Part 39: Normandy and Patton’s fake army
From the accounts of Sergeant Marvin A. Palecek,
shared by his son, Glen Palecek
The D-Day invasions of Sicily, Anzio and Normandy all started out the same way — by trying to trick the Germans into thinking it would happen somewhere else. One of the amazing things about this war was that Hitler fell for these tricks time and time again. It was impossible to hide the fact any such invasion was coming — there was just too much involved and the Allies could not hide from the Germans the vast assembly of ships and men required. The only thing the Allies could do was to make Hitler believe it would happen somewhere other than where planned. Hitler’s generals were not so easily fooled and even warned Hitler that a probable site for the invasion was the Normandy coast. The fact Hitler ignored their foresight was critical to the Allied success.
Nowhere in this war was this trickery more extensive than before the D-Day invasion on the north coast of France at Normandy. Even Hollywood was involved. Hollywood artists and set designers had life-sized fake balloon-style blow-up tanks, trucks, and other vehicles made and set near the English coast directly across the English Channel from the French beach area of Pas de Calais and Dunkirk — far from the real invasion site at Normandy. (Pas de Calais was where the channel was the narrowest and Dunkirk was the place where the Germans had chased the English and French across from France to England at the beginning of the war.) These decoy tanks and vehicles had to be blown up at night because they squirmed wildly when inflated. Although one man could lift them, four men were usually used to move the large tanks, one on each corner.
The Hollywood set designers and artists also made fake planes and fake anti-aircraft guns. They played amplified recordings of war sounds and used flash canisters to simulate gunfire. Large barracks were set up and about 1,800 troops moved around a lot to simulate intense activity. They would move their location at night and change division shoulder patches so that they looked like they were from multiple divisions. Britain had a similar fake army, although not as elaborate as the American version.
To head up this fake army, the Americans needed a general that they did not plan to use in the real invasion at Normandy. The general they chose was George Patton. This created a problem at first. You may remember that Patton was relieved of his command in disgrace after the campaign in Sicily. Now, the Army had to build him up as much as they could and make the Germans believe he was the greatest general in all the Allied armies.
Patton’s role in all of this was very important. Hunters use wooden ducks to decoy in live ducks so they can shoot them. In this case, Patton was the wooden duck and he did an admiral job of sucking in the German eagle. He gave fiery, profanity-laden speeches as the highly visible commander of the First Army Group (FUSAG), which was made up of 45 fake divisions.
Other generals were brought in to visit the fake army. Fake plans complete with fake maps, and fake communications were leaked to the Germans about the fake invasion planned for the Pas de Calais beach area in France.
The ruse of Patton’s greatness worked so well that, even today, most Americans believe Patton was World War II’s greatest general. Today, books about Patton sell very well, but only if they gloss over his many misdeeds. CBS News made two documentaries telling the true dark side of Patton. Where are they today? After these documentaries were aired, CBS received numerous complaints and had much of the fake news propagated by the Army thrown back at them. All we see now are documentaries and the movie portraying how great Patton was. Fake news at its finest.
How many of you have ever heard of General Courtney Hodges? Most of you, I’m sure, have not. Yet, it was General Hodges, not Patton, who led the American First Army in the invasion of Normandy. Patton would not come back into the war until August 1, eight weeks after D-Day and the bloody battles, which happened during those days. This is the principle reason Hodge’s First Army suffered far more casualties than Patton’s much smaller Third Army. According to CBS reporter Andy Rooney, when Patton’s Third Army finally did enter the war, they went south and east, circling German strongpoints and avoiding major conflicts. More on that later when Patton’s misdeeds and false reports directly affected Dad.
All of the men who served under Patton will tell you of his nickname, “Old Blood and Guts.” Historians tell us this nickname came from a speech to other officers where Patton told them they would be “up to their necks in blood and guts.” All Patton soldiers I have ever met told me what the name really meant, “Our blood, his guts.” Surely, this definition fits him to a tee. Whenever I think of Patton, I think of the blood and guts of his men. Even many soldiers who served under Patton in France and Germany have been taken in by the false news about him. Not so those, like Dad, who served under Patton in Sicily before the fake news push.
The number of people faked out seems to have no bounds. Congressman Andrew May of Kentucky, who should have known better because he was chairman of the House Military Affairs Committee in 1944, stated on the floor of the House on August 1 of that year, “I have a hunch that ‘Old Blood and Guts’ is leading that steamroller offensive in Normandy and, if so, he’ll win it.” (Patton’s Third Army only entered the war on that very day.) The real leader of the Normandy offensive, General Hodges, must have been deeply insulted.
As I write this, it has been over 73 years since the end of World War II, and news people continue to spread the false greatness of the war’s most brutal American general. If anything, Patton’s false greatness is still growing. His misdeeds, like those of the infamous dual of Bonnie and Clyde, lie buried in books and historical records. Bonnie and Clyde were vicious murderers, and that is what they should be remembered for. To make them out as heroes is to promote a lie. The same is true for Patton. There is a saying in the news business, “When the truth conflicts with the legend, print the legend.” Just like with Bonnie and Clyde, the legend of General Patton sells. It’s really too bad that the movie, “Patton,” as well as the movies about Bonnie and Clyde, do not portray these characters as the monsters they really were. It’s true there is a hint of the bad side of Patton in the movie about him — but only a hint — nothing that shows how truly bad he really was.
In the next episode, I’ll tell you some unique and interesting things about the Normandy invasion before continuing on with the war from Dad’s point of view.