GREAT BRITAIN'S DECEPTION CAMPAIGN AGAINST THE GERMAN INVADER DURING WORLD WAR II
Primary source material: Deception in World War II by Charles Cruickshank
Churchill during the Battle of Britain
Introduction: After the fall of France in the summer of 1940, Great Britain was faced with the possibility of a German invasion. While most of the fighting was done in the skys over Britain, a ground deception program under the Command of Colonel John Turner helped to contribute to to Britain's eventual victory in the Battle of Britain.
During World War I Great Britain first experimented with the use of dummy airfields and flare paths.
Purpose: The phony installations had a duel purpose of attracting German strafing and bombing raids and consequently diverting the enemy airplanes away from the real Allied airfields. The bogus installations also exaggerated the number of operational airfields and thus deceived the enemy of Allied military strength in the sector.
Analysis: Since early airfields often composed of little more than a dirt runway and a few barns as hangars and operational facilities, the costs of creating simulated airfields was limited. However, the technological limitations of early aircraft limited its offensive role. Aircraft from the First World War could not yet carry the large and destructive bombloads typical of bombers from the Second World War. In addition to
enemy airplanes in the sky, the primary role of aircraft from the First World War was reconnaissance. Due to the primitive nature of aircraft First World War, the significance of phony air installations was not fully realized.
Great Britain's Air Ministry, in anticipation of war with Germany, hold a conference to discuss plans to build dummy aerodromes for the Royal Air Force(RAF).
Conference: Both daytime and nighttime dummy airfields were discussed. Fighter Command, represented by Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding opposed the idea of building fake aerodromes until Fighter Command had all the real aerodromes it needed. Coastal Command's Air Marshal Sir Frederick Bowhill liked the idea of building the night aerodromes, but felt the day version would prove useless. Bowhill believed that German intelligence knew exactly where the large permanent air bases were and therefore the daylight dummies would be wasteful. Bomber Command's Air Vice Marshal Douglas Evill supported the plan to build nighttime dummies of all aerodromes including both primary(large permanent airfields) and the secondary satellite airfields. He also supported building day dummies of all satellite stations. The differences of opinion between the military commanders concerning the phony airfield deception plan reflected each services confidence in deception as a useful tool in the air war in Europe.
Problems: To protect the real airfields, dummies would have to be constructed in nearby sparsely populated areas. Enemy bombers in route to their military targets would drop their bombs on a false target, away from the real airfield as well as the citizenry. However, the costs of constructing the phony air installations deterred some supporters.
Costs: Building large phony airfields required resources and men which the government and military leaders were unprepared to give up. Men and material would have to be sacrificed in order to continue the deception. Day dummies of large permanent airstations by their nature required more resources than their nighttime counterparts in order to mislead the enemy. Imitation hangars, planes, administrative buildings, and runways would all have to be built in order to to adequately simulate the real airstation. At a time when Britain's air force paled in comparison to the German Luftwaffe, it is understandable that some leaders of the Air Ministry would want to build substance before shadow.
Decision June 1939: RAF leaders decide to construct night dummies of all aerodromes and their satellites, and daylight dummies of all satellite airstations. The dummy airfields would be manned by real and fake servicemen. They would include imitation huts, tents, buildings, and vehicles. They were to be located away from populous districts.
The Air Ministry decides to postpone the construction of all false aerodromes until essential permanent air stations are built. Men and material could not be spared. Deception would be limited to dummy flare paths and fake lighting-effects to protect the permanent air stations. The Ministry names Colonel Sir John Turner head of the aerodrome deception program known as Colonel Turner's Department in order to disguise its function. This move succeeded in legitimizing the importance of the air deception campaign and uniting the three Air Commands(Fighter, Bomber, and Coastal) under a single policy of deception.
Germany invades Poland.
Great Britain and
declare war on Germany.
The first phony airplanes are constructed by the British cinema industry for the British deception campaign.
Phoney airplane prior to assembly
Phoney airplane after assembly
Flat Dummy Aircraft
Phony aircraft: The air decoys had to be cheap, mobile, easy to assemble and lifelike as viewed from the air. After receiving high cost estimates(2,000 lbs) from the aircraft industry, Colonel Turner turned to the British movie industry. The movie industry, which makes its living by constructing cheap imitations of real places and objects proved successful at building the planes for a quarter of the price estimated by the aircraft industry. Outdated and unfixable planes also proved successful decoys and thus sustained a useful purpose beyond there intended lifespans. In addition to their role as decoy, Phony aircraft were also used to deceive the enemy into believing that a fighter build up was occurring in preparation for an invasion. During Operation Tindall, the deceptive threat against Norway in 1943, airfields in Scotland were filled with old and simulated airplanes falsely disclosing to the enemy that a military build up in the region had occurred.
First night dummy landing strips are constructed for the RAF.
Analysis: Use of obsolete paraffin flares which could not be switched off when friendly RAF planes approached proved too dangerous to British flyers and had to be dismantled until electrically-lit dummies could be constructed. These early attempts at constructing phony airstrips notified Turner's Deception Department and the RAF of the potential problems to friendly fighters posed by constructing dummy air installations. This knowledge would prove valuable during the Battle of Britain the following year. However, fear of deceiving friendly fighters would continue to cause some leaders in the Air Ministry to discourage the construction and proper use of the phony airfields.
