Operation Barclay

'Barclay' was the Allied deception plan designed to induce a German reinforcement of France and the Balkans at the expense of Italy in preparation for 'Husky' (i) (spring 1943).

Created by Colonel (from December Brigadier) Dudley W. Clarke, the plan was intended to deceive the Axis military commands as to the location of the expected Allied assault across the Mediterranean and divert attention and resources from Sicily.

Through the use of bogus troop movements, radio traffic, recruitment of Greek interpreters, obvious acquisition of Greek maps, and 'Mincemeat', 'Barclay' specifically indicated an invasion through the Balkans. The Allies also created in the eastern Mediterranean a non-existent British 12th Army of 12 fictitious divisions. Adolf Hitler had suspected that the Allies would invade Europe through the Balkans, and 'Barclay' served to reinforce this opinion.

The deception was successful. The Oberkommando der Wehrmacht assumed that there was indeed a much greater concentration of Allied forces in the eastern Mediterranean than was the case, and the German forces in the Balkans were reinforced from eight to 18 divisions. In addition, the Balkan threat diverted the attentions and some of the strength of the Italian navy into the Adriatic Sea, and therefore away from Sicily, and as a result 'Husky' (i) achieved surprise.

As such, 'Barclay' was the overall Mediterranean deception plan for 1943, and was approved April 1943 but amended on 20 May. The plan was designed to indicate that the non-existent British 12th Army in Egypt was to invade Crete and the Peloponnese, thereby persuading Turkey to enter he war on the Allied side and making it possible for substantial forces to be moved through Turkey to link with the Soviets in Bulgaria and Thrace. The plan also included proposed diversionary attacks on northern and southern France, a landing by General Sir Bernard Montgomery’s British 8th Army in the south of France opening the way for French forces to exploit up the Rhône river valley, a simultaneous assault by Lieutenant General George S. Patton’s US 7th Army on Sardinia and Corsica, and the bypassing of Sicily and the Italian mainland. The d-days original suggested were 15 May for Crete and the Peloponnese, and 5 June 5 for the other elements. On 20 May these dates were postponed 25 June and 3 July respectively, and on 20 June by another month. A subsidiary operation was 'Waterfall', and related operations were 'Leyburn' and 'Mincemeat'.

A theatre-wide scheme to aid 'Husky' (i), 'Barclay' was in Dudley’s words 'the peak of the Deception effort in the Mediterranean theatre. [It] was neither the biggest nor the longest of the major Strategic Deception Plans of the War, but it was one of the most straightforward in the almost 'classic' style and it illustrated more clearly than most the principal lessons both of planning and implementation.'

The odds against a German acceptance of 'Barclay' were long, for it was almost self-evident that the next Allied move after the clearance of North Africa in May 1943 must be Sicily or Sardinia, and probably the former as this large island commanded the Sicilian Channel linking the two halves of the Mediterranean, flanked any approach from French North Africa toward Italy or Greece, and was the base for the German and Italian aerial siege of Malta. Moreover, any and all of the preparations for 'Husky' (a build-up in Malta, reconnaissance of Sicily and southern Italy, the seizure of Pantelleria) would serve to confirm that Sicily was the Allied objective. Despite this, 'Barclay' achieved great success.

The three stated objectives of 'Barclay' were to induce the Germans to keep as many forces as possible away from the central Mediterranean by threatening the south of France and the Balkans, to deter any reinforcement of Sicily and indeed persuade Italy and Germany to weaken its garrison by the diversion of troops to other areas, and to reduce the German and Italian naval and air attacks on the shipping being assembled for 'Husky' (i).

