Operation Bodyguard

This was the Allied overall strategic deception plan in Europe carried out as part of the build-up to ‘Overlord’ (1943/August 1944).

The major objectives of this plan were to persuade the Germans that the large-scale Allied invasion of North-West Europe would come later than was actually planned (at the end rather than in the middle of the summer), and to threaten attacks at other locations than the true objective, including the Pas de Calais, the Balkans, southern France and Norway, and even Soviet offensives into Bulgaria and northern Norway.

As such, the plan established a general strategy designed to mislead the German high command about the specific date and location of the invasion, and was implemented in the form of several separate operations which paved the way to the Allies success in achieving total operational and tactical surprise in ‘Overlord’, and at the same time delaying the German reinforcement of the Allied lodgement area for as much as seven weeks after 6 June 1944, even though the original plan had specified a 14-day delay.

As ‘Overlord’ was being planned, the German defences of Europe were overextended as the Germans sought to create a defence for the entire coast of north-western Europe between northern Norway and the frontier between occupied France and neutral Spain. The Allies had already devised and implemented many deception operations, both large and small, against the Germans. This effort had been greatly facilitated by the complete compromise of German agents in the UK and the decryption, with some success, of information carried by German radio communications. Once Normandy had been chosen as the site for ‘Overlord’, it was decided that a major deception operation would be employed to mislead the Germans into thinking that this was a diversionary tactic.

The planning of ‘Bodyguard’ began in 1943 under the auspices of an organisation called the London Controlling Section. The ‘Jael’ draft strategy was presented to Allied high command at the ‘Eureka’ conference in Tehran late in November and was approved on 6 December. The plan’s major objective was to persuade the Germans to believe that the invasion of north-western Europe would take place later than was actually planned, and to threaten Western Allied attacks at locations other than the true objective, these other locations including the Pas de Calais, the Balkans, southern France and Norway, and also to threaten Soviet attacks in Bulgaria and northern Norway.

In basic terms, the ‘story’ promulgated by ‘Bodyguard’ was that any invasion was impossible for the Allies to undertake before the late summer of 1944, so in the interim greater emphasis was to be placed on the ‘Pointblank’ bombing campaign to wear down Germany’s war-making capability. At the same time other plans were created to suggest landings in the places mentioned above, the entire process being designed to divert German attention away from Normandy as the location for ‘Overlord’.

The Allies, and especially the UK, had made extensive use of deception operations in the period of World War II up to the autumn of 1943, and in the process created and further developed many new deception techniques and practices. The main protagonists at this time were ‘A’ Force, set up in 1940 under Lieutenant Colonel (later Brigadier) Dudley Clarke and operating primarily in the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean theatres, and the London Controlling Section, which came into existence during 1942, operating primarily in northern Europe.

At this stage of the war Allied and German intelligence operations differed widely in terms of their capabilities. The decryption at Bletchley Park of intercepted German radio traffic had severely compromised German secret communications, and ‘Ultra’ intelligence derived from these decrypted transmissions pave the Allies a nice insight into the extent to which their deception were working. In Europe the Allies also had good intelligence from resistance movements and aerial reconnaissance. By comparison, most of the German agents sent into the UK had been caught or, in some cases, even surrendered themselves and been ‘turned’ to become double agents under the ‘XX System’ operated by the M.I.5 counter-intelligence agency. Some of the compromised agents were trusted so highly, and were believed to be so well placed, that in 1944 the Germans stopped sending new infiltrators. Within the German command structure, internecine inter- and indeed intra-agency politics and jealousy, stultifying suspicion and extraordinarily incompetent mismanagement combined to effect a major degradation of intelligence-gathering capability.

By 1943 Adolf Hitler was faced with the immensely difficult military task of having to defend the whole of the coast of western Europe, except those of Portugal and Spain, between northern Norway and north-eastern Greece, and without any clear information about the point at which the Western Allies might land their major invasion, or the points at which they might land smaller invasions. In these circumstances Hitler’s thinking was that it was necessary to defend the entire length of the threatened coasts, and to rely on carefully sited reinforcements for the rapid response to and defeat of any landing or landings. In France the Germans deployed two army groupings under the command of Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt in his capacity as the Oberbefehlshaber ‘West’. In the south was Generaloberst Johannes Blaskowitz’s Armeegruppe ‘G’ (from September 1944 Heeresgruppe ‘G’) with two armies, and in the north Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel’s Heeresgruppe ‘B’ with Generaloberst Friedrich Dollmann’s 7th Army to the west of the line of the Seine river and including Normandy, and Generaloberst Hans von Salmuth’s 15th Army to the east of this line and including the Pas de Calais.

In 1943, after they had been decided to defer the invasion of northern France until the following year, the Allies planned and implemented a series of deception operations intended to persuade the Germans of threatened invasions of Norway and France. Intended to confuse the German high command about Allied intentions, ‘Cockade’ was the umbrella designation for ‘Starkey’ against the French Channel coast, ‘Wadham’ against Britanny and ‘Tindall’ against Norway, and was also intended to draw the Germans into major air battles across the Channel. In this latter respect ‘Cockade’ was unsuccessful, the German forces barely responding even as a fake invasion force crossed the English Channel before turning back some distance from its notional target.

The planning of ‘Bodyguard’ was started even before ‘Cockade’ was fully under way, and followed the Allied decision that Normandy would be the location for the decisive invasion. In this, the departments responsible for deception (‘A’ Force, COSSAC’s Ops [B] and the London Controlling Section) began to address the problem of achieving operational and tactical surprise for ‘Overlord’. An initial paper, entitled First Thoughts and dated 15 July 1943, outlined many of the concepts that later embodied in ‘Bodyguard’. However, as ‘Cockade’ drew to a close with only limited success, much of the Allied high command was sceptical of any new deception plan’s likelihood of success.

In August Colonel John Bevan, heading the London Controlling Section, presented a draft plan. Codenamed ‘Jael’, this would have attempted to deceive the Germans into thinking that the Allies had delayed the invasion for a further year, instead concentrating on the Balkan theatre and air bombardment of Germany throughout 1944. The plan had a mixed reception in the Allied high command, and in October a decision on the draft was deferred until after the ‘Eureka’ conference at Tehran one month later.

Meanwhile the COSSAC (Chief-of-Staff to the Supreme Allied Commander) team under Lieutenant General F. E. Morgan had been working on its own deception plan, namely Appendix Y of the ‘Overlord’ scheme. Also known as ‘Torrent’, this plan had originated early in September as a feint invasion of the Pas de Calais shortly before the launch of ‘Overlord’ and, following the failure of the similar ‘Starkey’ scheme within ‘Cockade’, was transformed into a plan to divert attention from the Allied troop build-up in the south-west of England.

These early ideas, which later became ‘Bodyguard’, recognised that the Germans could not be expected to believe that the Allies were not planning an invasion, and therefore that the core of any successful deception plan had to be the misleading of the Germans as to the exact time and location of the invasion, and then to keep them off balance once the invasion had landed and started to secure a lodgement.

During November and December 1943 the Allied leaders met twice, first in Cairo (the ‘Sextant’ conference of 22/26 November) and second in Tehran (the ‘Eureka’ conference of 28 November/1 December), to decide their strategy for the following year. Bevan attended the conference and received his final orders on 6 December. Furnished with what were currently the final details of ‘Overlord’, Bevan returned to London to complete the draft plan, and the resulting ‘Bodyguard’ was approved on 25 December 1943. The plan’s new name had been chosen on the basis of a comment by Prime Minister Winston Churchill to Iosif Stalin at the Tehran conference that ‘In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.’

The four objectives of ‘Bodyguard’ were to deceive the Germans about the precise location, timing, strength and subsequent objectives of the Allied invasion in France. Within this overall scheme the plan had three main goals: to make the Pas de Calais appear to be the main invasion target, to mask the actual date and time of the assault, and to keep the Germans from detaching formations from the Pas de Calais (and indeed from other parts of Europe) for despatch to Normandy for at least 14 days after ‘Overlord’ had started.

