Sunday, November 3, 2013

Guile and Valor

Just finished reading 'The Deceivers' about the art of deception in the 2nd world war.  Not the novels of the same name by Forsyth or Masters, but a well-researched nonfiction account.  Boring you say, as most everybody has heard about the phantom armies in Southeast Britain facing across the channel from the Pas de Calais and perhaps about the ‘man-who-never-was’.  But this book goes into the organized deception campaigns in the Chinese/Burma/India Theater, North Africa, Italy, the Eastern Front, and both the Central and Southwest Pacific Theaters also.  Very detailed and interesting.  The Americans and French learned it as well from the Brits.  The Soviets too but that part is not quite as detailed, due I am sure to unavailability of the appropriate Russian records to an American researcher.  

The author does not credit the British mastery of deception to any particular perfidiousness in the English character.  Interestingly he ascribes it to a 1900s era  British Colonel, G. F. R. Henderson, who was a dedicated student of the campaigns of Stonewall Jackson in the American Civil War.  Henderson was also an author and a Professor of Military Art at the British Staff College.and influenced generations of British officers with Stonewall’s systematic mystifying and misleading of his enemies.   Great generals of all nations have of course used ruses and feints since the beginning of warfare.  But the British genius was to make deception a separate staff section reporting directly to the commander or to his chief of staff and to codify it into their doctrine.  We Americans learned the game from them during the war and played it well at the time.  But unfortunately our staff system was more rigid so we added a layer between commander and the deception staff by assigning it as a tiny subsection of either G-2 or G-3.  And then in 1946 we promptly forgot about it and it and everything we had learned.

Admiral Hewitt in NW African waters and the western Med used it with his Beach Jumpers for mock amphibious landings to disguise the real intended beachhead.  The original idea came from Hollywood (Doug Fairbanks Jr) and they were later used in the Pacific.   

 Nimitz took to deception and used a notional invasion of the Kurile Islands from the Aleutians (termed Wedlock) to mask his intentions in the Marianas and later the Palaus.  That same deception plan also also benefited MacArthur at Leyte.  It worked as evidenced by the buildup of Japanese ground troops in the Kuriles from 14K in 43 to 64K in January 44 plus four air regiments were moved to Hokkaido in February 44 from southern Japan and from Manchuria.  Later Nimitz used a notional invasion of Formosa and mainland China coast (codenamed Bluebird) to disguise the largest amphibious assault of the Pacific – the Okinawan campaign.

MacArthur himself was a natural and used tactical deception brilliantly during the Hollandia campaign.  But for strategic deception requiring coordination with other theaters his imperious Chief of Staff, LtGen Sutherland, and his G-2 and G-3 did not take kindly to outside advice so lost many opportunities.  The Japanese were no slouches at deception themselves as witnessed by their outfoxing Halsey at Leyte.  But they entered that game too late and their efforts were to no avail.

Mountbatten used it extremely well in Burma, his prime practitioners being General Slim and also Peter Fleming,elder brother to Ian, the author of the James Bond novels, some even claim that Peter was a literary clone of 007.  General Stillwell did not like the concept of deception and would not allow it by his command.  His later replacement, Wedemeyer, used a notional drive to the coast of the South China Sea by a Chinese Army Group, reputedly led by Patton (?) so they could link up with Nimitz’s Bluebird ruse.

The book is not new, it was published nine years ago, so is relatively inexpensive but is well worth a look.  The author, Thaddeus Holt, is a former Deputy Under-Secretary of the Army.  He has also written articles on military history for MHQ, JMH and the NYTimes.  Good read but not for the faint of heart as it is 805 pages plus another 300 or so pages for the Appendices.  My only beef is that he seems to spend too much time on the personalities of the various deception staff officers and some of their arguments with each other.  Otherwise it is great reference work not just for deception but also for the real operations they were designed to protect with their <i>”bodyguard of lies”</i>.


  1. I recall reading a story about one of those British "deception" sites. Apparently, they had set up a gun position populated with wooden guns. Some time later, the Germans flew over and bombed the position using wooden bombs...

  2. Ael -

    In North Africa Rommel was almost as foxy as the Brits. He frequently hid his tanks inside tents and covered the trail of their tracks so that observers would suppose it was an infantry encampment. The Brits did the same and he knew it.

    The author makes the point that visual deception (i.e. dummy guns, tanks, aircraft, etc.) has been the most well known method to the general public, but that it was the least effective method. The inflatable guns and tanks were a disaster during North African windstorms. And compared to the use of double agents and communications deception (i.e. bogus radio traffic of non-existent units), the dummies were least persuasive.

    And he (the author) also makes the point that local enemy commanders were a lot harder to bamboozle than OKW in Berlin and IGHQ in Tokyo.

  3. mike-

    Nice post. I've always been interested in maskirovka . . .

  4. I think one of the big problems with institutional deception is that there is no good way to know how "much" you need. Should you have 1% of your soldiers doing deceptions? 0.1%? 10%?

    Since the attack is against the mind of the enemy, you can't really know how good it was or did the enemy behave the way they did for other reasons.

    Since you can't know how much you need, then any amount is "too much". This causes the institution to wither.

