We’re revisiting a 2015 episode about the U.S. Ghost Army, a top-secret group assembled to create confusion and mislead Axis forces during WWII.
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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
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hello, unwelcome Defranco learned how referring an archway Phoebe Wilson, entering We talked a little bit about military history and its world war. To specifically, and even though this particular peace that were discussing is in fact, military history the world s history of ingenuity or sleight of hand. I think. should probably be one of the big events on that timeline. We're gonna be the aim of the: U S: Ghost Army, which was a topsecret group that was assembled to create confusion. in and mislead access forces, and it's a really a story that stars ingenuity and bravado as part of the the main elements of the peace. And the idea of military deception was, of course not new to world were to. Everyone has heard of like the Trojan horse, for example and deceit. The tactic is part of Sun sues ART of war, almost any culture in
Three that found itself at war with another culture use some type of trickery to try to outsmart the enemy, because that's sort of a vital part of getting the upper hand in a conflict is is misleading so that you can kind of swoop in with your forces, but This group really went to some pretty extraordinary measures to achieve their goals and they did some really fascinating and cool things, and so- and it was classified for a long time and then the kind of came to light. So we are going to talk about it today because it is really cool. So to start out at the beginning, like we normally do the twenty third headquarters. Special traipse was the one and only deception, outfit that the? U S army other ever authorized. The goal was to corral a group of creative thinkers to approach, warfare in new ways, And this sort of trickery focused effort, was inspired by the success of operation Bertram in which our forces used dummy tanks,
camouflage to trick Ramos forces into an incorrect assessment of the allies position and strength during the second battle, of l, L, a meme in North Africa and also Bolstering this case for a deception unit. Was the? U S: success in misleading german intelligence, leading up to the battle of Tunisia. They realize, section was working and they thought was just have a unit that focused on this. The idea of forming a unit dedicated just this is attributed to captain Ralph Ingersoll. Before the war, he had been a celebrity journalists and even working with great Britain on deception techniques to mislead the Germans and the time leading up to Didi. On Christmas, Eve of nineteen forty three, a memo to the assistant chief of staff for operations, war Department in Washington DC officially requested the creation of a unit with a mission quote to stimulate a core of two in.
Three divisions and one armor divisions and core installations, rail, head dumps, etc. So, beginning in nineteen, forty for more than one thousand young men were recruited, and they often recent art, school graduates or add agency creatives, and they were handpicked for this assignment recruits were sent to Camp Forest until a homo Tennessee to train within the twenty. Third. Were several companies for the two hundred and forty fourth signal company worked on radio Counter intelligence, the thirty one. Thirty second Signal service company, which has actually trained at Pine Camp New York, works to develop sonic deception techniques, the forest fix engineer combat Company worked on the big construction projects and was in charge of security and often you'll hear this effort mentioned link when people say. Oh, they go sorry. They used inflatable tanks to deceive the Germans, and that is partially true, but
we mention in breaking down these different companies within the twenty. Third. It was a whole lot more than that. They feel, like the tanks, get the big like kind of bud speedy headlines off tough which is understandable, there's really cool video that exists like where you can see them rolling over these inflated tanks in it there. I don't know that I have ever heard any of that. your recordings- and I don't think I've ever seen- anyone reference them online, so you can see where the tanks get all the attention, but I was not otherwise. For instance, audio work sometimes referred to as sonic deception was a huge piece of the most army puzzle you they would make these huge speakers to project elaborate sounds scapes and radio plays that route were created by the thirty one. Thirty second Signal service company and these men had recorded tanks and rocks and artillery units- and they sound engineered them into a number of different soundtracks- and these recordings
they include sounds of tanks on the move or military construction and they would even have things like vehicle sputtering and they Army puzzle mass. They really amazing sound huge of basically every military vehicle that they had access to doing that Those machines could do so they could kind of peace them together and create unique and specific radio dramas. Basically, so if you wanted to broadcast, two battalion a vehicle starting up in the distance and moving closer. They could create that, with their ass library of recordings complete with idiocy Eric engine noises for specific vehicles and kind of mimic that distance too slowly bring forward nearness that you would hear if he were in one position with an actual troop going by. I like to imagine this is an extremely high tech. Version of following King Arthur around banging cocoanut, together
