A Bodyguard of Lies: How the Allies Deceived Germany about D-Day

Dummy tanks like the inflatable Sherman Tank seen here were used in Operation Fortitude and other Allied D-Day deception operations. (U.S. Army/Wikimedia commons)
Dummy tanks like the inflatable Sherman Tank seen here were used in Operation Fortitude and other Allied D-Day deception operations. (U.S. Army/Wikimedia commons)

Joseph V. Micallef is a best-selling military history and world affairs author, and keynote speaker. Follow him on Twitter @JosephVMicallef.

"In wartime, truth is so precious that it should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies." -- Winston Churchill in a conversation with Joseph Stalin

In planning the Normandy landings, Allied commanders realized that if Germany was able to determine the specific location and timing of the invasion, it would be able to concentrate its forces to repulse it. Tactical surprise was essential for ensuring a successful landing. Given its size, it was impossible to hide the evidence of the invasion force. By 1944, there were 1.5 million American servicemen in Britain, plus prodigious quantities of their supplies and equipment.

While the intent to invade could not be concealed, the location and timing had to be if there was going to be any chance of success. Accordingly, starting in 1943, the Allies began to develop several stratagems for deceiving the Germans about Allied plans for the invasion of Europe. Collectively, these stratagems were named Operation Bodyguard. A title inspired by Churchill's comment to Stalin, Bodyguard consisted of different hypothetical invasion plans to be carried out between June and September 1944, and diplomatic gambits designed to conceal the Allies' true intention.

The primary focus was to make the Germans think that the Pas de Calais would be the main invasion target; to conceal the actual date and time of the assault; and to fix German military forces in Calais, and elsewhere in Europe, to prevent them from reinforcing German troops in Normandy for at least two weeks after the invasion began.

Under Bodyguard, the Allies developed several different scenarios for possible invasion plans and political initiatives designed to thwart the German war effort. Their code names and targets were as follows.

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Royal Flush was a ploy to convince Germany that the Allies were making overtures to Turkey, Spain and Sweden in order to recruit them to the Allied side and to enlist their support for the invasion of Norway and/or landings elsewhere in the Mediterranean.

Zeppelin was a plan for landings in Crete and Greece, and then proceeding up the Balkans to meet up with Soviet forces on the Eastern Front.

Ferdinand was a plan for an amphibious landing just south of Rome in central Italy. This was eventually dropped when it began to duplicate actual, possible, battle plans.

Vendetta was a plan for landings at Marseille on the French Mediterranean coast. This eventually became Operation Anvil, an actual plan to simultaneously land troops on the Cote d'Azur with the D-Day landings. It was scrubbed because of a shortage of men and landing craft. It was subsequently reinstated as Operation Dragoon and carried out on Aug. 15, 1944.

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Copperhead was another stratagem designed to convince the Germans that the Allies would strike in the Mediterranean and were making political overtures to Spain. Ironside was a proposed landing at Bordeaux. Fortitude South was a proposed landing in the Pas de Calais. Graffham was another series of negotiations with Sweden in preparation for a landing in Norway, and Fortitude North was a proposed landing at Trondheim, Norway.

In addition, the Allies also discussed a stratagem to persuade the Germans that they would rely on strategic bombing to defeat Germany and that an invasion would not occur until 1945.

The Allied effort to deceive Germany was aided by two unlikely sources. First, Ultra-signals intelligence from decrypted German radio transmissions allowed the Allies to see what stratagems were working and to reinforce German misconceptions about Allied plans.

For example, when intercepted communications showed that the Germans were concerned about the possibility of Allied landings in the Bay of Biscay and Bordeaux, the Allies leaked details about a proposed plan (Ironside) to German double agents. The details outlined a plan for two divisions sailing from the U.K. to establish a beachhead on the Garonne Estuary, which would then be reinforced by an additional six divisions of American troops sailing directly from the U.S. That force would then link up with a second force, Operation Vendetta, advancing from the south, following a successful landing in Marseille.

Secondly, the Allies had the use of the German double agents who had been turned by MI5 (Military Intelligence Section 5) under the Double Cross System, and were being run by the Twenty (XX) Committee. Twenty in Roman numerals is XX, as in double cross. The British proved remarkably adept at identifying German spies. After the war, it was discovered that all but one German spy sent to Britain was either captured or had turned themselves in during the war. The one exception committed suicide.

Captured spies were given the option of working for the British as double agents, and were used to feed select misinformation to their German handlers. In some cases, the spies were fed accurate information in order to increase their credibility with the Germans. The Spanish double agent Juan Pujol Garcia, for example, codenamed Garbo, was given accurate information about the Allied invasion plan, and was told to warn the Germans that the Normandy landings were not a feint. His German handlers didn't believe him and, even if they had, it was too late, by then, to do much in response.

