Operation Zeppelin (ii)

This was an Allied deception plan within ‘Bodyguard’ to suggest the imminence of Allied landings on Crete, the west coast of Greece or Black Sea coast of Romania (6 January/6 July 1944).

The object of this and the other components of the ‘Bodyguard’ scheme was to divert German attention and forces to areas other than Normandy, the actual location for ‘Overlord’.

On 6 January 1944 Brigadier Dudley W. Clarke, head of the ‘A’ Force deception organisation working largely in the Mediterranean theatre, began work on an overall plan to meet as many of the requirements of ‘Bodyguard’ as possible. This ‘Zeppelin’ (ii) was drafted in less than a fortnight, finished in less than one month, and received approval from General Sir Henry Maitland Wilson, the Supreme Allied Commander, Mediterranean Theatre, on 4 February. The object of of ‘Zeppelin’ (ii) was to contain as great a number of German divisions in Italy and the Balkans, and also to weaken German forces to the south of the line extending from Pisa of the west coast to Rimini on the east coast, while at the same time nothing to draw the attention of German commanders to southern France until a final decision had been reached in the continuing debate as whether or not to proceed with projected ‘Anvil’ (later ‘Dragoon’ ) invasion of southern France.

‘Zeppelin’ (ii) progressed through several stages. The ‘story’ of the first stage, which was promptly launched soon after the receipt of Wilson’s authorisation, was that at the ‘Eureka’ conference at Tehran (28 November/1 December 1943) the Allied leaders had agreed that all three would launch major operations against the Balkans before the British and Americans launched their assault across the English Channel into northern France. For this reason, therefore, Wilson, with his long association with the Mediterranean theatre (extending back to his command of the British and commonwealth forces against the German ‘Marita’ invasion of Greece in April 1941) had replaced General Dwight S. Eisenhower. At the subsequent ‘Sextant’ second conference at Cairo (4/6 December 1943), the ‘story’ continued, it had been decided that the British 12th Army, a fictitious formation including one Greek division, would operate against Greece, while the US 7th Army including the Polish II Corps would operate in the Adriatic. And at a further conference in Algiers later in December it had been decided that if the Anzio landing (‘Shingle’) succeeded there would be other landings on each side of the Italian ‘leg’ to support the operations of General the Hon, Sir Harold Alexander’s Allied Central Mediterranean Force north along this ‘leg’. With a launch date of March 23, therefore, Wilson intended to attack Crete, the Peloponnesian southern region of mainland Greece and the eastern shore of the Adriatic at Durazzo in Albania, while Alexander planned to land US forces at Pola in the Istrian peninsula at the head of the Adriatic Sea. Additionally British air forces and two armoured divisions were readying themselves in Syria to move into Turkey during May.

The whole of this ambitious ‘story ‘ was posited on a false order of battle. To give plausibility to ‘Zeppelin’ (ii), Clarke reckoned, it was necessary to ‘add’ 24 divisions to those actually committed in Italy. These were required to threaten Greece and the Balkans, since the forces training for ‘Anvil’ could be used as the basis of the force to assault Istria, and there were other real formations based in Syria to support Turkey should this country enter the war on the Allied side. On 6 February, therefore, the existing ‘Cascade’ became the new and still more ambitious ‘Wantage’ order of battle plan with which Clarke hoped to persuade the Germans to accept that the Allied land strength in the Mediterranean was 33% greater than it actually was, and in the Middle East 100% greater than it was. This order of battle comprised 39 divisions (18 of them fictitious) excluding those in Italy, six fictitious corps, and one fictitious army. At a time early in June, after the launch of the ‘Overlord’ invasion of northern France, this order of battle was revised and indeed extended to include all the French forces.

In all its stages ‘Zeppelin’ (ii) received the most elaborate implementation yet employed. ‘Special means’ (controlled leaks) were widely employed: some 577 messages passed to the Germans by double agents, and other major contributions were made British operatives in neutral Portugal and Turkey. There were also the well-proved administrative measures such as the issue of maps and local guides, purchase of currency and calls for interpreters. Other contributions were made by reconnaissance flights and raids by air and sea forces on the target areas which the Germans were being led to believe were real objectives. Dummy gliders were deployed on Sicilian airfields, and a combination of real and dummy gliders at Lecce in the heel of Italy. Another major element was the placement of fake equipment and use of radio deception in Cyrenaica to lend credence to the idea of an Allied invasion of Crete and Greece. From a time early in February, Colonel Victor Jones, one of Clarke’s team, began to give indications of the fictitious British 8th Armoured Division at Tobruk and British 4th Airborne Division in the same vicinity. This display, whose activity grew and declined with successive notional postponements of the invasion, continued until the threat to Crete was called off at the end of the third stage of ‘Zeppelin’ (ii) at a time early in May. Dummy equipment was used extensively in Syria after a time in the middle of April, when negotiations to induce Turkey to join the Allies ended without success and the genuine forces which had been held in readiness to enter Turkey began moving to Italy.

The second stage, which began on 10 March, was designed to persuade the Germans that there had been a postponement in the Allied plans. The Germans were carefully primed about this and later postponements by means of ‘Dungloe’. In this first instance a London-based double agent informed his German handler during the middle of March that arrangements had been made for a number of ‘special’ (non-existent) Yugoslav leaders to be warned of an Allied invasion by a BBC broadcast of a special phrase, which would indicate that the invasion was to be launched in 30 days, and that if the date had to be postponed, the phrase would be repeated on the following two days. The next appearance of the phrase would indicate that the new launch date was in 30 days. The Cretan, Greek and Albanian would now not be made until 21 April, and the undertaking of the US 7th Army and Polish II Corps was postponed to 21 May, when it was to be made simultaneously with Soviet landings at Varna in Bulgaria. The British advance through Turkey was postponed to June, when two armoured divisions would invade Thrace and move toward Thessaloníki.

