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The Crucial Deception

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To study the decrypts of the enemy's reactions to Fortitude is to see a completely false image form in German minds, an image with all the elegance and beauty of a coral island rising piece by piece from the ocean floor. A German map captured in Italy showed that the Allied divisions as of May 15, 1944, conformed to the Fortitude fiction projected on the Germans by the double agents. A German recognition booklet of Allied divisional insignias captured in France included colored drawings of fictitious divisional insignia concocted by the Fortitude deceptionists. Following a lengthy conversation with Hitler on May 27, 1944, Oshima quoted him verbatim in a message to Tokyo: "After [the Allies] have established bridgeheads on the Norman and Brittany Peninsulas and [have] seen how the prospect appears, they will come forward with the establishment of an all-out Second Front in the area of the Straits of Dover." By D-Day German intelligence attributed to the Allies a strength of approximately eighty divisions in Britain when the true figure was thirty-eight. In the spring of 1944, the Germans had about 280,000 military personnel stationed in Norway. Not until ten days after D-Day was a German division withdrawn, and it did not go to Normandy-but to the Pas de Calais!

Anticipating the importance of Fortitude after D-Day in persuading the Germans to keep their reserves in the Pas de Calais, Eisenhower approved a Garbo transmission to the Abwehr in the early hours of D-Day morning. At 3:00 a.m. on June 6, Garbo began transmitting a warning to his Abwehr controller in Madrid that the invasion was underway. He even named some of the units that would be involved in the landing. However, his controller missed the message. Scolding the controller for dereliction of duty, Garbo got the message through at 6 a.m. Valueless though the message was, its accuracy was impressive and German confidence in Garbo soared. Later in the day on June 6, his Abwehr controller radioed apologetically: "I wish to stress in clearest terms that your work over the last few weeks has made it possible for our command to be completely forewarned and prepared. . . ."

Brutus, from his imaginary position in FUSAG headquarters, signaled the Abwehr on D-Day, "Received this morning news of the beginning of the invasion. Extremely surprising because our FUSAG remains unmoved. It is clear that the landing was made only by units of the 21 Army Group. FUSAG [is capable of] an attack at any moment, but it is evident that it will be an independent action." The German high command's evening situation report on June 6 seemed to rely on their reports. "The enemy landing on the Normandy coast represents a large scale undertaking but the forces engaged represent a small part of the total available... The conclusion therefore is that the enemy command plans a further large-scale undertaking in the Channel area which may well be directed against a coastal sector in the central Channel area."

Before D-Day Allied intelligence specialists had estimated that about two days after the landing the Germans would be tempted to commit major reinforcements to Normandy to gain a favorable decision there before the second landing could be made in the Pas de Calais. They estimated also that the Germans could move eleven divisions to Normandy within a few days. To forestall this development, on June 8 and 9, the deceptionists mounted a major effort to indicate that an attack was imminent on the Pas de Calais and nearby Belgium. Bogus radio traffic with resistance groups and aerial bombing in the Pas de Calais were intensified. It was the moment of truth for the double-cross system, the test for which it had been nurtured and developed since the evacuation from Dunkirk four years before. Garbo informed his controller that he was calling a meeting of the three fictitious sub-agents he had deployed to cover FUSAG, after which he would have an important message for the Abwehr. His message, begun at seven minutes after midnight on June 8-9, capped the whole deception effort.

"After personal consultation on June 8 in London with my agents, Donny, Dick and Dorick, I am of the opinion, in view of the strong troop concentration in southeast and eastern England, which are not taking part in present operations, that these operations are a diversionary maneuver designed to draw off enemy reserves in order to make an attack at another place. In view of the continued air attacks on the concentration area mentioned, which is a strategically favorable position for this, it may very probably take place in the Pas de Calais, particularly since in such an attack the proximity of air bases will facilitate the operation by providing continued strong air support." (italics added)

The message was received in Hitler's headquarters at 10:30 p.m. on June 9. His chief intelligence officer underlined the passage italicized above and added the notation, "confirms the view already held by us that a further attack is expected in another place (Belgium?)." Jodl underlined the words "in southeast and eastern England." This message, found in the headquarters after the war, was marked as having been shown to Hitler. By stroke of luck, a few hours earlier a similar message had been received from an Abwehr agent in Stockholm who cited unnamed "authoritative military circles" in London that "a second attack across the Channel directed against the Pas de Calais is to be expected." At 7:30 the next morning, Wilhelm Keitel, nominal head of the German army who took orders directly from Hitler, issued an order: "As a consequence of certain information, a state of alarm has been declared for the 15th Army in Belgium and North France." Later on the same day, the German daily intelligence summary reported, "The fact that not one of the formations still standing by in the southeast and east of England has been identified in the present operation strengthens the supposition that the strong Anglo-American forces which are still available are being held back for further plans." The movement of the 1st SS Panzer Division toward Normandy was stopped until June 16 when Hitler ordered his commander-in-chief in the West, Gerd von Rundstedt, to take the risk of sending forces to Normandy from all his fronts except those of the 15th Army in the Pas de Calais.

On June 11, the Abwehr instructed Garbo about the continuation of his work. "The reports received in the last week," he was told, "have been confirmed almost without exception and are to be described as especially valuable. The main line of investigation in the future is to be the enemy group of forces in the southeastern and eastern England." On June 22 the Japanese ambassador reported to Tokyo that the German high command had rejected proposals for a quick counter-attack in Normandy in the belief that "the main task was to meet the main body which the Allies [have] not yet landed." Four weeks after the Normandy landings, the Germans still had twenty-two divisions thrashing the wind round Calais waiting for the attack that never came. As was seen at the outset, on September 10, the high command's own intelligence evaluation projected FUSAG having 100,000 troops in southeast England when there were virtually none.

The deceptionists had proven their practical ingenuity, but they had not foreseen a message that came through for Garbo from the Abwehr on July 29: "With great happiness and satisfaction I am able to advise you today that the Fuhrer has conceded the Iron Cross to you for your extraordinary merits." Garbo replied, "I cannot at this moment, when emotion overwhelms me, express in words my gratitude... This prize has been won not only by me but also by Carlos and my other comrades." In the nature of things, a British decoration for Garbo was duly considered. In a secret ceremony shortly before Christmas 1944, Garbo was awarded honorary Membership of the Order of the British Empire. "Connoisseurs of double cross," wrote Sir John Masterman, "have always regarded the Garbo case as the most highly developed example of their art."

Interviews with German generals after the war bear out both the wisdom and the success of the Fortitude deception. When von Rundstedt was asked why he had believed the invasion would come in the Pas de Calais, his reply was rote, like a man who had repeated it so many times that he did not have to think about his answer. "Narrowest part of the Channel." "Closest to Germany." "Quickest route to the Rhine." "The location of the V-weapons." Rundstedt claimed that about two weeks after the invasion he decided "a second landing was not coming but Hitler's headquarters were still convinced it was, and were reluctant to let [us] move forces westward to Normandy."

What did Eisenhower, the Allies' supreme commander, think of the deception efforts? Exactly one month after D-Day, he wrote to the British chiefs of staff, "I cannot overemphasize the great importance of maintaining as long as humanly possible the Allied threat to the Pas de Calais area, which has already paid enormous dividends and, with care, will continue to do so." Recalling the story of the crucial deception for an interviewer twenty-two years later, Eisenhower gave a deep gutsy laugh and exclaimed, "By God, we fooled them, didn't we?"

Originally published in DISCOVERY: Research and Scholarship at The University of Texas at Austin, Volume 14, Number 2.

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