but it was very high tech. Even for the time I mean they were really kind of on the advanced edge of technology and how they were using sound. The line is like these. That kind of sound work happens in movies, tv and things like that. All the time now, like that's me, sort of how works so this was a different use for that. In addition to the three companies created with new recruits, another company was looped into the twenty third headquarters special troops, and that was the six. Our third engineer- camouflage Battalion the men of the six. A third had been working on camouflage were a couple of years already, so they brought their expertise to a group already at a fairly polished state. They already managed at impressive accomplishment that by disguising the plant in Baltimore, where be twenty, six bombers were assembled in the event that access forces wished to look for the plant. What they would see when they flew over was just a regular rural area
and before we get to how the twenty third trained and then made their way to Europe, even a pause for a moment for a word from a sponsor. Yes, I do this episode of stuff. You missed in history glasses, brought to you by Norton three sixty with life. Luck with your shopping online with your smartphone. Its super feels like ear. Personal information is just right there in your hand, but that's not always the case, because, as soon as you hit submit your personal information did it start going other places. In fact, whenever you shop Bank or browse online, your personal invoking get out of your control, and that can we be vulnerable to cyber criminals. More threats demand more protection. That's why Norton and Lifelong are now part of one company Norton. Three
stay with lifelike is an all in one membership for your cyber safety that gives you device security, identity theft, protection and a VP end for online privacy. No one can prevent all cybercrime and identity theft, but Norton in three sixty with lifelike as your ally in today's connected world, because your information is out there sign up for Norton three sixty with lifelike today and save twenty five percent or more off your first year, go to Norton dot com, slash history, that's Norton, DOT, com, slash history for twenty five percent off then for online privacy, no one can prevent all cybercrime and identity theft, but Norton three sixty with lifelong is your ally. In today's connected spring of nineteen. Forty four, the men of the twenty third, were training, but they were training and skills that seemed in many ways more appropriate for a touring
theatre company than for a group of soldiers, so they built prototype, prop vehicles burst out of wood and burlap and then out of rubber. The rubber versions licked incredibly realistic, but they weighed less than a hundred pound the peace, the men would also train with dummy artillery and other prop equipment. They practice sending each their fake radio messages and they learn just enough about the other different outfits that they could impersonate either as individuals or as a group and men who couldn't so had to learn because they were gonna have to quickly alter their uniforms and switch out patches as they sort of performed. These presto change o masquerades. in May. The majority of the twenty third boarded the? U S: S Henry Gibbons in New York bound for Great Britain. I spent about a month near Stratford on Avon, while they trained, although by all accounts, there was also quite a bit
partying yeah. This sounds like really a lovely time that they have, while they were in Britain, but shhh wave of men from the twenty third shipped out to France just following D day- and this was a small platoon. It was just fifteen men they landed, they almost Omaha Beach on June fourteenth so just add a week a little for nurses, actually flew with them so that they could tend to the wounded. They were waiting there on the beach going from a month in the idyllic british countryside having what was kind of a party s. atmosphere into the reality of war in France was, of course, something of a shock knowing that they were they are to draw fire. Some of the men thought the twenty third was really a suicide outfit. Here. They they had been trained in different sort of arts and deceptions, but
so much in actual combat. So they really did. Some of them really did think at that point, like oh they're, just sending us there to die and take the heat of the real soldiers, but over the course of the next two months threat. The twenty third joined their fellows in France, leading up to their first big mission, which was operation. Elephant about half of the man in the unit were involved in operation elephant during which they pretended to be the army's second armoured division in the real second armoured division was on the moon, while the twenty third. There to die and take the heat of the real soldiers, but over the course of the next two months, the rest of the twenty third joined their fellows in France, I german troops help their position, rather following the real second armoured division, because they did believe they were still there. This is also a big learning experience during this particular operation. It was revealed that, if the inflatable tanks that the twenty third used lost either a small amount of air. The cannons would droop
the whole thing away. They really. There are some paintings that you can find online and documentaries where you see sort of this droopy cannon bear put them it. A really does look comical. It's an inherently comical image: yeah tanks are not made to fire into the ground and stop it looked very, very silly. While they were not discovery there theatrical stirring operation elephant, it also became apparent that setting up and higher false division was going to be better executed in the dark of night. They had not waited until really late. They use some daylight
