Operation QUICKSILVER: Deception Covering the
Landing in Normandy
One great challenge of WWII was keeping secret the planned Allied landing sites in Europe. Hitler and the Germans, for a number of reasons, had a firm belief that the location of the landing would be on the French coast at Pas-de-Calais, the shortest distance across the English Channel.
The Allies prepared a scheme, called FORTITUDE, to convince the Germans that they were accurate in their belief that Pas-de-Calais was the location and, further, to lead them into believing that the real landing in Normandy was merely a diversion. The scheme was so successful that the Germans believed Pas-de-Calais was to be the main landing place even after the Normandy landings began, still convinced that Normandy was a diversionary move.
A variety of actions in the plan were taken to trick the Germans into keeping their forces where they were and not moving them to Normandy. Most of the German units causing Allies concern were near Pas-de-Calais, but some were as far north as Norway. Although the overall plan was called FORTITUDE, the deception aspect was called QUICKSILVER, and it had subsets for each aspect of the plan. Some of these actions included:
- Stationing ground units, later intended for deployment to Normandy, across from Pas-de-Calais
- Developing fictitious military units and “stationing” them in various parts of the British Isles
- Bombing German units in the Pas-de-Calais area
- Placing dummy gliders, tanks, and trucks along the coast
- Maintaining offensive submarine activity as far north as Norway
- Concentrating shipping and landing craft activity in northern harbors
- Use of double agents to convey false information
“The most important of the deception measures, however, was wireless.”(35) The wireless part of the plan was called QUICKSILVER II, and it entailed establishing and operating a realistic communications structure to service the fictitious units. Further, the communications activity would appear to “support” the preparations for a major invasion at Calais. This posed a daunting challenge since the Germans relied heavily upon T/A and were very competent practitioners of the art. With this background, the Germans might very well have been able to detect the ruse if it were not executed convincingly.
The task of implementing the plan was given to the U.S. Army. In one instance the Army set up a simulation of the HQ 1st U.S. Army Group in England when, in fact, that unit was moving to France under the guise of the 12th Army Group. The 1st U.S. Army Group was shown as consisting of the fictitious 14th U.S. Army and the real 4th
British Army in a fictitious location.(36) The Germans believed they still faced a formidable force across the Channel from Pas-de-Calais.
In other diversionary actions, General Patton, whom the Germans believed would lead the invasion, was stationed across the English Channel from Calais. Patton addressed ladies’ luncheons and other public gatherings to affirm his presence in that area. He is said to have described his actions as “playing Sarah Bernhardt” (a great actress of the time). In another move, Patton had met an old acquaintance, General James Gavin, in a London hotel, and upon leaving a large crowded room he stopped, turned around and shouted to Gavin, “I’ll see you in Calais.” Most in the room were horrified with this breach of security when, in fact, it was part of the ruse, and Patton took some personal delight in acting that he was carelessly revealing too much.(37)
35. Albert Norman, Operation Overlord, Design and Reality: The Allied Invasion of Western Europe (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1970), 127.
36. Ibid., 128.
37. William B. Breuer, Hoodwinking Hitler: The Normandy Deception (Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1993), 113, 159-160.
Featured image: German campaign on the Eastern Front)
Source: Center for Cryptologic History National Security Agency