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The grand deception around D-Day

Operation Bodyguard

British soldiers lifting an inflatable dummy Sherman tank
(Photo: Wikipedia)

In early 1944, the British decided it was time to launch Operation Zeppelin, the amphibious invasion of the Balkans to open a new front in Europe. Assembling in North Africa, the British 12th Army was poised to invade Greece, in the process taking back the island of Crete lost to Germany in 1941. The date of the invasion was set for March 29 to take advantage of the full moon. On the 10th of the same month, however, plans were pushed back to April or May so the attack would coincide with the Soviet invasion of Bulgaria. Anti-Nazi resistance leaders in Yugoslavia were to be notified by radio about the final dates so they could assist by harassing German forces. The invasion was delayed again, until May 21 due to Soviet request and its direction was changed. Because of a mutiny of Allied Greek forces in Africa, Greece was to be avoided and the landing conducted in Albania and Croatia.
 
If you've never heard of this invasion, that's because it never happened. The 12th Army only existed on paper, and Operation Zeppelin was a fake invasion plan hatched by the Advanced Headquarters 'A' Force, Britain's deception department in Cairo, Egypt. It was designed to keep German forces in the East Mediterranean and away from Normandy. It used a variety of tools to misdirect the enemy: double agents reporting about nonexistent troop movements, fake radio messages, dummy troops and vehicles, and Allied intelligence agents looking for maps and guides of the region – as they would prior to a genuine landing.

A British Matilda II tank with split “Sunshield” truck disguise in Egypt
(Photo: Wikipedia)
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Operation Zeppelin was part of a series of complex misdirection operations under the name Operation Bodyguard, agreed on at the 1943 Tehran Conference (codenamed Eureka) between Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin, when the cross-Channel invasion of France was decided. Its name was inspired by a remark Churchill told Stalin: "In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies." This bodyguard comprised plans of several fake invasions and additional sub-operations, designed to keep the Germans guessing and confused about the location and time of the real assault and to make them believe that the landing in Normandy is not the actual invasion thus keeping potential reinforcements away from Normandy even after the launch of the offensive. Since the Third Reich was fighting on several fronts, due to the uncertainty caused by the deception operations their defenses became overstretched and undermanned along the Atlantic Wall.

The different sub-operations of Operation Bodyguard on the map of Europe
(Photo: Wikipedia)

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The use of deception was not new in WWII, the belligerents have been using it on both sides, for instance the British constructed fake railway lines, petrol stations or tanks disguised as trucks in North Africa. Thanks to the successful interception and decryption of secret German Enigma messages with the help of the Ultra device in Bletchley Park, the Allies were in a much better position in terms of intelligence thus having more accurate information about the effectiveness of their deception maneuvers. On top of that, many of the German spies sent to Britain and other countries were compromised and captured or turned into double agents in the so-called XX System (or Double-Cross System).

British dummy tanks mounted on jeeps in Africa in 1942
(Photo: Wikipedia)

Organized by 'A' Force, Chief of Staff to the Supreme Allied Commander Ops (B) (another military deception planning department) and the London Controlling Section, Bodyguard had several components. In addition to Operation Zeppelin, there was also the comprehensive Operation Fortitude which had a North and South element.
 
Fortitude North, implemented in Operation Skye, was supposed to make the Germans believe that an invasion was being prepared against German-occupied Norway through the creation of the fictional British Fourth Army in Edinburgh, Scotland. This was done mostly via fake wireless traffic and leaking false information through double agents.
 
Fortitude South, implemented in Operation Quicksilver, had one of the most important objectives, namely to convince the Germans that the landing will take place through the Strait of Dover around Pas de Calais in France which has the shortest sailing distance from Britain and which was heavily fortified by the Germans. This involved the famous fake First US Army Group (FUSAG) based in southeastern Britain around Dover led by General Patton who was temporarily sidelined and withdrawn from actual operations for his slapping incidents during the invasion of Sicily (he slapped and verbally humiliated soldiers suffering from ‘battle fatigue’- PTSD in hospitals). The Germans considered Patton one of the most talented Allied generals whose aggressive style would be ideal to lead an invasion. Deception techniques included fake radio traffic, troop movements, display of dummy wooden landing craft, bombing raids around the Pas-de-Calais area, construction of decoy airfields, etc. Most of Fortitude South was executed by the British Force ‘R’ led by Lieutenant Colonel David Strangeways. Their American counterpart was the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, which was later nicknamed the ”Ghost Army”. After D-Day, both special units were sent to Europe where they implemented further deception operations close to the front. For example, with the help of high-performance loudspeakers and pre-recorded sound effects, they imitated the movement of entire armored divisions within 15 miles / 24 km of their operations. Their existence and activities were held top-secret for several decades after the war.

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Soldiers of the Ghost Army with a loudspeaker mounted on a half-track
(Photo: ghostarmy.com)

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Operation Ironside suggested an invasion in Bordeaux, western France ten days after D-Day. It was executed via double agents "Tate", "Bronx" and "Garbo".
 
Operation Copperhead revolved around a British actor called M. E. Clifton James. Masquerading as Field Marshall Montgomery, James made several public appearances in Gibraltar and North Africa, suggesting an impending attack in that area. A heavy drinker and smoker, James had difficulties portraying the teetotaler, non-smoking Montgomery. Hoping that the operation drew the Germans’ attention, the deception was ended after five weeks.

British actor M. E. Clifton James, Montgomery’s double
(Photo: Wikipedia)

Operation Vendetta was a landing in Southern France and Operation Ferdinand was hatched to support the real invasion of Southern France in Operation Dragoon (called Operation Anvil earlier) in August 1944 by pinning German forces in Genoa, Italy. Its narrative was that since the Germans refused to move their Mediterranean forces to Normandy to fight the invaders there, the plans for attacking Southern France and the Balkans were being shelved, and all effort would go towards reinforcing the Italian campaign. Besides notional units, the real Dragoon invasion fleet also played a part, setting sail towards Genoa and only changing course after nightfall.
 
The web of military deception was supported by diplomatic maneuvers. Operation Graffham in neutral Sweden and its continuation Operation Royal Flush in Sweden, Spain and Turkey both involved Allied diplomatic overtures towards these neutral countries. These requests included access to Swedish airspace and airfield repair facilities, closing down Turkish territorial waters to German ships, and using Spanish ports to evacuate the wounded. These were all sure to reach the ears of German Military Intelligence and designed to be suggestive of invasions in their respective areas.
 
All in all, Operation Bodyguard was a mixed bag. Some parts, such as the diplomatic deception of Royal Flush, had little impact, but others were rather successful. Due to Ferdinand, the invasion of Southern France caught the Germans as a total surprise. More famously, Fortitude South, with Patton's fictional Army Group managed to convince Hitler that the invasion of northern France would have two prongs, rather than just one. Even though some of the plots were largely dismissed by German intelligence, they did manage to tie up German troops all over Europe, which could have been thrown at Normandy, had they had a clearer vision of things.

The patch of Patton’s First US Army Group
(Photo: usarmypatches.com)

Without Operation Bodyguard, the Normandy landings might have played out quite differently. Of course, deception did not end on D-Day. Stay tuned for our upcoming newsletters, in some of them we will focus on deception operations on D-Day itself and in the aftermath thereof.

Shoulder patch of the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, the ‘Ghost Army’
(Photo: Amazon)

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