Britain and the continent, as well as for espionage. One of these Jersey inhabitants, a British agent, was able to make 184 spying trips from Jersey to France before he was eventually captured by the French and executed in 1808.

Led by Fouche, the French used counterespionage and organized the assassinations of unwelcome persons, or at the least, discredited them. One example is the brilliantly executed operation directed against the British diplomat Francis Drake. The French agent Mehde de la Touch was sent to London, where with great difficulty he was able to gain the confidence of top British authorities. De la Touch was able to persuade them that he represented a Jacobin committee that wanted to overthrow Napoleon. De la Touch was put in contact with Drake, at that time the ambassador in Munich, Bavaria, and using Drake, the phony committee was able to swindle large amounts of money from the British government. After a long period of such activity, the French published this information in the French press, Drake was discredited, and was forced to flee from Munich.

Napoleon himself was also actively interested in espionage. Among Napoleon’s secret agents, the most successful was the Alsatian Charles Schulmeister, a trader from Strasbourg. Schulmeister brilliantly infiltrated the Austrian army, including its intelligence service, and by collecting vital information from and disseminating misinformation to the Austrian military commanders, ensured Napoleon’s victory in Austria.

The year 1805 marked the beginning of Napoleon’s war with Austria and Russia. Schulmeister was sent to Vienna with the mission to discern the character and plans of General Karl von Mack, commander of the Austrian Army on the Danube. Schulmeister gained the confidence of those in the aristocratic circles of Vienna and was soon introduced to General Mack. Schulmeister then persuaded Mack that he represented a royalist opposition, showing him secret data about the French army, given to him according to Napoleon’s order, and false documents about his own Hungarian aristocratic origin. Soon Schulmeister was completely trusted by Mack and, incredibly, was designated chief of intelligence in General Mack’s army. Schulmeister immediately informed Napoleon about Mack’s plans, and Napoleon, in turn, ordered the printing of false newspapers and letters detailing the unrest in the French army. Mack swallowed the bait. He assumed that France was close to an uprising, and believed the information that Napoleon’s troops were retreating from the front line on the Rhine River. He began to pursue the French. Most likely Mack was surprised when he collided with the “retreated” corps of French General Ney, and then discovered French troops at his flanks and back. The army of the gullible general was surrounded in Uhlm, and all that was left to do was to surrender. Napoleon then gained one of his most famous victories at the battle of Austerlitz, captured Vienna, and installed Schulmeister as its chief of police.

Napoleon soon required the further services of Schulmeister in Germany, where the operative set up an effective spy cluster that provided Napoleon, for a while, with valuable information from adversaries to the East. Schulmeister was awarded wealth for his efforts, but longed for the Legion of Honor, which Napoleon never bestowed, claiming, “gold is the only suitable reward for spies.” After Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo and subsequent exile, Schulmeister was arrested, and bought his freedom with his fortune. Years later and nearly penniless, Schulmeister sold tobacco at a stand in Strasbourg and regaled customers with stories of espionage during the Napoleonic wars.

BOOKS: Dallas, Gregor. The Final Act: The Roads to Waterloo. New York: Henry Holt and Co., 2001. Durant, Will, and Ariel Durant. The Age of Napoleon. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1975.

Room 40 at the Admiralty

The First Bletchley Park: This incredible image taken in June 1919 shows World War One codebreakers – including Major Malcolm Hay (back left) in their secret office in London. The organisation, known as Room 40, had a pivotal role in bringing the Great War to an end

From 1914 the conflict at sea fell into two, almost distinct, parts: the surface engagements of the bigger ships, sometimes in line ahead, pounding each other with their heavy guns; and that of a secret U-boat war of sudden and unexpected torpedo attacks. This last part had political as well as economic effects. The Royal Navy’s strategy was to use their big guns to enforce a total economic blockade of ships supplying Germany and her allies. The North Sea was to be a war zone and boarding parties from the Royal Navy ships made stringent checks on neutral shipping for any goods meant for a German port. It was a brutal, effective and probably illegal weapon, in response to which Norway, Sweden, the USA, as well as other countries, made loud protests about the contravention of international law. The British did not acknowledge their protest so the Royal Navy maintained a very effective blockade with a relatively small number of warships because of the good intelligence from wireless intercepts about German shipping movements. In response, German U-boats were ordered to sink any ships found in British waters in an act of unrestricted warfare. A savage battle was fought in the First World War, as well as the Second World War, as the two opponents tried to strangle each other to death. The stakes were that the population of the loser would starve. The Royal Navy was well equipped to combat surface ships, but was woefully unprepared for the U-boat threat; however, signals intelligence was going to play a crucial part in the great sea battle that lay ahead.

