This story originally appeared in the September 2014 issue of Mental Floss Magazine.
In the weeks leading up to D-day, Allied commanders had their best game faces on.
“This operation is not being planned with any alternatives,” barked General Dwight D. Eisenhower.
“This operation is planned as a victory, and that’s the way it’s going to be!”
Indeed, more than 6,000 ships were ready to cruise across the English Channel to plant the first wave of two million troops on the white beaches of Normandy.
Nearly 20,000 vehicles would crawl ashore as 13,000 planes dropped thousands of tons of explosives and thousands of paratroopers.
The sheer size of the invasion—it would be the largest in history—was staggering. But so were the stakes.
With the first day’s casualty rate expected to reach 90 percent and the outcome of World War II hanging in the balance, the truth was that Eisenhower was riddled with doubt.
He’d transformed into an anxious chimney, puffing four packs of cigarettes a day.
Other Allied leaders felt equally unsure.
“I see the tides running red with their blood,” Winston Churchill lamented. General George S. Patton privately complained of feeling “awfully restless.”
Chief of the Imperial General Staff Alan Brooke was more blunt: “It won’t work,” he said. The day before the invasion, Eisenhower quietly penciled a note accepting blame in case he had to order retreat.
When he watched the last of the 101st Airborne Division take off, the steely general started to cry.
They were worried for good reason.
With so many troops and so much artillery swelling in England, it was impossible to keep the attack a secret.
Hitler knew it was coming, and he’d been preparing a defense for months.
Only one detail eluded him, and he was confident in a Nazi victory if he could figure it out—he needed to know where, exactly, the attack would happen.
To make D-day a success, the Allies needed to keep him in the dark:
They’d have to trick the Germans into thinking the real invasion was just a bluff, while making it seem like a major attack was imminent elsewhere.
The U.S. forces used rubber tanks blown up like balloons to cover the German county side.
That, with armored personnel carriers with cannons in place left Hitler in the position of not know weather to shit or go blind.
The task seemed impossible, but luckily, the British had a secret weapon: a short, young balding Spaniard.
He was the king of con men, an amateur spy gone pro, the world’s sneakiest liar.
He was also, of all things, a chicken farmer.