Operation Collect

'Collect' was a British deception plan designed to facilitate success in the 'Crusader' (i) offensive by lulling the Axis forces into a lower state of readiness with a succession of imminent offensive actions followed by constant postponements (late 1941).

'Collect' was designed by Lieutenant Colonel Dudley W. Clarke to play on the perceived nature of General Erwin Rommel, the commander of the Panzergruppe 'Afrika', and was altogether larger and more complex than any earlier deception schemed by Clarke. The operation also introduced several important new techniques. One was the supposed 'postponement' of a supposed event, such as the launch of an offensive, in a fashion which was sufficiently plau­sible to raise no suspicion in the opponent’s mind; and another was the tricky art of the double bluff, that it the pitching of the real operation as the 'story' in the hope that the opponent will believe it to be a deception or other misinformation. 'Collect' brought to the Middle Eastern theatre the most potent of decep­tion tools, the controlled opposition agent (otherwise the double agent) to feed misinformation to Axis intelligence.

'Collect' had several stages. First, word was to be spread that the start of General Sir Claude Auchinleck’s 'Crusader' (i) offensive was to be on 9 August, the earli­est date at which troops who had been engaged in the 'Exporter' seizure of Vichy French Lebanon and Syria, which ended on 14 July, could realistically have reached their concentration areas in Egypt. Then on or about 3 August it would be 'leaked' that the offensive had been postponed. Clarke planned that this process would be re­peated in the hope that that the constant 'crying wolf' would have lulled Rom­mel and his immediate subordinates into a sense of false security by the time the 'Crusader' (i) offensive was actually ready for launch, and would therefore be minded to disregard information that the real operation was imminent.

As part of the 'Collect' effort, rumours and 'leaks' were prepared and implemented. Moreover, the British forces themselves were deceived into the belief that an early offen­sive was being planned through the issue of early orders. By a time early August, the Security Intelligence Middle East team controlled Lieutenant Colonel R. Maunsell could show that rumours were in full circulation suggesting that a British offensive in the Western Desert was being developed and was indeed probably imminent. On 5 August, the 'story' suggested that D-day had been postponed to 30 August, and it was then postponed again to 15 September.

As part of 'Collect', part of the older 'Plan A-R', now known as the 'Tripoli Plan', was maintained in existence. Auchinleck had no desire that any specific objective be named for the 'Collect' offensive, but agreed that the notional threat to Tripoli suggested in 'Plan A-R' should be maintained in the hope that Rommel would thereby be persuaded to hold reserves at Tripoli, his main supply base and 800 miles (1285 km) from the front. Various measures designed to increase German nervousness about Tripoli were also implemented.

As 'Collect' seemed to be proceeding as planned, Clarke departed left Egypt for Lisbon on 17 August at the start of an absence which was unexpectedly to last for three months. From this time in, 'Collect' was run by Major V. Jones ran Collect supported by Maunsell and Brigadier J. Shearer, the director of military intelligence for the Middle East theatre. It was at this stage that there appeared, in support of 'Collect', the first major double agent channel for the Western Desert theatre. In its early history known by various names, it became known finally as 'Cheese', and was one of the four most important Allied double agent deceptions of World War II.