Since the birth of military tactics as a way to wage war more effectively, commanders have employed various methods to try and defeat their opponents – such as using various army formations, elevation, terrain, weather conditions and so on. A good commander knows that using force alone is not sufficient – cunning is key to success. One of the prime examples of successful military subterfuge is the Trojan Horse, although it’s status is legendary in all senses. One of the more recent examples – and done on a much larger scale – is the so-called Ghost Army.
The Ghost Army, with the official name being the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, US military, was active during World War II and its mission was classified for a long time. The biggest secret has been made public however – and it’s that the army never really existed. Joe Holley wrote in an article for Washington Post:
A contingent of only 1,100 men, the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops pretended to be a much larger, more heavily armed unit. The formidable fighting force the Germans thought they were engaging was actually a group of creative types equipped with inflatable tanks and artillery, fake aircraft, cast-iron paratroopers and giant speakers mounted on half-tracks that broadcast the sounds of men, tanks, artillery and phony radio chatter.
While 1100 people sounds like a formidable force – at least to a civilian – their job was to pretend to be an army of 30,000 people – with heavy armaments and all. While the idea may sound ridiculous, the ghost soldiers were extremely efficient at what they did. Many were recruited from art schools, advertising agencies and other creative establishments. Washington Post has an article on one such ghost soldier, Louis Dalton Porter:
Required to have an IQ of at least 119, Mr. Porter and his fellow ghost soldiers were encouraged to use their brains and their talent to mislead, deceive and befuddle the German army. They were dispatched to Europe shortly after the Normandy invasion.
These creative ‘soldiers’ were tasked with enticing German military into battles which the American command wanted them to fight and deflecting them from where US units wanted to go. Jack Kneece, author of the book “Ghost Army of World War II” said that Germans indeed believed they were fighting a 30,000-man force. In fact, "They were so successful that sometimes a huge German unit would surrender to them.”
The immense success is explained by the meticulous approach of the real soldiers to imitate fake troops – tracks were poorly hidden to give the impression of movement of a large army; radio chatter provided fake reports with added sound effects of military hardware; painted inflated tanks were mistaken by German scouts for the real deal. The ghost army was successful on 21 operations; its success prompted the Army to keep its operations top-secret until 1996.