Operation Treatment

This was the British strategic deception plan, in association with the 'Bertram' tactical deception, to support the 'Lightfoot' initial phase of the 2nd Battle of El Alamein (September/October 1942).

The 'story' created by Colonel Dudley W. Clarke of the 'A' Force, but implemented by Lieutenant Colonel Charles Richardson, was that the next strategic effort to be made by the British was an invasion of Crete, but at the same time Lieutenant General B. L. Montgomery’s British 8th Army was to attack the Axis positions at El Alamein, but only to improve its tactical position, during the moonless period around 6 November. The 'Lightfoot' offensive was in fact scheduled for the full moon period of 23 October.

The 'story' was a development of the supposedly existing threat to Crete created in 'Rayon', and on British concern for the the northern flank in the Middle Eastern theatre caused by the German advance into the Caucasus. According to the 'story', the British would not attempt any major operation in the Western Desert until winter had brought an end to German activity in the southern USSR, at which time the British would be better able to assess long-range prospects on the north­ern flank. So the British would meanwhile continue preparations for an attack on Crete, while in the desert there would be only a minor offensive, be­ginning with a night attack during the moonless period around 6 Novem­ber. The 'story' for the associated 'Bertram' tactical deception added that the delay until November was attributable at least in part to problems with the new US M4 Sherman medium tanks which the 8th Army had recently received, and that once the offensive was started, it would begin with a feint in the north, after which Montgomery would hit the Axis southern wing with his main armoured strength.

Implementation of both 'Treatment' and 'Bertram' was split between 'A' Force under the temporary leadership of Lieutenant Colonel Noel Wild for intelligence implementation, and the operations staff of the 8th Army under Richardson for physical aspects.

Intelligence implementation relied heavily on the 'Cheese' double agent channel, in addition to the customary dissemination of rumours by the 'Entwhistle' system of the Security Intelligence Middle East team, and agents in two Turkish cities, Istanbul and Ankara, pitched in. On October 6, Vladimir Wolfson’s special newspaper channel produced a story in a German newspaper revealing that British troops were being transferred from the Western Desert to Iran.

By this time in the USA, Clarke arranged for a US traveller to drop appropriate indiscretions in Lisbon.

In Cairo, military, diplomatic, and other civilian officers were asked to 'leak' suggestions that nothing was scheduled to take place until a time early in November, to schedule trips and social events for a time late in October, and to speak with disparagement about the new US tanks. Reservations for several prominent 8th Army generals were made at Cairo hotels for a time late in October, and the course schedule at the staff college at Haifa was extended to the middle of November.

For the benefit of the extensive network of German informers in Iran, elabo­rate arrangements were made for a conference in Tehran purportedly to be attended by General the Hon. Sir Harold Alexander, the commander-in-chief, Middle East, General Sir Henry Maitland Wilson, the commander-in-chief, Persia and Iraq; and General Sir Archibald Wavell, the commander-in-chief, India.

The process came to a peak on 18 October 18 with a message from 'Cheese' to his German controller in Athens predicting an attack in the Western Desert during November. Athens sent in re­sponse a gratifying request for information as to British plans for attack­ing in the south.

At this time the 8th Army had three subordinate corps. The right or northern wing was held by Lieutenant General Sir Oliver Leese’s XXX Corps and the left by Lieutenant General B. G. Horrocks’s XIII Corps. Behind them was Lieutenant General H. Lumsden’s new X Corps. Montgomery’s plan was for the XXX Corps to punch two holes in the German left wing through which Major General R. Briggs’s 1st Armoured Division and Major General A. H. Gatehouse’s 10th Armoured Division of the X Corps would penetrate, while in the south the XIII Corps would drive a single gap through which Major General A. F. Harding’s 7th Armoured Division would pass and do all that it could to divert the attention of Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel away from his left (northern) wing. The task of 'Bertram' was to ensure that the armour on Rommel’s southern wing, which amounted to about half of his total, remained there.