The Admiralty had fitted wireless telegraphy in all its major vessels by the beginning of the First World War, but was still unprepared for the signals intelligence battle in which they were about to become engaged. They had some hints of what part wireless telegraphy might play from their experience in observing the use of wireless telegraphy in 1904 during the Russo-Japanese War. An ageing coal-fired Imperial Russian Fleet left their base at St Petersburg to undertake a mammoth trip through the Suez Canal and into South East Asian waters to finally arrive in the Sea of Japan to engage the Imperial Japanese Navy. The British, and indeed the world, watched the slow progress of Russia’s fleet by monitoring its wireless communications during the course of their long journey. The W/T specialists on board the Royal Navy ship HMS Diana, which shadowed the fleet, commented on the poor standard of transmission and encoding of messages coming from the cumbersome Russian fleet as it chugged halfway around the world to confront the Japanese. The Russian Imperial Fleet engaged the Japanese battleships and was almost totally destroyed, distress calls transmitted by sinking battleships filling the airwaves. Russia’s defeat was reported back by wireless to the Admiralty in London, but the lessons of the extended exercise in the use or misuse of wireless telegraphy were ignored. The British Admiralty had no signals intercept service or plan to create one in 1914 as war started, but luck was on their side.

Within days of the declaration of war in August 1914, the Admiralty’s recently appointed Director of Intelligence Rear Admiral Henry Oliver was being given copies of intercepted German wireless transmissions in code that he was unable to read. Winston Churchill, who was First Lord of the Admiralty, and the soon to be appointed First Sea Lord Admiral John (Jackie) Fisher, asked Oliver to set up a wireless intercept service. The Admiralty allocated Room 40 in their Old Building to house this new service. Room 40 would be the title of a signals intelligence bureau that would achieve extraordinary things, first for Britain’s war at sea and later as an intelligence centre of wider dimensions. Oliver needed a director for the embryonic intercept service so he turned to his old friend Sir Alfred Ewing, who was Director of Naval Education, and over lunch at the United Services Club, now the Institute of Directors, he offered him the job. Ewing had been a great success at educating navy personnel and had received a knighthood; in addition, Oliver knew that he had an academic interest in codes and ciphers. Ewing, immaculately dressed and conscious of his position and dignity, was an inspired choice for the job with more than his share of luck in its success. Ewing’s first move was to review what there was in coding and ciphering expertise in the archives of The British Library, the General Post Office, Lloyds and other repositories of literature and experience on the subject. His conclusion was that he needed a multi-talented team to help him in the task whose shape was beginning to emerge.

German wireless transmission intercepts were coming in thick and fast from radio listening stations, or ‘Y’ stations as they came to be known, that began to be installed all along England and Scotland’s east coasts. Piles of German transmissions in code and a few in plain text from new ‘Y’ stations were gathering at the Admiralty, in addition to other contributions from radio amateurs who began to play their part in intercepting German messages. Ewing’s ever-increasing supply of messages in cipher needed code breakers to work on them, but also people who could understand the purport of a message in naval terms and practice. The intercepts were all in German, too, so the team that Ewing needed to recruit had to contain talented cryptanalysts, naval officers and translators to create a bureau that would help to shape the war to come.

In the early days, Room 40 in the Admiralty Buildings in Whitehall began co-operation with the Army at the War Office just across the road. The army did not have the flying start in putting together a decryption team that the navy was enjoying, but progress with interception was shared. Some decryptions of German coded messages began to emerge as Ewing’s small but growing team began to bed down in their task. This co-operation did not last long, however, as Room 40 began to prove itself the better bureau of the two and was rather pleased to show it. In Germany at the same time there was no initiative to create an intercept service and, when a German signals intelligence team was finally inaugurated, it proved trivial compared to the British effort. Even Room 40 was not without its shortcomings, however. Intelligence has several aspects to it, each of which needs to work in balance with the others. The accurate interception of a coded transmission was the first stage. Decoding it was next; a translation was needed, which required a knowledge of German marine terminology and practice to make sense of the message. From those fragments of information, and maybe others collected earlier, an evaluator’s skill was needed to build a coherent summary of intelligence for the field commander. These evaluations could support and guide life and death decisions for those directing the ships or ground forces in the face of the enemy.

