London, England May 30, 1944

In the run-up to the invasion of main­land Europe (Oper­a­tion Over­lord), the Western Allies con­cocted an ambi­tious stra­tegic decep­tion plan to mis­lead their adver­sa­ries as to where and when the actual inva­sion would take place. Called Oper­a­tion For­ti­tude, the plan had two polar-oppo­site com­po­nents. For­ti­tude North supposedly threatened German-occupied Norway across the North Sea. For­ti­tude South appeared to threaten the Pas-de-Calais, a region in Hauts-de-France (upper North­western France) occupying the south shore of the Strait of Dover. At 18 nau­tical miles, Calais was the closest cross-Chan­nel inva­sion target from South­east England. The second-closest cross-Channel inva­sion target, this from Southwest England, was Normandy, a distance of just under 100 nautical miles.

German dictator Adolf Hitler had long specu­lated that North­western France would be the Allies’ inva­sion tar­get (Schwer­punkt), saying so much in Fuehrer Direc­tive 51, dated Novem­ber 3, 1943. Six months later, on May 10 and 22, 1944, Hitler and his Ober­kom­mando der Wehr­macht (OKW, German Mili­tary High Com­mand) had honed in on Normandy followed by the northern part of neigh­boring Brittany, not Calais in the Hauts-de-France, as the most likely inva­sion targets. So For­ti­tude South’s decep­tion planners needed to divert German atten­tion away from the Normandy area—the Allies’ real inva­sion beach­head—for as long as pos­si­ble, delaying rein­force­ments from else­where in France by con­vin­cing the enemy that the Normandy landings were merely diver­sion­ary—a point Allied air forces recently drove home by recon­noi­tering and bom­barding the Pas-de-Calais twice as many times and twice as hard.

A characteristic of Fortitude North was simu­la­ting the pres­ence of the bogus British Fourth Army staging in Scot­land that posed a threat to 12 German divi­sions in Norway. For­ti­tude South had the formid­able but equally bogus First U.S. Army Group. The FUSAG com­prised three armies of real and phan­tom divis­ions under the com­mand of George S. Patton, Jr. The flam­boy­ant U.S. lieu­ten­ant gene­ral was one of two North Afri­can nem­e­ses of leg­end­ary Afrika Korps com­man­der Field Marshal Erwin Rom­mel. Hitler had tapped the Desert Fox to head the German defense of North­western Europe. As Befehls­haber of Heeres­gruppe B (Army Group B), Rommel com­manded two armies of 300,000 men almost evenly split between the Seventh, defending Normandy and Brittany, and the Fif­teenth, defending Pas-de-Calais. Squaring off against Rom­mel was his second North Afri­can nem­e­sis, Lt. Gen. Ber­nard Law Mont­gom­ery. The hero of El Alamein headed the very real 21st Army Group. On June 6, 1944, D-Day, Monty had two armies, the U.S. First Army and the British Second Army. On that day 132,715 Amer­i­cans, Brits, and Cana­dians piled onto Normandy’s five beaches. Hours ear­lier 21,500 Anglo-Amer­i­can para­troopers made their appear­ance in drop zones behind the inva­sion beaches. In terms of numbers, the adver­sar­ies in Normandy appeared evenly matched.

By this date, May 30, 1944, a week before D‑Day, most of the cru­cial For­ti­tude decep­tions had been imple­mented: phy­si­cal decep­tions con­sisting of specious encamp­ments, air­fields, air­craft, landing craft, and tanks; con­trolled leaks through diplo­matic chan­nels that found their way to the German High Com­mand; radio traffic spoofing com­mu­ni­ca­tion with a myr­i­ad of mili­tary units, some on the move; double agents supplying mis­in­for­mation to German intel­li­gence ser­vices; and the pres­ence of senior mili­tary figures and ordi­nary joes in South­ern Eng­land sporting unit insig­nia from the largely fictional FUSAG and dropping disinformation in public places.

