Dudley Clarke: a Great British Deceiver

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Dudley Clarke

Deception has always been a part of wartime, and has changed greatly over time. During World War II a British soldier named Dudley Clarke who would transform the art of military deception so much that he would become known as the great British deceiver. Clarke became involved in the armed forces from a young age. During his career he would become a key person in implementing new tactical ideas that would aid in the art of deception. One of his many influences would be his part in using double agents to collect information. He would also introduce the use of false orders to mislead enemies. Throughout his career he would also contribute to the formation of new military units that still exist today.

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Wanting to get involved in World War I, Clarke applied to take the Army Entrance Exam in 1915. At the age of seventeen, Clarke would join the Royal Military Academy, which trained engineer and artillery officers. After getting commissioned as an officer in November, he would move onto the Royal Flying Corps after discovering he was too young to fight in France. There he became a pilot in Egypt, but soon returned to artillery. After the War he would move to Mesopotamia for three years. During the Iraqi revolt he would help to evacuate Europeans by boat. In 1922 he took a leave to travel in Europe while simultaneously running missions for the British commander in Constantinople. While on his leave in Turkey he would become involved in the Chanak Crisis by giving misinformation to the Turks. This was one of the first times that he would become involved in the art of deception during military times. (Holt, 10)

He would later go on to attend the Staff College at Camberley where he would become acquainted with General Sir John Dill. He would travel to Italy and Germany and would also get to know several German officers. Clark would request to be sent to Palestine where he and another staff officer, Tony Simunds, were tasked with setting up an intelligence network to send information back to the British forces. He became the chief of operations staff for General Dill who was the commander in Palestine at the time. Dill would later be replaced by Archibald Wavell, who would keep Clarke on as the chief. He would continue to run deception operations for Wavell and became very close with him. (Holt 11) His involvement in World War I and his activities after would help shape his career. He would make many important connections that would help him later. It was also vital because during his many missions he became introduced to the art of military deception and was in charge of several task forces that would shape him as a leader and improve his skills in misinformation.

Through his relationship with Wavell, he was invited to the Middle East to run intelligence missions during World War II. At the beginning of World War II in September he was promoted to lieutenant-colonel. He would run a series of missions that involved him being sent to Africa. There he would watch over a route that covered the port of Kenya. He was assigned this area due to the fact that if the Middle East were to join the war this is port they would use to send supplies to Italy. He would also go twice to Norway during the spring of 1940. He was also involved in Calais in May as the Western Front collapsed. During this time he was also sent to Eire Ireland. There he was involved in contingency planning should the Germans invade that region. (Holt, 11)

His relationship with Dill would lead Clarke to a position as a military assistant when Dill was promoted to Chief of Imperial General Staff. Clark assisted Dill during the evacuation at Dunkirk and it was during this time that he assisted in the formation of a group called the Commandos. He would claim that he came up with the name from the Boer units from his time in South Africa as a child. This group was to consist of small raiding parties. Clarke himself would participate in the first raid of this group, however the raid was largely unsuccessful and Clarke himself was shot and nearly lost an ear. He would be involved in the Commando group over the next five months before he was once again requested to aid Wavell.

Wavell requested Clarke because he believed that deception was a key part to winning the war, and believed that Clarke could aid in this. He wanted Clarke to come and set up a department that would specifically work on intelligence and deception. It would take Clarke some time to get there, approximately a week, to avoid enemy territory. Clarke would have to travel through Gambia to Freetown and then through Nigeria. There he worked under the guise of a US war correspondent. Clarke was known for being good at disguises and would utilize many throughout his career. In this manner he was able to move about freely in Nigeria. There he would meet with French officers to set up discussions about possibly setting up operations across the Sahara against the Italians. . (A Gender Variance)

His being known for always being in disguise would save him later when he would be caught under questionable circumstances. He was traveling to Egypt under the cover of being a war correspondent for The Times and had stopped off in Madrid. Here he was arrested for being dressed as a woman including a flowery dress, lipstick, and pearls. He was held for questioning for two days before being released. Fearing public embarrassment, the British visited him, and he told them the reason for his garments was that he was taking them to a lady friend, and decided to try them on as a prank. This was different than the story he gave the police that he ‘wanted to study the reactions of men to women in the streets’.(Wilkes) The true purpose for his manner of dress was never truly discovered, though it has been suggested that he was investigating a lead, and took his investigation too far. In any case, his reputation as a man of disguise is one of the key factors that saved his career after this incident occurred, and he would continue working for the British.

