The Ghost Army of WWII: Secret War Tour tells the story of the unsung WWII heroes of the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops and the 3133rd Signal Company Special, known as “the Ghost Army.” These deception troops saved thousands of lives and helped win the war, but their efforts were kept secret for fifty years.
This “traveling road show of deception” used inflatable tanks, sound effects and illusion to fool the Germans more than 20 times from Normandy to the Rhine. U.S. Army analysis categorized the Ghost Army’s 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.”
We begin in England where the top secret unit trained and travel on to Normandy, Brittany, Belgium and Luxembourg to study the key deception operations that were a pivotal part of the Allied victory.
The historian for this tour is 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. He has done extensive research on the unit, visited the battlefields of Europe many times, and with his wife Marilyn, has led this tour since 2014. Beyer founded the Ghost Army Legacy Project, and is currently working as an advisor on a feature film based on his book that is being developed by the producers of American Sniper.
Watch Rick’s webinar, The Ghost Army: Holding Patton’s Line with Inflatable Tanks>>
DAY 1 Flight to London
Guests organize their overnight flight to London. Please call us if you need any help making these arrangements.
DAY 2 London
Check into the hotel where the group gathers for an evening welcome reception and dinner. Historian Rick Beyer treats us to our first lecture, with introductions all around.
DAY 3 London, Bletchley Park & Walton Hall
The morning features several key sites in London that formed the backdrop for the war effort, including a visit to Winston Churchill’s historic underground bunker: Cabinet War Rooms. We then depart London for Bletchley Park, nerve center for Allied code breaking. Here we find the Enigma machine and the complex where Alan Turing and others decrypted Axis codes and cyphers, as depicted in the film The Imitation Game. That night we settle in at Walton Hall, a few miles from Stratford-upon-Avon. Group Dinner at Walton Hall.
DAY 4 Walton Hall – Portsmouth
Walton Hall, a 16th century manor house tucked into unspoiled Warwickshire countryside near Stratford-Upon-Avon, welcomes tour guests as it did the Ghost Army. The deceivers bivouacked here as they readied for action in spring 1944. We walk the village and grounds in the morning dew, then test our skills with an inflatable tank and sonic deception on the very spot the GI’s trained. Ghost Army soldiers visited Shakespeare’s Stratford-on-Avon – and we will, too – before heading to Portsmouth, a major embarkation site for the vast D-Day armada.
DAY 5 Crossing the Channel
At Portsmouth, we tour Southwick House, the advance command post of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force. The invasion-day map room where SHAEF commander Dwight Eisenhower counted down the final hours before D-Day is beautifully preserved. Here we learn about his agonizing “go/no-go” decision in the face of terrible weather just before D-Day. Next, a visit to the newly refurbished D-Day Museum to examine the launch of the cross-channel invasion.
Then, it’s all aboard the Ferry. We head across the English Channel to Normandy, and enjoy a fine dinner as the sun sets over the water.
DAY 6 Normandy
On our first day in Normandy we will visit Pegasus Bridge, the first landing site of the D-Day invasion. Here the British Sixth Airborne led by Major John Howard made a miraculous glider landing to carry out a surprise attack that took this crucial bridge across the Caen Canal.
We then drive to Ste-Mere-Eglise, one of the villages where the American 82nd Airborne descended on D-Day. 13,000 American paratroopers and nearly 4000 glider troops landed in Normandy in the early morning hours of June 6. We’ll stop to learn about the heroic defense of La Fiere Bridge. Then to St. Marie Du Mont, where you can still see Renaissance-style steeple the Germans used as an observation post. Next stop, Brécourt Manor where Lt. Dick Winters with members of Easy Company successfully silenced German artillery firing on American troops landing at Utah Beach.
Finally, Utah Beach itself, where a large portion of The Ghost Army landed a few weeks after D-Day, and the Invasion Museum that affords a thorough interpretation of the events of D-Day.
DAY 7 Normandy
Our day kicks off by exploring Pointe du Hoc, where US Army Rangers scaled the cliffs in one of D-Day’s most thrilling actions.
Unique to this tour is a stop in the Norman village of Trévières, the first Ghost Army base in Europe. We step inside the church in the town square that so many artists in the 603rd captured in photos, watercolor or pen-and-ink.
We then visit Omaha Beach where American GI’s faced the strongest German resistance on D-Day and incurred the greatest losses. Here too, several contingents of Ghost Army soldiers began their European operations. We visit key points to help us comprehend the enormity of this storied battleground. Fittingly, we then pay our respects at the American Cemetery. Atop the bluff overlooking the beach, a sea of white crosses mark 9,387 American soldiers’ graves.
DAY 8 Bayeux to Mortain to Avranches to Brest
Our first stop is the mountaintop town of Mortain, where the Germans launched Operation Luttich, a ferocious August 1944 counterattack against the Americans to cut them in two. We’ll stand on Hill 314 where the 2nd Battalion of the 30th Division put up a valiant defense. On our way we will drive through Cerisy Forest, sight of the Ghost Army’s first full-scale deception.
Then we visit Avranches, where Patton first took operational control of the legendary Third Army and promptly attacked the Germans in three directions…with a little help from the Ghost Army.