‘Bodyguard’ set out a detailed ‘story’ for the deceivers to sell to the Germans. This included Allied belief in the ‘Pointblank’ bombing campaign as an effective way of winning the war, and then specified a number of invasions round the whole perimeter of German-controlled Europe in Norway, France and the Mediterranean. In January planners began to create the details of ‘Bodyguard’, in the process producing a number of sub-operations to cover each of the invasions and also misdirection.

The task fell to two main departments. Clarke’s ‘A’ Force, with a number of earlier successes to its credit, was sensibly allocated the Mediterranean region. Responsibility for the northern European aspects of ‘Bodyguard’ was shifted away from the LCS, which now assumed a co-ordination role, however, to Ops (B). Before the November 1943 appointment of General Dwight D. Eisenhower as the Allied powers’ supreme commander in Europe, all invasion planning had been undertaken by the COSSAC team, and under Morgan’s leadership the Ops (B) deception department had received only limited resources, leaving most deception work to the LCS. With with arrival of Eisenhower. Ops (B) was expanded, Clarke’s ‘A’ Force deputy, Noel Wild, was placed at its head, and the group was allocated larger resources. The group now put together the largest single segment of ‘Bodyguard’, namely ‘Fortitude’.

‘Fortitude’ was created in an effort to convince the Germans that the Allies possessed a greater strength than in fact they did, and that this would allow them to launch invasions of both the Pas de Calais and Norway. ‘Fortitude’ was based on the use of techniques similar to ‘Cockade’ of the previous year, namely fictional field armies, faked operations to prepare the ground for invasion, and carefully leaked ‘information’ about the Allied order of battle and war plans.

‘Fortitude’ had two basic components, one for each of the fictional invasion area. ‘Fortitude North’ was centred on the fictitious British 4th Army headquartered in Edinburgh. This 4th Army had first been activated during the previous year, as part of ‘Cockade’, to threaten Norway and thus to tie down the significant number of German divisions stationed there. The Allies created the fiction of the 4th Army’s existence by means of fake radio traffic (‘Skye’) and leaks through double agents. Political negotiations with neutral Sweden, in ‘Graffham’, to obtain concessions that would be useful during an invasion of Norway, were also used to add credence to the fiction.

The objective of ‘Graffham’ was to convince German intelligence that the Allies were actively building political ties with Sweden in preparation for an upcoming invasion of Norway. The undertaking involved meetings between British and Swedish officials, as well as the purchase of Norwegian securities and the use of double agents to spread rumours. During the war, Sweden maintained its neutrality, but had economic as well as political connections with Germany, and the Western Allies hoped that if the Swedish government could be convinced that an Allied invasion of Norway was imminent, this fact would filter through to German intelligence. Planning for ‘Graffham’ began in February 1944 after Bevan had become worried that ‘Fortitude North’ was inadequate on its own to create a credible Allied threat against Norway. Bevan therefore proposed ‘Graffham’ as an additional measure which, in contrast with other elements of ‘Bodyguard’, was planned and executed by the British without US involvement. ‘Graffham’ was based on the idea of extending the existing pressure which the Allies were placing on Sweden to end its neutrality and, for example, therefore end its export to Germany of high-quality ball bearings, which had a number of very important military applications. By increasing this pressure with additional requests, none of which was realistically expected to succeed, Bevan hoped to convince the Germans still further that Sweden was preparing to abandon neutrality and join the Allies.

The impact of ‘Graffham’ was minimal. The Swedish government agreed to only a few of the concessions requested during the meetings, and only a small number of Swedish senior officials became convinced that the Allies would invade Norway. The effect of ‘Fortitude North’ and ‘Graffham’ on German strategy in Scandinavia is therefore questionable.

‘Fortitude South’ was based on a similar deception, but this time in south-eastern England, and was posited on an invasion of the Pas de Calais by the fictional US 1st Army Group. France was at the very heart of ‘Bodyguard’ plan: as it was the most logical point for an Allied invasion, the Western Allies had to mislead the German defences in a geographical area that was in fact notably small. The Pas de Calais offered a number of advantages over the chosen invasion site in Normandy, such as a considerably shorter crossing of the English Channel, the easier provision for tactical air power from bases in souther-eastern England, and access to the shortest route into Germany. As a result the German high command was persuaded to invest heavily in the fortification of the coast of the Pas de Calais. The Western Allies therefore decided to capitalise on the existing German preoccupation wit this area and amplify it to the point that the defences of the Normandy area became significantly weaker in both matériel and manpower terms.

