Operation Plan A-R

'Plan A-R' was a British deception designed to male the German forces in the Western Desert believe that the British were planning to make an amphibious landing behind the Axis forces in the area between Benghazi and Tripoli, and that the British were also being reinforced with additional armour including fictional air-conditioned vehicles ideally suited to Western Desert operations to allow an advance on Tripoli during June, the hottest month of the year (April/May 1941).

When the 'Cordite Cover Plan' was suspended after the division which the 'Cordite' assault on Rhodes became unavailable, General Sir Archibald Wavell, the commander-in-chief, Middle East, informed Lieutenant Colonel Dudley W. Clarke, head of the British deception organisation in the Middle East, to start work on a plan designed to persuade Generalleutnant Erwin Rommel to squander resources be creating excess cover for his rear areas. The resulting 'Plan A-R' (Anti-Rommel) was one of several British early deception and diversion undertakings which achieved little in the way of tangible results but did usefully further British experience in this arcane and difficult field, most especially through the first actual deployment of notional forces and the first use of dummy equipment.

The 'story' promulgated by 'Plan A-R' was that the British and Free French were planning a multi-pronged attack on Rommel’s lines of communications back to his main supply base at Tripoli. One of these 'prongs' was to be a landing somewhere on the coast of the Gulf of Sirte to sever Rommel’s lines of communication with Tripoli. As it was presumed that Axis agents already knew that there had been activity among the troops earmarked for 'Cordite', including a commando force which had recently reached Port Said from the UK in the 'Glen' class of special assault transports, these were supposed to be the units ear­marked for this operation. It was also bandied about that a new type of US air-conditioned tank was being procured to make feasible an attack on Tripoli during the hot months, it being supposed that the Germans were of the opinion that conventional tanks could not be operated in the Western Desert for prolonged periods at that season. Other elements of the scheme were that the fictional 1st SAS Brigade, with gliders, was being relocated from Transjordan to Egypt to add an airborne element to the planned attack on Rommel’s lines of communications; that the fictional 10th Armoured Division, reinforced by tanks being brought on transporters overland from Nigeria via Fort Lamy and Sudan, was moving into Libya for a flank attack on the Axis lines of communication from the desert.tack his line of communications from the desert flank; and that Free French troops were to undertake long-range raids on Rommel’s line of communication, striking across the Sahara from French Equatorial Africa.

In the middle of April, in an effort to discourage Rommel from trying to swing round the British flank, Wavell added to the deception 'story' the proposition that large minefields had been laid in the desert during 1940 in the area to the south of Mersa Matruh, some of which could be set off electrically by remote control.

Throughout April and May, Clarke and the Security Intelligence, Middle East (Middle Eastern co-ordination department for security) developed 'Plan A-R' as a maximum-effort undertaking. Complex rumour campaigns, 'leaks' and 'indiscrete revelations' were spread in Egypt, Istanbul, Athens, Palestine, Free French headquarters in West Africa, and Lisbon. The spe­cial assault transports departed Port Said, and the local consul of still-neutral Japan swiftly informed his superiors in Cairo about it. Exaggerated stories were published in the press about the arrival of an US team to train British crews in the use of new American tanks, as were photo­graphs of a new pattern of tank transporter against a desert background: this was in fact the only such vehicle in Africa. Dummy gliders were displayed, and there were drops of dummy parachutists at a disused airfield near Cairo to simulate airborne training. The Air Headquarters Egypt being both small and under establishment at this time, 16 dummy gliders were converted to dummy bombers to boost the notional strength of the air component allocated to 'Plan A-R': from the middle of May, these were displayed at another disused airfield, on which they came under German air attack on sev­eral occasions.

This busy time also saw the christening, on 28 March, of Clarke’s team as 'A' Force, the name under which it was to go down in history, together with the establishment of its own headquarters and an enlargement of its personnel numbers.