Newtown Decoy Site, Isle of Wight

Newtown Bay East: NGR. 421917
Newtown Bay West: NGR. 414913

The decoy sites at Newtown were set up in 1943 as part of a plan of deception called Operation Starkey, which itself was part of an overall series of deceptive moves, codenamed Cockade. This was a military feint, planned to draw the enemy's attention and resources away from the Allied campaign in Sicily and relieve the Russians on the Eastern Front. There were to be three main deception plans, designed to mislead the Germans into thinking there were to be various attacks planned in Western Europe. Operation Starkey was to culminate in a false amphibious invasion of the Boulogne area. To encourage the Germans into believing this, Allied bombing raids were carried out in concentrated sorties around Boulogne. In conjunction with this, decoy sites were set up where lighting, designed to simulate the lights of loading hards and port facilities, would draw off aerial attacks away from the genuine naval sites.

There were 4 main decoy areas - Southampton, Portsmouth, Newhaven and Dover. Both Newtown sites were classified as "Coastal" decoys and were manned by RAF personnel, who were controlled by the Naval Officer In Charge, based at the Pier Hotel (now the George Hotel) in Yarmouth, who in turn was subject to Central Control at Fort Southwick at Portsmouth. Newtown Bay East was situated at the north end of Newtown marsh, while Newtown Bay West was established on the west side of Newtown harbour on the saltmarshes at Lower Hamstead. Today, there are no remains of these decoy sites, although a corrugated metal hut still exists at Newtown and this may have been part of the decoy control bunker. It is of a similar construction and size to known existing decoy bunkers and also has three air bricks in similar positions within the structure. It is sited at the required, appropriate distance from the decoy installation (north part of Newtown marsh) and had good fields of view over the surrounding marshland.

National Archives ADM 179/272

Document signed by Col. J. Turner, dated 25.7.43

The scheme is a tactical one entirely, and is designed to give decoy protection by night to ports, hards, and troop concentrations. No attempt has been made to develop a strategic scheme to simulate additional forces in other areas.

2. The schedule and maps depict the proposal in 4 areas - SOUTHAMPTON, PORTSMOUTH, NEWHAVEN and DOVER. In each area the decoys are classified as Coastal and Inland.
The Coastal sites have been selected previously and approved by the F.O.'s I.C. concerned. In some cases the sites are ready for operation and are manned. In others, the equipment is stored locally and all arrangements made for manning at short notice. All land line communications to controls are complete or will be so in a few days. It may be mentioned that these coastal sites were chosen to help protect embarkation points in a real attack and have, up to date, not been operated to prevent their position becoming well known to the enemy. It is considered there is little risk in their being operated during a short period to give decoy protection for "STARKEY". ...

3. Control has been made as simple as possible and existing controls have been fully utilised. It is considered that A.O.C-in-C. Fighter Command should issue a directif on the general operation of these decoys, with especial reference to the dates of working them. Central Controls at PORTSMOUTH and DOVER would communicate these to local controls. Local controls would issue, during daylight, instructions for the hours of lighting decoys in their areas the following night. In the case of coastal decoys all communications by land lines have been arranged between decoy sites and their controls. ...

4. To avoid all risks to troops, certain measures will be taken.
(a) All static decoys in the concentration areas will be made non-operational during the period.
(b) Under arrangements made by Home Forces, lower formations will be consulted to ensure that no decoy site interferes with troop concentration or movement.

Site1" Map No.GridTypeLocal ControlCentral Control
NEWTOWN BAY EAST142855118Embarkation LightingX.D.O. West
N.O.I.C. Isle of Wight
Combined Services Headquarters
Direct lines from Fort Southwick
NEWTOWN BAY WEST142848114Embarkation Lighting

From ... The Senior Officer, Force "J", H.M.S. "Vectis", Cowes.
Date ... 1st August, 1943
To ... Air Commodore S.C. Strafford, C.B.E., D.F.c.

