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  • Maria Ogborn

Operation Fortitude: The Allied Deception Campaign


Inflatable Sherman Tank (Image: IWM H 42531)

On 6th June 1944, the biggest amphibious invasion in history would assault the Normandy coast, comprised of 180,000 soldiers and nearly 6000 vessels. Almost from the moment the plan for the invasion of Normandy was conceived in April 1943, the importance of its secrecy was understood by Allied Commanders. The element of surprise was key and while Germany was aware that the Allied forces would attack occupied Europe, they did not know where or when. The Allies, therefore, planned an elaborate web of deception codenamed Operation Fortitude.


Operation Fortitude (part of wider Operation Bodyguard) would be split into two parts, North and South, both of which would involve spy networks, deceptive intelligence and radio transmissions as well as physical deception.

The ‘South’ part of the operation aimed at deceiving German Intelligence Services (Abwehr) and German command of the location and time of the Normandy landings in the hope that they would concentrate their forces near Pas-de-Calais, therefore limiting their forces in Normandy where the invasion would happen. Being the shortest route from England, an attack at Pas-de-Calais seemed to the Germans to be the most likely option for an invasion. Post the invasion of Normandy, the deception would continue to support Allied Forces, by convincing German command that the landings themselves were only a divisionary attack.

The 'North' part aimed at convincing German command that there would be an Allied attack on Norway from Scotland.

Agent ‘GARBO'

Agent 'GARBO' - Juan Pujol (Image: National Archive)

In order for Operation Fortitude to work, the Allies needed to feed Abwehr and German command with lies and false intelligence regarding the landings in Normandy. The plan for the operation was therefore masterminded by the 'XX Committee' also known as ‘Double Cross System’ or ‘Twenty Committee’, part of the British Secret Services (MI5), led by J.C. Masterman. One of the key players in the success of Operation Fortitude was Spanish double agent Juan Pujol, codenamed Agent ‘GARBO’ and the ‘GARBO NETWORK’ he formed.


Pujol was born in Barcelona in 1912 and had fought, rather reluctantly, in the Spanish Civil War. He had approached the British Intelligence Services in 1941 but was largely ignored. As a result, and due to a need to want to make an impact for ‘the good of humanity’. He was soon recruited as a German agent after posing as a pro-Nazi, Spanish government official and instructed to spy in England. Instead, Pujol moved to Lisbon and created and imaginary network of sub-agents, sending false information to Germany. In 1942, he caught the attention on MI6 in London and was soon recruited as a double agent, becoming Agent ‘GARBO’.

Image: National Archives WO 208/4374

Prior to Operation Fortitude, ‘GARBO’, alongside another spy named Tomas Harris, had proved his worth to British Intelligence. As a man who was trusted by German Intelligence Services, ‘GARBO’ and his network were the ideal for providing Germany with false information regarding an attack on Norway, a large build up of forces on the south-east coast, an impeding attack on Pas-de Calais and deceive them into believing that, after the landing in Normandy, it was merely a diversion for a main assault. In the six months leading up to D-Day, ‘GARBO’ sent over 500 radio messages to Madrid, which were then transmitted to Berlin, feeding them both false and true information. The breaking of the Enigma code by the codebreakers at Bletchley Park meant that British Intelligence Services used intelligence gathered from German messages, codenamed Ultra, to accurately gauge how much the plan of deception was working.


Operation Skye - Fortitude North

Wooden Aircraft (Image: National Archives AIR 20/4349)

In the hopes of keeping, or at least slowing down, the movement of German reinforcements towards the Normandy coast, Fortitude North aimed at convincing Germany that the Allies were planning an attack on Norway, which would be a 'prelude' to the main attack in Europe. The fictitious 'British 4th Army', made up of false divisions and some real divisions including the 5th and 8th US Infantry Division, British 52nd Lowland and 113th Independent Infantry Division, was created and reportedly stationed at Edinburgh Castle, to simulate build up of forces in Scotland. As well as information given to Germany by the 'GARBO' network and by double agents known as Muff and Jeff, large amounts of false radio traffic added to the deception plan. These messages included information of troop build up, aircraft in Scottish airfields, naval forces on the Clyde, and the arrival of equipment that would be used for mountain warfare such as crampons and ski bindings. The BBC even broadcasted fictitious football scores to make troop build up more believable.


