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Starfish Decoys

Dorset Starfish are not a rare marine invertebrate found off the Dorset coast. In fact, Starfish saved hundreds of lives in Bournemoth & Poole during World War II by preventing an estimated one thousand tons of German bombs being dropped there. Starfish were decoy sites designed to deceive German night bombers away from strategically important towns and airfields. There were several Starfish decoys in Dorset.

One was set up on the western side of Brownsea Harbour. It contained a mixture of different types of fire designed to simulate a burning town. Created with the help of a technician from Elstree Film Studios, it was operated by Royal Air Force personnel from a bunker about 200 metres from the set up pyrotechnics. Once the first wave of bombers had passed drums of oil and creosote-soaked hay bales were lit to simulate the effects of incendiary bombs. This sought to attract the focus of the drops from the next bomber wave. Poole & Bournemouth were a target for a large bombing raid on the 24th May 1942 when some 50 German bombers flew overhead. Thanks to Starfish, most of the bombs fell on Brownsea Island which unfortunately suffered many craters. Mercifully, Poole was spared from the damage caused to some other towns.

As it produced gun propellants for the Admiralty, the Royal Navy Cordite Factory at Holton Heath near Wareham was another obvious target. A Starfish decoy site was built at Arne just three miles south of the Factory. This was tested in June 1942 when hundreds of bombs were dropped on Arne practically destroying the village. However, the Cordite Factory was unharmed. Today, the Arne site is a nature reserve.

Five miles south of Yeovil, a Starfish decoy was built at Closworth designed to protect the town and the Westland Aircraft Factory. Operational for two years from 1942, it operated a dummy airfield and as a simulation of the town of Yeovil. Littlemoor, near Weymouth was one of several constructed to protect Portland Harbour’s naval base. There were others at Speed Beacon, Fleet and Wyke Oliver. There was also a decoy site near Verwood for RAF Hurn and RAF Ibsley.

Across the country starfish decoys were built to protect cities such as Glasgow, Liverpool and Portsmouth which saved thousands of lives.

(Illustration: a Starfish 'special fire'.)


  1. I now live in north Shropshire (born in Corfe Castle) near Whixhall Moss where I understand the development of fire decoys was tested.


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