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Strategic Deception Behind the Normandy Invasion

CSC 1997

Subject Area - Strategic Issues



Title: Strategic Deception Behind the Normandy Invasion

Author: Major Jon S. Wendell, United States Air Force

Thesis: Operation BODYGUARD, the Allied strategic deception plan for the Normandy landings, was one of the most successful operations in the history of warfare. This paper will discuss the strategic level of deception, examine its implementation in formerly classified operations, and explain its historical relevance to the overwhelming success of the Normandy invasion.


Background: The deception theme is critical. This topic surfaces many times during the academic year at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and its importance cannot be overlooked. The military art of deception has two main goals: (1) to lure or force the enemy into an exploitable action, (2) to provide the enemy with plausible misinformation thereby enabling an entirely different and desirable course of action. The BODYGUARD deception plan was used to help force and exploit gaps in the German defenses, paving the way for the historic success of the actual invasion.


Recommendation: BODYGUARD is often considered the most complex and successful deception effort in the history of warfare. It is a topic well deserving of increased attention, and its lessons and relevance should not be lost in current military planning and operations.








The D-Day invasion of Normandy, code name NEPTUNE[1], was one of the most successful military operations of World War II. Two million men and thousands of ships and aircraft from around the world formed the largest joint and combined force in history. Countless books and articles have been written on this event, but only a small percentage of them discuss the incredible deception efforts that made it all possible. Most of the relevant documents detailing Allied covert activity remained classified for many years after the war. Very little deception information was available for research and publication until the 1970s, when British authors went to press with a few of the major British intelligence efforts.[2] This led to the British government's decision in 1977 to release additional highly classified information.[3] In spite of these efforts, many documents may never be opened for unclassified examination.

The deception theme is a critical component of strategy. This topic surfaces many times during the academic year at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College (MCCSC) in Quantico, Virginia. For example, in a video shown to MCCSC, General Walter Boomer emphasized the need to pay close attention to the very important battlefield multiplier of deception.[4] Lieutenant Colonel A.E. Burkhard, in a lecture presented to MCCSC, stated that deception is an integral part of the course of action development phase in the Marine Corps Planning Process. It is one of the essential tasks that must be assigned to cultivate the conditions and planned effects to achieve the desired end state.[5] In addition, it will be included in the final exercise conducted at Camp Dawson, West Virginia -- one involving various deceptive efforts intended to multiply the capabilities of friendly forces and deny the same to the enemy.

The military art of deception has two main goals: (1) to lure the enemy into an exploitable action, (2) to provide the enemy with plausible misinformation thereby enabling an entirely different and desirable course of action.[6] Deception has been studied and used for centuries. Sun Tzu stated that:


All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using force, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the adversary believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near. Hold our baits to entice the adversary, feign disorder, and crush him.[7]



This paper will discuss strategic level deception and shed light on operations formerly classified and kept away from public view for decades. Furthermore, it will explain the historical relevance deception had on the overwhelming success of the Normandy invasion.


Deception, as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, amounts to "a piece of trickery, a cheat, a sham." The trickery behind the D-Day invasion extended across the entire theater, involved thousands of personnel, lasted for months, and continued successfully for weeks after the actual invasion.[8]

Prior to OVERLORD, deceptive efforts in WW II were viewed with great skepticism and were given little consideration in the design and conduct of operations. Many commanders resisted the idea of diverting critical time and resources from central operations and channeling them into dubious deceptive efforts. Operation HUSKY (the Allied invasion of Sicily) and Operation TORCH (the Allied invasion of North Africa), were both highly successful in spite of the lack of dedicated deception. Therefore, many questioned the need for deception efforts in the planning for the invasion of Normandy. The following text will address this concern -- making it clear that deceptive efforts made all the difference in the planning, execution, and ultimate success of the Normandy invasion.


There are over 3,000 miles of coastline from northern Norway to the good ports, such as Brest, on the Brittany coast. Hitler's Atlantic Wall was very formidable, but it could never completely cover this entire stretch. Quite logically, the Allies sought to exploit this condition. They conceived of Operation BODYGUARD as the deception plan used to entice the German forces along the Atlantic Wall to spread themselves even thinner. In so doing, they hoped to significantly increase the chances of success in the upcoming Normandy invasion.

