How deception played a key role in the success of D-Day

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“You are going to smell burning equipment.” The Beach Master, in charge of moving troops off the Invasion Beach walked down the sand to Hughie. “You are going to smell death. Do not look left or right. Follow me” Hugh Patterson, from Caledonia, Ontario joined the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals in June 1942. On D-Day+2 Hughie was a Dispatch Rider in 2nd Divisional Signals splashing off a landing craft ramp and pushing his motor bike up ‘Juno’ Beach, Normandy. There were columns of rising smoke and in the smoke the smell of oil; salt water; and the sound of shouted orders.
Hughie and other members of the Dispatch Section pushed and pulled their bikes forward, “some of us did look, there were bloated animals, a great number of German soldier corpses; we went to a small village to find 2 Division Headquarters. We slept in slit trenches, and started to remove the waterproofing we had put on our bikes for the sea crossing, that night we got mortared… In the morning the wheat field in front was littered with the corpses of German Paratroopers.”

Hughie and the 24 Dispatch Riders (DRs) who landed with him carried critical maps and orders between the units of the Canadian 2nd Division. Riding motorcycles or driving Jeeps the DR, delivering dispatches to units close to the enemy Hugh needed to know where the enemy were. But where was the enemy? Hitler boasted his Panzer attack would drive the Allies into the sea. It was now the second day of the Normandy invasion and no massive counter attack, with each hour, more Allied reinforcements landed. As Hugh, checked and loaded his kit, any delay to the Panzers arriving was good news for a Dispatch Rider.

Cpl Hugh Patterson, DR 2nd Div HQ&Sigs

Against the Allies was a German Army of 300 Divisions with 58 Divisions in France, Belgium and the Netherlands. Hitler had his favourite Field Marshal, Erwin Rommel defending Normandy and Brittany. In 1943 Rommel began adding pillboxes; gun emplacements; beach obstacles, and posts stuck into possible glider landing fields. The 5 infantry Divisions holding the Coastal defenses were stiffened with experienced leaders. Rommel took command of 3 of the 9 Panzer Divisions of the Counter attack Force although only one of the Panzer Divisions was close to Normandy. The 91st Air Landing Division were added with the 6th Parachute Division which Hughie may have seen from his slit trench. The plan was to have the Panzer Reserve and the Panzer Grenadiers close to the beaches. Rommel said “The war will be won or lost on the beaches. We will have one chance to stop the enemy and that is while he’s in the water struggling ashore. The first 24 hours of the invasion will be decisive…for the Allies as well as Germany; it will be the longest day.”

At the Tehran conference in 1943, Churchill outlined the importance of Deception in the planning and for it to be controlled at the highest command level. The Allies already had successful deceptions as in August 1942 when a haversack of fake mine field maps found by Rommel’s troops helped defeat him at Alam el Halfa. In July 1943 fake plans placed on a corpse showed that the expected invasion of Sicily was an invasion of Greece and Salonika, just as Hitler expected. Fake Army camps, and dummy tanks were built in Egypt and false radio signals were sent to complete the deception. At the time, Churchill is reputed to have said, “Everyone but a bloody fool would know its Sicily”. Mussolini agreed with Churchill. Hitler did not agree and moved 1st Panzer Division from France to Salonika; two Panzer Divisions from the Eastern Front to the Balkans and sent Rommel to defend Salonika. The Allied invasion of Sicily was a success. It was agreed that Deception plans for D-Day would be code named OPERATION BODYGUARD and coordinated at the High Command level, specifically targeted against Hitler and the German Armed Forces High Command (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht-OKW).

BODYGUARD was built around 35 inter linked plans to build such creditable threats that Hitler could not counter one threat without exposing another. By mixing real and false threats including an Allied invasion of Norway; attacks across the Black Sea into Romania and into the Balkans; an invasion of the French Riviera; attacks into the Bordeaux region of France and a Main Allied invasion into Pas de Calais the Allies could deceive Hitler and conceal the real Normandy invasion-Operation OVERLORD.

The most important deception was operation FORTITUDE.
FORTITUDE NORTH: An allied invasion of Norway, then through neutral Sweden, through to an invasion of Denmark and an attack against the Reich into Berlin.
FORTUDE SOUTH: An allied invasion of France through the Pas de Calais with a diversion invasion in Normandy to draw the defenders from the Pas de Calais.

How the plan worked

The Deception Plan had to agree with Hitler’s opinion and be believable and credible.
Enemy and Allied Intelligence was gathered from many sources, mainly through listening to Enemy Radio transmissions; breaking Enemy codes; sending Spies to report what was happening and taking photographs from the Air or from the Sea.

To make the deception work, the plan had to involve different sources of information all saying the same thing. It then had to be checked to see if the enemy believed the deception. Through ULTRA the Allies could read Hitler’s command teleprinter network and confirm whether the deception plan was being believed.

The Nazi and the Allied decision making process was very different.
The Allied command structure in the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) coordinated all the Intelligence agencies under the Committee of Special Means (CSM). This ensured that all the different groups were coordinated with each fake plan and each group had the authority to make their part happen.

The Nazi command structure had power focused in one leader. Hitler created multiple separate and competing agencies providing different pieces of information for his approval and direction.

FORTITUDE NORTH created a fictitious 4th Army in Scotland that was preparing to invade Norway. General Sir Andrew Thorne who had previously served as military attaché in Berlin and was well known to the German High Command would be the commander. Scotland was difficult for German Reconnaissance planes so the deception relied upon false Radio messages creating a complete Army that could be listened to and tracked by the German B-Dienst Intelligence. The Codes used were low level and known to have been previously decoded by the Germans. German Double Agents who had agreed to work for the allies were active sending reports of fictional troop movements and information on the 4th Army to their handlers in the German Abwehr.

FORTITUDE SOUTH created the fake 1st U.S. Army Group in south east England preparing to invade the Pas de Calais. This was commanded by General George Patton, considered by the German Command as the natural commander for Invasion. The deception plan was similar to that in Fortitude North but with the complication that the deployment could easily be observed by Air and Coastal reconnaissance. Dummy tank parks, Army camps, with fake airfields created a believable and credible invasion Force against the Pas de Calais. Double Agents were very successful in Fortitude South. On the 30th May Hitler informed the Japanese Ambassador General Hiroshi Baron Oshima that “…although there might be Diversion attacks in Normandy or the Netherlands, the main invasion would be in the Pas de Calais.” For Hitler and his High command, the information from reliable Abwehr Agents across Europe; Signals Intelligence from Y stations; crypto analysis units; and aerial photo reconnaissance all identified the Pas de Calais as the main invasion site.

Hugh Patterson became a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honour

Perhaps, the best judgment as to whether the D-Day Deception plan worked are the words of General Bradley who wrote to his supreme commander General Eisenhower.
“Operation Fortitude …was responsible for containing a minimum of 20 divisions in the Pas de Calais during the first crucial months of the invasion. The enemy was led to believe, and reacted to, a long inventory of opportune untruths, the
largest, most effective and decisive of which was that (Neptune) itself was only the prelude to a major invasion in the Pas de Calais area…. Best testimony to the effectiveness with which this mis-information influenced the enemy’s
Command decisions is the historic record of the enemy’s committing his forces piecemeal, paralyzed into indecision in Normandy by the conviction that he had more to fear from Calais. “

Operation BODYGUARD was an effective and credible deception plan that saved Canadian lives and helped free Europe from Nazi oppression.

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MWO Ray Laplante, SSM - 4 CDSG Sig Sqn
5 years ago

Great historical piece to highlight a remarkable member of the RCCS during this period in our history.

Keep them coming.