The Deceivers: Allied Military Deception in the Second World War

The Deceivers: Allied Military Deception in the Second World War

by Thaddeus Holt

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“This scholarly yet entertaining magnum opus is the definitive account of all the stratagems used by the Allies against the Axis in World War II.”—Wall Street JournalSee more details below


“This scholarly yet entertaining magnum opus is the definitive account of all the stratagems used by the Allies against the Axis in World War II.”—Wall Street Journal

Editorial Reviews

Sewanee Review
Thaddeus Holt's The Deceivers is an important contribution...the least that can be said about the book is that for the next several decades it should serve intelligence and defense communities as a bible about how to deceive an enemy in wartime....The finished product is as close to definitive as we are likely to see....Holt's narrative line will hold the reader's attention, carrying him through the occasional dense patches to leave him astounded by the end result. Invariably that result is a much more thorough knowledge for any reader about what was actually taking place at any particular moment during World War II.
Washington Post
[A] monumental history. Holt fully reveals Allied attempts to "mystify, mislead, and surprise" the enemy, while identifying the intelligence failures, the successes and the many operations whose decisiveness remains unclear even today. The level of detail is staggering. Holt has provided us with a historical record. And this he does this definitively.
Victorino Matus
The level of detail is staggering. The list of colorful personalities is endless. But beneath the mountains of data (and more than 200 pages of appendices and references) lies the story of how American and British officers created deception and eventually mastered it.
The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
This colossal and valuable study is clearly a labor of love for Holt, a lawyer and former deputy secretary of the army. It chronicles in thorough detail and smooth prose various operations that the Allies conducted to mislead the Axis as to the time, place, strength and direction of a host of military operations. The foremost of those was, of course, D-Day, and the origins, conduct and imposing logistics of Operation Fortitude are laid out in unsurpassed detail. So are a host of smaller operations, such as Operation Mincemeat, the subject of the book The Man Who Never Was. The men and women behind the planning and execution included the British career soldier Brig. Dudley W. Clarke; Gordon Merrick, later the author of The Lord Won't Mind and its successors, one of the first mainstream successes in gay fiction; and actor Douglas Fairbanks Jr., who was an amateur sailor and leader of a fine decoy effort in southern France. The achievements of the deceivers were invaluable if not always decisive. Few of them have been chronicled this completely or this well, at least for American readers, in a volume that reads with the fluency of a thriller for any reader with a minimal knowledge of and interest in the war. Agent, Phyllis Westburg. (June 6) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In this massive chronology, Holt, former deputy undersecretary of the U.S. Army, details the complete story of the Allied deception plans undertaken during World War II. Drawing on freshly declassified Pentagon documents, he begins with the early British accomplishments in the Middle East and Africa under the aegis of Brig. Dudley Clarke and ends with Operation Pastel, the deception plan covering the invasion of Japan. The war's story appears in an entirely different light when overlaid with the various deception plans, most spectacularly the vital D-day feint that led Hitler to expect a landing at Calais. This story would only be half told without the work (well detailed here) of the agents and double agents who made strategic deception a success, from the well-known Peter Fleming, brother of James Bond creator Ian, to the little-known Juan Garcia, code-named Garbo, decorated by both the British and the Germans for his war work. Highly recommended.-David Lee Poremba, Detroit P.L. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Massive history of Allied intelligence in WWII, focusing on the misinformation and disinformation that helped assure the success of Torch, Overlord, and other critical operations. Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan may have proved ferociously powerful foes in battle, but behind the scenes their intelligence networks were surprisingly vulnerable. Writes Holt, an attorney and former undersecretary of the Army: "Of the three Axis intelligence services, the elaborate but poorly managed German system was the most successfully deceived. Deception efforts against the Japanese fell on stony ground, for their even more elaborate system was too incompetent to understand what was being told them, and stood too low in the estimation of the decision-makers for it to have done much good if they had." The Italians were far better, Holt says, but Italy was not often the target of counterintelligence efforts. Thanks to such vulnerabilities, Allied agents were able to spread misleading information across many theaters of combat, sometimes using ruses of surprising simplicity-a planted briefcase carrying forged papers here, a carefully inaccurate, tapped telephone conversation there-but more often using diabolically clever stratagems. Holt's history is dense with data, acronyms, and bits of logistics, and it would make for tedious reading were its pages not populated by altogether dashing figures, among them Peter Fleming, the spymaster brother of James Bond novelist Ian, who cooked up two-birds-with-one stone deceptions "at least some of which the Germans passed on to the Japanese"; Douglas Fairbanks Jr., the movie star turned commando and lethal gadget maker; Harold Burris-Meyer, a stereo-sound pioneer whoworked on Disney's Fantasia and who in wartime experimented with "sonic bombs" and sonic deception; Dudley Clarke, a British bon vivant who had "an uncanny habit of suddenly appearing in a room without anyone having noticed him enter it" and seems to have truly enjoyed engineering mayhem. As he and his cohort did, sting-by-sting and operation-by-operation, concocting hoaxes, rumors, phony documents, and misleading plans by the gross. Absorbing, if surely long: just the thing for military-intelligence buffs and students of WWII history.

