Fortitude: The D-Day Deception Campaign, by Roger Hesketh
Fortitude is not just the title of this book—it’s also the quality required to make it to the last pages. Let me be brief.
(I know. Well, there’s a first time for everything. All right, almost everything.)
Operation Fortitude was the deception campaign conducted by the Allied forces in order to successfully hide the date and location of the D-Day invasion. The main idea was to convince the Germans that the landing would occur at Calais rather than Normandy, and even after the Normandy invasion began, to continue to believe that this was only a small distraction before a main operation at Calais.
The deceptions included: physical deceptions such as dummy aircraft and equipment set up in various places in the UK in order to give the idea that there was a bigger force than there really was; controlled leaks of information through diplomatic channels; leaks through wireless messages; and double cross agents, that is, agents the Germans believed were spying for them, but had really been turned and were working for the Allies.
The most successful of these by far was the group of double-cross agents, which included the fabled GARBO, actually a Spaniard named Juan Pujol. How good was GARBO? The Germans awarded him the Iron Cross because they were so grateful for his work. This is one of the all-time great spy stories, and deserves its own time so I won’t go into it here.
Roger Hesketh was actually involved in the British intelligence team that put together Operation Fortitude and should be applauded for that. As a writer, well, let’s just say that he was a wonderful bureaucrat. The manuscript behind this book was actually written by Hesketh soon after the war’s end as an internal report for the government. It reads like a government report. As folder and file and in-box material, it probably was better than say, the fluctuations in the price of nails over a ten year period, but as reading for your average girl who’s out for a nifty spy yarn, it’s tough sledding.
(Just heard a Yankee broadcaster say D-Backs starter Livan Hernandez is 32 years old. Oh good. And you're all invited to my Sweet Sixteen party.)
Most of the book consists of things like, “So the 54th armed division was absorbed into the 4th Army regiment which itself was created from the remnants of the 80th, 74th, and 37th.” This type of statement is typically followed by an organization chart. If you like org charts, this book is for you. If you’re not a fan of early Power Point displays, this type of thing will probably not capture your attention. The best parts of the books deal with the double-cross agents and the most dynamic bits of writing are the excerpts from GARBO’s letters and wireless messages. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough of these. Good old GARBO. Where are you when we need you?
All right, so we’ve established that this isn’t a great book for someone who is looking for exciting behind the scenes tales of derring-do, near calamities, and fabulous escapes. But even if you’re a hard-core militarist and one who is easily enthralled by organization charts, there still are some problems with the, shall we say, design of this book. What I mean is I HATE THE FOOTNOTES.
In my humble opinion (since Hesketh’s book is so heavy on acronyms and does not include an acronym glossary, I will spare you clever internet acronyms such as IMHO. Plus let’s face it, I can type damn fast.), footnotes should be things that you need to see on the page in order to follow what’s going on. Translations of phrases, a note about who someone is, a reference to another page where this topic is discussed. Listing the date, time and code number of wireless messages is not necessary info that you need to see on the page as you’re reading. Yet Hesketh and his editors litter every page with footnotes covering this info. Your eye is constantly drawn away from the text, down to the bottom of the page where you then discover you’re looking at something you don’t need to know. I mean, yes, it’s good to know this is all so very authentic, but this is end note material.
Another of my biggest pet peeves in nonfiction is the huuuuge footnote. On more than one occasion in this book, a footnote covers the bottom third of one page then runs onto the bottom half of the facing page. Okay, I will say this again: if the footnote is that long, it probably belongs in the text. I can’t even tell you how irritating this is. Well, I can tell you, and I will. This is very irritating.
So that’s all I’ll say. No doubt this book is an admirable research tool if you’re writing a paper, or perhaps your own book. It contains valuable information. But if you’re looking for something to read, I don’t recommend this account of what is in reality one of the most fascinating chapters in espionage history. And if I find a better one, I’ll tell you all about it, I promise.