"Turbo vestri hostilis." A latin phrase that literally translated might be "whirlwind to your enemy" or more likely, in the case of the famed, but little known 'Beach Jumpers' units of World War II and beyond, "causing disorder in your enemy." And that's precisely what Beach Jumper units did.
The Silent Men, a starring Radio vehicle for Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. wasn't simply a young man's delayed pipe dream translated into a Radio espionage adventure series. Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. actually lived and worked with espionage and special operations personnel for most of his State Department and U.S. Naval Reserve careers throughout the World War II years.
Initially detached to The State Department by FDR, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. was a roving envoy and liason to several South American countries in the years leading up to World War II until shortly after our entry into the War. When war finally arrived, Douglas Fairbanks was attached to one of Lord Mountbatten's Special Operations units, first in the North Atlantic then later in the Mediterranean and North Africa. The highly specialized units Lt. Commander Fairbanks worked with were highly classified, counter-intelligence and psychological operations units informally referred to as 'beach jumpers.'
Some of you may have read about the highly successful deceptions and misdirection efforts leading up to the D-Day invasion. Efforts such as Fortitude South, Operation Bodyguard, and the mythical 1st United States Army Group (FUSAG) were devised to persuade the German forces that the D-Day landings were to be near Pas de Calais, rather than their actual destinations on the beaches of Normandy. The German high command had already hypothesized that Pas de Calais would be the most likely landing location for an invasion. Rather than attempt to confuse the Germans, the Allied Special Operations units fed the German High Command's vanity about Pas de Calais with a variety of elaborate physical (camouflage, etc.), intelligence (the famed Enigma machine misdirections), and psychological operations. Lord Montbatten was responsible for the planning for many of these activities and Lt. Commander Douglas Fairbanks was seconded to Montbatten's operations based on the Isle of Wight, the jumping off point for many of these psyop and physical deception misdirection efforts.
Beach jumper units were small, highly mobile, multi-skilled units comprised of radio engineers, watercraft pilots, navigators, and demolition experts. Their mission was tactical evasion and misdirection. They were initially employed to simulate an amphibious landing force of as many as 50,000 to 70,000 personnel. They would accomplish this by a combination of amphibious smoke-laying, accompanied by highly mobile loudspeakers mounted on fast, highly maneuverable craft that would race back and forth over an area large enough and wide enough to support such a landing. The combination of sound, detonations, smoke and often simulated landing craft were convincing enough to cause the enemy to waver or delay at the point of committing its resources. The resulting tactical advantage was often enough to turn the tide to the advantage of a larger, strategic operation.
When it came time to pitch The Silent Men to NBC, one imagines that it had to have been a pretty easy sell. Given Fairbanks' extensive first-hand experience, combined with his natural acting and production skills, The Silent Men offered almost no downside for NBC. What apparently remained something of a secret for all those years was the actual hands-on perspective from which Fairbanks approached the production. One assumes it was a combination of Fairbanks' natural humility and the continuing need for operational security that kept the full story of Fairbanks special ops background from the public. But what a wonderful promotional feature it could have been if it had been made public.
Despite the more fascinating disclosure of Fairbanks' own special ops background, each of the eventual twenty-nine scripts that comprised The Silent Men were quite compelling and interesting vignettes about an area of intelligence warfare rarely reported.
Well acted, well produced, well directed, and very well written, The Silent Men remains just as compelling and cautionary to this day. But as an historic production, the backstory of Douglas Fairbanks' real-life intelligence activities, combined with the actual vignettes, make for a truly memorable and highly collectable series.
As a personal tribute to the various intelligence agencies throughout the U.S. Government, Douglas Fairbanks was pretty thorough in his recognition efforts. Here are the roles and agencies that Fairbanks adopted during the course of his The Silent Men programs:
- Immigration Agent George Stenson
- Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Agent Pete Jackson
- Department of Commerce Enforcement Division Special Agent James Cooper
- Postal Service Agent Bill Foster
- Treasury Agent Ben Garrett
- Federal Narcotics Bureau Special Agent Larry Thomas
- Federal Undercover Agent Tom Brackett
- Treasury Agent Henry Winard
- Central Intelligence Agency-detached Special Agent Mel Girard
- Department of Defense Investigative Service (DODIS) Special Agent Fred Thompson
- Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) Special Agent Paul Wellman
- Immigration and Naturalization Special Agent Pete Bradford
- FBI Special Agent Michael Rothen
- Secret Agent Ian McKay
- Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) Special Agent Alec Brown
- Department of Defense (DOD) Special Agent Mark Wayne
- Department of Defense (DOD) Special Agent Donald Hines
- Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Special Agent Dick Bosworth
- Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Special Agent Henry McAdam
- Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Special Agent Charles Wakefield
- Federal Bureau of Narcotics Special Agent Allen Newhouse
- Department of Defense Investigative Service (DODIS) Special Agent Frank Hepburn
- C.A.R.E-detached Special Agent Dick Brooks
- Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Special Agent Tom Manning
- United States Postal Service (USPS) Special Agent Jack O'Hara
- FBI Special Agent Eric Madden
- Secret Service Agent Sam Courtney
One can't help but wonder at the shot in the arm such tributes must have been for the tens of thousands of actual 'silent men', their agencies and their families listening to these fascinating tributes. One can also be quite certain that at least hundreds of the actual 'silent men' listening to these broadcasts knew of Fairbanks' own contributions to their silent professions.
Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Georgia Ellis, William Conrad, Paul Dubov, Ted de Corsia, Ramsay Hill, Herb Butterfield, Paul Frees, Jan Arvan, Edwin Max, Lou Merrill, John Stevenson, Howard McNear, Raymond Burr, Betty Lou Gerson, Don Diamond, Ben Wright, Joy Terry, Tom Holland, Lillian Buyeff, Stacy Harris, John Gibson, William Keene, Joe DeSantis, Roc Rogers, Rugh Yorke, Bernard Lenrow, Dan Ocko, Leon Janney, Gregory Morton, Bert Holland, Jerry Hausner, Bertram Tanzewell, William Tracy, Virginia Gregg, Anne Diamond, Tom McKee, Jack Kruschen, Kurt Martell, Stan Waxman, Jerry Farber, Glen Vernon, Jean Tatum, Bill Yagerman, Frank Gerstle, Jeff Corey, Vivi Janis, Lamont Johnson, Ted Osborne, Charles Davis, Lurene Tuttle, Harry Lang, Betty Moran, Jack Carroll, Lou Krugman, Nestor Paiva, George Neise, Junius Matthews, Jeffrey Silver, Shepard Menken, Joan Banks, Lawrence Dobkin, Elaine Welch, John Dehner, Parley Baer, Donald Morrison, Mary Jane Croft, Lynn Allen, Paul Richards, George Pirrone, Jeanne Bates, Fritz Feld, Alma Lawton, Ralph Moody, Joan Ray, Eve McVey, Robert Boone, Byron Kane, Sally Cassell, Noreen Gammill, Dal McKennon, Gloria Ann Simpson, Ruth Perrin, Charles Smith, Eddie Fields
Text from Digital Deli Too