Operation Cockade

Operation Cockade
Operation Cockade
Part of the Western Front of World War II
Date September 1943 – 5 Nov 1943
Location Western Front
Result Allied failure
 Germany  US
 United Kingdom
Commanders and leaders
Nazi Germany Adolf Hitler
Nazi GermanyGeneralfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt
Sir Frederick Morgan[1]
United StatesMajor General 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 None

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. The Allies hoped to use Cockade to force the Luftwaffe into a massive air battle with the Royal Air Force and US 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.



The three plans were interwoven into one large deception story, called Operation Cockade.[2] The Allies sent the Cockade story to the Germans by using many different methods, double agents, decoy signals, fake troop concentrations, and increased reconnaissance and bombing missions into the areas of Boulogne, Brest, and Norway.[3]

The plan was developed and under the control of Sir Frederick Morgan, Chief of Staff to the Supreme Allied Commander (COSSAC);[1] at the time the Supreme Allied Commander had not been appointed—Eisenhower would assume the position in December 1943.

Operation Starkey

Operation Starkey involved a sham British and Canadian amphibious invasion into the Boulogne area of northern France. For the United States, the original Starkey deception plan involved 2,300 heavy bomber, 3,700 fighter, and 400 medium bomber sorties to strike targets near Boulogne. This was done with the goal of convincing the Germans that the British and Canadian invasion preparations were authentic.[4] The British were to provide another 3,000 heavy bomber sorties into the Boulogne area.[5] Starkey was to culminate with a large feint involving sailing an amphibious force, consisting of 30 ships, off the Boulogne coast, hoping to lure in the Luftwaffe.

The Starkey plan encountered difficulties from the start. One of the opponents to the plan, 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."[6] 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 newly organized 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 striking 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.[7] The Royal Navy did not fully endorse the deception plan either; Starkey planners had wanted to place two of the Navy's battleships within the amphibious force to act as bait for the Luftwaffe, but they were unwilling to risk their battleships in such a manner.[8] Because of this opposition, the Starkey planners had to make several amendments to the deception plan.

Operation Wadham

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. This story, which was totally fictional and involved minimal "real" forces, had an amphibious group sailing directly from the United States and another force from Great Britain, 10 divisions in all[9], to conduct an invasion at Brest.[10] The premise of this story 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 provide more effectiveness at destroying the Luftwaffe than the diverted bomber resources could provide in support of Wadham. Other than air assets, the Americans only had to provide 75 dummy landing craft to aid in the deception effort.[4] 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."[11]

Operation Tindall

Operation Tindall involved the story 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 outside of tactical air support range and needed a way to increase the plausibility of the plan.[12] The five divisions that were to be used in the sham invasion were actual divisions camped in Scotland, and the Allies had adequate aircraft and naval assets in Scotland to make the deception plan plausible. The only shortfall the Allies had with Tindall was their lack of military gliders.[13] The Allies hoped Tindall would induce the Germans to maintain 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.[14] 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 10 divisions from France. The invasion stories, particularly Starkey and Wadham, were not plausible and lacked credibility, 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.[15] The fact that the Germans moved 10 divisions out of northern France to other theaters indicated that Starkey and Wadham were complete failures.

In Norway, the Germans did keep force levels at 12 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.[16] Cockade did have one success: the Germans believed the story that the Allies had 51 divisions in the British Isles, when in reality there were only 17 divisions. This became a factor for deception operations in 1944. Overall, however, 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."[3]



  1. ^ a b "Cossac". USA Army. http://www.history.army.mil/documents/cossac/Cossac.htm. 
  2. ^ 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).
  3. ^ a b Charles Cruickshank, Deception in World War II, 75
  4. ^ a b G-5 Section, ETOUSA, U.S. Commitments to Operation Cockade.
  5. ^ Secretary, Chiefs of Staff Committee, Offices of the War Cabinet, Operation Cockade.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ Headquarters, VIII Air Support Command, Starkey Summary (Maxwell AFB, Ala.: AFHRA, USAF Collection, call no. 532.5401B, IRIS no. 00232197, 30 September 1943).
  8. ^ Historical Subsection, Office of Secretary, General Staff, Supreme Head quarters, Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF), The History of COSSAC (Maxwell AFB, Ala.: AFHRA, USAF Collection, call no. 506.01A, IRIS no. 00206749, 1945), 19.
  9. ^ Jonathan Terrell. 'Lies, Spies, and GIs: Operation WADHAM and the Beginning of American Deception in the European Theater of Operations, American University Thesis 2010
  10. ^ Army Operations Branch, Operation Wadham (Maxwell AFB, Ala.: AF-HRA, USAF Collection, call no. 502.451, IRIS no. 00205091, 15 June 1943).
  11. ^ Army Operations Branch, Operation Wadham.
  12. ^ 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).
  13. ^ Historical Subsection, Office of Secretary, General Staff, SHAEF, The History of COSSAC, 19.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ 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).
  16. ^ Royal Air Force, RAF Narrative on the Liberation of North West Europe, 58.


  • Cruickshank, Charles (1979). Deception in World War II. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 019215849X. 

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