Continuing our series on D-Day and Operation Overlord in June 1944, Mark relives his visit to Normandy with WWII Veteran, Mort Sheffloe. They discuss Mort’s experiences in Normandy and Brittany in 1944 while walking on Omaha and Utah Beaches and visiting various cafés. Mort describes the actions as well as his near fatal wounding by a German sniper’s bullet.
In continuing our study of D-Day for this 75th Anniversary Year, Mark talks about the invasion airborne operations. He and guest historian, Marty Morgan, discuss some of the actions and details of the paratroopers, including “the greatest feat of flying in the Second World War.”
Photo: General Dwight D. Eisenhower speaking with First lieutenant Wallace C. Strobel and men of Company E, 2nd Battalion, 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment on June 5, 1944. The placard around Strobel’s neck indicates he is the jumpmaster for chalk 23 of the 438th TCG. Strobel’s battalion was the first to drop into Normandy.
Mark discusses the intricate deception plans that the Allies employed to confuse Nazi Germany about the location of the D-Day invasion. Will it be Pas de Calais as Hitler declares so convincingly? Or even Norway? Eisenhower is sure of one thing: it must succeed. There is no Plan B.
In this episode, Mark dives into Operation Fortitude, the grand plan to fool Hitler into thinking the invasion would come somewhere other than Normandy. Eisenhower had to resolve four major issues for the D-Day invasion: where, when and how to launch and the need for a deception plan to ensure that the Germans would be surprised.
Eisenhower and his staff were to resolve four major issues for the D-Day invasion: where, when and how to launch and the need for a deception plan to ensure that the Germans would be surprised. This necessity hatched the plan for “Operation Fortitude.” It was a grand plan to fool Hitler into thinking the invasion would come somewhere other than Normandy. Fortitude North led the Nazis to believe the Allies were preparing to invade Norway. Its counterpart, Fortitude South, directed their attention to the Pas-de-Calais in France near Dunkerque and the Belgian border.
In the northern operation, a team of two dozen British officers went to the the upper reaches of Scotland and began filling the airwaves with fictitious radio messages. These fake transmissions duplicated the traffic that would simulate the build-up of an actual army preparing for a Nordic invasion. Requests for crampons used for ice climbing, ski bindings, instruction manuals for engine maintenance in extremely cold weather, wooden warplanes on Scottish airfields and fake tanks that accompanied dummy divisions pointed to Norway as the Allied target. It was enough for Hitler to keep 13 Wehrmacht divisions and 150,000 Luftwaffe and Navy personnel in that country—not defending the Atlantic Wall in Normandy.
Fortitude South was just as confounding. In addition to phony radio traffic, dummy landing craft floated in southern England ports while inflatable and papier-maché tanks dotted the fields. Movie industry stagehands built a bogus fuel depot at Dover and spies reported heavy troop activity there. All this suggested the invasion target was Calais. Perhaps the piece-de-resistance of the southern operation was the use of Lt. General George S. Patton as a decoy. The Germans thought of him as the Allies’ best general and were certain he would lead the invasion. He commanded the First U.S. Army Group composed of actual and fictitious units: the Third Army was still stateside, the British Fourth Army was fictitious and 50 more imaginary divisions were about to leave America to land at the Pas-de-Calais to support the invasion.
The Deception Plan
While some of these divisions did exist, the deception plan caused the Germans to believe that 89 Allied divisions were at the ready with enough landing craft to send 20 in the first wave of the attack. In reality they might be able to send six divisions. Eisenhower was gravely concerned about the shortage of landing craft and equally adamant about keeping the coastal areas of England secure. The success of the invasion was paramount; there was no Plan B.
Mark begins his series of podcasts dedicated to the 75th Anniversary of D-Day, discussing Operation Overlord, the planning of the D-Day invasion. He includes excerpts from WWII lectures that historian Stephen E. Ambrose gave at the University of New Orleans, covering the preparation the Allies made for Operation Overlord. By December of 1943 the United States and Great Britain agreed that they were going to open a front in northern Europe with an invasion of France.
