As America found itself entering the Second World War, a host of innovative and effective fighting tactics were developed. The U.S. and Allied Forces would eventually claim victory and liberate Europe from the hold of Nazi Germany’s regime. One of the most interesting units to assist in this mission was the U.S. Army’s 23rd Headquarters Special Troops. But unlike most of the troops fighting in WWII, these brave individuals were sent with art supplies, inflatables, staging pieces, and sound equipment. The Ghost Army, WW2’s deception unit, was born and used their skills as artists to deceive the Nazis and claim victory.
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The Ghost Army, WWII’s Avant-Garde Installation
The Ghost Army in WW2 was the first deception unit, but it wasn’t the first group of troops to use such techniques in the war. British forces had been successful in fooling Nazi troops, and many of the ideas that the Ghost Army of WW2 had came from such successes.
The idea was simple. Recruit the minds of creative individuals, such as those in art school or the advertising industry, to use and create the top-secret unit that fooled the Nazis. These civilians worked in art, theatre, stage design, and engineering. Comprised of around 1,100 Soldiers, Major Ralph Ingersoll, the creator of the newspaper PM, and Colonel Billy Harris would construct a top-secret unit that would remain a secret for over 50 years.
Those serving in the Ghost Army of WWII did have weapons, but it was nowhere near what they were pretending to be. By using inflatables, camouflage, and audio, the idea was to fool Nazi forces into believing that they were a unit comprised of around 30,000 troops complete with tanks and air support. In reality, while there was some security, the unit’s heaviest weapons were .50 caliber machine guns.
The WWII Ghost Army’s Forms of Deception
Emulating a large, mobile Army unit is no easy task. Yet, the WW2 Ghost Army put its talents to use and found ways to confuse the enemy through differing forms of deception.
- Visual- Artists would use everything from dummies to inflatable tanks and even the rare use of actual tanks and artillery when possible. Military camps were constructed, and things were arranged carefully to be realistic yet visible so that enemy aircraft could confirm their existence. The crazy part is that these talented Soldiers could do so in only a few hours.
- Sonic- It’s one thing to look like a military unit, but through sonic deception, the Ghost Army could now sound like one, too. Capable of transmitting custom mixed sounds that would change to complement the current military scenario for the unit, enemy forces would hear the Ghost Army from up to 15 miles away.
- Radio- The Ghost Army would mimic radio communications by providing Morse code and sending messages that ultimately were for nothing but to show that they “existed.” These messages would be sent with distinct techniques that would copy the way other senders would relay such messages to make things more realistic.
- Atmosphere- Taking things even further, the Ghost Army of WWII would also find themselves taking on brave endeavors to create a fake atmosphere around the unit. This would include dressing up as military police to stand guard outside of the unit or even taking a trip into town to gather supplies, wanting to be spotted by Nazis.
This multi-faceted production was capable of keeping the enemy on its heels and left no stone unturned. Participating in 22 large-scale operations, the Ghost Army’s troops were the combat con artists of World War II and a major part of the success of American troops, overall. Their work could be found in various notable events during WWII, including the Battle of the Bulge, D-Day, and the crossing of the Rhine River.
The Ghost Army’s WW2 Hoaxes Saved American Lives
The success of the Ghost Army’s WW2 efforts is undeniable. Experts believe that as many as 30,000 Americans were saved due to their work. It is an interesting story and a commitment to bravery to enter such a heinous war armed with more art supplies than ammunition. The story of the Ghost Army shows that when the time comes to do what is right and to defend our country, no matter what your talent may be, it can be used by the greatest fighting force in the world to defend liberty and justice.
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