FUSAG: Patton’s D-Day Army That Didn’t Exist


Inventing an Army

An inflatable "dummy" M4 Sherman.
An inflatable “dummy” M4 Sherman.

The biggest trick of all was the creation of FUSAG.

To ensure that Hitler was looking in the wrong direction, the Allies wanted to convince him that they planned to invade through the Straits of Dover, the narrowest point in the English Channel. It was a plan that made perfect sense, as it would make for an easy crossing and allow air and artillery support from south-east England. It made so much sense that it would be easy for Hitler to believe – as long as they sold it convincingly.

To make this imaginary invasion convincing, they needed an imaginary invasion force. The answer was FUSAG. Created in 1943 as a planning formation for the invasion, it was led by General Omar Bradley. Bradley and his staff transferred to the headquarters of the group, which in reality existed only on paper. In theory, FUSAG was based in Kent, the ideal place for an army preparing to embark across the Channel from Dover.

However, convincing Hitler would take more than just paperwork.

Dummy landing craft used as decoys in south-eastern harbours in the period before D-Day.
Dummy landing craft used as decoys in south-eastern harbours in the period before D-Day.

Proving a Point

The Allies went to extraordinary lengths to make the lie of FUSAG convincing. The set-building staff of film studios and theatres were hired and transported to Kent to build the army. Aside from barracks and tents, there were fake tanks and landing craft, all convincing enough to trick German intelligence officers looking at aerial reconnaissance photographs.

The existing technique of using radio signals came into use again, with radio traffic flooding the airwaves of Kent and drifting out across the Channel for the Germans to catch.

In the build-up to the invasion, General George S. Patton was put in charge of this fantasy force. Patton was renowned as an aggressive and effective commander, exactly the sort of soldier to lead an invading army. What the Germans did not realize was that putting him in an imaginary position, where his tactical skills would not be used, was no loss to the Americans.

Patton had been suspended from command for slapping soldiers exhausted from battle. His new post was a way of using the Germans’ fear of him without giving him any real responsibility.

General Patton: theoretical commander of an imaginary force
General Patton: Theatrical commander of an imaginary force.

Perhaps the most ingenious piece of misinformation was inadvertently supplied by a Panzer officer. This badly injured prisoner of war was being returned to Germany and thought he was travelling through Kent. There he saw the massive armed forces of FUSAG and was introduced to Patton. Once he got home, the Germans had eyewitness testimony supporting their other intelligence.

In fact, the prisoner of war had been diverted to Hampshire. The troops he saw were the D-Day armies preparing to embark for Normandy. Everything he witnessed was a ruse.

Hitler’s Response

Pas de Calais, Atlantikwall, anti tank obstacles
Pas de Calais, Atlantikwall, anti-tank obstacles. Photo Credit.

All the evidence confirmed Hitler’s belief that the invasion would come in the Pas de Calais, and so it was there that he prepared his strongest defenses. The beaches of Normandy, though far from undefended, would have been a far more challenging prospect without FUSAG.

Weeks after the D-Day landings, Hitler was still convinced that FUSAG was coming. As he waited for the other shoe to drop, he held back his Panzers east of the Seine and his fearsome Fifteenth Army in the Pas de Calais, ready to counter an attack that would never come, fearing the approach of an army that did not exist.

The imaginary soldiers of FUSAG had played their part in the war.