Lest We Forget:
   World War II












Operation Bodyguard: The Secret of Overlord's Success
by Stephen Payne
Endnotes and Bibliography located at bottom of page 2

Just after dawn, on June 6, 1944, nearly five thousand ships lying off of the French coast prepared to disgorge over two hundred thousand Allied troops into Normandy in the greatest amphibious operation in history. OPERATION OVERLORD, the invasion that not only began the liberation of occupied Europe, but also opened the fateful second front against the Nazis, was underway. This second front created by the Western Allies, combined with the Eastern Front with the Soviets applied such force that Germany could only delay her doom, and was powerless to prevent defeat.

Though the Germans were quite capable of crushing the Allied invasion, which consisted of a mere six divisions, they bungled what was in all respects their last real chance to win the war. While bad command decisions and tactical mistakes did contribute to the German mishandling of the Normandy invasion, the vast majority of these mistakes were not through fault of the German Army. These blunders were motivated by misinformation -- not the product of an incompetent German intelligence service, but the product of a brilliant deception plan on the part of the Allies. This deception plan, OPERATION BODYGUARD, which gave the Normandy invasion a chance to succeed, and was in fact directly responsible for the ultimate success of OPERATION OVERLORD.

Charles Cruickshank, in his book, Deception in World War II, defines deception in war as "the art of misleading the enemy into doing something, or not doing something, so that his strategic or tactical position will be weakened."1 In order to weaken the German position, the Allies employed every intelligence and counter-intelligence tool they had, and employed them to their fullest. The OPERATION BODYGUARD deception consisted of a series of lies, half-truths, feints, threats, and decoys fed to the Germans by the British and American intelligence services. In addition to elaborate deception, the Allies also used elaborate security precautions to ensure that no leaks, no matter how insignificant, could alert the Germans to the Allies' true intentions.

In early 1943, while the tide was beginning to turn against the Germans in North Africa, the Allies began to research the formulation and execution of a cross-Channel invasion of mainland Europe. The planners immediately decided that the invasion could not possibly take place in 1943, and slated operations for the earliest possible date in 1944. With the question of when answered, temporarily anyhow, the attention of the Allies turned to the question of where OPERATION NEPTUNE (the invasion portion of OPERATION OVERLORD) would strike. Since the Axis controlled virtually all of Europe, the number of possible sites for the invasion was enormous.

Various requirements, such as proximity to a major port, as well as being within range of air cover, narrowed the selection greatly. The Calais coast, Belgium, Holland, Normandy, and the French Mediterranean coast were labeled as possible landing sites. Belgium and Holland were soon ruled out due to terrain and other concerns, but what truly narrowed the selection and essentially dictated Normandy as the invasion site were the Germans themselves.

Holland and Belgium, besides being heavily defended, were so close to Germany that the remnants of the Luftwaffe would be able to hamper any invasion attempt. The fearsome Atlantic Wall, which caused great fear and trepidation in the minds of the Allies, along with the fact that the Germans were expecting the Allies to invade Calais eliminated the Pas de Calais as a possible invasion site. All other sites, save one, had major problems as well. The one site that best fit Allied requirements was Normandy. It featured the port of Caen, which, although not large, would suffice until the Allies could capture the port of Cherbourg, roughly ten miles from the beachheads. The lay of the land also warmed the Allies to Normandy. Several rivers and other geographic features could be used to split the German forces apart, greatly aiding the invading forces.

No matter how much the German forces could be split apart, though, if the Germans knew where and when to expect the Allied landings, it would be very simple for them to repulse the invaders. Therefore, the Allies had to mask the timing and location of the invasion. To do this was no simple task, but the success of the invasion, and the very outcome of the war rested on the ability of the British and Americans to deceive the Germans about their true intentions.

In the quest to deceive the Germans and draw them away from the real invasion site, the Allies utilized eight main tools - the Double Cross System, dummy armies and operations, calculated use of diplomats, information "leaks", existing military operations, technological deception, Ultra, and airtight security surrounding OPERATION OVERLORD and OPERATION BODYGUARD. The Double Cross system was the main tool that made OPERATION BODYGUARD viable.

