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The Top-Secret WWII Unit That Fooled the Nazis

By: Christopher Klein

Published: March 3, 2022

An inflatable dummy tank, modeled after the M4 Sherman, on the field during Operation Fortitude in southern England, 1944. It was used to confuse German intelligence in two ways: first, by making it seem that the Allies had more tanks than they did; and second, to hide and downplay the importance of the location of their real tanks in order to make it seem that the invasion would not occur at Normandy.

Its artillery couldn’t fire, its tanks couldn’t move and its members were more adept at wielding paintbrushes than guns. Yet, a top-secret unit of 1,100 American artists, designers and sound engineers unofficially known as the “Ghost Army” helped to win World War II by staging elaborate ruses that fooled the forces of Nazi Germany about the location and size of Allied forces. 

Members of the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops and 3133rd Signal Company Special who literally practiced the art of war saved the lives of thousands of American servicemen and earned one of the country’s highest civilian honors.

Employing inflatable decoys, fake radio chatter and loudspeakers that blared sound effects, the Ghost Army could simulate a force 30 times its size as it operated as close as a quarter mile from the front lines. “Rarely, if ever, has there been a group of such a few men which had so great an influence on the outcome of a major military campaign,” declared a U.S. Army report.

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Ghost Army: A 'Traveling Road Show'

A rubber decoy tank designed to deceive German forces in World War II, shown in England, circa 1939.

Ghost Army member Freddy Fox described his unit as “a traveling road show that went up and down the front lines impersonating the real fighting outfits.” From D-Day to the Battle of the Bulge , the Ghost Army performed more than 20 missions throughout the European theater of war in 1944 and 1945.

Inspired by the success of British subterfuge in North Africa earlier in the war, the U.S. Army created the Ghost Army in January 1944 as a self-contained unit designed specifically to carry out visual, sonic and radio deception in time for D-Day. Fashion designer Bill Blass and painter Ellsworth Kelly were among the artists, ad men, radio broadcasters, sound experts, actors, architects and set designers handpicked for the Ghost Army, which reportedly had one of the Army’s highest collective IQs with a 119 average.

Befitting its name, the Ghost Army worked under the cloak of night. Camouflage experts used gasoline-fueled air compressors to inflate rubber tanks, jeeps, trucks, artillery and aircraft that artists painted with details authentic enough to deceive Nazi aerial reconnaissance, according to a December 6, 1945 report in The Meriden Daily Journal . Radio specialists sent misleading communications and even mimicked operators’ unique styles to add authenticity to their fake reports. Sound engineers blared pre-recorded sounds of military drills and movements on enormous speakers that, in some instances, could be heard 15 miles away.

Ghost Army Deploys at D-Day

A fake artillery piece in the field, circa 1942. The fake weapon was designed to serve as a deterrent to enemy forces.

Most of the Ghost Army arrived in England in May 1944 as D-Day preparations were being finalized. Four members joined the D-Day landing at Normandy, and a 17-man platoon came ashore on Omaha Beach eight days later to create dummy artillery placements that drew fire from the Germans.

The Ghost Army engaged in its first large-scale deceptions in the summer of 1944 as it deployed 50 dummy tanks and positioned sound trucks within a few hundred yards of the front line during the siege of the French port of Brest. As part of Operation Brittany, the Ghost Army deceived the Germans about the location of General George Patton’s 3rd Army, which eluded the enemy and raced eastward across France.

When a yawning gap opened in Patton’s line during his attack of the fortified French city of Metz in September 1944, the Ghost Army again aided the general. Until a division arrived to plug the gap, the illusionists held the precarious line for seven days with their inflatables and loudspeakers that played the sounds of rumbling tanks, shouting troops and even sergeants barking out orders for soldiers to put out their cigarettes. The Ghost Army’s radio deception also drew the Germans away from Patton’s relief of the Belgian town of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge .

Rick Beyer, co-author of The Ghost Army of World War II and producer and director of a 2013 documentary about the outfit, said the Ghost Army found Patton to be among the easiest generals they worked with. “Patton was extremely helpful and welcoming and made suggestions to make the deception better. He totally embraced their ideas,” he says.

The Ghost Army pulled off its most elaborate hoax in March 1945 as part of Operation Viersen. As the 9th Army prepared to make the dangerous crossing of the Rhine River , the Ghost Army positioned itself 10 miles south of the intended landing spot to re-direct German attention. The Ghost Army inflated both 600 dummies and their own size by impersonating two divisions and 40,000 troops .

To give the impression that the 30th and 79th infantry divisions were amassing, radio chatter spread false reports about their intended movements and sonic trucks blasted a soundtrack of pontoon bridge construction, artillery fire and even officers swearing. The Ghost Army stenciled fabricated division numbers and insignias onto their vehicles and erected phony headquarters and command posts manned by fake commanders and generals. They sewed counterfeit shoulder patches onto their uniforms and boisterously discussed their false intelligence in local bars and cafes to ensure their disinformation would be overheard by any lurking German spies.

The ruse worked . While the Nazis attacked the Ghost Army, the 9th Army crossed the Rhine with little resistance.

Weeks later, the Ghost Army’s mission came to an end along with World War II. The soldiers may have trafficked in falsehoods, but their heroism was all too real. While three of its members were killed and approximately 30 were wounded, the Ghost Army saved the lives of between 15,000 and 30,000 American servicemen, according to military estimates.

Ghost Army Recognized With Belated Congressional Gold Medal

Following the war, Ghost Army members returned home and settled into careers in advertising, architecture, design, theater, art, fashion and radio. For decades, their exploits remained little-known as members followed strict orders to not even tell their families about the Ghost Army, lest a similar unit needed to be deployed against a new enemy in the Cold War—the Soviet Union.

While a few articles about the Ghost Army slipped through the censors in the immediate aftermath of the war, the military did not officially declassify information about the outfit until 1996 .

Seeking to gain official recognition of the Ghost Army, Beyer launched the nonprofit Ghost Army Legacy Project as well as a grassroots campaign for the Ghost Army to receive the Congressional Gold Medal. “I was very conscious of the fact that because of secrecy these guys had not received any recognition and thought that was something due to them,” Beyer says. “I thought what they did was remarkable, and I was amazed at the degree they were not part of the World War II pantheon.”

In February 2022, the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops and the 3133rd Signal Company Special, which undertook a pair of sonic deception operations against the Nazis in Italy, were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for “their unique and highly distinguished service in conducting deception operations.”

“Performance and art are not just things we do as recreation, they are a critical part of human endeavor,” Beyer says. “The Ghost Army used creativity and illusion to save lives.”

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Ghost Army, a World War II Master of Deception, Finally Wins Recognition

President Biden signed a bill that bestows the Congressional Gold Medal to the members of “a traveling roadshow of deception” that built inflatable tanks and trucks to trick the Germans.

ghost army operation name

By Vimal Patel

The Ghost Army had one goal: Deceive Hitler’s forces and their allies.

Credited with fine-tuning the ancient art of deceptive warfare, the American military units of the Ghost Army used inflatable tanks and trucks to cloak the true size and location of American forces. They played ear-piercingly loud recorded sounds to mimic troop movement. They sent out misleading radio communications to scramble German intelligence.

The objective was to trick the Germans into thinking the Allies were in the neighborhood in force, so that actual units elsewhere had time to maneuver.

The Ghost Army, described as “a traveling roadshow of deception,” was composed of engineers and artists, designers and architects, radio operators and truck drivers. The work was so secretive that group members, who are credited with saving thousands of Allied lives, were unsung heroes for several decades after the war. But a grassroots effort in recent years culminated this week in the ultimate recognition from the U.S. government.

On Tuesday, President Biden signed a bill that grants the Congressional Gold Medal — Congress’s equivalent of the Presidential Medal of Freedom — to members of the Ghost Army for “their unique and highly distinguished service in conducting deception operations” during World War II.

“Through their courageous, creative and innovative tactics, the top-secret Ghost Army outmaneuvered and deceived the Nazis, saving thousands of Allied lives during World War II,” Representative Annie Kuster, Democrat of New Hampshire, who sponsored the legislation, said in a statement . “More than 75 years after defeating fascism in Europe, it’s time these soldiers receive the highest honor we can award: the Congressional Gold Medal.”

Bernie Bluestein, of Schaumberg, Ill., is one of only 10 known surviving members of the Ghost Army, an unofficial term for the two U.S. Army units involved in the subterfuge. The 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, Mr. Bluestein’s unit, carried out more than 20 deception campaigns close to the front, including in France and Germany. A sister unit, the 3133rd Signal Company Special, executed two campaigns in Italy in 1945.

In an interview on Tuesday night, Mr. Bluestein, 98, said the award gave him an indescribable feeling of satisfaction, but he expressed sadness that so few veterans were alive to enjoy the honor with him. The other surviving members of the group range in age from 97 to 99.

“Something we did was appreciated by so many people and at the time we didn’t realize that,” Mr. Bluestein said. “It’s really a great feeling to have people acknowledge that I had a job to do in the service and it was helpful in our winning the war.”

In one of the 23rd’s most elaborate feats of trickery, during the critical Rhine River campaign to finally crush Germany, the unit set up 10 miles south of the spot where two American Ninth Army divisions were to cross the river. To draw attention away from the actual divisions, the Ghost Army conjured up a decoy force of inflated tanks, cannons, planes and trucks; sent out misleading radio messages about the American troops’ movements; and used loudspeakers to simulate the sound of soldiers building pontoon boats.

The Germans fell for the ruse. They fired on the 23rd’s divisions, while Ninth Army troops crossed the Rhine with nominal resistance.

During that campaign, Mr. Bluestein and other soldiers would visit bars and gathering spots and pretend to be senior officers to create scuttlebutt among the locals that the Americans were up to something. The hope was that German spies would eventually be misdirected.

But Mr. Bluestein was an artist at heart. Before the unit began using inflatable tanks, he would paint on cloth draped over wooden tanks to make them look authentic. He stenciled insignia for 23rd members, and he produced posters to distribute around towns — anything to create an authentic flourish.

“Like, Coca-Cola signs, so they’ll say, ‘Oh, yeah, the Americans are here,’” Mr. Bluestein said.

Mr. Bluestein had a long career after the war as an industrial designer for companies that made household appliances like refrigerators and toasters, but in retirement he found himself embracing art again. These days, his favorite objects to sculpt are pins and needles, a tribute to his father, a tailor, and his mother, a seamstress.