General Sir Bernard Montgomery, commanding the Allied 21st Army Group which was to launch ‘Overlord’, fully appreciated that the critical factor in making a success of any invasion was the rapid development of the initial beach-head into a large lodgement which would pave the way for the creation of a full front. This was all the more important as the Allies were faced with the fact that they had only 37 divisions to the German equivalent of 60 divisions. The primary objectives of ‘Fortitude South’ were therefore to give the impression of a significantly larger invasion force (the 1st Army Group in south-eastern of England, to achieve tactical surprise in the Normandy landings and, once the invasion had occurred, to mislead the Germans into thinking that ‘Overlord’ was in fact merely a diversion to distract the Germans from the main assault, which was to be delivered over the shorter sea passage into the Pas de Calais.

Communications intercepted by the Allies during January 1944 indicated that the German high command had come to fear the possibility of landings near Bordeaux on the eastern side of the Bay of Biscay. In February the Germans ordered a series of anti-invasion exercises in this region. To exacerbate these Germans fears, and thereby persuade the Germans at least not to remove forces from the region, the Allies began ‘Ironside’. The ‘story’ promulgated by ‘Ironside’ was that two divisions sailing from the UK would land in the Gironde, the estuary of the Garonne river downstream of Bordeaux, 10 days after the D-Day start of ‘Overlord’. These divisions were to establish a beach-head into which another six divisions would land in ‘Ironside II’ after arriving straight from the east coast of the USA. This Allied force would then capture Bayonne and Bordeaux before advancing to link with another supposed force, created by the ‘Vendetta’ deception operation, in the south of France.

‘Ironside’ was implemented entirely by means of double agents, specifically those codenamed ‘Tate’, ‘Bronx’ and ‘Garbo’. The ‘Twenty Committee’ in charge of the XX System of anti-espionage and deception operations was concerned about the plausibility of the ‘story’ proposed by ‘Ironside’ and therefore did not promote it too strongly via its agents. Messages which the agents sent to their German handlers included certain elements of uncertainty and this combined with the fact that Bordeaux was an implausible target (the supposed invasion area was far beyond the range of fighter cover from the UK) meant that the Germans not only took very little notice of the rumours but also went as far as to identify it as a probable deception. Despite this, German intelligence continued to send the agents questions related to the landings until a time early June, and even after the launch of ‘Overlord’ the Germans maintained a state of readiness in the region.

Another component of the Allied deception effort associated with ‘Overlord’ was ‘Zeppelin’. This was the Mediterranean equivalent of ‘Fortitude’, and was intended to prevent the movement of German forces out of the theatre by threatening landings in the Balkans, most especially Crete, presaging movement into mainland Greece via the Peloponnese, or Romania. For ‘Zeppelin’, ‘A’ Force employed tactics similar to those it had used in earlier undertakings, and in this particular instance simulating the existence of the fictitious 9th, 10th and 12th Armies in Egypt by means of exercises and spurious radio traffic. The success of ‘Zeppelin’ is attested by the fact that the German high command believed these forces to be real when there were, in fact, only three weak divisions in the area.

‘Copperhead’ was a small decoy operation, undertaken just before the launch of ‘Overlord’, designed to mislead German intelligence as to the whereabouts of Montgomery by using an actor, M. E. Clifton James, who had a strong resemblance to the commander of the 21st Army Group. general. Clifton James was sent on a high-visibility trip to Gibraltar in the hope that the Germans would take the presence of ‘Montgomery’ in this area as presaging a major Allied undertaking in the Mediterranean.

