OVERLORD and FORTITUDE II

Dummy landing craft

Fortitude North and South constituted the main portion of the overall Bodyguard deception.

Operation FORTITUDE SOUTH, developed by David Strangeways, aimed in the first instance to convince the Germans that there was another mighty force in Britain, as well as Montgomery’s (real) 21st Army Group: this was the First United States Army Group, or FUSAG, stationed in the south-east of England, opposite the Pas de Calais, the quick route to Germany via Antwerp and Brussels. FUSAG was, of course, notional, a ghost army created and sustained by the deception plan QUICKSILVER. It had its own insignia, a black Roman numeral I on a blue background inside a red and white pentagon, and it was supposed to comprise the Canadian First and the US Third Armies. Most importantly for the story, it was apparently commanded by the profanely theatrical, ivory-handled-pistol-packing US General George S. Patton Jr, ‘Old Blood-and-Guts’ himself, from a headquarters at Wentworth, near Ascot. (‘One must be an actor,’ Patton once wrote about overcoming ever-present fear.) Hitler thought that Patton – who had got into trouble for slapping a shell-shocked soldier in Sicily – was easily the Americans’ best man, because he was ruthless. Of course he would be leading the Allied fightback.

From 24 April 1944 onwards, the eleven divisions of FUSAG were brought to life by dummy radio traffic to hoodwink the German ‘Y’ or wireless-eavesdropping service. The radio deceivers went on genuine army exercises where they recorded all the radio voice traffic, learned accurate technical terms and questioned people about their activities before writing their own scripts, which they got Allied servicemen in Kent to read out. They tried not to make it sound too polished, because in real life people often did not hear and asked for repeats. For Morse work they got American radio operators of 3103 Signals Service Battalion who had been in Sicily and North Africa, and whose ‘fist’ or way of signalling the German listeners might recognise. There was also physical camouflage work, particularly the planting of scores of dummy landing craft – known as ‘big bobs’ – at Great Yarmouth, Lowestoft, and on the East Anglian rivers Deben and Orwell, for German aerial reconnaissance planes to spot. The dummy landing craft weighed about six tons, were built out of scaffolding pipes and canvas and floated on 55-gallon oil-drums welded together. They were painted and stained to look old, and were ‘serviced’ by crews who hung out washing, flew ensigns, sent up smoke signals and moved around in small boats. The idea was to keep the Germans looking eastwards; the Pas de Calais had to remain the invasion site uppermost in their minds, with the Fifteenth Army there ready to repel an invasion, and Seventh Army in Normandy less on its guard.

Great activity, using lighting at night, was simulated at Dover and Folkestone, where the 2nd Canadian Corps and the US VIII Corps were notionally based. The architect Basil Spence oversaw the building of a fake oil terminal with pipelines, storage tanks and jetties. It was solemnly inspected by King George VI and General Montgomery among other notables, and duly reported in the press – because since early March 1944, Royal visits had been coordinated with the deception planners.

It all worked: a German Oberkommando der Wehrmacht intelligence map, captured later in Italy, of what they believed to be the British Order of Battle on 15 May 1944, reflected their belief that most Allied forces were stationed in the east of the UK. The (mostly imaginary) units the map showed had been carefully built up over the last fifteen months through a mass of detail sent to the Abwehr by their trusted spies in England, who of course were actually MI5-controlled double agents. The three most important were a Pole, Roman Garby-Czerniawski, code-named BRUTUS, reporting to Paris, a German, Wulf Dietrich Schmidt, code-named tate, reporting to Hamburg, and our Spanish spy, Juan Pujol García, code-named GARBO, now sending his reports directly by coded wireless message to the Abwehr Kriegsorganisation in Madrid.

