22nd February 1945. Camouflage.

In 1941, Intelligence Officer, Colonel Dudley Clarke was arrested in Madrid dressed as a woman under mysterious circumstances, which have never been explained.(1)

Today in 1945 a citation in the London Gazette said: ‘The planning and implementation of deception measures which have played a major part in the successes achieved in this theatre have been due in large measure to the originality of thought, imagination and initiative shown by this officer.

The citation related the Colonel Dudley Clarke’s (later Brigadier) work in ‘A’ Force and his award of being ‘Mentioned in Despatches’ on 19th October 1944.

It was in 1940 that General Wavell called Clarke to Cairo where he was put in charge of strategic deception and where he was to set up in 1941, Advanced HQ ‘A’ Force, to plan operations.

Under Wavell, Clarke developed techniques to confuse the Axis Powers, regarding Montgomery’s proposed main thrust at El Alamein.

By 1942 British forces were relatively weak in the Middle-East and ‘A’ Force devised Operation Cascade. an Allied deception of creating a false order of battle, which aim was to keep the Axis guessing as to Allied strength in the Western Desert campaign.

Camouflage in the Desert War.

Camouflage in the Desert War.

The Operation was valuable in the experience it gave for later Operations, so much that documents later captured at Alamein later revealed that the Axis had initially over-estimated our armoured and infantry strength by as much as 50%.

The later Operation Bertram was another deception planned by Clarke to deceive Rommel as to the timing of the Allied attack at El Alamein. In fact it deceived Rommel so much, that he was not in the area when the attack took place.

As always the success of Bertram depended on the skills of many largely unknown heroes including, Geoffrey Barkas, a British film maker who was Camouflage Director of British Middle East Command.

Another to play a pivotal role, was the music-hall illusionist, Jasper Maskelyne, who contrived dummy convoys, pipelines and roadways to mislead the Axis regarding our deployment of resources.

After the Battle of Alamein, Churchill described the contribution of camouflage in Bartram, in the Commons, on 11th November 1942: ‘I must say one word…surprise and strategy by a marvellous system of camouflage, complete factual surprise was achieved in the desert’.(3)

Post war there was little official confirmation of the deception and intelligence methods used by the Allies, and it wasn’t until the 1970s that hitherto secret information was released, which brought most of it into the public domain.

(1) The Independent, Thursday 23.5.2013. The Cross-Dressing Spy. Article based on official papers revealed on that date.

(2) Churchill’s Speech as recorded in Hansard, 11th November 1942.

Ref; wikipedia.org/operation_cascade and operation_bertram.

Ref: The Guardian.com. Phantom Army, Peter Forbes, Friday 21.12.2012. reviewing book by Rick Stroud’s Phantom Army of Alamein.


Clarke was the brother of TEB ‘Tibby’ Clarke the film writer.




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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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