FUSAG: The Ghost Army of World War II

In the final years of World War II, both the Allied and Axis Powers knew that there was no chance of defeating Hitler without cracking his grasp on Western Europe, and both sides knew that Northern France was the obvious target for an amphibious assault. The German high command assumed the Allies would cross from England to France at the narrowest part of the channel and land at Pas-de-Calais. The Allies instead set their sights some 200 miles to the west. The beaches of Normandy could be taken as they were, but if the Germans added to their defense by moving their reserve infantry and panzers to Normandy from their garrison in the Pas-de-Calais region, the invasion would be a disaster. (Edit 4/16: A reader pointed out that the original post was incorrect about the Germans' assumptions about the invasion site. This paragraph has been changed to correct that information. -Matt)

Success, the Allies decided, would rest on distracting German forces and spreading them too thin across multiple invasion sites. They needed a way to credibly threaten Pas-de-Calais, scaring the Germans into keeping the reserves there and away from the actual battle. The resulting plan, Operation Fortitude, is one of the greatest lies ever told.

George and His Imaginary Friends

The Allied intelligence services created two fake armies to keep the Germans on their toes. One would be based in Scotland for a supposed invasion of Norway and the other headquartered in southeast England to threaten the Pas-de-Calais. The northern operation relied mainly on fake radio traffic and the feeding of false information to double agents to create the impression of a substantial army. Fortitude South, though, was well within the range of prying German ears and eyes, so fake chatter alone would be uncovered too quickly. The Allies would have to make it look and sound like a substantial army was building up in southeast England. They needed boots on the ground there, without actually using too much of their precious manpower.

When intelligence officers learned that the First U.S. Army Group (FUSAG) was to be redesignated the 12th Army Group, they knew they had their Pas-de-Calais invaders. The FUSAG was kept alive on paper, and the phantom army was given a few real soldiers and placed under the command of one of the era’s great military leaders.

General George S. Patton, nicknamed Old Blood and Guts, was feared and respected by Germans, more so than any other Allied commander. Today, he’s an American legend and a military icon, but in early 1944 he was almost out of a job. During the invasion of Sicily the previous summer, Patton had been visiting wounded troops at a field hospital when he came across Private Charles H. Kuhl slouched on a stool and suffering from battle fatigue. When Patton asked him where he was injured, Kuhl explained that he wasn’t wounded, but just couldn’t take it.

Patton didn’t like the answer, so he pulled out his gloves, slapped Kuhl across the face with them, and literally kicked him out of the hospital tent with an order to return to the front line. A media firestorm followed, and Patton was deemed a public relations liability and relieved of his command. He spent the rest of the year hopping around the Mediterranean making speeches, inspecting facilities and having his picture taken with troops.

When the phantom FUSAG got its marching orders, General Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied forces, struck a deal with Patton. The general would take command of the fictional army and stay out of trouble, and when the U.S. Third Army actually invaded France, he’d be given the reins.

Tricks of the Trade

Patton’s ghost army was based out of Dover, East Anglia and other areas of southeast England. The choice of location made it look like the Allies were going to push across the English Channel straight into the port of Calais, but also left the operation vulnerable to German snooping. To leave no doubt in Hitler’s mind that FUSAG was a formidable threat and that an attack on Calais was imminent, Allied intelligence launched a multi-pronged campaign of deception against the Germans.

Throughout most of the war, the German intelligence service and military brass believed that the Allied command in Europe was crawling with German spies. In reality, the British had quickly rounded up most of the Nazi agents as they arrived in the UK and turned them into double agents. Two of these spies were instrumental during Fortitude. Roman Garby-Czerniawski (codename Brutus) was a former Polish military officer who pretended to spy for the Germans and convinced his Nazi handlers that he was a liaison between Free Polish forces and Patton’s FUSAG headquarters. Juan Pujol (codename Garbo) was a Spaniard who’d previously trolled the Germans on his own before being recruited by the Allies and put to work feeding fake info to the Nazis on FUSAG’s manpower, maneuvers and battle readiness. British intelligence also passed fake info off to Germany through civilian channels. For example, letters were printed in the local newspapers near FUSAG’s supposed base voicing complaints from citizens about noise and the behavior of the troops.