hours to do it, and they also realize that they really needed to like tighten up their disguise and camouflage game if they wanted to ensure future success. The entire 23rd was then tasked with operation breast, which was named for the nearby french port city. That was in August, one thousand nine hundred and forty four. The sonic unit was the last to arrive in France. So breast was the first time that the 23rd had their full then all of tricks at their disposal, and the goal was to create the impression of an existing tank unit having far greater power than I actually did, with the hopes that they would trick Germans into a surrender, and so the twenty third used a mix of fuel tanks and dummies flash canister first to sort of fake tanks, firing ants mixing to create this really convincing illusion of a huge tank division
the main bravado move of this mission came in the delivery of some of these sounds scapes that they had mixed so late at night, members of the twenty third would actually sort of Crete forward with their sound equipment they would get within about food hundred yards of the enemy line and they would play sounds of what sounded like the search issuing orders and people. Yet counter orders and even like fake situate, of arguments where there would be accidents that were stay. Aged there would be cursing at these imaginary errors. They are all doing is really pretty close to enemy lines, pretty to think about what that must have been like sitting there in that with your speaker playing these things, knowing how very close you were its sobering to think about. It was effective, so effective that it confused
only units positioned about a mile away and while it didn't get the Germans under General Herman be ramp, got to turn tail. It did keep them from going anywhere. This was a good things of that was an estimated thirty eight thousand and troops, and that was almost double what the allies had initially estimated if they had not been tricked into holding their line against this perceived threat from this puffed up, half fake tank battalion, they might have gone on the offensive in and really damaged, the it forces and throughout the rest of nineteen, forty four and on into ninety forty five, the twenty third continued to run these military masquerade games,
with every mission, they would kind of regroup and refine their play book and see what had worked in one hand, and they just got better and better and better. They learned how to stage and set dress their fate camps more and more authentically and they started hand painting patches to mimic those of existing units today. If they can get ahold of real ones, then they would stage fake headquarters to give out fake promotion, so low, ranking man would look like generals, and their officers, creating the foe illusion of real operations and then late at night. They would you know governed, recall in inflate their full vehicles and artillery under cover of darkness, so that, when dawn came, it would appear as though a huge surge of troops had arrived in the area In addition to providing this false image of battle ready army troops were, there was really only a line of fake vehicles in prerecorded noise, the twenty third of ready to seem to appear out of thin air and banish just as quickly actually had a
the unnerving effect on the enemy. So the german army started calling them the Phantom Army. Other tricks included the ongoing burning of fires that camps that were deserted in different ways to create fake tank tracks. In addition to the inflatable tanks and trucks, they also use dummy planes and buildings. They could mixed fake radio transmissions within with the real ones to confuse the enemy and they mounted fake parachute drop them. Put up signs directing Ally Ba, of that were never actually coming, but this elaborate spectacle also included a whole lot of acting on the part of the troops so knowing that any? U S, troops were always being watched by German, should soldiers or spies, or sometimes they were french people working for the Germans as informants the boys of the twenty third would really, Y, all manner of ruses, they would change out their unit insignia, as we mentioned on uniforms as well as on vehicles. They would do quick stenzel work to change everything up
and they would make sure that they were seen about town wherever they were and of drinking and hanging out and if they were asked. What unit they were part of. They would just make up names, a reference, a unit that they were covering four and seven I am even with a sort of mount these. These fake little tab lower would fain drunkenness and blab information in public places. So this sort of because this ongoing game of misinformation and subterfuge where they were just sort of always acting as will completely flawless there. Sometimes there were mistakes and problems. On occasion, a dummy tank would be invaded facing the wrong direction, because all of these set up parts are being done at night. It was easy enough to
if one and turn it around, but if it was already daylight when they realise the problem they are going to have to do it with really careful timings. So as not to be noticed at one point, several vehicles that had been inflated in the night were warmed so much. The sun came up with the air expanding inside them cause them to pop loudly as they sprang leaks, and why, while the sort of sounds hilarious, it was happening during a war. So all of these accidents, but the men involved at serious risk and all in all, there were twenty one missions mounted by the twenty third and before we get to sort of the biggest one that they undertook to do a quick word from a sponsor. Let's do this episode of stuff you, MRS history, glasses, brought. You buy Norton three, sixty with lifelong. Let's just say your shopping online with your smartphone. I do it all the time. They sure feels that your personal info is right there in your hand, but that's not always the case
