The Deceivers: Allied Military Deception in the Second World War

The Deceivers: Allied Military Deception in the Second World War

by Thaddeus Holt

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In World War II, the Allies employed unprecedented methods and practiced the most successful military deception ever seen, meticulously feeding misinformation to Axis intelligence to lead Axis commanders into erroneous action. Thaddeus Holt's elegantly written and comprehensive book is the first to tell the full story behind these operations. Exactly how the Allies engaged in strategic deception has remained secret for decades. Now, with the help of newly declassified material, Holt reveals this secret to the world in a riveting work of historical scholarship.

Once the Americans joined the war in 1941, they had much to learn from their British counterparts, who had been honing their deception skills for years. As the war progressed, the British took charge of misinformation efforts in the European theater, while the Americans focused on the Pacific. The Deceivers takes readers from the early British achievements in the Middle East and Europe at the beginning of the war to the massive Allied success of D-Day, American victory in the Pacific theater, and the war's culmination on the brink of an invasion of Japan.

Colonel John Bevan, who managed British deception operations from London, described the three essentials to strategic deception as good plans, double agents, and codebreaking, and The Deceivers covers each of these aspects in minute detail. Holt brings to life the little-known men, British and American, who ran Allied deception, such as Bevan, Dudley Clarke, Peter Fleming, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and Newman Smith. He tracks the development of deception techniques and tells the hitherto unknown story of double agent management and other deception through the American FBI and Joint Security Control.

Full of fascinating sources and astounding revelations, The Deceivers is an indispensable volume and an unparalleled contribution to World War II literature.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781439103883
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: 05/11/2010
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 1168
Sales rank: 1,155,244
File size: 6 MB

About the Author

Thaddeus Holt is a lawyer, focusing primarily on litigation and administrative law. He served as Deputy Under Secretary of the Army from 1965 to 1967. His articles and book reviews have appeared in MHQ, The New York Times, The Journal of Military History, Virginia Quarterly Review, and various anthologies. He lives in Alabama.

Read an Excerpt

The Deceivers

Allied Military Deception in the Second World War
By Thaddeus Holt


Copyright © 2004 Thaddeus Holt
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0743250427

Prologue, 1862-1940

June 1862. For two months Stonewall Jackson has marched and counter-marched his little Confederate army in a bewildering choreography up and down the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, striking where least expected and disappearing again, leaving four different Union commanders wondering what had hit them. Now he has slipped his army across the Blue Ridge to join Lee's main body for a surprise attack upon McClellan's host bearing down on Richmond. If the Yankees should suspect even for a moment that this is happening, the telegraph will flash the word to Washington and thence to McClellan. So they must be made to act on the belief that Jackson is headed down the Valley towards the Potomac in pursuit of retreating Federals.

To this end Jackson has directed his engineers to perform a new topographical survey of the Valley, as if he were planning a further campaign there. He has ordered rumors spread of an impending advance to the Potomac. He has sent cavalry to follow the enemy retreat, and the troopers themselves have no idea where their infantry is. His outpost lines and cavalry screen are airtight. His officers have been told nothing. His men have no notion what is afoot; they have been instructed to answer all questions with "I don't know," and have been forbidden even to ask the names of villages they pass through. He himself is riding ahead to Richmond incognito. And in a few days his men will pour yelling out of the woods against McClellan's right wing. "Always mystify, mislead, and surprise the enemy," Jackson said once to one of his generals. He is a master of that game.