The 'story' proposed by 'Barclay' was both complex and comprehensive, and therefore expounded in some detail. The fictitious British 12th Army (a real 12th Army came into existence in the Burma theatre only in May 1945) was to invade the Balkans from the Middle East early in the summer of 1943 with amphibious assaults on Crete and the Peloponnese, and it was suggested that this would draw Turkey into the war on the Allied side, thereby opening the possibility of British and Turkish operations against Bulgaria and also of greater support for the Yugoslav resistance. This also suggested a later link with the Soviet forces in the northern Balkans. When the Germans were well committed in Greece, diversionary landings were to be made in northern and southern France. Those in southern France would be controlled by General the Hon. Sir Harold Alexander, covered by the US 7th Army’s landings on Sardinia and Corsica on the main assault’s eastern flank, and would then develop into an advance up the Rhône valley by the 8th Army and a new French army from North Africa. Thus Italy and Sicily were to be bypassed, and the major expansion of Allied air strength in North Africa and Malta was to be seen as something aimed at an extended bombing campaign, neutralising Sicilian airfields and attacking Italy generally, and not the basis for an invasion of Sicily and/or mainland Italy.

The familiar device of 'postponing' the apparent D-days was used twice, the first from late May to late June, and the second from early June to early July, and again to late July and early August. All three notional dates were in the dark of the moon to suggest a revised Allied landing concept, in the hope that the Axis forces would therefore relax their vigilance at other times.

The aim was thus to persuade Italy and Germany to make major reinforcements of their forces on the Balkans and the south of France during the first two phases, and then, in the aftermath of the second 'postponement' (when evidence would begin to mount that Sicily was the target, but at a time too late for the Axis to redeploy troops from Greece and France to Sicily) to reduce the state of alert among the formations of the island’s garrison on the presupposition that the assault would not be made until a moonless night later in July.

The threats to Crete and Greece played to known Axis sensitivities. 'Ultra' intelligence had revealed concern by local commanders throughout the winter, and had disclosed that staff conferences in Rome in February had concluded that Greece would be the most vulnerable target after the loss of Tunisia.

'Barclay' was approved by the theatre commanders in mid-April, and by Prime Minister Winston Churchill soon after this. All the now-standard elements were employed to lend credence to the 'story'. The usual double agent channels were busy; rumours were created and disseminated; a psychological warfare plan was prepared and implemented, with attention paid to the need for resistance forces to avoid a premature rising by resistance groups; false snippets of information were leaked by diplomats at functions in neutral states such as Sweden and Switzerland; men were landed by submarine on beaches in Sardinia and the Greek island of Zákynthos to deposit evidence of their presence; Greek troops in Egypt and French troops in Algeria were conspicuously given amphibious training; and a great 'Waterfall' simulation was performed in Cyrenaica (the only eastern Mediterranean area within range of German reconnaissance aircraft) to simulate the build-up of forces for a Balkan invasion.

To aid in the deception effort, the headquarters in Egypt planning the 8th Army’s operations in 'Husky' (i) was formally designated as the 12th Army, and spurred a positive rash of gossip and rumours in Cairo, a hotbed of Axis intelligence efforts. Calls were issued throughout the Middle East and India for Greek-speaking British officers and men. The theatre paymaster’s office started a major programme to buy Greek currency on the Cairo exchange. Some 50 strongboxes, labelled as Greek bullion, were unloaded and shipped under armed guard to a Cairo bank in the name of the army’s civil affairs branch. British bank notes overprinted 'France', 'Greece' or 'Bulgaria' were 'mislaid' in various countries. Pamphlets on Greece, leaflets on hygiene in the Balkans, Polish/Bulgarian phrase books, and maps of the notional target areas were distributed. In Algeria, inquiries were made for fishermen acquainted with the waters around Sardinia, Corsica, and southern France. Guide books for these areas were requested in Tunisian bookshops. Signboards in Greek were set up at Tripoli in Libya, and some Greek officers were attached to the British forces for 'Husky' (i) in Tripoli and Malta. 'Animals', a genuine sabotage operation by the Greek resistance under Special Operations Executive sponsorship, helped to keep German attention focussed on the eastern Mediterranean late in June.

