Operation Fortitude was the ingenious web of deception spun by the Allies to mislead the Nazis as to how and where the D-Day landings were to be mounted.
'One of the most creative intelligence operations of all time' - Kim Philby
The story of how this web was woven is one of intrigue, personal drama, ground-breaking techniques, internal resistance, and good fortune. It is a tale of double agents, black radio broadcasts, phantom armies, 'Ultra' decrypts, and dummy parachute drops. These diverse tactics were intended to come together to create a single narrative so compelling that it would convince Adolf Hitler of its authenticity.
Operation Fortitude was intended to create the false impression that the Normandy landings were merely a feint to disguise a massive forthcoming invasion by this American force in the Pas de Calais. In other words, the success of D-Day – the beginning of the end of the Second World War – was made possible by the efforts of men and women who were not present on the Normandy beaches.
Men such as Juan Pujol, a Spanish double-agent (code-name GARBO) who sent hundreds of wireless messages from London to Madrid in the build-up to D-Day relaying supposed intelligence from his fictitious spy network. This allowed the enemy to conclude that the number of Allied divisions preparing to invade was twice the actual number.
Men such as R.V Jones, the head of British Scientific Intelligence, who masterminded the dropping of tinfoil confetti from the bomb-bay doors of Lancaster bombers, creating a false impression that a flotilla of Allied ships was heading in the opposite direction to the genuine invasion fleet.
Using first hand sources from a wide range of archives, government documents, letters and memos Operation Fortitude builds a picture of what wartime Britain was like, as well as the immense pressure these men and women were working under and insure D-Day succeeded.
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This is the first book that deals with the whole story of Operation Fortitude, bringing all surrounding facts and details together. Where did your research begin?
In the National Archives at Kew. I was able to piece the story together from a number of important sources, but the most important was the PRO. In particular, the double agent story could not have been told any other way. Myths have grown up over the years about who these men and women really were, and about what they did and didn’t do. Well, the answers lie in the MI5 files which have been made available at Kew. And the files don’t only contain information. They also contain the tools of the agents’ trade, such as false identity cards and disc codes. In one file, there is even a seventy year old Veronal sleeping pill given to a spy by the German Intelligence Service.
In your opinion, which deception tactic played the biggest role in the success of Operation Fortitude?
Without a doubt, Operation Fortitude owed its success to the British Double Cross system. This was a network of double agents run by MI5. The Nazis believed (or at least hoped) that these men and women were loyal German spies, but they were, in fact, ultimately working for the British. These were the individuals who put across the effective parts of the Fortitude deception. Other elements of Fortitude, such as dummy ships and tanks, and fake wireless messages, were less successful. Having said that, other tactics played their part. For example, a captured German general, Hans Cramer, on his release from a British prison camp, was driven through south-west England. But he was told that he was in the south-east. He then hurried to warn Rommel that Allied forces were crowded around Dover preparing to attack the Pas de Calais--which was precisely what the Allied deceivers had hoped he would do.
Had Popov been successful in warning the Americans about Pearl Harbor, do you think they would have been able to prevent it from taking place at all?
In mid-1941, Dusko Popov informed J Edgar Hoover, chief of the FBI, that the Japanese were planning an attack on Pearl Harbor. Hoover ignored him. But had Hoover passed the intelligence to the White House, as he should have done, or had MI5 passed it directly to the White House themselves, as they should have done, the Americans would have been prepared for it. Popov hadn’t been given the details of precisely when and how the attack would be mounted, so it is debatable whether that it could have been prevented outright. But had Hoover taken the warning seriously, it would certainly not have come as a shocking surprise.
What was Camp 020 and why was it important?
Camp 020 was Britain’s spy prison. Suspected German spies were brought there (it was round the corner from Richmond tube station) and interrogated by teams led by Colonel Robin ‘Tin Eye’ Stephens, a man who was said to rub his hands with glee when another captured spy was on his way. Stephens used a number of innovative interrogation methods, including what has become known as ‘Good Cop/Bad Cop’, where he would intimidate the prisoner, while another, far more amenable, officer would play the sympathetic questioner. Camp 020 was important because it was where captured spies were turned into double agents. They would be threatened and cajoled, and a large number agreed to begin working for Britain. Those who didn’t were tried, and almost invariably executed. It is worth noting that Stephens did not allow violence to be used on Camp 020 inmates.
Why were the British able to deceive the Germans so effectively?
A combination of factors are important here. First of all, the system of strategic deception came of age in 1943, when the British Chiefs of Staff began to realize that it could be a truly effective weapon. It also started to become clear, at the same time, that double cross was the best method of putting that deception across. So a very effective means of fooling the Germans was in place. The success of Fortitude itself can be put down in significant part to the arrogance and imagination of Lieutenant Colonel David Strangeways, an officer on Montgomery’s staff, who ripped up the original Fortitude plan, and rewrote it according to his own cocksure instincts. And the Germans’ own frailties should not be underestimated. Admiral Canaris, the chief of the German Intelligence Service until early 1944, told one of his officers, in January of that year, that he didn’t care whether every German agent in Britain was under enemy control, so long as he could tell German High Command that he had agents in Britain reporting regularly. This attitude, which pervaded the entire German Intelligence Service, a consequence of fear and disloyalty, meant that the Germans were predisposed to believe much of what they were led to believe. Also, the Allies understood the importance of playing on Hitler’s existing beliefs – of which they had knowledge thanks to the breaking of the Enigma code. All in all, there were a large number of factors which came together to ensure the success of Fortitude--all discussed in the book!
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