Operation Quicksilver (deception plan)
|Part of Operation Bodyguard / Operation Fortitude|
|Operational scope||Strategic Deception|
South East England
|Planned by||London Controlling Section, Ops (B), R Force|
|Target||Pas de Calais|
|Outcome||Credited with contributing to the strategic success of D-Day landings, as part of the overall Bodyguard plan.|
Operation Quicksilver was a military deception operation performed during the Second World War. Undertaken by the Allies in 1944, the operation threatened an invasion of France in the Pas de Calais region through the simulation of a large Field Army in South East England. Quicksilver formed part of the Operation Fortitude deception, itself part of the strategic Operation Bodyguard plan. The key element of Quicksilver was to convince the German that "First United States Army Group" (FUSAG) commanded by General George Patton would land in the Pas-de-Calais for the major invasion of Europe, after the landings in Normandy had lured the German defenders to that front. (FUSAG was a genuine army group headquarters which later became Omar Bradley's 12th Army Group, but was given a fictitious role and many non-existent divisions for purposes of deception.)
Juan Pujol García, known by the British code name Garbo and the German code name Arabel, was a double agent loyal to the Allies who played a crucial role in the deception by supplying Germany with detailed information from a network of non-existent sub-agents supporting the idea that the main invasion was to be in the Pas-de-Calais.
Quicksilver was a World War II deception operation conducted by the Allied Nations. It formed part of Operation Bodyguard, a broad strategic military deception intended to support the Allied invasion of German-occupied France in July 1944. Bodyguard was designed to confuse the Axis high command as to Allied intentions during the lead-up to the invasion. Operation Fortitude South was a sub-plan which called for the fabrication of a non-existent field army in South East England, with the aim of threatening an invasion in the Pas de Calais region of France.
Fortitude had evolved from plans submitted by Noel Wild, head of Ops (B), and John Bevan, from the London Controlling Section in late 1943. Early revisions in January 1944 suggested a fictional build up of troops in southern England with the hope of drawing German attention to the Calais region. Colonel David Strangeways, head of Montgomery's R Force deception staff, was unimpressed with the approach. He had worked under Dudley Clarke in Cairo during the early war. There he had learned Clarke's maxim that deception relied on getting the enemy to do something, not just think something. Strangeways was widely critical of the original plan and eventually re-wrote the Fortitude deception with a focus on creating a realistic threat to the Calais region. Quicksilver was Strangeways implementation plan for Fortitude South, it consisted of six sections focused on the creation of the First United States Army Group (FUSAG).
The Allied story for FUSAG was that the army group, based in south-east England, would invade the Pas de Calais region several weeks after a smaller diversionary landing in Normandy. The order of battle for the army was intended to represent, to the German viewpoint, the bulk of Allied forces in England. Quicksilver was the code name for a number of physical deceptions to support the fabrication of FUSAG, including wireless deception, troop movements and bombing campaigns.
Quicksilver was subdivided into six subplans numbered I through VI:
- Quicksilver I was the basic "story" for Fortitude: the First United States Army Group, based in the southeast of England, was to land in Pas-de-Calais after German reserves were committed to Normandy.
- Quicksilver II was the radio deception plan of Quicksilver, involving the apparent movement of units from their true locations to southeastern England.
- Quicksilver III was the display of dummy landing craft, including associated simulated wireless traffic and signing of roads and special areas. The landing craft, built from wood and canvas and nicknamed Bigbob's, suffered from being too light. Wind and rain flipped many over or ran them to ground.
- Quicksilver IV was the air plan for Quicksilver, including bombing of the Pas-de-Calais beach area and tactical railway bombing immediately before D-Day.
- Quicksilver V was increased activity around Dover (giving impression of extra tunneling, additional wireless stations), to suggest embarkation preparations.
- Quicksilver VI was night lighting to simulate activity at night where dummy landing craft were situated.
The operation was carried out by means of false radio signals purporting to show units massing in southeastern England, together with false reports to German intelligence by double agents provided by the Double Cross System. Allowing one of the double agents to claim to have stolen documents describing the closely guarded 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: the actual invasion forces. Reports from southwest England indicated few troop sightings, when in reality many units were housed there. Reports from the southeast depicted the real and the notional Quicksilver forces. Any military planner would know that to mount a massive invasion of Europe from England, Allied units had to be staged around the country, with those that would land first 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 reserve divisions near Calais even after the invasion had begun at Normandy, lest it prove to be a diversion from the "real" invasion at Calais.
The deception was also assisted by very high German assessments of Allied capabilities; in an appreciation of 8 May von Rundstedt said:
- Observed tonnage of landing shipping could be taken as sufficient for 12 or 13 divisions (less heavy equipment and rear elements) for fairly short sea routes. In all (estimating the capacity of the other English ports not so far covered by visual and photo recce) probable employment of at least 20 and probably more divisions in first wave must be expected. To these must be added strong air-landing forces.
Contrary to a widespread misconception, the FUSAG deception was not primarily implemented with dummy tanks, airplanes, or other dummy equipment, since at that stage of the war the Germans were unable to fly reconnaissance planes over England and such effort would have been wasted. Dummy landing craft were stationed at ports in eastern and southeastern England where they might be observed by the Germans. (The Allies did possess extensive dummy equipment, which was used in North Africa and later in continental Europe.)
- Latimer (2001), pp. 218–232
- Holt (2004), pg. 531
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- Kenyon 2019, p. 170.
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