Bodyguard of Lies

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Bodyguard of Lies
Bodyguard of Lies.png
Cover for the First Edition
Author Anthony Cave Brown
Country United States
Language English
Subject D-Day
Publisher Harper and Row
Publication date
1975
Media type Hardcover (2 volumes)
Pages 947
ISBN 978-1-59921-383-5

Bodyguard of Lies is a 1975 non-fiction book written by Anthony Cave Brown, his first major historical work. Named for a wartime quote of Winston Churchill, it is a narrative account of Allied military deception operations during the Second World War. The British and American governments resisted Brown's attempts to research the book. Many of the topics were still classified and he was denied access to British war records. The material in the book is predominantly based on oral testimony as well as some American records, declassified toward the end of Brown's research.

Critical reception has been mixed, but generally negative. Contemporary historians, such as Charles B. MacDonald, praised the work – although some did comment on its length. Modern reviewers have identified inconsistencies or errors in the material, based on later declassified records. Also, some of Brown's personal conclusions have been questioned.

Background[edit]

Scanned black and white printed document with handwritten notes
Memorandum on Bodyguard, dated February 1944

Bodyguard of Lies was Brown's first published book, following his career as a journalist in the United Kingdom and Australia.[1] The work narrates Allied deception strategy on the Western Front for the years of 1943 and 1944. It particularly focuses on Operation Bodyguard, both the operation and the book's title were inspired by one of Winston Churchill's war-time epigrams; "In war-time, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies."[2][3]

Brown began researching and writing Bodyguard of Lies in 1961.[4] Most of the material is based on oral testimony from Second World War intelligence personnel, as well as records from the National Archives and declassified American records (although Brown says that most of the book was written before he was able to access the latter, in 1974).[4] Brown wrote Bodyguard of Lies at a time when details of both cryptography and deception during the war were still classified. His attempts at research was resisted by the British and American governments; he was denied access to British war records and had to undertake considerable work to obtain US records via Freedom of Information requests.[1][5]

Synopsis[edit]

Black, capital letter I, within a grey pentagon, surrounded by a red pentagon
Insignia for the fictional FUSAG

Bodyguard of Lies opens with an introduction to Ultra, the codename for decrypted signals intelligence. It goes on to document the origins of the London Controlling Section (LCS) and the work of Dudley Clarke in the Middle East. In late 1942, Allied high command in London became aware of Clarke's successes during the North African Campaign. Based on his theories of deception, the LCS was created under Colonel John Bevan and granted broad powers to plan deception strategy. The introduction finishes with a discussion of how the Allies evolved deception strategy prior to 1943, including the Double-Cross System (the Allied system of double agents). The second section of the book introduces the German intelligence forces, in particular Admiral Canaris and his Abwehr intelligence agency. Brown discusses early deceptions, such as those surrounding Operation Torch, conducted against the Germans, and how the Abwehr struggled to decipher the information it was being fed.

The third section of the book covers Allied deceptions during 1943, in particular Operation Mincemeat. Brown introduces Plan Jael, the early revision of Operation Bodyguard, and follows Bevan's work in creating the deception plan.[1] The fourth section covers the events of early 1944, leading up to the Normandy landings on 6 June. In particular, Brown discusses Operation Fortitude and the fictional First US Army Group, a key part of Bodyguard, calling it "the greatest charade in history".[6] The final section of the book covers events on and after D-Day, including physical deceptions carried out on the night of the invasion, and the continued impact of Bodyguard in the months after the landings.

Critical reception[edit]

The book received mixed reviews; particularly with regards to Brown's focus on minutiae, which received both positive and negative comment. Later reviewers also criticised the factual basis of the work – describing it as containing "a multitude of errors of detail" – with some reviewers rejecting Brown's analysis.[1] One such error that Brown relates was a then-widely held theory that Churchill had known of German intentions to bomb Coventry in November 1940, but that the British leader had hidden the information to avoid giving up the secrets of Ultra (intercepted German communications). By 1976, declassified records showed that the intelligence was in fact more vague than popular myth had suggested.[7] Writing in 1996, reviewer Russell J. Bowen ascribes this to Brown's reliance on secondary sourcing and oral interviews (describing the book as an "outstanding example of scholarly investigative journalism applied to the field of oral military history").[1]

Hugh Trevor-Roper, writing for The New York Review of Books, was highly critical of the "encyclopedic" detail in Brown's writing: "He piles on the illustrative (or irrelevant) detail. He cannot leave anything out. Every person mentioned must have a potted biography. Every place must be equipped with atmosphere, furniture, associations."[8] Roper also criticised the material, writing that Brown had inserted "a novel thesis", that Allied deception during the war was controlled by MI6, "which, in my opinion, is quite wrong."[8]

Some critiques of the book have been positive. A 1976 New Scientist review praised the level of detail, saying that it "would ensure a large sale".[4] In a letter to the editor in reply, Deputy Chief Historian for the United States Army, Charles B. MacDonald, referred to the book as "the most important work on World War II in a quarter of a century."[5] Writing in Military Review, Alexander Cochran noted that the book was one of the first non-memoir accounts of intelligence operations during the war and was unusual (for its genre) in documenting sources. However, he went on to call the book "suggestive more than definitive".[9]

Russell J. Bowen concludes that although the writing and coverage were better than similar books then available, "Cave Brown's work fails to escape the common stigma of intelligence narratives: considerable inaccuracy as to detail and occasional lack of validity of interpretation."[1]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f Bowen (1996)
  2. ^ Saturday Review (1975)
  3. ^ Houston (1976)
  4. ^ a b c Low (1976)
  5. ^ a b MacDonald (1976)
  6. ^ LLoyd Jones (1984)
  7. ^ Stacey (1978)
  8. ^ a b Trevor-Roper (1976)
  9. ^ Cochran (1982)

Bibliography[edit]