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Skyhorse Publishing
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The Deceivers

Allied Military Deception in the Second World War
By Thaddeus Holt


Copyright © 2004 Thaddeus Holt
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0743250427

Prologue, 1862-1940

June 1862. For two months Stonewall Jackson has marched and counter-marched his little Confederate army in a bewildering choreography up and down the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, striking where least expected and disappearing again, leaving four different Union commanders wondering what had hit them. Now he has slipped his army across the Blue Ridge to join Lee's main body for a surprise attack upon McClellan's host bearing down on Richmond. If the Yankees should suspect even for a moment that this is happening, the telegraph will flash the word to Washington and thence to McClellan. So they must be made to act on the belief that Jackson is headed down the Valley towards the Potomac in pursuit of retreating Federals.

To this end Jackson has directed his engineers to perform a new topographical survey of the Valley, as if he were planning a further campaign there. He has ordered rumors spread of an impending advance to the Potomac. He has sent cavalry to follow the enemy retreat, and the troopers themselves have no idea where their infantry is. His outpost lines and cavalry screen are airtight. His officers have been told nothing. His men have no notion what is afoot; they have been instructed to answer all questions with "I don't know," and have been forbidden even to ask the names of villages they pass through. He himself is riding ahead to Richmond incognito. And in a few days his men will pour yelling out of the woods against McClellan's right wing. "Always mystify, mislead, and surprise the enemy," Jackson said once to one of his generals. He is a master of that game.

Mystify, mislead, and surprise. In principle this is nothing new. Deception of one sort or another has been practiced in war from the dawn of time. Joshua overthrew the men of Ai by the ruse of a feigned retreat. "Warfare is the Tao of deception," wrote Sun Tzu, the Chinese sage of war, in the fourth century B.C. Thrasybulus of Miletus two hundred years before Sun Tzu, Leonidas and Themistocles in the Persian Wars, Belisarius nine centuries later, all supposedly tricked their enemies into thinking their forces were stronger than they really were. Feudal Japan knew the kagamusha, a man who pretended to be the warlord, dressed in his armor, to decoy the enemy away from the real commander. In 1704 Marlborough deceived all Europe into believing that his march from the Netherlands to Bavaria, leading up to the victory of Blenheim, was really aimed at Alsace. Frederick the Great before the battle of Hohenfriedberg in 1745, Napoleon in the campaign of Ulm in 1805, used carefully planned deceptions to disguise their movements. But just as Jackson's war is the first in which the railroad and the telegraph have enabled movement with unprecedented speed and instantaneous communication over long distances, so Jackson is the first to adjust his stratagems to modern technology. With instant communication, secrecy is more essential than ever before: so Jackson keeps newspaper correspondents out of his camp, and not only do his men never know where they are going (or, often, where they are); neither does his closest staff. A tight cavalry screen always masks his movements. Secret marches, often by the worst road available; systematic and industrious spreading of false rumors; sending seeming deserters across the lines primed with false information; feigned retreats -- he uses them all, with the sure touch of a master.