Mystify, mislead, and surprise. In principle this is nothing new. Deception of one sort or another has been practiced in war from the dawn of time. Joshua overthrew the men of Ai by the ruse of a feigned retreat. "Warfare is the Tao of deception," wrote Sun Tzu, the Chinese sage of war, in the fourth century B.C. Thrasybulus of Miletus two hundred years before Sun Tzu, Leonidas and Themistocles in the Persian Wars, Belisarius nine centuries later, all supposedly tricked their enemies into thinking their forces were stronger than they really were. Feudal Japan knew the kagamusha, a man who pretended to be the warlord, dressed in his armor, to decoy the enemy away from the real commander. In 1704 Marlborough deceived all Europe into believing that his march from the Netherlands to Bavaria, leading up to the victory of Blenheim, was really aimed at Alsace. Frederick the Great before the battle of Hohenfriedberg in 1745, Napoleon in the campaign of Ulm in 1805, used carefully planned deceptions to disguise their movements. But just as Jackson's war is the first in which the railroad and the telegraph have enabled movement with unprecedented speed and instantaneous communication over long distances, so Jackson is the first to adjust his stratagems to modern technology. With instant communication, secrecy is more essential than ever before: so Jackson keeps newspaper correspondents out of his camp, and not only do his men never know where they are going (or, often, where they are); neither does his closest staff. A tight cavalry screen always masks his movements. Secret marches, often by the worst road available; systematic and industrious spreading of false rumors; sending seeming deserters across the lines primed with false information; feigned retreats -- he uses them all, with the sure touch of a master.

Fast forward now to 1900.

Colonel G. F. R. Henderson is a distinguished military historian and scholar, who since 1892 has been Professor of Military Art and History at the British Staff College, where, as The Times will say in his obituary a few years hence, "he exercised by his lectures and his personality an influence upon the younger generation of the officers of the British army for which it would be difficult to find a parallel nearer home than that of Moltke in Prussia." Henderson is the closest of all students of Stonewall Jackson. His two-volume biography of the Confederate genius, published in 1898, is (and a century later will still be) one of the masterpieces of Civil War studies. To research it he visited Virginia in the early 1880s and tramped over Jackson's battlefields, and then conducted an extensive correspondence with Jackson's surviving officers. In it he has been the first to emphasize and analyze Jackson's systematic mystifying and misleading of the enemy. The greatest general, says Henderson, is "he who compels his adversary to make the most mistakes," whose imagination can produce "stratagems which bring mistakes about;" and in this respect he compares Jackson to Wellington -- "Both were masters of ruse and stratagem" -- and contrasts him with Grant, who had "no mystery about his operations" and "no skill in deceiving his adversary."

When Field-Marshal Lord Roberts is sent out to retrieve the initial British disasters in the South African War, he brings Henderson with him as his chief of intelligence. Roberts's first task is to lift the siege of Kimberley, well behind the main Boer line. His basic plan for this involves a traditional feint. His cavalry will demonstrate conspicuously against the Boers' right; then the bulk of the force will slip away and swing around the Boer left flank and make for Kimberley. Henderson's job is to keep the Boers' attention focused on their right and prevent their catching on to Roberts's real plan till too late.

Henderson is overjoyed at this opportunity to try his own hand at the skill he so much admires in Jackson. As his assistant will record years later, "Henderson, always an ardent advocate for mystifying and misleading the enemy...reveled in the deceits he practised." He sends out fictitious orders in clear, and then cancels them in cipher. He circulates false orders directing concentration opposite the Boers' right. He gives "confidential" tips to people he knows will divulge them. He gives a London newspaper correspondent a particularly juicy piece of misinformation with a stern injunction to keep it to himself; it promptly appears in the London papers (which evokes a sharp warning from the War Office about the indiscretion of someone on the staff). His intelligence officers and agents continually reconnoiter the enemy's right. Information is sought about availability of water and good campsites along the route that Roberts does not intend to follow. Telegrams in an easily-broken cipher are allowed to fall into enemy hands. And in due course, with the Boers' attention thus focused on their right, Roberts's cavalry swings round their left, rides for Kimberley, and lifts the siege.

Riding with Roberts's cavalry is a thirty-eight-year-old officer named Edmund Allenby. He observes, and remembers.

Fast forward again now, to 1917.

To protect the Suez Canal against Germany's Turkish allies operating from Palestine, the British have advanced an army from British-occupied Egypt across the Sinai. With the failure of a British attack on Gaza in March, this force has bogged down at the borders of Palestine along the Gaza-Beersheba line. A second attack on Gaza in April fails too. In June the British government sends out that same Allenby, now a full general, to take over the command, with orders to mount an all-out effort to conquer Palestine.

