That Time When Winston Churchill Panicked Over a Crossword Puzzle
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Crossword puzzles, invented just prior to the outbreak of World War I, were hugely popular but the time World War II rolled around. These word puzzles were printed in the daily newspapers of London. Image the surprise on Winston Churchill’s face when he discovered that some of the key code words for the top-secret Invasion of Normandy he was planning showed up as answers in the same crossword puzzle! Was it possible that German spies were sending messages via crossword puzzle? Or were the words simply a coincidence? Let’s look at that time when a crossword puzzle made Churchill think that the Allied forces had lost the element of surprise ahead of the Invasion of Normandy.
Crossword Puzzles Were a Common Hobby
Everyone loved crossword puzzles and they were so popular that newspaper publishers included them in their daily newspapers. During wartime, when the news was often bleak, the puzzles were a great form of mental stimulation. Crossword puzzles were uniquely British, having been created by a Liverpool area journalist named Arthur Wynne in 1913, but they gained worldwide appeal in the 1920s and 1930s. After the start of WWII, crossword puzzles became a good stress reliever and a way to kill time while hiding out in an air-raid bunker.
Churchill and Roosevelt Plotted an Invasion of France
Winston Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt began making plans in early 1943 for a decisive invasion of Europe with such a show of force that they could turn the tide of the war and liberate German-occupied areas. Such a large operation would only work if it were a total surprise. All aspects of the invasion were cloaked in secrecy.
Churchill Chose the Code Name Operation Overlord
The world leaders appointed United States General Dwight D. Eisenhower to command the invasion along with British General Bernard Law Montgomery. Churchill himself picked out the code name for the invasion, Operation Overlord. The date of the invasion was set for June 5, 1944. But, of course, all that information was top-secret.
Other Code Words Were Chosen
Various other parts of the invasion were given their own code names. The two beaches in Normandy where the U.S. troops were going to land were dubbed Omaha and Utah. The Canadian beach was called Juno, while the British forces were to land at the Gold and Sword beaches. The name Mulberry was given to the floating supply barge that would support the ships, and Neptune was picked to refer to the invasion’s naval support division.
Code Words Appeared in the Same Crossword Puzzle
In May of 1944, just weeks before the Invasion of Normandy was set the start, a few members of the British counter-intelligence service, M15, were working on a crossword puzzle from the day’s London Daily Telegraph when one of the puzzle’s answers caught their attention. The word was Utah…the answer to the clue, “one of the USA”. Since Utah was one of the code words to their upcoming invasion, their interest was piqued.
More Code Words Were Found
The M15 agents eagerly completed the crossword puzzle, and to their astonishment, they discovered that the puzzle contained several of the Invasion’s code words in addition to Utah…Mulberry, Omaha, Neptune, and even Overlord. The puzzle must be a clever way to convey information about the forthcoming invasion to the Germans, they believed.
Agents Tracked Down the Puzzle Maker
Naturally, the first thing the agents did was to alert Churchill to their findings. The panicked Churchill immediately dispatched agents to track down the person who created the puzzle to see if he was in cahoots with the Germans. What they found was a headmaster for a boys’ school who had been displaced after the London bombings.
The Puzzle Maker was a Teacher, Not a Spy
Leonard Dawe was a 54-year-old teacher and headmaster of Strand School in London. When the bombings in London started in 1939, Dawe and his students were evacuated to the English countryside to the town of Surrey. In addition to teaching, Dawe was a puzzle geek and regularly created crossword puzzles for the Telegraph. When the agents demanded to know why he used those particular five words in his puzzle, Dawe’s responded by shrugging, “Why not.” The agents left, convinced that the crossword clues were merely an incredible coincidence.
But Were They a Coincidence?
The Invasion of Normandy went off as planned and the Germans were caught completely by surprise…they were obviously not tipped off by the crossword puzzle clues. But there still could be a connection between the crossword puzzle and Operation Overlord. Dawe’s and the students of his boys’ school were sent to Surrey to wait out the bombings in London. At the same time, United States soldiers were also housed in Surrey. In fact, the soldiers and the students would have had daily contact with each other on the streets of Surrey, where the boys could have heard certain words being used by the soldiers. Dawe was in the habit of asking his students for words to include in his crossword puzzles. Perhaps some of the boys suggested a few words they had heard the soldiers using…words like Overlord, Omaha, and Neptune.
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