The code name "BODYGUARD" was derived from a speech given by Winston Churchill in 1943, in which he stated: "In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies."[9] BODYGUARD had two main missions: (1) to fix German forces in areas away from the actual invasion sites; (2) to convince the Germans that Normandy was only a feint or demonstration for the real invasion that was to occur several weeks later.[10] To accomplish these missions, BODYGUARD attempted to mislead Hitler by convincing him of the following notional Allied strategic objectives:[11]

1. Invasion operations would begin in the spring of 1944 with a combined British, American and Russian attack through Norway.

2. The Allies would continue their thrust through the "soft underbelly" of Europe, repeating their 1943 attempt to break through the Gustav Line and expand their efforts into Greece and the Balkans as well.

3. If an invasion of France were to be attempted at all, it would occur at the Pas de Calais, but certainly not before July of 1944.

4. If indeed any Allied landings did take place on the beaches of France, they would be merely diversionary feints designed to draw German forces away from the actual invasion sites along the Pas de Calais.

Aiding these efforts was the exploitation of Hitler's personal biases and obsessions. He believed that one major factor in Germany's defeat in WW I was that its powerful naval fleet was bottled up in and around Germany. His immediate seizure of Norway in 1940, and the large force he stationed there to protect the ice-free fjords and ports testifies to this fact.[12] He was also convinced that the Allies would attempt a major assault through Greece and the Adriatic, through the "vital ground" of the Ljubljana Gap. The Axis nations in that region were beginning to vacillate in their loyalty to Hitler, potentially exposing a weaker southern flank.[13] Finally, the 22 mile strait opposite Calais was also of intense personal interest to Hitler,[14] for it was here that he expected the inevitable cross-channel invasion.

Operations FORTITUDE and ZEPPELIN were the major divisions of BODYGUARD used to accomplish these missions and goals. They were the keys to unlocking Hitler's exploitable obsessions and opening the doors to a successful invasion.


Operation FORTITUDE had three main divisions:

FORTITUDE NORTH -- the threat of a Norway invasion with a follow-up assault of Germany through Denmark.

FORTITUDE SOUTH -- a fictitious invasion effort directed against coastal Belgium and northern France in the Dover Straits area.

FORTITUDE SOUTH II -- radio deception after D-Day to convince the Germans that NEPTUNE was only a feint and that the real invasion was yet to come.[15]



This operation threatened a notional combined Anglo-American and Russian invasion of Norway. It served to fix the strong German forces to the north, and divert both attention and resources away from the actual landings. The German garrison in Norway was indeed quite powerful. One hundred and fifty thousand of the 464,000 German troops stationed in Norway were surplus, held up away from France under the threat of this notional northern invasion.[16] Also fixed in place were a Panzer division, a large air force, and over 1,500 coastal defense guns.[17]


The English channel, notorious for its treacherous waters, provided natural assurance of the success of FORTITUDE SOUTH. The German High Command deemed it unlikely that a massive sea-borne invasion force would cross anywhere except the shortest possible route, that being the 22 tempestuous miles of water known as Pas de Calais, or the Straits of Dover.[18] It was therefore logical to assume that Hitler would concentrate his defensive efforts in this area. If he could be convinced that this was the actual invasion site, dual benefits would be derived: (1) powerful defensive resources would be fixed there, away from the actual invasion, (2) the actual invasion could be masked as a diversion.[19]

This is where FORTITUDE SOUTH came into play as the backbone of the entire deception effort. This included the notional 50 division First U.S. Army Group (FUSAG) "poised" for a continental invasion across the Pas de Calais.


The creation of FUSAG, code named QUICKSILVER, was no small effort. It 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.[20]

It "consisted" of 50 divisions totaling over one million men. While General Montgomery's 21st Army Group and General Bradley's 12th were massing in southern England for the actual invasion, the Germans were led to believe that a third huge force was assembling for an attack against Calais. This played right into Hitler's hands. Since he believed a cross-channel attack would occur at the narrowest point, he stationed his strongest Western force there -- the 15th Army.[21] The objective of QUICKSILVER was to keep "threatening" Calais with FUSAG, thereby passing the Normandy attack off as a diversion, and fixing the 15th in place well north of the actual invasion.