At this time it seemed that ‘Zeppelin’ (ii) might be brought to an earlier conclusion: this was the first major large-scale deception which ‘A’ Force had undertaken for another theatre, and Clarke found that he was not receiving the co-operation which was necessary. Clarke appealed directly to Wilson, however, and the local supreme commander contacted General Sir Bernard Paget, the British commander-in-chief, Middle East, to order an improvement in co-operation.

The third stage of ‘Zeppelin’ (ii) started on 14 April, and ordained a postponement of all operations to 21 May on the supposed grounds that the Soviets had asked for all Balkan undertakings to be timed to coincide with their own advance into Bulgaria.

The operation’s fourth stage was launched on 9 May with a major change in the ‘story’ to suggest that the planned operations against Crete and Greece had been abandoned (the ‘story’ to explain this change was that there had been a politically inspired mutiny among the Greek troops in Egypt, an event known to the Germans). The Polish II Corps was still to land at Durazzo and the British 12th Army at Pola, though these events were now to take place on 19 June, and Thrace was still be invaded from Turkey in July or August. The change of the ‘story’ also added a pair of new notional operations, one a minor undertaking against Rhodes, and the other a major undertaking in the form of the ‘Vendetta’ invasion of southern France by the US 7th Army, supplemented by a French corps, on 19 June but then postponed to 24 June.

Once it had been decided that ‘Anvil’ would be launched during August, it was decided that the task of ‘A’ Force in the western Mediterranean would be to hold German reserves in the south of France for 25 to 30 days from a point five days before the start of ‘Overlord’.

The core of ‘Vendetta’ was that the US 7th Army would land in the area of Sète and Agde, on the south coast of France in an area well to the west of the location selected for ‘Anvil’, and then advance inland to seize the Carcassonne gap before exploiting to the north-west in the direction of Toulouse and Bordeaux. The US 7th Army, which had been commanded since 2 March by Lieutenant General Alexander McC. Patch in succession to Lieutenant General George S. Patton after the latter had been transferred to head the US 3rd Army in the UK, was to be composed largely of notional formations spearheaded by Major General Terry de la M. Allen’s notional XXXI Corps.

The implementation of ‘Vendetta’ was made tricky by lack of adequate resources. Most of its strength was based on fictitious formations, and two of its real formations were removed, Major General William G. Livesay’s US 91st Division for service in Italy, and Général de Division Raoul Albin Louis Salan’s French 9ème Division d’Infanterie Coloniale for the ‘Brassard’ occupation of Corsica. Moreover, most of the real landing craft were in England for ‘Overlord’, and there was a shortage of anti-aircraft artillery.

‘Vendetta’ began on a date early in May with a mass of activity as smoke screens, dummy landing craft, anti-aircraft defences and dumps appeared at Bône, Ferryville and Oran, the North-West African ports from which the expedition force would notionally depart. Maps and photographs of the target area were issued, instruction in basic French was offered to the troops, civil affairs directives were drawn up, and Allied diplomats asked the Spanish authorities to make available at Barcelona facilities for landing non-military supplies and evacuating wounded personnel. On 9/11 June there followed a major amphibious exercise involving 60 naval vessels including the British fleet carriers Indomitable and Victorious, which were passaging through the Mediterranean on their way to the Pacific. The exercise made use of 13,000 men and 2,000 vehicles of the 91st Division which were embarked at Oran and remained at sea for three days even as the air was filled with radio traffic, heavy bombers ranged to targets well up the Rhône river, and fighters struck targets in the area of Sète. On 11 June the border between Algeria and Spanish Morocco was closed, and the diplomatic bag privileges of neutral diplomats were suspended.

But given the fact that 91st Division was now in fact bound by sea to Italy, the 9ème Division d’Infanterie Coloniale was making for Elba, and the British carriers were proceeded to the Far East, the ‘story’ of this phase of the deception could not be maintained for more than a short time. From 24 June, therefore, double agents began to spread the ‘story’ that because reconnaissance had revealed that the Germans had not moved their forces in southern France to the attempted containment of the Normandy lodgement, Wilson had decided to postpone the attack. The border was reopened on 6 July, and on 14 July the Spanish authorities were advised that the requested humanitarian facilities would be needed.

The final phase of ‘Zeppelin’ (ii) in the east was ‘Turpitude’, whose ‘story’ suggested that with the Cretan and Peloponnesian landings called off, Wilson’s only operations in that region would be the capture of Thessaloníki by one Greek infantry and two British armoured divisions passing through Turkey into Thrace, followed by an advance up the Struma river valley to link with the Soviet drive through the Balkans. The ‘story’ indicated that the British force would enter Turkey on about 1 June after the expiration of an ultimatum to be delivered immediately after the (notional) Soviet landing at Varna in Bulgaria. A British division, with air cover from occupied Turkish bases, would assault Rhodes in August.

‘Turpitude’ was planned in Cairo by one of Clarke’s team, and undertaken largely by the headquarters of the 9th Army (the garrison of Palestine and Syria) and the RAF. Large numbers of dummy vehicles were returned from Cyrenaica to became a basis for the fictitious 20th Armoured Division, which then joined a genuine formation, Major General R. H. Wordsworth’s Indian 31st Armoured Division near Aleppo. In the same area there appeared large numbers of real and dummy anti-aircraft weapons and aircraft. Other deception elements undertaken before ‘Turpitude’ was brought to an end from 26 June included road building, stockpiling and the appropriate quantity of radio traffic.

‘Zeppelin’ (ii) ended on 6 July.