Lies, Damn Lies!
And War.

One of the most important operations in World War II was Operation Fortitude. It was a plan for a landing in Calais (and, to a lesser extent, Norway), and it is often referred to as the most elaborate deception in the history of war. The purpose of Operation Fortitude was to convince the Germans that Allied strength was much greater than it was, and to pull a substantial portion of German military resources away from Normandy, the real invasion site. It also ends up being one of the most successful and effective military deceptions in modern times - the Germans didn't figure it out until after the Cobra breakout, at which point it was already too late.

The Germans were quite capable of repelling the Allied invasion, which only consisted of six divisions, but they mishandled the situation and lost their last chance to win the war. How were the Allies able to hoodwink the Germans so thouroughly? Though bad command decisions and tactical mistakes were a part of their failure, the most glaring blunders were motivated by misinformation, courtesy of the brilliant deception plan devised by the Allies.

This deception plan was called Operation Bodyguard, and it was made up of 10 subsidiary operations. The largest and most elaborate of these was Operation Fortitude. The effort and detail that went into decieving the Germans almost defies belief (which is, perhaps, why it worked so well). The Allies used every deception tool at their disposal, including the Double Cross System (German spies who had been turned into double agents), dummy armies and operations, calculated use of diplomats, information "leaks", existing military operations, technological deception, the Ultra codebreaking project, and airtight security around both Operation Bodyguard and Operation Overlord. Even though Operation Fortitude was a subsidiary operation, it was still so large that it had to be divided up into two main components: Fortitude North and Fortitude South.

Fortitude North
Fortitude North was lead by Colonel R.M. MacLeod of the British Army; he and his men represented the Fourth Army group, a bogus division slated to "invade" Norway one month prior to the major invasion of Europe. General Andrew Thorne, well known and respected by the Germans, was given "command" of the phony army (though MacLeod still controlled the deception), thus lending credibility to the prospect of a major operation.

Fortitude North used almost every deception tool available to convince the Germans that "some 250,000 men with their own tactical air force and 250 tanks and armored vehicles" were training in Scotland. Tent cities were erected to house the 250,000 troops, while entire parks full of fake tanks and trucks were created. The tanks and trucks were made of inflated rubber, but from the air they looked totally convincing. The RAF provide air support over the area, and a command structure was set up in the radio network, implying the existence of multiple support units including a Postal Unit to handle the phantom soldier's mail, a Field Cash Office to pay the phantom soldiers, and a rather large medical unit to take care of the large amount of casualties that were to be expected from an invasion of Norway. Radio operatiors would sometimes "slip up" and transmit in the clear or use old codes that were known (through Ultra) to be broken by the Germans.

Two other subsidiaries of Operation Bodyguard, Operation Royal Flush and Operation Graffham, were created to help support Fortitude North by faking diplomatic contact with neutral Sweden. All signs pointed to a Norway invasion, and Nazi sympathizers in the Swedish government reported their information to the Germans.

What ensured the German's belief in the Fourth Army was the combination of all the above deceptions with the "confirmation" given to them by their spies in England (who had all been turned into double agents). Similar to this were operational "leaks" in the news and media which hinted at a Norway invasion and were dutifully reported back to Germany.

Fortitude North, along with its supporting operations, ended up being a resounding success. All told, they tied up nearly 372,000 German men in Norway. Had even half of those troops been stationed in Normandy, the Allied force would have been facing an equal if not larger force on D-Day.

Fortitude South
The second part of Operation Fortitude was called Fortitude South, which operated in much the same way as Fortitude North, but without any supporting operations (mainly because the Germans didn't need to be convinced that the Allied invasion would be coming at France - they certainly wouldn't be attacking the fearsome Atlantic Wall). Furthermore, every major German commander, including Hitler himself, believed that the invasion would take place in Pas de Calais, the "objective" of Fortitude South. There were two major goals of Fortitude South:
  1. To convince the Germans that the invasion would be coming at a later date than it actually was.
  2. To convince the Germans that an attack on Normandy would precede the main attack as a diversionary tactic; a precurser to the Calais invasion.
To accomplish these goals, Fortitude South operated in much the same way as Fortitude North. Once again simulated radio traffic and dummy vehicles played a major role in the operation, along with "leaks" and, of course, the Double Cross System.

One infamous leak concerned an article published in National Geographic which contained pictures of all the divisional insignia used on American uniforms. After it was published and had been out for a few days, it was hurriedly withdrawn and a new version was published with some of them missing. "It looked to German spies in the US as if there had been a security breach; in actuality, it was quite deliberate. Many of the divisions listed in the first version did not actually exist; they were part of the Fortitude deception. (The original version of that issue is a much sought-after collector's item, by the way.)"

Another similar tactic was the appointment of Lieutenant General George S. Patton as "commander" of the Calais invasion army. Once again, Patton was chosen because he was considered by many Germans to be one of the best Allied commanders, and his presence validated the existence of the invasion force.

Since the real invasion was going to be in Normandy, that area had to be saturated with bombing, but for every bomb dropped on Normandy, two were dropped in the Calais area on the same kinds of targets. Since the Germans were lead to believe that Normandy would be a feint, this fit perfectly with their preconceptions.

The claim that the invasion would be coming at a later date than it actually was was necessary for a number of reasons. Firstly, and most obviously, to mask the true date of the invasion. Secondly, and much more importantly, it served to keep the Germans, for a while, at least, from committing forces defending Calais to the Battle of Normandy.

Both stages of Operation Fortitude were an astounding success on almost all fronts. The only difference between Fortitude North and Fortitude South was the duration of each operation. Fortitude North essentialy became obsolete once the real operation began, but the most important aspects of Fortitude South didn't come into play until after the D-Day invasion at Normandy. Since the Germans believed the Normandy invasion to be a feint, the kept their troops committed to Calais, thus allowing the Allies to gain a permanent foothold in occupied Europe. Given the strength of the German army, Operation Fortitude proved to be vital to the success of the invasion, and its legacy lasted throughout the war. "Lies in war operate at every level, from the squad all the way up to the full strategic. Rubber tanks got used a lot in Europe, in actuality; the Americans set them up all over the place and used them to fool the Germans about where the real tanks were, and also about how many there were. Because of them, the Germans consistently overestimated the number of tanks that the Americans had, and thus were forced to keep much of their own armor back in reserve to deal with a nonexistent threat." And, in fact, rubber tanks are still in use today, albeit in a more advanced form (some even give off the correct heat signatures).

Lies are a very important tool in war. If Germany knew the invasion would come at Normandy, the would have easily repelled the attack, but Operation Fortitude helped convince them to deal with false threats, and when the actual attack came, they were caught off guard (and they didn't even realize it until it was too late!).
Deception in World War II, by Charles Cruickshank

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