On the ground in southeast England, something also had to be done about the Germans’ reconnaissance planes. There were a few real American and British units in the area, temporarily assigned to FUSAG before actually heading to Normandy, but the view from above was not impressive. The fake intelligence and chatter was creating the impression that FUSAG was larger than any other Allied army operating in Europe, so now it had to look real and like it meant business.

To bring FUSAG off of paper and into the real world, the Allies built a cleverly conceived, sort-of-real-but-mostly-fake base for the army. Mess tents, hospital tents, ammo caches, toilets, fuel depots and parking areas were built all over the southeast. The parking lots were filled with fake jeeps, trucks and tanks built from cloth and plywood. Inflatable rubber vehicles were also deployed (but frequently fell victim to curious cows from the local farms). Every night a group of soldiers was responsible for picking up and moving the fake vehicles around the bases for the sake of realism, one of them using a custom-made rolling tool to make “tire tracks” in the dirt.

The harbors of the area likewise had to be populated by a false Navy, and British movie industry pros were brought in to “dress the set.” They constructed landing craft, support boats and even an oil dock from wood and fabric and floated them on oil drums.

Waiting for the End of the World

As D-Day loomed, the Allies wondered if their ruse was working. The interception and decryption of German radio traffic (aided by the well-timed arrival of a captured German code machine) gave them a resounding “yes.” The Germans were buying FUSAG and the Pas-de-Calais invasion hook, line and sinker, but the lie could not unravel just yet.

On June 6, the Allies landed at Normandy. As the battle raged there and the Germans considered sending reinforcements, the Allies kept spinning the story, lest the panzers in Calais roll up behind the real Allied armies as they moved up and off the beaches. The waters around southern England were jammed with fake boats and even a few real battleships, the scripted radio traffic went silent, smokescreens were laid, and boats swept the Channel for mines, all to give the impression that another attack was imminent. Brutus and Garbo continued to mislead their German superiors, telling them that Normandy was just a distraction and Patton’s army was going to embark in just a few days for the real invasion.

On June 9, Garbo radioed in to his German contacts and transmitted for a full two hours with false troop movement reports, descriptions of the landing forces, and a reassurance that FUSAG’s true target was the Pas-de-Calais.

The message went all the way up the chain to Hitler, who not only cancelled an order to send the Calais forces to Normandy, but actually rerouted reinforcements coming from other areas away from Normandy and to Calais. During the D-Day landings and for weeks after, as the Allies - including Patton and the US Third Army - moved deeper and deeper into France, the Germans continued to hold onto Calais for dear life. It wasn’t until Patton’s real army began to prod them from the south that the panzers and infantry moved out, after they’d spent almost the whole the summer waiting for an assault that never came from an army that didn’t exist.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
geography
Interactive Map Shows Where Your House Would Have Been 750 Million Years Ago
iStock
iStock

Your neighborhood traveled a long way over several hundred million years to reach the spot it occupies today. To trace that journey over the ages, check out Ancient Earth, an interactive digital map spotted by Co.Design.

Ancient Earth, a collaboration between engineer and Google alum Ian Webster and Paleomap Project creator C.R. Scotese, contains geographical information for the past 750 million years. Start at the beginning and you'll see unrecognizable blobs of land. As you progress through the ages, the land mass Pangaea gradually breaks apart to form the world map we're all familiar with.

To make the transition even more personal, you can enter your street address to see where it would have been located in each period. Five hundred million years ago, for example, New York City was a small island in the southern hemisphere isolated from any major land mass. Around the same time, London was still a part of Pangaea, and it was practically on top of the South Pole. You can use the arrows on your keyboard to flip through the eras or jump from event to event, like the first appearance of multicellular life or the dinosaur extinction.

As you can see from the visualization, Pangaea didn't break into the seven continents seamlessly. Many of the long-gone continents that formed in the process even have names.