Fast forward now to 1900.

Colonel G. F. R. Henderson is a distinguished military historian and scholar, who since 1892 has been Professor of Military Art and History at the British Staff College, where, as The Times will say in his obituary a few years hence, "he exercised by his lectures and his personality an influence upon the younger generation of the officers of the British army for which it would be difficult to find a parallel nearer home than that of Moltke in Prussia." Henderson is the closest of all students of Stonewall Jackson. His two-volume biography of the Confederate genius, published in 1898, is (and a century later will still be) one of the masterpieces of Civil War studies. To research it he visited Virginia in the early 1880s and tramped over Jackson's battlefields, and then conducted an extensive correspondence with Jackson's surviving officers. In it he has been the first to emphasize and analyze Jackson's systematic mystifying and misleading of the enemy. The greatest general, says Henderson, is "he who compels his adversary to make the most mistakes," whose imagination can produce "stratagems which bring mistakes about;" and in this respect he compares Jackson to Wellington -- "Both were masters of ruse and stratagem" -- and contrasts him with Grant, who had "no mystery about his operations" and "no skill in deceiving his adversary."

When Field-Marshal Lord Roberts is sent out to retrieve the initial British disasters in the South African War, he brings Henderson with him as his chief of intelligence. Roberts's first task is to lift the siege of Kimberley, well behind the main Boer line. His basic plan for this involves a traditional feint. His cavalry will demonstrate conspicuously against the Boers' right; then the bulk of the force will slip away and swing around the Boer left flank and make for Kimberley. Henderson's job is to keep the Boers' attention focused on their right and prevent their catching on to Roberts's real plan till too late.

Henderson is overjoyed at this opportunity to try his own hand at the skill he so much admires in Jackson. As his assistant will record years later, "Henderson, always an ardent advocate for mystifying and misleading the enemy...reveled in the deceits he practised." He sends out fictitious orders in clear, and then cancels them in cipher. He circulates false orders directing concentration opposite the Boers' right. He gives "confidential" tips to people he knows will divulge them. He gives a London newspaper correspondent a particularly juicy piece of misinformation with a stern injunction to keep it to himself; it promptly appears in the London papers (which evokes a sharp warning from the War Office about the indiscretion of someone on the staff). His intelligence officers and agents continually reconnoiter the enemy's right. Information is sought about availability of water and good campsites along the route that Roberts does not intend to follow. Telegrams in an easily-broken cipher are allowed to fall into enemy hands. And in due course, with the Boers' attention thus focused on their right, Roberts's cavalry swings round their left, rides for Kimberley, and lifts the siege.

Riding with Roberts's cavalry is a thirty-eight-year-old officer named Edmund Allenby. He observes, and remembers.

Fast forward again now, to 1917.

To protect the Suez Canal against Germany's Turkish allies operating from Palestine, the British have advanced an army from British-occupied Egypt across the Sinai. With the failure of a British attack on Gaza in March, this force has bogged down at the borders of Palestine along the Gaza-Beersheba line. A second attack on Gaza in April fails too. In June the British government sends out that same Allenby, now a full general, to take over the command, with orders to mount an all-out effort to conquer Palestine.

Allenby decides to hit the Turkish left and roll their line up from Beersheba rather than making yet another direct attack on their right at Gaza. His intelligence (presided over by Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen, an exceptionally energetic and resourceful officer) is highly efficient, including decipherment of Turkish radio messages, aerial reconnaissance, and an effective spy network; from it Allenby knows that the Turks expect the main blow to fall at Gaza once again and are also concerned over a possible British landing on the Mediterranean coast in their rear. Harking back to Roberts and Henderson before Kimberley, he orders steps taken to reinforce both of these concerns. To emphasize a possible landing in the Turkish rear, British forces in Cyprus build new camps, the ports of Cyprus bustle with preparations, local dealers show interest in buying large quantities of supplies, wireless traffic is stepped up, the Royal Navy makes shows of activity north of Gaza. On the main front, extensive false information is planted in radio messages in a cipher whose key has been deliberately leaked to the Turks; rumors confirming the deception plan are spread; patrol and artillery activity reinforce the appearance of an attack at Gaza with a mere demonstration at Beersheba; shift of forces to the British right is conducted in slow stages only at night.