With everything to play for, the battle for morale became all-important. Sefton Delmer’s ‘black’ radio station, Soldatensender Calais, now broadcast loud and clear, and by early 1944 PWE ‘black’ and BBC ‘white’ broadcasting were working well together in their different spheres, the distortions of ‘black’ weaving a smoke of lies around the ‘white’ buttresses of truth. Delmer was working closely with PWE, the BBC, Naval Intelligence and LCS, and had an office in Bush House. Here men and women from the European resistance, Polish, Danish, Norwegian, French and Dutch, came to see him, and he helped them with forged notices, posters, proclamations and identity papers. Soldatensender Calais played its part in operation OVERLORD, helping to soften up the morale of German troops defending the Atlantic Wall, encouraging slacking by saying, ‘Units which show themselves smart and efficient are drafted to the Eastern Front. Promotion in France is a sure way to death in Russia.’ Delmer’s cheery-toned but deeply depressing black radio broadcasts abraded German soldiers’ confidence by saying that Russian successes were due to their being supplied with (imaginary) American ‘miracle weapons’ like the new ‘phosphorus shells’, which could destroy reinforced concrete and pierce any armour.

In May 1944, the month before D-Day, Delmer launched a daily newspaper for the German troops named Nachrichten für die Truppen or ‘News for the Troops’. It was a joint British–American venture. SHAEF gave him a team of editors and news writers to command, and the paper ran for 345 editions, using rewritten radio material. Two million copies a day were dropped by American bombers across France, Belgium and Germany, with pieces about German difficulties fighting an air war without fuel, or detailing ‘impossible’ political interference with the army leaders’ decisions. Delmer, the lifelong newspaperman, later said that this was the wartime enterprise of which he was proudest.

Meanwhile, Juan Pujol’s role as ARABEL, the Abwehr agent, was also moving steadily towards its climax. He was by now the chief spy in an extensive (and entirely fictional) network code-named ALARIC. He had not only invented, for his Abwehr spymasters, four supposedly important contacts providing him with information, he had also recruited seven equally imaginary sub-agents who in turn got military information from some fifteen notional sources. So Agent THREE in Glasgow, the Venezuelan student called Carlos (‘recruited’ or invented while Pujol was still in Lisbon), supposedly knew a drunken NCO in the RAF, a British infantry officer and a Communist Greek seaman who had deserted but who wanted to help the Russians open the Second Front. Agent FOUR, a Gibraltarian NAAFI waiter based in Kent, got much information about the arms depot and underground railway in the imaginary ‘Chislehurst caves’ from a guard stationed there, and many details about FUSAG (including gossip about quarrels between US & UK Commanders) from an American NCO based in London. Agent SEVEN, an ex-seaman in Swansea, was particularly active, with sub-agents in Exeter and Harwich, and also apparently knew a Wren in Ceylon, a soldier in the 9th Armoured Division, an Indian fanatic, and the leader and ‘brothers’ of the Aryan World Order Movement, a group of extreme Welsh Nationalists.

These colourful imaginary agents and sub-agents were spread across the country, and Pujol sent their ‘information’ on by radio. From 1 January to 6 June 1944, he sent 500 wireless messages from London to Madrid, putting over the deceptions that SHAEF wanted. From Madrid, ARABEL’S reports went to Oberkommando der Wehrmacht and to Fremde Heeres West, the German Intelligence department dealing with the Allied armies in the west. The false information made them calculate the number of divisions in the UK as seventy-seven, overestimating them by 50 per cent. The whole fantastic spider’s web of inventions was not just the work of the writing partners Pujol and Tomás Harris. They were advised by David Strangeways and LCS, and behind them, by the presiding genius of ‘A’ Force, Dudley Clarke.

Now Pujol’s role as GARBO went up a notch. Permission was granted to let ARABEL break the news of the Normandy landings, to give him even greater credibility with the Abwehr. So, just before D-Day, Pujol’s imaginary Agent FOUR apparently broke out of a high-security army camp at Hiltingbury together with two American deserters and brought ARABEL the news that the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, having been issued with 24-hour ration packs and vomit bags, had left the camp. This information was transmitted eight minutes after those very Canadians landed on JUNO beach, just before 8 o’clock on the morning of 6 June 1944. It was too late for the Germans to do any more to prepare for the landings, but Pujol retained his status as the Abwehr’s top man in Britain.

With hindsight, the Bailey bridge of history seems solid, with its incidents all bolted together in due order. But before the event, things are very different. On the eve of D-Day, the future was blank, unclear. Nothing was inevitable; everything was at hazard. Eisenhower knew it was a gamble he could lose, and handwrote the gloomy message he would have to give if the landings failed.

