Operation Cockade

This was the Allied overall designation for diversionary schemes to pin down German forces in the west and so prevent their movement to the Italian and/or Eastern Fronts, especially the latter where the Germans were in dire need of reinforcement against the full flood of Soviet offensives (September/5 November 1943).

The plan involved suggestions of Allied landings at Boulogne on the southern side of the English Channel and in Brittany in the north-west of German-occupied France. ‘Cockade’ took the form of a series of three deception operations (‘Starkey’, ‘Wadham’ and ‘Tindall’), and the Allies also hoped to use the plan to draw the German air force into a major air battles with the Royal Air Force and the US 8th Army Air Force as a means of providing the Allies air superiority over western Europe.

‘Starkey’ was to be undertaken early in September, ‘Tindall’ in the middle of the month, and ‘Wadham’ late in the month.

In March 1943 Lieutenant General F. E. Morgan was appointed Chief-of-Staff to the Supreme Allied Commander (later General Dwight D. Eisenhower) and tasked with operational planning for the assault on and subsequent operations in North-West Europe. Morgan’s instructions from the Allied high command, received in April, referred to ‘an elaborate camouflage and deception’ with the dual aims of keeping German forces in the west and drawing the Luftwaffe into a major air battle.

Deception strategy fell to the London Controlling Section led Colonel John Bevan, who convinced Morgan of the desirability of establishing a specialist deception section on his staff. COSSAC’s current organisation was unable to accommodate it, so the Ops (B) department was created within the operations division. The planned deception also required the realistic suggestion of at least one amphibious landing on the French coast. The real cross-channel invasion had already been postponed until 1944 and the main Allied push that year was toward southern Europe.

Allied military deception at that time was based on the fabrication of a scenario, or 'story', plausible enough for the Germans would accept. For 1943 Ops (B) and the LCS created the ‘Tindall’, ‘Starkey’ and ‘Wadham’ concepts that were all embodied in ‘Cockade’. Submitted for approval by the Combined Chiefs-of-Staff Committee on 3 June, ‘Cockade’ was approved on 23 June.

‘Cockade’ began with ‘Tindall’, a threat against Norway by formations based in Scotland. This invasion was then to be cancelled to facilitate a dual amphibious attack on France as ‘Starkey’ and ‘Wadham’ beginning early in September. The assault on France would be similarly called off and ‘Tindall’ reinstated until the winter.

The deceptions were to be conveyed to the Germans by means of double agents, decoy signals, fake troop concentrations, commando raids, and increased reconnaissance and bombing missions into the areas of Boulogne, Brest and Norway.

‘Tindall’ was designed to suggest a British and US invasion of Norway with the object of taking Stavanger and its airfield. Stavanger and its airfield were critical to the ‘story’, for once again the Allies were planning a deception operation beyond the range of tactical air support and therefore faced the requirement to increase the plan’s basic plausibility.

The five divisions that were to be used in the sham invasion were real divisions located in Scotland, and the Allies also had sufficient numbers of aircraft and ships in Scotland to make the deception plan plausible.

The Allies hoped ‘Tindall’ would induce the Germans to retain the 12 divisions they had assigned to Norway.

‘Starkey’ involved a suggested British and Canadian amphibious invasion of the Boulogne area of northern France. For the USA, the original plan involved 2,300 heavy bomber, 400 medium bomber and 3,700 fighter sorties against targets near Boulogne. This was done with the goal of convincing the Germans that the British and Canadian invasion preparations were authentic, and the British were to provide another 3,000 heavy bomber sorties into the Boulogne area. ‘Starkey’ was to culminate with a large feint involving an amphibious force, consisting of 30 ships, operating off the Boulogne coast, hoping to lure the Luftwaffe into battle.

The ‘Starkey’ plan met with problems right from the start. Major General Ira C. Eaker, commander of the US 8th AAF, criticised the plan by saying that it would force the Americans to abandon their strategic bombing offensive. In a letter to Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF), Eaker said ‘Starkey’ called for 2,300 heavy bomber sorties over 14 days at a time ‘when the command had only flown 5,356 combat sorties in the past 8 months’. Although Eaker convinced SHAEF to lower the US commitment to just 300 heavy bomber sorties, he nonetheless offered to provide as many bomber sorties as possible from new units undergoing training. By the time the undertaking had been completed, the 8th AAF had flown 1,841 bomber sorties.

‘Starkey’ also met with other problems. The headquarters of Brigadier General Robert C. Candee’s US VIII Air Support Command noted that the planners of ‘Starkey’ had difficulty agreeing on the rules of engagement for targets in occupied France. The British and Americans unknowingly duplicated efforts on several occasions by flying identical missions within a few days of each other.

Another service which did not fully endorse ‘Starkey’ was the Royal Navy: the planners wished to use two battleships in the amphibious force to act as bait for the German air force, but the service was not willing to risk its capital ships in such a manner.

Because of opposition of these types, the ‘Starkey’ planners had to make several amendments to their plan.

‘Wadham’ was designed to persuade the Germans that the Americans intended to make their major assault landing in the area of Brest, the major port on the western tip of the Breton peninsula. The hoax involved minimal real forces, and had a notional amphibious group sailing directly from the USA and another from the UK, with 10 divisions in all, to land near Brest. The premise was that the Americans were planning to land at Brest in north-western France following the successful invasion at Boulogne in north-eastern France.

Although the air commitment for this plan was considerably less than that for ‘Starkey’, Eaker also criticised ‘Wadham’ by claiming that the combined bomber offensive would be more effective than ‘Wadham’ in the primary task of degrading the German air capability in North-West Europe. Other than aircraft, the Americans had to provide only 75 dummy landing craft to aid in the deception effort.

The primary weakness in the concept of ‘Wadham’ was that the supposed US assault was directed at a target area beyond the operational radius of Allied tactical air support.

Before the operation the Army Operations Branch called Wadham a ‘very weak plan’ but ‘essential as a part of Cockade to reinforce Starkey’.

The notional order of battle for ‘Wadham’ included Task Force ‘A’ (headquarters of the V Corps with the 5th, 29th and 46th Divisions, 3rd Armored Division and 101st Airborne Division), and Task Force ‘B’ (headquarters of the VII Corps with the 2nd, 4th, 8th and 31st Divisions, 4th Armored Division and 76th Artillery Brigade).

In overall terms ‘Cockade’ failed to achieve its objectives, mostly because the German leadership believed that the Allies would not attempt to invade western Europe in 1943, and ‘Cockade’ did not trigger the air battle the Allies desired.

The main exception to the German senior commanders in this matter was Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt, the Oberbefelhshaber ‘West’, who believed the Allies were planning to invade France in the Boulogne area and was therefore very unhappy with the fact that the high command removed 10 divisions from France.

The invasion concepts, especially those of ‘Starkey’ and ‘Wadham’, were basically implausible, however, and therefore were not believed, and as a result there were no significant German reactions to these deception operations. The most notable of these refusals to react were the lack of air reconnaissance and of naval or air response to the ‘Starkey’ amphibious feint, and moreover the fact that the Germans moved 10 divisions out of northern France to other theatres confirmed that ‘Starkey’ and ‘Wadham’ had failed. In Norway, the Germans did retain the 12 divisions, suggesting that the Germans believed this to be a higher-threat region.

Besides being implausible, ‘Cockade’ also failed as a result of the fact that the Allies did not make the supposed threat truly credible. The British would not risk their battleships and the USA was unwilling to divert resources from the strategic bombing offensive. ‘Cockade’ did have one success, however, for the Germans believed the story that the Allies had 51 divisions in the British Isles, when there were in fact only 17, and this became a significant factor for deception operations in 1944.