Various parts of the ‘Bodyguard’ plan were in operation on 6 June 1944 in support of ‘Neptune’, the amphibious assault phase of ‘Overlord’, and included ‘Glimmer’, ‘Taxable’ and ‘Big Drum’ in the English Channel with small craft and aircraft simulating invasion fleets off the Pas de Calais, Cap d’Antifer and the western flank of the real invasion force. At the same time ‘Titanic’ was designed to confuse the Germans as British aircraft dropped dummy paratroopers to the east and west of the Normandy landings. Joan Pujol Garcia, the British double agent codenamed ‘Garbo’ and believed by the Germans to be one of their major assets, sent information about the Allied invasion plan with a further warning that the Normandy invasion was merely a diversion. This information was transmitted at the behest of the British in order to increase the credibility of ‘Garbo’ but oly at a time when it was too late to improve the defences of Normandy.

The ‘Bodyguard’ deceptions were implemented in a number of ways, including double agents, radio traffic and visual deception. Once the planning for each stage had been completed, various operational units (regular as well as specialist forces such as ‘R’ Force) were tasked with carrying out the deceptions. The practice of using dummy tanks and other military hardware had been developed during the North Africa campaign by ‘A’ Force and proved very successful, but for ‘Bodyguard’ the Allies placed only a lesser reliance on these forms of deception as they believed, rightly, that the Germans lacked any real capacity for reconnaissance in or over the southern UK. Even so, some dummy hardware was created, in particular fake landing craft to be stockpiled in the staging area of the supposed 1st Army Group.

‘R’ Force was a British deception force which made use of armoured vehicles, field engineers and a wireless unit. It was led by Lieutenant Colonel David Strangeways, who had served in the North African campaign in Clarke’s ‘A’ Force special unit which used radio nets to disseminate false information, and decoy tanks and other vehicles to divert Axis forces from the areas of Allied attack. Strangeways implemented a deception plan designed to fool the Axis powers as to the time and place of the Allied ‘Torch’ invasion of North-West Africa, and later in the same campaign, using a combination of bluff, determination and speed, Strangeways was able to seize the German headquarters in Tunis before important secret documents could be destroyed.

In 1943, after he had taken command of the 21st Army Group, Montgomery asked for Strangeways to take command of another deception force organised along the lines of ‘A’ Force to support the invasion of France. Strangeways chose the name ‘R’ Force in the hope that the Germans, if they learned of it, might assume that the R stood for reconnaissance. In fact ‘R’ Force could operate in this capacity as it was equipped with three companies of light scout cars and a support company. These were equipped with special speakers so they could emulate the sounds of tanks in battle. ‘R’ Force also controlled several Royal Engineers camouflage units, personnel from ‘Turner’s Department’ (a deception organisation led by Colonel John Turner and which had been engaged in the construction of decoy airfields and other military sites) and No. 5 Wireless Group. This last was established in January 1944 to provide ‘R’ Force with a communications deception capability: outfitted with special radios and recording devices, it could simulate the radio traffic of a formation up to the size of a corps. The strength of ‘R’ Force eventually climbed to more than 1,200 personnel.

It was Strangeways who created and implemented ‘Quicksilver’, which was a significant part of ‘Fortitude’, to help in the persuasion of the Germans that the Allied invasion would take place in the Pas de Calais. After ‘Overlord’, ‘R’ Force moved to the continent and operated under the direct command of the 21st Army Group. It was one of the first units to enter Brussels and Rouen, and later conducted a deception campaign for the ‘Plunder’ crossing of the Rhine river.

In overall terms, ‘Bodyguard’ is regarded as a tactical success, delaying the 15th Army in the Pas de Calais for seven weeks and thereby increasing the ability of the Allies to expand their beach-head into a full lodgement and then win the Battle of Normandy.

The many sub-operations of ‘Fortitude’ included ‘Fortitude North’ and ‘Fortitude South’, ‘Skye’, ‘Quicksilver I to VI’ (ii), ‘Ironside’, ‘Titanic I to IV’, ‘Taxable’, ‘Glimmer’, ‘Big Drum’, ‘Paradise I to V’, ‘Zeppelin’ (i), ‘Royal Flush’ (ii), ‘Vendetta’ and ‘Graffham’.