As the date of the D-Day invasion of Normandy approached during WWII, the allied forces barraged Germany with a slew of deceptions. In order to confuse the German defenders, several steps were taken, such as leaking misinformation to the enemy and sending General George Patton to command a decoy army of inflatable tanks. Similar to Patton’s mission, but much more up close and personal, was a curious task that was handed to the British Royal Air Force (RAF) and the Special Air Service (SAS). Their mission of trickery involved launching an invasion of France with a special airborne army of paratroopers, almost all of which were figures of short stature named Rupert.
On the night of June 5 and early hours of June 6, squadrons of aircraft from the RAF flew a peculiar invasion force into Normandy. A portion of the troops hitching a ride with the RAF were SAS commandos. Yet, it was the little Ruperts that made up the majority of the paratroopers on the airplanes. These odd troops were not SAS, nor were they even human. Actually, the Ruperts were half-meter tall dolls, constructed out of burlap or canvas, that were designed to bewilder and confuse the German defenders in Normandy.
As dolls go, the Ruperts were quite intricate, and were outfitted with all sorts of gadgets. The humanoid dolls were dropped to the ground with the help of parachutes, to which were attached special devices that blasted out the sounds of gunfire and mortar explosions. In addition, each Rupert was designed to eventually self-destruct after landing in Normandy—to do this, combustible contraptions were reportedly fitted into the heads, arms and legs of the dolls. After the dolls disintegrated, only the parachutes and sounds of battle would remain. SAS commandos, who parachuted down alongside the Ruperts, kept up the confusion by setting off flares and firing live ammunition at the Germans who came to investigate.
Four squadrons from the RAF reportedly dropped around 500 of the Rupert dolls, split between locations such as Saint-Lô, Yvetôt, southern Caen and an area east of the Orne River. Two RAF aircraft were shot down during the mission and around 11 SAS commandos are thought to have died in connection to the operation.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Rupert doll from the Merville Bunker museum in France, photographed by wikimedia user Pajx, and photo of paratroopers training for landing on the Normandy coast, courtesy of the Library of Congress, both [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).