Operation Ferdinand (iii)

This was an Allied deception plan in support of the ‘Dragoon’ (i) invasion of German-occupied southern France by leading the Germans to believe that the objective of the invasion was the Genoa region of north-western Italy (August 1944).

The 'story' promulgated by 'Ferdinand' (iii) under the supervision of Brigadier Dudley W. Clarke’s 'A' Force deception organisation was that the Allies had decided to abandon the idea of an amphibious assault on the south coast of France, and instead to make further amphibious landings on the coast of Italy. These new undertakings were to be the responsibility of Major General Lucian K. Truscott’s US VI Corps at Rimini in north-eastern Italy in the Adriatic Sea and at Genoa in north-western Italy in the Ligurian Sea. General the Hon. Sir Harold Alexander’s Allied Armies in Italy command was to hold Général de Corps d’Armée Alphonse Pierre’s Juin’s II Corps and the fictional US XXXI Corps in reserve to exploit any Allied breach of the 'Gotisch-Linie' defences, while the fictional British 12th Army and real British 9th Army in the Middle East were also to be available for the exploitation of of any weakening of the German forces in the Balkans or a Soviet landing in Bulgaria. Related operations were 'Ottrington', 'Ironside II' and 'Braintree'.

'Anvil' or, as it soon became, 'Dragoon' (iii), did not receive its definitive authorisation only on 14 June, and it was only then that full planning for 'Ferdinand' (iii) began. After some negotiation among the interested parties, the first draft of 'Ferdinand' (iii) was approved by General Sir Henry Maitland Wilson, the Supreme Allied Commander Mediterranean Theatre, on 4 July. The plan was implemented immediately, with double agents passing appropriate information, though full formal approval of the final version was not completed until 28 July.

'Ferdinand' was a plan almost as elaborate as 'Zeppelin' had been, and was based on the 'story' that the Allies had changed their overall strategy for the Mediterranean theatre in light of the fact that, contrary to expectations, the Germans had not moved forces from southern France and the Balkans to Normandy. The new strategy, so the 'story' suggested, had resulted from the recent (and real) visit to the Mediterranean theatre by General George C. Marshall, the US Army chief-of-staff, and General Henry H. 'Hap' Arnold, the USAAF chief-of-staff, and was based on the concentration of all US, British and French forces from North Africa onto the Italian front. The US VI Corps (the real 'Dragoon' assault formation) was to set out from Naples and land behind the line of Generalfeldmarschall Albert Kesselring’s Heeresgruppe 'C' at Genoa toward the end of July; Lieutenant General Alexander McC.Patch’s US 7th Army, with the notional US XXXI Corps and the genuine French II Corps, would form a reserve at Naples to exploit Alexander’s anticipated breakthrough in the north. The notional III Polish Corps and British 5th Airborne Division would attack an undetermined Balkan target from southern Italy. There would also be continued threats from the Middle East by the notional British 12th Army and the real but greatly exaggerated British 9th Army to enter Turkey.

The core of 'Ferdinand' (iii) was focussed on the Gulf of Genoa which, it was known, played a major and sensitive part in Adolf Hitler’s strategic thinking. 'Ultra' intelligence had made it abundantly clear that Hitler was acutely nervous about the area of Genoa and Livorno. In June Hitler had ordered Kesselring to strengthen defences in this region, not only with German troops but with four divisions of Italian formations of Benoto Mussolini’s revived fascist republic in northern Italy.

On the other hand, the Fremde Heere 'West' (the German military intelligence body concerned with the Western Allies) was sure that the area of greatest danger was the French coast between Hyères and St Raphaël, which was exactly the target for 'Dragoon' (i).

Then in the latter part of July one of the double agents whom the Fremde Heere 'West' described as 'a source which up to now has proved to be particularly reliable' sent a message that began swaying the German staff toward Hitler’s point of view. US Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, Wilson, Alexander and Patch, the double agent’s message claimed, had recently met and decided 'to take advantage of the successes on the Italian front and make Italy the Schwerpunkt of operations while postponing operations against the South of France.' The Fremde Heere 'West' initially believed that this might be 'deception propaganda', but by the first week in August the cumulative effect of agents' messages, together with observations of the build-up of the US and French in Naples, Ajaccio and Oran, had convinced even the sceptics in the Fremde Heere 'West' that 'a landing in the area of Genoa appears more likely to us than a landing in the South of France'.

The Oberkommando der Wehrmacht had come to believe the basic 'story' of 'Ferdinand' (iii) at an earlier date, and warned Kesselring to be on the alert for Allied landings in his rear in the Gulf of Genoa and the head of the Adriatic, and also warned Generalfeldmarschall Maximilian Reichsfreiherr von Weichs, the Oberbefehlshaber 'Südost', to be on the alert for a Polish landing in north-western Greece and/or Albania.

The work of Allied double agents in developing the 'story' of 'Ferdinand' (iii) was boosted by the pattern of Allied bombing along the French and Italian coasts. The actual landing beaches for 'Dragoon' (i) were in the area of St Tropez and Cannes, to the east of Toulon. This stretch of the coast had been strongly fortified by the French before the war against the possibility of an Italian invasion, so the operation’s planners believed that a heavy preliminary aerial bombardment was essential. But this would run counter to the deception plan’s 'story' by drawing the attention of the Germans toward rather than away from this area, and it tok several days of discussion early in August for an acceptable compromise to be developed.

The success of 'Ferdinand' (iii) was attested by the interrogation of General Ferdinand Neuling, commander of the LXII Corps holding the Marseille area for General Friedrich Wiese’s 19th Army at the time of 'Dragoon'. Neuling told his interrogators that as late as the day before the launch of 'Dragoon' (i) he had been informed that the Allies were going to land in the Genoa area on the following day, and reserves were sent toward the location of the dummy paratroop drop.

At a higher command level, Generaloberst Johannes Blaskowitz, commander of Heeresgruppe 'G' in the south of France, and the German naval intelligence apparatus, had both been sure for some time that it was the south of France which would be the Allied target, and Blaskowitz had decided on the basis of the pattern of the Allied bombing effort that the assault area would be to the east rather than to the west of the Rhône river. But this little availed Blaskowitz, for even after the 'Dragoon' (i) landings, the German high command continued for several days to believe that a second and indeed larger Allied descent was to be made in the area of Genoa.

Thus 'Ferdinand' (iii) was, in the words of the official historian, 'quite the most successful of "A" Force’s strategic operations'.