D-Day: How East Anglia helped fool Hitler

The D-Day landings in Normandy.

The D-Day landings in Normandy. - Credit: PA

East Anglia had a major role in throwing the Nazis off the scent in the months before D-Day, with fake wireless broadcasts, grass treated to make pretend tank-tracks and the New Forest turned into a fictional corner of Suffolk.

German intelligence officers were led to believe that an allied invasion would take the shortest route across the Channel and come through the Pas de Calais area.

It didn’t.

Operation Fortitude, as it was codenamed, tied up the Nazi forces by convincing their leaders that 150,000 troops were billeted in Suffolk, Essex and Kent, under the command of Lt General George Patton.

The Germans, sure he was the head of a force with its headquarters in Chelmsford or Bury St Edmunds, committed a large number of resources to the Calais area to counteract 256 imaginary divisions that never came.

Wireless trucks drove around East Anglia and Kent, making fake broadcasts that German eavesdroppers could hear. Grassland was sprayed with chemicals to look like tank-tracks.

Inflatable “aircraft” and tanks were put in fields, dummy landing craft floated in harbours, and false loading ramps laid so that German spy planes could photograph this “evidence” little by little and leap to the wrong conclusion.

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Waldringfield, near Woodbridge, in the spring of 1944 became a major manufacturing centre for dummy landing craft. Woolverstone Hall, on the bank of the River Orwell, near Ipswich, was commandeered by the Royal Navy’s combined services operation for the same purpose.

Five-ton fake craft, codenamed Bigbobs, were built by troops of the Worcestershire and Northamptonshire regiments.

Apparently, even the men who built them could not believe they were pretend! The craft were adorned with fake rust and sprayed with sump oil.

These dummies were moored on the Stour, Orwell and Deben – there to be photographed by Nazi reconnaissance aircraft and feed the fear that an invasion of France would come via the Calais area.

As D-Day approached, the British authorities had to repatriate a captured German general on medical grounds… but not before making him part of this cat-and-mouse game.

He was taken through the New Forest in Hampshire – which was teeming with soldiers, tanks and supplies of ammunition and equipment, ready for the Normandy invasion.

However, fake road-signs made him believe he was travelling to Harwich from Bury St Edmunds, via Stowmarket and Ipswich.

When he was later debriefed by the Nazi authorities, his story supported the fiction being fed to them by double-agents such as “Garbo” and another called Brutus.

Then, as the real invasion fleet headed for Normandy, eight planes led by Group Captain Leonard Cheshire dropped millions of strips of aluminium foil over the English Channel, between Dover and Calais.

To German radar operators, these appeared to be a huge invasion force steaming towards France – drawing attention away from the Normandy beaches further south.

The Nazis had 500,000 men – 59 military divisions – ready to repel an expected invasion of France. But only six divisions were in the Normandy area.

A dozen divisions were also committed to Norway to counter an expected attack from the 250,000-strong British Fourth Army they believed was waiting at Edinburgh Castle to invade Scandinavia.

East Anglia had a hand in the actual preparations for D-Day. Just before, Trinity House vessels sailed from Harwich and followed the Royal Navy’s minesweeping flotilla to mark a safe passage for the invasion fleet.

And on June 3, 1944, landing ships arrived at Felixstowe Dock Basin. Troops from Britain and Canada, along with the Royal Army Medical Corps and the crack armoured division known as the Desert Rats, used a specially-built ramp to get on board.

The Desert Rats had in May moved from Brandon, in west Suffolk, to Orwell Park School at Nacton, near Ipswich. Their 22nd Armoured Brigade lived in their tanks and under canvas on the 2,000 acres of parkland and carried out vital waterproofing work before moving on to Felixstowe.

The East Anglian coast became a restricted zone before D-Day, with the main Ipswich to Felixstowe highway and other roads closed to civilians. With the invasion delayed by the weather for 24 hours, ships carrying soldiers and tanks lay at anchor in the River Stour and tank landing craft sheltered in the River Orwell, near Woolverstone Hall.