Originated in 1940 when the British located and arrested nearly every German agent in England, the Double Cross System "turned" the German agents into double agents operating for the Allies (the German agents had a choice between becoming British operatives or death by hanging, the punishment for spying during wartime). Once they were turned, they handed over their codes, ciphers, radio equipment, and anything else related to their espionage activities. The spy was then usually imprisoned, and a British "case officer" then assumed the role of the Abwehr agent. To do this, the case officer would continue to send information back to Germany in the exact same manner as the spy had done before, so the Germans never had any idea that their spy had been compromised.

Until late 1943, the information sent back was always accurate, in order to build German confidence in their "agents" in England. The information, however, was either insignificant or arrived too late for the Germans to act on. After three years of being fed accurate information from their "agents" in England, the Germans had absolute faith in their intelligence. Thus, when the Double Cross System began feeding the Nazis inaccurate information, the Germans swallowed it hook, line, and sinker.

The Double Cross System was the backbone of the elaborate OPERATION BODYGUARD deception - by using it in conjunction with the other deception tools, the Allies were able to lead the Germans into believing nearly anything. One such thing that the Double Cross System was used for was to convince the Germans into believing gross over-estimations of Allied strength.

The inflated estimation of Allied strength created several phantom armies that were positioned so as to "threaten" Nazi-held territory, such as Norway and the Balkans. However, in order to convince the Germans that these armies in fact existed, the Allies had to duplicate every sign of an authentic army that the Germans could perceive through their intelligence gathering methods. In addition to their network of spies in England (which was of course, composed almost entirely of double agents), the Germans also gathered intelligence through the use of aerial reconnaissance and intercepted radio traffic.

The Allies, then, if they were to successfully con the Germans into believing in the existence of these dummy armies, had to simulate an army's radio traffic, and also create a physical reproduction of an army that would look authentic from a reconnaissance aircraft. To simulate the radio traffic of a real army, the Allies first studied the traffic of various armies stationed in England. Once they had the patterns and feel of the radio traffic, the Allies proceeded to station roughly thirty radio operators in the area where the phantom army was "stationed." Once in place, the operators would then re-create the traffic they had studied with real armies, down to the last detail.

Though the messages they sent gave the impression that a large force was present, without physical "evidence," a simple aerial reconnaissance would immediately reveal the ruse. To prevent this from happening, the Allies enlisted the help of the British and American movie industries. Special effects workers from the movie industries created dummy tanks, airplanes, jeeps, and any other vehicles or equipment that a real army would possess. These dummies were then arranged just as the real objects would have been arranged. When viewed close up, the dummies were obvious fakes, but when viewed from a reconnaissance aircraft, the dummies appeared to be authentic.

The dummy armies, however authentic, would be worthless if the Germans thought that they would not be taking part in the invasion. To give the impression that these armies would be involved in actions against the continent, the Allies did many things, including using easily deciphered radio messages that implied invasion, appointing prestigious generals to "command" the armies, and utilizing the Double Cross System. Once the Germans believed that the dummy armies were real, and that they were slated for use against the continent, the phantom armies were effective deception tools.

The third method utilized by the Allies to deceive the Germans was similar to the Double Cross System. In this case, however, the people passing information to the Germans were unwitting Allied agents. These people were usually either diplomats from neutral nations who also happened to be sympathetic to the Nazi cause, or persons in a similar position. When they either saw or "overheard" a bit of information (in both cases, the information was purposely fed to the person on the suspicion or knowledge that the person was a German agent), they would pass the information on to the Germans. The information, however, was similar in nature to information passed through the Double Cross System - either insignificant or coming too late to be of any value, or just false, to mislead the Germans.

Also similar to the Double Cross System and use of unwitting agents to inveigle the Germans were orchestrated "leaks" in newspapers, radio broadcasts, and the like. The media worked closely with the Allied governments, to create these supposed "slips" in censorship. Since every BBC broadcast, and every major British and American newspaper inevitably wound up in Berlin, these "leaks" were rather effective. And with information coming from such a variety of sources - spies, diplomats, media, reconnaissance, etc. -- with each source supporting the others, the Germans had utmost confidence in the intelligence that they were "gathering."

