Paratrooper dummy “Rupert” used during D-day. From the Merville Bunker museum in France.
Source: Wiki under commons licence

A Volunteers’ workshop for making dummy parachutes (see blog ‘Lots Happening’ below) set us wondering. Here is what a blogger (called GemSen) wrote about them on the Forces War Records site blog. It is primarily a site for genealogists but has some interesting articles also.

“Sheds can be a haven for men of certain age — perhaps that is why an old WWII D-Day dummy chose to make its home there? Tongue-in-cheek aside, it is not known how this rare parachute dummy made its way back from Normandy to Britain after a woman found it in her late grandfather’s garden shed. Paradummies were used as a decoy during the WWII D-Day landings in order to deceive the Germans into believing that a large force had landed, drawing their troops away from the real landing zones. You may remember them featuring in the well-known D-Day movie ‘The Longest Day.

Nicknamed Ruperts, the fake parachutists were made from hessian cloth bags and filled with sand and straw, arranged to resemble a human figure. And even though they were just under 3ft tall — much smaller than real soldiers, to people looking up at them from the ground and against a dark sky — they were actually pretty deceiving. The deception was known as ‘Operation Titanic’ in which 500 fake cloth dolls each attached to a parachute were dropped in four different locations all over Normandy while the real Allied airmen landed in their targeted drop zones.

Operation Titanic Carried out by the Royal Air Force and the Special Air Service (SAS), ‘Operation Titanic’ involved a force of 40 aircraft including Hudsons, Halifaxes and Stirlings responsible for dropping the dummy parachutists, rifle fire simulators, and SAS men. The SAS men landed with the dummies and played recordings of battle noises to make the decoy plan even more believable. Two Stirlings were apparently lost in the operation. ‘Titanic’ took place during the night/early morning of the 5 and 6 June, 1944 and saw 200 dummies dropped near to the base of the Cotentin Peninsula, 50 more east of the River Dives, and 50 to the south west of Caen. 200 more dummy parachutists were dropped at Yvetot —30 miles south west of Dieppe. In order to allow the news of these landings to be spread the SAS had orders to allow some of the enemy to escape to spread the message about the landings, hopefully unbeknown to them as fake ones. 

The crude dummies made from a simple series of cloth bags connected together were also equipped with an explosive charge that would set the cloth on fire and prevent the enemy discovering that they were a deception, which is why there aren’t many examples left. This hoped to suggest that the man had burnt the parachute and lay hidden, ready for action or sabotage. The idea apparently began with the Germans who dropped similar decoys during the Battle of the Netherlands in 1940. They were used throughout WWII by both sides and during the operation the Americans dropped their own dummies and called theirs ‘Oscars’. Going, going, gone! Leaving it’s beloved ‘man cave’ – the shed – the dummy has since been sold for £900, and Kevin King, of Buckinghamshire-based auctioneers Marlow’s told the Mirror newspaper: “It is quite rare to come across previously unknown paradummies now. “Back in the 1970s a whole batch of them were found on an airfield and some of them are in museums now. “If the paradummies were any bigger then not that many of them would have fitted on the aircrafts. “When an object is high up in the air it is very difficult to get a proper perspective of it from the ground, especially in darkness.” “The woman vendor was having a bit of a clearout of her grandfather’s shed when she found it.” The recently discovered Rupert has now been sold alongside a set of orders and maps for an RAF squadron that was tasked with spotting the results of the Royal Naval bombardment of the German defences on D-Day. What an interesting buy!”