Fortitude South

D-Day Deception

by Major Richard G. Ricklefs

"In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.
At the Teheran conference in November 1943, the "Big Three" Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin approved an outline of deception operations for the D-Day invasion of Europe. That plan, originally known as JAEL, was named after a treacherous woman of the biblical Old Testament. However, in December of that same year the Allies renamed it BODYGUARD.1 The deception operation was a stunning success and helped ensure the victory of the greatest invasion force the world had known until that time.

Five-Fold Deception Plan

The strategic nature of BODYGUARD can be seen in its five main deceptions. VENDETTA and FERDINAND were false invasions in the western Mediterranean, and IRONSIDE was an invasion of France from the Bay of Biscay. ZEPPELIN was an equally false invasion of the Balkans, and was so successful that historians continue to debate Churchill's desire to invade the Balkans rather than France. The fifth deception, FORTITUDE, had two parts: FORTITUDE NORTH was the invasion of Norway, and FORTITUDE SOUTH was an invasion of France at the Pas de Calais.2
While each deception operation had a degree of success, FORTITUDE SOUTH was the key deception of when and where the D-Day invasion would actually occur. It made sense for a variety of reasons. The distance from Dover to the Pas de Calais was the shortest across the notoriously difficult English Channel. It was the shortest route to the heart of Germany, which resulted in quick turn-around time for ships and air cover. There were three large harbors in the area (Dunkirk, Calais and Boulogne); the beaches and terrain around the Pas de Calais were ideal for supporting such an invasion. Also, FORTITUDE SOUTH had the advantage of being the plan Adolf Hitler wanted to believe would occur. Indeed, Hitler had planned to use the same route in the opposite direction for Operation SEA LION, the aborted German plan to invade Great Britain.

Setting the Stage

Part of the difficulty in organizing forces for an invasion, and consequently the need for a deception plan, was where to physically locate the forces prior to the assault. Because the Normandy coast was the real target, forces deployed primarily in Devon and Dorset in southern England. If the invasion were to occur at the Pas de Calais, the Allied Forces would have used Kent, located in England's southeast corner, as a staging area. Ultimately, the Germans had to be tricked into believing there was an invasion force building up in Kent.
The "fictitious" invasion force was the First U.S. Army Group, commanded by Lieutenant General George S. Patton. He was an excellent choice because he was flamboyant and the German Wehrmacht regarded him highly. Even though he commanded the Third Army, he was able to create the impression needed to support the deception operation. In fact, when the Third Army moved to France to assist in the breakout, a new commander had to be identified to continue the deception. The explanation for Lieutenant General Patton's "demotion" to Army commander was that it resulted from General Eisenhower's "displeasure" at some of his "indiscretions."
A unique example of human deception in FORTITUDE SOUTH, involved German General Hans Kramer. He was captured in North Africa but became ill. Thus, the Allies decided to repatriate him to Germany via Sweden. On the way from Wales to London, the route took him through the heart of the invasion force. He saw elements of the real Allied Force, but was mislead about his location. He was told that Dover, Kent, was "just over the hill," placing the invading force where the Allies wanted Hitler to believe it was. Operationally, the actual conduct of bombing raids supported the deception plan of FORTITUDE SOUTH. The Allies bombed the Calais region more severely than the Normandy area. The Allied deception bombers deliberately avoided key radars and radio intercept sites to ensure the enemy would see them.7

Deceiving the Collectors

Germany had three primary means of collection prior to the actual invasion: aerial reconnaissance, spies, and signals intelligence. FORTITUDE SOUTH used all of these means to "paint the picture" the Allies wanted the Germans to see. They allowed the Germans to work methodically to become more convinced of the Allied "illusion." Each intelligence method had some limitations in its ability to collect information. In every case, however, the Allies endeavored to release only pieces of a well-orchestrated puzzle that would make sense in the context of the overall collection effort.
Aerial Reconnaissance. Luftwaffe's defeat in the Battle of Britain limited its aerial reconnaissance capability. However, they still could conduct some reconnaissance flights, so FORTITUDE SOUTH had to ensure that imagery would support the deception plan. This was accomplished primarily through the use of "dummies." The deception force constructed and used dummy tanks, oil storage depots, airfields, and landing craft with amazing success. They created vehicle tracks and lit notional airfields to ensure the scene appeared real to any observer. Not all of these deceptions were successful. The German pilots discovered and avoided virtually all the fake airfields.8
Spies and Double Agents. The use of spies can perhaps be best seen in the use of double agents. It is now believed that all spies were either caught or "turned" to support he deception. The organization controlling these activities was the Twenty Committee (XX), or "Double Cross" Committee. The most successful double agent, "Garbo, was able to influence German thinking from Adolf Hitler on down. Field Marshal von Rundstedt, in reports of meetings he had with Field Marshal Keitel, specifically cited "Garbo's reports. These reports supported the belief that the Pas de Calais was the main target of an Allied invasion. The Twenty Committee was very effective; its success was evident in German radio intercepts that the Allies verified through ULTRA. Double agents clearly influenced the German decision to wait for an attack at the Pas de Calais.
Signals Intelligence.Signals deception played a major role in the overall plan of FORTITUDE SOUTH. To convince the Germans that the Allies were forming an Army in Kent, they created radio traffic that was commensurate with such activity. The U.S. 3103rd Signal Battalion and the British 3118th Signal Service Group provided this support. Many of the personnel involved in this activity did not have the training to record radio messages familiar to the enemy. Therefore, they made a great effort to record real exercise radio traffic on the new magnetic wire recorders; then they fabricated scripts for timely message transmittals. The signals deception included naval and air force operations to complete the picture of the invading force.
Another signal-related deception occurred over the English Channel on D-Day. The Allies had used chaff to deceive radars in bombing raids over Germany. To support the D-Day deception, aircraft used this same chaff, called "window," to simulate the ships of an invasion fleet headed toward the Pas de Calais. The aircraft flew in progressive orbits toward France to depict a fleet moving at eight knots. Considerable analysis went into ensuring the deception worked within the limited carrying capacity of the aircraft. Germany had the additional problem of multiple and competing intelligence collection agencies. Their intelligence architecture was redundant and had limited checks and balances outside each intelligence organization.


Wars are not won by intelligence or deception, but rather by a synergistic combination of all aspects of the force. Evidence of the success of FORTITUDE SOUTH can be seen in Hitler's reaction to the D-Day invasion. His fear of an attack at the Pas de Calais was such that the German Army in that area, the 15th, was only permitted to partially redeploy to Normandy on 28 July,12 far too late to have a decisive impact on the battle. FORTITUDE SOUTH was an important aspect of the synergistic effect that had an unquantifiable, yet very positive affect on the D-Day invasion.
Major Richard G. Ricklefs is currently serving as part of the Personnel Exchange Program (PEP). As the Exchange Officer at the British Defence Intelligence and Security School, he is the Chief of the Strategic Studies Branch. He holds master's degrees from Cornell University and the Defense Intelligence College.