Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The D in D-Day may have stood for Deception

Today, June 6, is the 68th anniversary of D-Day, the Allied invasion of Normandy.

If you haven't watched it recently, you should buy, rent or Netflix (is that a verb now?) the 1962 epic The Longest Day. Based on a 1959 book by Cornelius Ryan, the movie shows the invasion from the American, British, French and German points of view.

The movie tells a thorough, accurate and fascinating story -- but it is incomplete.

The Germans knew, of course, that the Allies would have to invade France. They could hear Stalin screaming for a second front without needing any spies at all. Stalin started screaming for the United States and Britain to open up a second front from the moment Hitler tore up his non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union and started aggressing.

However, as The Longest Day correctly recounts, the Germans were convinced the invasion would come at the Pas-de-Calais. That movie, however, doesn't explain why they were so convinced.

The 1970 biopic, Patton, hints at one very good reason why the Germans were so surprised by the Normandy invasion.

General Patton, on double-secret probation for slapping a soldier in a military hospital, was placed in command of a fictitious army (FUSAG) that appeared intent on making the Channel crossing at its narrowest point, landing at the Pas-de-Calais. There were inflatable tanks and cloth and plywood Jeeps and lots of empty tents that could be seen when German reconnaissance flights got through (and sometimes the Allies didn't try to stop the Germans' reconnaissance efforts with as much vigor as they might have). There was all sorts of radio traffic -- orders, counterorders, marching orders. Then all the spies, counterspies, superspies, double-crossers and turncoats that Allied intelligence could find were given the task of convincing the Germans that Patton's army was real and his destination Calais. And it all worked. The Germans believed that the Normandy invasion was merely a feint, a ruse to draw off armor and reserves from the defense of the Pas-de-Calais. That's what they'd seen in their recon missions; that's what their spies (the Germans thought they were there spies) had told them. And so the panzers and troops that might have bottled up the Allies on the beaches -- creating a World War II equivalent of the Gallipoli debacle -- were never moved.

(A Mental Floss post from April 2012 provides a lot more information about Patton's 'ghost army.')

When I was a kid, I thought that the 'D' in D-Day was in the nature of a bureaucratic stutter -- especially when I heard terms like 'H-Hour' also bandied about in old war movies. But, looking back, the 'D' in D-Day, whatever its official designation, might really have stood for 'Deception.'


Now pause.

Take a deep breath.

Think a bit.

You know what this means, don't you?

It means that -- at least once -- a giant government conspiracy (actually a multi-government conspiracy), involving all sorts of people, actually worked.

The implications are staggering, aren't they?

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