Operation Fortitude. How the spies deceived the Germans

On June 6, 1944, more than 130,000 British, American and Canadian troops landed on the Normandy beaches. Before that happened, thousands of agents, special forces soldiers and… magicians did their best to mislead the Germans.

Although at the time it was the largest landing operation in history, the Germans were unaware of its size, purpose, and the landing site was believed to be fake. The Nazis were convinced that the Normandy offensive was merely a diversionary maneuver by the Allies before the actual landing in the Pas-de-Calais area.

Most of the German troops were deployed far from the front lines, in the Paris area. The Allies did everything possible to ensure that any groupings that might threaten the landing troops stayed as far away from the beaches as possible.

The game of intelligence and politics began back in 1943. In July of that year, Operation Bodyguard was launched – a plan to confuse the German high command as to the time and place of the invasion. The draft strategy, called Jael, was presented to the Allied high command at a conference in Tehran in late November and approved on December 6.

Normandy landing. The Poles dealt with the Germans in four minutes

The purpose of this plan was to lead the Germans to believe that an invasion of northwestern Europe would come later than planned, and that a strike should be expected elsewhere, including the Pas-de-Calais, the Balkans, southern France, and Norway. Operation Bodyguard produced two major plans for northwestern Europe: Fortitude North, which was designed to suggest that the Allies would land in Norway, and Fortitude South, which aimed to convince the Germans that the Allies would land in Pas-de-Calais.

The big game

Fortitude South was the largest operation of its kind during World War II. Among others, it employed a magician, Jasper Maskelyne, who before the war became famous for his tricks involving disappearing and swallowing sharp objects. He knew masking and optical illusions like no other of the king’s subjects. When war broke out, he joined the Royal Corps of Engineers, thinking his skills could be used in training. Unfortunately, he was sorely disappointed.

It wasn’t until later that Maskelyne convinced the officers of the Camouflage Development and Training Centre when, using mirrors and a model, he created the illusion of a German ship sailing down the Thames. He did this so effectively that the first British commando to take an interest in him was Dudley Clarke, then head of the “A Force”.

He ended up in Africa, where he became famous for hiding the port of Alexandria and hiding the place of impact at El-Alamein. He solved it very easily.

By day the few British tanks drove very slowly south, but after dark they turned onto the road leading northwest, and palm leaves pulled by camels obliterated the tracks. As the sun rose, mock-up trucks awaited the tanks, under which they hid, and mock-up sailing canvas tanks were placed where they had previously stood.

“Building” was also being done on the pipeline leading south, which in reality was only an illusion and was created from buried and unearthed fuel barrels. On aerial photographs everything looked very realistic.

Thanks to this trick, the British managed to hide thousands of tons of supplies, several hundred tanks, several thousand soldiers and, most importantly, to confuse the direction of the attack. It was decided to use his skills before the Normandy landings.

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