Overview of the Ghost Army
During World War II the Ghost Army, a tactical deception unit which imitated prior British operations, was used by the US military. Information on this unit remained undisclosed until 1996. In fact, parts of it still remain classified.
The conception of the Ghost Army unit began in 1942 when the British used this deceptive technique during the battle of el Alamein. The US Ghost Army was made up of 1,100 men. Their mission was to deceive the enemy by impersonating other US Army units and luring German units away from the locations of larger Allied combat units.
The Ghost Army missions began just a few weeks following the D-Day invasions and continued on through to the end of the war. In simple terms, these troops put on a ‘travelling side show’. They used a number of pieces pioneered by the British including inflatable tanks and aircraft and sound tracks of men and artillery which played through giant speakers. This fooled Germans into thinking they were facing a much larger force - in upwards of 30,000 men. The Ghost Army also transmitted fake radio messages and used pretense with their operations. Many of their assignments took them close to the front lines.
Most of the Ghost soldiers were recruited from schools that encouraged creativity – such as art schools or advertising agencies - as this particular soldier was encouraged to use his brain and talent in an effort to deceive, confuse and mislead the German Army.
The 603rd Camouflage Engineers were in charge of the visual tactics portion of the operation. They were the ones who would set up the inflatable armour and aircraft. They would use some camouflage techniques, but were always sure to leave enough exposed so the enemy could detect them from above. In just a few short hours, they were capable of setting up fake airfields, tents, motor pools, tank formations and anything else necessary to convince the enemy visually that they were a large, fully operational unit.
The audio portion of these deceptive missions was handled by the 3132 Signal Service Company special. The unit was sent to Fort Knox and with the assistance of engineers from Bell Labs they recorded various sounds of armored and infantry units. The recordings were placed on a series of sound effect records which were then taken with the 3132nd to Europe. The variety of audio recordings enabled them to mix the sounds to fit the deceptive scenario they were implementing.
The Signal Company handled the deceptive radio transmissions – or ‘spoof radio’ as it was sometimes called. This unit had special operators who would fabricate phony traffic nets and impersonate radio operators from actual units. The transmitters were also taught to mimic how particular departing radio operators sent Morse code. This allowed them to fool the enemy into thinking the units were still in the area, when in fact, they were long gone.
Another group of techniques utilized by the Ghost Army was known as ‘atmosphere’ deception. Actual deployed units would be simulated elsewhere by using their divisional insignia and by painting their appropriate unit insignia on vehicles. This gave the appearance of regimental headquarter units.
Trucks would travel a loop in convoys with just two men sitting in the rear towards the opening . This gave the appearance that the seats under the canvas of each truck were filled with infantry. Military Police were deployed at cross roads, displaying the proper divisional insignia. Some of the officers would dress as divisional generals and staff officers and visit local towns where agents of the enemy would be likely to spot them.
In all, the creativity of the US Ghost Army put together over 20 battlefield deceptions in France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany. Though their existence remained classified for more than 50 years, a 2013 PBS documentary – The Ghost Army – was created to highlight the heroic efforts and deceptive maneuvers performed by these World War II recruited artists.