Most memorable is the famous "Haversack Ruse." Meinertzhagen himself rides out and allows the Turks to fire on him. He gallops away, pretending to be wounded, dropping a bloodstained haversack in his flight. When the Turks open it they find documents tending to confirm the deception plan, plus money and personal items. The documents are fakes; the other items were added to lend authenticity. The loss of valuable papers is reported in radio messages, patrols are sent out to search for the compromising haversack, a sandwich wrapped in a daily order dealing with its loss is left behind by a patrol near enemy lines for the Turks to find.

The Turks remain focused on their right. The Third Battle of Gaza opens on October 31 with the primary assault against their left. It is an unqualified victory for Allenby.

The Turks fall back and Allenby slowly advances into Palestine, taking Jerusalem in December and setting up a line running from north of Jerusalem to the Mediterranean. He has to send reinforcements to France to help stem Ludendorff's spring offensive and his front is relatively quiet for much of 1918. By September he is ready to attack again. This time his main thrust will be on the coastal plain on the Turkish right, so his goal is to make the Turks focus on the Jordan Valley on their left; moreover, this time he hopes to conceal from the enemy not merely the direction of his attack but the very fact that he means to make one.

To accomplish this, Allenby implements an even more elaborate deception than before. He unleashes Lawrence of Arabia and his Arabs in the Transjordan, attracting Turkish attention well to the left of their main line. Lawrence's Arabs spread the word throughout the Transjordan that the British are soon coming and will need to buy fodder and sheep. Allenby moves his units towards his left at night and they lie under cover during the day. In the area where the main attacking force will be concentrated, camps are built and occupied by skeleton units long before the scheduled date of the offensive, to accustom the Turks to the presence there of large forces with no aggressive intent. Vacated camps are occupied by limited-service troops who keep up a regular camp routine, and no less than fifteen thousand dummy wooden horses are set out in vacated cavalry camps for the benefit of enemy aerial reconnaissance. Mules dragging wooden sledges and tree limbs raise huge dust clouds in areas where no real activity is taking place. At key river crossings, bridges are repeatedly built and dismantled so that the actual assault crossing will seem to be just another training session. Every day two battalions march to the Jordan Valley; they go back in trucks every night, and the same two battalions march to the Jordan again the next day. Rumors are launched that Allenby's headquarters will be shifted to Jerusalem opposite the Turkish left; billets are marked and a hotel is requisitioned; the doors of its rooms are labeled with the names of headquarters departments and special telephone lines are conspicuously installed.

The net result is a four-to-one British superiority in the crucial sector. At dawn September 19, Allenby launches the Battle of Megiddo. He smashes through the Turkish right. His cavalry pours through the gap and swings east, and the Turkish army is trapped. Allenby drives on to Damascus and Aleppo, and by the end of October Turkey is out of the war.

Allenby has taken Henderson one step further, by institutionalizing and sytematizing deception on the basis of an orderly assessment of the situation and integrating it with his operational planning. "Deceptions which for ordinary generals were just witty hors d'oeuvres before battle, had become for Allenby a main point of strategy," Lawrence will write in later years. In effect, Allenby has updated the methods of Stonewall Jackson as carried forward by Henderson, applying to them the elaborate staff procedures of the twentieth century.

Attached to Allenby's staff, and subsequently on the staff of one of his corps, is a thirty-five-year-old officer named Archibald Wavell. He observes, and remembers.

Fast forward once more, to November of 1940.

