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ince D-day, when the Americans managed to enter Europe through the Western front, they knew that the battle ahead would be a difficult one until they reached Germany. It was to their advantage that most of the German armies were defending the Russians on the Eastern Front. The Germans put up a very good fight, as they had the superior armament and the United States (US) sadly kept on losing tanks at a very fast pace, making their large infantry obsolete as they were not able to push vital German defensive positions without armored support.

Ghost Army of America

This is what lead to the creation of the Ghost Army which took part in many allied missions during 1944 and 1945. This so-called Ghost Army was made up of special troops who were trained to stage fake military operations or even large-scale armies. These men from the 23rd Headquarters special troops were able to assemble a whole battalion of tanks in just a matter of hours, passing off many strategic counter-attacks planned by the Germans.

Over the two years of war, the Ghost Army became even bigger, with the recruitment of over 1,100 artists, actors, architects, and sound specialists that had the skills required to produce fake battlefields as if a massive battle where the allies suffered a big loss had taken place, meaning that it was the perfect moment for the Germans to attack, not knowing that they had just fallen into a trap.

A soldier paints the tread of an inflatable tank while other members of the Ghost Army look on from a real tank in 1944 (Source: Ghost Army Legacy Project)

Of course, from up close (ten meters or less), it was very easy to distinguish that these tanks were actually fake, but in most cases, the enemies would gather intel from a distance of at least two miles, from which even with binoculars it would be difficult to distinguish a real M4 Sherman tank from a fake, inflatable one.

By late 1944, it wasn’t just tanks that were created out of thin air, but everything from cannons disguised in forests which were quite easy to make to even small naval destroyers that would make any German recognizance plane turn around and report as soon as possible. Another interesting factor is the fake paratroopers (mannequins) they used to parachute from planes in certain positions, confusing the German troops, and making them think that they were either overrun or being flanked.

A huge amplifier mounted on top of a military vehicle was driven into French forests near the frontline from where it broadcast pre-recorded audio to give the impression a massive army was gathering in the area (Source: Median)

An interesting event where such inflatable ships were used took place at the Rhine River Valley where massive inflatable aircraft carriers were built overnight in order to distract the German troops whilst the 21st Army Group had flanked them. This was part of Operation Viersen which took place between the 18th of March 1945 and the 24th of March 1945.

Inflatable Aircraft deployed at Rhine River Valley on the 23rd of March 1945 (Source: Rare Historical Photos)

The Ghost Army went beyond the mark by even hiding huge speakers in the forest and playing sounds of high-altitude bombers that would make troops retreat. There was an intelligent use of leaked false information through public radio channels, making the Germans think that the allied armies would attack at a certain point, during a specific time, whilst they were ten kilometers away attacking weak defense posts that had been left with very few soldiers due to the false information that forced the Germans to send more troops wherever the false information delegated them.

The biggest contribution given by the Ghost Army was during Operation Viersen where they had inflated over 600 false tanks in a matter of seconds and disguised themselves in different uniforms to make the German Army believe that they were part of the 30th and 79th infantry divisions which were ready to cross the Rhine river. Because of this, the Germans ended up moving most of their artillery and tanks into a different position, bombing 600 fake tanks and a lot of mannequins rather than 600 real tanks and God knows how many souls.

Most historians argue that the Ghost Army saved thousands of lives and made the war on the Western front a lot easier. I must say that I agree with most of them, however not enough value is given to the Ghost Army as most of the operations that they carried out were secret so that no German spies could find out about the special force.

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