Another tool the Allies used to weaken the German position in regard to OPERATION OVERLORD was existing military operations. Clearly, withering enemy forces and materiel, and drawing forces away from an invasion site drastically reduces the enemy's strategic and tactical position. The Allies did just that, through operations in Italy, the strategic bombing campaign, and the Eastern Front with the Russians. Without operations in Italy, and especially in Russia, the invasion force would have faced incredible opposition; certainly a far greater force than the invaders could have possibly handled.

The final instrument used in the OPERATION BODYGUARD deception was airtight security surrounding both OPERATION OVERLORD and OPERATION BODYGUARD. Each man privy to OPERATION BODYGUARD information was sworn to secrecy, and watched with the closest of eyes. Security for OPERATION BODYGUARD, however, was lax compared to the level of security surrounding OPERATION OVERLORD. Amazingly, though OPERATION OVERLORD was the largest amphibious operation in history, only a very few men knew the details of the invasion. Any man with any level of informed knowledge of the invasion was given the label "Bigot," and kept under tight scrutiny. Any slip, no matter how slight, resulted in demotion, humiliation, and removal from OPERATION OVERLORD (and for Americans, being sent back to the United States). Since Bigots could only discuss matters of the invasion with other Bigots, the operation remained totally secure.

The Allies made wide use of all the deception tools at their disposal, and to great effect. The deception would be worthless, however, if the Allies were not confident that it was effective. To verify that OPERATION BODYGUARD was in fact operating as planned, the Allies turned to Ultra, the crowning intelligence achievement of World War II. Ultra was the operation that cracked the German code using a stolen Enigma machine, and then proceeded to decipher German radio messages for the duration of the war. Once OPERATION BODYGUARD was underway, Ultra intercepts increasingly indicated that the Germans were buying the OPERATION BODYGUARD deception. In cases where Ultra indicated that OPERATION BODYGUARD seemed to fail, modifications were made to rectify the shortcomings. Ultra was invaluable to the OPERATION BODYGUARD deception, both as a measure of success, and as a fine tuning instrument.

OPERATION BODYGUARD utilized all of the above tools. However, the sheer size and scope of the deception made it much too large to be handled in one single operation. Subsequently, OPERATION BODYGUARD was split into ten subsidiary operations. Three of these operations were executed only on D-Day itself, but the other seven were in operation long before, and for some time after the invasion.

The largest of the OPERATION BODYGUARD subsidiaries was OPERATION FORTITUDE. The objective of OPERATION FORTITUDE was to convince the Germans that Allied strength was much greater than it was, and that this strength would be used against the continent. This would pull German troops away from the true invasion site. Moreover, OPERATION FORTITUDE also aimed to trick the Germans into thinking that the true invasion was a mere precursor, a diversionary attack.

Though OPERATION FORTITUDE was a subsidiary operation, it too was so large that it had to be divided into FORTITUDE NORTH and FORTITUDE SOUTH; the two phantom armies threatened two separate areas. FORTITUDE NORTH was headed by Colonel R.M. MacLeod of the British Army, and headquartered in Edinburgh, Scotland. He and his men represented the bogus Fourth Army group, slated to "invade" Norway one month prior to the major invasion of Europe.

To convince the Germans that the Fourth Army did in fact exist, and was preparing for operations against Norway, the Allies used many tools. First of all, General Andrew Thorne, known and respected by the Germans, was given "command" of the phony army. Lending his respected name gave credence to the threat of a major operation (even though General Thorne commanded the Fourth Army, Colonel MacLeod controlled of the deception).

Because FORTITUDE NORTH encompassed so many goals, it had to use almost every deception tool available to the Allies. The main tools used were fake radio traffic, dummy vehicles, and the Double Cross System, of which the fake radio traffic was the most important. The dummy Fourth Army, which was supposedly composed of "some 250,000 men with their own tactical air force and 250 tanks and armored vehicles," was in fact nothing more than Colonel MacLeod, several other officers, and roughly twenty radio operators.2 If this portion of the deception failed, more so than any other portion, the Germans would realize immediately that the phantom Fourth Army was just that - a phantom, a ruse created to draw their attentions away from the real invasion site.

Fortunately for the Allies, MacLeod's work in Scotland perfectly re-created a true army's radio traffic. Also perfectly re-created in Scotland was the physical "evidence" to support the existence of the Fourth Army. Tent cities were erected to house the 250,000 troops, dummy tanks, trucks, vehicles (complete with tire tracks), and every sign of the army (save for the 250,000 men) was created to give the illusion of existence. The RAF flew air cover missions over the area of the Fourth Army's occupation, and a command structure was set up in the radio network, implying the existence of multiple support units, again giving credence to the existence of the Fourth Army.

