Today is the anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy in 1944. I have not posted about them before because this event has been covered in no end of ways in documentaries, histories, fictional films, websites – you name it. Until this point it has not been a priority for me, not least because I prefer not to highlight battles as the first order of business. But this was a significant turning point in the war, and, given that it happened 74 years ago, is fading fast from memory. There are not many people alive today who participated in the Normandy invasion, and precious few who even remember it. The passage of time alters perceptions and analysis – the bane of serious historical investigation. The good part is that a great deal of classified information about the invasion – code named Operation Overlord – remained classified long after the war, but is now public information. This part is important for this post because I have always been interested in how the allies used misinformation and disinformation to fool the Axis powers into mistaking the actual landing site. Before dealing with the various deceptions directly, here’s some odd bits of information about D-Day:
In the summer of 1943 an early copy of the plans blew out of a window in Norfolk House, London. A man who was passing by handed them in, saying his sight was too bad to read them.
The “D” in D-Day actually only stood for Day and was simply used to preserve secrecy.
In May 1944 crucial codewords for D-Day began appearing in Daily Telegraph crosswords. An MI5 investigation failed to find any evidence of foul play.
Terence Otway, whose unit was charged with taking the vital Merville battery, decided to test security among his men. He sent 30 members of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force to local pubs to see if any of his troops would divulge the top secret plan – none did.
Condoms were issued to soldiers – most were used for covering the end of their rifles to keep them dry
Coded messages were sent to alert the French Resistance to begin a program of sabotage. Phrases used included “the dice is on the carpet” – an order to destroy trains and railway lines.
Many paratroopers that day were dropped in the wrong place including US Private John Steele. His parachute famously became snagged on the church steeple at Sainte Mère Eglise. He was trapped for two hours before being taken prisoner.
The flat-bottomed landing craft used on D-Day were originally designed to rescue flood victims on the Mississippi river in the US.
Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was in charge of defending northern France from the expected Allied invasion. On June 6th he was at home in Germany celebrating his wife’s 50th birthday having been told the sea was too rough for a landing.
Adolf Hitler was asleep when word of the invasion arrived. No one dared wake him and it’s said vital time was lost in sending reinforcements.
James Doohan, who went on to be Scotty in Star Trek, first saw combat as a lieutenant in the 14th Field Artillery Regiment of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, landing at Juno Beach on D-Day. He shot two snipers and led his men to higher ground through a field of anti-tank mines, where they took defensive positions for the night. Crossing between command posts at 11:30 that night, Doohan was hit by six rounds fired from a Bren Gun by a nervous Canadian sentry: four in his leg, one in the chest, and one through his right middle finger. The bullet to his chest was stopped by a silver cigarette case given to him by his brother. His right middle finger had to be amputated, something he would conceal on-screen during most of his career as an actor. You can see that the finger is missing in the photo above.
In the months leading up to the invasion, the Allies conducted Operation Bodyguard, the overall strategy designed to mislead the Germans as to the date and location of the main Allied landings. Under Operation Bodyguard were numerous initiatives including Operation Fortitude, broken into Fortitude North, a misinformation campaign using fake radio-traffic to lead the Germans into expecting an attack on Norway, and Fortitude South, a major deception designed to fool the Germans into believing that the landings would take place at Pas de Calais in July. A fictitious First U.S. Army Group was invented, supposedly located in Kent and Sussex under the command of lieutenant general George S. Patton. The Allies constructed dummy tanks, trucks, and landing craft, and positioned them near the coast. Several military units, including II Canadian Corps and 2nd Canadian Division, moved into the area to bolster the illusion that a large force was gathering there. As well as the broadcast of fake radio-traffic, genuine radio messages from 21st Army Group were first routed to Kent via landline and then broadcast, to give the Germans the impression that most of the Allied troops were stationed there. Patton remained stationed in England until 6th July, thus continuing to deceive the Germans into believing a second attack would take place at Calais. Military and civilian personnel alike were aware of the need for secrecy, and the invasion troops were as much as possible kept isolated, especially in the period immediately before the invasion. One U.S. general was sent back to the United States in disgrace after revealing the invasion date at a party.