The success of FORTITUDE SOUTH was overwhelming. The Germans did not shift any of the 18 divisions of their 15th Army during the week of June 6, 1944, as the Allies secured their beachhead and broke out to sweep across Europe.[22]


FORTITUDE SOUTH II was intended to convince the Germans that the Normandy invasion was only a diversion for the actual assault that was to take place on about D-Day + 45 at the Pas de Calais coast.[23] It involved the wireless communications of FUSAG to support its notional order of battle. This radio traffic and order of battle were supported by over 260 dummy landing craft, meant to be "discovered" by German intelligence.[24]

Between FORTITUDE NORTH and FORTITUDE SOUTH, powerful German combat forces, capable of smashing an invasion, were fixed out of place for several weeks. German forces north of the Seine, away from the actual landing sites, were actually stronger in July than they had been on D-Day, one month prior. Movements of any significance did not occur until after the Allied breakout from their beachhead, when the Battle of Normandy was already lost for the Germans.[25]


Operation ZEPPELIN was the code name for the Allied feint through the Balkans in 1944 by the notional British 12th Army in the Middle East.[26] This was carried out in order to take advantage of one of Hitler's obsessions discussed earlier -- that of the vulnerability of his southern flank. Hitler's three main allies in the Balkans were Bulgaria, Hungary, and Rumania. They were an important source of manpower and oil, with a third of Germany's crucial oil supplies coming from Rumania alone.[27] The Allies did not need these nations to abandon the Axis. They just had to be the source of enough unrest to cause Germany to draw coastal defenders away from the Normandy beaches to keep control of their interests in the Balkans.[28] To compound Hitler's problems, word was leaked that an entire fictitious army under the command of General George S. Patton was being prepared to attack Trieste, Italy.

These deceptive efforts produced their desired effect. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was sent south to counter Patton's "threat", but was returned to the Atlantic Wall when nothing happened.[29] This helped to throw off the timetable of defensive improvements. Another major result was that the only available armor for the Balkan defense was from the Atlantic Wall reserve, so the Panzer Lehr Division, 2 SS Panzer Corps, and an additional infantry division were taken out of France and sent to Hungary.[30] If these forces had been in reserve during Neptune, the outcome may have been quite different.


By the spring of 1944, BODYGUARD was in full swing and proving very effective. FORTITUDE NORTH kept extensive German forces in Norway poised for an attack from the fictional combined American, British, and Russian force. FORTITUDE SOUTH had Hitler aggressively bolstering Calais to defend against the anticipated FUSAG invasion north of Normandy. ZEPPELIN helped cause the political unrest and the deception of a notional attack alive in the Balkans, drawing valuable combat reserves and resources out from behind the Atlantic Wall.

The results of the Normandy landings are well known. Due credit for its fantastic success must be attributed to the careful planning and execution of strategic deception. Even in the immediate aftermath of the actual invasion, FORTITUDE SOUTH II kept the powerful 15th Army fixed in the Calais area, thereby preventing them from reinforcing against the Allied breakout, until it was much too late.


The invasion force that hit the beaches of Normandy on the morning of June 6, 1944, was nothing short of awesome. In its orchestration, in execution, and in sheer magnitude, it was the mightiest assemblage of military power that history has ever known. In spite of this, the outcome was in serious doubt for many hours, and not assured for several days. This invasion has been labeled an outstanding success, but one not without cost. Thousands of men lost their lives in the first few days alone. The entire American effort was nearly pushed back into the channel at Omaha Beach. This doubt and these losses were suffered against a defense stretched very thin. Now imagine or wargame this same invasion with the following changes to the Atlantic Wall:

-- 150,000 additional combat troops, an accompanying air force, and a Panzer division reinforced from Norway garrisons.

-- Rommel was not delayed in the Balkans, and he had the Panzer Lehr division, 2 SS Panzer Corps, and additional infantry corps that were diverted south prior to the invasion.

-- The 18 divisions of the 15th Army were immediately sent from Calais to counter-attack the actual invasion at Normandy.