  5. Seydlitz -

    Thanks for the link. Interesting about Brezhnev mimicking two tank armies via sonic deception on the left flank of the 1st Ukrainian Front. The Brits and Americans used sound also but I don't believe they ever did it on that scale. And they used it not just for tanks, but for bogus landing craft, bogus firefights, engineers building bogus bridges, bogus air raids, etc. Not sure I understand though about the scrapping of the 100mm guns being a classic piece of maskirovka??? What am I missing? They probably did not have enough ammo for them or perhaps they mistrusted them?

    In 'The Deceivers' Holt mentions the Soviets agreeing to and taking on one phase of Bodyguard (the deception plan to mask the Normandy landings). There was a notional operation for the Soviets to conduct a landing on the Bulgarian Black Sea Port of Varna. Then they were purportedly going to link up with a British/Greek force that landed in Thrace and moved north into Bulgaria via the Struma Valley. The joint operation would eventually move up the Danubian Plain towards Austria. This bit of disiformatsia fell on eager ears. Field Marshall Weichs who was Rundstedt's opposite number for southeast Europe was warned by OKW of the impending assault, which helped to keep German Divisions there instead of in France.

    Holt also has an interesting anecdote of Stalin and Churchill at Tehran. While thet discussed cover plans, Stalin cited the use of Red Army maskirovka. Churchill smiled and gave his famous "Truth deserves a bodyguard of lies" line. "This is what we call military cunning" said Stalin. Churchill replied that he considered it rather military diplomacy.

  6. mike-

    Interesting. We were taught back in the day that the Soviets actually developed deception plans to go along side their operations plans . . . quite an emphasis on maskirovka.

    I think the reference to 100mm and 130mm artillery has the calibers mixed up. Should be 105mm and 122mm. The Germans were in fact surprised that the Soviet 122mm guns outranged their 10.5 cm howitzers after Barbarossa. The purchase of this German artillery was to mask the fact that the Red Army had in fact a superior equivalent.

    You might find this of interest . . .

    Notice the advantages of horse-drawn batteries . . . yet another aspect of maskirovka . . .

  7. @Ael –” Since the attack is against the mind of the enemy, you can't really know how good it was or did the enemy behave the way they did for other reasons.”

    True! But at that time they had ULTRA which let them know how effective their deception was being believed and acted on. The deception staffs were cleared and they could trace a particular ruse via enemy intel comms and finally his operational comms when or if they responded. It was a little harder in the Pacific. They had the MAGIC decrypts but Japanese military intel at the time was rarely listened to by the operational side. Most Japanese MI reports at that time were full of propaganda, any talk of an Allied offensive or Allied strength was considered subversive and was silenced by military leaders (kind of like when Cheney and his boys suppressed dissent in the leadup to Iraq in 03). But the Allies were still able to do strategic deception by using double agents reporting to the Japanese Foreign Office in neutral or Axis countries, or to commissioners of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, both of which had some influence with the Imperial General Staff.

    Granted it is a lot harder to do now that everyone in the world knows about COMINT capabilities. But I imagine there are still ways to determine if your tricks are working. Just don’t bet the farm on them.

    Holt sums up in his epilogue: ”Did deception help the Allied cause? Yes, sometimes, and when it most mattered. Did it ever harm the Allied cause? No. On balance, would the Allied cause have been better off or worse off without deception? Clearly worse off; very possibly much worse off. What did it cost? Next to nothing, in wartime terms.”

    I wish we had done better with deception in Vietnam. But I think there we confused Deception Ops with PsyOps which in the end proved useless. Hanoi proved better at it than us; they doubled every agent we had. Schwarzkopf used deception well in the first Gulf War. I am not sure about our efforts in the second or in Afghanistan - I assume if any were done they are still classified.

  8. Seydlitz –

    Great link on Soviet Artillery - thanks! I haven’t read the whole thing in detail yet but will work on it. Myself, I too greatly respect Soviet maskirovka – and the continuing use of it by the Russian Federation. They still use it much better than we do. But I think their artillery contributed more to winning the war for the Soviets.

    IMHO the best piece of maskirovka they pulled off was the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact before the war. With that they got their half of Poland and the other territorial gains: Karelia and Salla regions of Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bessarabia, Northern Bukovina and Hertza.

    But the greatest deception of WW2, again IMHO, was English. When Poland was invaded by both Germany and the Soviet Union, the Brits declined to declare war on Stalin even though they declared war on Hitler. And Stalin knew it was fishy. So up until Barbarossa was launched he always thought warnings of a German invasion were British provocations.

  9. I guess maskirovska is the red headed younger brother of disinformatsya. mike, Herr Seydlitz, Al the Aviator, Happy birthday! Drink so far is a bottle of Nobilo Kiwi made Sauvignon white boy ....... I'll probably hoist something else after Mama is inspecting the interior of her eyelids,
    PS the NVA know a thing or three on the subject.

  10. Thanks Fast Eddie - hope you had a good 238th

  11. Sorry to come late to the Birthday Wishes, Mike, Seydlitz & Eddie. Been on the road. Hope you all had a great 238th.