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Deceiving Rommel

by sandycertacito

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Alexander Dall
Location of story: 
Egypt 1942
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
30 November 2003

To make an attack doubly effective, it helps if the enemy is misled about where it is to take place. If he disposes his forces according to received reconnaissance at X, and the real attack takes place at Y, the battle is already partly won.

Before Alamein, the 'Bertram Plan' was conceived and carried out to create the impression that the major blow would be struck in the south, and various stratagems were employed to create this illusion. Some actual "illusions" were indeed invented by the stage magician Maskelyne, but the greater part of the enterprise was masterminded by Lieutenant-Colonel Richardson.

The 1st. Armoured Division formed part of 10 Corps, and were held back in the Delta till routes were cleared through the "Devil's Garden" of extensive minefields. When we did move westwards,it was necessary, as part of the plan, to leave our extensive site apparently still occupied. Tanks, lorries, wireless trucks, petrol bowsers, etc., all had to leave behind models of themselves, because there were daily visits of Storch "shufti-kites" taking aerial photographs of our location.

Lorries delivered heaps of assorted timber, cardboard sheets and nails, and each crew set about building a replica of their vehicle, and covering it, as before, with a camouflage net. Ours was a large, rectangular Armoured Command Vehicle (ACV),and we laboured to construct something that would not collapse under its own weight.

On the evening of 21st. October, we silently stole away, leaving these fragile simulacrums where our vehicles had been, and headed for the battlefield.

Not quite silently. The German monitors had become accustomed to overhearing a certain level and type of wireless traffic over the previous weeks from this location, so this was maintained by a small group of operators working through a pile of message forms.

Our efforts formed only a small part of 'Bertram'. For instance, a complete twenty-mile dummy pipeline made of empty petrol cans was laid down to the south, with pump houses at intervals. Meanwhile in the north, where the real attack was to be made, a large dump containing 600 tons of supplies, 2000 tons of petrol, etc., was gradually created and camouflaged.

Although the ensuing infantry and tank battles were of terrifying intensity, they might well have been even worse if Rommel had known exactly where we were going to strike, and had made appropriate preparations to repel them.

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Message 1 - Re: Deceiving Rommel

Posted on: 30 November 2003 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear sandycertacito

Yours is a very interesting story with some fine details of 'Bertram'.

Have you read "Bodyguard of Lies" by Anthony Cave Brown (Comet, 1986)? At pages 116-124 of this huge tome you will find a full account of this superb stratagem.



Message 2 - Re: Deceiving Rommel

Posted on: 01 December 2003 by sandycertacito

Peter -

Thanks for the reference to Cave Brown's book. I have replied to another commentator that Maskeyline's efforts were never acknowledged by the army, and that he left the scene of his triumphs a very disappointed man.



Message 3 - Re: Deceiving Rommel

Posted on: 01 December 2003 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper


He is not completely forgotten. Brown (op. cit. p.118) has this reference to him regarding the deception, which, in Brown's words, "would become one of history's most remarkable conjuring tricks":

"[Brig. Dudley Wrangle] Clarke conferred with Lieutenant Colonel Geoffrey Barkas, a film set designer, and Major Jasper Maskelyne, a conjuror, his two main camouflage experts. Within two hours, working at an ancient and gritty typewriter in the third-class waiting room of the Alamein railroad station, they arrived at a plan that was essentially taken from literature; the only way to hide the army, they decided, was to do what Malcolm had done at Birnam Wood - move forward under camouflage so gradually that the enemy's sharpest eyes and lenses would fail to perceive the movement."

It was a great triumph of deception, brilliantly conceived and executed.


Message 1 - Deceiving Rommel

Posted on: 30 November 2003 by paul gill - WW2 Site Helper

Thanks Sandy. I had read or seen something about Maskelyne's efforts butyou've added a lot more detail.


Message 2 - Deceiving Rommel

Posted on: 01 December 2003 by sandycertacito

Paul -

Perhaps you saw a TV coverage about Maskeyline recently. Evidently his remarkable efforts were never acknowledged by the army, and he left Egypt a very disappointed man.



Message 3 - Deceiving Rommel

Posted on: 01 December 2003 by paul gill - WW2 Site Helper

Yes, I think that's right. I probably saw it in the last 2 months. A lot of people never got credit for what they did either because of security, e.g. Bletchley's computer technology was stopped in its tracks by Churchill or because its importance wasn't recognised e.g. the POW who told the Germans that sound locators were used to detect the bombers, leading to them desynchronising their engines on crossing the channel and the POW who told the Germans their radio detection equipment itself emitted radiation which the allied aircraft could detect leeading to every U boat being withdrawn for useless modification or because others wished to take the credit.. There's a few of those!



Message 4 - Deceiving Rommel

Posted on: 02 December 2003 by paul gill - WW2 Site Helper

Oops! I think I've made a mistake about Colossus. I'm hoping Peter will add his authoritive comments after this message.


Message 5 - Deceiving Rommel

Posted on: 05 November 2004 by exkiwi

I can remember my father told us all about this, when I was a child he used to tell us his war stories. He was in the New Zealand engineers and he told us they built replica vehicles including tanks and then moved the real army as quietly as possible. Most people I repeated his story to didn't believe me until recently.

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