In 1934, a Navy plane crashed into the
ocean while performing military
maneuvers. The Pilot
apparently died because, he was unable
to survive the elements of the sea long
enough for the
rescue ship to reach him. He had no life
Several years later, in 1939, Fred F.
Patten, brother of the lost airman,
joined the navy and pioneered the
development of the
inflatable life raft to save lives where
his brother's had been lost.
Soon after Pearl Harbor and our
declaration of war with Germany
and Japan, the Navy, Bureau of
Aeronautics, and the Army Air
Force adopted Patten's prototypes.
The Navy soon commissioned Patten as an officer, responsible for engineering and development of inflatable life saving equipment for the Bureau of Aeronautics, referenced in the letter below.
During his active duty,
he was also the initial project engineer
development of the inflatable decoy
deception force that confused
the Germans, before and during the D-Day
ranged from full-scale landing craft,
troop carriers, tanks as well
as B-26 bombers
History behind the D-Day Inflatable
Full-Size Inflatable Decoy
Decoy Troop Carrier
There have been several stories relative
to the D-Day invasion of
which included the role of inflatable
decoys. None of these reports includes
the story of how the thought of an
inflatable decoy became a reality and
the actual products available to play
their role in D-Day. Following is the
report of one of the key participants in
At the beginning of World War I, the U.
S. Rubber Company plant in
was engaged in the manufacture of
inflatable life rafts which Fred Patten,
their Product Development Manager, had
designed for the Navy and Army Air
Force. Because of this, the U. S. Army
Engineer Corp in late 1942 contacted Mr.
Patten advising of their interest in
developing an inflatable rubber aircraft
to be used as a decoy. This prompted him
to design and build, at the U. S. Rubber
Company plant, a rubberized fabric
structure that, when inflated, simulated
an actual size B-26 bomber. In Sept.
1942 this unit was taken to an Army
Engineer Base and inflated in a field
not far from the Base airfield. After a
short period of time, a fighter aircraft
flying in the vicinity made two zooming
dives over the rubber bomber, then
radioed the airfield tower that a bomber
had landed in a nearby field. This
supported the Army Engineers in their
inflatable decoy idea.
During this period, planning for the
invasion of France occupied
by the Nazis had begun. Top ranking
officers under General Eisenhower
concluded that convincing the Nazis that
the invasion would take place at a
location far from the actual location in
would be a strategic coup. How to
accomplish the deception became the
The answer was to create an invasion
force with fake tanks, artillery, and
landing craft (LST’s) and place these
units on the shoreline near Dover,
England, across the channel from Calais,
France, some 150 miles east of the
actual invasion location.
The Army Engineers provided U. S. Rubber
Company with drawings showing the
outline and general design of the
products to be simulated. Fred Patten,
assisted by the engineering staff,
designed the inflatable rubber tank,
personnel carrier truck, artillery piece
and 110 ft. landing craft requested by
the Army Engineers.
It was now early 1943. When the date of
the Normandy invasion was set by General Eisenhower as June 6,
1944, the big problem was time: how to
build the equipment, get it to Dover,
and train military personnel in its use
before D-Day. The other problem was
The Army Engineers arranged a meeting
with Fred Patten and representatives of
other rubber companies to establish a
plan to accelerate manufacturing of the
products and devise an atmosphere of
production that would provide secrecy.
Patten was put in charge of coordinating
the operations. To accelerate production
it was decided to split the fabrication
of the products into sections, having
one company make one section and another
company make another. The sections would
then be sent to a third company for
final assembly. For example, one company
was given orders to build a certain
number of 4" diameter inflatable tubes
in various lengths, which were then sent
to another company to be formed into a
framework. These inflatable frames were
then sent to another company where the
fabric covers were installed resulting
in a structure simulating a real tank.
The covers were painted in a camouflage
motif. The landing craft was divided
into three sections fabricated by three
different companies, then shipped to the
military unit assigned to the decoy
mission where they would be laced
together to form a 110 ft. landing
This program not only speeded the
manufacture of several items at the same
time, but because most of the workforces
saw only part of the product, the
secrecy problem was made easier. Those
who had assignments involving the
finished item were led to believe that
the inflatable structures were for
training purposes, to provide equipment
so that the different forces involved in
a planned military engagement --
infantry, artillery, tank corps, landing
craft -- could "walk through" their
assigned roles in the engagement without
requiring the actual tanks and landing
craft which were needed for combat
To the gratification of all involved,
and due to the joint efforts of the
participating company experts in the
field, the units were available and
training completed in time to be
deployed on the Channel coast near
invasion, June 6, 1944. General George
S. Patton was put in command of the
decoy army. With General Patton in
command, the Nazis could never have
doubted the threat of this army.
Nazi aircraft reported the Dover operation to their high command. The
result was that the Nazi defense troops
were spread out on the Channel coast of
with a major portion positioned in the
area. This thinned the defensive force
which faced the actual invasion location
(approximately 150 miles west of
Historians have given credit to the
decoy mission for contributing greatly
to the successful invasion of
by the Allied Forces that brought about
the defeat of the Nazis and the end of
the war in August 1945.
Soon after ending his active
Patten joined the United States
Rubber Company as
Product Development Manager to
produce the rafts.
(on the left) with the first 7 man
Air Force demonstrates Fred Patten's 7-man raft they adopted in 1942
Air Force demonstrates Fred Patten's 7-man raft they adopted in 1942
Following the war, Fred Patten went out on his own as a consultant to help
businesses get into the life raft manufacturing business. Several companies that
make rafts today were helped by his consulting. In 1947 Fred founded the Patten
Co., Inc. in Lowell and subsequently moved to Worcester, Mass. The company soon
became a major supplier of these products to the Government. In 1955, the Patten
Company relocated to Lake Worth, Florida. The life rafts ranged in size from 1-man through 20-man. Many other products were designed and developed for a
variety of military customers.
In 1966 son Robert Patten joined the company and in 1968 son Stephen also signed
up to carry on the family business.
The company has done extensive development work on life rafts with NASA and has
supplied the astronauts with life rafts since the first Apollo missions. Our
specially designed rafts were deployed around the world for the Skylab program.
All Astronauts carry our life rafts on each Space Shuttle mission.
Starting in the middle 1960's the Patten Company produced Coast Guard approved
life rafts for the C. J. Hendry Company. The rafts were manufactured under the
name of Elliot. The sizes ranged from 6 persons to 25 persons. The company made
1000's of rafts until RFD-Elliot took over the production responsibilities.
In 1973 Fred Patten semi-retired after selling the company to American Safety
Equipment Corp. They subsequently discontinued the life raft business. In 1974
Fred Patten's sons and former Patten Co. executives re-established the company.
RFD GROUP LTD., the leading manufacturer and designer of inflatable life saving
equipment in England, purchased controlling interest of the company in 1978. F.
F. Patten's return to active participation as Chairman of the Board and CEO was
part of the transaction as well as the use of the name "Patten". The new name
became RFD-Patten, Inc.
In late 1986, another British company under a leveraged buy-out on the London
Stock Exchange purchased the RFD GROUP. In January 1987 Fred Patten bought back
the stock owned by the British company, resumed the name Patten Co., Inc. and
Robert and Stephen Patten now own 100% of the business.
A few of the products we presently manufacture are:
* One person to 50 person life rafts
* Emergency inflatable shelters in various sizes up to 21' x 20'
* Mine Safety Barriers
* 15' to 20' rescue boats
The manufacturing area is over 60,000 square feet on four acres and the primary
offices and production facility have been at the same location since 1955.
The Patten Company has never been without a Government contract for inflatable
life rafts during its active period from 1947 to the present.
Patten is the country's leading manufacturer of inflatable life rafts for
military aircraft for the Department of Defense. 70% of the company's contracts
are in this area.
Our state of the art research and development along with three generations of
experience make The Patten company the mainstay of the industry.