General Sir Archibald Wavell is now British Commander-in-Chief, Middle East, with headquarters in Cairo. He commands a vast theater extending from Iran on the east to Libya on the west, and south to East Africa. Since the fall of France in June, Britain has stood alone. The Blitz is at its height, and London writhes under the bombs of the Luftwaffe; the RAF has won the Battle of Britain, but nobody can be sure that Hitler has given up the thought of invasion. Only Wavell is in direct contact with Axis forces on the ground and in a position to give the British people a tangible victory. His immediate adversary is not Germany but Italy, which Mussolini brought into the war shortly before France collapsed. An Italian army under Marshal Rodolfo Graziani, based in the Italian colony of Libya, on the western border of Egypt, has established itself at Sidi Barrani on Egyptian territory, while forces operating from Italian East Africa under the Duke of Aosta have occupied British Somaliland. Wavell plans to attack Graziani first, in early December, followed by an offensive in East Africa. In Allenby style, his plan of attack on Graziani includes deception of the enemy, by spreading word through known Axis sources of information in Cairo (including the Japanese consulate) that his force is being weakened owing to the detachment of troops to be sent to Greece to aid in repelling the invasion of Greece which Mussolini launched in October; by taking administrative measures and broadcasting dummy radio traffic that tend to confirm a sizable withdrawal from his front; and by dropping hints to the press that maneuvers and training exercises are going on in the desert. To show enemy agents that he has nothing afoot, on the eve of the attack he ostentatiously attends the afternoon races with Lady Wavell and their daughters, and that evening he entertains his senior officers at a party, looking carefree and relaxed.

As he presides over the planning and implementation of this process, Wavell decides that Allenby's approach should be taken one ultimate further step. Not only should deception be institutionalized, but it should be entrusted to a permanent specialized staff element dedicated solely to that function. On November 13 he advises London by personal signal that he intends to form "a special section of Intelligence for Deception of the enemy," and requests that there be assigned to that responsibility an officer, now a lieutenant-colonel, who had served under him in Palestine in the 1930s, and in whom he had, in his own words, "recognized an original, unorthodox outlook on soldiering," coupled with "originality, ingenuity, and [a] somewhat impish sense of humor."

On December 19 that officer reports to Wavell for duty. In an absolutely true sense the fourth-generation heir of Stonewall Jackson in the direct line, he will prove to be not merely a worthy successor to Jackson but the master of the game, the man who perfects the art of military deception in its modern form and is ultimately responsible for the greatest military deceptions in history. His name is Dudley Clarke.

Copyright © 2004 by Thaddeus Holt


Excerpted from The Deceivers by Thaddeus Holt Copyright © 2004 by Thaddeus Holt. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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What People are saying about this

Ernest May
A truly wonderful book! Deeply researched and written with authority and verve, it tells the full story of Allied deception during World War II. The Deceivers not only recounts every major operation, it describes in detail how each operation affected the enemy. It will be essential for the bookshelf of every serious student of World War II.
Michael Howard
Mr. Holt's history of Allied deception in World War II is definitive. He has trawled through all the documentation, interviewed all the survivors, and put together a history as comprehensive as it is readable and entertaining. It is an astonishing achievement, and no library of the war can afford to be without it.
Joseph S. Nye
Thad Holt has written a brilliant account of Allied military deceptions in World War II. It will become a standard work on military intelligence tactics. And best of all, it reads like a novel!
R. James Woolsey
Thaddeus Holt has given us a riveting history of the Allied deception operations in World War II. The British were especially masterful -- the sphinxlike and sardonic Dudley Clarke and his colleagues had a huge hand in the victory. Far more dramatic than any fiction.
Robert Cowley
Just when you have convinced yourself that you have long ago imbibed the last word on the secret side of World War II, along comes Thaddeus Holt and his remarkable study. Superbly researched and full of fresh revelations, The Deceivers is not only immaculately written but wonderfully readable.
Nigel West
A highly professional yet entertaining analysis of the dirty tricks ingeniously dreamed up by unscrupulous Allied intelligence personnel in World War II to defeat the enemy. Easily the best book yet written, or ever likely to be, on the subject, drawing on the most recent documents declassified on both sides of the Atlantic.

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