The large-scale Normandy invasion surprised the Germans. “When they [the Allies] have estab­lished bridge­heads in the Normandy and Brittany penin­sulas and have sized up their pros­pects,” Hitler pre­dicted with assur­ance to Japa­nese ambas­sa­dor Baron Hiroshi Ōshima on May 27, 1944, at his Bava­rian resi­dence, “they will then come for­ward with an all-out second front across the Straits of Dover.” (For his part, Rommel stopped believing in a second Allied front.) For nearly seven weeks, the Allies’ ruse de guerre led Hitler to delay sending rein­force­ments from the Pas-de-Calais region to Normandy. On July 1, Hitler’s chief of staff on the OKW, Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, tele­phoned Field Marshal Gerd von Rund­stedt, Comman­der-in-Chief West, fran­ti­cally seeking advice on what to do next. Rund­stedt did not mince words: “The writing [is] on the wall, make peace you fools.” Rund­stedt was relieved of his com­mand with­in the month, his sage advice ignored for nearly a year.

Operation Fortitude: Western Allies’ Strategic Deception Warfare, January–August 1944

Operation Fortitude: Dummy aircraft modeled on the Douglas A-20Operation Fortitude: Dummy landing craft, Folkestone Harbor near Dover

Left: A dummy airplane modeled on the Douglas A‑20 Havoc twin-engine, high-alti­tude medium bomber, October 1943. Physi­cal decep­tion using ply­wood and canvas or rubber dummy air­craft look-alikes was one of the “special means” that mis­led the enemy, along with “ghost” (non­ex­is­tent) units, phony mili­tary encamp­ments, air­strips marked by lights, mili­tary vehicles, ammu­ni­tion silos, oil stor­age tanks, and the like. In England an army of unsung war heroes (archi­tects, artists, set builders from Shep­per­ton Studios, actors, and car­toonists) con­jured up a lit­er­al “theater” of war. Artists “weapon­ized” their skills to create opti­cal illu­sions. German recon­nais­sance planes made notes and photo­graphs of the English country­side, harbors, and shore­line dotted with realistic-looking mili­tary equip­ment mixed with the real McCoy. Real and fake landing exer­cises were mounted. Gen­u­ine British war­ships and trans­ports began assem­bling in the Firth of Forth on Scot­land’s east coast in April 1944 to pose a threat to occu­pied Norway. Alarmed by this and bogus dip­lo­matic chatter, Hitler kept 250,000 troops tied down in Norway, 150,000 more than neces­sary per Col. Gen. Alfred Jodl, Chief of the Oper­a­tions Staff of the OKW. So suc­cess­ful were these inge­nious ruses that the tricks were used in the after­math of D‑Day to fool, in one example, the Germans into believing that supe­rior forces of up to 30,000 imag­i­nary troops were threatening their lines. Stra­tegic hoaxes, mis­chie­vous induce­ments, and mis­di­rec­tion tech­niques led the enemy to deploy troops to locations favorable to the Allies.

Right: Dummy landing craft used as decoys in the rivers and harbors of South­east England in the period leading up to D‑Day. Ten miles west of the port of Dover, in Folke­stone Harbor, the Allies built 255 bogus landing craft known as wet­bobs or big­bobs by lashing steel tubes to buoy­ant steel drums and covering them with heavy canvas. It took 30 men over 6 hours to assemble each craft from 1000‑plus pieces. On April 22, 1944, one of the few recon planes the Germans had left in France dis­covered a con­voy of over two dozen landing craft and escorts a few miles east of Dover; the force appeared to be carrying out landing exer­cises. Deceivers also built a few fake army encamp­ments through­out South­east England, the notional staging area of Lt. Gen. George Patton’s First U.S. Army Group, which the Germans referred to as Armee­grupppe Patton. These camps included inflat­able dummy M4 Sher­man tanks, trucks, and jeeps. Real vehicle tracks were made in the dirt to simu­late move­ment of the dummy vehicles, and the rubber dum­mies were lifted into place in front of the tracks. Atten­tion to visual detail was a hall­mark of Oper­a­tion For­ti­tude and proved cru­cial in the Allies’ triumph in Oper­a­tion Over­lord. Not until after the war did the Germans become aware that an inge­nious, com­plex, and unpar­al­leled decep­tion invol­ving tens of thou­sands of real and imag­i­nary peo­ple and real and hollow props had been prac­ticed on them. Inter­est­ingly, Rommel had a decep­tion oper­a­tion named Land­graf. More modest than For­ti­tude, it attempted to con­vince the Allies that German defenses in North­western France were stronger than they appeared. Dummy tanks and fic­ti­tious divi­sions were created for this. Land­graf was supported by specially prepared radio broadcasts.

