It is a false belief that wars are won simply through the might of military force. Equally as devastating is the ability to deceive, to misdirect the enemy into committing a fatal error. Enter the Ghost Army.
Subterfuge as a strategic or tactical skill has ancient precedent. The Art of War, written in China in the 5th Century BC, devotes significant space to the techniques of misdirection. Or think of the mythical Trojan Horse. Across the centuries, deceiving one’s foe became as crucial as direct confrontation.
But in the 20th century, a new form of fakery appeared, with a new type of war machine — the tank. The presence of these huge heavy destroyers was, it seemed, certain evidence of a planned offensive.
Unless they were not real.
Imitation tanks could be constructed of timber — or, making them even more maneuverable, out of thin air. Such practices began in World War I, but it was during World War II that they came into their own.
After D-Day, in 1944, the U.S. Army deployed 1,1000 troops in the Ghost Army — a tactical deception unit, aka “1st Headquarters Special Troops” aka “Operation Quicksilver” — tasked purely with misdirecting the Axis powers.
As well as the inflatable tanks seen here, the Ghost Army deployed fake jeeps, trucks, guns and aircraft — even dummy airfields — as well as sound recordings and radio transmissions.
The imitation soundtracks, broadcast from specially equipped trucks, could be heard as far as 15 miles away. As close as possible to the enemy lines, the Unit would stage more than 20 false battlefields.
Many of the Unit’s troops were, in civilian life, employed as actors, architects and set designers, and were drawn from art schools, advertising agencies and design practices.
And yet, vital as it was, the Ghost Army was largely unknown and remained uncommemorated. Ghost by name and nature, the Unit remained an official secret until the 1980s.