D is for Deception & Disguise

Mar 1, 2024 | D-Day 80 Years On, World War II

The tangled web of lies that fooled Hitler

The story of D Day is a story of selfless bravery, brilliant planning, and superb logistics—but also the story of a complex set of tricks and fakes which confused the enemy and contributed greatly to the successful invasion. Here are just some of them.

Operation Fortitude South

The Allies planned to invade the coast of Normandy. In order to disperse the German forces waiting to repel the invasion, the Allies created the impression that the main invasion would come over a hundred miles away in the Pas-de-Calais and that the Normandy landings on D-Day were just a diversion.

FUSAG, the 1st United States Army Group, commanded by George Patton, was the Allies’ largest D-Day invasion force—except, whoops, it never existed.
It takes 4 men to carry a 35-ton FUSAG Sherman tank—if it’s made of rubber.

To do this they created an entire paper army group, FUSAG, headquartered in Dover, across the channel from Calais. FUSAG was composed of no less than two imaginary US armies and one imaginary British army and commanded by George Patton. FUSAG ‘existed’ because it created several ‘headquarters’ generating a vast amount of radio traffic (more than the real 21st Army Group,) had large quantities of dummy tanks and landing craft, had a real commander in George Patton, and its existence was confirmed by German spies operating in England, (see XX below.)

Erwin Rommel, the Desert Fox, the German commander responsible for repelling an invasion, believed the deception and kept his largest force, the Wehrmacht 15th Army, waiting for FUSAG to invade in the Calais area. So convinced was he that the 15th Army waited seven weeks after D-Day before finally moving to repel the real invasion.

XX

An Oxford professor named John Masterman organized a brilliant deception run by the ‘Twenty Committee,’ which caught and turned German spies into double agents. The Twenty Committee took its name from the Roman numerals for 20, XX, which was a play on the words ‘double cross.’

Fortitude South was the deception that the principal invasion target was the Pas-de-Calais, not Normandy. Glimmer and Taxable were phantom invasion fleets created by false radar images.
Double agent Juan Garcia, codename ‘Garbo.’ Awarded the British MBE and the German Iron Cross.
The double agents reported back to the German Abwehr intelligence service that the main invasion would come at Calais—except for one spy. The agent who the Germans trusted most was codenamed ‘Garbo.’ With brilliant misdirection the British had Garbo report to the Abwehr that he thought that Normandy really was the main invasion. When this proved to be true, his credibility was greatly enhanced, and he was able to deceive the Abwehr for the rest of the war.

Glimmer and Taxable

The D-Day invasion fleet, containing hundreds of ships, would create a huge, unmistakable radar image, warning Rommel’s armies that the Allies were on their way. The solution: create two more fleets headed toward other beaches on the same night.

The Avro Lancaster, RAF Bomber Command’s undisputed heavyweight champion.
On the night before D-Day RAF Bomber Command Lancaster heavy bombers dropped strips of aluminum chaff, known as ‘Window,’ to create false radar images off the coast at Cap d’Antifer and in the Straits of Dover. It required pinpoint precision for bombers flying in oval patterns parallel to the French coast at 200 mph, exactly 2 miles apart, to create the image of a fleet moving at 8 knots across the Channel far below them—but it worked. In the Channel itself small craft created radio noise to enhance the impression. One of these missions, Taxable, was flown by the famous 617 Dambusters squadron.
Lancaster bombers drop ‘Window.’
A Lanc in its natural element—the night.

And so much more …

I could write 20 blogs about the all the misdirection and brilliant deceptions that went into D-Day. I’d love to tell you about Operation Bodyguard, about COSSAC Ops B, and about Operation Copperhead. Then there’s the TWIST Committee, of course, and MI5-B1A, and David Strangeway’s R Force, and the great spy catcher Colonel Oreste Pinto, and then there’s … but I’m out of space.

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