Operation Fortitude: Double agent Pujol (aka Garbo) in Spanish Republican Army uniform, 1931Operation Fortitude: Double agent Czerniawski (aka Brutus) in Polish uniform before 1939Operation Fortitude: Double agent Popov (aka Tricycle), 1940

Left: Double agents were arguably the pre­mier stra­te­gic decep­tion chan­nel used by the Allied Expe­di­tion­ary Force in France to mis­lead the enemy. In Oper­a­tion For­ti­tude three agents stand out, par­tic­u­larly Juan Pujol García, reputedly the finest double agent of the war. Code­named Garbo after movie star Greta Garbo by his British handler befitting the “best actor in the world,” Pujol was a bril­liant, cunning 30‑year-old Spanish poul­try farmer who managed to get recruited by the German Ab­wehr (mili­tary intel­li­gence), then months later by Britain’s Double-Cross (XX) Sys­tem, a counter-espi­o­nage and decep­tion oper­a­tion of the British Secu­rity Ser­vice, usually refer­red to by its cover title MI5. By the time of For­ti­tude, Pujol had created an inter­national net­work of 27 non­ex­is­tent accom­plices passing off as varnished truth false leads and other Allied-approved fabri­ca­tions. Pujol’s author­i­ta­tive “sources” hood­winked the Germans so com­pletely that they kept 2 armored and 19 infan­try divi­sions in the Pas-de-Calais through­out July and August 1944 in anti­ci­pa­tion of the “real” inva­sion or, should the threat level decrease, a second­ary inva­sion. (Nothing like that happened.) Iron­i­cally, both the Third Reich and British govern­ments rewarded Pujol for his ser­vices as a double agent. Pujol’s war­time service is retold by Stephan Talty in Agent Garbo.

Middle: Thirty-two-year old former Polish Air Force officer, resis­tance fighter, and double agent Roman Garby-Czer­ni­awski, code­named Brutus after the Roman sena­tor who betrayed Julius Cae­sar, once headed a large, clandestine Franco-Polish intel­li­gence circuit, code­named Interallié. Picked up by Gestapo and Abwehr agents who initially were un­sure if they had turned him, Czer­ni­awski gained the trust of his German and MI5 handlers and played a part in For­ti­tude North. The truth was, though, that For­ti­tude North’s deceivers did not ulti­mately con­vince the Germans that a size­able assault was to be mounted from Scot­land against Norway, so the enemy was never persuaded to reinforce its military outposts there.

Right: Wealthy multilingual Serbian lawyer, business­man, and play­boy Dušan “Dusko” Popov was a triple agent (hence the code­name, Tri­cycle), passing off scrubbed infor­ma­tion to the Ab­wehr as part of Britain’s Secret Intel­li­gence Ser­vice (SIS), com­monly known as MI6, and working also as agent for the Yugo­slav govern­ment-in-exile in London. During his espi­o­nage mis­sions for MI6 and the Abwehr, Popov repeatedly traveled to neu­tral Port­u­gal, where he met Ian Fleming, who may have used Popov as inspi­ra­tion for the cha­rac­ter of James Bond later in his hugely pop­u­lar spy novels. Russell Miller recounts Povov’s espi­o­nage career in Code­name Tricycle. All three top agents—Pujol, Czer­ni­awski, and Popov—sought to con­vince German mili­tary plan­ners that the Allied inva­sion of Europe would take place across from the South­east English port of Dover, there­by diverting hun­dreds of thou­sands of enemy troops away from the field of battle and increasing the like­li­hood that the Normandy landings would suc­ceed. On D+7 only one German divi­sion had moved from its defense sec­tor to Normandy. When the German Fif­teenth Army in the Pas-de-Calais—the more heavily defended area of the coast—finally sprang into action in the last week of July 1944, it was, as Over­lord’s Supreme Com­mander Gen. Dwight D. Eisen­hower testi­fied, too late to have any effect upon the course of victory.

Secrets of War’s Tools of Deception: Operation Fortitude Narrated by Charlton Heston (Skip first 1:30 minutes)

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