Combat veteran Mort Sheffloe continues his discussion with Mark about Mort’s WWII experiences in Normandy and Brittany in 1944. Mort talks about Operation Cobra and being shot by a German sniper near Brest. He talks about his near fatal wounding, medical evacuation and recuperation. This is Part II of a two-part episode, and completes our series on D-Day and Operation Overlord in June 1944.
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.
On this 75th Anniversary of the D-Day, we continue with the discussion about launching the invasion and the beach landings on that day. Mark speaks with historian Marty Morgan and they give special attention to the Americans storming the formidable German positions at Omaha Beach and the fierce struggle that took place there.
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 continues his discussion with Rick Beyer about the 23rd HQ Special Troops, aka the Ghost Army, and the series of deception operations that took place once we had American troops on the ground in Europe. As an author and filmmaker Rick gives an excellent portrayal of the vital and technologically amazing work this unit produced in WWII. Wizardry is a more than apt term for it and one need not wonder why the U.S. Army kept it under wraps for so long.
A story about the Ghost Army by correspondent Kelly Cobiella ran on NBC Nightly News Sunday, April 28, 2019. The piece featured veterans Bernie Bluestein and Gil Seltzer, as well as video from the area along the Rhine River where Operation Viersen took place.
This week, I return to an interview I did with historian Rick Beyer, who co-wrote, The Ghost Army of World War II, and produced and directed an award-winning PBS documentary, The Ghost Army. It was just announced that Ben Affleck will direct and star in a Ghost Army movie based on Rick’s book and documentary. The book follows a group of young GIs, including fashion designer Bill Blass, painter Ellsworth Kelly, artist Arthur Singer, photographer Art Kane, and others, who conduct a secret mission. Their job was to create a traveling road show of deception, armed with inflatable tanks and sound-effects records.
The film will tell the true story of this squadron of recruits from art schools, ad agencies and other creative businesses who were tasked with fooling the Nazis into thinking the U.S. had larger troop numbers than it actually did.
The Ghost Army was a little-known operation, and it was extremely secretive. Not even the soldiers, in close proximity on the front lines, knew anything about what the men of the 23rd were doing. They conducted twenty-one different deception operations as, with “stagecraft and sleight of hand.” Everything they did was top secret—certainly during and for decades after the war. Their operations called for creative imagination, and often artistic interpretation that worked in concert with the brute military force enacted by the armed units. The Allies absolutely needed military force, and success in the field of battle. The Ghost Army helped our advancing forces be successful.
To put it succinctly, “miltary deception is much like a successful magic trick. It is about fooling people into believing that something is happening that isn’t.”
This is the first of a two-part interview. In part two, as a writer and producer, Rick provides an excellent portrayal of the vital and technologically amazing work this unit produced in WWII. It sometimes bordered on WIZARDRY, and there is little wonder why the U.S. Army kept it secret for a long time after the war.
Travel with Rick Beyer on the Ghost Army Tour
Rick Beyer leads our sponsor, Stephen Ambrose Historical Tour’s Ghost Army of WWII: Secret War Tour. This is a special edition of their popular D-Day to the Rhine Tour. As you follow the path of the American boys who liberated Europe, you will also discover the top-secret story of the deception troops known as “the Ghost Army” who made their own important contribution to ultimate victory.
This “traveling road show of deception” used inflatable tanks, sound effects and illusion to fool the Germans more than 20 times from Normandy to the Rhine. Their very existence was a military secret until the 1990s, and a U.S. Army analysis categorized their exploits this way: “Rarely, if ever, has there been a group of such a few men which had so great an influence on the outcome of a major military campaign.”
The itinerary includes key sites in Great Britain, a channel crossing, the Normandy Beaches, the besieged city of Bastogne and much more.
Renown graphic novelist, Garth Ennis, visits with Mark to discuss his new book, The Night Witches, about the young women who flew night bombing raids for the Red Army in WWII. As the German army smashes deep in to the Soviet Union and the Red Army retreats in disarray, teenager Anna Kharkhova quickly grows into a hardened combat veteran flying obsolete bi-planes. As death and destruction grows exponentially, she deals not only with the Nazi enemy, but the terrifying threat of her country’s secret police.
Mark returns to the Cold War in this interview with Admiral Thomas Brooks about his co-written book, Admiral Gorshkov: The Man Who Challenged the U.S. Navy. They discuss the man who led the Soviet Union Navy for 30 years. He survived Stalin’s purges, fought the Nazis in WWII and engaged the American Navy in a tactical chess match until his retirement in 1985.
NOTE: In our discussion, Admiral Brooks makes reference to the naval officer, strategist and teacher, “Mahan.” Alfred Thayer Mahan (right) was perhaps the most influential Naval theorist of the 19th and early 20th centuries. In his published lectures, The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660–1783, he argued for the paramount importance of sea power in national historical supremacy.