[h/t Co.Design]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Illustration by Mental Floss / Images: iStock
arrow
The Body
11 Facts About the Appendix
Illustration by Mental Floss / Images: iStock
Illustration by Mental Floss / Images: iStock

Despite some 500 years of study, the appendix might be one of the least understood structures in the human body. Here's what we know about this mysterious organ.

1. THE ANCIENT EGYPTIANS CALLED IT THE "WORM" OF THE BOWEL.

The human appendix is small, tube-shaped, and squishy, giving ancient Egyptians, who encountered it when preparing bodies for funerary rites, the impression of a worm. Even today, some medical texts refer to the organ as vermiform—Latin for "worm-like."

2. THE APPENDIX SHOWS UP IN LEONARDO DA VINCI’S DRAWINGS.

The earliest description of a human appendix was written by the Renaissance physician-anatomist Jacopo Berengario da Carpi in 1521. But before that, Leonardo da Vinci is believed to drawn the first depiction of the organ in his anatomical drawings in 1492. Leonardo claimed to have dissected 30 human corpses in his effort to understand the way the body worked from mechanical and physiological perspectives.

3. IT'S ABOUT THE SIZE OF A PINKY FINGER.

The appendix is a small pouch connected to the cecum—the beginning of the large intestine in the lower right-hand corner of your abdomen. The cecum’s job is to receive undigested food from the small intestine, absorb fluids and salts that remain after food is digested, and mix them with mucus for easier elimination; according to Mohamad Abouzeid, M.D., assistant professor and attending surgeon at NYU Langone Medical Center, the cecum and appendix have similar tissue structures.

4. CHARLES DARWIN THOUGHT IT WAS A VESTIGIAL ORGAN …

The appendix has an ill-deserved reputation as a vestigial organ—meaning that it allegedly evolved without a detectable function—and we can blame Charles Darwin for that. In the mid-19th century, the appendix had been identified only in humans and great apes. Darwin thought that our earlier ancestors ate mostly plants, and thus needed a large cecum in which to break down the tough fibers. He hypothesized that over time, apes and humans evolved to eat a more varied and easier-to-digest diet, and the cecum shrank accordingly. The appendix itself, Darwin believed, emerged from the folds of the wizened cecum without its own special purpose.

5. … BUT THE APPENDIX PROBABLY EVOLVED TO HELP IMMUNE FUNCTION.

The proximity and tissue similarities between the cecum and appendix suggest that the latter plays a part in the digestive process. But there’s one noticeable difference in the appendix that you can see only under a microscope. “[The appendix] has a high concentration of the immune cells within its walls,” Abouzeid tells Mental Floss.

Recent research into the appendix's connection to the immune system has suggested a few theories. In a 2015 study in Nature Immunology, Australian researchers discovered that a type of immune cells called innate lymphoid cells (ILCs) proliferate in the appendix and seem to encourage the repopulation of symbiotic bacteria in the gut. This action may help the gut recover from infections, which tend to wipe out fluids, nutrients, and good bacteria.

For a 2013 study examining the evolutionary rationale for the appendix in mammal species, researchers at Midwestern University and Duke University Medical Center concluded that the organ evolved at least 32 times among different lineages, but not in response to dietary or environmental factors.

The same researchers analyzed 533 mammal species for a 2017 study and found that those with appendices had more lymphatic (immune) tissue in the cecum. That suggests that the nearby appendix could serve as "a secondary immune organ," the researchers said in a statement. "Lymphatic tissue can also stimulate growth of some types of beneficial gut bacteria, providing further evidence that the appendix may serve as a 'safe house' for helpful gut bacteria." This good bacteria may help to replenish healthy flora in the gut after infection or illness.

6. ABOUT 7 PERCENT OF AMERICANS WILL GET APPENDICITIS DURING THEIR LIFETIMES.

For such a tiny organ, the appendix gets infected easily. According to Abouzeid, appendicitis occurs when the appendix gets plugged by hardened feces (called a fecalith or appendicolith), too much mucus, or the buildup of immune cells after a viral or bacterial infection. In the United States, the lifetime risk of getting appendicitis is one in 15, and incidence in newly developed countries is rising. It's most common in young adults, and most dangerous in the elderly.

