The Overlord’s Bodyguard

A screenshot photo of the map of the English Channel from the slideshow that precedes the D-Day mission in Medal of Honor: Allied Assault (MOHAA).

This map from the mission briefing shows the invasion’s target, Normandy, in relation to the feigned target, Calais.

Operation Overlord, the code name for the Battle of Normandy, included Operation Neptune – the largest amphibious invasion of all time – with more than 160,000 troops landing on France’s Normandy coast on June 6, 1944. The Germans knew an invasion was coming, and they believed they knew when, and where, it would occur.

But, as Winston Churchill said to Joseph Stalin at the Tehran Conference in 1943, “In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.”

Similarly, the truth about Operation Overlord was disguised by Operation Bodyguard, a large-scale deception tactic implemented by the Allies in order to convince the Germans that the invasion was aimed at Pas de Calais instead of Normandy.

I could go on and on about every aspect of this complicated deception, but no one would want to read a blog post that’s as long as a dissertation. So, I’ll just go over the basics, and if you’re interested, look into it yourself, it’s impressive.

The main objective of Operation Bodyguard was to draw troops and fortifications away from the intended landing area by convincing the Germans that the invasion would come later than June 6 and no farther west than Calais. This included threatening attacks on the Balkans, Norway, southern France and Soviet attacks on Bulgaria and northern Norway.

The over-arching operation was divided into three parts – Operation Fortitude (north and south) and Operation Zeppelin (invading Europe via the Mediterranean). There were also many smaller operations carried out by commanders in their local positions.

Before Bodyguard, double agents were used to provide the German command with misinformation about the invasion, and the fictitious First United States Army Group (FUSAG) was created in 1943. To give the group credibility in the eyes of the Germans, Gen. George S. Patton was placed in command and FUSAG was stationed directly across the English Channel from Calais as part of Operation Fortitude. The fictional British Fourth Army was FUSAG’s counterpart in the north, stationed in Scotland and poised to assault Scandinavia.

A photo from the U.S. military of an inflatable dummy tank modeled after the M4 Sherman, taken during WWII.

An inflatable dummy tank modeled after the M4 Sherman. These were used in deception tactics, but whether they were used in Operation Fortitude is disputed.

The goal of Fortitude was to make sure that the Germans did not further fortify Normandy and would be delayed in their response to the invasion. To do so, the Allies utilized five main strategies.

1. Physical deception: dummy landing craft were placed on the shores to simulate an invasion force. It has also been said that inflatable tanks and plywood artillery were placed to simulate military encampments, but this information is disputed. Regardless, the lack of German reconnaissance planes rendered physical deception unnecessary.

2. Leaking information through diplomatic discussions with neutral countries in the hopes that Germany would hear: negotiations with neutral Sweden about using its airspace were eventually supposed to reach the Germans, to convince them of an invasion of Norway. This tactic proved unreliable.

3. Important figureheads: Commanders well-known to the Germans, like Patton, were placed in command of the fake units.

4. Wireless traffic: Radio traffic was created by the north and south positions to simulate the amount of traffic generated by a large military force.

5. Double agents: By this time, all but one (who died under unclear circumstances) of the German spies in Britain (about 50) had been caught by the British. Most had been persuaded to be double agents who passed disinformation to the Germans, making this strategy the most effective.

A photo of Gen. Bernard Law Montgomery taken during WWII.

A portrait of Gen. Bernard Law Montgomery.

Operation Quicksilver was part of Fortitude and its main goal was to keep the Germans thinking that FUSAG and Patton would attack at Calais long after the Normandy landings. Part of Fortitude South, it was devised by Gen. Bernard Montgomery’s deception officer Col. David Strangeways, whose ideas tricked the Germans throughout the war. Quicksilver was carried out so well that Adolf Hitler kept most of his forces near Calais even after the Allies had secured their positions in France.

On June 6, the Allies continued deception tactics, including Operation TitanicOperation Glimmer and Operation TaxableRoyal Air Force aircraft taking part in Titanic dropped about 500 dummy parachutists in areas away from the Normandy beaches to convince the Germans that the invasion was taking place over a larger area and to lure troops away from the landing zone.

Glimmer and Taxable were conducted together at the same time as Titanic, and involved RAF aircraft flying tight circles at night, dropping chaff, a radar countermeasure, that appeared on German radar as if a large fleet of ships were approaching. Both operations had to be done with perfect timing so there was no overlap or gap in the radar image. In fact, German shore artillery actually opened fire on the “invasion force.”


~ by John on January 12, 2011.

2 Responses to “The Overlord’s Bodyguard”

  1. i would love if you did a write up on the final chapter in MOHAA, when Powell goes through Germany onto Schmerzen. if you want a co-author i wouldlove to write up on the history behind some of the MOH missions as they fascinate me too. feel free to contact me at my email address

    • Hey Dean,

      I’ll be getting to that soon, hopefully. Sadly, I disappeared from the blogosphere for a few months and didn’t update anything. I’m hoping to get back on track starting Monday. I haven’t looked into the final chapter much yet, except to discover that Schmerzen isn’t a real place. I never thought about having anyone do guest posts, mostly because I figured they’d be along the same lines as what I’d write, and I don’t want redundancy. But, if you have an idea/knowledge about something that I haven’t covered yet (as long as it’s before the bocage mission), feel free to either share that knowledge or draft a post for me to look at. If I do end up using it, I’ll give you full attribution. While I like to believe I’m great at research and historical knowledge, there’s always someone who knows something I don’t, so I welcome your discussion.

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