Arborfield Hall Farm - a 'Starfish' decoy site
There was a WWII decoy site in the grounds of Arborfield Hall known as a ‘Starfish’ ('SF' - standing for 'Special Fire'). These sites were so top-secret that they remained classified for decades after 1945, but a book written in 2000 tells the whole story about the decoys:
‘Fields of Deception’ by Colin Dobinson (Methuen, 2000. ISBN 0 413 74570 8)
Although the book has an aerial photo of the Arborfield decoy, there's not much more about this individual site, so the Society looked for more detail in the National Archives in Kew. There's no specific mention of Arborfield apart from the date that it was taken out of operation (November 1944). These articles reveal:
The detail of Arborfield's Starfish site shown left was taken from a USAAF aerial photo of Carter's Hill and Winnersh, dated 8th March 1944, ref. 5045, by permission of National Monuments Record, English Heritage.
From a 'Report on Decoys' – 23rd January 1941
The Starfish will be constructed in 3 steps.
[Ref.: AIR 19/499]
‘STARFISH OPERATION INSTRUCTIONS TO LOCAL CONTROLLERS’
In view of the present enemy tactics [scattered bombing with target indicator flares] it has been decided to provide a small fire consisting of one group of baskets on the undermentioned site(s) which you control, and this fire will be known as the “MINOR” Starfish.
2. The “MINOR” Starfish will be
under the control of 80 Wing and the intention is that they will operate
3. In this connection, it is most important that the sites should have received a standby warning immediately you receive a “Purple”, or any indication that enemy aircraft are approaching the Area.
4. Attached is a copy of the instructions to operators on the sites, and it is requested that you will pass any information of enemy activity received from the site to 80 Wing with the least possible delay.
5. If 80 Wing order a “MINOR” Starfish on the site the instruction should be passed on in plain language, i.e. Fire MINOR Starfish”.
6. Contact should then be maintained with the site and with 80 Wing. If the site should report an enemy attack on the MINOR, 80 Wing would wish to know about this, and they would then indicate whether the fire was to be extended.
7. In the event of a breakdown of telephone communications between your Headquarters and Starfish Control at 80 Wing, you are authorised to fire the MINOR Starfish, and if the site is attacked, to extend the fire as necessary. Having taken this action, every effort should be made to inform 80 Wing as soon as contact can be re-established.
[Ref.: AIR 2/4760]
INSTRUCTIONS TO OPERATORS ON STARFISH SITES
MINOR STARFISH ON SITE [blank]
A small isolated group of 12 – 16 baskets is being selected on the above site. This group will be known as the MINOR, as distinct from the Short, Medium and full Starfish. The group of baskets forming the MINOR will be No. [blank].;
2. As soon as a standby warning is received by the site personnel, the N.C.O. or L.A.C. i/c of the night party should keep a sharp look-out and report to the Local Controller as soon as any enemy activity commences in the Area. “Enemy activity” means the dropping of flares, incendiary bombs, or H.E.
(i) Target indicator flares are the yellowish white flares (Usually 5 or 6 in a group), and which float down slowly from about 5,000 ft. to the ground. The enemy may change the colour of these flares at any time.
(ii) “The vicinity of the site” means flares directly overhead or flares judged to be within a mile of the site or slightly further away, if drifting toward the site.
(iii) It is often difficult to distinguish between H.E. bombs and heavy guns. The N.C.O. or L.A.C. i/c must be sure that it is H.E. that have been dropped.
3. The Local Controller will give the order to operate in plain language, that is “Fire MINOR Starfish” and this may be followed later by an order to fire two further groups of baskets if attack on the site develops. Normally, the two additional groups to be used for this purpose will be Nos. [blank].
4. If Incendiaries or H.E. bombs are dropped on or near the site and communication with Control is broken, the N.C.O. or L.A.C. i/c of the night party is authorised to fire the MINOR Starfish, and if the site is attacked he may fire the further two groups of baskets. Medium or full Starfish will in NO case be fired without an order from Control, even if communications are broken.
[Ref.: AIR 2/4760]
MINOR STARFISH UNDER CONTROL OF N.C.O.’s
MINOR STARFISH UNDER CONTROL OF 80 WING
[Ref.: AIR 2/4760; note: 'TSF' stands for 'Temporary Starfish']
[Each month there would be a report on the effectiveness of electronic counter-measures and decoys, and Part II was on 'Starfish'. For much of 1944 there was little activity on 'Starfish' sites because the Allies already had air superiority over the U.K., and the enemy had switched to V1 and V2 flying bombs]
November 1944, Part II, Starfish.
2.1 A further ten sites have been closed during the past month. These covered the towns of Southampton, Winchester, Reading and Basingstoke. A total of 37 sites now remain available for operations.
[Ref.: AIR 26/581]
[Detailed instructions for de-commissioning Starfish sites in the South and East of England don't seem to have survived - but de-commissioning of sites elsewhere followed a consistent pattern]
Instructions on abandonment of sites in Scotland and Northern England – Director of Local Defence, 9 August 1944
4th October 1944
[Ref.: ADM 1/18005]
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