'GARBO' message indicating mountain warfare exercises by British 52nd Lowland Division (IWM: KV 2/39)

Inflatable tanks, vehicles and wooden aircraft appeared, not on the scale that they would be in the South, and pointed in the direction of Norway to increase the deception further.

By late spring of 1944, the deception plan in the north had succeeded in convincing Germany that there was a strong likelihood that the Allies would make an attack on Norway and as a result Thirteen German Divisions remained in Norway instead of being concentrated on the French coast.


Operation Quicksilver - Fortitude South


In the six months prior to the landings, 'Garbo' relayed false information to Germany regarding a large build of of troops, vessels and equipment on the south and south-east coast of Britain.

Message dated 29.3.44 giving false information about vessels at Dover. (IWM: KV 2/39)

In order to support the level of deception and to make the plan appear true to German intelligence, sub-operation Quicksilver began, which would ultimately have several sub-divisions that went on post D-Day, and along with it a completely fictitious army was created. The fictitious army was the First United States Army Group (FUSAG) which was supposedly stationed on the south-east coast, commanded by, a man the Germans feared, General George Patton. The 'Garbo' Network reported on the movements of the FUSAG and provided false information on their whereabouts.

Inflatable 3-ton Lorry (IWM H 42530)

This 'ghost army' had real units but fictitious corps and divisions making the false army appear much larger than what would be the reality on 6th June. As part of the ruse, and due to the threat of German reconnaissance, dummy/inflatable tanks, vehicles and vessels were placed on the south-east coast. There was also the construction of entire camps, designed to look like the real thing with fuel dumps, stores and billets, were made out of plywood, fabric and rubber. Similarly, in ports and on waterways plywood constructions of landing craft and vessels appeared.

Dummy landing craft ( IWM - H 42531)

Wireless deception also added to the illusion that this fictitious army was preparing to attack Pas-de-Calais. Large amounts of false radio traffic eluded to the build up of troops, weapons and equipment along the Kent coast. Tunnels under Dover Castle, which were used from 1940 as a centre for radio communications, were used during Operation Fortitude to transmit false radio communications from the fictional FUSAG, across Britain.



Normandy Landings (Image:https://www.army.mil/d-day/)

Post D-Day


While the false build of troops and supplies was being transmitted and relayed to the Abwehr and German Command, the real build up of troops, weapons and ships was happening on the south coast at ports including Portsmouth, Southampton and Weymouth.

Following the invasion on 6th June, 'GARBO' relayed a key piece of false information to the Abwehr. This message stated that the D-day landing were a diversionary attack and that there was to be a main attack at Pas-de-Calais soon.


'GARBO' message to Berlin stating that D-Day was a likely to be diversionary attack (IWM: KV 2/39)

The image of this message was that German command decided to keep two armoured divisions and 19 infantry divisions in the Pas de Calais area during July and August and German intelligence still believed in the existence of FUSAG until September 1944. General Rommel wanted the divisions moved to Normandy but the request was refused by German Commander-in-Chief in the west, Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt.


The scale of Operation Fortitude had been elaborate and immense. By August, the plan had succeeded in keeping the Normandy invasion plan under wraps from German Intelligence and in keeping key German divisions, including the 1st SS Panzer Division, away from Normandy at Pas-de-Calais, and in Norway, after 6th June 1944.. The transmissions and messages relayed by Agent 'GARBO' were so well believed by German command that on 29th July 'GARBO' was informed that Hitler had awarded his the Iron Cross for his services to the Fatherland. In late 1944, 'GARBO' would also receive an MBE from King George VI, for his services during the operation.

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