The Soviets were fighting for their lives on the eastern front against the advance of the Nazi juggernaut. The British, Canadian and American allies had agreed with Stalin to launch an offensive from the west in order to relieve the pressure. The Germans knew it was coming but they weren’t sure just where the allies would strike. Enter Operation Fortitude. It was imperative that the allies keep the German high command guessing as to where the assault would come.
Spearheaded by the British, an elaborate scheme to deceive the Nazis was hatched and carried out. A whole phony army was devised and “deployed” in England opposite the French coast. Carefully coded messages were sent back and forth by land, sea and air giving the impression that a huge military buildup was taking place that was aimed at an all-out assault near Pas de Calais, far to the north of the actual landing site on the beaches of Normandy.
Spies and double agents played a cat-and-mouse game giving and receiving information. One double spy by the code name of “Garbo” worked for the British out of Spain. He carefully researched Britain in the local library and even though he wasn’t actually in England, he sent elaborate reports to the Germans of his activities in the English countryside. The reports he provided to the Nazis reinforced their belief in an assault to the north. His library research and reports were so plausible that he was never discovered.
Elaborate “military installations” went up in northern England complete with hospitals, mess tents, training areas, landing strips and parking for many hundreds of vehicles including jeeps, tanks, troop carriers, tankers, cannon and materiel transports. The tents, for the most part, were real; most of the buildings, vehicles and planes weren’t. The latter were composed of canvass, cardboard and plywood. They looked real from the air and from ground observation points at a distance. Up close, they were just as described: canvass, cardboard and plywood.
During the night, a few guys would drive around in jeeps and trucks to leave tracks in the grass that would be interpreted as military activity. At one point General Patton’s name was even leaked to the enemy as being in charge of the operation. The Germans paid close attention and the ploy succeeded in locking up several German divisions including most of the feared panzer tank corps.
When the D-Day invasion came, Hitler, himself, believed the Normandy assault was only a diversion for the main assault that was to come at Pas de Calais. For several days after the Normandy invasion the Germans, in response to the carefully executed ploy, still left their armies in place to the north and out of action on the beaches of Normandy.
It is difficult to tell how many lives were saved by the elaborate deception and even whether or not the allied invasion itself might have fallen short had the Germans been able to muster all of their vaunted forces to repel the attack.
On this Fourth of July this writer expresses his admiration for those whose boldness and courage secured a foothold on the European shore and drove the usurpers back to their homeland to suffer ignominious defeat. For thousands of young soldiers, sailors and airmen D-Day was their first and last battle. Why were they sent? Why did they go?
Perhaps David O. McKay summed it up when he said, “The greatest responsibility of the state is to guard the lives, and to protect the property and rights of its citizens; and if the state is obligated to protect its citizens from lawlessness within its boundaries, it is equally obligated to protect them from lawless encroachments from without—whether the attacking criminals be individuals or nations.”
Next Week: The Revenge of the Amish