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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

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

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

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

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

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

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.’

Forschungsmitarbeiter Mitch Williamson is a technical writer with an interest in military and naval affairs. He has published articles in Cross & Cockade International and Wartime magazines. He was research associate for the Bio-history Cross in the Sky, a book about Charles ‘Moth’ Eaton’s career, in collaboration with the flier’s son, Dr Charles S. Eaton. He also assisted in picture research for John Burton’s Fortnight of Infamy. Mitch is now publishing on the WWW various specialist websites combined with custom website design work. He enjoys working and supporting his local C3 Church. “Curate and Compile“
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