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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

D-Day Deceptions, June 6, 1944

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Today is the 62nd anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy, known to most of us as D-Day. The story of that day has been told and re-told many times by veterans, authors and filmmakers. But what is often left out of the D-Day story are the deceptions that made victory in Normandy possible. We will touch on some of these tonight.

Although the Axis powers were most definitely on the defensive by 1944, the German Army was still a force to be reckoned with. The commanders in Berlin knew that an invasion in the north of Europe was going to come sooner or later; the question was where. The obvious answer was at Calais in France, the closest point of land to the English coast. Of course, Allied planners knew this and played it to their advantage. Another play involved far northern Europe. If the Germans could be made to believe that an invasion force was headed for Norway, valuable reserve troops would be sent there, far enough away from the real invasion in Normandy that they would be unable to contribute to that area’s defense.

The overall deception plan put into action by the Allies in early 1944 was called Operation Bodyguard. The Calais and Norway deceptions were called Operations Fortitude North and Fortitude South. Fortitude North centered around the creation of a fictional British Army (the 4th), fictional US Ranger battalions and phony radio traffic to and from a phony headquarters battalion. To make the scenario even more authentic, British diplomats working in neutral Sweden approached the Swedish government to request overflight and refueling rights for combat aircraft. While the government in London knew that these requests would not be received warmly, it was hoped that German spies in Sweden would send news of the diplomats to Berlin, further creating a case for a northern European invasion.

Fortitude South had as its goal to convince the German high command that the Allies intended to land in Calais, not the more distant beaches of Normandy. To accomplish this, a fictional 1st US Army Group was created and placed in southeastern England. It was under the command of the very real General George Patton. Fake buildings were constructed in the area and dummy landing craft were placed near the seashore. However, very few physical objects were created since German aerial reconnaissance of England was very limited. As with Fortitude North, radio traffic was created to give the sense of an army training for an invasion.

Germany had about 50 active agents in England at this time and British MI5 had recruited every one of them as double agents. These agents passed on data about massive troop movements opposite Calais. As a result, the Germans placed most of their reserves near Calais, waiting for a landing force that never arrived.

Would the Normandy invasion have been successful without these deceptions? Possibly, but the loss of life would’ve been much greater on both sides. It is not an exaggeration to say that thousands of American, British, Canadian, French, Polish and German grandfathers and great-grandfathers owe their lives to some of the greatest lies ever told.

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