With reference to paragraph 25 of the Combined Plan for Operation "STARKEY" a list is attached giving the sites of coastal decoys which it is intended should be used.
2. The Commander-in-Chief, Portsmouth and the Vice-Admiral have been consulted and concur.
3. It is understood that C-in-C Fighter Command controls these decoys through the authorities given in the attached list.
4. It is suggested that these decoys should be ready to operate by 1st September.
(Sgd) J. D. Luce

Maintenance and ManningDecoy SitesMap Refce.Control
R.A.F.NEWTOWN BAY EAST142/855118N.O.i/c,

Document dated 9.8.43.

1. As the main object of "STARKEY" is to cause the enemy to expect an attack on the FRENCH Coast, it is highly probable, if we succeed, that enemy aircraft will attack our coasts and troop concentration areas by night.
The object in view for decoy lighting, therefore, is to draw off these attacks into places where they will do no harm.

2. Certain other factors need consideration.
(a) Considerable experience of observation of this country at night shows that there is a large amount of permitted and unpermitted lighting to be seen at the present time. Little of it is visible fron any considerable distance. As our decoys will have to conform generally to this local lighting and to what might represent lighting of camps, convoys, hards, etc., at night, it cannot be very conspicuous at a distance. Hence it is desirable, generally speaking, to have as many decoys working as possible because more than one will rarely be visible to enemy aircraft at any one time.

(b) On the other hand, it is hoped to use the Coastal decoys again when an invasion really takes place. Sites for these are strictly limited and we therefore do not want the enemy to pinpoint them. For this reason the directif issued by A.O.C.-in C. Fighter Command, lays down that Coastal decoys should only be lit on three night, D minus 3, D minus 2, and D minus 1; whereas Inland decoys (whose position can be changed and which are not so easily pinpointed) are to be lit from D minus 8 onwards.

4. It is undesirable to lay down any detailed policy as regards the hours during which decoys should be lit. On the other hand, the factors noted in paras. 1 and 2 seem to indicate that it would be desirable to light all the Coastal decoys, which do not interfere with naval or military operations, most of the night during the three nights they are in action. It is suggested that in regard to Inland decoys these should generally be lit from blackout till about two o'clock in the morning in any case. Should the movement of enemy aircraft make it desirable to extend the period this could be done by Local Controls on their own initiative.

The Newtown sites were next mobilised for Operation Fortitude, an Allied deception plan involving a series of diversions, designed to mislead the Germans away from intended location of the D-Day landings in Normandy. Operation Fortitude was divided into two sections, Southern Fortitude and Northern Fortitude. Southern Fortitude was designed to lead the Germans to expect a landing in the Pas-de-Calais region, thereby causing them to commit their main military resources to this area. As well as the Newtown sites, another site at Bembridge was established to help divert enemy attacks on the shipping and craft that was building up in the Solent ready for D-Day. This was at the direct request of the commander-in-chief of Portsmouth. The Bembridge site was located in the middle of Brading marshes.

National Archives AIR 41/3 Decoy and Deception by Air Ministry, 1950.

Southern Fortitude Intention.
6. "Southern Fortitude" aimed at misleading the enemy as to the direction of our attack in France, and also at protecting with decoys our hards and ports of embarcation on the South Coast.

The configuration of our southern coastline rendered it necessary for any invasion of France, to concentrate shipping and craft from Chichester Harbour westwards, as Dover and Folkestone were under fire from enemy guns near Calais, and there are no large harbours between Folkestone and Chichester. Enemy observation of our concentrations would not, therefore, enable him to gain any reliable clue as to the probable point of attack. If landing craft were reported on the east coast, north of the Thames estuary he would be likely to anticipate attack much more to the east than the Normandy coast, and if he was misled completely, he would probably keep troops in the Pas de Calais area for a considerable time after the actual invasion took place. It was on this reasoning that a display of Big Bobs, reinforced by lights at night, was located on the east coast, mostly in Suffolk, where embarcation facilities in the form of hards and ports also existed. As far back as early 1943, decoy sites to protect embarcation hards had been selected all along the south coast, and a form of lighting installed, to simulate the lighting which it was anticipated would be adopted for the true hards themselves. Although these lighting displays had to be modified considerably at a later date, their early initiation enabled the changes to be rapidly made without difficulty.
The original plan intended that protective lighting in the south should operate during the periods of specially arranged wireless silence during February, March and April, 1944. The object was to accustom enemy reconnaissance to seeing frequent lighting, so that when D'Day arrived he would not recognise attack as imminent. Abour Xmas 1943, 21 Army Group took over the direction of "Southern Fortitude", and immediately raised an objection to this early display of lights on the grounds that unless ample landing craft were visible nearby before, during and after these displays, they would be rocgnised as bogus. It was undesirable to use landing craft for this purpose and inconvenient to bring them to the hard areas so early. The production of dummy craft, i.e. Big Bobs, had started so late that they would not be available in sufficient numbers to produce any effect. This part of the original plan was therefore abandoned.

