TNB Night Owl – The D-Day Crosswords

United States government effort to recruit soldiers during World War I. Image by James Montgomery Flagg.

In 1944, one of the most closely guarded secrets of the Allied forces was D-Day, the invasion of Normandy.  It was nearly scuttled by some crossword puzzles.

While the Allied command was making arrangements, some people related to the secret effort noticed a curious thing about the crossword puzzles in the Daily Telegraph newspaper.  Specifically, they noticed that words relating to the invasion – operation code names and place names associated with the invasion.  

This was particularly alarming because a smaller attempt at an invasion at Dieppe, France in 1942 had been rebuffed by the Germans.  Suspicion had been rife that someone may have tipped the Germans to the plan, and it was noticed that the day before the invasion, “Dieppe” had been included as a clue in a crossword – specifically, the Daily Telegraph crossword.  The crossword creator Leonard Dawe and the newspaper editor had been quietly investigated, and the authorities had written it off as a coincidence.

In 1944, as detailed plans were being drawn up for the invasion, grid answers in the Telegraph puzzle appeared which had disturbing indications of potential spy activity.  “Overlord”, for example, which was the code name for the invasion.  “Omaha”, “Juno”, “Utah”, “Gold”, and “Sword”, beach names assigned to the U.S., Canada and UK invasion forces.  “Neptune”, code name for the naval operation associated with the invasion.

The British Secret Service snapped into action and restarted their investigation into the crossword puzzle in earnest, intent on ferreting out the traitor.  They were also quite nervous that D-Day would be met with German soldiers who had learned of and prepared for the assault.  Instead, the invasion was a key success and the clues were written off as a strange, but scary, coincidence.

…Until 1984.  That was the year when Ronald French came forward to help explain the mystery.  Leonard Dawe was not merely the crossword creator for the Telegraph; he was also headmaster at the Strand School.  French, and others, had been asked to help fit words together in a grid.  Dawe had then worked to produce the clues for the words.  In this way, enough time was saved for Dawe to produce a daily puzzle.

Was French, himself the perp?  Unknown.  He certainly believed so, but at least two other students at the school admitted to being the person responsible.

French and other schoolboys had been hanging around the soliders, however, helping their Nazi-fighting heroes as much as they could.  And, while none of the children had been told what any of the code words meant, the words had been used in their presence and were thus front-of-mind when the kids were asked to produce words for a daily grid.

It had the potential to be one of the great examples of unintentional espionage… but nobody on the German side had the slightest inkling that there were extra, real-life clues being provided in the daily puzzle. 

Question of the night: What’s your favorite type of pencil puzzle?  (Word search, crossword, cryptogram, sudoku, bridge/chess problem, etc…)

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About AlienMotives 1991 Articles
Ex-Navy Reactor Operator turned bookseller. Father of an amazing girl and husband to an amazing wife. Tired of willful political blindness, but never tired of politics. Hopeful for the future.