The Second World War was probably the very last war in which the spectacularity of its operations would play an important role in the outcome of the conflict. It was well known by the American allied forces, who made up an army division, almost entirely made out of fake means and props. The 23rd Division was a full fledged smoke and mirrors, yet it succeeded in 20 military operations, which misled and made waste Nazi resources as well as time in favour of the enemies.

Below: the Ghost Army logo


Until the 1996 this unit has been remained totally secret, and to this day there is not much knowledge of what operations they would conduct. What it is known is that the team was formed by 1,000 soldiers including artists, architects, designers, engineers as well as other people with non military past behind them. They were able to create fake harbours, camps with airplanes and tanks, surrounding cities and misdirect the Germans from the attacks that the US army used to forward to the front lines. These specialised troupes arrived in France only after the D-Day (Normandy landings) and shortly before they had took part in the UK Operation Fortitude.

From the ground the illusion was not  very impressive but from afar, the effect was astonishing, and the Germans never suspected the deceit.

The noises were reproduced by enormous speakers, while some heavy artillery was real not to arouse suspects over the German troupes. The chaos was so loud to be heard from 20 km (12 miles) away and, to make it authentic, even the errors were reproduced such as the bald advances and the missing disguise of the mechanical means.

Furthermore the approximate 1,100 soldiers used to go about French bars speaking out loud of the operation carried out by them, paying attention to be well heard by enemy spies. Their talking was obviously made up on purpose to create fake reports of war, making even more chaotic the opinion that the Nazis had over the US, English and French forces.

Between the recruits of the Ghost Army there were included some famous names: the fashion designer Bill Blass, the cartoonist Bill Mauldin, the painter Ellsworth Kelly. All those people, by joining their skillset together, managed to make the props of this “inflatable” army, even more credible.

Below: an inflatable tank carried on the battlefield

Below: a fake airplane

Below: the tank

Below: the scheme of the functioning with the implementation of a tank M4

Below: a megaphone and a cannon on the battlefield

Below: an operative meeting

Below: the officers of the 23rd division in a bar

 Below: from above the effect was impressing

Source: The Encyclopaedia Britannica

Matteo Rubboli

I am a publisher specialised in the digital distribution of culture and founder of the portal Vanilla Magazine. I don't wear a tie or branded clothes, I keep my hair short so I don't have to comb it. That's not my fault but just the way I've been drawn as...

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