4 Engineers lift up an inflatable Sherman as part of Operation Fortitude.

Fortitude & Bodyguard – Deceiving the Germans over D-Day

We’ve examined the Normandy Landings themselves from the perspective of the Americans, British and Germans. Now, we’re going to consider how the Allied deception plan Fortitude contributed to their success. We touched briefly on the Ruperts dropped during Operation Bulbasket in our last post, but now we’re going to focus on the UK based deceptions. These were pretty weird, consisting of inflatable airfields, phantom armies, and a bloke called Garbo and his 27 fictional friends.

Inflatable Tanks – The Pas de Calais

An Inflatable Sherman in a field

A Bouncy Sherman, like a bouncy castle but sneakier

In order to ensure Panzer units were kept elsewhere than the landing beaches, the Allies devised an elaborate deception plan in order to fool the Germans into committing their forces to the defence of a location that was not going to be attacked. In the case of Normandy, it as the Pas de Calais. The shortest point between Britain and the continent, the Germans were convinced even up to the 8th of June that the ‘real’ invasion was to come here.

In order to ensure the Germans believed this, the Allies invested a significant amount of effort in allowing the Germans to continue to do so. Allied engineers built fake airfields, erected inflatable tanks in the fields of Norfolk and the South East, and busied themselves making these bases look used. When the Germans did seen reconnaissance flights over, as far as they were concerned a large military build-up was taking place in the East of England – it just wasn’t one designed to fight anyone.

A Dummy A-20 Havoc aircraft on a fake airfield in Britain, Oct. 1943

A Dummy A-20 Havoc aircraft on a fake airfield in Britain, Oct. 1943

The Phantom Armies

Backing up these phantom airfields was an entire phantom army, it’s rosters empty bar a specialist unit made up of British Royal Signals radio engineers and operators, working out of specialist vans known as ‘gin palaces’. They would drive around inside the areas that the Pas de Calais army was due to be assembling, and broadcast the standard transmissions that this army was due to make. All of this was intercepted by the Abwehr, German intelligence, and confirmed everything that they already suspected – the Allies were massing to use the Pas de Calais as their crossing point.

A Bedford QLR, or Gin Palace, set up and broadcasting.

A Bedford QLR, or Gin Palace, set up and broadcasting.

Backing up this deception was the decision to place Patton at the head of this phantom army. Despite his temper and the fact that he was not trusted by anyone in the Allied command beyond Eisenhower, the Germans perceived him as one of, if not the, best general the allies possessed. They were convinced that any cross channel effort would be spearheaded by the best the Allies possessed.

Patton, the chrome helmeted nutter the Germans expected to be leading the ground forces during D-Day.

Patton, the chrome helmeted nutcase the Germans expected to be leading the ground forces during D-Day.

In a funny quirk of irony, they were correct, but about the wrong man. General Montgomery would in fact be the man in charge of the ground forces in Normandy, but the Germans were utterly convinced that Patton would lead the main attack. The attack by Monty in Normandy must be a feint. As such, they kept their panzer units in the Pas de Calais, awaiting an attack that would never come for far longer than necessary.

Garbo & Double Agents

Garbo/Arabel, the German agent who actually worked for the British

Garbo/Arabel, the German agent who actually worked for the British

Of course, the Germans were not going to trust just Allied communications and reconnaissance flights. They could be a ruse! To confirm the information, they called upon their man in Britain, Agent Arabel: a man who had managed not only to infiltrate British society but also establish a network of 27 sub agents, all of whom reported that the military build-up near the Pas de Calais was indicative of the Allied plans to invade via that strait. Arabel had provided timely and important information before, why not trust him on this one? They provided him with funds and equipment, and even awarded him the Iron Cross for his services to German intelligence.

The network, of whom every person other than Garbo was completely ficticious.

The network, of whom every person other than Garbo was completely fictitious.

The German’s man in Britain was, in fact, Britain’s man in Britain. Codenamed Garbo by the British and Arabel by the Germans, he was actually Joan Pujol Garcia, a Spaniard who hated the fascist regime in Spain almost as much as he hated the communist resistance to it, and who decided to become a spy ‘for the good of mankind.’ He became a British agent after the British released that Garbo had been passing false information to the Germans for a while causing them to spend considerable resources hunting down a fictional convoy several hundred miles south of the actual routes convoys were taking.

At the time of D-Day, Garbo had convinced his Abwehr handlers that he had established a full network of informers and agents within Britain, numbering 27 fictional people. It was the information of these fictional 27, as well as the other information gleaned from reconnaissance flights and signals intercepts, that convinced the Germans to hold 19 Divisions in the Pas de Calais for 2 months after D-day. For this, the British awarded him an MBE, making Garbo the only man in WW2 to be given decorations by both sides!

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