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Updated: 17 Sep 08

In May 1940 The Civil defence Committee investigated and authorised certain "permitted" lighting instructions, at the same time commencing experiments on decoy lighting, or QL sites. However this progressed slowly and largely unsatisfactorily with just a few sites under construction when Coventry was attacked on 14 Oct 1940. This made clear that decoy city light, however designed, would be of little vaue if a targe town was already illuminated by its own flames. Large decoy flames lasting several hours were required and the QF type fire was too small and too short-lived.

Initial attempts with hand-lit oil filled trenches caused water pollution as the intense heat cracked the soil, and flae intensity was not satisfactory. With the asistance of the Sound City FIlm Company three different types of fire were produced, burning diesel, parrafin and scrap wood/sawdust respectively. The combination of these was to effect realistic variation in flame and smoke. The new large decoy was known as Special Fire and became famous under the code word Starfish.

On each Starfish site there were 2 separate groups of the 3 types of fire, each having 30 tons of fuel for lighting on two successive nights.The fire burned for 4 hours and was lit from a shelter some 800 yards distant.

Four were installed in Nov 1940, 18 by dec, 108 by Mar 1941 and 155 by Jul 1941. The final total reached 209 in operation at any time.

The Starfish sites were manned by RAF personnel of the Department. As construction and equipment improved the numbers on each site was reduced from around 20 to 10. On those Starfish sites with QL it was maned by the same crew unless the QL was distant. The crew undertook general maintenance and rebuilt fires. The area contractor provided all material except oil, for quick supply of which arrangements were made with the Petroleum Board.

Starfish fires were controlled by 80 Wing at Radlett, a special signals headquarters which operated all radar and countermeasures. This wing had early information of all movements of enemy aircraft and were in closest contact with Fighter Command. 80 Wing was connected to all Starfish sites by main trunk telephone and selected sites for operation having called to warn and obtain details of the local weather conditions.

It was common for QL Sites to be combined with Starfish or QFs, and a large town or city such as Lincoln may be covered by a series of Starfish with or without QLs, and also QF and QL sites, all under single control.

Lincolnshire Starfish Sites

There were additional decoy sites that protected cities and industrial sites. These were based on fire for deception. Starfish or SF sites were based on the idea of lighting huge fires outside cities and towns in quick response, i.e. once a bombing raid was under way. During a raid, German pathfinders woud drop marker incendiary bombs for the main force to follow. Starfish / SF sites were designed to draw the enemy by the fire set there and confuse bomb aimers, thus sparing the nearby centres of population. QF sites (possibly refering to quick-fire?) were a more active form of defence, conceived around the controlled burning of fires to suggest a burning target, again with the intention of seducing bombers.

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.

Example decoys in Cumbria

Further reading


> RAF history in Lincolnshire

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Key dates of bomber offensives

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The 'RAFwaffe'

History of the RNAS on the Fleet Air Arm Archive

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> Sources

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Aviation Heritage Lincolnshire

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