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.
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.
In life success largely depends on ‘LADY LUCK’ and the ability to take advantage of HER. At times a swaggering and conceited personality helps, none more so than with the later Field Marshall Viscount Montgomery of Alamein.
On 13th August 1942 ‘Monty’ had taken command of the 8th Army, after the death of General ‘Strafer’ Gott, in a transport aircraft crash, whilst ‘hitching’ a lift from Libya to Cairo. He was en-route to take command of the 8th Army, but fate decided otherwise as his plane was attacked on take-off.(1)
See Addendum for what lies behind this terse account-this foot-note of warfare.
Churchill was in Cairo on 4th August 1942, in the last days of his visit to units to appraise ‘morale and vigour’ of the Generals and by the evening of the 7th he decided to replace Ritchie by Gott to take charge of the 8th Army also. He replaced Commander-in-Chief, Auchinleck with Alexander, who had been poached from Eisenhower’s Torch team. At the time however we were winning the First Battle of Alamein under Auchinleck, which history tends to ignore; halos were reserved for Montgomery’s later victory.
Montgomery was lucky to have Enigma Intelligence as to the enemy’s movements; to have the brilliant camouflage expertise of Geoffrey Barkas, and the brains of Edgar Trevor Williams, whose death Today in 1995 reminds us of one of the unsung heroes of El Alamein, for it was Edgar ‘Bill’ Trevor Williams who masterminded Montgomery’s Intelligence system in the 21 Army Group.
Monty later recalled :’I discovered there a major in the Intelligence Brigade in the King’s Dragoon Guards by name Williams, an Oxford Don with a brilliant brain which after a conversation gave me an idea which played a large part in winning the Battle of El Alamein’.
Williams had noted that Rommel deployed his infantry and paratroops between and sometimes behind the Italians, tactics known as ‘corseting’. Williams’ idea was to separate the two as we could smash the Italian front without difficulty-a strategy known as ‘crumbling’, thus luring the Germans out of their original positions.
Churchill was a great arm-chair strategist, much to the annoyance of the Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS), Alanbrooke, and despite saying he left commanders a free reign, dispatched a note to The ‘Auk’, that he would withdraw 15 Air Squadrons to help the Russians, unless he went on the offensive, which in the event was left to Monty and victory at Alamein.
The brilliance of film-maker, Geoffrey Barkas as Camouflage Director, of British Middle-East Command, was notable in Operation Bertram which contributed to ultimate success in the desert. Churchill described the contribution of camouflage in Bertram: ‘I must say a word…surprise and strategy by a marvellous system of camouflage… was achieved in the desert’.(2)
(1) Lt-General William Henry Ewart Gott 13.8.1897-7.8.1942.
(2) Report 11.11.1942.
Gott died after the plane had been shot down whilst taking off for Cairo and the remarkable bravery of the Sgt. Pilot ‘Hugh ‘Jimmy’ James, the sole survivor, whose valiant attempt to save the plane whilst seriously injured himself lies in the ‘Annals of the Brave’ for all time. James was 19 years old; REPEAT 19 YEARS OF AGE. We live in an age when Sainsburys have a notice requiring proof of age to buy alcohol: are you 25? It’s what we fought for!!
Ref: Barkas and his wife wrote Camouflage Story (From Aintree to Alamein).
Pic: wikipedia of Monty.
Ref: David Fraser: Alanbrooke, Bloomsbury Pub. 2011 e-book.
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