The Allies also used fake radio traffic to simulate the presence of large military formations when, in fact, there were none or they were much smaller. In Egypt, for example, radio traffic suggested that the Ninth, Tenth and Twelfth armies were getting ready for an invasion of Crete, followed by landings in the Balkans. In reality, there was no such force, only three small, understrength divisions. Recordings of trucks and tanks being operated were also played over loudspeakers to create the impression that substantial forces were encamped.

Actors were also used to confuse German intelligence. The British actor M.E. Clifton looked remarkably like British Commander Gen. Bernard Montgomery. He was used to make public appearances in Gibraltar, Malta and North Africa (Operation Copperhead) in order to persuade the Germans that he would be leading an attack somewhere in the Mediterranean. Later, he was used immediately before the Normandy landings to give the impression that Montgomery was in the Mediterranean and hence no cross-channel invasion was imminent.

The main thrust of the deception effort, however, was Operation Fortitude. It had two aspects: Fortitude North was a plan to convince the Germans that the Allied landings would be in Norway, while Fortitude South was designed to convince the Germans that the landings would occur in the Pas de Calais.

Both operations required the creation of two phantom armies. Fortitude North was to be carried out by the 250,000 strong British 4th Army based in Edinburgh, while the attack on Calais would be carried out by the First United States Army Group (FUSAG) under Gen. George Patton and the 21st Army Group under Montgomery.

The purported invasion of Calais was set for mid-July, D-Day +45, in order to reinforce German concerns that the Normandy landings were a feint and that the real target was Calais.

FUSAG existed only on paper. Montgomery and the 21st Army Group were real, but were intended to be part of the Normandy invasion force. The British 4th Army had existed during World War I. Under its commander, Gen. Sir Henry Rawlinson, it distinguished itself in battles at the Somme, Ypres and Amiens. In the spring of 1944, however, it existed only on paper.

Edinburgh was outside the range of German reconnaissance aircraft, so the Allies relied primarily on fake radio traffic to give the impression that the British 4th Army was preparing for an invasion of Norway. The British also faked radio traffic to mimic a buildup of ships and aircraft in Scotland in anticipation of an invasion.

For Fortitude South, the Allies relied on a combination of radio traffic, information leaked to double agents and the creation of dummy aircraft, landing fields and fake equipment to give German reconnaissance flights the impression that a substantial armed force had been prepared for the invasion of Calais.

FUSAG was positioned in the southeast, in order to persuade German intelligence that the center of the invasion force was directly opposite Calais. Patton was dispatched to visit many of the dummy facilities with Army photographers in tow to encourage the deception. The German High Command considered Patton the best American general, and expected that he would lead the Allied attack across the channel.

The Fortitude South deception worked extremely well. German military intelligence initially estimated that the Allies had 79 divisions in Great Britain, when in reality they had only 52. By D-Day, the estimate had been increased to 90 divisions. The Germans believed, even after the Normandy landings, that a substantial military force of 40 divisions remained in Great Britain. It was this phantom force, they concluded, that was earmarked for Calais. The German error reinforced their belief that the Normandy landings were a feint and that a bigger force was being readied to attack Calais.

Field Marshal Erwin Rommel kept a large number of German troops, and a significant part of his armored units, deployed around the Pas de Calais. He continued to believe that it would be the eventual target long after the Normandy landings had been carried out. German troops did not move from the area until weeks after D-Day. Moreover, the deception forced the Germans to keep a significant amount of their reserve troops uncommitted in anticipation they might be needed to defend an attack on Calais.

The Germans also believed that the invasion would not succeed unless the Allies could quickly capture a port, so they devoted a considerable amount of their defensive effort to protecting the Channel ports and to ensuring that they could destroy them, rendering them useless to the Allies, if they needed to. They were right in that assessment. They simply did not anticipate that the Allies would use Mulberry Harbours to create their own temporary ports and breakwaters at Arromanches and Omaha Beach.

Allied deception was a critical element in the success of the Normandy landings. They pinned down significant numbers of German forces, not only in France, but throughout occupied Europe. Rommel devoted a significant amount of his effort to build up the Atlantic Wall to strengthening defensive fortifications from Calais to Boulogne-sur-Mer. He had a disproportionate amount of his troops and armor there and, more importantly, he kept them there rather than immediately redeploying them to Normandy.

On June 1, five days before the Normandy landing, the Allies intercepted a message from the Japanese ambassador to Germany, back to Tokyo, in which he outlined that Adolf Hitler believed that the Allies would simultaneously launch diversionary attacks against Norway, Denmark, Bordeaux and Marseilles before attacking with the main force across the Strait of Dover against Calais.

Fortitude had worked beyond the Allies' wildest dreams!

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