Operation Graffham

This was an Allied military deception undertaking within the ‘Bodyguard’ scheme designed to disguise the imminent Allied invasion of Normandy (February/June 1944).

As such, ‘Graffham’ was created to provide political support for the visual and wireless deception of ‘Fortitude North’ to heighten German fears of an Allied descent on Scandinavia by creating a fictional threat to Norway during the summer of 1944.

The planning of ‘Graffham’ started in February 1944 and, in contrast to all the other components of ‘Bodyguard’ was of wholly British concept and execution. The object of ‘Graffham’ was to convince German intelligence that the Allies were actively building political ties with Sweden in preparation for an invasion of German-occupied Norway. The operation involved meetings between British and Swedish officials, as well as the purchase of Norwegian securities and the use of double agents to spread rumours. Sweden maintained its neutrality from the start of World War II, and the British hoped that if the Swedish government could be convinced of the reality of Allied plan for an invasion of Norway this would inevitably make its way to German intelligence as Sweden maintained diplomatic and economic tires with Germany.

In overall terms, however, the effect of ‘Graffham’ was at best minimal. The Swedish government agreed to few of the concessions requested during the meetings, and few senior Swedish officials were convinced that the Allies would invade Norway.

‘Bodyguard’ was a broad strategic deception planned and executed in order to sow confusion in the German high command about to Allied intentions in the period immediately preceding the ‘Overlord’ landings in Normandy. One of ‘Bodyguard’ deception’s key elements was ‘Fortitude North’ to persuade the Germans of the reality of an Allied threat against Norway. ‘Fortitude North’ played on the German belief, and particularly the obsession of Adolf Hitler, that Norway was a key objective for the Allies: though Prime Minister Winston Churchill tried on several occasions to promote Norway as a realistic strategic target, this objective was never accepted by the British military or by the Americans.

The Allies had earlier undertaken several deception operations (such as ‘Hardboiled’ in 1942 and ‘ Cockade’ in 1943) against Norway, and thus Colonel John Bevan, head of the London Controlling Section responsible for the creation and execution of ‘Bodyguard’, was concerned that the standard type of visual and radio deception efforts would not in themselves be adequate to create a credible threat. Bevan therefore suggested the addition of a political deception with the aim of convincing the Swedish government that the Allies intended to invade Norway. Bevan’s thinking was posited on the belief that any Swedish belief in an imminent threat to Norway would percolate through Sweden’s ties with Germany to reach German intelligence.

‘Graffham’ was envisaged as an extension of the existing pressure which the Allies were exerting on Sweden to end its neutrality in favour of the Allies by, for example, ending its export to Germany of high-quality ball bearings, which were an important element in a host of military equipments. Through an increase of this pressure with additional but false requests, Bevan hoped to increase the German fear that Sweden was about to join the Allied powers.

On 3 February 1944, the LCS proposed a plan ‘to induce the enemy to believe that we are enlisting the help of Sweden in connection with the British and Russian contemplated operations against northern Norway in the Spring of this year’. The LCS received approval to proceed with ‘Graffham’ one week later as a wholly British effort. On the basis of recommendations by the British chiefs-of-staff, the LCS developed seven requests to be presented to the Swedish government: first, access to Swedish airspace for the passage of Allied aircraft, including permission for emergency landings; second, access to repair facilities at Swedish airfields for up to 48 hours; third, permission for reconnaissance flights within Swedish airspace; fourth, collaboration between British and Swedish transport experts to organise transport of equipment across Sweden following a German withdrawal to the south; fifth, permission for Colonel H. V. Thornton, the former military attaché to Sweden, to meet Swedish officials; sixth, agreement to the purchase of Norwegian securities by the British government; and seventh, the generation of false radio traffic between the two countries and the option for Norwegian exiles to move from the UK to Sweden.

Following further discussions, the British decided to drop the requests for landing rights at Swedish airfields and that related to Norwegian exiles. The LCS then drafted a plan to present the requests in progressive stages rather than as a single package using a number of emissaries to build relations with the Swedish government and present the proposals at different times.

‘Graffham’ began in March 1944, and an essential initial step was the recall of Sir Victor Mallet, the British ambassador to Sweden, to be briefed. On 25 March Wulf Schmidt, a double agent codenamed ‘Tate’, informed his handlers that Mallet was in the UK to receive instructions and would be returning to Sweden for significant talks. Mallet traveled to Stockholm on 4 April and met Erik Boheman, the Swedish foreign secretary, to whom he presented the proposals for British reconnaissance flights and transport collaboration. The Swedish government rejected the former but accepted the latter. Unofficially, however, Boheman told Mallet that Sweden warplanes would not pursue Allied aircraft in Swedish airspace, and also that limitations on the transport collaboration meant it would have little benefit for the UK.

Despite this disappointing start, the LCS decided to press ahead. Thornton’s journey received approval, and this officer travelled to Stockholm in the later part of April. Thornton spent two weeks in Sweden, meeting Lieutenant General Bengt Nordenskiöld, the head of the Swedish air force. Handled with great secrecy in the hope this would emphasise their importance, the meetings had the desired effect: the conversations were recorded by a pro-German chief of police and forwarded to Germany. Despite the fact that he was convinced on the Allied intention to invade Norway, Nordenskiöld kept his conviction to himself, contrary to British hopes. Thornton returned to the UK at the end of April.

‘Graffham’ succeeded in attaining only a few of its objectives. Though the political approach did spur increased discussion among the lower levels of Swedish officialdom about an invasion of Norway, it did not convince the higher levels of the Swedish government. Even the purchase of Norwegian securities passed largely without notice. The overriding Swedish belief was that any invasion of Norway would be only a diversion, and that the European mainland would always be the Allies’ primary objective.

As envisaged to bolster ‘Fortitude North’, ‘Graffham’ was partially successful, however, for German documents seized after the end of the war revealed that although they did not believe Norway to be the Allies’ primary invasion target, the formations allocated to ‘Fortitude North’ were considered to be real and to capable of undertaking a diversionary assault. The German forces in Scandinavia were therefore placed on a higher degree of alert, and none was redeployed to reinforce the forces in France.

The extent to which ‘Fortitude North’ and ‘Graffham’ influenced the German strategy in Scandinavia is disputed: some argue that very little of either deception reached the Germans, and others that the existence of fictional formations in Scotland helped confirm German fears of a diversionary and therefore the retention of unneeded divisions in the region.

A related plan was 'Royal Flush' (ii).