In honor of Memorial Day I decided to write about a fantastic program I watched on PBS last week called The Ghost Army. Wow. I was absolutely engrossed.
I don’t know if everyone has a favorite war or era of military history, but both WWI and WWII have always fascinated me. Maybe WWII even more than WWI. Every time I come across a program like The Ghost Army, I’ll watch.
I believe my dad has influenced my proclivity in this regard. He’s a huge WWII history buff. As I watched The Ghost Army, I kept thinking how much he’d enjoy it too. I figured likely he was already familiar with the U.S. 23rd Headquarters Special Troops and their missions. However, when I told him about it the next morning he didn’t seem to know of them.
So what is the Ghost Army? Or what was it, I should say? As I sort of stated above, it was the U.S. 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, which was comprised of men who had to apply to get in. These men were engineers, artists, and I’m not sure what all else. They weren’t your ordinary soldier types. They were creative minds.
Using artistry and what basically amounted to “props” they created, they disguised terrain in some cases, or used things like rubber tanks and sound recordings to make it appear there were a lot more Allied troops in certain regions than there really were.
Here’s the official description of what the documentary is about:
During World War II, a hand-picked group of American GI’s undertook a bizarre mission: create a traveling road show of deception on the battlefields of Europe, with the Nazi German Army as their audience. The U.S. 23rd Headquarters Special Troops used inflatable rubber tanks, sound trucks, and dazzling performance art to bluff the enemy again and again, often right along the front lines. This little-known unit’s knack for trickery was crucial to Allied success in World War II, but their top-secret mission was kept quiet for nearly 50 years after the war’s end. Using archival footage and dozens of still photographs, paintings, and sketches created by soldiers, The Ghost Army tells the extraordinary story of these incredible battlefield illusions and the talented young men, many recruited from art schools across the country, who used their creativity to ultimately save lives.
Turns out some of these men went on to become renowned artists and famous people. The one I got the biggest kick out of hearing about was Bill Blass. One of the men described him as having the same uniform as everyone else, but somehow he always made his look better. He even designed his trademark logo while serving during WWII in this division.
Another part I found extremely interesting, not to mention ingenious, was when they showed how a group of artists “camouflaged” a weapons plant to look like a pasture. Well, not a pasture, but pastoral. That way if any Japanese or German planes flew over, they wouldn’t know what it was. Clever!
This is one documentary I highly recommend…even if you’re not a fan of WWII history. If you’re a fan of artists and artistic types, you’ll appreciate their contribution to the war effort.
Speaking of which, blessings to all those currently enlisted, formerly enlisted, and who gave their lives during their service. Remembering you and honoring you this Memorial Day.
BOOK AND MUSEUM EXHIBIT DEDICATED TO THE GHOST ARMY
Apparently there is also a book, Artists of Deception: The Ghost Army of World War II, that goes in conjunction with the documentary and a traveling exhibit, which I learned about when I clicked on the book. I’d like to see it, but it doesn’t seem to be traveling regularly just yet. Perhaps when more people see this documentary a buzz will ensue and change that.