Clarke was also well known for making vital contacts whenever possible, including his relationship with Wavell and Dill. He used every opportunity to ingratiate himself with very important people. This would make him key in several operations due to his many connections. It would also put him in many opportune positions as many of his colleagues would come to trust him and ask for him specifically when trying to set up new operations. After his discussion with the Free French officers, he would continue his journey and would arrive in Cairo the next day.

Wavell ran his own headquarters in Cairo; in the north were Palestine and Transjordan, and Cyprus on the coast. To the east he monitored Iraq and Iran and to the north of that region Turkey. The final territory was in the south, Saudi Arabia. The focus of the British forces was the Suez Canal which was considered a vulnerable area as it was possible to go down the Canal and through the Red Sea into the Indian Ocean and attack British India. Wavell’s strong position in Cairo would provide Clarke with many opportunities to implement new tactics of deceit.

Upon his arrival in Cairo Clarke immediately began to make new contacts as he frequently did in any new area that he was familiarizing himself with. One important relationship he would form would be with Raymond Maunsell who ran the Security Intelligence Middle East which was in charge of running counter espionage tactics. Maunsell himself was responsible for setting up the SIME on limited resources and utilized local resources such as the Egyptian Police. He had managed to penetrate several enemy forces through the use of double agents that he placed including within the Spanish Consulate where he was able to gather much information on the Axis. Clarke would later use the SIME who were trained in simple unsophisticated tactics.

Clarke would remain in Cairo over the next five years where he was placed in charge, by Wavell, of his own deception operations to be run out of North Africa. It was here that he would run one of his first deception tactics against the Italians. His job was to feed misinformation to the Italians to make them believe that they would be invading Italian Somaliland while in actuality they would be attacking Eritrea. The Italians believed this ruse, but instead of diverting their troops and Clarke had hoped, they would retreat in Eritrea and the British were unable to attack the city as they planned. This was a very important failure in Clarke’s career as he learned that his job would entail more than just making people believe what you want them to. It was more important to make them do what you want them to do:

This confirmed Clarke’s first rule of strategic deception: Feed your adversary information not to make him think but to make him do what you want him to do; define the response you want from him, then poke, bludgeon, tickle and/or seduce him into choosing that course of action. Next rule: feed him information from many sources; let him think he’s sorting things out himself. (Kopper)

Clarke would go on to teach this lesson to many other officers placed in charge of deception. He taught them that the focus should be on pushing enemies a certain direction. That it was not enough to make them believe a falsehood, and in fact, it was vital to use a mix of false and correct information to manipulate them into doing what you want. It didn’t matter if they believed what you wanted them to, if they do not respond in the proper manner then one would not be able to make the move they initially wanted to, which meant all their efforts would be wasted. This belief would become his mantra as he continued his work.

Clarke’s next major mission was one that he had come up with entirely on his own called ABEAM to assist Wavell while he was on his trip the Libya. He knew that the Italians feared a British airborne attack in their rear, but Wavell did not in fact have a team for this. Clarke’s self-appointed mission was to create the belief that one existed and to spread this information. He called this imaginary team the ‘First Special Air Service Brigade’ and claimed that they were being trained in the Transjordan Desert. He would create uniforms for several officers that included a parachute insignia and armbands that read ‘1st Airborne Division’ and would have them wear this in different areas around the Middle East. He would also have two soldiers equipped with Para trooping equipment, and would have photos of them training taken and printed in papers. This goes back to Clarke’s belief in the importance of physical disguises, not just when infiltrating enemy territory, but as part of any deception tactic to help spread false information. (A Gender’s Variance) This team would later actually be created, and Clarke would see to it that they would be under the same name as this team.

