Scotland, Wartime Spies & Operation FORTITUDE NORTH
As the D-Day 75 commemorations commence, I explore the less written about Operation FORTITUDE NORTH, an important part of the Allied deception scheme.
Operation Fortitude was the biggest and most ambitious of the Allies’ deception plans. In 1944, it formed an integral part of the disinformation campaign against Germany, codenamed BODYGUARD after Winston Churchill uttered the now famous statement to Josef Stalin at the Tehran Conference on 30 November 1943: In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies. The sub-operation FORTITUDE was divided into two parts: FORTITUDE NORTH and FORTITUDE SOUTH. Both were designed to divert the attention of the enemy away from Normandy, fooling the Germans into thinking the D-Day landings would take place elsewhere.
The main objective of FORTITUDE NORTH was to convince the Germans that the Allies would launch an invasion of Norway from the nearest part of Britain: Scotland. With German defences particularly weak on the Scandinavian front, the Allies anticipated that this would encourage the German Army to send reinforcements north, taking a significant amount of its manpower away from the all-important defence of the northern coasts of France. Norway was also of strategic importance to the Nazi war machine, as Hitler needed to secure the vital supply route of Swedish iron to Germany. To help convince the enemy of this misdirection, the British media fed fake news via radio and newspaper providing coverage of non-existent British troops, the British Fourth Army, who were supposedly stationed in Scotland awaiting orders to depart for Norway. This radio deception component of FORTITUDE NORTH, codenamed Operation SKYE, helped ensure an endless stream of wireless communications between the notional British Fourth Army headquarters located at Edinburgh Castle and its fictional army units of 350,000 men assembled in Scotland. Overseen by Colonel Rory MacLeod, SKYE was fully operational by the beginning of April 1944.
However, for the deception plan to fully work there had to be an element of realism. Early 1944, simulating preparations for the arrival of a large invasion force, British Special Forces carried out various sabotage missions in Norway, destroying all-important military transportation and shipping hubs. The British navy increased its activity in the northern sea, whilst British and American politicians initiated a series of diplomatic deceptions in an attempt to bring neutral Sweden into the war.
By the first week of April 1944, the air over Scotland was alive with secret messages purporting to dummy troop movements and military training, and actual visits by the Royal family. The enemy, wise to this allied deception trick, sought corroborating evidence from its agents. In fact, the overall success of this secret wartime operation relied on planting false information with known double agents MUTT and JEFF.
As agents of the Double Cross System, they had initially been recruited as German agents who, after reaching Britain, had turned themselves over to the authorities. The Double Cross System was a wartime anti-espionage operation established by the British Security Services (MI5). Overseen by the Twenty Committee, it was chaired by John Cecil Masterman. Interestingly, the German High Command was completely reliant on the information supplied by its double agents in Scotland as its strategic location made enemy aerial reconnaissance virtually impossible. Exploiting Hitler’s fear of an invasion of Norway, MUTT and JEFF (so-called after cartoon characters of the same names) reported information that confirmed radio intercepts originating from the ‘dummy’ British Fourth Army. Read by Hitler himself, their intelligence reports, alongside those of double agent BRUTUS, contributed significantly to the overall success of FORTITUDE NORTH.
At the beginning of April 1941, after travelling from Stavanger by seaplane, two Norwegians John Moe (MUTT) and Tor Glad (JEFF) landed by rubber boat on the Moray Firth, on the west coast of Scotland. They immediately confessed to being German spies and turned themselves over to the local police. Interrogated and ‘turned’ by MI5, they continued with their German sabotage mission, which served as perfect cover for their role in radio deception.
In order to carry out their fake sabotage operations, a number of German parachute drops, codenamed HAGGIS, OATMEAL and PORRIDGE were organised to supply them with the necessary equipment. However, operation PORRIDGE had dire consequences for the people of Scotland. On the evening of 19 February 1943, the Germans dropped a package in the area of Loch Strathberg. The package contained wireless transmission supplies, a crossword book for coding messages and £200 in green £1 notes. The German plane continued onto Fraserburgh, where minutes later, bombs could be heard falling. Several were wounded but Laurence McKay Kerr, an 11-year old boy was killed. This weighed heavily on the conscience of John Moe (MUTT) who, in 1981, after revealing his wartime spying activities and attending a reunion of wartime MI5 friends, made a nostalgic visit to Fraserburgh to commemorate the young boy who died because of his double cross activities. For the most part, the clandestine wartime work of agents such as MUTT and JEFF was successful. They were joined in their Scottish endeavours by double agent BRUTUS, a Polish staff officer by the name of Roman Czerniawski, whose diligent reports had confirmed the location of the Fourth Army headquarters at Edinburgh as well as large bodies of troops in Stirling and Dundee. His reports had also indicated that an attack on Norway would take place sometime in May 1944.
Was Operation FORTITUDE NORTH successful?
When the Allies invaded Normandy on 6 June 1944, operation FORTITUDE NORTH ensured that the quarter of a million men stationed in Norway were of no use to the Germans in northern France. Contrary to the advice issued by the German High Command, Hitler had chosen to reinforce his Norwegian garrisons. Through the clandestine activities of Britain’s wartime double agents in Scotland, Allied intelligence had successfully fed the Führer’s Scandinavian obsession, ensuring the success of operation OVERLORD, which ultimately, saved thousands of Allied lives and helped end the war in May 1945.