Choosing the Supreme Allied Commander
When British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt met with Josef Stalin in Tehran that November, the Soviet leader expressed his anxiety and asked them who is going to command the invasion? When they replied that they had not yet chosen, he didn’t take them seriously. “If you don’t have a commander, you don’t have an invasion.” However, they were planning and the first obstacle was to pick the commander.
Roosevelt wanted General George C. Marshall or else his distinguished career may be forgotten and the President felt he deserved a field command. Dr. Ambrose used the analogy that “everyone remembers U.S. Grant, but how many today revere his chief of staff?”*
However, as chief of staff, that would mean moving him from Washington, D.C. to London and it would actually position him as a subordinate to General Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower, who would take over as chief in Washington. It would create a situation that would be diplomatically untenable. Roosevelt asked Marshall directly who the commander should be and Marshall said, “That’s not my decision to make.”
General Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower
Ultimately the choice was General Eisenhower and Roosevelt even had Marshall pen the message to transmit to Stalin (Marshall actually saved the original handwritten note to give to Eisenhower as a souvenir). With the choice made, in January 1944, “Ike,” who had the perfect temperament to deal with the major Allied players, arrived in London to take over as Supreme Allied Commander.
Eisenhower and his staff were to resolve four major issues: first, where to stage the attack? Second, how do we keep the Operation a surprise? Third, when do we launch the invasion? And finally, the Allies had to devise a deception plan to ensure that the Germans are surprised.
Eisenhower and the other British and American officers at the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) accomplished these tasks. How they got it done is the subject we study in depth on the Operation Overlord and D-Day to the Rhine Tours.
*Lincoln’s Chief of Staff was Henry W. Halleck. Dr. Ambrose did his doctoral dissertation on Halleck and subsequently turned it into his first book, Halleck: Lincoln’s Chief of Staff (1962).
Mark’s guest is Steve Bourque, whose new book: Beyond the Beach: The Allied War Against France takes on a subject often ignored in historical accounts.
Bourque explores the effects of Allied air attacks on French towns and infrastructure in 1944 as part of the D-Day Invasion and war with Nazi Germany. In discussing the book, they examine the different operations, the destruction of military and civilian targets and casualties as well as the results and aftermath of the bombings.
About Steve Bourque
Stephen A. Bourque is Professor Emeritus of military history at the School of Advanced Military Studies, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He left the US Army in 1992 after twenty years enlisted and commissioned service, with duty stations in the U.S., Germany, and the Middle East. Dr. Bourque has taught at several colleges and universities including Georgia State University, Kennesaw State University, California State University-Northridge, the University of Kansas, and the Command and General Staff College.
His publications including Jayhawk! The VII Corps in the 1991 Persian Gulf War (2002), The Road to Safwan (2007), and Soldiers’ Lives: The Post-Cold War Era (2008) and, most recently book Beyond the Beach, the Allied War Against France (2018). Currently, he is writing a history of the Northwest Europe Campaign as experienced by a senior officer who began the war as a corps chief of staff and ended it as an infantry regimental commander.
As a commemoration of the 74th Anniversary of the D-Day Invasion, Mark continues with a discussion of Operation Overlord in June 1944, especially the Omaha Beach landings and actions at Vierville Draw on D-Day.
As a commemoration of the 74th Anniversary of the D-Day Invasion, Mark discusses Operation Overlord, the planning of the D-Day invasion, and the deception operations. This podcast includes excerpts from Dr. Stephen Ambrose’s lectures on WWII.
You will also want to listen to my two-part interview with D-Day veteran, Mort Sheffloe (July 12 and 26, 2017 episodes). Last year, Mort traveled with me on a tour and we discussed his WWII experiences in Normandy and Brittany in 1944. Some of the interviews took place while walking the sands of Utah and Omaha Beaches and at nearby cafes.