When infected, the appendix swells up as pus fills its interior cavity. It can grow several times larger than its average 3-inch size: One inflamed appendix removed from a British man in 2004 measured just over 8 inches, while another specimen, reported in 2007 in the Journal of Clinical Pathology, measured 8.6 inches. People with appendicitis might feel generalized pain around the bellybutton that localizes on the right side of the abdomen, and experience nausea or vomiting, fever, or body aches. Some people also get diarrhea.

7. APPENDECTOMIES ARE ALMOST 100 PERCENT EFFECTIVE FOR TREATING APPENDICITIS.

Treatment for appendicitis can go two ways: appendectomy, a.k.a. surgical removal of the appendix, or a first line of antibiotics to treat the underlying infection. Appendectomies are more than 99 percent effective against recurring infection, since the organ itself is removed. (There have been cases of "stump appendicitis," where an incompletely removed appendix becomes infected, which often require further surgery.)

Studies show that antibiotics produce about a 72 percent initial success rate. “However, if you follow these patients out for about a year, they often get recurrent appendicitis,” Abouzeid says. One 2017 study in the World Journal of Surgery followed 710 appendicitis patients for a year after antibiotic treatment and found a 26.5 percent recurrence rate for subsequent infections.

8. AN INFECTED APPENDIX DOESN’T ACTUALLY BURST.

You might imagine a ruptured appendix, known formally as a perforation, being akin to the "chestbuster" scene in Alien. Abouzeid says it's not quite that dramatic, though it can be dangerous. When the appendix gets clogged, pressure builds inside the cavity of the appendix, called the lumen. That chokes off blood supply to certain tissues. “The tissue dies off and falls apart, and you get perforation,” Abouzeid says. But rather than exploding, the organ leaks fluids that can infect other tissues.

A burst appendix is a medical emergency. Sometimes the body can contain the infection in an abscess, Abouzeid says, which may be identified through CT scans or X-rays and treated with IV antibiotics. But if the infection is left untreated, it can spread to other parts of the abdomen, a serious condition called peritonitis. At that point, the infection can become life-threatening.

9. SURGEONS CAN REMOVE AN APPENDIX THROUGH A TINY INCISION.

In 1894, Charles McBurney, a surgeon at New York's Roosevelt Hospital, popularized an open-cavity, muscle-splitting technique [PDF] to remove an infected appendix, which is now called an open appendectomy. Surgeons continued to use McBurney's method until the advent of laparoscopic surgery, a less invasive method in which the doctor makes small cuts in the patient's abdomen and threads a thin tube with a camera and surgical tools into the incisions. The appendix is removed through one of those incisions, which are usually less than an inch in length.

The first laparoscopic appendectomies were performed by German physician Kurt Semm in the early 1980s. Since then, laparoscopic appendectomies have become the standard treatment for uncomplicated appendicitis. For more serious infections, open appendectomies are still performed.

10. AN APPENDIX ONCE POSTPONED A ROYAL CORONATION.

When the future King Edward VII of Great Britain came down with appendicitis (or "perityphlitis," as it was called back then) in June 1902, mortality rates for the disease were as high as 26 percent. It was about two weeks before his scheduled coronation on June 26, 1902, and Edward resisted having an appendectomy, which was then a relatively new procedure. But surgeon and appendicitis expert Frederick Treves made clear that Edward would probably die without it. Treves drained Edward's infected abscess, without removing the organ, at Buckingham Palace; Edward recovered and was crowned on August 9, 1902.

11. THE WORLD'S LONGEST APPENDIX MEASURED MORE THAN 10 INCHES.

On August 26, 2006, during an autopsy at a Zagreb, Croatia hospital, surgeons obtained a 10.24-inch appendix from 72-year-old Safranco August. The deceased currently holds the Guinness World Record for "largest appendix removed."

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios