Operation Exporter Cover Plan

This was the British cover plan for the British-led 'Exporter' seizure of Lebanon and Syria from the Vichy French (June 1941).

It was impossible to conceal the preparations for 'Exporter', which involved considerable air activity, troop movements in Palestine, and a very conspicuous visit to Cairo by Général de Brigade Charles de Gaulle. General Sir Archilbald Wavell, the commander-in-chief, Middle East, entrusted the task of concealing the real purpose of 'Exporter' to his command’s emerging deception 'ace', Lieutenant Colonel Dudley W. Clarke, who was faced with the task of persuading the Vichy French into think­ing that the British invasion of Lebanon and Syria was nevertheless not take place.

In a mere four days Clarke had the 'Ex­porter Cover Plan' under way on the basis of the 'story' that de Gaulle was in Cairo to mediate a quarrel between Wavell and Général de Corps d’Armée Georges Catroux, commander of the Free French troops in the Middle East, over the latter’s failure to persuade Wavell to invade Syria. On 6 June, two days before the scheduled start of 'Exporter', de Gaulle was notionally to depart Cairo after failing to persuade Wavell to act.

At the same time, the now increasingly customary wave of 'leaks' and rumours was launched, the co-operation of de Gaulle was agreed, and early in June Shepheard’s Hotel in Cairo was informed that de Gaulle would be leaving at a date sooner than expected, luggage was packed, a special aeroplane was readied, and the governor of Sudan was warned to expect the arrival of de Gaulle’s party for the night of 6/7 June as it travelled back to Fort Lamy in French Equatorial Africa.

Clarke flew to Jerusalem on 4 June and arranged the infiltration of an Arab agent across the border into Vichy French territory during the early hours of 6 June with the story that the invasion had been called off and that de Gaulle was flying to Khartoum.

The 'Exporter Cover Plan' seems to have worked, at least to a degree, and it later emerged that the Vichy French intelligence service had 'bought' the cover plan, and possibly for this reason the Vichy French resistance to the British-led advance in the first stages of 'Exporter' was light, though it then became more serious.

The 'Exporter Cover Plan' served to emphasise the utility of a core of truth for a deception 'story': Catroux had indeed pressed Wavell to act more swiftly than Wavell thought prudent, and Wavell had re­sisted Catroux’s pressure to the point of offering his resignation.