Operation Cockade

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Operation Cockade
Part of the Western Front of World War II
DateSeptember 1943 – 5 November 1943
Result Allied failure
 Germany  United States
 United Kingdom
Commanders and leaders
Nazi Germany Adolf Hitler
Nazi Germany Gerd von Rundstedt
United Kingdom Frederick E. Morgan[1]
United States Ira C. Eaker
~22 Divisions United States~2,300 heavy bomber, 3,700 fighter, and four hundred medium bomber
United Kingdom Bomber Command, ~13 Divisions
Casualties and losses
None France 376 civilians[2]
Village of Le Portel flattened[2]

Operation Cockade was a series of deception operations designed to alleviate German pressure on Allied operations in Sicily and on the Soviets on the Eastern Front by feinting various attacks into Western Europe during World War II. The Allies hoped to use Cockade to force the Luftwaffe into a massive air battle with the Royal Air Force and U.S. Eighth Air Force that would give the Allies air superiority over Western Europe. Cockade involved three deception operations: Operation Starkey, Operation Wadham, and Operation Tindall. Operation Starkey was set to occur in early September, followed by Operation Tindall in mid September, and lastly Operation Wadham in late September 1943.


In March 1943, General Frederick E. Morgan was appointed Chief of Staff to the Supreme Allied Commander[a] (COSSAC), and tasked with operational planning in Northwest Europe.[3][1] Morgan's operational orders from Allied high command, received in April, referred to "an elaborate camouflage and deception" with the dual aim of keeping German forces in the west, and drawing the Luftwaffe into an air battle. Deception strategy fell to the London Controlling Section (LCS), a Whitehall department established in 1941 and by then run by Colonel John Bevan. Bevan convinced Morgan to establish a specialist deception section on his staff, but Morgan's hierarchy was unable to accommodate it. So a department, Ops (B), was set up within the "G-3" operations division.[4][b] A deception also required at least one notional amphibious invasion of the French coast. The real cross-channel invasion had already been postponed until 1944 and the main Allied push that year was toward southern Europe. Morgan's task was to help pin the enemy down in the west.[4][5]

1943: Deception Story[edit]

Allied military deception at that time revolved around constructing a story to sell to the enemy. For 1943 Ops (B) and the LCS, under direction from Morgan, created three plans (Tindall, Starkey and Wadham) which received the overall codename Cockade. The plans were submitted for approval by the Chiefs of Staff on June 3 and approved twenty days later.[4]

Cockade began with Tindall, a threat against Norway from units based in Scotland. This invasion would then be called off to allow a dual amphibious attack on France (Starkey and Wadham) beginning in early September. The French assault would be similarly called off and Tindall reinstated until the winter.[6][7] The deceptions would be carried out via double agents, decoy signals, fake troop concentrations, commando raids, and increased reconnaissance and bombing missions into the areas of Boulogne, Brest and Norway.[8]

Operation Starkey[edit]

Operation Starkey was a sham British and Canadian amphibious invasion into the Boulogne area of northern France. For the United States, the original plan involved 2,300 heavy bomber, 3,700 fighter and 400 medium bomber sorties against targets near Boulogne. This was done with the goal of convincing the Germans that the British and Canadian invasion preparations were authentic.[9] The British were to provide another 3,000 heavy bomber sorties into the Boulogne area.[10] Starkey was to culminate with a large feint involving an amphibious force aboard 30 ships operating off the Boulogne coast hoping to lure the Luftwaffe. The Army part of this exercise was named Operation Harlequin.[11]

The Starkey plan encountered difficulties from the start. Major General Ira C. Eaker, Eighth Air Force commander, criticized the Starkey plan by saying that it would force the Americans to abandon their strategic bombing offensive. In a letter to Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF), Eaker said Starkey called for 2,300 heavy-bomber sorties over 14 days "when the command had only flown 5,356 combat sorties in the past 8 months."[12] Although Eaker convinced SHAEF to lower the American commitment to three hundred heavy-bomber sorties, he promised to provide as many bomber sorties as possible from new bomber units undergoing training. By the time it was over, Eighth Air Force had flown a total of 1,841 bomber sorties. Other problems were encountered as well. Headquarters, VIII Air Support Command noted that Starkey planners had difficulty agreeing on the rules of engagement for targets in occupied France. The British and Americans unknowingly duplicated efforts on several occasions, by flying the same missions within a few days of each other.[13] The Royal Navy did not fully endorse the deception plan either; Starkey planners had wanted two of the Navy's battleships for the amphibious force to act as bait for the Luftwaffe but they were unwilling to risk their battleships in such a manner.[14] Because of this opposition, the Starkey planners had to make several amendments to the deception plan. Despite these issues, Starkey provided an useful practical lesson in the complexity and scale of the logistical supply chain needed to maintain flexible support to an invading force. It also contributed to the perception that the Pas-de-Calais was the primary candidate for the invasion.[11]

Operation Wadham[edit]

Planners for Operation Wadham wanted the Germans to believe that the Americans were going to invade in the area of Brest, a seaport on the Breton peninsula. The hoax involved minimal "real" forces, had a notional amphibious group sailing directly from the United States and another force from Great Britain with ten divisions in all,[15] to conduct an invasion at Brest.[16] The premise was that the Americans were planning to invade Brest following the successful invasion at Boulogne. Although the air commitment for this plan was considerably less than Starkey’s, Eaker also criticized Wadham by saying that the combined bomber offensive would more effectively destroy the Luftwaffe than the diverted bomber resources could provide in support of Wadham. Other than aircraft, the Americans only had to provide 75 dummy landing craft to aid in the deception effort.[9] The primary weakness in Wadham’s story was that the US forces were going to land outside of Allied tactical air support range. Prior to the operation, the Army Operations Branch called Wadham a "very weak plan" but "essential as a part of Cockade to reinforce Starkey."[17]