Winston Churchill was feeling his responsibilities, and his age. He had been Prime Minister for four long years, actively running a country that was fighting for its life in the greatest conflict the world had ever known. His mind went back to the past, to the ‘hecatombs’ of WW1 which he had survived but thousands and thousands had not. He worried about the D-Day landings too, telling an American visitor, ‘It is not because I can’t take casualties, it is because I am afraid what those casualties will be.’ At the back of his mind was Gallipoli, the amphibious landing that wrecked his political career nearly thirty years before. Things had also gone wrong in the landings at Narvik, at Dieppe, and at Anzio in Italy where it had taken four months for 125,000 men to break out from the trap of the beachhead. What would happen in Normandy? Six months short of his seventieth birthday, Churchill the warhorse now determined to be there, watching the D-Day landings from a bombarding ship. King George VI said he would do the same. This caused consternation. What if Monarch and Prime Minister were to be killed? Both men were finally dissuaded. On the night of Monday, 5 June, Churchill dined with his wife and then spent time in the Map Room, glaring at the dispositions. Before going to bed, he said to Clementine, ‘Do you realise that when you wake up in the morning 20,000 men may have been killed?’

Thirty years before, Philip Gibbs and the other journalists had been barred from the front by Lord Kitchener. But by 1944, media-savvy generals like Montgomery were welcoming news organisations like the BBC. At D-Day, Richard Dimbleby had eighteen reporter colleagues: Guy Byam jumped with the paratroops, Chester Wilmot went in on a glider, Richard North in a landing-craft, Stanley Maxted in a minesweeper, and other BBC correspondents were with different units and at SHAEF HQ with their 40-lb ‘midget’ recorders, getting actuality and eyewitness accounts from the battlefield. War Report, broadcast nightly after the nine o’clock news from 6 June 1944 until 5 May 1945, was a new kind of radio reportage. The war correspondent joined the combatants in the field on behalf of the citizens at home, bringing the front line into the back parlour.

Sefton Delmer’s radio scooped the world with its report of the landings at 4.50 a.m. on D-Day, taken almost verbatim from a teleprinter flash on Goebbels’s DNB news service, but augmented with extra disinformation. Delmer was also proud of that night’s edition of Nachrichten für die Truppen, which reported that the Atlantic Wall was breached in several places, and that attacks were taking place at the mouth of the Seine and at Calais. This claim was carefully coordinated with the deception planners to spread maximum confusion.

In operation TITANIC in the darkness before the dawn of D-Day, handfuls of SAS men from Fairford in Gloucestershire were dropped from the sky at four sites behind the German lines, attended by scores of dummy parachutists, the simple sacking ones known as ‘Paragons’, the more elaborate inflatable rubber ones christened ‘Ruperts’. They parachuted down with assorted pyrotechnics that simulated the sound and the chemical smell of battle. The few real SAS men shot off flares and fireworks, stirring up the ants’ nest with plenty of noise, and then slipped away to join the French resistance or to make their way back to the British lines. Because the best way to deal with parachutists is to tackle them as soon as they land, thousands of German troops were out scouring woods and fields inland, and so were not ready to fight the forces landing on the beaches.

Electronic and electromagnetic deceptions also played their part. Dr R. V. Jones, the head of British Scientific Intelligence, had kept a watchful eye on all German radar developments – the Bruneval Raid by Commandos in February 1942 was a scientific swoop on a radar station in Normandy made at his request – and now organised a massive fraud upon the German system. After RAF and USAAF fighter planes destroyed 85 per cent of the German radar chain, what remained was duped in two operations called TAXABLE and GLIMMER. As the huge invasion fleet pulled out from behind the Isle of Wight, it split. The bulk of the ships turned south towards Normandy, but a decoy flotilla continued eastwards. Above them, Leonard Cheshire’s 617 Squadron of Lancaster bombers flew back and forth in a moving grid, eight miles long by two miles wide, continuously dropping reflective tinfoil to create the radar image of a large fleet moving south-easterly at 8 knots towards Fécamp at the mouth of the Seine. Their sparkling snowfall of ‘Window’ was supported on the sea surface by a few launches using ‘Moonshine’, a device that produced multiple radar images, which gave the same impression of a large assault convoy to any airborne radar reconnaissance. At the same time, the Stirling bombers of 218 Squadron created a similar ghost image on the approaches to Boulogne.

