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Updated: 12 Dec 12

During World War II deception was broadly grouped into three headings: visual deception, aural deception and radio deception. The RAF naturally concentrated largely on visual deception to protect its airfields in the United Kingdom and overseas. Visual deception methods were in turn sub-divided between concealment and display.

Concealment includes all methods of hiding the target/equipment under trees or other natural cover or by artificial means such as camouflage or smoke, or painting dummy hedges on true airfields.

Display includes all forms of artificial work, dummy structures and equipment, dummy lights and fires purposely exposed before the enemy's view in order to deceive him and of a "protective display" to draw attack.
The factors governing how visual deception was carried out were:

  • The object of the scheme, protective or misleading.
  • The importance of the scheme
  • The difference in conditions by night and by day
  • The degree of control of the air

In protection of an airfield, camouflage conceals the true target whereas displays such as dummies, tracks, lights are intended to draw attack away from the target.

In deception, the intent is to induce the enemy to draw incorrect inferences as to friendly dispositions and to induce enemy dispositions to suit friendly plans.

Day and night differences are considerable. By day, wth clear visibility the enemy pilot could identify his exact position at all times and observe and suspicious lack of pattern of life in displays, and back this up by aerial reconaissance over time, highlighting any lack or pattern of activity.

By night, due to the well-documented navigational inaccuracies of the era, the pilot could not be certain of his precise position unless he visually recognises landmarks.

Nighttime concealment relies mainly on disciplined blackout with display provided by lights, fires and radio traffic. Such displays are economical in men and material. Misleading daytime displays of dummy aircraft were mounted by the RAF for special purposes during the war, such as OP BODYGUARD, but always on partially occupied airfields for the highlighted pattern of life reason.

Static camouflage of RAF stations received no policy direction until Sep 1941. Before the war Works Services had experimented with netting hangars and painting hedges on airfields. This certainly attracted the attention of German civil pilots operating into Britain after the Munich Crisis. Initial wartime attempts at camouflage on RAF bases were often resisted on the grounds that it interfered with or was inconvenient to the operation of aircraft.

Establishment of the Directorate

The Air Ministry did not set up a staff branch within the Air Staff to organise a system of decoys for RAF stations until October 1939. Colonel Sir John Fisher Turner, Royal Engineers, was selected to head this branch and had formerly been Director of Works. Work began east of the line Perth - Bimingham - Southampton to provide, conditions permitting, a day and/or night dummy airfield to protect each existing RAF airfield. Non-flying stations were to be provided with night protection in the form of dummy fires.

The branch was known for purposes of secrecy as Colonel Tucker's Department (CTD), It masterminded the Day Decoys (K Sites) and Night Decoys (Q Sites), which were established throughout Britain early in the war to deceive enemy bombers and reconnaissance aircraft. Much of the design and building of these sites and the dummy aircraft was supported by technicians drawn from Sound City Films of Shepperton Studios, London. Simulating factories, railway yards, docks, urban layouts, airfields and the effect of incendiaries, the K sites, QF (Q Fire), QL (Q Lighting) and SF (Special Fire or "Starfish") sites were built in many parts of the British Isles. They were responsible for the design of not just decoy airfields but also decoy military bases and entire towns (see below).

Dummy Airfield Sites in Lincolnshire

Decoy site name Protected / parent site Type Number
Bassingham Swinderby Q 92a
Belvoir Bottesford Q 139b
Brant Broughton Swinderby Q 92b
Burnham Goxhill Q 104a
Cadney Kirton in Lindsey Q 90a
Caenby Hemswell Q 16a
Donna Nook North Coates Q/K 17a
Dorrington Digby Q 21b
Folkingham Spitalgate Q/K 22a
Foston Bottesford Q 139c
Frithville Coningsby/Manby Q 18b
Gautby Waddington Q/K 20c
Glentham Hemswell Q 16c
Great Limber Elsham Wolds Q 103a
Hagnaby Coningsby/Manby Q/K 18a
Kelstern Binbrook Q 85b
Ludborough Binbrook Q 85c
Mablethorpe Manby Q 162a
Marsh Chapel Donna Nook Q 121a
Maxey Wittering Q 34a
Potterhanworth Waddington Q 20a
Rand Scampton Q 19a
Rand Ludford Magna Q 192a
Rand Wickenby Q 177a
Ruskington (Anwick) Digby Q 21a
Sibsey Coningsby/Manby Q 18c
Sibsey East Kirkby Q 129a
South Ferriby Elsham Wolds Q 103b
Swayfield Cottesmore Q/K 33A
Terrington Marsh (Norfolk) Sutton Bridge Q 23a
Thornton le Moor Hibaldstow Q 105a
Thornton le Moor Kirton in Lindsey Q 90b
Tithby (Notts) Bottesford Q 139a
Toft Grange (Faldingworth) Hemswell Q/K 16b
Willoughby Walks Barkston Heath Q 127a
Willoughby Walks Cranwell Q 171a
Wyham Binbrook Q 85a

Types of dummy and decoy site

K Site. A day dumy airfield with cleared area, dummy aircraft, dumps, tracks etc. Further details on the K site page.