About half of the soldiers in Mr. Bluestein’s unit, the 603rd Camouflage Engineer Battalion, were artists, said Rick Beyer, a documentarian who has chronicled the story of the Ghost Army and pushed for the gold medal.

The Army took existing units and “mashed them together, Frankenstein style,” to create the 23rd, he said, but it also recruited from art schools like the Cleveland Institute of Art and the Cooper Union. Some members became famous after the war, like the fashion designer Bill Blass and the painter Ellsworth Kelly.

In addition to Mr. Bluestein, the other nine surviving members of the Ghost Army are Bill Anderson, 97, of Kent, Ohio; James T. Anderson, 99, of Dover, Del.; John Christman, 97, of Leesburg, N.J.; George Dramis, 97, of Raleigh, N.C.; Manny Frockt, 97, of West Palm Beach, Fla.; Nick Leo, 99, of Brentwood, N.Y.; Mark Mallardi, 98, of Edgewater, Fla.; Bill Nall, 97, of Dunellon, Fla.; and Seymour Nussenbaum, 98, of Monroe Township, N.J.

Mr. Beyer, who produced a 2013 documentary that aired on PBS about the Ghost Army and later co-wrote a book with Elizabeth Sayles, “The Ghost Army of World War II,” said the effort to bestow a Congressional Gold Medal on the group was the product of a grassroots campaign that required two-thirds of each congressional chamber to co-sponsor the legislation.

“We had to convince literally 350 congressional offices, one by one, of doing this,” Mr. Beyer said. The end result was a rare bipartisan feat at a time of intense partisan rancor. “Sometimes, it’s good to take a breath and say maybe there are some things we don’t have to be completely cynical about,” he said.

“The Ghost Army in some ways is still helping to keep our country safe,” Mr. Beyer said, “because people are still studying what they did and are learning from it and use it today.”

Although warfare has evolved since then, and advanced reconnaissance technology makes fooling enemy forces with inflatable tanks a bigger challenge, the principles and innovation of the Ghost Army live on today in the work of soldiers who practice psychological operations, Gen. Edward G. Burley, a retired Army brigadier general who commanded the Joint Psychological Operations Task Force in Iraq, said in an interview.

General Burley said soldiers today are taught about the imagination employed by the Ghost Army to “think outside the box” to make military deception more believable.

“These are giants, and we’re standing on their shoulders,” he said. “Their techniques are still being used today. We’re just adding additional elements to adjust for technology.”

Patton’s Ghost Army

The army general george patton fielded for the 1944 normandy d-day invasion was unlike any other. it was a complete and unabashed fake., brian john murphy.

From a distance, an English farmer could see that sometime overnight a column of Sherman tanks had parked on his field. One of his bulls also noticed the American tanks and was eyeing one of them warily. Suddenly, the bull lunged. The farmer braced himself for the sight of one of his prized bovines cracking its skull against armor plating.

The bull struck the tank at top speed, and with a lazy hiss of air, the Sherman deflated into a pile of olive-drab rubber sheeting. The bull and the farmer had stumbled onto one of the most elaborate deceptions in the history of warfare: the creation of a phantom army to divert attention from the real Allied army poised to invade France in the spring of 1944.

Northern France was the obvious target, but the Allies had other options, too. So, once they settled on northern France, it became their goal to lead the German high command—especially Hitler—to believe they would do the unexpected and land somewhere else. British intelligence agencies set to work, launching an enormous deception campaign called Bodyguard, designed to make the Germans believe the invasion might come in Greece, on the Adriatic coast of Yugoslavia, in the south of France, on the Biscay Bay coast of France, through the Low Countries, or via Norway and Denmark.

The Germans took all these possible scenarios seriously and maintained garrisons in all those regions. This helped the Allies in two ways: the garrisons guarding the possible invasion sites were removed from the fighting in the Soviet Union, which helped the Russians—and they were not concentrated in northern France, where the Allies really were going to attack.

The Allies did plan to invade at Normandy, and they came up with an elaborate plan that included making an artificial harbor. Codenamed Mulberry, the harbor would consist of concrete caissons sunk offshore to create breakwaters and piers. All this could be for naught, however, if Germany’s massive infantry and panzer reserves garrisoning France’s Pas de Calais region were brought into the battle in Normandy. The Allies had to find a way to threaten the Pas de Calais before, during, and after the proposed invasion. If the threat were credible, Hitler would not realize it was safe to move his reserves into Normandy to combat the Allied thrust.

Patton had made himself available for the role by becoming a public relations liability during his brilliant campaign to invade Sicily in 1943. On two separate occasions Patton had slapped soldiers taken from the front lines to be treated for combat fatigue. The resulting firestorm in the press led to Patton’s being relieved of command. So instead of commanding troops on campaign in Italy, Patton was ordered to participate in a series of junkets around the Mediterranean, making speeches, inspecting facilities, and having his picture taken.

Patton’s months of wandering to Corsica, Malta, and Egypt were hardly pointless. His travels bolstered the Allied deception plan at the time, which was simulating threats against the south of France (from Corsica), the Balkans (from Malta), and Greece (from Egypt). The voyages kept the Germans guessing and prevented them from deploying their reserves to advantage.

On January 26, 1944, Patton was at last brought to England—but not to command American armies in Overlord (the code name for the invasion of northern France). Thanks to the slapping incidents, Patton had lost any chance at that job to his former subordinate, Lieutenant General Omar Bradley. Instead, Patton was given the assignment of commanding the fictional FUSAG. Only after fulfilling that role would he receive command of the US Third Army when it was ready to deploy in France.

The Quicksilver illusion had to be airtight. The first the Germans learned of the FUSAG forces coming their way was through a spy working in New York under the alias Albert van Loop. Van Loop had become a double agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (and, unknown to the bureau, had switched his loyalties back to the Germans, making him a triple agent). In September 1943, using the codes supplied to van Loop by the German intelligence service—the Abwehr—the FBI sent messages in van Loop’s name informing the Germans that the phony divisions were embarking at New York, bound for the British Isles.

As part of the ruse, an eight-inch-thick book of scripted radio transmissions was issued to Quicksilver radio operators. Whenever a phantom unit would have been arriving in Britain, making camp, and making preparations for the invasion, plenty of radio traffic would be generated to create realistic chatter for the prying ears of the Abwehr.

The Abwehr had prying eyes, too: reconnaissance planes that flew at 33,000 feet over the English countryside trying to spot FUSAG units and record their activities and movements. The British and American air forces had to be careful to let the Luftwaffe snoops through to see the mock preparations on the ground, yet not let the flights seem so easy as to raise suspicions.

On the ground, the real units earmarked for Overlord but temporarily assigned to FUSAG had no trouble appearing as though they meant business. But the imaginary units were supposed to have upwards of a million men, and they had to look active, too. This need spawned the greatest deceptive enterprise ever seen in a war. Tent cities were created all over eastern England. There were mess halls, hospitals, ammo depots, and even sewage treatment farms. Fuel depots were constructed and parks for trucks, tanks, jeeps, and ambulances were laid out. For the most part, the vehicles themselves were constructed of fabric and wood or were rubber inflatables like the Sherman tank that the farmer’s bull gored.

Real vehicles move around, of course, and under cover of darkness, that’s just what these fake vehicles did. That was how the line of tanks appeared in the farmer’s field unannounced. Besides the bogus tanks, the farmer also noticed a couple of soldiers moving odd devices around his field that day. Rubber tanks and trucks don’t leave tank tread marks in the earth, so soldiers supporting Quicksilver were equipped with rolling tools to make tread and tire marks for the Luftwaffe to see.

British intelligence concocted plenty of plausible information for neutral diplomats and operatives to see, hear, and pass along to their governments—and possibly to the Germans. Local vicars in East Anglia wrote to the local papers about the terrible behavior of some of the “foreign troops.” The US Army’s heraldry department even made unit shoulder patches up for the phantom divisions [click link to view our exclusive gallery]. Quicksilver operatives on leave in London and elsewhere wore them conspicuously on their uniforms.

The Quicksilver deception plan extended to the ports and waterways of eastern England. There were barely enough landing craft available for the real invasion of France, so with the help of experts from the British movie industry, fleets of dummy landing craft were made, and they began to choke harbors and streams. Close up, they might not have fooled anyone, but the 400 or so concoctions of fabric, plywood, old pipes, and bailing wire floating on oil drums looked convincing to Luftwaffe photographers taking pictures from 33,000 feet. At night, port areas were lit with blackout lights to simulate loading activities. Near Dover, workers put together an entire dummy oil dock from camouflage-painted board, sewage pipes, and fiberboard. King George VI visited to inspect the facility, and the lord mayor of Dover publicly mentioned it as a potential municipal asset after the war. The British Royal Air Force kept fighter patrols overhead to protect the mock dock, and workers on the ground burned smudge pots filled with crude oil to keep the facility in a haze. Because the would-be dock was within range of the German guns at Cape Gris Nez, pyrotechnics were used to simulate fires and damage from the occasional hit.

So far so good. The interception of radio signals and photo intelligence reinforced the belief among the German generals that the Allies were saving their punch for the Pas de Calais. The third element was human intelligence, and the British were well positioned to provide the Germans with plenty of misleading information.

Misleading the enemy was the specialty of the Double Cross Committee, also known as the XX Committee or Twenty Committee. This British intelligence group had a stable of double agents sending specially crafted intelligence about FUSAG to the Abwehr. As far as the Abwehr knew, the upper echelons of the Allied command structure were riddled with Nazi spies. In reality, with tremendous efficiency, the British had rounded up all the Axis spies in the United Kingdom early on and turned a surprising number of them into double agents. Others volunteered for this dangerous game.

Two of the most important British agents were Brutus and Garbo. These two men were arguably among the war’s most devastatingly effective spies. Brutus was the code name of Captain Roman Garby-Czerniawski, a former Polish general staff officer now pretending to spy for the Germans. He told the Germans he had been appointed as a liaison between Free Polish forces and Patton’s FUSAG head quarters. He provided convincing detail on behalf of the Double Cross Committee.

Garbo, a Catalan named Juan Pujol, had begun his spying career as an amateur, deceiving the Germans with false intelligence he cooked up himself. The British found out about him and brought him from Spain to England, where he went to work for the Double Cross Committee. Garbo gave the Germans the impression that he had gotten a job high up in the British government and was the spymaster of a network of 14 agents placed throughout the Allied high command and British government. He sent frequent and detailed reports on the growth and intentions of FUSAG. Those reports fooled the highest echelons of command—up to and including Hitler.

