The Deception Warriors Gather

They now operate from the U.S. Navy's Fleet Information Warfare Center, Naval Amphibious Base, Little Creek, Virginia.  Their missions include: electronic warfare, psychological operations, military deception, operational security and computer network defense. Their predecessors, the men who will gather for reunion 14—18 July at nearby Virginia Beach, were known as Beach Jumpers.

When the Navy established its first deception unit 61 years ago at Camp Bradford, Virginia (later Ocracoke Island), its deception warriors were given the cover name Beach Jumpers.  The story goes that acoustics expert, Dr. Harold Burris—Meyer, explaining aspects of sonic deception to the brass, was asked about its purpose. 'To scare the be—jesus out of the enemy,' he replied.   In time, and in the context of the unit's mission of supporting amphibious landings, that evolved into the initials 'BJ' and then Beach Jumpers. 

Beach Jumpers employed radio and radar countermeasures & deception (RCM) augmented by sonic deception (broadcast sounds of anchor cables, etc.), pyrotechnics and smoke to produce a sufficiently credible mock assault, convincing the enemy that landings were occurring at 'B' while the real ones were happening at 'A.'

The man who convinced the Navy to authorize this new—fangled outfit (their commanding officer called them 'the original Dirty Tricks Dept.') held the perfect credentials:  Naval Reserve Lieutenant Douglas Fairbanks Jr.  A good friend of Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, commanding Britain's amphibious force operations, Fairbanks, fresh from training and indoctrination courses in England, employed his actor's gifts to sell the Navy on establishing the unit to support that most difficult of all undertakings, amphibious landings.  LT Fairbanks went on to help with the training and to become Beach Jumper planning officer for Mediterranean operations:  an actor devising and staging what might be viewed as martial theater for the (negative) benefit of an enemy audience.

At Sicily, Salerno and Southern France, officers and men from BJ Units 1, 3 and 5 sailed into harm's way aboard lightly—armed 63' ARBs (Air—Sea Rescue Boats) and PT Boats carrying their deception equipment, which included radar jammers, sonic deception gear, beach barrage rockets and towed balloons to make their small vessels appear to be larger ships on German radar screens. 

Their most ambitious production supported the August 15, 1944 Operation Anvil—Dragoon Southern France landings.  Promoted Lt. Cmdr. Fairbanks, who helped plan the highly successful extravaganza, which included miniature, dummy parachutists, commanded one of the small boat task units.   As American troops stormed ashore, Radio Berlin complained that 'this deception could only have been conceived in the sinister Anglo—Saxon mind.'

Meanwhile BJ Unit 4, with the Adriatic Special Operations Group, along with a section of ARB Squadron One, was conducting missions with British commandos and the OSS in support of Tito's partisans.

In the Pacific, BJ Units 6 and 7 operated from PT Boats and a new platform — 160' infantry landing craft.  As principal components of Diversionary Task Group 77.1, they supported U.S. Army landings on the Philippine Island of Leyte.

Through Vietnam, where they served ashore and afloat, 1966—1972, from the Tonkin Gulf to Cambodia, they retained their Beach Jumper name. 

All missions conducted under the rubric of cover and deception came under a new and and appropriately bland designation in 1972:  Fleet Composite Operational Readiness Group.  Several name changes later it is Fleet Information Warfare.  Their commander says that the objective — and this hasn't changed —  'is the gray matter between the enemy's ears.'  Current practitioners support operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere around the globe.  

The men who proudly called themselves Beach Jumpers will be getting together at Virginia Beach to remember and tell their unique sea stories.  Most of their accomplishments are unrecognized, their successes anonymous.  Their service was no less dangerous, and there was nothing illusive about the skill, sacrifice and bravery of these deception warriors. 

John B. Dwyer is a military historian

They now operate from the U.S. Navy's Fleet Information Warfare Center, Naval Amphibious Base, Little Creek, Virginia.  Their missions include: electronic warfare, psychological operations, military deception, operational security and computer network defense. Their predecessors, the men who will gather for reunion 14—18 July at nearby Virginia Beach, were known as Beach Jumpers.

When the Navy established its first deception unit 61 years ago at Camp Bradford, Virginia (later Ocracoke Island), its deception warriors were given the cover name Beach Jumpers.  The story goes that acoustics expert, Dr. Harold Burris—Meyer, explaining aspects of sonic deception to the brass, was asked about its purpose. 'To scare the be—jesus out of the enemy,' he replied.   In time, and in the context of the unit's mission of supporting amphibious landings, that evolved into the initials 'BJ' and then Beach Jumpers. 

Beach Jumpers employed radio and radar countermeasures & deception (RCM) augmented by sonic deception (broadcast sounds of anchor cables, etc.), pyrotechnics and smoke to produce a sufficiently credible mock assault, convincing the enemy that landings were occurring at 'B' while the real ones were happening at 'A.'

The man who convinced the Navy to authorize this new—fangled outfit (their commanding officer called them 'the original Dirty Tricks Dept.') held the perfect credentials:  Naval Reserve Lieutenant Douglas Fairbanks Jr.  A good friend of Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, commanding Britain's amphibious force operations, Fairbanks, fresh from training and indoctrination courses in England, employed his actor's gifts to sell the Navy on establishing the unit to support that most difficult of all undertakings, amphibious landings.  LT Fairbanks went on to help with the training and to become Beach Jumper planning officer for Mediterranean operations:  an actor devising and staging what might be viewed as martial theater for the (negative) benefit of an enemy audience.

At Sicily, Salerno and Southern France, officers and men from BJ Units 1, 3 and 5 sailed into harm's way aboard lightly—armed 63' ARBs (Air—Sea Rescue Boats) and PT Boats carrying their deception equipment, which included radar jammers, sonic deception gear, beach barrage rockets and towed balloons to make their small vessels appear to be larger ships on German radar screens. 

Their most ambitious production supported the August 15, 1944 Operation Anvil—Dragoon Southern France landings.  Promoted Lt. Cmdr. Fairbanks, who helped plan the highly successful extravaganza, which included miniature, dummy parachutists, commanded one of the small boat task units.   As American troops stormed ashore, Radio Berlin complained that 'this deception could only have been conceived in the sinister Anglo—Saxon mind.'

Meanwhile BJ Unit 4, with the Adriatic Special Operations Group, along with a section of ARB Squadron One, was conducting missions with British commandos and the OSS in support of Tito's partisans.

In the Pacific, BJ Units 6 and 7 operated from PT Boats and a new platform — 160' infantry landing craft.  As principal components of Diversionary Task Group 77.1, they supported U.S. Army landings on the Philippine Island of Leyte.

Through Vietnam, where they served ashore and afloat, 1966—1972, from the Tonkin Gulf to Cambodia, they retained their Beach Jumper name. 

All missions conducted under the rubric of cover and deception came under a new and and appropriately bland designation in 1972:  Fleet Composite Operational Readiness Group.  Several name changes later it is Fleet Information Warfare.  Their commander says that the objective — and this hasn't changed —  'is the gray matter between the enemy's ears.'  Current practitioners support operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere around the globe.  

The men who proudly called themselves Beach Jumpers will be getting together at Virginia Beach to remember and tell their unique sea stories.  Most of their accomplishments are unrecognized, their successes anonymous.  Their service was no less dangerous, and there was nothing illusive about the skill, sacrifice and bravery of these deception warriors. 

John B. Dwyer is a military historian