Surely, the memory of the invasion would be quite different. Even if it still succeeded, the additional cost in Allied equipment, time, and lives would redefine the "success" of the operation.

BODYGUARD is often considered the most complex and successful deception effort in the history of warfare.[31] It is a topic well deserving of increased attention, and its lessons and relevance should not be lost in current military planning and operations.






Boomer, Walter, General, United States Marine Corps. Video shown via closed circuit television to MCCSC. 3 February 1997.


Brown, Anthony C. Bodyguard of Lies. New York: Harper and Row, 1975.


Burkhard, A. E., Lt. Col., U.S. Army. "Courses of Action Development." Lecture presented at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College. Quantico, VA, 13 January 1997.


Daniel, Donald C., and Katherine L. Herbig, Eds. Strategic Military Deception. New York: Pergamon Press, 1982.


Department of Defense. Cover Plan -- Operation Neptune. Unclassified former top-secret document. Second draft, part I, copy no. 5.


Haswell, Jock. The Intelligence and Deception of the D-Day Landings. London: B.T. Batsford Ltd, 1979.


Howard, Michael. British Intelligence in the Second World War. London: HMSO, 1990.


Hunt, Barry D. Operation Fortitude: D-Day and Strategic Deception, Canadian Defense, vol. 14, no. 1, Summer 1984.


Joint Publication 3-13.1. Joint Doctrine for Command and Control Warfare (C2W). Pentagon, MD: U.S. Department of Defense. 7 February 1996.









Belchem, David. Victory in Normandy. Toronto, Canada: Clarke Irwin & Co. Ltd., 1981.


Kershaw, Robert J. D-Day -- Piercing the Atlantic Wall. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1994.


Masterman, J. C. The Double-Cross System in the War of 1939-1945. London: Yale University Press, 1972.

Patrick, Stephen A. The Normandy Campaign -- June and July, 1944. South Melbourne, Australia: The Macmillan Company of Australia Pty Ltd, 1986.

Wilson, Theodore A., ed. D-Day 1944. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1994.











German intelligence capabilities/failures.

Operational/tactical deception operations.


Intelligence efforts behind the D-Day invasion.





[1] Neptune was the name given to the assault phase of Operation OVERLORD, the Allied invasion of north-west France in 1944.


[2] Barry D. Hunt, Operation Fortitude: D-Day and Strategic Deception, Canadian Defense, vol. 14, no. 1, Summer 1984, 44.


[3] Hunt, 44.


[4] General Walter Boomer, United States Marine Corps, video shown via closed circuit television to MCCSC, Quantico, VA, 3 February 1997.


[5] Lt. Col. A. E. Burkhard, U.S. Army, "Courses of Action Development," lecture presented at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, Quantico, VA, 13 January 1997.


[6] Jock Haswell, The Intelligence and Deception of the D-Day Landings (London, 1979), 34.


[7] Joint Publication 3-13.1, Joint Doctrine for Command and Control Warfare (C2W) (Pentagon, MD: U.S. Department of Defense, 7 February 1996), II-4.


[8] Haswell, 103.


[9] Michael Howard, British Intelligence in the Second World War (London: HMSO, 1990), 105.


[10] Hunt, 45.


[11] Haswell, 106.


[12] Haswell, 117.


[13] Haswell, 117.


[14] Haswell, 117.


[15] Haswell, 106.


[16] Hunt, 46.


[17] Anthony C. Brown, Bodyguard of Lies (New York: Harper and Row, 1975), 462.


[18] Haswell, 33.


[19] Haswell, 34.


[20] Donald C. Daniel and Katherine L. Herbig, Eds., Strategic Military Deception (New York: Pergamon Press, 1982), 226.

[21] Brown, 461.


[22] Hunt, 45.


[23] Department of Defense, Cover Plan -- Operation Neptune, Unclassified former top-secret document, Second draft, part I, copy no. 5, 1.


[24] Cover Plan, 5.


[25] Hunt, 45.


[26] Howard, 138.


[27] Haswell, 135.


[28] Haswell, 135.


[29] Haswell, 136.


[30] Haswell, 137.


[31] Howard, 105.

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