Winston Churchill was not aboard the great armada sailing for France, but Norman Wilkinson was. The painter who had watched the Suvla Bay landings at Gallipoli in 1915 was now on the destroyer HMS Jervis, still wearing his old WW1 jacket but astonished by the thousands of vessels of every imaginable type. Nearly 350 British, Canadian and US minesweepers led the way, clearing ten approach channels, closely followed by the bombarding ships, including Jervis. Wilkinson was the only professional artist there on D-Day and he worked busily as 800 naval guns opened fire at 6.27 a.m. on the Normandy coast over six miles away.

Off OMAHA beach, Allied rocket ships fired 9,000 explosive projectiles. More than 300 B-24 bombers swept through grey cloud to drop 13,000 bombs. All of them missed the German defenders. The amphibious Sherman tanks were launched too early, and 27 out of 29 foundered in heavy seas and sank with their crews, as did 23 of the 32 howitzers in amphibious ‘Ducks’. An ‘inhuman wall of fire’ met the first Americans ashore. The photographer Robert Capa reached the Easy Red sector of OMAHA beach, but got out as quickly as he could. The photo lab accidentally destroyed all but eight of Capa’s ‘slightly out of focus’ pictures of men crawling though bullet-torn surf to shelter behind German beach obstacles. US Rangers who risked life and limb to climb up Point du Hoc found the big guns replaced by wooden dummies.

When the American reporter Ernie Pyle got ashore on the day after D-Day (known as D+1), he found the wreckage of equipment ‘vast and startling’ and the human litter poignant: ‘In the water floated empty life rafts and soldiers’ packs and ration boxes, and mysterious oranges.’ From a high bluff he overlooked the littered beach and ‘the greatest armada man has ever seen. You simply could not believe the gigantic collection of ships that lay out there waiting to unload.’ German prisoners also stood watching, on their faces ‘the final horrified acceptance of their doom’.

The invasion did achieve surprise. By the end of ‘the longest day’, 156,000 men had landed by sea in France as well as 23,000 from the air, although none of them had reached their planned objectives. The airborne and seaborne forces met up on 10 June, the beachheads did not link up till the 11th, and chaotic fighting went on for many days. Montgomery did not take Caen for six weeks, and the Americans did not manage to break out to the south-west for two months. In those first days, the Normandy bridgehead was only a toehold; the German Army’s resistance was fierce and the bocage backcountry of small fields and thick hedges made tank and infantry advance difficult.

The camouflage officer Captain Basil Spence had landed on Sword Beach. On D+2, the day that Montgomery came ashore, he watched British tanks destroy two beautiful Norman churches at Ouistreham and Hermanville by shelling their belfries to kill the German snipers up there. In their dugout that night, a friend asked him what his ambition was. ‘To build a cathedral,’ said the architect who was to remake Coventry.

Steven Sykes was also a camoufleur with No. 5 Beach group, helping to conceal stores from German bombing and shelling. He was putting a belching smokescreen canister into a beached landing-craft when he came across its occupants, a closely packed mass of corpses still pressed together the way they had all died twenty tides before. On D+30 he went to help 6th Airborne Division who had reverted to a static sniper war. He found himself making dummies dressed in Airborne camouflage smocks and demonstrating ghillie hoods, just like Hesketh Prichard in WW1. Mines, booby traps and snipers made progress slow, and cautious.

A huge storm, one of the worst of the century, blew up in the Channel on 19 June and raged for several days, wrecking the American Mulberry harbour and delaying the landing of vital supplies. The storm exposed the vulnerability of the forces ashore: lifelines could be snapped; the cable was fraying. In these early stages, if the Germans had thrown all their forces at it, the D-Day invasion could still have failed. Eisenhower’s ‘Great Crusade’ hung in the balance, and events could have tipped the scale either way. For example, when Churchill visited the Normandy beachhead on 12 June 1944 (see plate 26), he went to Montgomery’s HQ at Creully. As senior officers stood outside with the Prime Minister, South African Field Marshal Smuts sniffed the air and said, ‘There are some Germans near us now … I can always tell!’ Two days later two fully armed German paratroopers emerged from a nearby rhododendron bush, where they had been hiding all along. Had they used their guns and grenades on Churchill, everything would have changed.

