Operation Kennecott

This was a British deception plan before the launch of ‘Torch’ designed to persuade the Axis forces, once they had discovered the ‘Torch’ convoys, that the Allied objective was Sicily, together with the relief of Malta, and not Vichy French North-West Africa (August/November 1942).

Planned under the supervision of Colonel Dudley W. Clarke’s Middle Eastern 'A' Force deception organisation for implementation in association with 'Townsman', 'Kennecott' was the last-phase plan to boost the chances of 'Torch' gaining operational and tactical success by the suggestion that Italy, and more specifically Sicily, was the real objective of the invasion fleet. The plan was therefore implemented with very carefully controlled timing as any premature identification of Italy and Sicily would have made it possible for the Germans to create a U-boat concentration off Gibraltar, the chokepoint on the routes from the USA and UK into the Mediterranean and thence Italy. Any such concentration would, of course, be well placed to intercept an invasion fleet heading for Vichy French North Africa.

It was therefore planned that the first 'information' would reach the Axis forces only on D-13, with no direct indication of the convoys' target before D-7, and therefor too late for the Germans to create a meaningful concentration of U-boats in the primary danger area.

The British embassies in Egypt and Turkey were asked to establish as rapidly as possible the probable attitudes of the Italian communities in those countries if Italy and Sicily were to be attacked. Comments meant for Vichy French ears were made to the effect that the Allies were confident that their offensive against Italy and the central Mediterranean would meet with at least benevolent neutrality from the French in North Africa. In another element of the scheme, British consulates in Spain made enquiries for Spanish merchant sailors acquainted with the north coast of Sicily and the south-west coast of Italy, the British consul general at Barcelona was asked to report on affairs in Sicily, the former British consul at Palermo was told to be ready to proceed to Gibraltar, and enquiries were made at the Vatican about the presence of church dignitaries in Sicily.

It was only on 25 October that the plan was put into effect as the a British false agent in Cairo reported to his Axis superiors that there were rumours of the opening of a new front, in Italy, in November and, as part of 'Townsman', that he believed Crete was a more likely target. On 31 October this deception channel sent a strong warning of a threatened attack on Italy, in which Crete now appeared to be a secondary target for a diversionary raid. On 2 November, six days before the implementation of 'Torch', the same channel reported that the Americans were preparing to launch major air raids on Italy during the following week as a prelude to invasion. On the following day this channel further reported excitement in Egypt at the imminent invasion of Italy, and that the Vichy French squadron held neutral at Alexandria would finally declare for the Allies.

The convoys from the UK 22 and 26 October, and as they ploughed their way toward Gibraltar, the related 'Pender' scheme was activated to suggest that the overall commanders for 'Torch', General Dwight D. Eisenhower and Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham, who were in fact due to arrive at Gibraltar on or about 1 November, were far distant: the US 'Pender I' spread the false information that Eisenhower had been called to Washington for a conference, and the British 'Pender II' indicated that Cunningham was en route to take up command of the British Eastern Fleet.

Clarke intended that 'Kennecott' and 'Townsman' should reach their peaks during the night of 6 November with a dummy paratroop drop on Sicily, but this was cancelled for lack of aircraft, but another last-minute move, designed to suggest Sardinia as the objective, was implemented on 7 November 7: a pair of radio messages, purportedly from an aeroplane and a Vichy French merchant vessel, reported the sighting of a convoy deep in the Mediterranean.