Allenby decides to hit the Turkish left and roll their line up from Beersheba rather than making yet another direct attack on their right at Gaza. His intelligence (presided over by Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen, an exceptionally energetic and resourceful officer) is highly efficient, including decipherment of Turkish radio messages, aerial reconnaissance, and an effective spy network; from it Allenby knows that the Turks expect the main blow to fall at Gaza once again and are also concerned over a possible British landing on the Mediterranean coast in their rear. Harking back to Roberts and Henderson before Kimberley, he orders steps taken to reinforce both of these concerns. To emphasize a possible landing in the Turkish rear, British forces in Cyprus build new camps, the ports of Cyprus bustle with preparations, local dealers show interest in buying large quantities of supplies, wireless traffic is stepped up, the Royal Navy makes shows of activity north of Gaza. On the main front, extensive false information is planted in radio messages in a cipher whose key has been deliberately leaked to the Turks; rumors confirming the deception plan are spread; patrol and artillery activity reinforce the appearance of an attack at Gaza with a mere demonstration at Beersheba; shift of forces to the British right is conducted in slow stages only at night.

Most memorable is the famous "Haversack Ruse." Meinertzhagen himself rides out and allows the Turks to fire on him. He gallops away, pretending to be wounded, dropping a bloodstained haversack in his flight. When the Turks open it they find documents tending to confirm the deception plan, plus money and personal items. The documents are fakes; the other items were added to lend authenticity. The loss of valuable papers is reported in radio messages, patrols are sent out to search for the compromising haversack, a sandwich wrapped in a daily order dealing with its loss is left behind by a patrol near enemy lines for the Turks to find.

The Turks remain focused on their right. The Third Battle of Gaza opens on October 31 with the primary assault against their left. It is an unqualified victory for Allenby.

The Turks fall back and Allenby slowly advances into Palestine, taking Jerusalem in December and setting up a line running from north of Jerusalem to the Mediterranean. He has to send reinforcements to France to help stem Ludendorff's spring offensive and his front is relatively quiet for much of 1918. By September he is ready to attack again. This time his main thrust will be on the coastal plain on the Turkish right, so his goal is to make the Turks focus on the Jordan Valley on their left; moreover, this time he hopes to conceal from the enemy not merely the direction of his attack but the very fact that he means to make one.

To accomplish this, Allenby implements an even more elaborate deception than before. He unleashes Lawrence of Arabia and his Arabs in the Transjordan, attracting Turkish attention well to the left of their main line. Lawrence's Arabs spread the word throughout the Transjordan that the British are soon coming and will need to buy fodder and sheep. Allenby moves his units towards his left at night and they lie under cover during the day. In the area where the main attacking force will be concentrated, camps are built and occupied by skeleton units long before the scheduled date of the offensive, to accustom the Turks to the presence there of large forces with no aggressive intent. Vacated camps are occupied by limited-service troops who keep up a regular camp routine, and no less than fifteen thousand dummy wooden horses are set out in vacated cavalry camps for the benefit of enemy aerial reconnaissance. Mules dragging wooden sledges and tree limbs raise huge dust clouds in areas where no real activity is taking place. At key river crossings, bridges are repeatedly built and dismantled so that the actual assault crossing will seem to be just another training session. Every day two battalions march to the Jordan Valley; they go back in trucks every night, and the same two battalions march to the Jordan again the next day. Rumors are launched that Allenby's headquarters will be shifted to Jerusalem opposite the Turkish left; billets are marked and a hotel is requisitioned; the doors of its rooms are labeled with the names of headquarters departments and special telephone lines are conspicuously installed.

The net result is a four-to-one British superiority in the crucial sector. At dawn September 19, Allenby launches the Battle of Megiddo. He smashes through the Turkish right. His cavalry pours through the gap and swings east, and the Turkish army is trapped. Allenby drives on to Damascus and Aleppo, and by the end of October Turkey is out of the war.