The Germans thought they had an extensive network of spies operating in the UK, but in fact all their agents had been captured, and some had become double agents working for the Allies as part of the Double-Cross System. The double agent Juan Pujol García, a Spanish opponent of the Nazis known by the code name “Garbo”, developed over the two years leading up to D-Day a fake network of informants that the Germans believed were collecting intelligence on their behalf. In the months preceding D-Day, Pujol sent hundreds of messages to his superiors in Madrid, messages specially prepared by the British intelligence service to convince the Germans that the attack would come in July at Calais.
Allowing one of the double agents to claim to have stolen documents describing the invasion plans might have aroused suspicion. Instead, agents were allowed to report minutiae, such as insignia on soldiers’ uniforms and unit markings on vehicles. The observations in the south-central areas largely gave accurate information about the units located there. Reports from south-west England indicated few troop sightings, when in reality many units were housed there. Any military planner would know that to mount an invasion of Europe from England, Allied units had to be staged around the country, with those that would land first placed nearest to the invasion point. German intelligence used the agent reports to construct an order of battle for the Allied forces, that placed the center of gravity of the invasion force opposite Pas de Calais, the point on the French coast closest to England and therefore a likely invasion site. The deception was so effective that the Germans kept 15 divisions in reserve near Calais even after the invasion had begun, lest it prove to be a diversion from the main invasion at Calais. Early battle reports of insignia on Allied units only confirmed the information the double agents had sent, increasing the Germans’ trust in their network. Agent Garbo was informed in radio messages from Germany after the invasion that he had been awarded the Iron Cross.
Many of the German radar stations on the French coast were destroyed by the RAF in preparation for the landings. On the night before the invasion, in Operation Taxable, No. 617 Squadron RAF dropped strips of “window”, metal foil that caused a radar return mistakenly interpreted by German radar operators as a naval convoy. The illusion was bolstered by a group of small vessels towing barrage balloons. No. 218 Squadron RAF also dropped “window” near Boulogne-sur-Mer in Operation Glimmer. On the same night, a small group of Special Air Service (SAS) operators deployed dummy paratroopers over Le Havre and Isigny. These dummies led the Germans to believe an additional airborne assault had occurred.
While D-Day was an important element in turning the tide against the Axis powers it was not the only element by any means. The war on the Russian front was monumentally important, and the invasion of the Allies through Italy played a major role as well. In fact, my favorite D-Day song is actually not about D-Day at all, but about the Italy campaign. A rumor spread during the war that the term “D-Day Dodger” was used by Viscountess Astor, a Member of the British Parliament, after a disillusioned serviceman in Italy signed a letter to her as being from a “D-Day Dodger.” However, there is no record that she actually said this, in or out of Parliament, and she herself denied ever saying it.
A recipe from Normandy is obviously appropriate for today. I’ve given a few already, including tripes à la mode de Caen — https://www.bookofdaystales.com/battle-of-hastings/ — one of my all time favorites. Here’s one that is less well known outside of Normandy, but is a local favorite: tergoule. Teurgoule is a rice pudding that is popular at festivals and is an important family dish. It consists of rice cooked in milk, sweetened with sugar, and is flavored with cinnamon and sometimes nutmeg. It is baked in an earthenware terrine for several hours. Long cooking creates a characteristic thick, brown caramelized crust.
Teurgoule has a brotherhood, Confrérie des gastronomes de Teurgoule et de Fallue de Normandie, which is based in Houlgate and presides over the annual Teurgoule cooking competition. The presiding members wear the brotherhood’s ceremonial robe which is green and orange with a cape. The brotherhood keeps the official recipe. This is close to the official recipe (translated, of course). You know you won’t be able to replicate the dish in your own home, but you can make a decent effort.
2 liters of full fat milk
150 gm rice
180 gm white caster sugar
1 pinch of salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
Put the rice into an earthenware bowl with a 2 liter capacity.
Add in the caster sugar, salt and cinnamon and stir with a spatula.
Gently pour in the milk so that the rice stays at the bottom of the dish.
Put the dish in a preheated oven at 150°C for one hour and then lower the heat to 110°C for four hours.
The Teurgoule is ready when the dish is crusted over and the excess liquid has evaporated.