This ruse ran for about six months and, although had no specific purpose, benefited Clarke in several ways. His long term goal was to convince the Axis that the division existed, which he succeeded in doing as evidenced by several documents that they were able to capture. This meant that he was able to force the Axis into taking this team into account during any strategic planning they attempted to, and that Clarke would be able to, if needed, build upon their belief of this brigade to further deceive the Axis. Another, more important point, was that it was this mission that taught Clarke that it was possible to run long-term deception missions that would influence more than just one event. The existence of this brigade would run in the back of his enemy’s mind, which meant he was able to manipulate their idea of what they believed they would be up against. He was able to force them to consider in their planning that their force is stronger than it really is. A final point that in this mission was that Clarke learned and implemented the value of knowing his enemies fears. It was only because the Italians believed that the brigade existed that Clarke’s deception worked so effectively. It was this mission that solidified how vital it was to know what your enemy is afraid of and how to best use it against them. (Holt, 22)

Clarke’s next mission was called the K-Shell Plan. He decided to spread the story that the British were using a new type of artillery shell. This shell, he claimed, was designed by the Australians, and would produce a titanic concussion instead of the then used shells which caused damage through fragmentation. This plan became effective during the first week of January. However, the press then picked up the story and began to report on it. This means for this mission to be successful, Clarke would either have to lie to the press or bring them in on the mission giving them secrete details. Clarke determined that neither of these routes was reasonable and would abandon the mission. Although this was a very short lived and pointless mission that did nothing to help the British, Clarke gained a valuable lesson, and that was just because one has the means to run an operation, it does not mean that he should, especially if there was no clear objective. He would remember this during the rest of his career when taking into consideration whether he should run an operation or not.

The Cordite Cover Plan was a project Clarke created to force the Italians to divert their forces from Rhodes to the island of Scarpanto. His idea was to perpetuate the idea that Scarpanto was their actual target, which was briefly considered but then dismissed, in addition to an airfield raid on the south end of Rhodes. They wanted to trick the Italians into believing that this would be carried out by the First Special Air Service Brigade, the false team Clarke created earlier in his career, who would be moved from their training facility in the Transjordan to Crete. Because they knew the Axis would be alerted when the false Brigade left Egypt, they also wanted to create the belief that they would stop in Cyprus for a dress rehearsal to allow the Italians time to react how they wanted.

This plan was also another one that was never taken into effect. It had to be cancelled when the Germans, under the order of General Erwin Rommel, arrived in North Africa forcing the British to return to Egypt. However, like his previous failed mission, it taught Clarke many lessons in the art of deception that he would go on to teach others. It emphasized the importance of creating a back story for the deception tactic which demonstrated consistency. This would make the story more believable and so more likely to be successful. A second point was that it taught the importance of building this story based on an actual plan of action that they had taken into consideration but then decided against. This would build on creating a believable story. If it was a plan that had actually been considered, this means the enemy would believe it as a possibility because it is something that could have in fact happened. Thirdly, this introduced the importance of timing, leading Clarke to believe that it was important to make the enemy believe that the operation was to take place later than the actual one. This would force them to base all their strategies for a plan that had already taken place, giving them no time to react. Lastly, it introduced the idea of leading the enemy to believe that the real operation was the false one. In this manner, they would not be prepared to stop it, because they would believe it was not going to happen and so would focus their attention elsewhere.

Dudley Clarke was an entrepreneur in the art of deceptive tactics. He would run several missions, on his own and as part of a team, while creating several teams that are still in use today. His teachings would be used by those trained in the art of deception during his time as a soldier, and long after he left. His position was very important because although deception had been used before, he brought together very important tactics, often through the use of trial and error in his own missions. He taught that deception was not just about getting the enemy to believe what you want; the true goal was to get them to behave as you want. He initiated the use of several of methods including false information mixed with true information, fear tactics, and the use of implementing people in the field to create the correct illusion. He also taught a new set-up of strategy that involved in depth stories based for a mission to be built upon, and would utilize long term stories that would stay in play for the duration of the war. All in all, his influence revolutionized deception tactics and helped to set the guidelines for which missions would be run.

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