Interesting Facts

What exactly was the US's 'Ghost Army' during WWII?

During WW2, there was a special unit of men dubbed the ‘Ghost Army’. The unit was made of artists, creative and engineers and their job was to create deception about the enemy. From inflatable tanks to phony convoys to scripted conversations in bars intended to spread disinformation, they used all possible tricks to fool the enemy.

The “Ghost Army Congressional Gold Medal Act,” which US President Joe Biden signed into law on February 2, 2022, essentially recognizes the “Ghost Army,” a tactical deception unit used by the US during World War II.

This unit was assigned a mission in 1944 to put on a show for the German troops in an effort to trick them and influence their decisions. They employed deception techniques such as sound effects, dummy trucks, personnel, and tanks that floated around. They had a 0.50 caliber machine gun, which was their heaviest weapon.

There are only nine Ghost Army veterans left, dispersed across the US, 77 years after this mission was completed.

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America’s “Ghost Army” standing next to a rubber cannon. National Archives

What is the Congressional Gold Medal?

The highest national recognition for exceptional accomplishments and contributions is the Congressional Gold Medal, which is awarded by the Congress.

Participants in the American Revolution, the War of 1812, and the Mexican War were the first recipients of the medal. Later, Congress expanded the eligibility for the medal to include pioneers in a variety of other fields as well as actors, authors, musicians, entertainers, explorers, athletes, humanitarians, and foreign recipients.

The US Capitol Police and those who guarded the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, the day of the siege, received the medal most recently.

The ‘Ghost Army’

After it was established in January 1944, the existence of the “Ghost Army” was unknown for about 50 years. The unit’s “strange mission” was to conceal American troop strength and location from the enemy.

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In 1996, when the official history—which was originally written in 1945 by Captain Fred Fox, an officer on the unit—became public, its existence was declared to be public knowledge.

Ghost Army is the collective name for the 3133rd Signal Company Special and the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops.

According to the unit’s official history, the US War Department activated it on January 20, 1944. Members of the units were trained and assembled pretty quickly in Tennessee. The unit served with four US armies in France, Belgium, England, Luxembourg, Holland, and Germany for a year and a half before it was on its way home.

The unit arrived in France with 1023 enlisted men and 82 officers in command. Four units provided the majority of the men and officers. Some of the members were New York and Philadelphia-based artists, while others were combat engineers and others had received special training in deception.

According to the book “The Ghost Army of World War II,” some of the members’ tasks included creating intricate models and using nettle as cover. Pilots would fly overhead and photograph these to show how the camouflage installations appeared. Since the inflatable personnel installations were immovable, they were not very effective.

Some operations of the Ghost Army

Operation Brest, in which the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops used sonic, radio, and visual deception, was one of the operations they carried out. The Ghost Army was tasked with inflating the apparent size of American troops at Brest, which was held by the Germans and was under siege by the Allies, in order to persuade the Germans to submit. According to the Ghost Army Legacy Project, they did this by fooling the Germans with inflatable tanks, noises, and illusions.

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A Ghost Army soldier with an inflatable rubber Sherman tank. It took about 30 minutes to inflate a single tank.Credit…National Archives

However, opinions on the unit’s accomplishments are still divided. The aforementioned book makes reference to a top-secret report that claims that overall, the army fell short of its potential. Despite a history of minor enemy intelligence manipulations that were successful, the report stated that tactical deception was characterized by a string of missed opportunities.

However, some specialists thought the work of the unit was worthwhile. One such person is a United States Army analyst by the name of Mark Kronman who praised the unit in a classified report. Rarely, if ever, has a small group of men had such a significant impact on the outcome of a significant military operation, the author noted in his article.

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