In February 1944, the Admiralty finally decided the system of lighting to be adopted on true hards. The lighting was so effectively screened that the only lights likely to be visible from the air during embarkation were side lights of vehicles moving between the collection areas and the hards, and torches used on the hards to guide vehicles when backing into the landing craft. This necessitated a revision in both the design and the operation of the protective decoys to hards. With so little light visible on true hards, it became undesirable for the decoys to attract attention to the coast by showing lights in the normal way, i.e. previous to enemy attack or reconnaissance. It was decided therefore that decoys should simulate what might happen on a real hard if an attack took place. Some vehicle lights might be left carelessly on, and probably a few scattered fires would develop from stores or vehicles hit by bombs. These small fires, always visible from a long distance, thus became the main feature of the decoys, which were then only to operate (both fires and lights) if an attack took place on the neighbouring hard or in its vicinity. If there was no attack (as actually happened during D and subsequent days) the decoys were not to be operated at all.
The lighting and fire displays, to conform, were divided into three Groups. NO.1 Group from Falmouth to Hastings was purely protective on the lines already decribed. No. 2 Group comprising the coast from Hastings to the Thames estuary was to be considered as protective at first, but capable of development as misleading later if required. ... No.3 Group comprised the sites reinforcing the Big Bob displays north of the Thames. This group consisted entirely of misleading displays of lighting, which were quite different to the protective displays, as their main object was to attract attention. ... Control of all displays, misleading or protective was located with the local Naval authority so that movements of shipping and craft should not be endangered. R.A.F. personnel of the department were to operate all night displays under the orders of these Naval controls.
Turning to the map and working from West to East certain points of interest may be noted.
(a) ...
(b) Newtown Bay. East and West, and Bembridge on the Isle of Wight were designed to draw off attack off concentrations of shipping in the Solent.
Bembridge was included at the last moment at the request of C. in C. Portsmouth.
It may be noted that the naval authorities were fully alive to the value of decoy protection and that they had officers and men specially detailed for the operation of all static decoys in the vicinity of their main ports. ... By this time, however, ships and craft were gradually concentrating, and all local Naval authorities felt uneasiness in regard to their safety, if these attacks developed and spread. 21 Army Group orders had laid down that none of the new protective decoys should be operated till D-4 day, but in view of the circumstances the local Naval authorities were given full authority to operate any coastal decoy at their discretion to protect shipping in any port or estuary. This particularly referred to the Solent and Southampton Water, where the concentration of shipping became so great that it was evident that the risk to ships was much greater than that to hards. In addition all Southampton static decoys were placed under the control of the C. in C. Portsmouth. Although therefore the decoys had been originally designed to protect hards, in the end the safety of shipping and craft was made first priority, and that of hards relegated to second place. This constitutes a lesson for future schemes of this kind. Much to the astonishment of all concerned, enemy attacks suddenly ceased, and none of the protective decoys anywhere along the coast ever had to be operated at all.

Isle of Wight Decoy Sites

Plan of Coastal Decoy Sites, Operation Starkey.

Detail of above map, showing the two Newtown sites.

Decoy Sites and Misleading Displays - Fortitude. Title of map in AIR 41/3.
Blue spots signify "Protection of Ports Ships & Craft".

Defence of Britain map, 1944, showing the Bembridge decoy site.

Aerial photo c. 1948 showing the Newtown area.
Next to the saltern feeding ponds (upper pink circle), there is a number of buildings that were possibly connected with Newtown Bay East. The lower pink circle marks an extant corrugated metal hut, that corresponds closely to part of known decoy site control shelters.

November 2017.