“Vanguard: The True Stories of the Reconnaissance and Intelligence Missions Behind D-Day,” by David Abrutat, Naval Institute Press, 2019, 368 pages, $46.95

The invasion of Northern France at Normandy was the most involved event of World War II. If it failed, the war in Europe might have gone on another year, ending with the Soviets on the Rhine River. Success depended upon good intelligence and deception.

“Vanguard: The True Stories of the Reconnaissance and Intelligence Missions Behind D-Day” by David Abrutat, reveals the extent of Allied preparations for D-Day. It explores virtually every aspect of invasion preparation thoroughly.

This includes the intelligence gathering that went into finding a suitable spot to invade, and determine defenses guarding that spot. It also presents the techniques used to conceal Allied plans and troop dispositions from the Germans, and the deception plans used to convince the Nazis the invasion would take place at a spot other than Normandy, either Pas de Calais or even Norway.

The author opens with a chapter on the structure of the Allied organization that planned and carried out the invasion. This included a detailed discussion of the intelligence gathering and deception structure used. This is followed up with a chapter on the German counterpart organization — the command structure tasked with stopping the invasion on the beach.

After this, individual chapters cover virtually all the different methods the Allies used to prepare for the invasion. Some are well-known. There are the expected chapters on the Enigma and Magic codebreaking teams, as well as the disinformation techniques employed to create a phantom army and to use turned German spies to feed false information.

Other chapters cover topics previously revealed, but rarely examined. Examples include efforts to get soil samples from invasion beaches, the use of radar-reflecting foil to simulate an invasion fleet approaching Pas de Calais on D-Day, and efforts by Jedburgh teams and French partisans.

Others chapters cover things rarely revealed. One example is a chapter about using homing pigeons as a messenger service from behind German lines.

For those interested in the story of D-Day “Vanguard” offers an unprecedented and densely-packed look at the different activities that went into launching D-Day, one rarely discussed in more conventional histories of the event.

Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.

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