The Top 10: Code Names That Miss the Point of Code Names

·3-min read
The London Olympic Games in 2012  (Martin Rickett/PA)
The London Olympic Games in 2012 (Martin Rickett/PA)

This one was started by Mark Wallace, who said it was his most niche enthusiasm. He started with Operation Enduring Freedom, the name used by the US government for the war on terrorism after 9/11.

1. Operation Sealion. Name of the German plan to invade the UK in 1940. Thanks to John Peters.

2. Operation Mincemeat. British spies dressed a dead body as a royal marines officer and dumped it off the coast of Spain in 1943. Fake letters placed on the body about Allied plans to invade Sardinia diverted German forces from the invasion of Sicily. It doesn’t really qualify because the name doesn’t give it away (and the deception succeeded), but it is a great story, nominated by Mr Chipping, Benjamin Lewis and Thomas Blunt.

3. Operation Chattanooga Choo-Choo. Code name for the bombing of German railways in 1944. Nobody wondered if the Nazis would know what a choo-choo is, said XLibris1.

4. Operation Neptune. The name for the naval phase of the Normandy landings contained a bit of a clue, said Darren Sugg. Also, the names of the beaches on D-Day – Omaha, Utah, Sword and Juno – might have suggested which ones US forces would be involved in, pointed out Benjamin Lewis.

5. Operation Rolling Thunder. The bombing of North Vietnam; obviously not very secret. Thanks to Rob Jackson.

6. Operation Catch A Bomber. Mark Wallace’s favourite: the 1976 FBI campaign to catch terrorists of the Puerto Rican independence movement.

7. Operation Keystone. Suffolk Police’s initial investigation when the Suffolk Strangler’s first victim went missing in 2006. The potential headline “Keystone Cops” was pointed out to them and it swiftly disappeared from the airwaves. Nominated by Ben Norton.

8. Operation Olympics. “For military help to the London Olympics in 2012 a random name was generated, but was changed to Operation Heracles to be Olympic themed; then they thought people wouldn’t get it, so someone thought of Operation Olympus before finally, they realised that this one didn’t need to be complicated.” Thanks to Tim Carpenter-Balmer.

9. Project Fear rather gave the game away, said Peter Franklin.

10. Operation Yellowhammer. The government’s planning for worst-case Brexit scenarios. Folk wisdom has it that the yellowhammer’s cry sounds like “a little bit of bread and no cheese”. From Alastair Meeks.

Number seven really belongs in an alternative list of “misnamed code names that had to be changed”. Winston Churchill was unimpressed to learn that an attack on Romanian oil fields in the Second World War was called Soapsuds. Names of missions should never be frivolous, he said. He did not want “some widow or mother to say that her son was killed in an operation called Bunnyhug or Ballyhoo”. And the US invasion of Panama in 1989 was originally called Blue Spoon before Colin Powell, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, insisted it be changed to Just Cause.

Next week: Skulls – Yorick’s, Piltdown Man’s, Damien Hirst’s diamond one...

Coming soon: Book titles that are homages to previous books, after Denis MacShane published Must Labour Always Lose?, a reference to Must Labour Lose? by Mark Abrams and Richard Rose in 1960.

Your suggestions please, and ideas for future Top 10s, to me on Twitter, or by email to

Read More

Opinion: If university isn’t the best time of your life, you’re not alone

Opinion: We need to stop describing women based on their maternal status

Vulnerable groups are right to be nervous about the end of shielding | James Moore

We need a proper plan to deal with anxiety about school | James Moore

The west cannot abandon Afghanistan – politically or economically

Reshuffles make great theatre, but there’s little to applaud | Jess Phillips

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting