D + 44: July 20, 1944
"Make peace, you fools! What else can you do?" Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt bellowed to his army chiefs and slammed down the receiver.
This disloyal outburst by Adolf Hitler's commander in chief of many years fanned the paranoia of the Führer. It also unleashed a desperate, if futile, response from a rebellious hard core of senior staff officers of the German Wehrmacht who had lost confidence in Hitler and his Nazi henchmen.
What else could they do? Rundstedt asked. The answer was clear: assassinate the man who was destroying their Fatherland.
At 12:30 p.m. on July 20, 1944, Colonel Count Claus von Staffenberg entered the conference room at the Führer's headquarters, "Wolfschanze," in Rastenburg, East Prussia. The stern military stance of this Wehrmacht aristocrat gave no quarter to his disabilities: the patch on one eye, the sleeve neatly pinned over an amputated arm, the remaining hand with just three fingers.
Von Staffenberg formally greeted the Führer and took a seat nearby, carefully lowering his heavy briefcase to the floor under the solid wooden map table. Abruptly he left, explaining that he had to make a telephone call before presenting his brief. An officer by chance moved the case to the far side of the table from Hitler's seat. Moments later, an explosion rocked the room.
It was a near miss. Wehrmacht General Walter Warlimont described the map room as a "scene of stampede and destruction. There was nothing but wounded men groaning, the acrid smell of burning, and charred fragments of maps and papers fluttering in the wind." Although injured, Hitler survived and was able to address his Nazi supporters by radio within a few hours. He quickly squashed the uprising and executed hundreds of suspected perpetrators.
Hitler later had killed hundreds of people he suspected of plotting against him. The assassination attempt verified his conviction of untrustworthiness of the Wehrmacht. It verified, too, his certainty of his own destiny. Stand fast remained his orders to all divisions.
It would be the death knell for close to a hundred thousand German soldiers in the next four weeks.
Rundstedt's latest audacity gave Hitler the opportunity to fire the veteran army chief. He now took direct control of his western armies, appointing only loyal Nazi officers to all-important commands.
Many of Hitler's senior commanders also disagreed with their leader, but dared not defy him in case they, too, were accused of plotting against him. However, Rundstedt's replacement, sixty-one-year-old Field Marshal Günther Hans von Kluge, frankly warned Hitler that the tide of battle was turning against them.
"Der kluge Hans," or "Clever Hans," as he was, not always with admiration, nicknamed, quoted from the now-doomed Field Marshal Rommel's situation report (sitrep) of July 15: "We have lost 97,000 men, including 2,360 officers. We have received up till now 10,000 men as replacements."
As well, the newly appointed Commander in Chief West reminded Hitler that constant allied air strikes were crippling their rail lines, resulting in a severe loss of arms and equipment, especially radio equipment, artillery, cannon, and machine guns. "The enemy are daily providing new forces and masses of materials for the front; the enemy supply lines are not challenged by the Luftwaffe and enemy pressure is continually increasing. The German reserves are dwindling.
"The moment is fast approaching when this overtaxed front line is bound to break up," Kluge reported.
Hitler insisted that he would not, under any circumstances, consider withdrawal.
Fortunately for the Allies, the Führer continued to be convinced that Lieutenant General Bernard Montgomery was planning a massive attack 120 miles east of Caen at the Pas de Calais, with a fresh US army under Lieutenant General George Patton. This illusion of a further attack by the mythical Armée Gruppe Patton at the Pas de Calais continued to immobilize still more German divisions east of the River Seine. Hitler still stubbornly held the entire Fifteenth German Army in the northeast sector of France against such an attack.
But there was a mystery. Where was Patton? Was he still held in disgrace after his clash with his superiors in Sicily, the infamous slapping incident when he accused a soldier of malingering? Or was he, as the Wehrmacht spies insisted, waiting in the wings in Kent?
And when would Armée Gruppe Patton launch that main allied assault on the Pas de Calais?
Adolf Hitler would have been surprised to learn that on D-plus-44 the elusive Lieutenant General George Patton was sitting in a Normandy orchard in the warm July sunshine, munching an apple and venting his frustrations to his headquarters staff. "My destiny in this war," he grumbled, "is to sit here on my ass and watch the cider apples grow." The only response was the energetic tail-wagging of Patton's white English bull terrier, Willie, a canny pooch whose original owner had been shot down over Germany.
Patton had arrived secretly in France on July 6. For two weeks since, the irascible tank commander had been languishing at Nehou, a rural village in the interior of the Cotentin Peninsula. As he had only a paper army, a minuscule, tented Third Army headquarters, and no orders, his frustration grew and festered. It seemed that while everyone else was doing the fighting, taking center stage, George Patton was left waiting in the wings. It was not a role he accepted easily. At fifty-nine years of age, he was afraid a younger man would take over his command. Slightly tongue-in-cheek, Patton had offered the Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower (his West Point junior by six years) one thousand dollars for each week by which Ike would hasten his operational command.
In the winter months prior to D-Day, Ike had assigned command of the Third US Army to Patton. But the army could not become operational in Normandy until the First US Army achieved its breakout at Avranches, at the base of the Cherbourg Peninsula. Meanwhile, elements of Third US Army were gradually and surreptitiously being moved into Nehou. Patton had been unable to resist jumping the gun to make his unauthorized appearance there.
His impatience stemmed from the fact that by the third week of July he seemed not much closer to fulfilling his command. For six weeks the Americans and British had been mired in a desperate and costly battle of attrition while struggling to get through the twenty-mile-deep belt of swamp and hedgerow country: the bocage.
For Patton, the breakout of Third Army was tantalizingly close.
Eisenhower had issued a media ban concerning Patton for security purposes, so there was no general knowledge of his appointment as commander of the Third Army in Normandy. Press interviews and quotes were forbidden. This was particularly hard on a man who so relished publicity. The media loved Patton; he was invariably good copy. Eisenhower, who was his boss and close friend, said he had a "genius for explosive statements." In truth, he shot from the mouth with the same flair as he carried his famed ivory-handled pistols: indiscreetly and for effect.
Patton's impulsive "Top Secret" arrival on July 6 was a case in point: a crowd of soldiers cheering "Georgie!" met him, along with an inquisitive press, who had somehow deduced his plans. They pestered him with questions.
The performance was typical of the Patton paradox: he was feared by the troops yet adored by them; admired by his commanders and associates as a skilled tank strategist but in constant hot water with them. He was the most quoted of all the allied generals but, under an official press secrecy ban, was unquotable.
Eisenhower was unsure of his army commander. The entire world knew Patton was in disgrace, and very nearly fired, for slapping a shell-shocked soldier in a hospital ward in Sicily. How far, Eisenhower wondered, could he be trusted again?
All things considered, there never was a less suitable candidate to be the focus of a top secret conspiracy whose success depended almost entirely on Patton's prime shortcoming: discretion. Hatched by British intelligence as one of World War II's most elaborate deceptions, Operation Fortitude was launched.
Fortitude was the brainchild of XX (Twenty) Committee. In 1942, British intelligence became aware of reports being passed to Berlin, allegedly by a German agent in Portugal. The reports, full of inaccuracies and absurdities, intrigued the committee sufficiently that they tracked down the author, one Juan Pujol Garcia, a twenty-nine-year-old Spaniard of a good family. Garcia, it transpired, loathed the German regime and had been feeding German intelligence gross misinformation under the guise of serving as a German agent. His research resources were almost as ludicrous as the reports that stemmed from them: "a map of the United Kingdom, a Blue Guide [travel book] to England, a Portuguese study of the British Fleet and an Anglo-French dictionary of military terms."
Working from Lisbon, Garcia had for the previous ten months been concocting reports of troop movements of nonexistent British regiments, the sailing of imaginary convoys, and lurid details of drunken orgies of Glasgow dockworkers. XX Committee lost no time in recruiting this enterprising young Spaniard as a double agent and relocating him to Great Britain. "Garbo" was born.
The objective of XX Committee was not only to pass misinformation convincingly to the enemy, but also to persuade the Abwehr (German foreign and counterintelligence) to eventually act on it. This was the challenge the XX Committee faced in the months leading up to the 1944 invasion of France. It was pointless to cover up the fact that an assault was being planned; the massing of troops, tanks, and landing craft would make that obvious. Their intention, therefore, became one of deceiving the enemy as to the time, strength, and location of the attack.
As plans for the D-Day invasion took shape, it became apparent to the Allies that they would have enormous difficulties landing a small force on the open beaches of the Normandy coast against a large force of well-entrenched defenders. The Germans had to be convinced somehow that the main thrust of the D-Day landing would take place elsewhere-far enough down the coast that enemy divisions would be misdirected to a benign area. Thus would the strength of the German defenders against the actual invaders be reduced.
Enter "Garbo." Comfortably settled in England by his new employers, and cheerfully banking the generous Deutchmarks of his old ones, he set about convincing the Abwehr that a nonexistent First US Army Group (FUSAG) was massing in strength in Kent, in southeastern England. This army would form the main invasion force, striking at the Pas de Calais after General Montgomery's secondary 21st Army Group had established a lodgment farther west in France.
Described by the dean of British intelligence, Michael Howard, as "perhaps the most complex and successful deception operation in the entire history of the war," Fortitude established its credibility with the Abwehr through an intricate weave of lies and half-truths, laced with just enough facts to make the deception plausible. To command this mythical army group, the XX Committee made the inspired selection of Lieutenant General George Patton, who was deemed "temporarily unemployable" following his disgraceful loss of temper in Sicily. The committee relied on his notorious exhibitionism to attract attention to the force.
FUSAG had (notionally) two real armies under its command-the First Canadian Army and the Third US Army-with a feigned headquarters established in eastern England for this imaginary force of 150,000 men. To reinforce the fiction, a radio network was set up to handle their busy administrative and operational functions. XX Committee arranged that all of Montgomery's 21st Army Group signals to his armies in France, emanating from Portsmouth, be rerouted via Dover. The Royal Air Force (RAF) cooperated by flying twice as many air missions and dropping twice as many bombs over the Pas de Calais as it did over Normandy.
"Garbo" worked with extreme dedication for two years to establish the deception. He flooded German intelligence with manufactured data. Writing with secret ink, and hiding his communications under innocent messages written with real ink, he wrote no fewer than 315 letters, each averaging two thousand words, in the first year. Via shortwave radio, he sent five or six transmissions each day-twelve hundred in all-dedicated to persuading the Abwehr to divert some of their divisions to the Pas de Calais. He had built up an imaginary network of more than two dozen agents that fed him information from across Britain. His favorite invented team was "Donny, Dick and Derrick."
In the months leading up to D-Day, the XX Committee spared no effort to convince the German High Command of its "invasion plan." To his credit, Patton tried to go along with the scheme. He obediently spent some time at the bogus army headquarters in Kent, where, in fact, components of his Third Army divisions were being trained for a landing-but not for the contrived assault that Hitler determinedly believed would be laid on by Armée Gruppe Patton from Dover to the Pas de Calais, a mere twenty miles across the English Channel.
At 0300 hours on June 6, 1944-D-Day-"Garbo" sent an urgent dispatch to his control in Madrid that the invasion was imminent. The message, of course, was carefully timed to be just too late to have any value. There was no response from the Germans, and it wasn't until 0608 hours that he finally got through. Later that day "Garbo" complained, with mock indignation, to his German control about their lack of efficiency. "This makes me question your seriousness and sense of responsibility," he told them sternly. "I therefore demand a clarification immediately as to what has occurred." The next morning, after a "sleepless" night, he made contact again. "I am very disgusted as in this struggle for life and death I cannot accept excuses or negligence," he berated his unfortunate employers. "Were it not for my ideals and faith I would abandon this work as having proved myself a failure."
The German agent apologized profusely: "I wish to stress in the clearest terms that your work over the last few weeks has made it possible for our command to be completely forewarned and prepared."
Throughout the next few weeks, "Garbo" continued his extraordinary charade, and German intelligence continued to believe that an American army was at Dover, ready to launch a second invasion. By Hitler's direct order, the German Fifteenth Army-whose fifteen Panzer and infantry divisions were urgently needed by his armies fighting for their lives on the Normandy beaches-was still positioned north of the River Seine, awaiting an invasion that would never come. Even Rommel, the astute field marshal, "expected a second landing on both sides of the [Seine] river." An extract from his weekly report read: "In England, another 67 formations are standing to, of which 57 at the very least can be employed for a large-scale operation."
Excerpted from Normandy by Shelagh Whitaker, Denis Whitaker, with Terry Copp. Copyright © 2004 by Shelagh Whitaker, Denis Whitaker, with Terry Copp. Excerpted by permission of Presidio Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.