By 1943 Germany had been expelled from North Africa and U.S. forces were becoming available in huge numbers following American entry in World War II. British and American armies were poised to invade Italy, Hitler's Axis partner, but it was clear that ultimate victory in Europe would hinge on a cross-channel attack from the British Isles into France.
The problem lay in the fact that, if the Allies could figure that out, so could the Germans. And the Germans were prepared to repulse an Allied invasion with several infantry and panzer divisions, not to mention beach obstacles and huge coastal artillery forts.
So the deception plan, known as Operation Fortitude, came into being. There was a limit to how much damage could be done to the German forces in France prior to the landings. The deception plan would misdirect the remaining forces and render them ineffective until the beachhead was strong enough to withstand a counter-attack.
The plan had two components: Fortitude North and Fortitude South. Fortitude North was designed to make the Germans believe that an Anglo-American invasion of Norway was planned, in cooperation with a Soviet offensive designed to knock Finland out of the Axis camp and effect a link-up. The intent of Fortitude North was to fool the Germans into thinking the Norwegian invasion would take place prior to an invasion in France. They would then shift badly needed divisions from the Normandy area to Norway, or at least have them in transit where they would not be able to take part in the battle.
Fortitude South was even more critical. Knowing that the Allied build-up in southern England could not be kept hidden, the British and the Americans planned to deceive the Germans as to the true objective, Normandy. Instead, misdirection by several means would fool them into thinking Calais was the true objective. Normandy was to be seen as a feint to draw German forces out of their elaborate defenses at Calais, weakening them for the real Allied blow.
Originally, Fortitude South was to make the Germans believe that the fake invasion would take place four weeks after the true invasion. Once intelligence officers pointed out how unlikely this would be and how it would reveal the deception plan for what it really was, a ruse, it was decided that the dates would nearly coincide. This was daring, because success depended upon the time and place of the Normandy invasion remaining a secret from the Germans. The Germans would have a "window" in which they would know the invasion would take place.
This made it even more important that the enemy be misinformed about the nature and the place of the invasion, or invasions, as the Fortitude plan had outlined.
The first step was to "leak" plans of the invasions of Norway and Calais. This was done through the British secret services, as they had turned or co-opted many of the spies the Germans relied upon for information about England. Leaks through neutral diplomats with Axis sympathies also helped give the Germans the impression that Calais was the focus of the Allied strategy in the West.
No matter how reliable the Germans deemed this information, they would still want to confirm it. So the Allies made sure that when they looked for an army in southeast England, the jumping point for Calais, they found one. This deception was named "Operation Quicksilver." This was the largest, most elaborate, most carefully-planned, most vital, and most successful of all the Allied deception operations. It made full use of the years of experience gained in every branch of the deceptive art -- visual deception and misdirection, the deployment of dummy landing craft, aircraft, and paratroops, fake lighting schemes, radio deception, sonic devices, and ultimately a whole fictitious army group.[
The Army they found was the First U.S. Army Group [FUSAG]. The Allies created a patch for the nonexistent First U.S. Army Group and leaked news that General George S. Patton Jr. would lead it. This fictitious force would be composed of the U.S. 14th Amy and the 4th British Army. The American Fourteenth Army included XXXIII Corps (17th Division, 59th Division) and XXXVII Corps (25th Division, 11th Division, 48th Division), while the British 4th Army was composed of 2nd Corps (55th Division, 61st Division, 80th Division, 35th Division), 7th Corps (5th Division, 58th Division), and 2nd Airborne Division. With the exception of the British 55th, 61st and 35th Divisions, all of these formations were non-existence. This Order of Battle represents a snapshot in time. During Operation Fortitude changes were made in the composition of FUSAG in order to mislead German intelligence as to future Allied intentions. At various times Fourteenth Army included 2 Corps, 1 Armored Division, 5 Airborne Divisions, and 14 Infantry Divisions -- all of which were entire fictitious -- along with 1 Airborne and 9 Infantry Divisions that had been activated but not actually raised at the time of the Normandy invasion.
The ghost divisions had elaborate stories woven around them in order to make their existence seem more plausible. Units were "recruited" from specific regions within the United States. Division patches were designed and ordered in sufficient numbers (perhaps to deceive Axis spies monitoring patch manufacturing in the United States, a potential source of troop strength information). Fictitious names of commanding officers were created. The Allies might even have given real soldiers the task of wearing the ghost division patches, in case uncontrolled enemy agents were in a position to report their existence.
German agents caught by the British and now "turned" were used to radio bits and pieces of information about chance encounters with talkative officers, observed troop movements, bumper numbers seen parked at a pub, rumors of high-ranking visits to such-and-such a division, and so on and so on. It was publicly leaked that General Geroge S. Patton Jr., a U.S. Army commander whom the Germans had come to respect, would be head of FUSAG and thus the invasion force being sent to Calais. Special Allied signal units were used to simulate division, corps, and army-level communications. Dummy tanks, landing craft, and airplanes were set up where German aerial reconnaissance was bound to see them. Vacant camps were also where the Germans might pick them up.
Allied intelligence, knowing what picture they wanted the Germans to see, had carefully taken apart FUSAG and sent bits and pieces of it where they knew it would be picked up by the German intelligence services. The Allies relied upon the Germans to put the pieces of the puzzle together for themselves.
And they did. The Germans came to just the conclusion desired. German Army maps captured following the invasion indicated FUSAG in southeast England. Division areas and Corps headquarters corresponded almost exactly with the areas indicated by the Allied deception plan. Overall Allied strength in England was grossly overestimated, at 55 divisions instead of the 37 actually there.
The charade was made even more convincing by FUSAG pre-invasion "troop movements," some of which were elaborate hoaxes but in most cases corresponded to actual pre-invasion movements by real British and Canadian divisions. Even though the "real" movements were being made to support the Normandy invasion, they were close enough to the "FUSAG" area to convince German aerial photo interpreters that they were seeing the imminent invasion of Calais.
When the invasion came at Normandy, German resistance was stiff, but there was no counter-attack by reserve panzer forces. These were being held in preparation for the "real" invasion at Calais. The German High Command remained transfixed by the phantom First U.S. Army Group and the specter of Patton wading ashore with his troops at Calais.
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