Historian Rick Beyer, who produced and directed the award-winning PBS documentary The Ghost Army, and co-wrote (with Liz Sayles) The Ghost Army of World War II, shares “Ten Little Known Facts about the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops (AKA the Ghost Army).”
Ten Little Known Facts About the Ghost Army
- A top secret U.S. Army report on the Ghost Army done thirty years after the war categorized their exploits this way: “Rarely, if ever, has there been a group of such a few men which had so great an influence on the outcome of a major military campaign.”
- They conducted 21 different deceptions against the Germans, sometimes operating as close as ¼ of a mile from the front line.
- Many of the soldiers in the unit were artists, including fashion designer Bill Blass, minimalist painter Ellsworth Kelly and photographer Art Kane.
- They not only had inflatable tanks, they also had inflatable artillery, jeeps, trucks and airplanes.
- Using 500 pound speakers mounted on traffic, they could play sounds of troop movements that could be heard 15 miles away.
- They frequently created phony headquarters and impersonated generals to fool enemy spies. Sometimes they were so convincing they ended up fooling other American units.
- Artists in the unit created an estimated 40 thousand counterfeit shoulder patches to use for their deceptions.
- They were a big help to General George Patton’s Third Army. In July 1944, they tricked the enemy about where Patton was headed, helping him to race across France and smash much of the German army. In September, they helped held a dangerously undermanned part of Patton’s line as he was attacking the fortress city of Metz. In December, during the Battle of the Bulge, they helped draw German attention away from Patton’s to relieve Bastogne.
- Their story remained classified for more than 50 years after the war. Some of the soldiers never even told their wives about it until 1996.
- By some estimates, their deceptions saved more than 25 thousand lives.