Phantom divisions of the U.S. Army helped on D-Day

PHANTOM - This picture, vintage 1946, shows Hal Lowe, former Cherry Valley resident and former reporter for the Record Gazette, wearing the patch of one of the Phantom divisions of D-Day, the 135th Airborne Division. Lowe, a member of the team that helped sell the Germans on the idea that a second European invasion was imminent, wore the patch while a patient in an Army hospital and said he liked to hear people ask just what outfit the patch represented as very few had ever seen it before.

The year, 2004, specifically, Sunday, June 6, marks the 60th anniversary of the largest and possibly the last major military invasion by air and sea.

Known by everyone as simply D-Day, the invasion of Europe in the French province of Normandy, marked the bringing of the end of the war that cost millions of lives and changed the way people think, even today, about the world.

It is estimated that more than 7,000 books have been written specifically about the events leading up to, during and the aftermath of D-Day.

With an estimated 1,100 veterans of World War II now dying each day, the personal eye witness tale of those who participate, not only on D-Day, but in other battles during that great war, are being lost to history, except in books.

There are a million stories of interest concerning D-Day. The participants in one such story regarding the planning and execution of this momentous event did not know if their work was valuable or not until after the war when German Army records were examined.

Faced with defending a northern European coastline of more than 2,000 miles against an Allied invasion in 1944, the German Army divided the continental coastline from Norway to southern France into several Army areas and stationed troops all along the shoreline.

German archives examined after the war shows that the German high command believed that there would be a series of landings in the European continent.

Thus, even after the initial landings at Normandy on June 6 troops were held back to repel an invasion elsewhere.

All this worked in favor of the elaborate plans to deceive the Germans where the invasion landings would be made.

While the actual invasion troops were assembling in the southwestern part of England, one group of just over 100 soldiers, many recuperating from an exhaustive campaign in Italy, were assembled in the southeastern corner of England. They were close to the coast and in the area where England is nearest to the continent, the Pas de Calais, or known to the British as the Straits of Dover.

It was an ideal location for locating a deception army, as this was the primary area where the Germans believed the main invasion force would be landed.

An incident that happened almost a year earlier worked to the advantage of the deception.

General George Patton, who had led the successful invasion of Sicily in July 1943, after much publicity regarding the incidents, had been apparently shelved after slapping two soldiers in two field hospitals in that campaign.

To the German way of thinking, no successful general would be cashiered over such minor infractions.

The German archives showed, after the war, that on their maps, troops from Panzer Army Patton, the First United States Army Group, (FUSAG) was filling up the towns and camps in southeast England waiting their call to invade France.

While the German 7th Army was in defensive positions along the beaches where the actual invasion was to be made in Normandy, the German 15th Army, with more than 25 infantry and three Panzer divisions, remained on alert from the Seine Rivers in the west to Belgium, to turn back the expected invasion across the Pas de Calais.

Those units remained mainly in their positions and did not participate in the almost two months of fighting the Allies did to win Normandy and that part of France to the west.

When General Patton's 3rd Army finally landed in Normandy as backup to the initial invasion, his name as commander was not mentioned in news and official reports for several months in order to maintain the second invasion myth. In addition, when General Leslie McNair was killed in an accidental bombing raid while observing the Normandy action at about the same time, the news of his death was held back for several months. General McNair had been designated in the deception plan as the overall commander of the second invasion front.

The solders of the make-believe FUASG set up radio nets that they knew would be monitored by German listening posts across the Channel.

Even though British intelligence units at the time had maintained that they controlled all the German spies operating in their area, German files examined after the war proved this to be false. To carry out the deception where spies or lose lips might be operating, soldiers of the make believe FUSAG were seen around the small towns and pubs, as well as in training areas, of southeast England wearing shoulder patches of the make believe divisions.

Overall, patches had been made for total of five airborne and 14 infantry divisions. Many of the soldiers working in the deception plan had several shirts each with a different patch they wore around the area. The complete success of this deception plan using the division patches was proved from the German files obtained after the war when the complete order of battle of FUSAG was listed.

The Phantom divisions that had shoulder patches designed were the 6, 9,18, 21 and 135 airborne divisions, along with the 11, 14, 17, 22, 46, 48, 50, 55, 59, 108, 119, 130, 141, and 157 infantry divisions.

These non existent troops, aided by the small group of men who maintained the deception for several months, is credited with keeping a large German Army out of the invasion fight for along time with the subsequent saving of many lives of Allied soldiers.

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