A Crossword Puzzle Revealed D-Day Code Words, Panic Ensued

A view of Allied forces storming the beaches of Normandy from a ship used to transport soldiers in. Multiple soldiers are wading through the surf and some are climbing over the dunes to carry out the invasion.

Allied forces storm the beaches of Normandy

June 6, 2022, is the 78th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy during World War II, also known as D-Day. In this article, we explore the growing alarm as, one after another, secret code words of the invasion began showing up as answers to crossword clues.

Escalating Concerns

In April of 1944, the London Daily Telegraph published crossword puzzles over multiple days that included some all-too coincidental answers: Juno, Gold, and Sword, catching the attention of British intelligence, MI5.

But why did MI5 become suspicious of seemingly harmless crossword puzzles in the London Daily telegraph?

The top-secret plans for the invasion of Normandy included names for the beaches where allied forces were to land upon the start of the invasion: Utah, Omaha, Juno, Gold, and Sword. In early May, after three names were correct answers in April’s puzzles, Utah appeared as an answer, and later that month, Omaha. The code names for all five landing sites were out, leading MI5 to believe that there must be some form of espionage going on.

Then, on Saturday, May 27, the code name for the entire D-Day operation showed up: Overlord. And on May 30, the name of the prefabricated floating harbors used during the invasion: Mulberry. Finally, on June 1, the crossword had the last word: Neptune – the code word for the naval assault phase of the invasion.

This led to MI5 arresting the editor of the puzzles, Leonard Dawe, on June 2, 1944, under suspicion he was a spy for enemy forces.

The Explanation

After an investigation, MI5 learned that Dawe, who was headmaster of the Strand School, created the puzzles by asking his students to fill out the crossword grid. He then created the hints for each word.

The Strand School moved out of London during World War II, relocating to Brighton, where it was then adjacent to a joint military base. This resulted in the students having frequent contact with the soldiers who, apparently, knew the code words.

It was a perfect storm of lax security; Dawe was not a spy. The publication of the code words in the crossword puzzles appeared to have had no effect on Operation Overlord, as Allied forces went on to launch the largest amphibious operation in the history of warfare on D-Day, laying the foundations for the defeat of Germany in World War II.

References and Further Reading

d-day-fact-sheet-the-beaches.pdf (defense.gov)

DDay Crossword Mystery (ssqq.com)

Did A Crossword Puzzle Reveal Secrets About the D-Day Invasion? – Commonplace Fun Facts (commonplacefacts.com)


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