Another secret agent, code-named Tricycle (a Yugoslav named Dusko Popov), sent a detailed report in February 1944 on the FUSAG order of battle. For a few scary days German intelligence analysts in Lisbon, where Tricycle made his report, did not believe it. But when it was passed on to Berlin, the high command bought it, making it possible for further reports from other Double Cross agents to be believed.

Thanks to the British cryptologists working at Bletchley Park, the code-breaking center northwest of London (and the timely acquisition of a German Enigma code machine captured early in the war), Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces General Dwight D. Eisenhower. and the British government received decryptions of German radio traffic. The messages showed that the Nazis were buying the FUSAG deception. What intelligence people call a “closed loop” had been successfully established: the British were putting out false information about the FUSAG and then intercepting enemy communications very soon afterward that showed how well each item of deception had worked. Future deceptions were adjusted accordingly.

Valuable intelligence passed to the Germans when the last commander of the Deutsches Afrika Korps, General Hans Cramer, captured in May 1943, was exchanged back to the Germans due to poor health. On the way home he was wined and dined one evening by Patton himself, in his role as commander of FUSAG. Patton must have played the role of a somewhat loose-lipped commander well (he was in fact known to be indiscreet on occasion). Other Allied officers also let slip bits of seemingly sensitive information about FUSAG and the Pas de Calais. Cramer was put on a neutral ship for his return to Germany, where he was exhaustively debriefed. After that, the German high command was more convinced than ever that FUSAG was going to be part of an invasion at the Pas de Calais.

When the Allies invaded Normandy on D-Day, June 6,1944, the Wermarcht’s forces in Europe were still spread between active fronts in Italy and Russia and possible fronts in the Balkans, the south of France, Greece, Norway, and northern France. Bodyguard and Fortitude had succeeded in keeping the Germans guessing where the next blows would fall. The real test, however, would come after the landings. If the Germans ceased to believe in the FUSAG threat, then the substantial German forces guarding the Pas de Calais would be sent to Normandy. The result might be the failure of Overlord, a catastrophe no one wanted to think about. Quicksilver had to keep working after the invasion.

The tempo of activity in the FUSAG area quickened after June 6. As real Allied armies moved off the beaches and into the hedgerow country of Normandy, the ports of eastern England were jammed with dummy landing craft and a fair sprinkling of actual warships to create the impression that FUSAG was about to embark for Calais. At night the blackout lights were lit on docks and quays to simulate the loading of materiel and supplies for the Pas de Calais landings. Radio transmission points, which had been humming with the scripted traffic prescribed for FUSAG, went silent—just as they would have on the eve of an invasion. Naval activity, including laying smokescreens and sweeping for mines, was stepped up to further reinforce the illusion of a cross-channel attack.

Brutus and Garbo put the final touches on the deception. Brutus signaled on June 8 that Army Group Patton was preparing to move to its embarkation points on the East Anglia and southeast English coasts. He told the Germans there would be five airborne divisions and at least ten infantry divisions involved in the assault.

Garbo made contact on June 9. His entire message required 120 minutes of continuous transmission. He cited the troop movements that Brutus had mentioned as well as concentrations of FUSAG troops at major eastern ports. Garbo concluded his two-hour transmission by saying he suspected FUSAG’s target would be the Pas de Calais. He estimated there might be as many as 50 divisions in England to strike this second blow. “The whole of the present attack [in Normandy] is set as a trap for the enemy to make us move all our reserves in a hurried strategical disposition which we would later regret,” Garbo said. The message found its way into the hands of Field Marshal Albert Jodl; he passed it on to Hitler, who personally had great faith in Garbo’s intelligence reports.

Mighty reinforcements for the Normandy front waited at Calais—specifically, the tanks and infantry of the German 15th Army. At a midnight conference on June 9, Hitler cancelled orders to send those forces to Normandy. They were to stay at the Pas de Calais. Indeed, even reinforcements currently on the way to Normandy were to be diverted to Calais. The phantom army had won its battle.

The Allied imposture continued for weeks. The presence of FUSAG would keep German forces at the Pas de Calais out of the Normandy battle, even after Patton arrived at Normandy as the head of the US Third Army. The Germans thought that FUSAG formations were being cannibalized by Eisenhower to replace losses in Normandy. In fact, two fictitious American airborne divisions in FUSAG were disbanded and reconstituted as a single fictitious division, the ostensible explanation being that the two original units had been heavily tapped for reinforcements and replacements.

By mid-August, it no longer mattered whether the Germans still believed in FUSAG or not. The German defenders of the Normandy front—the Seventh Army and Fifth Panzer Army—had been cut apart. Patton’s Third Army was racing across France, and the German defenders of the Pas de Calais—now threatened from the landward side by real divisions rather than phantom ones—were heading out of the region and out of the battle.

Brian John Murphy of Fairfield, Connecticut, writes for various history magazines, contributing frequently to America in WWII . This article originally appeared in the December 2005 issue of the magazine. Learn how to order a copy of this issue here . For more articles like this one, subscribe to America in WWII at or by calling toll-free 866-525-1945.

National Archives photos, from top: Backed by a line of troops, George Patton speaks at Armagh, Northern Ireland, in April 1944; Patton’s harsh treatment of combat-shocked troops landed him in charge of harmless inflatable tanks such as this one pictured during training in the States; in England, British and American officers team up to work out security  problems in preparation for D-Day; and as part of the massive D-Day preparations, American troops load into LSTs (Landing Ships, Tank) at a British port; in the foreground are barrage balloons, which were flown on a tether to create obstacles for low-flying enemy planes.

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How an army of artists and tricksters conned the Nazis and bluffed their way to victory in World War II

It sounds like an idea that was cooked up in a Hollywood writer's room, but it really happened.

By James Clark | Published Feb 20, 2021 3:18 PM EST

Army photo

The plan sounded like it was hatched in a Hollywood writer’s room. It was early 1944, and with victory in the Second World War far from certain, the Army pulled together roughly 1,100 soldiers to form the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, a unit poised to have a far greater impact on the battlefield than others several times their size. Once in the European theater, their mission was to tie up as many enemy troops as possible, throw their foe’s ranks into disarray, and help pave the way for an Allied advance into Germany.

Their arsenal was limited — the heaviest weapons at their disposal were .50 caliber machine guns, and nearly every engagement they took part in left them outnumbered, outgunned, and by all accounts outmatched.

Yet the Ghost Army, as it came to be known, prevailed; Not through massive artillery barrages, aerial assaults, or brutal attacks on the enemy lines, but by bamboozling the German military through deception and trickery.

They did it with inflatable tanks — hundreds of them — backed by the sounds of marching troops, down to soldiers shooting the breeze on duty, blasted out from massive loud-speakers, and with messages sent to fake units, with the intent that enemy codebreakers would decipher them.

This is the story of how an army of con artists headed off to war and bluffed their way to victory.

(Editor’s note: This article was originally published on Sept. 1, 2020.)

Standing up the Ghost Army

The inspiration for the Ghost Army came from the British military’s successful use of deception at the Battle of El-Alamein during the North Africa campaign. There, the Brits leveraged the unorthodox tactics of Jasper Maskelyne , a stage magician turned-soldier.

Army photo

Maskelyne helped them “disguise their tanks as trucks, and trucks as tanks, and it actually went a long way toward their success,” explained Larry Decuers, a former U.S. Army infantryman with the 101st Airborne and a curator at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana.

The British military’s ingenuity at EL-Alamein greatly impressed American military planners in England, and on Jan. 20, 1944, the U.S. Army began its foray into the world of deception, though not everyone was thrilled at the idea of spending the war shepherding a bunch of creative types around Europe.

“A lot of the old career Army officers, I think even the commander of the unit, wasn’t too happy about being given command of this deception outfit when he’d rather just be commanding a line battalion,” Decuers told Task & Purpose.

Even the unit’s official history attests to this:

Officers who had once commanded 32-ton tanks felt frustrated and helpless with a battalion of rubber M-4s, 93 pounds fully inflated. The adjustment from man of action to man of wile was most difficult. Few realized at first that one could spend just as much energy pretending to fight as actually fighting.

Designed to be small enough that it could be maneuvered around the theater as needed, the Ghost Army had a big enough footprint that could impersonate a force several times its size.

“They could move the Ghost Army to fill in a lightly defended area in the line — of course, the heaviest thing they had was a .50 cal machine gun, but they can bluff the Germans into thinking ‘there’s two divisions here, so we’re gonna stay away from that part of the line,” Decuers said.

The Ghost Army at war

The 23rd Headquarters Special Troops was broken into four units each with a specific role to play in their deception operations.

The first, and perhaps the best known, is the 603rd Camouflage Engineer Battalion, which was responsible for creating the inflatable tanks, planes, artillery pieces, and other physical props that “everyone thinks of when they hear the words ‘Ghost Army’” Decuers said.

The idea: Dupe the Germans into thinking you had more armor — and the personnel to maintain and run them — than you really did.

Army photo

Then there was the 3132 Signal Service Company, experts in sonic deception tasked with producing, and playing, a wide variety of sounds, from troop and vehicle movements, to bits of dialogue between soldiers. If the 603rd formed the skeleton of the Ghost Army, then the deception unit could be considered its muscle and sinew — it made the ploy work .

“They produced a huge library of sound effects,” Decuers said. “They recorded sounds of tanks going uphill, sounds of tanks going downhill — because to a trained observer they can definitely tell the difference. Also, sound effects of soldiers building pontoon bridges, even down to sergeants telling a private to ‘put that cigarette out.’”

“It was a very very wide array of sound effects at their disposal.”

The sounds were recorded at Fort Knox, Ky. on transcription disks — which were akin to giant records. However, they’d sometimes skip, so once in theater, the audio was transferred to a wire recorder, a predecessor to magnetic tape, Decuers explained.

“It’s also one of the first recorded instances of multi-track recording,” added Decuers. “They would mix the sound effects to the deception they were trying to pull off, and then they would broadcast this over big giant speakers in the back of half-tracks that were about 500 pounds.”

It wasn’t enough that they just record and replay these sounds, the sonic unit had to make sure the enemy heard it. To that end, technicians at Bell Labs developed firing tables, like those used for artillery batteries, to allow the Ghost Army to adjust the sound of their broadcasts to reach certain distances, effectively dialing in their audio barrage.