The Turkish correspondent of a London newspaper helped to lend still further credibility to the second 'postponement' by gossiping about the fact that his editor was delaying for a month an alert to be ready to cover an event in the direction of the Balkans late in June. Notice was given that on 16 June the sundry Middle Eastern frontiers would be closed and the Syrian broadcasting station taken off the air: this latter was called off on 15 June , but not before broadcasting publicity to the postponement of a major medical conference in Beirut. In North Africa, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Mediterranean theatre commander, cancelled all leave after 20 June, and rescinded the order on 15 June. When Montgomery came to Cairo early in July to review the final plans, a notional leave in Palestine was arranged for him and cancelled at the last minute.

The British and US radio systems, each with three services, needed security co-ordination: in May, a British wireless expert, Major S. B. D. Hood, reached Cairo to join 'A' Force, as Dudley’s deception organisation was designated, and Americans sent two communications security experts, Commander J. Q. Holsopple of the US Navy and Lieutenant Colonel Handy of the US Army Air Forces, to Algiers. These three specialists created a wireless security and deception system for the whole of the Mediterranean theatre, and in Algiers a special inter-service committee was formed to prepare for 'Barclay' the first comprehensive signal deception plan.

'A' Force’s efforts to persuade the Allied air forces to distribute their bombing and leaflet-dropping in a pattern supporting the 'story' of 'Barclay' were not as successful. In June, especially, the pattern of air attacks clearly pointed toward Sicily as the Allies' next objective, and though the 'story' sought to deal with this by claiming that Sicily was merely to be neutralised by air bombardment, substantial attacks on Corsica and Sardinia would nevertheless have been highly desirable. But Clarke’s pleas for these were fruitless.

In general terms 'Barclay' was successful, even though the Axis command recognised that limitations on the available shipping would not permit operations on the extravagant scale that the full 'story' suggested. The Germans therefore came to expect not a full invasion but rather a limited attack on Crete, the Peloponnese or the Dodecanese islands, as well as an attack in the west on either Sicily or Sardinia. 'Mincemeat' was accepted wholly when its supposed details reached Germany in May, and on 12 May General Alfred Jodl, chief of the operations staff of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, ordered all Mediterranean-associated commands and headquarters to strengthen their defences as quickly as possible, with Sardinia and the Peloponnese as the highest-priority areas, and warned Oberbefehlshaber 'Südost', Generaloberst Alexander Löhr, that a totally reliable source had indicated that the Allies would land at the very points in the Peloponnese mentioned in the 'Mincemeat' documents. At his regular conference on 14 May Adolf Hitler said that he disagreed with Mussolini’s view that Sicily was the most likely invasion point, and that discovered Allied papers confirmed the assumption that the attacks would fall mainly on Sardinia and the Peloponnese.

All that 'Barclay' fed to the Axis command over the following two months further reinforced the Axis misconceptions. Indeed, on 9 July, on the very eve of 'Husky' (i), Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm Keitel, head of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, despatched a high-priority assessment of Allied intentions that forecast, in addition to a move against Sardinia, Sicily, and Corsica, a landing in Greece by the powerful forces that the Allies had supposedly transferred from North Africa to the eastern Mediterranean. He reckoned Allied forces in the Mediterranean at some 38 divisions and seven armoured brigades, which was double the actual number.

Even after 'Husky' (i), the Germans in general and Hitler in particular remained focused on the Balkans, and 'Ultra' revealed that German intelligence was making elaborate plans for a possible evacuation of Greece, including stay-behind agents and saboteurs. Late in July, Hitler sent Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel to Thessaloníki to take command in the event the Allies invaded Crete or mainland Greece. Rommel arrived at his new headquarters during the morning of 25 July, but only 12 hours later, with the fall of Benito Mussolini, was recalled to Hitler’s headquarters to plan the 'Achse' (ii) take-over of Italy.