Operation Camilla

This was a British cover plan for the ‘Appearance’ reconquest of British Somaliland from the occupying Italian forces (January/February 1941).

The plan was the brainchild of General Sir Archibald Wavell, the commander-in-chief in the middle East, but developed and implemented under the supervision of Lieutenant Colonel George W. Clarke, soon to create the Force 'A' deception organisation.

Whereas the real plan to retake British Somaliland was based on an advance from Sudan into Eritrea and thence British Somaliland from the north-west and west, ‘Camilla’ suggested that the British in fact intended to retake British Somaliland from the north with an amphibious descent from Aden by Indian troops moved from Egypt and south African troops moved from Kenya.

Wavell approved the ‘Camilla’ plan on 28 December 1940, and for the next month Clarke supervised a deception operation that was based on sea and air raids on British Somaliland, the issue of maps and pamphlets about British Somaliland to the troops, conspicuous administrative activity in Aden, creation of radio links for dummy messages between Aden, Nairobi, Pretoria and Delhi on the one hand, and Cairo and Khartoum on the other, ‘security leaks’ in Egypt, Aden, India, and South Africa, rumour spreading in Egypt and among the troops involved, the planting of false information on the Japanese consul in Port Said, and the despatch of various indiscreet and plain text private telegrams.

‘Camilla’ deceived the Italian leadership completely but, instead of diverting troops as the British had hoped, they withdrew their forces into Eritrea. This was a failure from which Clarke learned a major lesson, and one which he would impress on many other deception officers during the war: the key to deception was not to make the enemy think what one wishes, but to get the enemy to do what one wants.