Fortitude North: the story of the fictional Scottish army that tricked the Nazis before D-Day

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Do you know about Fortitude North?

Deceiving the army responsible for one of the darkest periods in human history is no easy feat.

Soldiers standing on ship decks indicate that German resistance has ceased (Photo: Shutterstock)

Soldiers standing on ship decks indicate that German resistance has ceased (Photo: Shutterstock)

But Fortitude North is the story of how one fictional Scottish army played a major role in doing just that.

Operation Bodyguard

An attack the scale of D-Day does not get planned overnight: planning for D-Day began a year earlier, in 1943 and in the months preceding the invasion, a plan was formulated called Operation Bodyguard.

Operation Bodyguard was the codename for the large scale deception conducted by the Allied Nations prior to D-Day. The aim of Operation Bodyguard was to mislead the German forces regarding the time and place of the invasion.

Edinburgh Castle acted as the base for the fictional army (Photo: Shutterstock)

Edinburgh Castle acted as the base for the fictional army (Photo: Shutterstock)

At its core, it was to make Germany believe that the invasion would occur in Pas de Calais, rather than Normandy. This would be logical as Pas de Calais is the closest part of France to England.

The plan was to delay German reinforcements from reaching Normandy - where the actual invasion was to take place - and instead force them to deploy more soldiers in Pas de Calais.

But Operation Bodyguard also pulled together other plans to fool the Nazis.

Operation Fortitude

Operation Bodyguard created a sub-operation called Fortitude, which was split into two factions - Fortitude North and Fortitude South. Both of the Fortitude plans created fictional field armies which were based in Edinburgh and the South of England, respectively.

Where Fortitude South’s fictional army targeted Pas de Calais, Fortitude North was designed to make the Nazi command believe an invasion of Nazi-occupied Norway was coming.

The Fortitude misinformation campaign also tried to convince the Germans, post-D-Day, that the Normandy landings were a diversion and that more attacks in other locations were imminent, therefore forcing the Axis armies to hold off deploying reinforcements to Normandy.

Using a variety of techniques, one of the bigger undertakings required of the operations was to make the Allied forces in Britain appear much larger than they were, allowing them to realistically threaten invasions of multiple locations at the same time.

Fortitude North

Fortitude North, specifically, was designed to make the Germans think that an invasion of Norway was in the works. By taking aim at the weakened Norwegian defences, the Allies hoped that this would delay reinforcements being placed in France.

Fortitude North sought to convince the Germans that a fictional army was taking up base at Edinburgh Castle. This was coupled with double agents reporting the arrival of troops to German intelligence.

The British media was also brought in on the action, with the BBC broadcasting false information, such as football scores and wedding announcements for troops based in an Edinburgh headquarters that didn’t exist.

British diplomats undertook negotiations with the neutral Sweden, which, if a Norway invasion was actually happening, would have been beneficial for the Allies. This all added to the illusion that an attack on German forces in Norway was coming in the near future.

Furthering the realism of the fictional Norway attack, British forces even carried out missions in 1944 that would have occurred leading up to a real invasion in the country, which included destroying military transport and power infrastructures in Norway.

While diplomats and the British media were in on the deception, the top-secret nature of the operation meant that many ordinary enlisted men and women involved in the operation were not.

One such serviceman, Sapper Bob Crompton of the Royal Engineers, told the BBC WW2 People’s War project of an exercise that he later discovered was part of Fortitude North.

“One incident in 1944 was an order to pack up all our tools & equipment, load the Bailey Bridges onto trucks and head up to Scotland.

“We travelled through all the major towns from Kent in the South East through to the Midlands to Yorkshire and onto the North East. We were photographed by German aircraft on our way up to Scotland.

“During the night fresh drivers drove us down the lonely coastal routes and avoiding the towns and build up areas taking all the bridging equipment back to Kent, where we started! We were not observed by any German aircraft on our return journey. We repeated the same journey a few days later, attracting a lot of attention and returned back the same way!”

A successful enterprise

By late spring of 1944, Hitler had 13 army divisions in Norway. As an entire operation, Operation Bodyguard succeeded in creating an environment in which the Normandy Landings could take the Germans by surprise.

Combining the idea that the attacks were going to occur elsewhere with the notion that the Normandy Landings themselves were merely a diversion, meant that Axis defence was spread thin in Western Europe and that commanders held off sending reinforcements once the Normandy Landings got underway.