Operation Braddock II

This was an Allied unrealised programme by the Special Operations Executive and Office of Strategic Services to drop small fused incendiary devices to European workers for use in sabotage operations (1944/45).

The plan was to scatter about three million such incendiary packages over Germany and Italy to be located, concealed and used by foreign workers and anti-Nazi elements for sabotage purposes. SOE reasoned if only 1% of the delivered packages was used by arsonist saboteurs, it would result in 30,000 fires across Germany.

The incendiary package comprised a small transparent celluloid case filled with a combustible gel ignited by crushing an integral time-pencil. Half an hour later the device would burst into flames and burn for around four minutes at a temperature of 3,630° F (2000° C). The first packages were filled with a petrol-based gel but this was found to be unreliable and to possess only a short shelf life. An estimated 20% to 30% of these were expected to fail, so a white spirit gel was substituted. The package was taped to a red card measuring 6 by 4 in (150 by 100 mm), on which basic operating instructions were printed in 11 languages. A folded instruction leaflet in a cellophane pouch was attached to the front of the package. In the same 11 languages and illustrated with six diagrams, the leaflet gave step-by-step directions for using the incendiary and suggested placing it against wood shavings, straw, curtains or easily ignited material.

It was November 1943 before the desired three million incendiaries had been manufactured, and during this time there had been great debate as to how and when the devices should be disseminated. Fifty Avro Lancaster heavy bombers were required to drop 500,000 units, and the RAF showed little enthusiasm for the project, whose objects would be better served, the service believed, by the dropping of conventional incendiary bombs. The timing of the operation was another issue. For maximum effect SOE sought large-scale dissemination before the start of ‘Overlord’, and felt that the north-western part of Germany to be the best target as it contained a high concentration of foreign workers and was already under steady attack by RAF Bomber Command, whose efforts would provide good cover for the arsonists to plant their incendiaries.

High-level discussion concerning when the operation should be launched continued for months until finally in May 1944 the Joint Intelligence Committee agreed that ‘Braddock II’ should be undertaken as soon as possible after the start of ‘Overlord’ and should be a matter decided by General Dwight D. Eisenhower as Supreme Allied Commander, whose Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces showed little interest.

Even so, the threat of ‘Braddock II’ appears to have caused the German security forces much difficulty. The possibility that four or five million small but potent time-fused incendiaries might be dropped in areas of Germany in which heavy concentrations of foreign workers were to be found weighed heavily on German minds. Intelligence reports, rumours from neutral countries, and other such sources suggested that German police units had devoted considerable time to monitoring foreign workers and tracking down arsonists responsible for a rash of suspicious fires in several parts of Germany during the spring of 1945.