Army photo

Next came the 406th Combat Engineers Company, who provided physical security for the unit, dug the emplacements for the inflatables, and as the Ghost Army’s deceptions became more elaborate, they got in on the action and helped flesh out the ruse.

“They would make fake division patches, and then these engineer members would wear these fake patches and post [military police officers] at crossroads and go to town, and have drinks and talk loose,” Decuers said, explaining that soldiers would intentionally spread misinformation in the hopes German spies and collaborators would be listening.

“It was for the benefit of German agents,” Decuers told Task & Purpose. “That was very common — they left a lot of agents behind, many of which were indigenous people who were working for the Germans.”

If the camouflage unit could be considered the bones, the sonic unit the muscle, and the combat engineers, the skin, then Signal Company Special — a second signals unit composed of highly skilled radio and morse code operators — would be the brain.

“They were recruited from units all over the Army, and the requirement was that they be very skilled morse code operators,” Decuers told Task & Purpose. “These guys were so skilled they could study another morse code operator’s sending style, and then they could imitate them.”

For example, if the company was impersonating an infantry unit, then they would carefully study that division’s radio traffic, down to the smallest detail: “How many times they sent transmissions between battalion and regiment, things like that; and then they would copy the operator’s sending style,” Decuers explained.

The idea was to create a whole network of phony traffic, with the intention of having it intercepted by German forces.

“It’s like this big multimedia deception operation, where every contingency was thought of,” Decuers said. “And that’s what makes the Ghost Army unique: They were the only unit doing it.”

The Ghost Army was so good, sometimes they even hoodwinked their own forces.

“What I find interesting is how they were almost even more successful at deceiving Allied troops than they were the Germans,” Decuers said.

“During one of their deceptions, they’re playing audio sounds of tanks, and a colonel from an adjacent unit rolls up on them at night and says ‘what are all these tanks doing here? Nobody said anything about tanks being here.’ And they’re like ‘Sir, we don’t have tanks here,’ and he says ‘Don’t tell me, I know what I hear, those are tanks!'”

Army photo

Then there was the time a friendly pilot landed on what he thought was an airfield but was in fact just a Ghost Army prop designed to trick enemy scouts.

“They built fake airfields, and had inflatables of these L-5 grasshoppers — artillery spotting aircraft — and a real grasshopper pilot landed at their fake field,” Decuers said.

Operation Viersen

The Ghost Army’s greatest success came during Operation Viersen, in which the unit of craftsmen, artisans, and artists, conned the German military into thinking that two divisions — some 30,000 Allied soldiers — were going to cross a particular part of the Rhine river.

And so, the Germans allocated their limited forces to hold a position against just 1,100 men.

“So for this deception, they employed 600 of these inflatable tanks and artillery pieces,” Decuers said. “They used the fake unit patches and bumper markings on their vehicles, and then they employed the sonic deception, the fake radio traffic, and they even created a phony divisional and battalion headquarters in a town.”

Army photo

It was like a symphony of subterfuge and each member of the Ghost Army had a role to play; sonic deception formed the brass section, with pre-recorded sounds of tanks and troops thundering toward the river; signals as the woodwinds, sending misdirection over morse code in a harmony of toots and beeps; the engineers as the percussion, leading with bold decoys, manning fake checkpoints and outposts. And finally, the camouflage unit — the string section of this troupe — with hundreds of inflatable tanks, artillery pieces, trucks, and machinery that had to be tied down so a strong wind wouldn’t blow them away.

“This was the operation that is considered their greatest success,” Decuers said. “So they’re impersonating the 30th and 79th Infantry Divisions and they bluffed the Germans into believing they were crossing the Rhine river, and the Germans bit on it.”

“The Germans concentrated a lot of their precious forces at that point, and it cleared the way for actual crossings further up or down the river.”

In an interview with NPR in May 2019 , Gilbert Seltzer, a former Ghost Army soldier recounted the operation:

“The goal was to draw fire away from the real battery to us,” Seltzer told NPR. “For instance, when the Rhine [River] was crossed, we were able to get the German army to assemble opposite us, firing at us. And when the actual crossing was made, about 20 miles to our north, there was practically no resistance.”

Army photo

Though the Ghost Army’s primary role was deception, they faced their share of danger and took enemy fire on multiple occasions, though they suffered few losses.

“And as dangerous as this job could have potentially been, they only lost three guys in combat,” Decuers said. The Ghost Army soldiers who were killed in combat were Chester ‘Chet’ Pelliccioni, George Peddal, and Thomas Wells.

The legacy of the Ghost Army

From 1944 until the war’s end on Sept. 2, 1945, the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops served across Europe, from Normandy, France to Belgium, Luxembourg, at the Rhine in Germany, and conducted more than 20 deception operations.

The men who served in the Ghost Army were drawn from across the country, and from all walks of life — some were graduates of prestigious universities, others had left jobs as gas station attendants in small towns. They were painters, writers, sculptors, engineers, and radio operators. Some were career soldiers, others were draftees.

From their ranks came a number of acclaimed artists , from abstractionist Ellsworth Kelly, to photographer Art Kane, and fashion designer Bill Blass — who hand-tailored his uniform for a more svelte fit.

Army photo

They were selected for their skill and creativity, but most of all, because they were unconventional — and utterly unexpected.

“They kind of needed people who could see something before it was actually created, so artists were the people they wanted, I guess because they had a vision of what something could be,” said Decuers.

Though kept secret for decades, the Ghost Army’s wartime service is one that lends itself to incredible storytelling. It’s been the subject of books, a PBS documentary , and will be the focus of an upcoming World War II drama directed by, and starring, Ben Affleck .

The soldiers themselves were tireless scribes of their own history, and it makes sense, many were artists, observers of life and the human experience — precisely what made them such formidable tricksters.

But when they weren’t doing that , they painted, sketched, and wrote their way across Europe and through the war. Those images, as well as recreations of the Ghost Army’s inflatable tanks and artillery pieces, were part of a recent display at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.

“I think one of the most interesting components of the exhibit is the artwork that all of these guys — these were lifelong artists, and they sketched any chance they had,” Decuers said of the National World War II museum’s current collection. “It’s probably one of the best-documented unit journeys in the Army if I were to guess.”

“They had so many artists, and these guys were so talented. It’s kind of interesting to see the war through the point of view of these paintings and sketches and things like that,” he said.

The 23rd Headquarters Special Troops is believed to have saved between 15,000 and 30,000 American lives, according to Smithsonian Magazine . Their deceptions were never discovered by the enemies they fooled, and every inch of ground gained through trickery meant that other soldiers were spared from having to take it by force.

The story of Ghost Army is, at its heart, one of service and subterfuge. It’s about a group of extraordinary soldiers who turned, not to their rifles, but their imagination and wit, to help win the day.

RELATED: Ben Affleck is making a movie about the secret Army unit that tricked Nazis into chasing ‘ghost armies’ during WWII

James Clark

James Clark is the former Deputy Editor of Task & Purpose. He is an Afghanistan War veteran and served in the Marine Corps as a combat correspondent. Contact the author here.

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'Ghost Army' in WWII used inflatable tanks to fool the Nazis and win the war

This special U.S. Army unit remained secret for over 40 years.

The WWII Ghost Army unit used inflatable military equipment, such as the pictured armored vehicle, to fool German forces. They operated from May 1944 through the end of the war in 1945.

Today (Sept. 2) marks the 75th anniversary of Word War II 's end. During this historic global conflict, hundreds of bloody skirmishes were waged on land, sea and air. But one top-secret U.S. Army battalion fought not with bullets but with stagecraft, using inflatable life-size tanks, phony insignias, soundscapes and fake radio transmissions to deceive German soldiers on the battlefield. 

The 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, also known as the "Ghost Army," brought together artists, career military officers and audio experts in a unique unit devoted to the art of deception — "the first mobile, multimedia, tactical deception unit in U.S. Army history," according to the National WWII Museum in New Orleans. The museum features a number of Ghost Army artifacts in the special exhibit " Ghost Army: The Combat Con Artists of World War II ," on display until Jan. 3, 2021.

Using a combination of science and art, the Ghost Army staged nearly two dozen missions between May 1944 and 1945 with the sole purpose of tricking Nazi troops about the whereabouts of Allied forces in Europe. In the process, their efforts saved the lives of thousands of Allied soldiers. Its existence was kept secret for more than 40 years after the war's end; the Ghost Army remained officially classified until the mid-1990s, according to the WWII Museum.

Related: The 22 weirdest military weapons

"In the past, when deception operations took place, it was usually a temporary duty," said Larry Decuers, a curator at the WWII Museum. "This was a ground-up unit designed specifically for deception." 

London-based U.S. Army officers Col. Billy Harris and Maj. Ralph Ingersoll guided the formation of the Ghost Army, inspired by the success of British deception tactics in North Africa, Decuers told Live Science. The British Army's Operation Bertram, staged in 1942, used camouflage and more than 2,000 dummy vehicles to convince the Germans that the British were strengthening a position in the south, and to conceal British mobilization in the north, according to the website History of War .

Leading the Ghost Army was Col. Harry L. Reeder, supervising 82 army officers and 1,023 recruits; among them were art students from the Industrial Camouflage Program at the Pratt Institute in New York, fashion designer Bill Blass, photographer Art Kane and painter Ellsworth Kelly. 

These and other strategists designed a four-part approach to bring phantom army battalions to life, Decuers explained.

"The first element was the camouflage engineer battalion — the guys who dealt with the inflatable vehicles, inflatable tanks," he said. These tanks could easily be lifted and moved into position by just a few men, but from a distance they were nearly impossible to distinguish from the real thing. The second element was a signal company that concocted fake radio traffic; the radio operators were so skilled that they could mimic the morse code "fist" — the sending style — of operators in specific army units, to make fake dispatches sound authentic.

"To the trained ear, that telegraphic fist is almost like a fingerprint," Decuers said. 

Related:  The flying bombs of Nazi Germany

A third element of the Ghost Army was sonic deception. Audio engineers pre-recorded sounds of military training exercises and the construction of trenches and bridges, and then edited them into soundscapes that could be played on massive speakers within range of German troops, to convince the Nazis that entire combat units occupied locations that were undefended. 

And then a fourth layer of deception was supplied by the unit's combat engineer company, which would don the insignias of other military units to confuse the Germans or to mislead potential spies in nearby towns.

