Operation Hardboiled

This was a British deception plan designed to suggest the imminent launch of an amphibious landing on the west coast of German-occupied Norway near Stavanger (December 1941/May 1942).

‘Hardboiled’ was the first deception undertaking by the London Controlling Section (LCS) and was designed to convince the Axis powers that the Allies would soon invade German-occupied Norway. The LCS had recently been established to plan deception across all theatres, but had struggled to make any progress against a military establishment signally lacked enthusiasm for any aspect of strategic deception. The LCS had little guidance in strategic deception, an activity pioneered in the Middle East and North Africa by Lieutenant Colonel Dudley W. Clarke’s ‘A’ Force organisation in the previous year, and was unaware of the extensive double agent system controlled by M.I.5. As a result, ‘Hardboiled’ was schemed as a real rather than fictional operation. This was an approach which Clarke had already discovered to wasteful in terms of both time and resources, so he preferred to present a ‘story’ via agents and wireless traffic.

Resistance to ‘Hardboiled’ by the selected formation and units meant that much of the preparatory work was not completed. While Adolf Hitler did order the reinforcement of the German forces in Norway during March and April 1942, before ‘Hardboiled’ was shelved in May, it is not known to what extent the undertaking contributed to the German leader’s decision. Despite its limited overall impact, the operation gave the LCS a useful quantity of experience in planning deceptions, and laid the groundwork for future exploitation of Hitler’s belief that northern Europe was a strategically important ‘zone of destiny’.

At this time the entire concept of strategic deception was novel to the Allies, having been pioneered in 1941 in Cairo by Clarke and his Advanced Headquarters ‘A’ Force. Following a presentation in September 1941 by Clarke, the Joint Planning Staff of the British War Ministry decided that a special organisation should be set up to plan and execute deception operations, and suggested that a ‘controlling section’ be established to oversee the planning of operations at the strategic level for subsequent implementation at the operational level by the armed forces. The notion was approved, and Clarke was offered the opportunity to head the new organisation. Clarke opted to remain in the Middle East, free of the type of interference he knew would be inevitable in London, and the Chiefs-of-Staff then selected Lieutenant Colonel Oliver Stanley, the former Secretary for War, as the new controlling officer.

Stanley experienced very considerable opposition as he sought to convince the Allied military establishment, which was unconvinced by the idea of strategic deception and resistant to the idea of a central planning authority, to become involved in the new concept. Despite obtaining a few staff officers, the LCS was, in the words of one of its staff, in a state of ‘near impotence’. In December 1941, however, Stanley received permission to plan the LCS’s first operation after exerting pressure on the Allied command for some weeks.

‘Hardboiled’ had no specific goal for the Allies other than to convince the Germans of the imminence of an invasion threat against Norway. Clarke had already established that deception operations should have a clear idea of what the opposition was supposed to do rather than merely what they were expected to believe, but this was a fact unknown to Stanley as the LCS was not in touch with Force ‘A’. As a result, the objective for ‘Hardboiled’ was selected on the basis that the resources existed and it have no effect on any real operation intended for later implementation, Allied planners having already discarded Norway as a viable target, rather than for any strategic advantage it might bring to the Allies. Stanley was also unaware of the extent of the double agent network under the control of the ‘XX Committee’ (Double Cross or Twenty Committee) as he had been informed only that MI.5 had an avenue through which to pass disinformation to the Germans. Lacking the ket information that there were no uncontrolled German agents at work in the UK, the LCS therefore concluded that any deception had to be as realistic as possible in order to give the impression of verisimilitude.

Stanley’s initial thinking for a notional target in Norway was Narvik or Trondheim, but Allied commanders decided these were implausible because of their northern location. So an amphibious assault on Stavanger was chosen, and this was based on the planning for ‘Dynamite’, an operation against Stavanger which had been considered at an earlier date and rejected. The date on which the fictional invasion was to be launched was 1 May 1942.

‘Hardboiled’ was planned as a real operation, involving actual training and troop movements culminating in the embarkation of troops a fake invasion fleet on the prescribed date. The plan relied on the imagined capability of the German intelligence system, rumours and leaks to convey the deception to the Germans. As noted above, Clarke and ‘A’ Force had already learned that this type of approach was wasteful as much of the deception could be implemented via the agency of agents and wireless traffic. Lacking guidance from Cairo, the LCS repeated many of the errors with ‘A’ Force had now learned to avoid.

The formation earmarked for ‘Hardboiled’ was Major General R. M. Sturges’s Royal Marines Division, which was trained in mountain warfare and allocated cold weather equipment. Realistic invasion plans were drawn up and Norwegian currency was stockpiled. These preparations met with considerable resistance within the armed forces, which considered ‘Hardboiled’ to be a waste of effort. The need for men in actual operations and training meant that much of the required preparation was not completed. Some passive deception was also attempted. Norwegian refugees were asked for information about Stavanger, and to provide interpreters.

The hope inherent in the whole process was that rumours would reach neutral countries and thence filter to the German intelligence apparatus. Some information was also passed on via agents/

‘Hardboiled’ had only a short existence as the men of the Royal Marines Division were required for the ‘Ironclad’ amphibious operation in Madagascar in July 1942.

In principle ‘Hardboiled’ appeared to have had at least a limited effect inasmuch as the Germans, during April and May 1942, effected a reinforcement of their garrison in Norway. However, given the setbacks while the British forces were undergoing in every theatre at this time, it is hard to believe that the Germans could have believed that an invasion of Norway was feasible.

The operation provided the Allies with no actual tactical, operational or strategic advantage, though it did provide experience for the planners in the handling of deception operations, and gave the ‘XX Committee’ proof that there was value in its use of double agents.

‘Hardboiled’ was the first deception plan aimed at Norway, and indeed led to a number of other such efforts, including ‘Tindall’ and ‘Solo’ before culminating in the ‘Fortitude North’ effort of 1944, which was one of the Allies’ largest and most successful deceptions.

In May 1942, Lieutenant Colonel J. Bevan succeeded Stanley as head of the LCS after the latter received Churchill’s permission to re-enter politics and, at the same time, the section was given much broader powers. ‘Hardboiled’ was sidelined by the new structure at the LCS, and had been dropped entirely by the end of May.