“The amount of paraphernalia sounded staggering, and reminded me of Admiral Andrew Cunningham’s story of the dental chairs being landed at Algiers in the first flight of Operation Torch. I was told, for example, that two thousand officers and clerks were being taken across the sea to keep records, and . . . there would be one vehicle ashore for every 4.77 men. Each vehicle required a driver and its share of maintenance staff.”
— Winston Churchill
Chapter 18, Closing the Ring
BUREAUCRACY doesn’t get much bigger than the martial version. The U.S. Army has an instruction booklet and regulations on how to cook bacon, and we’re not kidding. So when June 1944 came around, and Premier Stalin was pushing and pleading and extorting to get Operation Overlord started on the Western Front, the administrivia began piling up. Procedures, procedures, procedures.
One could be forgiven for thinking that everything was done on the night of June 6, 1944. Because that was the longest day. What you don’t get from the movies is that those beachheads in Normandy weren’t even linked together until July 1944.
Things did begin to go fast after that. In less than a year, the war in Europe would be over, Hitler would be dead, and the Soviets would have Berlin. But a week after D-Day? The Germans still held most of France, and all the best ground. This contest wasn’t finished by a long shot.
This past week, the world looked back at D-Day and recognized its 75th anniversary. Three days later we look back to three days after D-Day. The Germans still thought Normandy was a feint.
Can you imagine? The biggest armada ever put together by mankind was anchored on the beaches of France, and the German high command still thought the “real” invasion was coming elsewhere.
Thanks to fake news.
OPERATION Fortitude South and Operation Fortitude North were parts of Operation Bodyguard, which was one big ol’ lie. The Germans had trusted spies in England, but unbeknownst to them, those spies had long before been discovered, and were given a choice they couldn’t refuse. So they spent their time sending false messages to Berlin at the behest of their British overseers. And the bureaucracy had to look right.
You couldn’t plan an invasion of 160,000 men over the English Channel without creating a racket—that is, radio traffic. So an entire Army was created out of thin air in this Operation Bodyguard. And it was even given a commander, Gen. George Patton.
Unit insignia was created and soldiers were sent into town wearing the patches of a brigade that didn’t exist. Fortitude South made the Germans believe the south of France was being invaded. Operation Fortitude North made the Germans think the Scandinavian countries were also targets. Anything to thin out the German troops at Normandy.
Winston Churchill said history would be kind to him because he intended to write it. Here are some of his thoughts in 1951, that we found rereading Closing the Ring this past week:
“The enemy was bound to know that a great invasion was being prepared; we had to conceal the place and time of attack and make him think we were landing somewhere else and at a different moment. This alone involved an immense amount of thought and action . . . .
“Our major deception was to pretend that we were coming across the Straits of Dover. It would not be proper even now to describe all the methods employed to mislead the enemy, but the obvious ones of simulated concentrations of troops in Kent and Sussex, of fleets of dummy ships collected in the Cinque Ports, of landing exercises on the near-by beaches, of increased wireless activity, were all used. More reconnaissances were made at or over the places we were not going to than the places we were. The final result was admirable. The German High Command firmly believe the evidence we obligingly put at their disposal. Rundstedt, the commander-in-chief on the Western Front, was convinced that the Pas de Calais was our objective.”
The Germans continued to believe that for weeks.
Much of it had to do with the Fortitudes, both. But don’t discount the double agents in Bodyguard. One spook even made up a slew of fake people who were “reporting” to him that Normandy was a feint, and Calais would soon see the real invasion. Because of Fortitude North, some 13 Nazi army divisions were kept in Norway while the Allies built up their armor on the French beaches and prepared for a breakout.
“The German 15th Army was in the Calais region expecting the ‘real invasion’ and it remained there until the Allied breakout from Normandy in July,” Dr. Gerhard Weinberg told Fox News. “It waited there for an invasion that never came. Given that the Allies had a good deal of trouble on June 6 it is likely they would have been thrown back into the sea if the Germans had been able to concentrate their main forces at Normandy.”
But let us again turn to Mr. Churchill, who made a damn good writer after the war, who summed up Closing the Ring this way, and he leaves it to the next book the morning of June 6, 1944. He signed off on this second volume of his recollections as “all the ships were at sea,” and he awaited word on Overlord:
“The Hitler tyranny was doomed. Here, then, we might pause in thankfulness and take hope, not only for victory on all fronts and in all three elements, but also for a safe and happy future for tormented mankind.”