Allenby has taken Henderson one step further, by institutionalizing and sytematizing deception on the basis of an orderly assessment of the situation and integrating it with his operational planning. "Deceptions which for ordinary generals were just witty hors d'oeuvres before battle, had become for Allenby a main point of strategy," Lawrence will write in later years. In effect, Allenby has updated the methods of Stonewall Jackson as carried forward by Henderson, applying to them the elaborate staff procedures of the twentieth century.

Attached to Allenby's staff, and subsequently on the staff of one of his corps, is a thirty-five-year-old officer named Archibald Wavell. He observes, and remembers.

Fast forward once more, to November of 1940.

General Sir Archibald Wavell is now British Commander-in-Chief, Middle East, with headquarters in Cairo. He commands a vast theater extending from Iran on the east to Libya on the west, and south to East Africa. Since the fall of France in June, Britain has stood alone. The Blitz is at its height, and London writhes under the bombs of the Luftwaffe; the RAF has won the Battle of Britain, but nobody can be sure that Hitler has given up the thought of invasion. Only Wavell is in direct contact with Axis forces on the ground and in a position to give the British people a tangible victory. His immediate adversary is not Germany but Italy, which Mussolini brought into the war shortly before France collapsed. An Italian army under Marshal Rodolfo Graziani, based in the Italian colony of Libya, on the western border of Egypt, has established itself at Sidi Barrani on Egyptian territory, while forces operating from Italian East Africa under the Duke of Aosta have occupied British Somaliland. Wavell plans to attack Graziani first, in early December, followed by an offensive in East Africa. In Allenby style, his plan of attack on Graziani includes deception of the enemy, by spreading word through known Axis sources of information in Cairo (including the Japanese consulate) that his force is being weakened owing to the detachment of troops to be sent to Greece to aid in repelling the invasion of Greece which Mussolini launched in October; by taking administrative measures and broadcasting dummy radio traffic that tend to confirm a sizable withdrawal from his front; and by dropping hints to the press that maneuvers and training exercises are going on in the desert. To show enemy agents that he has nothing afoot, on the eve of the attack he ostentatiously attends the afternoon races with Lady Wavell and their daughters, and that evening he entertains his senior officers at a party, looking carefree and relaxed.

As he presides over the planning and implementation of this process, Wavell decides that Allenby's approach should be taken one ultimate further step. Not only should deception be institutionalized, but it should be entrusted to a permanent specialized staff element dedicated solely to that function. On November 13 he advises London by personal signal that he intends to form "a special section of Intelligence for Deception of the enemy," and requests that there be assigned to that responsibility an officer, now a lieutenant-colonel, who had served under him in Palestine in the 1930s, and in whom he had, in his own words, "recognized an original, unorthodox outlook on soldiering," coupled with "originality, ingenuity, and [a] somewhat impish sense of humor."

On December 19 that officer reports to Wavell for duty. In an absolutely true sense the fourth-generation heir of Stonewall Jackson in the direct line, he will prove to be not merely a worthy successor to Jackson but the master of the game, the man who perfects the art of military deception in its modern form and is ultimately responsible for the greatest military deceptions in history. His name is Dudley Clarke.

Copyright © 2004 by Thaddeus Holt


Excerpted from The Deceivers by Thaddeus Holt Copyright © 2004 by Thaddeus Holt. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents



List of Abbreviations

Prologue, 1862-1940

1 The Master of the Game

2 The Art of Deception

3 The Customers

4 Most Secret Sources and Special Means

5 London Control

6 The Turning of the Tide

7 Enter the Yanks

8 Hustling the East (I)

9 The Soft Underbelly

10 Hustling the East (II)

11 American Deception Grows Up

12 Bodyguard

13 Quicksilver

14 Mediterranean Finale

15 Last Act in Europe

16 Hustling the East (III)

17 Bluebird

18 Last Round in Asia



I Allied Deception Operations

II Special Means Channels

III The Phantom Armies

IV Maps




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