The key to the British plan was to prevent the Axis forces from learning that the X Corps was being deployed in the north behind the XXX Corps. Dumps behind the XXX Corps' front to support the main attack were laid down at night and camouflaged as vehicle parks and camps during the day. Then, from 6 October, a concentration of 4,000 real and 1,200 dummy vehicles was created behind the line in the north, and about 1,600 more vehicles were gathered at a staging area behind the centre of the front. The purpose of this part of the operation was to acclimatise the Axis forces to the sight of massed trans­port in these locations.

Meanwhile, a fake build-up was started behind the XIII Corps' front in the south. A dummy water pipeline was laid across 20 miles (32 km) of des­ert, complete with dummy pump houses and reservoirs in 'Dia­mond'. The work was deliberately staged at a rate designed to lead Axis observers to the calculation that it could not be finished before a time early in November. Dummy supply dumps were built, together with dummy camps and associated bogus transport, field kitchens and the like in 'Brian'. In a rare double bluff, obviously dummy artillery was emplaced, subsequently osten­tatiously replaced by real artillery in 'Munassib'. An apparent stag­ing area for 10th Armoured Division was laid out behind the southern wing.

The main concentration began on 18 October as the X Corps' armoured brigades were moved singly and secretly to the northern assembly area, where the tanks and guns, covered with 'Sunshields' and 'Cannibals', replaced real and dummy vehicles in the bogus vehicle pool so that Axis reconnaissance noticed no change. This phase of the undertaking started with the movement of an armoured brigade of the 1st Armoured Division to a staging area behind the centre of the front, where it remained in full view for a day before moving during the night to the north and being replaced by another armoured brigade of the same division, which in turn remained in view for a day and thereby appeared to Axis eyes to be the same brigade as before. A third brigade, with division headquarters, moved out and exchanged places with the dummy motor pool which had been planted behind the centre of the front a few weeks before. On the same day, 19 October, the 10th Armoured Division moved to its staging area in the south. By the evening of 19 October, therefore, Axis re­connaissance saw that a new armoured division had taken up a posi­tion in the south and a new armoured brigade in the centre.

During the two following nights, the two remaining brigades of 1st Armoured Division and the entire 10th Armoured Division moved to the north, where 'Sunshields' and 'Cannibals' converted them seemingly into ordi­nary transport in 'Martello'. The real and dummy vehicles re­placed by the tanks and artillery of the 1st Armoured Division in turn replaced them behind the centre in 'Murrayfield', while the 10th Armoured Division was replaced in the south by a huge display of dummies, in­cluding a whole dummy armoured brigade in 'Melting Pot'.

For four weeks, meanwhile, the 'Canwell' radio deception had simulated the communications net of 10th Armoured Division, and this opened in full voice on 20 October with the 'Melting Pot' dummies, using 25 transmitters to mimic the 8th Army’s tactical headquarters as well as the headquarters of one corps, two divisions and five brigades.

On 23 October, therefore, the German and Italian headquarters in the Western Desert believed that the 8th Army had one armoured division in a holding area some 25 miles (40 km) from the southern end of the front and another some 40 miles (65 km) behind the centre, but no armour at all in the north. On that night the 8th Army began 'Lightfoot'.

Both 'Treatment' and 'Bertram' were very successful, and 'Lightfoot; therefore came to the Axis forces as a total surprise in both time and location. Rommel was absent on sick leave, and not until 24.00 on the next night did Adolf Hitler order him to return to the front for only then did he come to see the situation as serious. On 7 October General Georg Stumme, deputy commander of the Deutsch-Italienische Panzerarmee, had told his corps and divisional commanders, repeating this on 20 October, that the decisive point of the British offensive would be the northern part of the southern sector, with a secondary ad­vance in the north. General Wilhelm Ritter von Thoma, who was taken prisoner in the battle, told his British captors that German reconnaissance had detected no increase of vehicles in the south, only in the north, and that he had been certain that the main attack would come in the south. Not until the battle was three days old, by which point the 8th Army had driven deep into the Axis position, did Rom­mel finally decide that the British offensive was focussed in the north and therefore attempt to shift one of his two armoured divisions from the south.

By 4 November the 8th Army had broken the German position and the Axis forces were on the verge of a precipitate retreat to the west, only four days before the 'Torch' landings in North-West Africa.