Special Operations

Operation Titanic (1944)

Operation Titanic was the codename for an operation carried out on 5/6 June 1944 by the Royal Air Force and the Special Air Service in support of the Normandy landings during the Second World War.

It was one of four Royal Air Force deception operations carried out at the time, the others being Operation Glimmer by No. 218 Squadron, Operation Taxable by No. 617 Squadron and Operation Airborne Cigar by No. 101 and No. 214 squadrons.

The objective of the operation was to drop 500 dummy parachutists, in areas away from the landing beaches, to persuade the Germans that the invasion was spread over a greater area and thus entice troops away from the actual invasion zone.

The episode was depicted in the 1962 film The Longest Day.

Background

A dummy used for deception during the operation.
A dummy used for deception during the operation.

The Allies had a number of deception plans in connection with the planned invasion of Europe. Operation Fortitude was the deception operation for the Normandy landings or Operation Overlord. It was divided into Fortitude North, a threat to invade Norway, and Fortitude South, designed to induce the Germans to believe that the main invasion of France would occur in the Pas de Calais rather than Normandy.

The Royal Air Force as part of Fortitude had their own deception missions. Starting on 5 June there were four operations. Two of them entailed the dropping of Window over the English Channel to simulate the approach of a large fleet. These were Glimmer by No. 218 Squadron and Taxable by No. 617 Squadron. The third was intended to jam the German radar, Airborne Cigar by No. 101 and No. 214 squadrons. The final operation was Titanic.

Mission

Operation Titanic was carried out by the Royal Air Force and the Special Air Service. The Royal Air Force provided four squadrons from No. 3 Group RAF. The special duties squadrons No. 138 and No. 161 flying Handley Page Halifaxs and Lockheed Hudsons. They were joined by two other squadrons No. 90 and No. 149 flying Short Stirlings. The Special Air Service provided 12 men commanded by Captain Harry Fowles and Lieutenant Noel Poole. The Special Air Service were tasked to engage the Germans on landing, but to ensure some of them escaped to spread the word that hundreds of parachutists were landing in the area.

The mission was in four parts Titanic I–IV and called for dropping dummy parachutists which contained rifle fire simulators, Window and an explosive charge. The explosives were designed to destroy the dummy and the only evidence left would suggest that the parachutist had burnt his parachute.

Titanic I was the simulated drop of an airborne division north of the Seine river. The drop zones were near Yvetot, Yerville, Doudeville in the Seine-Maritime region and Fauville in the Eure region. On these four drop zones 200 dummies and two Special Air Service teams were parachuted in.

Titanic II was the dropping of 50 dummy parachutists east of the Dives River to draw German reserves onto that side of the river but this mission was cancelled just before the 6 June.

Titanic III was the dropping of 50 dummy parachutists in the Calvados region near Maltot and the woods to the north of Baron-sur-Odon to draw German reserves away to the west of Caen.

Titanic IV was the dropping of 200 dummies near Marigny in the Manche and as with Titanic I was supposed to simulate the dropping of an airborne division. Two Special Air Service teams were also dropped here near Saint-Lô. This group commanded by Lieutenant Poole landed at 00:20 hours 6 June 1944, 10 minutes ahead of schedule. The Special Air Service teams carried recordings and amplifiers and played sound of rifle and Mortar fire together with shouted commands. The recordings lasted for 30 minutes after which the Special Air Service teams withdrew from the area.

Aftermath

The mission went according to plan. The only aircraft lost were two Shorts Stirlings and their crews from No. 149 Squadron taking part in Titanic III. Eight men from the Special Air Service failed to return, they were all either killed in action or executed by the Germans in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

At 02:00 hours 6 June 1944 the Germans reported the landing of parachutists east of Caen and in the Coutances, Valognes and Saint-Lô areas and hearing ships engines out at sea. The 7th Army was placed on full invasion alert, but General Hans Speidel decreased the level of alert when it was reported only dummy parachutists had been found. However Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt ordered over half of the 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend to deal with a parachute landing on the coast near Lisieux which were found to be dummies from Titanic III. The dummies and Special Air Service teams of Titanic IV diverted a Kampfgruppe from the 915th Grenadier Regiment, which was the only reserve element of the 352nd Infantry Division away from the Omaha and Gold beaches and the 101st Airborne Divisions drop zones. The regiment spent the morning of the 6 June searching the woods for the parachutists, believing an airborne division had landed in the area.Enigma intercepts from the area of Titanic I, revealed that the German commander was reporting a major landing up the coast from Le Havre (well to the north of the landing beaches) and that he had been cut off by them.

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