David Alan Johnson

Righteous Deception

The Overlord deception planners realised that it would be impossible to keep such an operation secret. It was simply too big an undertaking to hide – there were too many troops, too many supply vehicles, too many ships, too much of everything that would be required for the great Invasion. Anyone in southern England could see evidence of the preparations for themselves. A British writer recalls that ‘the skies were seldom silent, and the once empty roads of Kent, Surrey, Hampshire, Dorset and Devon were crowded with seemingly endless convoys of lorries, tanks and bulldozers, all headed south or west towards the invasion ports.’

Because it was impossible to hide the Overlord build-up, senior British and American intelligence officers decided to take the opposite approach – give the enemy something easy to find, something that would satisfy his curiosity and also mislead them concerning the date and destination of Overlord. To convince German Intelligence that the main landings would take place at Calais, Allied planners let them find an army in southeast England, just across the Straits of Dover from Calais. And so, intelligence planners invented a deception operation code-named ‘Quicksilver,’ which was designed to mislead German Intelligence into believing that Calais was the destination for Overlord. The main component of Quicksilver was the First U.S. Army Group, FUSAG, a mainly fictitious concentration of troops stationed in Kent and Sussex.

FUSAG was, in the words of a former U.S. Army officer who was stationed in London in 1944, ‘so devious that only the British could have thought it up.’ (This retired officer married a British girl and stayed married to her for 50 years, which may account for his point of view.) In order to trick the Germans into thinking that a main force was billeted just opposite Calais, an elaborate deception scheme was set in place in the quiet green fields of southeastern England. Entire camps were built, but nobody lived in them – tent cities made up of empty tents. Radio operators reported the movements of troops that did not exist; the ‘troops’ consisted of two radiomen, one receiving and one sending, describing what non-existent units were doing, or were planning to do.

Armoured units attached to FUSAG had tanks and vehicles that were made of inflatable rubber. One of these dummy Sherman tanks could be picked up and moved by two men, but looked realistic even at close quarters. The squeaking noises of tank tracks had been previously recorded, and were played back on loudspeakers –which listeners in France picked up and believed to be tanks on the move.

The finishing touch for the FUSAG deception was the appointment of General George S. Patton as its commander. Both German Intelligence and OKW were of the opinion that Patton would be one of Overlord’s main commanders – if not the principal Allied field commander, then surely as leader of the first assault. ‘The Germans had long feared Patton as the most able battlefield commander on the Allied side,’ according to one biographer, ‘and the most likely candidate to command the invasion force.’ Because of his brilliance in North Africa and Sicily, Patton was admired as well as feared by many German officers – he might be called the American Rommel, only with more flamboyance and a great deal less discretion.

General Patton’s presence in England as FUSAG’s commander was no secret, although his appointment as commander of the US Third Army was. The unpredictable general was under strict orders from General Eisenhower to behave with dignity and decorum, which is rather like telling a five year old that he must never put ink in his water pistol. As could have been predicted, and as Eisenhower undoubtedly guessed, Patton did just the opposite of what he was told.

Instead of showing caution and keeping a low profile, Patton seemed to go out of his way to make his presence known in the most public way possible. He went to the theatre in London; he visited Eisenhower’s headquarters in Grosvenor Square regularly, making sure that everyone knew he was there; he met the Queen Mary at Greenock, and was seen by the thousands of GI s on board. Any time he made one of his ‘secret’ visits, Patton was sure to tell everyone present, ‘I am not here,’ or ‘You have not seen me.’ Which, again, had just the opposite effect – everyone present could not wait to pass the word that they had seen ‘Ol’ Blood and Guts’ in person while he was on a top secret visit.

German Intelligence very quickly discovered that General Patton was in England, as Eisenhower and his senior officers knew would happen. SHAEF – Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force, the successor of COSSAC – wanted the Germans to know Patton’s whereabouts. They did not want them to know that Patton was commanding Third Army, however. Eisenhower put up with Patton and his self-publicising because the flamboyant three-star general was serving Quicksilver’s purposes. Also, he realised that Patton could not act with discretion if he tried.

Patton strongly suspected that SHAEF did not want him to keep quiet. He also suspected that his movements were deliberately being made public, for the purpose of informing the enemy that he was in Britain. He was correct in both of his assumptions, as was shown in the so-called ‘Knutsford incident’ in April 1944.

A ‘Welcome Club’ for US servicemen had been organised by the residents of the town of Knutsford, in Cheshire. Because General Patton had his headquarters in Knutsford, he was asked to give a speech at the official opening of the club. Patton was under explicit orders to give no public speeches. But because he was assured that no reporters or photographers would be present, Patton decided to make an appearance at the opening just the same.

When he showed up at the club, Patton found a crowd, a band, a group of British servicewomen, and several photographers. He asked the photographers not to take any pictures; they agreed. He was also informed that no reporters were present, which put his mind at rest. After a brief introduction, the general took the podium.

Patton’s speech was meant to be a humourous mix of belligerence and levity. He told the gathering, most of whom were women, that the only experience he had with welcoming to date was to welcome Germans to the ‘infernal regions.’ He went on to say that such Welcome Clubs served a real purpose because he believed, along with George Bernard Shaw, ‘that the British and Americans are two people separated by a common language. Since it seems to he the destiny of America, Great Britain, and Russia to rule the world, the better we know each other, the better off we will be.’ He concluded by telling the audience that when American women found out how lovely British ladies are, they would force the war to come to an end, and then he would go to the Pacific to kill Japanese. Everyone present seemed to enjoy Patton’s unique brand of humour.

Selected Works

Civil War Non-Fiction, Psychology
How the backgrounds of Robert E. Lee and U.S. Grant influenced their campaign against each other in Virginia in 1864 and 1865.
Abraham Lincoln's re-election in 1864 was decided on the batlefields of Virginia and Georgia as much as at the ballot box.
J. Edgar Hoover sends an innocent man to prison to save his own reputation. Includes chapter on the Bush Administration's use of this case as a precedent for military tribunals to try terrorist suspects.
The relationship between Britain and the United States has been long, frequently contentious, and sometimes comical.
How anti-Nazi Intelligence officers tricked Hitler regarding the time and place of D-Day.
Britain not only had to fight the German Luftwaffe, but also had to battle isolationism in the US.