Sunday, May 12, 2019

The Ghost Army: The battalion who fooled the Germans

The fake army remained the secret of government for decades after

June 6, 1944 is a date that has etched into the history books as the date of one of the greatest military operations carried out during the Second World War. The landing at Omaha Beach on the Normandy coast is referred to as the D Day and formed the start of the secret allied invasion of France.

Two weeks later, however, another invasion took place when a top secret battalion arrived in the same area.

Among the American soldiers who set foot for the first time on French soil, was the 19-year-old student Bernie Bluestein. He had been handpicked to participate in what was called the "ghost army".

"We did not know what to expect and did not know what our assignments were," said the 95-year-old veteran at the EuroNews interview.

False troops and tanks
The "Ghost Army" was officially known as special troops of the 23rd headquarters and counted a total of 1,100 men. The battalion was so secret that even the American soldiers already fighting on European soil had no knowledge of it. The secret army mission was as taken out of a screenplay in classically enjoyable Hollywood style:

They were to be decoys that imitated the Allies' forces with the aim of fooling the enemy around with the help of fake weapons and vehicles.

The American Special Army consisted of more than 1,000 actors, artists and sound engineers. Here it was more important with creativity and intelligence than raw muscles and accuracy, so recruitment first and foremost took place in art schools, in advertising agencies and similar establishments that encouraged creative thinking.
Instead of real goods, the battalion used inflatable tanks that looked real at a distance. They carried out fake radio broadcasts, used speakers to give the impression of the 1100-man battalion counting at least 30,000 soldiers, and staged more than 20 fake battlefields - often as close to the front as possible.

"Here I am, shoot me!"
Today Gilbert Seltzer is a retired architect of respectable 104 years. In 1944 he was one of the officers in the "Ghost Army" and Seltzer still remembers how they learned to produce, blow up and repair the fake tanks.

Their job was to create illusions to lure Nazis into the wrong area, which they did with great success. But even ordinary people were fooled, even though they got an unexpected look behind the curtain.

- We had an event where two Frenchmen saw a tanks lifted by two men. They turned to me and asked, "How can two men lift a tank?" I answered that the Americans are very strong, and they took it for good fish, he chuckles.

In the "ghost army" it was more important with cleverness and intelligence rather than muscles.

The Special Army performed its missions right up to the last weeks of the war. The latter took place in connection with a battle in Germany where several thousand lives were at stake.

"We caught the attention of the Germans by fanning our arms while we shouted" Here I am, shoot me! ", Says Bernie Bluestein while he is waving his arms.

The diversion maneuver was a success and ensured that 30,000 American soldiers barely faced any resistance where they were one and a half miles away.

Got great influence

When the war ended in 1945, the soldiers of the "ghost army" could return home to the United States. All of them came from the war with life intact and received several awards, and several of the soldiers would later have great influence on American art and culture in the post-war years. Among these were the artist Ellsworth Kelly, illustrator Arthur Singer, photographer Art Kane and fashion designer Bill Blass.

But neither the soldiers nor the officers received any form of public recognition for the efforts they had made on European soil. Even decades after the end of the war, the "ghost army" remained secret.

Only in the early 90s did American authorities choose to publish documents relating to the squad.

The battalion's job was to create illusions to lure Nazis into the wrong area. Here, a soldier keeps moving an inflatable car on his own. Screen shot: EuroNews

Strictly guarded
Documentary filmmaker Rick Beyer believes they are the heroes who were not honored.

People wonder why the missions were secret. I think the reason was that it worked and that the army wanted to keep that solution secret.


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