A 1943 CAPRICIOUS what-if...

In his memoir Of Spies and Stratagems, OSS R&D chief Stanley Lovell devoted an entire chapter to "Operation CAPRICIOUS". I have never seen this story mentioned anywhere else, and it seems implausible, but Lovell described it in matter-of-fact detail.

The tale is this:

US/UK forces landed French North Africa in late 1942, and moved eastward toward Tunisia. From December 1942 through May 1943, they were heavily engaged with Axis forces there. These forces were supplied from the west. According to Lovell, U-boats had completely blockaded the Straits of Gibraltar. [One of several dubious claims.] So Allied supplies had to be landed in Morocco and moved to the front over an old railroad through Morocco and Algeria.

Then the OSS agents in Spanish Morocco reported German troops covertly deploying there, just north of the rail line. These were identified as SS, and as specialists in railroad demolition. If they attacked and destroyed the rail line, the troops in Tunisia would be cut off from supply, and would be defeated by the Axis armies.

Lovell added that "Franco's foreign minister Jordana was being feted in Berlin, and it seemed likely that Spain would follow Italy into the Axis". Also, Goering had bragged that the Allies in North Africa would suffer a worse defeat than Dunkirk, and he still had a slight degree of credibility.

The Allies had no troops to spare for defense of the railroad. According to Lovell, the OSS was asked to come up with some way to stop the German attack - absolutely no holds barred. Lovell or a subordinate thought of using biological warfare. The scheme they conceived was to impregnate goat dung with several types of dangerous bacteria and drop it from airplanes over Spanish Morocco. The plan was code-named CAPRICIOUS in an allusion to goats.

Then the agents in Spanish Morocco reported that the German troops were leaving; according to Lovell, sent off to the battle of Stalingrad (which however ended 2 February). So CAPRICIOUS was cancelled.

There are a lot of problems with this tale. One big one is that Franco would openly join the Axis at this late date, with US troops on Spain's border. Jordana was more pro-Allied than pro-Axis, so he would be a very unlikely choice to consummate Spain's accession to the Axis. Another is the claim about U-boats noted above. The assertion that bacteriological warfare would even be considered is another. (Lovell claims it was authorized by a "highly placed person" he does not name.)The timing is confusing. Lovell mentions no dates at all in his narrative. How soon after TORCH could German troops secretly reach Spanish Morocco and be reported to the OSS? How soon after that could the OSS concoct the CAPRICIOUS bioweapon, manufacture it in quantity, and deliver it to Morocco for use?

On the other hand: Lovell was in position to know what he claimed to know. And some of the "secret" details check out. Lovell said that the infectious dung was developed by two microbiologists from McGill University in Canada, Reed and E. G. D. Murray (who had the nickname "Joberg"). There was an E. G. D. Murray at McGill in the 1930s and 40s, and he was from South Africa ("Jo-burg" is common slang for "Johannesburg").

So was this real?

Several big questions open up.
  • Could the Axis operation really happen? While a few hundred SS commandos might be able to destroy the railroad, Germany certainly did not have troops and other resources available for a full scale campaign in Morocco.
  • Is there any trace in German records of any planning for such an operation, or of the alleged movement of German troops into Spanish Morocco?
  • As noted, this would have been an extremely unlikely move for Franco at this time of the war. Whatever damage might result from this operation, the Allies would almost certainly hold in western Morocco, and then push east and north; Spain would come under strict blockade and air attack. Would Franco risk all that?
  • Who was "the highly placed person" who authorized Lovell to start CAPRICIOUS? Not Roosevelt. Marshall?
Then there are the what-ifs.
  • Would the OSS actually be allowed to deploy the bacterial weapons? This would be a very indiscriminate use of a "weapon of mass destruction". While the target would be the German commando force, the entire population of Spanish Morocco would be hit, and tens of thousands of innocent civilians could die. I can't imagine this being done without the knowledge of Roosevelt nor of him giving consent, whatever the apparent military emergency.
  • If the Allies did execute CAPRICIOUS, would it stop the German attack? ISTM that CAPRICIOUS would have to be executed pre-emptively.
  • How much damage would the destruction of the railroad do? Lovell's claim about the U-boats off Gibraltar seems exaggerated; heavily escorted convoys could reach Algiers. And even if the army in Tunisia was cut off, did the Axis forces have the reach to do more than push the Allies back? A Rommel-esque blitz might cover 600 km (more than the distance from El Agheila to Bardia, or from Tobruk to El Alamein). That would threaten Algiers, but not the Dunkirk-level rout into the sea prophesied by Goering. I would also note that in winter, there is enough rain to render the dirt roads of the area impassable.
  • What would the later fall-out be? I don't believe it could be kept secret. One critic suggested that goat dung dropped from planes would land on roofs and other impossible places; Lovell said in response that the people in Spanish Morocco would be too sick to look on roofs. But everyone? I doubt it. And dung would fall only on the goat-accessible ground or on locations not ordinarily visible? Morocco is fairly mountainous; there would be lots places where the roofs of a town or farmstead would be visible from nearby high ground.
  • Then on the Allied side, hundreds of technicians and air crews would participate. They would all be drilled in precautions to protect them from their cargo, pretty much giving away the bacteriological nature of the weapons. If a massive disease outbreak in Spanish Morocco followed, the connection would be obvious. Then the US would be guilty of a flagrant and horrific war crime. Could that "highly placed person" be brought before an international tribunal?
Many strange outcomes are possible.
Nothing about this sounds at all plausible or real. Sounds like someone making shit up after the war, to sell books.

U-boats post-Torch never had the Straits of Gibraltar sealed off (not even close), the Allies in North Africa were being supplied via ports in Algeria right from the get-go. Also, it's not like there were a shortage of troops to guard railways, railroads are pretty easy for a first-rate power to repair, and a few days of slightly disrupted supplies are a laughable condition for German forces in Tunisia to suddenly overwhelm a numerical superior Allied force, especially given their own supply problems.