Q Site. A night display site with light simulating a true airfield, but with certain differences recognisable to a friendly pilot, but not likely to be detected by an enemy. Some static Q Sites were provided with fixed equipment, others were set up with mobile equipment. Further details on the Q site page.

MQ Mobile Q Set. Term used to describe mobile equipment for a non-static Q site. It is packed in boxes for easy transport.

ASQ Assault Q. This much lighter set of mobile equipment for a smaller Q site was packed in boxes and bags to enable it to be manhandled across country.

QL Site. The QL site was a night display with light simulating anything civil or military, other than an airfield, that might be visible in war at night. As with Q sites they could be static or mobile.

MQL Sites were mobile, transportable in boxes and covering a considerable area of ground when set up.

ASQL designated very light QL sets to represent a small military camp or convoy.

BQL Battery QL designated the battery-lit equipment representing upto 50 vehicles.

QF sites were those where combustible material was arranged to represent patches of fire over a medium area, with all groups fired electrically. These normally protected an individual isolated target such as a RAF station. Further details on the Q site page.

SF site. Special Fire or more commonly Starfish. The starfish were large sites covering a considerable area with various types of combustible material in groups. One or more Starfish would normally protect towns, particularly those vital to the war effort. Further details on the Starfish site page.

K areas. K areas were not sites but administrative areas into which Britain was divided for the purpose of local supervision of the display sites of various kinds. The K area staff was part of 'Colonel Turner's department', a secret branch of the Air Staff.

Selection of sites

Once the requirement for a decoy site was established, preliminary action in site selection was undertaken by a study of one inch and six inch maps. Site finders were then sent to the provisionally selected areas to record any existing or new buildings which might interfere with the authorised safety distances:

  • Sites were to be selected in open country at least 30 yds clear of any occupied houses and at least 1 mile from large villages or towns.
  • If a house was within 400 yds the occupier was to be evicted or the site abandoned.
  • Any house between 400 and 800 yds was to be provided with a shelter for the occupants.

Assessment of success

Post-war assessment points to a probable total number of atacks on decoy sites as 56 for K, KLG and dummy factories, 521 on Q and 173 on QL/QF sites and 119 on Starfish. In the many attacks on decoy sites only 4 cases of damage with casualties in these houses were recorded, which is surprisingly small given the assesed total tonnage dropped being 2221 of a total dropped on the UK throughout the war of 68 500. The percentage of draw-off by decoys by tonnage was assessed 1.03% by day and 3.13% by night, perhaps as high as 9.95% in 1942 when underreporting is adjusted. And once the data is considered on a local basis, where decoys were present, it is known that decoys drew amounts varying between 25% and 80%

Recording of attacks was incomplete due to varying responsibilities and the timing of reporting chains being set up. The very great secrecy imposed on decoy work during the war compounded these challenges, with local wardens not informed of decoys in their area.

Lincolnshire dummy and decoy sites

RAF Donna Nook began life as a relief landing field and decoy airfield, populated with dummy Blenheims.

RAF Folkingham was a Q-site for Spitalgate. During the day there were dummy planes and lots of activity. During the night it was a Q site that successfully attracted the Luftwaffe.

RAF East Kirkby began as a decoy airfield; in later life it apparently had its own decoy at Sibsey.

RAF Elsham Wolds reportedly had a decoy airfield at nearby Great Limber.

RAF Faldingworth began life as Toft Grange decoy airfield.

RAF Hemswell had a Q site at Caenby.

Anwick acted as a decoy airfield until 1942.

Gautby acted as a Q/K site for RAF Waddington

RAF Cottesmore had a Q/K site at Swayfield, 2KM East of North Witham

In Lincolnshire there were Starfish sites at Risby, Twigmoor and Brumby to protect the industrial complex at Scunthorpe. Lincoln city was protected by QF sites on Branston Fen to the south-east.

For further reading consult National Archives AIR 20/4352 dated 12 Aug 1942 or consult Colin Dobinson's 'Fields Of Deception: Britain's Bombing Decoys Of World War II'



Example decoys in Cumbria

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Decoy sites on AIX

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