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Just in what is arguably the most successful of the twenty third missions was operation fearsome, and this took place near the wars and relative Speaking, it wasn't right at the end, but it was in March of nineteen forty five and this basically and this took place near the wars and, relatively speaking, it wasn't right at the end, but it was in March of nineteen forty five and this basically launched a big, visible decoy mission to once again cover the movements of other troops, while parts of the ninth army were moving north to quietly cross the Rhine, the twenty third was making a big show of pretending to be those. just publicly enough to draw lots of attention, and this is really a massive effort, so they set up fake medical and engineering facilities, They had trucks and sonic crews, creating the illusion of convoys moving supplies. One point They were just having trucks loaded up, they would be driving them back and forth and they would put two guys
the very back so it looked like it was full of troops, but in fact there only two guys at the back. They arranged everything perfectly so that an aerial recognizance taking cheers would have no idea that the entire thing was a hoax. They, what are they? that these artist, so they could conceptually visualize like how things would look for multiple angles, even when they didn't have those angles available to them, so they really actually visualize like how things would look for multiple angles, even when they didn't have those angles available to them. when the real ninth crossed the Rhine, the Germans or taken totally by surprise. Those german troops that could resist them more disorganized and unprepared. So U S! Casualties are very few. The twenty third received a commendation from the ninth army command.
William Simpson, for their effort, later estimate by Simpson and placed the number of troops that were saved by this deception at ten thousand, and it ended up being the twenty third last mission of the war and in September of nineteen forty five, the twenty third was completely shut down. So one of the inherent dangers of being in a ghost army designed to draw attention is that it also draws fire. So it's easy to think about this pageantry and strategic sleight of hand really fun and fascinating, but it really, but the men involved at great risk at one point. They were actually set up in best stone and they actually miss the start of the battle of the bold. By about four hours they had been pulled out around midnight of December sixteenth, and this is its point only forty four and the fight being started around four. A m so
Those men been trapped there with their phony equipment. They would have been an incredibly dire straits and unable to defend themselves during the battle of the bounds. The twenty third returned to Luxembourg City, where they had already spent a lot of time and fired from the rooftops that the incoming lift off aircraft. This is the only time they ever really. For real fired at the enemy yeah. I was there when their one time that actually got to perform actual combat activities twenty third after that was very quickly move to very done so in part d, Allies wanted to maintain the secrecy of the ghost Army and, in another part, they realise that this blow up dummy
till. He was not to be any good in a fight, so they just want to clear them out and the men and it up spending Christmas in Verdun. While the group had been extraordinarily lucky throughout their time, your luck finally ran out in the spring of nineteen, forty five on March twelfth while impersonating the Eightieth Infantry, the twenty third drew german artillery fire two of their men were killed and fifteen others were wounded. This was really their worst day in spite of having been in incredibly dangerous, we as many times as they kept up false appearances all through the war and one of the problems that comes up when discussing the twenty third and their effectiveness and sort of assessing what they re. To achieve lies in the fact that so much of their work with secret and often fool. The allied forces, as well as the enemy like the allied forces, didn't even really know what was going on with them a lot of the time they thought they were just another unit after the war or most of the men stayed
about. The amazing works of deceptive art, but they had been part of the work, was classified so in the event that the? U S found itself at war again having a ghost army would be a really valuable asset, so the military didn't wanna, tippets hand and feel this resource, but finally, and ninety ninety six. So almost nineteen years ago, from when we're recording miss the work of the twenty third was declared a fine and the men who had only been able to give cagey answers to their families about what they had done in the war were now free to speak of their incredible efforts. One of the truly significant aspects of the twenty third and the work that they did is the fact that an entire division of creative people with successfully managed within the structure of the military yeah. This is those things that people often go like, but these were all artists and made totally were able to work together in this. This effort- and I dont know if that speaks to you.
Their level of commitment or independence. You know it's one of those things that often likes to get bandied about ITALY. When you're talking about modern business, they go it's hard to manage creative people. It's like these guys bandage than they were doing some scary stuff. I think it also speaks to the like perpetual mythology rising of creative work as some kind of extraordinary thing when in a lot of cases, it is work yeah, which is to say the least. Creative inspiration isn't really fabulous and cool and unique in many ways, but I just I find that to be a really interesting that we do mythologies working with creative types- and I say this as a creative person married to an artist as Well Lake, but did It can be. Anybody can be managed Rio, any sort of effort that can be put together. It's about you know using people,
assets in another. Really incredible legacy is the artwork that a one of these men were doing while they were deployed us like a little bit more about that in a minute, gets really no surprise but a lot of the men who were involved in as effectively doing art for the army went on to career and arts, so, for example, Bilbil ass of course went on sport, a fashion empire. He had actually been sketching women's clothing during the war. Yeah there was one interview that I saw with one of the other members of the twenty third him. He was saying, and I dont know if he was serious or not, that bill blast would read vote magazine in foxholes, but I have no idea, but I loved it. our came of course became a very well known photographer. His photo into a great day in Harlem which was taken in nineteen. Fifty eight featured fifty seven prominent jazz musician Then it still considered one of the most important images of jazz history and he also tackle
Incredible, celebrity portraits, and he was the photographer for the one and only Delorean magazine, add to ever run. Ellsworth Kelly made a career as a painter in a sculptor and became known for use of really bright, color and very hard edges, Arthur singer became an illustrator and he really became known for his incredibly detailed bird illustrations. So if you have ever did and illustrated birding field guide odds are really good that you ve seen his work. Has it's been in everything? Jack Macy went onto design backdrops for the state Department. Eventually, he designed the kitchen set that was used for the mixing, Khrushchev, debate of nineteen. Fifty nine and there's a really wonderful documentary called the ghost army that I highly recommend for people that want to hear accounts some of the surviving members of the twenty third, and one of the reasons I really loved it to you is that it it being a visual media. There able to show a lot about our work that these men,
we're doing while they were in France and in prefer No, it's amazing maneuvers and one of them something like you know. We were in all these crazy circumstances, but we can always find time or a place to duck away and do a quick watercolor What do you think is just super terminal likely? They We're all artists at heart, even though they were part of this amazing war effort documentary is as of this recording in early twenty fifteen is available on Netflix and it's a little longer than an hour, and you get to see, allow of this really amazing our interest interviews with these guys in it deals a little bit more with with them as individuals, rather than like what we ve covered is so much of sort of the bigger kind of broad strokes of the whole unit. But this really focuses on some of the different men and has interviews with them that are really quite charming and touching and really really entertaining so. I highly recommend man and then
ghost army, which is just such a the whole thing, is so cool and I'm surprised, even though it does pop up sometimes in lake, in a list those online people don't really know about it. We gets another those things right, I'll everyone's heard about this. We ve had a few requests for it, but then, when I mention it to people,
Look at me, like I, don't know what you're talking about and then, when I say a few things they get sort of this lake agog would really what's so clearly. This is this there's some gap in in there in the knowledge about these guys in its they did such amazing things that I think everybody should know it their workers like. Thank you so much for joining us today for this Saturday classic. If you have heard any kind of email address, there may be a facebook. You are l during the course of the absurd that might be obsolete. It might be doubly obsolete because we have changed our Emil address again. You can now reach us at history, podcast that I heart radio dot com and were all over social media at missed in history, and you can subscribe to our shared on Apple POD, CAS Google Podcast, the eye heart radio app and wherever else he wasn't, the pod casts
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