janet wyman Coleman

Bodyguard of Lies

    “In wartime,” Prime Minister Winston Churchill said, “truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.” In the spring of 1944, the most precious truth was the time and location of the Allied invasion of Europe. It was attended by a deception campaign called, appropriately, Operation Bodyguard.

    Allied troops would come from England, across the English Channel. There were two sensible places to land on the French coast: Pas de Calais and Normandy. The deception campaigns were designed to convince the Germans that the landing would take place in Pas de Calais. At the same time, Allied forces were preparing to come ashore on the Normandy beaches.

    A network of German spies reported a buildup of forces in southeast England, the best spot for a crossing to Pas de Calais. (They were actually double agents working for the British. They called themselves the XX Committee, or Double Cross Committee.) The real troops were in the southwest, closer to Normandy. The Germans picked up endless radio signals from the southeast. The radio traffic was transmitted to indicate that the center of activity was nearer Pas de Calais. Meanwhile, it was very quiet in the southwest.

    The Allies also used the ideas of movie set designers to mislead the Nazis. When the German pilots and crews looked down, they saw rows of tanks, planes and landing crafts. The dummies were constructed of plywood, canvas, and supporting metal rods. One framework that looked just like a Sherman tank could be placed on a jeep and moved across a field.

    U.S. General George S. Patton posed as the commander of the imaginary First U.S. Army Group (FUSAG) in southeast England. Obviously, the Germans concluded, the highly respected Patton must be directing the invasion form the southeast. In Geneva, British spies bought all the maps of Pas de Calais. German spies took notice.

    As the Allies started across the Channel toward Normandy, Royal Air Force squadrons dropped foil strips near Pas de Calais. The German radar operators heard echos off the strips and believed they were listening to the sounds of approaching ships. Small motorboats with sound equipment slipped in close to the beaches and played bugle calls, loud commands, anchors dropping, and engines humming. Also, dummy parachutists with firecrackers (guns!), and Special Forces with record players broadcasting the sounds of battle descended from the skies.

    On June 1, 1944, the BBC broadcasted the first line of a poem by Paul Verlaine. The words in French meant: “The long sobbing of the violins of autumn.” It was a signal that the D-Day invasion was about to begin. THe French Underground listened to their radios for the second line of the poem. On June 5, 1944, “Wound my heart with monotonous languor” alerted members of the Resistance to begin their attacks. They blew up railway lines, cut phone wires, and laid ambushes disrupting troop movements and supply lines. On June 6, the Allies landed in Normandy.

    The XX Committee alerted Berlin that huge forces remained in southeast England. The “infallible” German spy Cato (British agent Garbo) confirmed that the Normandy invasion was a diversion. The Allies, he said, were planning to send Patton and FUSAG into Pas de Calais with plans to surround the German Army. The powerful German Fifteenth Division remained in Pas de Calais for six weeks waiting for Patton. Meanwhile the general arrived in Normandy with a real American army. Today, the D-Day invasion is still considered the most massive and successful amphibious landing operation in modern military history.

Inflatable tanks were used in North Africa and in Europe to convince the German pilots that the Allies were stronger than they really were.