The directors of intelligence had to decide to whom they should show this precious knowledge of the enemy. Cast the distribution list too narrowly, as Hitler did, and you limit the use of valuable intelligence, but cast it too widely and the risk of a disaster in the shape of a leak could betray your sources to the enemy who would promptly close them down. It was a difficult balance between too open-handed a distribution of your intelligence and paranoia about the enemy’s spies that are always a risk to your secret sources and plans. Room 40 as a bureau had limited its effectiveness by restricting its agenda to acting largely as an interception and decoding role rather than a wider intelligence centre into which it would evolve later in the war. Oliver and Ewing had built up an extraordinarily effective decoding facility, but would play what intelligence cards they had very close to their chests. This meant that any useful intelligence their cryptanalysts had generated had a more limited effect than it could have done. Later in the war, Room 40’s capability came into its own as a fully effective, intelligence-gathering, evaluation and exploitation organisation under the inspired leadership of Admiral ‘Blinker’ Hall. He was not only a superb spymaster but a great judge of men; one of his many lieutenants, Commander Alastair Denniston RN, served his signals intelligence apprenticeship under Hall and was to make his mark in intelligence later on.

To meet the need of the unsolved coded intercepts the Admiralty began by recruiting bright young men and their tutors from the universities for cryptanalysis and linguistic work in the Room 40 team. The foundation of Britain’s signals intelligence bureau and their cryptanalysis skills was being laid by Ewing’s growing team; its effectiveness would last for half a century or more. Sadly, a damaging quarrel between the War Office, or MI 1B as it was designated, and the Admiralty across the road in Whitehall was not resolved until 1915. Such squabbles are not an unknown phenomenon among security services of virtually all nations, even up to the present day. The ‘spat’ limited the development of the army’s military code breaking unit in the precious months during the opening phases of the war. The main reason for the row seemed to be that the ‘Y’ stations intercepting enemy signals were gathering a mix of messages of both naval and military interest, so the War Office and the Admiralty agreed to a guarded co-operation. This arrangement broke down as a result of what seems an immature competition between the two services, probably because Room 40 at the Admiralty was making better progress in decoding intercepted messages than the War Office – and flaunted it. The Admiralty was preparing to go it alone in their signals intelligence war.

Wireless telegraphy was a fairly recent invention in 1914, but it had been made a standard installation in all major Royal Navy ships, as well as those of the fast expanding Imperial German Navy. Telegraphy was widely accepted and practiced by sea goers as it could act as a lifeline, helping them to survive the dangers of the sea, but it was just about to become an effective weapon of offence as well.

Germany was loath to risk her navy against a larger British fleet in a major action, so they decided on a strategy of attrition by trying to catch smaller detachments of the British warships in short, sharp actions. Penetration of German naval codes and ciphers by the British using the new technology helped them to counter this strategy. Deception in signals transmissions became a widely used practice by both the British and German navies, often in innovative ways. One aspect of signals security for ships at sea was to disguise the recipient of a radio message, so a common ruse among German transmitters was to direct a message from one coastal station to another rather than to the ship at sea for which it was really intended. The vessel would ‘overhear’ the message and act upon it; this was the beginning of a wireless-based game of hide and seek played by intercept services to help win or lose the war at sea.

Ewing needed cryptographers urgently so the first place that he looked was within the Royal Navy itself, with staff members of the colleges at Dartmouth and Osborne the first to be interviewed. One candidate was Alastair Denniston, who was teaching German at Osborne. He was offered an appointment which was assumed by all to be a short-term one during the school holidays that he was then enjoying. No one envisaged that the war would last for several years and that cryptology would prove a life-long career for Alastair. He became a major figure in Britain’s long chronicle of cryptology and intelligence spanning almost half a century and two world wars. Ewing recruited a disparate team of characters who came from many walks of life, creating a mixed bag of extraordinarily cerebral linguists and naval experts in his team. Room 40 would prove far too small for the fast growing band of decoders, but it did have the advantage of being situated in the Admiralty Building within a few moments’ walk of Churchill’s and Fisher’s offices. Churchill decided that there should be some ground rules for the staff, and his directions, written on a single page of Admiralty notepaper and dated 8 November 1914, is still in Britain’s archives. It is headed ‘Exclusively Secret’ and addressed to COS (Chief of Staff, Admiral Oliver) and D of Educt- (Director of Education, which is a position Sir Alfred Ewing still retained) and read:

An officer of the War Staff, preferably from the ID (Intelligence Division) should be selected to study all the decoded intercepts, not only current but past, to compare them continually with what actually took place in order to penetrate the German mind and movements and make reports. All these intercepts are to be written in a locked book with their decoded, and all other copies are to be collected and burnt. All new messages are to be entered in the book, and the book is only to be handled under the direction of the COS.

The officer selected is for the present to do no other work.

I shall be obliged if Sir Alfred Ewing will associate himself continuously with this work.

The order has the initial WSC in red ink, the date 8/11 and the counter-signature of Admiral Fisher which was an F in green ink.

Paranoia was working fine in the Admiralty.

Early Cold War Reconnaissance Flights

F-6D & F-6K
A total of 163 P-51Ks were completed as F-6K photo-reconnaissance aircraft. 126 Inglewood-built P-51Ds from blocks 20, 25, and 30 were converted after completion as F-6Ds. A few others were similarly converted near the end of the war. All of these photographic Mustangs carried two cameras in the rear fuselage, usually a K17 and a K22, one looking out almost horizontally off to the left and the other one down below looking out at at an oblique angle. Most F-6Ds and Ks carried a direction- finding receiver, serviced by a rotating loop antenna mounted just ahead of the dorsal fin. Most F-6Ds and Ks retained their armament.

In January 1940, the Luftwaffe tested the prototype Ju 86P with a longer wingspan, pressurized cabin, Jumo 207A1 turbocharged diesel engines, and a two-man crew. The Ju 86P could fly at heights of 12,000 m (39,000 ft) and higher on occasion, where it was felt to be safe from Allied fighters. The British Westland Welkin and Soviet Yakovlev Yak-9PD were developed specifically to counter this threat.
Satisfied with the trials of the new Ju 86P prototype, the Luftwaffe ordered that some 40 older-model bombers be converted to Ju 86 P-1 high-altitude bombers and Ju 86 P-2 photo reconnaissance aircraft. Those operated successfully for some years over Britain, the Soviet Union and North Africa. In August 1942, a modified Spitfire V shot one down over Egypt at some 14,500 m (49,000 ft); when two more were lost, Ju 86Ps were withdrawn from service in 1943.
Junkers developed the Ju 86R for the Luftwaffe, using larger wings and new engines capable of even higher altitudes – up to 16,000 m (52,500 ft) – but production was limited to prototypes.

In May 1945 British and US units overran a number of Luftwaffe intelligence centres in the heart of the German Reich. They recovered a remarkable imagery collection covering the western part of the Soviet Union that had been assembled by the Luftwaffe. For the next two decades this photography was a vital part of British and American targeting intelligence. They gathered together this huge photographic collection, under Operations Dick Tracy and GX, from a number of dispersed locations. These ranged from a barn near Reichenhall, through partially burned photography found in barges, with some of the best said to be from Hitler’s retreat at Berchtesgaden and yet more from Vienna and Oslo. Totalling over 1 million prints it required nearly 200 officers to manage the collection. In October 1945 the duplication effort moved from Pinetree in Essex to RAF Medmenham in Oxfordshire. Work on piecing the material together continued beyond 1949. More photography was purchased from two unidentified ‘gentlemen of Europe’ in 1958 and Dino Brugioni mentions the discovery, of hitherto unknown material, moved from Berlin to a Dresden basement at the end of the war, which was found in 1993. The combined collection provided a detailed photographic record of Soviet Russia as far as the Ural Mountains and had begun to be amassed well before the Nazi invasion in 1941. Significant updating and replacement of this imagery was not possible until the advent of satellite imagery after 1960. This collection was the basis of the continuous Anglo-American photographic intelligence exchanges throughout the Cold War but was not restricted to just Soviet-focused material.