Now came the culminating moment of all the lies and the spies, the ruses, dupes and lures that make up British military deception in the twentieth century. This is when deception changed the course of history. In the crucial days after the Normandy invasion, the second phase of the deception plan FORTITUDE SOUTH came into play. The genius of Dudley Clarke’s pupil David Strangeways revealed itself, because the FUSAG bluff did not evaporate, it continued to grow.

The German Army Group B in France comprised two forces: 7th Army in Normandy and 15th Army away to the east in the Pas de Calais. When the Allied Expeditionary Force landed in Normandy they had to deal with the German 7th Army. ‘Just keep the 15th Army out of my hair for the first two days. That’s all I ask,’ Eisenhower had said to the deceivers months before. He was requesting only hours. But every single day that the German divisions stayed away, fewer Allied soldiers died or were injured, and more Allied men and kit managed to get ashore, building up eventually to a force of nearly two million men.

Two days after D-Day Pujol hosted a fictitious conference of his imaginary agents – including three of Agent SEVEN’S sub-agents, DONNY, DICK and DORICK – and, just after midnight, sent his Abwehr masters in Madrid a two-hour-long coded message with a summary of his conclusions, laying out the entire FORTITUDE SOUTH gambit. In essence, he pretended to surmise that the Normandy invasion was part of a two-pronged attack. The landings had just been a feint, a diversionary manoeuvre designed to draw German reinforcements west. If Rommel’s 15th Army moved west from the Pas de Calais to reinforce the 7th in Normandy, Pujol warned that they would fall into the trap. The currently inactive FUSAG – with twenty or twenty-five divisions – would cross from south-east England to land the second blow behind them in the Pas de Calais. The implication was that this entirely fictitious second invasion, code-named MARS, would cut the German Armies off in Normandy, leaving the Allies and General Patton free to plunge towards Germany’s heartland.

The Spanish message from their trusted agent ARABEL went through several hands and translation into German in the eighteen or so hours it took to travel from London via Madrid to Berlin and arrive by teleprinter in Adolf Hitler’s headquarters at Berchtesgaden. Colonel Krummacher, the Ober Kommando Wehrmacht Intelligence chief, read it and handed it to General Jodl, who thought it was important enough to pass to Adolf Hitler himself. ‘Diversionary manoeuvre’ … ‘decisive attack in another place’ … ‘probably take place in the Pasde Calais area’ … ‘proximity of air bases’. It all made sense. Cancel the counter-attack on Normandy. Hold back the troops.

Sefton Delmer thought the FUSAG deception was brilliantly tailored to Hitler’s psychology, ‘his long-displayed lust for self-dramatisation’. Here he was, the hero Führer, confronting many enemies just like the heroic King of Prussia, Frederick the Great, at the end of the Seven Years’ War. And just as Frederick II in the eighteenth century was saved at the critical moment by the accession of the pro-Prussian Tsar Peter who pulled his troops back from Berlin, so now a providential spy, Pujol, had appeared like a deus ex machina with a message to save him. Hitler would never fall into Eisenhower’s trap by moving his forces west to Normandy! The great hero would be ready and waiting to crush the arrogant Patton at Calais. Hitler would still win the war.

And so twenty-one German divisions – two armoured and nineteen infantry and parachute crack troops – were retained in the Pas de Calais area, not for the two days that Eisenhower had asked for, nor for two weeks, but for nearly two months, until the end of July – by which time the Allies had established themselves in north-west France, and the Germans’ chance had gone. When the German forces did finally move west, Eisenhower called it ‘a belated and fruitless attempt to reinforce the crumbling Normandy front’.

In the conclusion of his Report by the Supreme Commander to the Combined Chiefs of Staff on the Operations in Europe of the Allied Expeditionary Force, Dwight Eisenhower wrote that the enemy ‘was completely misled by our diversionary operations, holding back until too late the forces in the Pas de Calais which, had they been rushed across the Seine when first we landed, might well have turned the scales against us’. In his history, Winston Churchill wrote, ‘Our deception measures both before and after D day had aimed at creating this confused thinking. Their success was admirable and had far-reaching results on the battle.’ And Bernard Montgomery wrote in 21 Army Group: Normandy to the Baltic, ‘These deception measures continued, as planned, after D-Day and events were to show that they … played a vital part in our successes in Normandy.’

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