Operation Ironside

This was a Allied pair of deception operations, first within ‘Bodyguard’ and then within ‘Ferdinand’ (iii), designed to suggest to the Germans that the Allies were planning an invasion of France on the east coast of the Bay of Biscay in support of their invasion on the north coast of German-occupied France(December 1943/March 1944).

The planning of ‘Ironside’ was undertaken by Colonel John Bevan’s London Controlling Section and implemented through the agency of misinformation passed to the Germans by double agents, and the entire effort was created to play on German fears of an invasion in the Bordeaux region, thereby persuading them at best to redeploy formations to this area or at worst not to redeploy forces from this area, which was the responsibility of Generaloberst Johannes Blaskowitz’s 1st Army, to the areas which were actually threatened with invasion. The specific objective of ‘Ironside’ was to persuade the Germans to retain SS-Gruppenführer und Generalleutnant der Waffen-SS Werner Ostendorff’s 17th SS Panzergrenadierdivision ‘Götz von Berlichingen’ in the south of France.

In January 1944 the Allies intercepted communications indicating that German commanders were concerned by the possibility of landings in the Bay of Biscay region of France, and also learned that in the following month German naval and air units undertook anti-invasion exercises in the area. ‘Ironside’ was created as a means of amplifying these concerns and, as with other components of the ‘Bodyguard’ plan, the forces supposedly earmarked for ‘Ironside’ were fictitious.

The ‘story’ initially proposed for ‘Ironside’ was that 10 days after the Allied invasion of northern France another Allied force would land in the Bordeaux region on the Gironde estuary. This force would then advance from its beach-head to meet the force landed on the Mediterranean coast of France in ‘Vendetta’, which was another deception operation. At first Bevan suggested that the fictional ‘Ironside’ invasion force should arrive directly from the east coast of the USA, but after it had been decided this was militarily implausible, it was finally agreed that a realistic threat would be to have the beach-head created by the landing of two divisions from the UK and then for another six divisions to arrive from the USA: all real, the latter formations were the 26th, 94th, 95th and 104th Divisions, and the 10th and 11th Armored Divisions, and the commander was to be Lieutenant General Lloyd Fredendall.

‘Ironside’ was implemented entirely by means of misinformation passed to their German intelligence handlers by double agents under the control of the ‘Twenty Committee’ of M.I.5. On 23 May, ‘Tate’ (the Danish Wulf Schmidt) sent a message to say that a friend from the USA had identified an expeditionary force, consisting of six divisions, preparing to sail. Six days later, on 29 May, ‘Bronx’ (the Peruvian Elvira Chaudoir) sent a coded telegram indicating that an invasion in the Bordeaux region would be launched within a week, and later ‘Bronx’ sent a follow-up letter explaining that the information came from a drunken British officer in the Four Hundred Club, and that he had later sworn her to secrecy, adding that the operation had been delayed by a month.

In June ‘Garbo’ (the Spanish Joan Pujol Garcia and one of the most important Allied double agents) relayed a report from one of his fictional sub-agents that US divisions had arrived in Liverpool, and were preparing to head to Bordeaux.

The ‘Twenty Committee’ considered ‘Ironside’ to be implausible, and was therefore cautious about using agents, who might thereby be compromised, to promote it strongly. Thus most of the messages were sent with words of caution or uncertainty, to ensure that the asset would not be compromised: ‘Garbo’, for instance, noted that he was unsure of his informant, and sceptical of the report.

Captured intelligence documents suggest that the Germans never developed any strong belief that the Allies would land in the Bordeaux region. Before ‘Ironside’, German commanders had considered the idea, and conducted preparatory anti-invasion exercises, as noted above. After ‘Ironside’ intercepted situation reports suggested that the Germans believed rumours of landings in the area to be small-scale deception operations, designed largely to distract the attention of the Germans from a primary assault in the Pas de Calais, which the Germans had come to believe as a result of ‘Fortitude South’. Although the Germans continued to train for anti-invasion operations in the Bordeaux region, and delayed sending the 17th SS Panzergrenadierdivision to Normandy, it appears that the Germans did not consider landings very likely. In this the Germans were considerably aided by the fact that the Bordeaux region was not a plausible Allied target as it lay far outside the range of fighter cover from bases in the UK.

However, the basic concept of ‘Ironside’ was reused in July 1944 to support ‘Ferdinand’. Because of the vague interest in the original operation in German intelligence circles, the LCS had continued to promote the idea of an invasion after 28 June, when the initial deception was supposed to have ended, and ‘Rudloff’ (the Argentine Jorge José Mosquera) sent messages on 10, 12 and 18 July referring to the ‘Ironside’ force.

In the middle of July, the Allies began the ‘Ferdinand’ (iii) deception to cover ‘Dragoon’ (i), the invasion of southern France scheduled for mid-August. After some discussion it was decided that a new ‘story’ would be created to suggest that the Allies intended to bolster the capabilities of the French resistance forces in the south of France by seizing Bordeaux to facilitate the delivery of heavier weapons than could be delivered by air.

Implementation of this ‘Ironside II’ was again entrusted to double agents, mostly by reporting the arrival of heavy machinery and bridging equipment in New York, from which the invasion force was to be despatched. ‘Ironside II’ passed largely unnoticed, and German interest in the Bordeaux region soon waned.