The notional order of battle for Operation Wadham included:[15]

Operation Tindall[edit]

Operation Tindall was a deception that the British and Americans were going to attack Norway, with the hypothetical goal of capturing Stavanger and its airfield. Stavanger and its airfield were critical to the story, for once again the Allies were planning a deception operation beyond the range of tactical air support and needed to increase the plausibility of the plan.[18] The five divisions that were to be used in the sham invasion were real divisions camped in Scotland and the Allies had adequate aircraft and ships in Scotland to make the deception plan plausible. The only shortfall the Allies had with Tindall was their lack of military gliders.[19] The Allies hoped Tindall would induce the Germans to retain the 12 divisions they had assigned to Norway.


Operation Cockade failed to achieve its objectives, mostly because German leadership did not believe the Allies were going to invade western Europe in 1943 and Cockade did not trigger the air battle the Allies desired.[20] The main exception to German High Command was Generalfeldmarschall (Field Marshal) Gerd von Rundstedt, the commander in chief of Western Command, who believed the Allies were going to invade at Boulogne and was angry at the German High Command for removing ten divisions from France. The invasion stories, particularly Starkey and Wadham, were implausible and so were not believed. There were no significant German reactions to these deception operations. The most notable of these non-reactions is the lack of air reconnaissance and naval or Luftwaffe response to the Starkey amphibious feint.[21] That Germans moved ten divisions out of northern France to other theaters indicated that Starkey and Wadham were complete failures.

In Norway, the Germans did retain the twelve divisions, indicating the Germans assessed a higher threat there. Besides being implausible, Cockade also failed because the Allies did not work hard enough to make the deception look real. The Royal Navy would not risk its battleships and Eaker did not want to divert resources from the strategic bombing offensive.[22] Cockade did have one success: the Germans believed the story that the Allies had 51 divisions in the British Isles, when there were only 17 divisions. This became important in deception operations in 1944. Cockade was best summarized by Sir Arthur "Bomber" Harris, commander of RAF Bomber Command, when he said the deception plan was "at best a piece of harmless play acting."[8]


  1. ^ At the time a Supreme Allied Commander had not been appointed – Eisenhower would assume the position in December 1943
  2. ^ COSSAC was set up in the style of American forces (hence the G-3 department), which had no concept of deception at the top level of operations[4]


  1. ^ a b "Cossac". USA Army.
  2. ^ a b Talty (2012), pg. 146
  3. ^ Bond (2004)
  4. ^ a b c d Holt (2004), pg. 477–478
  5. ^ Hesketh (1999), pg. xv
  6. ^ Holt (2004), pg. 479
  7. ^ Secretary, Chiefs of Staff Committee, Offices of the War Cabinet, Operation Cockade (Maxwell AFB, Ala.: AFHRA, USAF Collection, call no. 505.61-15, IRIS no. 00286425, 3 June 1943).
  8. ^ a b Charles Cruickshank, Deception in World War II, 75
  9. ^ a b G-5 Section, ETOUSA, U.S. Commitments to Operation Cockade.
  10. ^ Secretary, Chiefs of Staff Committee, Offices of the War Cabinet, Operation Cockade.
  11. ^ a b Hoyt, Edwin P. (29 Aug 1999). The Invasion Before Normandy: The Secret Battle of Slapton Sands. Scarborough House. p. 21.
  12. ^ Ira C. Eaker to Lt Gen Jacob L. Devers, letter, subject: Operation Cockade, 7 June 1943, Maxwell AFB, Ala.: AFHRA, USAF Collection, call no. 505.61-15, IRIS no. 00286425.
  13. ^ Headquarters, VIII Air Support Command, Starkey Summary (Maxwell AFB, Ala.: AFHRA, USAF Collection, call no. 532.5401B, IRIS no. 00232197, 30 September 1943).
  14. ^ Historical Subsection, Office of Secretary, General Staff, Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF), The History of COSSAC (Maxwell AFB, Ala.: AFHRA, USAF Collection, call no. 506.01A, IRIS no. 00206749, 1945), 19.
  15. ^ a b Jonathan Terrell. 'Lies, Spies, and GIs: Operation WADHAM and the Beginning of American Deception in the European Theater of Operations, American University Thesis 2010
  16. ^ Army Operations Branch, Operation Wadham (Maxwell AFB, Ala.: AF-HRA, USAF Collection, call no. 502.451, IRIS no. 00205091, 15 June 1943).
  17. ^ Army Operations Branch, Operation Wadham.
  18. ^ Chiefs of Staff Committee, Offices of the War Cabinet, Operation Tindall (Maxwell AFB, Ala.: AFHRA, USAF Collection, call no. 505.61-45, IRIS no. 00206455, 1943).
  19. ^ Historical Subsection, Office of Secretary, General Staff, SHAEF, The History of COSSAC, 19.
  20. ^ Royal Air Force, RAF Narrative on the Liberation of North West Europe (Maxwell AFB, Ala.: AFHRA, USAF Collection, call no. 512.041-38 vol. 1, IRIS no. 00895753, 1946), 59.
  21. ^ Office of Deputy Chief of Staff, Headquarters VIII Air Support Command, Memorandum Concerning Feedback on Operation Starkey (Maxwell AFB, Ala.: AFHRA, USAF Collection, call no. 532.4501B, IRIS no. 00232193, 1943).
  22. ^ Royal Air Force, RAF Narrative on the Liberation of North West Europe, 58.