Everyone knows about D-Day, 6 June having been the 70th anniversary and mentioned everywhere in Cyberspace and beyond this weekend. But how many have ever heard of Operation Bodyguard, Slapton, or Major Martin – the man who never existed?
Operation Bodyguard was specifically crafted to mislead the German high command as far as the exact date and target of the D-Day invasion. At the time of the Normandy invasion, the German military resources were spread thinly along the Atlantic coast; they knew something was coming, but not when or where, and their interceptors and spies were hard at work trying to catch any information that might tip them off in order to concentrate their forces in the correct location and timing. The allies knew that if Normandy were spotted as a possible landing place, all might be lost; so to cover any correct information, they intentionally leaked bogie information – namely, that Normandy was a diversionary ploy; it was a tactic used several times during the war because the German spy network in the UK had been compromised though not exposed, so that the allies could use them against their own side unwittingly (or employ double spies); Bletchley Park had also been able to crack the Enigma codes to a sufficient extent, and as long as that stayed secret they could not only decipher the enemy’s encoded messages, but know which “spiked” information had been swallowed. The allies gave several bogus targets along the Atlantic front, as scattered as Calais in northern France, the Balkans and Norway. Hitler was so convinced he’d interpreted the bogus information as valid that he delayed reinforcements to Normandy by seven weeks. The operation was a strategic success; General Omar Bradley called it the “single biggest hoax of the war”.
There were dozens of similar operations throughout the war, some more successful than others. The village of Slapton, along the Devonshire coast, was a dress rehearsal for the real thing; while in itself not a deception, it aided the allied troops invaluably in preparing for a swift and successful invasion to establish a beachhead and eventually win the most decisive battle of World War 2. The beach near Slapton was considered a close match to the conditions the allied troops would face on the beaches of Normandy and Omaha. The town was evacuated for their own safety, and rigorous training ensued along the coastal beach and cliffs, beginning as early as July of 1943, including landing craft maneuvers and beach obstacles. It was kept fairly secret, but in April of 1944 a surprise torpedo attack from a German speedboat ended the lives of nearly 750 American sailors and soldiers. To bolster the strength of the diversionary operations and reduce any radio static connected to further preparations in Slapton, travel and communication along the coast of Britain and the Republic of Ireland were limited or blocked altogether, in effect creating a news blackout. The preparations there enabled the allies to beach successfully.
Major Martin, though he never existed, was invaluable to the success of the allies: In “Operation Heartbreak”, a novel by Duff Cooper, and “The Man Who Never Was” (also known as Operation Mincemeat) a historical account by Ewen Montagu, the history and eye-witness accounts of men involved in the deceptions reads like a great mystery novel – but it’s all real: In the early hours of 30 April, 1943, a corpse was dumped off of the coast of Spain; but the corpse had a greater mission in death than it had in life: Wearing a high ranking Royal Marines uniform and with a “spiked” briefcase attached to its wrist, it was sure to wash into the port and its information intercepted by the corrupt spy network in bed with the Nazis. The misinformation was swallowed whole, and the operation was a success.
The above-mentioned book is well worth reading (it’s actually two in one), and another that I would highly recommend is “Station X – The Codebreakers of Bletchley Park”, by Michael Smith. The film Enigma (with Kate Winslet and Dougray Scott) is a great one on this topic, if you’re interested in the topic.