The remarkable story of the World War II 'Ghost Army' that duped Hitler

Ghost armyNational ArchivesAmerica’s ‘Ghost Army’ standing next to a rubber cannon.

From the summer of 1944 till the end of the war in Europe, the US fielded a unique ‘Ghost Army’ throughout France and the Rhine Valley in order to deceive the Third Reich into over estimating the strength of the Allied forces. 

The Ghost Army, which consisted of 1,100 handpicked men and a number of phony inflatable tanks and weapons, were part of the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops.

The unit’s sole responsibility was to create illusions and spread disinformation about the strength and location of Allied forces. 

Ghost armyScreen grab/The Ghost Army/PBSAmerica’s WW2 Ghost Army.

According to PBS documentary “The Ghost Army,” these masters of deception saw action dangerously close to the front lines in France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Germany throughout the war.

In total, the unit was responsible for over 20 illusions that befuddled German military planning and masked actual Allied troop movements and deployments. 

To the Nazis, the Ghost Army appeared as real units and soldiers.

However, these men were a combination of artists, audio technicians, actors, and designers who, through a commitment to their craft, created inflatable mock-ups of military vehicles, tanks, and artillery.

Arriving in France just after the D-Day invasion, the Ghost Army set to work creating numerous illusions both on and off the battlefield.

On the battlefield, the unit fielded imperfectly camouflaged tanks, planes, and guns in order to convince the Nazis that there were 30,000 more Allied troops on the field than were actually present. 

Ghost armyNational ArchivesSoldiers work on an inflatable tank.

These visual illusions were compounded by the use of audio recordings that could be heard over 9 miles away.

The recordings featured sound effects that mimicked the movement of large armoured divisions.

Ghost army audio recordingNational ArchivesA 500-pound Ghost Army speaker that played fake recordings of the army’s movement.

Off the battlefield, actors within the Ghost Army would impersonate US generals and officers in towns throughout France.

These actors, aware that German agents may be spying on them, would flippantly discuss fake military plans and deployments over wine in order to better spread false information. 

Ghost armyNational ArchivesAn inflatable convoy.

Earlier this year, American Sniper actor Bradley Cooper announced he will produce Warner Brothers upcoming “Ghost Army” film.

Here’s the trailer of the PBS documentary:

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