One of the most recognizable leaders among the World War II Allies was Field Marshal Bernard “Monty” Montgomery. Montgomery never shied away from cameras, film crews, or any other publicity machine.
His appearance was indeed immediately recognizable. He was shorter than average, wore an unusual black beret, had a malleable face with a small mustache, walked with a peculiar gait, and spoke loudly and often with an accent of his own.
His contemporaries, particularly George Patton, resented his ability to draw attention to himself. When the D-Day invasion of June 1944 approached, however, Allied disinformation units decided that they could use Montgomery’s celebrity to their advantage. Montgomery, of course, was fully briefed and fully on board with the plan.
The Allies wanted to keep Germany guessing as to where and when the invasion would take place, and to do so, they thought up elaborate hoaxes and ruses.
Compared to other schemes that the Allies conceived, the ruse involving Montgomery was a fairly simple one. Disinformation officers found an Australian actor named M.E. Clifton James, who looked very much like Montgomery, and was a lieutenant in the Australian army stationed in Britain. Without knowing what his mission was, he was ordered to London and then briefed on what he needed to do.
He spent several days with Montgomery studying his speech patterns, his walking habits, his gestures, and the way in which he wore his uniform. On May 26, 1944, Lieutenant James donned one of the general’s uniforms and one of his black berets, got into a plane, and was flown to the Allied base in Gibraltar at the southern tip of Spain.
Awaiting him there was a great welcoming ceremony that the Allies hoped would be spotted by German spies. The thinking among the Allies was that Montgomery’s appearance in Gibraltar would convince the Nazis that the invasion was not imminent. What would a major Allied commander be doing in the Mediterranean if a large invasion was about to be mounted on the coast of France?
From Gibraltar the fake Montgomery then flew to Algiers and again showed himself publicly. Again, the hope was the German spies would see Montgomery and report this information back to Berlin.
After his appearance in Algiers, Lieutenant James was then flown to Cairo and kept in hiding until the invasion of Normandy beach was underway.
As things turned out, there is no evidence that this plan, known internally as Operation Copperhead, had any real effect on the Germans. After the war, Lieutenant James wrote a book about the operation titled I Was Monty’s Double, which was later adapted into a film that starred James himself.
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