by J.K.L. This post is part of Blackfive's D-Day 60th Anniversary Blogburst Salute. Citizen Smash also points out that June 3rd is the 62nd Anniversary of the decisive Battle of Midway in the Pacific Theater.
The mental image that I have of D-Day comes from old newsreels and from movies. Chaos. Chaos and frail human bodies, burdened with heavy packs, slogging through the tide, across the beach, through a storm of bullets. Brave men fighting and, all too often, dying.
But the aspect I find most fascinating is the extent of the campaigns of disinformation and deception. They were truly audacious. Imagine preparing to land more than 1,000,000 men on 50 miles of beach. There will be more than 2,700 ships, 2,500 landing craft and 700 warships. Preparations for an assault on this scale couldn’t be hidden or kept totally secret, so what could be done protect the identity of the actual target and confuse the enemy?
The deception planners created imaginary armies, the First United States Army Group (FUSAG), the British 12th Army, and an army located in Scotland. They made them big; multiple Motorized, Infantry, Airborne and Armored Divisions, Armies and Army Corps from Britain, Canada, the US, Poland and Norway. They used double agents to inform the Germans of the activities of these armies, and created paper trails for equipping, deploying, moving and training them. They gave them locations in towns and villages all over East Anglia and the Scottish coast. And they gave FUSAG a commander the Germans had to respect, Patton.
Then the Allies created imaginary attack plans. The British had nine separate major operations categorized as ‘deceptions’ including: Operations Ferdinand, Fortitude (North & South), Graffham, Ironside, Royal Flush, Zeppelin and Vendetta. These were all aimed at different strategic targets: Rome, central Norway, Calais and Boulogne, central Sweden, Bordeaux, southern Sweden, Spain or Turkey, the black sea coast of Romania, Crete, the western coast of Greece and Albania, and Marseille. Colonels John Bevan and John Baumer were sent to Russia to enlist aid to make the ‘attack’ on Norway and in the Black Sea more credible.
All the while, the Allies' knowledge of the German codes offered them a window into the mind of their enemy, and the effectiveness of their shadow campaign.
...And Sleight of Hand
There were small deceptions as well. Operation Titanic launched the night before D-Day morning. Ten members of the Special Air Services simulated a large landing on the beaches south of Boulogne. “So successful were the ten men in simulating a larger landing that a whole German regiment – more than 1,000 men – was deployed throughout the morning of June 6 to oppose them.” In another deception immediately before D-Day, “36 bombers dropped hundreds of dummy parachutists and explosive devices over areas to the east of the actual landing grounds, to simulate the landings there.”
The 617 Squadron of the Royal Air Force (the “Dam Busters”) were key to yet another deception launched immediately before the Normandy landings. Operation Taxable was designed to divert attention from Normandy by fooling the Germans into believing that a large convoy of slow-moving ships was crossing the Channel towards Pas-de-Calais. It was completely dependent on absolute precision in flight and navigation for its execution. In tandem with a few Royal Navy motor gunboats (Operation Moonshine) that were actually crossing the Channel, the flyers released “window” – metallic strips that would show up on radar and make it look like a large convoy was en route.
The strips had to be released every 4 seconds, if the timing was off the radar signature would no longer resemble ships at sea and the operation would fail. “Window” was released – perfectly - for the entire three-and-a-half hours of the Operation. The gunboats carried equipment that amplified and repeated the German radar signals, allowing one ship to appear as many. It was so effective that the Germans even fired on the non-existent convoy (more about 617 Squadron here).
From Deception to D-Day
The purpose of these ruses was twofold: to trick the Germans into making  “faulty strategic dispositions”; and  “faulty tactical dispositions”. in other words, to dupe them so thoroughly that their energy would be spent preparing plans and strategies for invasions that would never occur, and to ensure that Germany's deployments of men and material would make it less able to counter the Normandy landings.
They were highly successful. So successful that even after the Normandy landings began, the Germans were still convinced that the main attack would occur elsewhere. For days, they clung to their belief that Normandy was a feint, holding back troops and tanks whose armored thrust against the allied beach-head may have proved decisive.
So, when we remember those who fought on the beaches and fields of Normandy for the liberation of Europe on D-Day, let’s also remember the thousands of people who fought behind the scenes, creating the scenarios that helped insure victory.
N.B. My favorite historian, Sir Martin Gilbert, has just published a book titled D-Day which I highly recommend. I also recommend his 3-volume set: A History of the Twentieth Century [the quotes are from A History of the Twentieth Century, Vol. 2].