Operation Ironside

Operation Ironside
Part of Operation Bodyguard
Grayscale map of Europe with the subordinate plans of Operation Bodyguard labelled
Ironside was one of several plans within the larger Operation Bodyguard deception (contemporary boundaries shown).
Operational scopePolitical deception
LocationBay of Biscay
PlannedDecember 1943 – March 1944
Planned byLondon Controlling Section
DateMay–July 1944
Executed byAgents Bronx, Tate, Rudloff and Garbo

Operation Ironside was a Second World War military deception undertaken by the Allies in 1944. It formed part of Operation Bodyguard, a broad strategic deception plan instigated by the Allies throughout the year to help cover the June 1944 invasion of Normandy. Ironside supported the overall deception by suggesting to the Germans that the Allies would subsequently land along the Bay of Biscay. It complemented efforts to deceive the Germans into believing that the Allies would also land in southern France at this time (Operation Vendetta). Bordeaux was an important port for the German war effort and had already been a target of commando raids two years earlier. Ironside intended to play on German fears of an invasion in the region, with the aim of tying down defensive forces following Operation Overlord in June 1944.

Planned by the London Controlling Section, Ironside was communicated to the Germans via double agents between May and June 1944. Unlike other Bodyguard deceptions, the plan was put across entirely by double agents without support by physical deception. Agent Bronx took the lead with support from Tate, Rudloff and Garbo. Ironside's story included an initial two-division assault, using Overlord formations, staged out of the United Kingdom. This would then be followed up with six divisions sailing from the east coast of the United States. Historians disagree on the impact of Ironside on German plans. There is no indication that the operation was successful in convincing the Germans of imminent Allied plans to invade the Bay of Biscay. On the other hand, Allied planners attributed the delay of a panzer division moving to Normandy in part to the deception.

As Ironside was a marginal operation, and they were worried about exposing agents as false, the Twenty Committee for the most part utilised less important agents and added words of caution to the messages they sent, reducing the impact of the story. Allied landings around Bordeaux may also have seemed implausible because it was beyond air cover from the UK and lacked the normal physical elements (such as naval activities and dummy landing craft) associated with an invasion.

After the operation closed, at the end of June 1944, the threat of invasion from the United States was informally kept alive. It was revisited as Ironside II in mid-July as support for Operation Ferdinand. The invasion story was replaced with a supposed Allied plan to increase French resistance in the Bordeaux region to tie up German forces. Most of Ironside II was ignored by the Germans, whose interest had turned away from the region.


Operation Ironside formed part of Operation Bodyguard, a broad strategic military deception intended to confuse the Axis high command as to Allied intentions during the lead-up to the Normandy landings. The overall aim of Bodyguard was to tie down German forces away from Normandy by threatening other targets.[1] Ironside's specific objective was to tie up the 17th SS and 11th Panzer divisions deployed in the south of France.[2][3][4]

Overall planning for Bodyguard and Ironside rested with John Bevan and the London Controlling Section (LCS). The LCS had been set up in 1942 following successes in deception in the Middle East by Dudley Clarke. After initial attempts at deception planning the department was tasked with bringing Bodyguard to fruition.[1] One of their most useful deception channels was through double agents. During the early stages of the war, the Abwehr (German intelligence) had sent spies to Britain, but all of them either surrendered or were captured. Some, along with other volunteers, were used as an extensive misinformation network under the control of the Twenty Committee.[5]

Bordeaux was an important port for the German war effort, receiving a great deal of cargo, mostly raw materials, from overseas.[6] It was also a major naval base, with huge submarine pens for U-boats. The Gironde estuary and Bordeaux had already been a target for the Allies. Operation Frankton was a 1942 commando raid targeting important shipping in the port.[7] In January 1944, the Allies intercepted communications indicating that German commanders were concerned by the possibility of landings in the Bay of Biscay region of France. The next month, German naval and air units undertook anti-invasion exercises in the area. Ironside was intended to amplify these concerns.[8]

According to the storyline for Ironside, ten days following D-Day, Allied forces would land in the Bordeaux region. This force would spend around twelve days establishing a bridgehead before advancing to meet formations supposedly part of an invasion of the Mediterranean coast of France (in reality these were fictional landings as well, part of another Bodyguard deception called Operation Vendetta).[9][10] The supposed target of Ironside was the mouth of the Gironde estuary, with a landing site at Royan.[9]

At first, Bevan suggested that the fictional invasion force should stage from the American East Coast. Newman Smith, based out of New York and responsible for the US elements of the deception, felt this was an unrealistic story and suggested a large force from the US might conceivably reinforce a bridgehead established by units from the UK. Formations intended for Normandy could be "re-purposed" for the initial invasion.[9][11] The final plan earmarked two Overlord divisions for the assault with the supposed reinforcements consisting of six real divisions (the 26th, 94th, 95th, and 104th Infantry, and the 10th and 11th Armored) under the notional command of Lieutenant General Lloyd Fredendall.[9]