"Their most successful operation was Operation Viersen," which took place from March 18 to March 24, 1945, Decuers said. For that mission, the Ghost Army used 600 inflatable vehicles; fake uniform patches to impersonate soldiers from other units; and recordings of pontoon bridge-building, "all to deceive the Germans into believing that the 30th Infantry Division and the 79th Infantry Division were preparing to cross the Rhine River," Decuers said. And it worked. The Germans moved the bulk of their defenses across the river from the suspected location of the two divisions, shelling an army that didn't exist. 

And when the Nazis were busy chasing shadows, they weren't engaging the real Allied combat divisions.

"It was like a traveling road show that went up and down the front lines impersonating the real fighting outfits," according to the Ghost Army Legacy Project .

– Fight, fight, fight: The history of human Aggression

– Photos: The flying bombs of Nazi Germany

– Images: Missing Nazi diary resurfaces  

"Attack when they are unprepared"

Though the Ghost Army's audio technologies weren't available to their predecessors, the art of military deception is likely as old as war itself, and canny leaders have schemed their way to victory for thousands of years. In one of the most famous examples, documented in the eighth century B.C. by the poet Homer, the Greek army wins the Trojan War after they tricked the city of Troy into accepting a gift of a giant wooden horse — with Greek soldiers hiding inside. 

Sun Tzu, a renowned general and philosopher who lived in China during the sixth century B.C., wrote "all warfare is based upon deception" in "The Art of War," a book that defined military strategy for centuries, and is studied to this day. It outlined a dozen methods of military deception, including: "When one is capable, give the appearance of being incapable;" "when one is near, give the appearance of being far;" and "attack them when they are unprepared, come forth when they are not expecting you to do so," according to the U.S. Naval Institute .

Confederate generals during the American Civil War also used deception to save the day when they were outnumbered and outgunned. They carved and painted logs to resemble cannons, arranging them around encampments so that Union spies wouldn't suspect that their foes were short on weapons and supplies, according to the Federation of American Scientists .

But the Ghost Army was one of the first known specialized military units that was created specifically to confuse and trick the enemy, Decuers told Live Science. 

"Deception has played a major part throughout the history of warfare," he said. "What was new, was this unit was put together to deceive in every way possible. It was their sole mission."

Originally published on Live Science.

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Mindy Weisberger

Mindy Weisberger is an editor at Scholastic and a former Live Science channel editor and senior writer. She has reported on general science, covering climate change, paleontology, biology, and space. Mindy studied film at Columbia University; prior to Live Science she produced, wrote and directed media for the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Her videos about dinosaurs, astrophysics, biodiversity and evolution appear in museums and science centers worldwide, earning awards such as the CINE Golden Eagle and the Communicator Award of Excellence. Her writing has also appeared in Scientific American, The Washington Post and How It Works Magazine.

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  • Secundius Even the Germans produced "Quaker Fortifications" in WW2 to confuse the Allies as to just how fortified the Normandy Beach actual was. "Batterie allemande" near Bayneux was attacked and bombed by the Allies only to find there was nothing there worth all the lives and munitions cost used to find out Reply
  • The Remster I agree with you Secundius Reply
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How the Ghost Army of WWII Used Art to Deceive the Nazis

Unsung for decades, the U.S. Army’s 23rd Headquarters Special Troops drew on visual, sonic and radio deception to misdirect the Germans

Kellie B. Gormly

Contributing Writer

Inflatable dummy tanks

Bernie Bluestein was 19 years old when he spotted a vaguely worded notice on the bulletin board at his Cleveland art college in March 1943. It was the middle of World War II, and the United States Army was seeking recruits for a new, non-combat camouflage unit that would draw on the art of deception to misdirect the enemy.

All for serving his country but not exactly the “fighter-type person,” Bluestein enlisted in the enigmatic unit. He didn’t know it at the time, but the assignment would prove riskier than most non-combat roles: If the Nazis found out that members of the so-called “ Ghost Army ” were playing them for fools, they were likely to retaliate brutally.

“If I had known that before I got into the service, I probably would have made a different decision,” says Bluestein, now 98. A resident of Schaumburg, Illinois, he remains an avid artist , making everything from paintings to ceramics.

Bernie Bluestein in an undated photo

Known formally as the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops , the unit carried out more than 20 deception campaigns during the final year of the war. Drawing on members’ artistic talent and technological savvy, the Ghost Army created elaborate illusions featuring inflatable tanks, jeeps and artillery; speakers that blasted prerecorded tracks of troops in action; and falsified radio dispatches. Their goal: to confuse and intimidate the Germans by offering a false sense of the Americans’ numbers and troop movements.

In total, the 23rd saved the lives of an estimated 15,000 to 30,000 American servicemen. Their successful missions included D-Day and Operation Viersen , a March 1945 hoax that convinced the Germans their enemies were planning to cross the Rhine River far north of where they actually attacked. Though the unit’s numbers were limited—it comprised 1,023 men and 82 officers—the soldiers’ visual, sonic and radio deceptions managed to convince the Germans that they faced enemy forces of up to 40,000 men .

Despite the Ghost Army’s pivotal role in the Allied victory, few outside of the unit knew of its existence until decades after the war. Smithsonian magazine published the first feature-length, public account of the group’s exploits in April 1985; veteran Arthur Shilstone illustrated the article and offered firsthand testimony of his wartime experiences. The U.S. government declassified the unit’s official history around that same time, according to the Ghost Army Legacy Project , but soon reclassified the records and kept them under wraps until 1996.

The opening pages of Smithsonian magazine's April 1985 story on the Ghost Army

Seventy-seven years after the war’s end, the men who served in the Ghost Army—no more than ten of whom are known to still be alive—have received one of the nation’s highest honors: the Congressional Gold Medal. In February, President Joe Biden signed a bill granting the award to the unit for its “unique and highly distinguished service in conducting deception operations.”

“My mouth was wide open,” says Bluestein of the recognition. “It’s a thrill to have that honor. If you ask most of us, we never thought much about what we did. We did what we had to do in the war … and that was it.”

Comprising artists, architects, set designers, painters, engineers and other highly skilled creatives, the four-unit Ghost Army—the first of its kind in American history—was activated on January 20, 1944. (A separate, sonic-only unit called the 3133rd Signal Service Company operated in Italy.) It was inspired by the British troops who fought Erwin Rommel , a German field marshal nicknamed the “Desert Fox,” in Egypt in fall 1942. To trick the Germans, the British disguised tanks, weapons and supplies as trucks , masking the army’s progress and convincing the enemy that the attack would come from the south, not the north, two or three days later than actually planned.

A dummy tank used by the British in Operation Bertram, seen under construction in 1942

The brainchild of London-based U.S. Army planners Billy Harris and Ralph Ingersoll , the Ghost Army “was more theatrical than military,” wrote Captain Fred Fox in the official history of the 23rd. “It was like a traveling road show that went up and down the front lines impersonating the real fighting outfits.” Led by Colonel Harry L. Reeder, the unit included graduates of West Point and former Army Specialized Training Program participants; the men’s average IQ was 119—one of the highest in the Army, according to the National WWII Museum , which debuted a traveling exhibition on the Ghost Army in 2020.

“This is a unit that used creativity and illusion to save lives and help win the war. ... That’s something highly worthy of honor,” says Rick Beyer , producer of the 2013 documentary The Ghost Army and president of the Ghost Army Legacy Project . “It was a crazy idea applied in a challenging situation.”

After arriving in Europe in the summer of 1944, the Ghost Army immediately got to work. “The adjustment from man of action to man of wile was most difficult,” noted Fox in his history of the unit. “Few realized at first that one could spend just as much energy pretending to fight as actually fighting.”

An inflatable M8 Armored Car.

Members of the 603rd Camouflage Engineering Battalion division created 93-pound , inflatable tanks that looked like the real thing from thousands of feet in the air. Blown up under cover of darkness, these dummy tanks and assorted inflatables featured painted details that lent the ruse an air of authenticity. The 3132 Signal Service Company and Signal Company Special supplemented the illusion with recordings of training exercises and construction, as well as radio messages that skillfully mimicked the styles of other units. The fourth and final unit in the 23rd, the 406th Engineer Combat Company Special , provided perimeter security and helped with construction and demolition.

“It really did make a dent in the German planning,” says Gerry Souter , co-author of The Ghost Army: Conning the Third Reich alongside his wife, Janet. “It kept them confused. It kept them off balance.”

Janet adds, “[The Germans] fell for it terrifically. They saw groups of tanks, and they heard people marching back and forth at night. They were so convinced that they sent over their jet plane bombers and fighters.”

Bluestein recalls learning how to construct dummy planes and trucks out of wood, which was then covered in burlap and “imperfectly camouflaged” with paint to attract the attention of enemy aerial scouts, per the Ghost Army Legacy Project .

A sonic halftrack equipped with playback equipment and 500-pound speakers

“They looked so real,” he says. “[But] the equipment was just part of it. We circulated in the saloons and everywhere we could go into town at dusk, letting [locals] know that we were the real troops. … The tanks were just part of the visual effect.”

According to Gerry, the Ghost Army’s work was so secretive that none of the men in the unit spoke about it to their friends and family. Even their wives had only a vague idea of their husbands’ daily work overseas. Soldiers outside of the 23rd had no idea of the unit’s existence; when the men were off duty, they camouflaged themselves as members of other divisions by wearing fake badges and painting different insignias on their vehicles. In reading the men’s letters , says Janet, you can sense their loneliness and isolation.

“It is too bad I can’t tell you about the places I’ve seen—I hope I’ll be able to remember it all after I get home. Probably I will, bit by bit,” wrote Sergeant Harold J. Dahl in a September 3, 1944, missive to his family.

Ghost Army veteran George Dramis —a native of Ashtabula, Ohio, who was drafted in 1942 at age 18—remembers “roughing it” most of the time, sleeping outside and often lacking adequate supplies.

“It was just a wild and woolly period of time, but it was very interesting,” says Dramis, now 97. “I could hear fighting all the time—bullets whizzing by.”

George Dramis (center) with two fellow soldiers from the 23rd

After getting drafted, Dramis took a Morse code test and was selected for the Signal Company Special radio team. He took part in the Normandy landings on D-Day and a deception campaign conducted ahead of the Battle for Brest in August and September 1944. In addition to sending fake radio transmissions, Dramis and his comrades intercepted German radio signals.

“The idea was that we’re going to create a little unit of about 1,000 men or so, and we’re going to try to pretend we are a much larger unit,” Dramis says. “We were going to fake [out] the Germans … while the true divisions pulled out of the line and moved north or south of the position to attack. We would hold that position with just a few men. It was dangerous work because we didn’t have the firepower to withstand a frontal attack.”

Often operating within a few hundred yards of front lines across the Western Front, the Ghost Army may not have been directly involved in combat, but their work required much courage. All of the men carried a weapon—mostly carbines , or short-barreled rifles—but they lacked the heavy arms of combat units, leaving them vulnerable. Three members of the 23rd were killed in action, and around 30 were wounded by artillery fire.

An inflatable dummy tank modeled after the M4 Sherman, pictured in southern England during Operation Fortitude in 1944

“It’s a special kind of bravery,” Beyer says. “That’s a pretty nervy thing to do.”

Gerry adds, “[E]ventually they learned how to be a soldier, and how to be an effective soldier. They had to learn how to deal with something completely different.”

Per the Army’s official history , the 23rd’s “last deceptive effort of the war was fortunately [its] best.” Dubbed Operation Viersen , the March 1945 mission found the Ghost Army impersonating two entire divisions—around 40,000 soldiers—in an attempt to convince the enemy the U.S. Ninth Army would cross the Rhine River ten miles south of its actual crossing point. The men inflated more than 600 dummy vehicles, transmitted false radio dispatches and blared simulated sounds of soldiers building pontoon boats, enabling the Ninth to enter Germany with little resistance. The unit returned to the U.S. in July and was deactivated on September 15 , after the Japanese surrender.

At the end of the war, according to the Souters’ book, the Ghost Army’s deception equipment was recycled for use in the Army’s aggressor force training program, which created a hypothetical enemy for troops practicing fighting. None of the inflatable tanks are known to survive today , but the techniques pioneered by the unit have had a lasting influence on modern military tactics.

Men from Company D of the 603rd Camouflage Engineers, the unit that handled visual deception for the 23rd

As for the men who served, some remained in the military after the war. But most returned to civilian life, still guarding the top-secret details of their wartime campaigns. Bluestein went back to school in Cleveland, became an industrial designer and settled in the Chicago area. Dramis was married for 75 years and eventually moved to Raleigh, North Carolina, to be near family. Other veterans found fame in creative fields: Notable alumni of the Ghost Army include fashion designer Bill Blass , artist Ellsworth Kelly and photographer Art Kane .

The Ghost Army may have been a small unit, but it made a big impact on the war’s success, Beyer and other historians argue.

“Rarely, if ever, has there been a group of such a few men which had so great an influence on the outcome of a major military campaign,” declared a classified Army report released 30 years after the war.

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The creativity and ingenuity of the Ghost Army undoubtedly contributed to the Allied victory, Beyer says.

“They’re worthy of hearing about,” he adds. “What they did is a real lesson in that war isn’t always about [charging] the hill. ... Sometimes, it’s about doing something smart and clever …. that will result in fewer deaths.

Beyer concludes, “Imagination and thoughtfulness can result in people [not having] to lose their lives.”

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Kellie B. Gormly | READ MORE

Kellie B. Gormly is an award-winning veteran journalist who freelances for national publications including The Washington Post, German Life, and Catster . She is a former staff writer for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, The Associated Press and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram .

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Ghost Army: The Combat Con Artists of World War II

Activated on January 20, 1944, the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, known as the “Ghost Army,” was the first mobile, multimedia, tactical deception unit in US Army history. Consisting of an authorized strength of 82 officers and 1,023 men under the command of Army veteran Colonel Harry L. Reeder, this unique and top-secret unit was capable of simulating two whole divisions—approximately 30,000 men—and used visual, sonic, and radio deception to fool German forces during World War II’s final year. Now, through The National WWII Museum’s newest special exhibit, Ghost Army: The Combat Con Artists of World War II, visitors can learn the story of the 23rd and their role in Allied victory through featured artifacts such as artwork, uniforms, an inflatable tank, and more.

Armed with nothing heavier than .50 caliber machine guns, the 23rd took part in 22 large-scale deceptions in Europe from Normandy to the Rhine River, the bulk of the unit arriving in England in May 1944, shortly before D-Day. The brainchild of Colonel Billy Harris and Major Ralph Ingersoll, both American military planners based in London, the unit consisted of a carefully selected group of artists, engineers, professional soldiers, and draftees, including famed artists such as fashion designer Bill Blass, painter Ellsworth Kelly, and photographer Art Kane. Many West Point graduates and former Army Specialized Training Program participants were assigned to the 23rd, and it was said to have one of the highest IQs in the Army with an average of 119. The unit waged war with inflatable tanks and vehicles, fake radio traffic, sound effects, and even phony generals, using imagination and illusion to trick the enemy while saving thousands of lives along the way. The 23rd, along with the 3133rd Signal Service Company in Italy, helped liberate Europe from the grip of Nazi tyranny.

Following the war, the unit’s soldiers were sworn to secrecy, records were classified, and equipment packed away. Except for a newspaper article right after the war, no one spoke publicly about the deceivers until a 1985 Smithsonian article. Though knowledge of the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops was then public, it was still officially classified until the mid-1990s.

In Ghost Army , the unique story of the 23rd’s more than 1,100 men who deceived, sketched, and painted across Europe to manipulate Hitler’s armies is told through multiple elements including historical narrative text panels detailing unit operations, profiles of unit officers, archival photography, and even sketches and uniforms from unit officers. In addition, a robust schedule of public programming and educational initiatives, free to the public and students, will further explore the exhibit’s themes.

After its run on the Museum campus, Ghost Army will be available for booking at institutions across the country including museums and local history centers.

Ghost Army: The Combat Con Artists of World War II is exclusively sponsored by E. L. Wiegand Foundation.

ghost army operation name

Available for Booking

  • September 2021 – May 2022
  • August 2023 – December 2023
  • January 2024 – December 2024

Booking Terms

Travel Schedule

Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center Skokie, IL Display Dates: June 16, 2022 – January 2, 2023

Nevada Museum of Art Reno, NV Display Dates: March 4, 2023 to July 23, 2023

Installation Logistics

Installation Requirements

  • Minimum of 4,000 square feet
  • Secure Exhibit Space that is staffed during hours
  • Minimum of two-person installation crew
  • Certificate of Insurance

Exhibit Components

  • 3 inflatables (optionals based on square feet)
  • 1 mock headquarters
  • 2 oral history stations
  • 2 interactive deception stations (audio and Morse Code stations)

Program Offers Included in the booking fee are:

  • Installation and packing guidelines
  • Layout and installation support
  • Educational brochure, which includes exhibit themes, lesson plans, and additional resources
  • Consultation with The National WWII Museum’s Assistant Director of Public Engagement for programming ideas
  • Marketing guide that provides instructions and templates for designing a rack card, poster, banner, advertisement and press releases

Application and Forms

Are you interested in bringing this exhibit to your institution? Please review our current schedule/availability, installation logistics page, and the forms below and contact us by phone or email if you need more information. Once you have reviewed all the information, please submit all materials and we will review and inform you of any concerns regarding a potential exhibit presentation. If you are approved as a host venue, we will contact you and proceed with contracting. 

Submit by mail to:

Traveling Exhibits Manager The National WWII Museum 945 Magazine Street, New Orleans, 70130

Submit by email to:

[email protected]

Pre-Host Forms Download, fill out, and scan or mail the Host Application and Facility Report below. The Facility Report provides a record of the latest information about an institution's physical specifications and staff practices, and will help us better serve your institution's needs. Traveling exhibit application Facility Report 

Post-Host Form Please fill out the following report when the exhibit closes at your institution. It will help us improve host institutions' experiences and learn visitation patterns, as well as information regarding associated educational programs and events. Final Report

Operation Fortitude: the D-Day deception campaign that fooled the Nazis

Dummy landing craft used in Operation Fortitude

‘In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.’

In 1942, Adolf Hitler ordered the construction of the Atlantic Wall, a series of coastal defences that stretched from the edge of the Arctic Circle down to the France-Spain border. The Germans knew an Allied invasion on Western Europe would eventually come, they just didn’t know exactly where and when.

On 6 June 1944, the largest seaborne invasion in military history heralded the start of Operation Overlord. D-Day kicked off the Western Allies push to Berlin and a large part of its success depended on German ignorance about its exact location, date and time.

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Up to a year before the Allies stepped foot on the Normandy beaches, a deception campaign was being formulated. It aimed to throw German High Command off about exactly how Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt planned to penetrate Hitler’s Fortress Europe. Its name was Operation Bodyguard and the secret department known as The London Controlling Centre (LCS) mapped out its finer details.

The Allies knew that German reconnaissance would pick up any build-up of forces in England prior to an invasion, so the main aim of Bodyguard was to convince Hitler an attack was coming later than it was actually planned and at a location different to Normandy.

Bodyguard drew on the experiences learnt from a previous failed deception plan, Operation Cockade, which in late 1943 had attempted to draw the Luftwaffe into a series of aerial engagements over the Channel. Historians have credited the success of Bodyguard on the lessons taken from Cockade.

Bodyguard was sub-divided into a series of operations. The most complex and arguably most significant of those was Operation Fortitude. Fortitude consisted of two parts, North and South; North aimed to convince the Germans that the Allied invasion would come via Norway whilst South planned to convince them it was coming via France at the Pas de Calais region, the shortest and most obvious route both across the Channel and to Germany.

Fake military buildings were created whilst inflatable tanks and dummy landing craft were deployed...

A variety of deceptive methods were employed to ensure Fortitude South achieved its goals. First was Operation Quicksilver, which saw the creation of a completely fictional army known as the First U.S. Army Group (FUSAG). This army was supposedly stationed in south-east England under the command of none other than famed US general George S. Patton. Patton was a smart choice by the Allies, he was the general most feared and respected by the German High Command and therefore the one most likely to be put in charge of an invasion force.

To aid in the ruse, fake military buildings were created whilst inflatable tanks and dummy landing craft were deployed across locations in the south-east. To further cement the ruse, Patton was photographed touring these fake FUSAG camps.

The idea was to convince Hitler the Allies had a larger force than they did and that force was supposedly targeting the Calais region, masking the Allies actual invasion preparations as well as convincing the Germans that any attack at Normandy was most likely a diversion from the ‘real’ attack.

Fake radio traffic was sent over the airwaves simulating the communications of FUSAG and detailing the Allies so-called plans to advance on the Calais region sometime in mid-July 1944. Since the Allies had cracked the German Enigma code, they could track and monitor the success of the false information they were handing the enemy.

Under the Double Cross System (German spies turned by MI5), Nazi agents in Britain fed back information supporting the fake radio traffic. The most famous of these double agents was Juan Pujol Garcia, a Spanish national supposedly working for German intelligence but who was actually loyal to the Allies. The British gave him the codename Garbo, the Germans Alaric.

The extent and depth of the Allied campaign of deceit was unlike anything seen before.

Garcia built a fictitious spy network in Britain containing 27 agents, none of whom were real. His German handlers were so impressed with his work he was rewarded the Iron Cross. The credibility that German High Command gave Garcia’s information meant he was able to convincingly sell the Allied deception to them, leaving the Germans completely unaware they were being manipulated.

The extent and depth of the Allied campaign of deceit were unlike anything seen before. They even employed the services of Australian actor M.E. Clifton James who had a remarkable likeness to British General Bernard Montgomery. James was sent on a tour of Gibraltar and North Africa in late May 1944, attempting to convince the Germans that no attack could be imminent if ‘Monty’ was out of the country.

In the build-up the D-Day, Allied bombing also played a key role in fooling the enemy. Whilst bombing under the Transportation Plan campaign looked to cut off Normandy from being effectively supplied by German reinforcements, areas around the Calais region were also targeted to convince the enemy that was the true target for the invasion.

To help draw further German strength away from the Normandy area, around 400 three-foot-tall dummies known as Ruperts were parachuted into areas East and West of Normandy under Operation Titanic on the night of 5 June. Ten members of the SAS jumped with the Ruperts and operated loudspeakers on the ground, blasting out sounds of gunfire and men shouting. The idea was to simulate an airborne invasion and distract German forces from the imminent attack.

As D-Day kicked off the deceptions were far from over. Allied aircraft dropped aluminium foil, known as Window, attempting to fool German radar that a large force was heading for the Calais area. Small boats and aircraft headed in the same direction to further sell the idea.

The Allies had hoped their decoy plans might buy them two weeks, seven was unthinkable.

Even after the day was done, Garcia continued to feed information back to his German handlers that Normandy was a ‘red herring’ and the larger force under Patton was still to strike at the Calais region. Hitler was so convinced of the existence of this ghost army that he refused to send reinforcements to the Normandy area for seven weeks. The Allies had hoped their decoy plans might buy them two weeks, seven was unthinkable.

Operation Fortitude North had conducted a similar campaign of deception, focusing mainly on fake radio chatter and double agents to paint a picture of a sizeable force building in the north of Britain. Whilst Hitler did not completely believe the invasion was coming from that direction, he still retained twelve army divisions there just in case. Every German soldier away from the Normandy region on D-Day was one fewer to resist the invading Allies.

The huge success of Operation Bodyguard and Fortitude saved countless lives and provided the Allies with a foothold in Europe. In just under a year after the D-Day landings, Hitler would be dead and the war over.

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EXPLAINED | What Was 'Ghost Army'? Secretive WWII Deception Unit Awarded Congressional Gold Medal

The ghost army was the first mobile, multimedia, tactical deception unit in the history of the us army. it used visual, sonic, & radio deception to fool german forces during world war ii's final year..

By: Radifah Kabir | Updated at : 05 Feb 2022 08:00 AM (IST)

Explained What Was Ghost Army US President Joe Biden Signed a bill that grants the Congressional Gold Medal EXPLAINED | What Was 'Ghost Army'? Secretive WWII Deception Unit Awarded Congressional Gold Medal

A member of the 603rd Camouflage Engineering Battalion standing in front of an inflatable tank destroyer | Photo: Ghost Army Legacy Project

What Was The Ghost Army?

ghost army operation name

How Did The Ghost Army Fool The Germans?

ghost army operation name

The Ghost Army Consisted Of Soldiers From 46 States

Selected operations of the ghost army, the ultimate test for the ghost army, what was the order of the battle, who are the surviving ghost army veterans.

  • Nick Leo — He is the oldest of the surviving veterans. Aged 99, he lives in Brentwood, New York. 
  • Bernie Bluestein — Aged 98, Bluestein lives in Schaumburg, Illinois.
  • Mark Mallardi — Aged 98, he lives in Edgewater, Florida
  • Seymour Nussenbaum — The 98-year-old lives in Monroe Township in New Jersey
  • Bill Anderson — Aged 97, he lives in Kent, Ohio
  • John Christman — He lives in Leesburg, New Jersey, and is 97-years-old
  • George Dramis — Aged 97, he lives in Raleigh, North Carolina
  • Manny Frockt — The 97-year-old lives in West Palm Beach, Florida
  • Bill Nall — He lives in Dunnellon, Florida, and is 97 years of age

What Is The Ghost Army Congressional Gold Medal Act?

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Ghost Army: World War II's Inflatable Army Explained

inflatable sherman tank wwii

Every generation has their defining time, and for the so-called Greatest Generation, that was World War II.

It was Tom Brokaw who came up with the name for the generation of people born before 1924, and according to CNN , this was the generation forged in the fires of the Great Depression. They were the ones that went on to fight on the front lines of World War II and hold down the homefront. They saw terrible things — from serial killers to child soldiers and the liberation of the concentration camps — and for a long time, they just didn't talk about what they had seen and done. They just got on with it.

The chance to hear their stories is fading fast. According to The National World War II Museum , only 325,574 WWII veterans were still alive in 2020 (16 million served). 

And that includes stories like the tale of the Ghost Army. They were a group of just a few hundred men tasked with using things like artistic ability, some creativity, and a literal ton of chutzpah to mislead Axis commanders and change the course of entire battles by making them believe just a handful of men were scores of them. They were forbidden from talking about their straight-from-the-movies tactics (and yes, there were inflatable tanks) for decades, but fortunately, the story of the super-secretive, super-brave group of men who saved tens of thousands of lives has come to light.

Who were the members of the Ghost Army?

The National WWII Museum calls them "The Combat Con Artists of World War II," and that's an incredibly apt description. They were more properly known as the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, and when they were deployed, a whopping 30,000 men were sent into the field and into combat. Sort of.

The unit — also called the Ghost Army — was made up of just 82 officers and 1,023 men. Using a whole arsenal of deception tactics, they were able to set up in the field and successfully mimic a large-scale deployment of two full divisions. Over the course of the war, they were used in 22 missions — often right on the front lines — to try to fool the Axis powers into thinking there were way more troops in particular areas than there actually were. And they did — according to the Smithsonian , their trickery and illusions were never discovered, even other Allied soldiers didn't know they even existed, and they saved an estimated 15,000 to 30,000 lives.

Who, then, were they? The men of the Ghost Army were hand-picked for their role, and many were plucked from art schools in Philadelphia and New York. Their ranks were made up of sound and theater technicians, illustrators and artists, and they all came with a seriously creative streak that would be life-saving.

A multimedia roadshow

According to the Smithsonian , the Ghost Army was actually made up of four separate units that each supplied a different component to the large-scale deception.

First, there was the visual component supplied by the 603rd Engineer Camouflage Battalion Special. They were the ones building, inflating, and moving not just inflatable tanks but inflatable trucks, Jeeps, and even artillery that — especially from the air — were indistinguishable from the real thing.

Then, there was the Signal Company Special, and they were the ones faking radio broadcasts to go along with the fake tanks. Radio broadcasts (using equipment like that pictured) only go so far, though, and that's where the 3132 Signal Service Company Special came in. They were the ones recording and playing ambient noises — the sound of engines, the whir of machinery, and the background chatter that comes when 30,000 soldiers and all their gear move through an area.

And finally, there was the 406th Engineer Combat Company Special. They were the ones that lent a hand with getting everything up and in place, demolition, and security for the rest of the crew. There were 168 men in that part of the Ghost Army, and that's even more insane when you add in the fact that many times, their missions were surrounded by very real armies.

A Hollywood heartthrob goes to war

World War II's Ghost Army might seem like the stuff of fiction, and there's a good reason for that. According to Cabinet , the origins of the Ghost Army are about as unlikely as unlikely can be — they go all the way back to Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. (pictured).

Fairbanks was the era's Hollywood royalty. Not only does he have scores of credits to his name, but his father does, too. Fans of classic cinema would recognize Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. , as having played famous faces like Zorro, Robin Hood, and D'Artagnan in The Iron Mask .

It was fitting, then, that Fairbanks Jr. was the one that first pitched the idea of using deception — and artistry, if you will — on the battlefield. It wasn't an original idea, and it was something he'd picked up from an old family friend who just happened to be Lord Louis Mountbatten. Mountbatten had spilled the beans to him about a top secret British unit that was experimenting with things like broadcasting the sound of troops behind smoke screens, and the idea stuck.

With Fairbanks, Jr., at least. Others in the military weren't so keen on the idea and saw the kind of deception he was talking about as less than honorable. Still, the noted actor found support with Hilton Howell Railey — the man behind Amelia Earhart , Antarctic expeditions, and an attempt to recover the Lusitania — and they proved just how effective deception could be.

Ghost Army hones their craft on American soil

It's an old saying that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and that's true with the Ghost Army. Alone, they may have had questionable success. Together, though, they fooled some of the top minds of the Axis military — and they practiced on their home soil.

The Smithsonian says they got their training at Fort Meade, and that included learning the basic art of camouflage. Then, they were put right to work — it was the 603rd Engineer Camouflage Battalion Special that was told to make an aircraft factory disappear.

It was a large-scale magic trick done for a very good reason. According to Ghost Army , there was a very real fear that German forces would strike on the mainland United States, with military installations and factories deemed the most likely targets.

Enter the 603rd. They were sent to Middle River, Md., and were tasked with making the Glenn L. Martin aircraft factory (which built the bomber pictured) disappear. Sounds unlikely? They absolutely did it by strategically covering parts of the compound with camouflage netting and painting other parts so that from the air, it would look like the factory was simply part of the countryside. It wasn't long after they finished in Maryland that they were assigned to the Ghost Army and sent off to Europe to work their magic.

The guys on the radio

Sound was an incredibly important part of what made the Ghost Army effective, and getting it right was no small endeavor. It started with Bell Labs, who created "firing tables" that allowed the techs to essentially aim their broadcasts to carry exactly where they wanted them to go. Then, the actual sounds were recorded at Fort Knox, and they had to have a wide variety of effects. It wasn't enough just to record a tank — they needed to record tanks on level ground, uphill, downhill... because to the trained ears they were trying to fool, those scenarios all sound very different.

According to Task & Purpose , they recorded everything imaginable, right down to soldiers talking. That was the background, and front and center were the radio operators.