From there to the Pontaubault bridge, which Patton’s VIII Corps crossed on their drive into Brittany – and which Ghost Army soldiers crossed a week later as they carried out Operation BRITTANY to help General Patton entrap the German 7th Army. We drive across Brittany to Brest.
DAY 9 Brest
In August, 1944, American troops bottled up German defenders in the port city of Brest. The Ghost Army was brought in to help to inflate the apparent size of the American forces attacking Brest by impersonating the Sixth armored division. This was the first Ghost Army operation that used all forms of deception: visual, sonic and audio. It is also where they witnessed the deadly consequences of an American attack mistakenly launched right where the Ghost Army was attracting German attention.
We will walk the farm fields where Ghost Army soldiers set up their inflatable tanks, and stand in the spot where sonic trucks played their show just a quarter of a mile from enemy lines.
Then comes a trip to the fully restored five-story German bunker that was captured singlehandledy by a “fool lieutenant” of the 101st Airborne to 2nd Rangers. There we’ll see what life was like for soldiers on both sides during this battle.
Before we return to our hotel, we will visit the rocky coast on the westernmost part of France to take in the beautiful views.
DAY 10 Brest to Paris
In the morning we take the high-speed train to Paris, while the luggage travels by bus. Free afternoon and evening in Paris.
DAY 11 Paris – Reims – Verdun – Luxembourg
As our bus proceeds east from Paris, we stop in Reims to visit the Museum of the Surrender, where German generals surrendered to General Eisenhower in May 1945. Here also is the famed cathedral. Many French kings were crowned here, including Charles VII on July 17, 1429, guided by Joan of Arc.
Traversing France, we visit Verdun, the monumental World War I battleground. During the Battle of the Bulge, The Ghost Army withdrew to this French town and camped in dank World War I fortifications. We’ll see where they were, and tour the battlefield, monuments and cemetery. Then, on to Luxembourg City.
DAY 12 Luxembourg
From mid-September until the Battle of the Bulge in December, The Ghost Army was based in Luxembourg City. We take a morning walking tour of the Grund, the picturesque quarter painted and sketched by many Ghost Army artists. At the site of Operation Bettembourg, we pause at the first-ever Ghost Army historical marker (dedicated in 2018). From there it is a short ride to Hamm and the American cemetery. We visit General George Patton’s grave – as well as that of Sgt. George Peddle, a Ghost Army soldier killed in action. A nearby German military cemetery provides a study in contrasts. At The Seminary where Ghost Army soldiers stayed during their time in Luxembourg, we stand on the very stage where the great Marlene Dietrich performed for them.
DAY 13 Luxembourg and Belgium
We drive to Bastogne, where the 101st Airborne and elements of the 10th Armored held off 15 German divisions for six days in the Battle of the Bulge. We’ll explore General McAuliffe’s HQ where he replied to German surrender demands with one word: “NUTS.” We’ll visit sites around Bastogne where the battle unfolded – including the foxholes occupied by the “Band of Brothers.” At the 101st Airborne Museum in Bastogne we experience what the battle was like for both soldier and civilian. We also learn about a little-known Ghost Army operation designed to help General Patton’s drive on Bastogne.
DAY 14 Siegfried Line-Trier-Wiesbaden
We seek out remnants of the Siegfried Line, the German pillboxes and dragon’s teeth that American GI’s fought so hard to take in late 1944.
At last, it’s on to the Germany’s oldest city: Trier. The Ghost Army spent the final days of the war guarding Displaced Persons camps here. Many artist-soldiers captured scenes of the bomb-riddled city. Our visit includes time to shop and explore this Roman ruins – or maybe even Karl Marx’s birthplace! That night over dinner in Wiesbaden, we say farewell and recap our enriching foray into history.
DAY 15 Home or Operation VIERSEN Post-Tour
END OF TOUR: Morning transfer to Frankfurt airport (FRA) or start the optional tour extension.
Operation VIERSEN Post-Tour: We drive to Remagen, site of the famous Luddendorf Bridge. Its dramatic capture by the 9th Armored Division in March 1945, enabled the U.S. Army to establish its first bridgehead across the Rhine. We’ll tour the museum housed in the remnants of the storied bridge.
From there we travel to Dusseldorf, take a boat cruise on the Rhine, and examine Operation PLUNDER, General Montgomery’s 21st Army Group Rhine Crossing.
POST-TOUR DAY 16 Anrath-Dulken-Viersen-Wiesbaden
We will trace the steps of the Ghost Army as they carried out Operation VIERSEN, the unit’s last deception, the unit impersonated two divisions, the 30th and 79th, to help them in a major crossing of the Rhine River. In the late afternoon we drive to the beautiful Rhine River city of Koblenz, where we have dinner.
POST-TOUR DAY 17 Koblenz
We explore the beautiful 2,000 year old city of Koblenz and travel by cable car across the Rhine River to the Ehrenbreitstein Fortress. Completed in the early 1800s, the fortress was completed by the Prussians in 1828 and is the second largest in Europe.
POST-TOUR DAY 18 Safe travels home
Early morning airport transfer to Frankfurt International (FRA).