Operation Starfish

This was a British decoy operation against German bombing by the simulation of bomb-dropped marker flares in areas of unoccupied countryside to lure the German aircraft into bombing these areas rather than British cities and towns (late 1940/45).

The so-called Starfish ('special fire') towns were commissioned to avoid the kind of destruction wrought on Coventry in the 'Mondscheinsonate' attack of 14/15 November 1940. The dummy towns were sited at locations well removed from communities and cities likely to come under attack, and as soon as the first wave of German bombers marked or attacked a real target, the emergency services raced to extinguish the flames and then lit the decoy fires with the object of persuading the second wave that the decoy was in fact the target, and thereby deceive the bombers into dropping their bomb loads on the decoy site.

The concept was developed by Colonel John Turner, a respected engineer and retired Air Ministry officer, and involved the use of tanks containing paraffin or Diesel fuel on top of 20-ft (6.1-m) towers arranged to resemble rows of buildings or industrial complexes. When the system was activated, a valve was opened to release fuel onto burning coal, creating an instant blaze and engulfing the area in black smoke, and the fire was then flushed with water to send a column of steam into the night sky and so create the simulation of a successful bombing raid.

Liverpool, Bristol, Nottingham, Middlesbrough, Portsmouth and Cardiff were among the cities protected by such sites, and a Starfish site 14 miles (22.5 km) away from Nottingham was designed to simulate Derby, home of the Rolls-Royce aero engine facility.

Dummy sites were a key tactic to preserving cities, important transportation hubs and industrial facilities. There were about 230 fake airfields and 400 fake urban and industrial sites, as well as dummy railway marshalling yards and docks.

By the end of the war there were 237 Starfish sites protecting 81 cities, factories and other potential targets, and official figures reveal that 730 bombing raids were diverted to these dummy targets.