Among these fake units were the 303rd Antiaircraft regiment, the 87th Field Cash Office (the phantom soldiers had to be paid), the VII Corps Postal Unit (to mail troops' letters and to receive them), a Film and Photographic Section, the 405th Road Construction Company of the Royal Engineers, and the 55th Field Dressing Station (to treat the large number of "casualties" that would result from an invasion of Norway.3

What ensured the Germans' belief in the existence of the Fourth Army, however, was the combination of all the above evidence with the "confirmation" they received from their agents in England (who were all double agents). The Germans had such high confidence in their intelligence system that any information they received from their agents that even slightly agreed with information gathered through other methods was accepted as true. With two Double Cross agents sending back regular reports regarding the Fourth Army, the German High Command was entirely convinced that it did in fact exist.

More important than the mere existence of an army, however, was the possible threat posed by that force. An army not going into combat is no threat at all, so in order for FORTITUDE NORTH to succeed in weakening the German's position regarding OPERATION OVERLORD, the Allies had to convince the Germans that the Fourth Army was preparing for action. Stationed in Scotland, the Fourth Army was in prime position to strike at Norway, Denmark, or even Germany itself. Germany, however, was much too heavily defended, and the Luftwaffe was still a major force around Germany proper.

Much the same was true for Denmark - heavily defended, both on land and in the air. The terrain of Denmark was also conducive to the defense (as the Allies would find out in OPERATION MARKET-GARDEN). The impracticality of "invading" Germany or Denmark helped the Allies decide on Norway as the "target" of the Fourth Army. To sell the Germans on the idea of the phantom Fourth Army invading Norway, the Allies once again utilized false radio traffic.

The simulated radio traffic was purposefully ciphered in low-level code that the Germans could easily crack and read, or in codes known (through Ultra) to be compromised. The Germans, of course, did not know that they were essentially being spoon fed information, so when they deciphered messages discussing cold-weather gear, skiing instruction, and other "wintry" topics, they drew the logical conclusion that the Allies were planning a thrust into Norway.

This conclusion was only strengthened by Allied training exercises in areas resembling Norway, and also by apparent coordination between the Western Allies and the Soviets for a joint invasion of Norway. With the threat of the combined strength of the allies knocking down the door in Norway, the Germans were forced into sending one "first-class division . . . to Norway, and four of the garrison divisions there were upgraded to combat divisions," bringing the total number of divisions in Norway to twelve.4 Had the Germans known that the Allies were hard pressed to muster the resources to get six divisions across the channel for OPERATION OVERLORD, they never would have put so many troops in Norway.

Two other operations that reinforced the idea that the Allies had designs on Norway were OPERATION GRAFFHAM and OPERATION ROYAL FLUSH. Both operations involved diplomatic contact with neutral Sweden with discussions indicating that an invasion of Scandinavia was imminent. In the case of OPERATION GRAFFHAM, the focus of the meetings between Allied and Swedish diplomats was not cooperation, but demands upon the Swedes. These demands included:
    1. The right to refuel and repair allied aircraft after operations over Norway.
    2. Right of passage for Allied reconnaissance aircraft to fly over Sweden.
    3. Consultations with the Swedes about transport between Norway and Sweden 5

Each of these demands clearly implied that the Allies would invade Norway, and all of the demands were dutifully passed on to Berlin by Nazi sympathizers in the Swedish government, leaving the Germans no choice but to draw the obvious conclusion that Norway was a prime target of the Allies.

Another facet of OPERATION GRAFFHAM was not only deception, but was also aimed at getting Sweden to be more sympathetic to the Allied cause, and possibly even sign on with the Allies. Through open threats, the Allies, and the United States in particular, stated that the Allies would be taking a hard line with neutral nations in the post-war world. These threats did not bring Sweden over to the side of the Allies, but their neutrality did become less friendly towards the Germans, and more importantly, lent viability to another operation, OPERATION ROYAL FLUSH.

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Copyright © 1994-2005 Stephen Payne