Operation Fortitude

Operation Fortitude

I’m continuing my “1944 70th anniversary year” WWII series with the greatest military deception in the history of warfare — Operation Fortitude, a near perfect plan used by the Allies to deceive the Germans as to the time and place of the invasion that would become known as D-Day. It drew on the talents of Hollywood and the British film industry, and it was a smash success. Carried out through April and May of 1944, it was designed to persuade Hitler and the German commanders that the Normandy landings were merely a feint, a fake, and that the main Allied division was to be launched against Calais by six divisions, with a massive force of 50 divisions to follow. Allied counterintelligence produced cardboard, balsa wood, and rubber tanks, landing craft, and airplanes to convince German reconnaissance planes that the invasion force was gathering in Dover for the attack on Calais (see photos).

While the real invasion force was assembling and training all over England, movie setmakers built a fake oil storage facility and docking area near Dover. When the Germans bombed it, fire damage was simulated with sodium flares and smoke generators. Hundreds of dummy landing barges were built, made of canvas and wood, and floating on empty oil drums and moored on the south coast. Fake radio traffic of a “phantom army” that included background noise of trucks and tanks rumbling, plane propellers whirring, troops marching, were broadcast in a relentless stream, convincing the Germans that the Allies were moving troops and equipment for an assault on Calais. Moreover, all of Germany’s spies in England had been captured and “turned” as double agents (their only other option was execution), and were feeding a steady stream of round-the-clock misinformation back to Germany — corroborating the presence of a large army massing near Dover. Finally, the presence in England of General George Patton for a large part of the spring completed the deception — the Germans regarded him as the most able battlefield commander and it made him the most likely person to command the invasion force. The Allies made public that he was in England.

The hoax was a monumental success — it convinced German commander Erwin Rommel to keep nine of his eleven armored divisions in the Calais region, far from Normandy. Author Joshua Levine has written the most recent and complete book on Operation Fortitude.