Britain constructs first 'K-site'.
K-sites: Dummy airstations used for daytime deception. Major problem was the high cost to construct convincing imitations. The K-sites required up to 24 servicemen to maintain. Real hedges trimmed to look like fake hedges which normally camouflage air stations were also provided. The stations housed old, obsolete and phony aircraft. By November 1940 there were 60 dummy aerodromes in Britain.
Success rate: By mid 1940 day dummies had endured only 13 airstrikes while the aerodromes they were constructed to protect had suffered twice that many. A German map retrieved from a shot down bomber in December of 1940 revealed that only 3 K-sites were still believed to be genuine by the Luftwaffe.
Analysis: However, by the end of 1940 they no longer served a useful purpose. The Battle of Britain was being won and the invasion of Britain, Operation Sealion, had been postponed. The men and material utilized by the 57 K-sites known to German pilots were now obsolete. The daylight dummy sites required more resources, materials and men in order to deceive the enemy than their nighttime counterparts. Fake planes and hangars had to be built and the runways had to be maintained on daylight installations. Daylight dummy installations also proved easier to discover as fraudulent by enemy aircraft than night dummies. However, the K-site proved successful because the K-sites did attract some German bombers away from their intended targets, saving both lives and resources.
Adolf Hitler in Paris (NA)
Germany invades France and captures it in June 1940.
Britain constructs its first 'Q site'.
Q-site: An electrically lit dummy airstation for nighttime deception. Q-sites required only two servicemen to adequately run the airstation. Flare paths utilized lights to indicate fictitious obstructions. Automobile lamps simulated aircraft lights and special signals were broadcast to ward off friendly flyers. The lights were controlled from a nearby underground shelter which communicated with the parent station a few miles away. Headlamps suspended on wires and carriages were used to simulate moving aircraft.
Success: By the end of 1941, there were approximately 100 Q-sites and they had received over 350 enemy airstrikes. During the period of June 1940 to October 1940, the dummy aerodromes absorbed twice as many attacks as the parent stations they were protecting.
Analysis: The Q-sites required less men and material to maintain than the K-sites. Unlike the K-site, detailed buildings and planes were not required for the Q-site to successfully deceive the German bomber. At the same time, Q-sites endured twice the number of bombing raids as their parent stations. The Q-sites were a cheap addition to the defense of Britain and proved immensely successful at misleading enemy bombers.
Colonel Turner's Department orders a "fake fleet" constructed.
Part of the "Fake Fleet" (NA)
Fake Fleet: A fake fleet including four destroyers constructed out of paper, string, and canvas were created to attract German Bombers into areas heavily protected by RAF fighters. The obvious problem was where to put the fleet. No port city wanted the ships. The ships required moorings alongside the docks. This meant that stray bombs not only might damage the docks but the city itself. Port city political and military leaders viewed the ships as a hazard, attracting enemy bombers to areas they would not have attacked otherwise. Finally, docking the fake fleet in a port would crowd the other ships and make them easier targets for German dive bombers.
Analysis: The fake fleet proved bad for the morale of the citizenry. Part of the success of the phony aerodromes and Starfish sites had been location. Not only were they built away from the true military targets but they were also built away from the cities and towns. In his zeal to deceive the German invader, Colonel Turner failed to follow the rule of locating potential bombing targets away from populated areas. The fake fleet proved overall to be a failure.
Battle of Britain
officially begins with a massive assault by German Fighters and Bombers on the English coastline and London.
Dummy factories are built. They successfully attracted German bombers away from the real factories, however, due to their high costs only four were ever constructed.
Fake fires, 'QF' or Starfish sites are first used to attract enemy bombers.
QF: A QF was a permanent area where fires would be lit during air strikes. Starfish sites were located in sparsely populated areas far enough away from strategic targets to prevent damage to them and yet close enough to fool German bombers into believing their intended targets were located there. These controlled fires were set after the first wave of bombers and before the second wave would arrive. Their purpose was to deceive the second wave of bombers into believing the fires were set by the first waves bombs. Believing the fires marked the target, the 2nd wave would drop their bombs on the QF and consequently waste them. Success: The QF sites were extremely successful and attracted numerous enemy bombers. By 1943 over 235 Starfish sites were in existence. Besides drawing enemy bombers away from military installations, the Starfish sites also took the brunt of numerous bombing raids away from the cities. The sites saved lives and increased the morale of both citizenry and soldiers.
The Battle of Britain officially ends as German fighters and bombers are transfered to the Russian border in preparation for Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of Russia.
Due to Allied air supeiority and a consequent decrease in German bomber attacks as well as a decreasing effectiveness(most had been discovered by the enemy) of the daytime dummy air stations, most daytime airstations are closed down.
Last K-site is closed.
Conclusion: K-sites, Q-sites, Starfish, phoney airplanes and factories deceived German flyers into unloading their bomb payloads on false targets. The success of the British deception program during the Battle of Britain contributed to Britain's victory in the skys and fostered Hitler's postponement of Operation Sealion, the invasion of Great Britain.