When Princess Elizabeth first joined her parents on a morale- boosting visit to troops in 1944, newspapers carried patriotic reports of her wartime duty.

The attractive young Royal, a month shy of her 18th birthday, stood in the back of a jeep with the King and Queen, beaming and waving at the ranks of soldiers.

They had travelled north by train but wartime censorship meant military locations could not be revealed.

Yet, hours later, Berlin knew the Royals had been in Lincolnshire and Yorkshire, thanks to spies in Blighty.

But those spies were actually agents of the Double-Cross System, a secret MI5 ploy to deceive the Germans about the timing and ­location of the invasion of Europe.

The amazing story is revealed as we prepare to mark the 75th ­anniversary of the Allied landings in France.

And a fascinating Channel 4 documentary, D-Day: The King Who Fooled Hitler, will tell for the first time how the Royal Family was also secretly enlisted by MI5.

In the months leading up to June 6, 1944, royal visits to troops were carefully choreographed to convince the enemy the Allies would invade Calais or Norway – and not the real intended target area of Normandy.

And King George VI – originally mistrusted by MI5 for his pre-war support for appeasing Hitler – was a key weapon in Operation Overlord and final victory.

George’s role came to light after Professor Richard Aldrich of Warwick University and Dr Rory Cormac of Nottingham University made a tantalising discovery in the diary of the King’s private secretary Alan “Tommy” Lascelles.

On March 3, 1944 two MI5 officers visited Buckingham Palace and Lascelles wrote that they “explained how the King’s visits in the next few months could assist in the elaborate cover scheme whereby we are endeavouring to bamboozle German ­intelligence over the time and place for Overlord”.

Dr Cormac, an intelligence expert, says the entry proved “a really significant clue… that the King knew about one of the greatest secrets of the war and had an active and personal role in it”.

That came as a surprise because the King, desperate to avoid another war after the horrors of the 1914-18 conflict, had been quick to congratulate PM Neville Chamberlain on the 1938 Munich Agreement.

Professor Aldrich says: “The King even drafts a letter to Hitler ‘as one ex-serviceman to another’ and is as keen on appeasement as Chamberlain.”

Officials blocked the letter.

But when first Hitler’s occupation of Czechoslovakia and then his outright attack on Poland led to war, MI5 had to trust the King.

Amid fears Britain would be invaded in 1940, plans were made to evacuate the Royals to Canada.

But when the plan was put to the King he replied: “We are not going.”

If Nazi paratroopers invaded, so be it.

The monarch said: “We will all fight to the last.”

Impressed by his steely resolve, Churchill sent the King a present – a gift-wrapped Tommy gun.

Professor Aldrich says: “After this the King, all the royals and the equerries were practising shooting at Windsor with pistols, rifles and Churchill’s Tommy gun.

“The Queen even took potshots at rats in Buckingham Palace. This shows the King really expected an invasion and he never went anywhere in his car without a pistol and a rifle.”

In November the royal family visited RAF Tempsford, the airfield from which secret agents were flown to enemy-occupied Europe.

Prof Aldrich says: “All the James Bond items are laid out for them. Daggers in handbags, compasses hidden in lipsticks, and all sorts of exploding devices like wine bottles, dead animals, even horse manure.”

From 1943 the King was taking an active part in Operation Fortitude, the D-Day disinformation campaign.

John Masterman, an Oxford don and MI5 officer, was the mastermind of the Double-Cross or XX System of counter intelligence and deception.

It ran 39 double agents in Europe and England who were feeding back misinformation to Berlin – including about the King’s visits.

Dr Cormac carried out a search of 23,000 local and national newspaper articles from March to August 1944.

He said: “What seemed a random series of morale-boosting visits to troop concentrations was actually a carefully calculated programme with misleading reports from the Double-Cross agents.

“Visits to unnamed locations tantalised the Germans, and when the agents in London fed back information they felt they’d cracked it.

“The secret of deception is to get the Germans to think they had worked it out for themselves.”

Professor Aldrich adds: “The Germans are looking at what the King is doing – it’s a wonderful tool with which the Double-Cross team can highlight things they want the Germans to look at.”

The next part of the deception was to draw attention away from southern England to the north – and the Queen and Princess Elizabeth were enlisted to help.

The trip to Lincolnshire and Yorkshire on March 23, 1944 was the King’s seventh in recent weeks.

But it was Princess Elizabeth’s first and so attracted much press attention.

Prof Aldrich says: “The King was using the Royal Family to amplify the process of deception.”

The Germans were sure it meant an invasion was imminent – and if troops in the north of England were the focus, that meant Scandinavia.

On May 15 the King embarked on his most dangerous mission, visiting the Home Fleet in the Orkney Islands.

Press reports said only that he was in “cold and lonely northern waters” but the Nazis smugly knew where.

And when the papers said the King “wished his fleet God-speed before battle” they thought an invasion of Norway was imminent.

In fact, the attack on Europe came three weeks later and 1,000 miles away – on the bloody beaches of Normandy where history was made.

  • D-Day: The King Who Fooled Hitler — Sunday, Channel 4, 8pm

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