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 400,000+ annual visits & 6 million hits to 180  webpages & 3000 photos.  News and Information at the bottom of this and every web page.

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~ OPERATION STARKEY ~

By Michael Cumming, Surbiton, England

Operation Starkey was the invasion that never was. The war years are littered with stories of deception designed to confuse the enemy or to make then believe something that was no more than a figment of the planners' imaginations!  Systematic bombing of selected targets over several weeks in late August and early September 1943 and an invasion armada of empty ships were the key elements.

It is hardly surprising that an ever-increasing amount of information has become public knowledge about the intention, planning and implementation of the invasion of France on 6 June 1944. It is certainly surprising, though, that even today the public has such scant awareness of events of the previous summer - the summer of 1943 - that began with a detailed and particularly ambitious plan to involve the British and Canadian Armies, the Royal Navy and the Air Forces of Britain and the United States in preparations described as 'consistent with an assault on Boulogne'.

Popular among cross-Channel holidaymakers, Boulogne was among the most heavily-defended parts of the Pas de Calais region of Northern France. The scheme was that while this was to be a feint operation, every effort should be made for it to become an actuality 'should the circumstances become propitious' - which meant that if the enemy's hold over that part of the Continent showed signs of disintegrating, the opportunity would exist to turn play-acting into reality.

It was an momentous concept: British and Canadian troops, in their thousands, to be ready to go into the assembly areas; battleships to turn their massive guns against the German coastal batteries; some 15,000 fighter sorties, with 3,000 sorties by medium and heavy bombers in daylight and as many by night. The chosen beaches were those between Audresselles and Ambleteuse, six miles north of Boulogne, and those between the River Brone and Hardelot, seven miles south of Boulogne, with subsidiary attacks by seaborne commandos, Royal Marines unit and paratroops. The seaside resort of Le Portel was targeted for a further landing by sea, this to thwart any enemy bid to destroy the port of Boulogne before its seizure by the invading forces.

However the ultimately named Operation Starkey was progressively watered down for various reasons, among them a lack of resources and the opposition voiced within the 'top brass' - 'Bomber' Harris calling it 'at best a piece of harmless play-acting'. While there would no longer be any commitment to an assault by land forces, the apparent threat to the enemy throughout that part of Northern France would be there in strength, intensified by actual naval and air operations and extensive troop movements in Southern England. The First Canadian Army moved into deployment areas in the Portsmouth/Southampton sector and the British Second Army into the Dover/Folkestone/Newhaven sector, with landing craft assembled along the coast from Portsmouth to Dover.

In the Preliminary Phase, 16 to 24 August, some 680 USAAF and 156 RAF aircraft bombed airfields as well as transportation, industrial and other targets; in the Preparatory Phase, 25 August to 8 September, the bomber force swelled to 1,754 and 640 respectively, with the weight of the high explosives increasing from an overall 1,454 tons to 2,683 tons and the targets being broadened to include ammunition and fuel dumps concealed among the forests inland from Boulogne. In the Culminating Phase, 8 and 9 September, the USAAF and RAF bombers switched their attention pointedly to gun sites. As these would be a clear threat to any seaborne invasion force, bombing them would surely heighten the enemy's expectations of an imminent landing in the Pas de Calais - the purpose still of Operation Starkey, despite its by now considerably reduced scale.

Daybreak on 9 September 1943 saw the English Channel busier than at any time since the Dunkirk evacuation. In a 355-strong mini-armada sailing towards France were self-propelled Thames barges, cross-Channel pleasure steamers and destroyers, ready to beat off an attack... but they carried no invading army! To cap the pretence, the entire mile-wide 'assault force' responded to the code word Backchat at 0900 hours by making a smart 180 degree turn and sailing back to their UK ports. It was the invasion that never was... an operation that attracted little interest among the enemy but one, unfortunately, that must have cost many French lives in the bombing attacks which were a key factor in this deception activity, a toll as high as 500 in Le Portel alone - for it nestled between two key gun sites targeted in the Culminating Phase of Operation Starkey.

Further Reading

There are around 300 books listed on our 'Combined Operations Books' page which can be purchased on-line from the Advanced Book Exchange (ABE) whose search banner checks the shelves of thousands of book shops world-wide. Type in or copy and paste the title of your choice or use the 'keyword' box for book suggestions. There's no obligation to buy, no registration and no passwords. Click 'Books' for more information.

The Starkey Sacrifice: The Allied Bombing of Le Portel 1943 by Michael Cumming, Sutton Publishing, 1996.

Deception in World War II, by Charles Cruickshank, OUP, 1981; 

Please let us know if you have any information or book recommendations to add to this page.

 

News & Information

 

Memorial Maintenance

We have a small band of volunteers who take turns to visit the memorial each month, particularly during the growing season, to undertake routine maintenance such as weeding keeping the stones and slabs clear of bird dropping, lichen etc. and reporting on any issues. If you live near the National Memorial Arboretum and would like to find out more, please contact us.

Remember a Veteran

You can pay a personal tribute to veterans who served in, or alongside, the Combined Operations Command in WW2 by adding their details and optional photo to our Roll of Honour and They Also Served pages on this website.

Read the Combined Operations prayer.

Forthcoming Events

To organisers: Reach the people who will be interested to know about your Combined Operations or war related event by adding it to our forthcoming events page free of charge.

To everyone else; Visit our forthcoming events page for things to see and places to visit. If you know of an event of possible interest, that is not listed, please let us know.

To notify an event click here.

To visit the webpage click here.

Facebook

Why not join the thousands who visit our Facebook page about the Combined Operations Command in appreciation of our WW2 veterans.

See the 'slide shows' of the dedication ceremony and the construction of the memorial plus the 'On this day in 194?' feature where major Combined Ops events are highlighted on their anniversary dates with links to additional information.

You are welcome to add information, photos and comment or reply to messages posted by others.

Find Books of Interest 

Search for Books direct from our Books page. Don't have the name of a book in mind? Just type in a keyword to get a list of possibilities... and if you want to purchase you can do so on line through the Advanced Book Exchange (ABE). 5% commission goes into the memorial fund.

WW2 Combined Operations Handbook

This handbook was prepared for Combined Operations in the Far East. It illustrates the depth and complexity of the planning process necessary to ensure that the 3 services worked together as a unified force.

Restoration of Geoffrey Appleyard's  Memorial 

Click on the image if you'd like to contribute to the improvement of the memorial to Geoffrey Appleyard, DSO, MC and Bar, through the purchase of a limited edition print of a book about him. Geoffrey achieved so much in service with No 7 Commando, No 62 Commando, the Small Scale Raiding Force and the Second SAS Regiment. He was posted Missing in Action in July 1943, aged 26.

www.bramleywarmemorial.com/major-geoffrey-appleyard-book-now-available-for-purchase/

The Gazelle Helicopter Squadron Display Team

The Gazelle Squadron is a unique team of ex-British Military Gazelle helicopters in their original military colours and with their original military registrations. The core team includes four Gazelles, one from each service; The Royal Navy, The Royal Marines, The Army Air Corps and The Royal Air Force. A fifth Gazelle in Royal Marines colours will provide intimate support for the team. Their crest includes the Combined Operations badge. The last, and possibly, only time the badge was seen on an aircraft was in the early mid 40s. A photo of the Hurricane concerned is included in the 516 Squadron webpage.

Legasee Film Archive

As part of an exciting social history project, the film company Legasee is looking for veterans from any conflict who would like to have their stories filmed for posterity. Films are now available on line. www.legasee.org.uk

New to Combined Ops?

Visit Combined Operations Explained for an easy introduction to the subject.

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