The US airborne intelligence collection effort in Europe was huge. Between 1945 and 1990, USAFE flew around 10,000 flights in the Berlin Corridors and BCZ – an average of a flight every one and a half days, which dwarfed British and French efforts. USAFE also conducted ‘non-corridor’ ‘peripheral flights’, from Federal Germany, as far afield as the Baltic Sea in the north, along the IGB and Czech-German border and south to the Adriatic, the Mediterranean and Black and Caspian seas. It also managed early penetration overflights over Eastern Europe before the arrival of the U-2. This extensive programme was conducted in conjunction with the discreet, passive and active support of other governments, including Denmark, West Germany, Greece, Norway, Sweden, Turkey and others.

European operations not only involved USAFE, but also other USAF commands, the US Navy, US Army and CIA. Most programmes were highly compartmentalised; a considerable number were very short-term and often overlapped with each other. They frequently used the same, or very similar aircraft, operating from the same bases, using crews and missions often mounted against the same ‘targets’. These many operations were often interrelated and significantly impinged on Corridor and BCZ flights. The majority of the missions were launched from Wiesbaden and Rhein-Main (Frankfurt-am-Main International Airport) Air Bases. The Americans’ efforts to disguise many of these operations made them even more impenetrable to outside observers – as they were meant to be.

Early Post-Second World War Operations
In 1945, the Allies started a joint US–UK imagery collection programme over their respective occupation zones in Germany to update mapping, to help assess the needs of economic reconstruction and as a contingency against possible future military hostilities. Aware that post-war relations with the Soviets were going to be difficult, both were concerned that they lacked the necessary detailed targeting information about Europe that might be required in the event of a future global conflict.

In November 1945, the US 45 RS based at Fürth AB, near Nürnberg began to use its P-51D Mustangs and F-6Ks (the photographic reconnaissance version of the P-51 Mustang) to collect photographs over Germany. Details of these sorties are sparse, but by summer 1946 the squadron’s ‘Flight X’ had flown a small number of camera-equipped A-26 Invaders on occasional covert Corridor reconnaissance missions. Former USAF major Roger Rhodarmer, then a captain, and an experienced A-26 pilot, was sent to Germany to join 10 RG for photographic reconnaissance duties, of which he had no experience. Once there he was shown a modified A-26 that had a carefully concealed, forward-facing oblique K-18 camera with a 24in lens installed in the nose for Corridor flights. Most of the two units’ photographic reconnaissance tasks were not Corridor related, but involved flying between eighty and ninety hours a month on Project Birdseye, to photograph industrial and infrastructure ‘targets’ all over Europe at low level. The project was terminated in late 1946. In March 1947, 45 RS moved to Fürstenfeldbruck AB. It was not just the A-26s that flew such missions. In June 1946 a handful of camera-equipped RB-17s of 10 PCS based at Fürth AB started flying Project Casey Jones flights. This was a series of photo-survey sorties to update maps covering significant areas all over Europe.

In 1947, Detachment ‘A’ of 10 PCS took on an ELINT collection role, following serious incidents in the Austrian–Yugoslav border areas. On 9 August 1946 a USAAF C-47 Skytrain had departed Tulln Airfield in Austria bound for Rome, via Venice, on a routine scheduled courier flight. It encountered adverse weather and unwittingly strayed into Yugoslav airspace where it was intercepted and shot down by Yugoslavian Yak-3 fighters.

Fortunately all on board survived the subsequent crash-landing and were eventually released after being briefly interned. This sparked a series of sharp diplomatic exchanges between the US and Yugoslavian governments. Ten days later another C-47 was brought down in the same area by Yugoslav fighters. This time there were no survivors.

At HQ USAFE in Wiesbaden the question was – how could the Yugoslavs intercept the C-47s so effectively, especially in bad weather? The belief was that they possessed some form of radar fighter control capability, but hard evidence was lacking. To find the answer, two RB-17s were quickly fitted with intercept receivers and direction-finding antennae to equip them as ‘ferret’ or ELINT aircraft. On the first flight, along the Austrian–Yugoslav border, close to where the C-47s had been intercepted, transmissions from a familiar Second World War vintage German ‘Würzburg’ radar were detected, emanating from the site of a former German wartime radar school. The mission’s success encouraged USAFE to undertake further ‘ferret’ flights close to Soviet-occupied territory.


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.



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.