They weren't just any radio guys, though. When the actual military unit moved out and the Ghost Army stepped into their shoes to make the enemy believe the actual unit was still in place, the transition needed to be flawless. That meant radio operators who could study other operators and the way they communicated — particularly through Morse code — and then imitate their style. 

Sgt. Stanley Nance explained their job this way (to Ghost Army ) — "Could I have sent just one radio message that changed the tide of battle, where one mother, or one new bride was spared the agony of putting a gold star in their front window? That's what the 23rd Headquarters was all about."

Were they really using inflatable tanks?

The idea of inflatable tanks sounds like something out of Hogan's Heroes instead of actual history, but it's 100 percent true.

According to Ghost Army , the 23rd Headquarters had hundreds of inflatable tanks (like the one pictured) that they deployed to give the illusion that an area was occupied by actual functional, fighting troops. The tanks were constructed over a lightweight frame of inflatable tubes, then the skin of the tank was stretched over the frame. They were about 18-feet long, more than 8-feet wide, and stood almost 8-feet tall to the top of the turret (which was assembled as a separate piece). It took just around 20 minutes to get a single tank inflated from inside a canvas bag to sitting in position — a process usually done beneath the cover afforded by camouflage netting.

While the tanks were the most famous of the Ghost Army's props, Task & Purpose notes that there were other inflatables, too — like planes and pieces of artillery. In addition to setting up this inflatable army, other Ghost Army members participated in another kind of deception that developed as the war went on. Soldiers — usually part of the 406th Combat Engineers Company — would fake unit patches and insignias, then head into town for a few drinks. There, they'd get chatty with the locals, spreading the exact kind of misinformation that they wanted German spies and informants to hear.

Operation Bettembourg

The Ghost Army's first success was Operation Bettembourg. According to the Ghost Army Legacy Project, it was Sept. 14, 1944, when they were summoned to coordinates along the Moselle River. They were being called in to complement Gen. George Patton 's Third Army and reinforce a 25-mile stretch of Allied front line that was lightly held and presenting a massive weak spot.

The Ghost Army was tasked with two objectives — first, the 500 men stationed there would give the appearance that there were actually two fully outfitted units of 8,000 holding the sector, and secondly, they were going to draw as many German units away from Metz as they could.

Between 10 p.m. and midnight on September 15, the sound crews broadcast recordings of tanks moving in, and inflatables were up that same night. By the following evening, fake radio broadcasts were being bounced around between Ghost Army operators and nearby — real — units, and in the meantime, 6th Armored markings had been painted on the tanks, and patches were made. Soldiers headed into town to chat with locals about their division, trucks made it a point to be seen gathering water — enough for 8,000 men — and civilians asking questions were given answers they wanted the Germans to hear.

German patrols moved to within just a few miles of the Ghost Army, and it wasn't until September 22 that the 83rd Infantry arrived to take their position. They played the sound of their tanks rolling out, and no one ever caught on.

Operation Brest

In August of 1944, the Ghost Army headed to Brest — the German-held port city was under Allied siege, and it was a strategically important location — they needed a port to bring in supplies for the troops funneling in through Normandy.

There were three American divisions stationed there... and the Ghost Army. The Ghost Army Legacy Project says they stepped in to the very active combat zone to impersonate two 6th Armored Division tank battalions with inflatables (like the one pictured), who had actually withdrawn from the area and been moved elsewhere.

The Ghost Army was split into three "task forces." X was made up of 200 men who needed to fool the German commanders into thinking they were not only holding a perimeter but moving into place in preparation for an attack. Task Force Z — made up of just 160 — also impersonated an entire tank battalion, moving into position near Milizac.

And Task Force Y had perhaps the most terrifying job of all — draw artillery fire away from the other troops. They used flash canisters psyched with the sounds of fire, and it worked. At the same time the actual artillery battery shelling the German army got no return fire whatsoever, Cpl. Rolff Campbell wrote, "All hell seemed to be hurtling through the air."

The Ghost Army's sister division

The Ghost Army wasn't the only American unit relying heavily on subterfuge, deception, and some serious creativity to help win the war. While they were impersonating tank and artillery battalions, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. had another unit in the works. They were the Beach Jumpers, and they were doing the same thing at sea.

According to HistoryNet , the Beach Jumpers worked in small units that were formed around 63-foot "crash boats," or Air-Sea Rescue (ASR) boats (pictured). On board was specially designed equipment that allowed them to broadcast sounds that mimicked an entire invasion fleet, along with Roman candles (to simulate gun fire) and smoke generators.

When it came time to jump into the action, it was a trial by fire. BJU-1 was deployed during Operation Husky, the Allies' attempts at invading and taking Sicily. Bad weather delayed their first mission, but on their second outing, they successfully convinced German troops to engage with an invasion fleet that wasn't there. Their success elevated them to the front lives, and they went on to participate in invasions along the Italian coast.

The Ghost Army was a secret for a long, long time

For decades, few people knew about one of the most unlikely stories of World War II. That's because the existence of the Ghost Army was officially classified until 1996 — but, that's not to say word didn't get out about them.

According to the Ghost Army Legacy Project, some stories made it out into the public — starting with the story of Sebastian Messina. He was a member of the Signal Company Special and was interviewed by a local paper when he went home on leave in the summer of 1945. Even though the paper had submitted the story to the censors at the War Department and it had been squashed, once the war ended, the paper ran the story anyway.

After a flurry of activity, the Pentagon got involved and put an end to that sort of chatter — and the Ghost Army faded back into the shadows.

There were a few other mentions of the unit that popped up from time to time, too. Fred Fox freelanced for The New York Times , and when he did write a first-hand account of the Battle of the Bulge, he hinted at what his unit had really done, without coming right out and saying it. (Fox also fought for years to get the whole thing declassified.) Another article appeared in the Smithsonian magazine in 1985, but it would be a while before the members of the Ghost Army could make their story widely known.

After the war: the men of the Ghost Army

When the war ended, there were a number of Ghost Army men who went on to major careers in both the art and fashion worlds — and many used their talents to sketch some incredible works of art depicting the scenes they saw while on the front lines in Europe.

Those are men like Ellsworth Kelly (pictured), who The Art Story names as one of the most influential artists of the post-war era. Bill Blass became a fashion designer whose clothes were worn by the post-war upper-class (via CFDA ), and Arthur Singer 's work is widely recognizable — he was one of the country's most prolific and popular bird painters.

And then, there's Gilbert Seltzer. NPR says that he enlisted when he was 26 years old, and the architectural draftsman almost immediately found himself at the head of a platoon within the Ghost Army. In 2019, the then 104-year-old veteran sat down with his granddaughter for an interview about his time in the Ghost Army and reminisced about setting up some fake guns in the fields of a French farmer. After telling the understandably irate farmer what they were doing, he said, "In four syllables, [he] described the mission of our outfit." Those four syllables were, "Boom boom! Ha ha!"

Later that year, Patch reported on his 105th birthday — spent hard at work in the office at his Gilbert L. Seltzer Associates architectural firm, where he was still drawing all his plans and blueprints by hand.

They weren't the only ones using some serious trickery

The Americans and their top secret units weren't the only ones using some sneaky methods to try to save lives, and D-Day actually started with a bit of British deception.

According to Atlas Obscura , even as the planned invasion fleet gathered and waited for the signal to converge on the beaches of Normandy, the D-Day operations started with Operation Titanic, located at three separate drop zones each chosen to give the illusion of the beginning of a full-scale invasion... well away from the actual targets.

On June 5/6, 1944, several hundred dummies — dressed in complete paratrooper uniforms — were dropped alongside a handful of very real soldiers of the British Special Air Service, who provided special effects in the form of flashes, the release of chemicals to simulate the smell of artillery shells, and sound effects. The dummies — which were all named Rupert — were designed to self-destruct on landing, to make sure the deception wasn't discovered until well after the actual invasion was underway.

War News | Military History | Military News

The ghost army of wwii – the real-life “phantom menace”.

  • World War 2

ghost army operation name

The men of the 603rd Camouflage Engineers designed and built hundreds of extremely convincing-looking rubber and inflatable tanks.

In the animal kingdom a common tactic to scare off predators or to intimidate rivals is the use of visual deception to make oneself look bigger or scarier than one really is. Similar tactics have been used by various military leaders throughout human history.

One of the most successful instances of the use of such visual trickery was the “Ghost Army” of the Second World War, a top-secret tactical deception unit charged with a rather unique task: to fool the Germans into believing that Allied forces on the ground were larger and more widespread than they really were.

The Allied invasion of Normandy was an operation of immense daring, and indeed, one of the most challenging military operations ever conducted – and it was also an operation of massive risk.

Allied military leaders realized that in order for the operation to succeed, and for the troops they were landing on the beaches to be able to successfully break through the Germans’ formidable defenses, they would not only need military might, they would also need an exceptional tactical approach – and part of this approach would most certainly involve unconventional tactics.

George Patton making a speech for US troops. Armagh, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom, spring 1944

This was how the top-secret Operation Quicksilver was born. It was part of a larger plan of deception – Operation Bodyguard – which aimed to trick the Germans into thinking that the bulk of the Allied amphibious landings would take place on the beaches of Calais rather than those of Normandy.

The main aim of Operation Quicksilver was to provide the visual and auditory “evidence” that would bolster the falsehoods that the Allies wished to convince the Germans were cold hard truths.

A map of the subordinate plans of Operation Bodyguard, the 1944 deception in support of the Allied invasion of Normandy (D-Day).Photo: ErrantX CC BY-SA 3.0

To ensure that they had the best men for this kind of job, American military leadership recruited men from art schools, advertising agencies and recording studios – not the usual hunting grounds for troops for an elite unit. But for the role this new unit, named the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, needed to play, artists, designers, sound engineers, and advertising men would be perfect.

The 1,100 men of the 23rd – the so-called Ghost Army – were divided into specialized units to create and maintain tactical illusions of perfect complexity. Many of those who served in this unit went on to become famous artists and designers, such as fashion designer Bill Blass and artist Ellsworth Kelly, among others.

An inflatable dummy tank, modeled after the M4 Sherman

In order to convincingly fool the Germans into believing that a major Allied force was going to be landing at Calais, the Ghost Army devised a masterful strategy. They would assemble a massive army without pulling any actual Allied troops from the field, but to any outside observers this phantom army would appear to be absolutely real.

The 23rd approached their daunting task with a multifaceted approach. The men of the 603rd Camouflage Engineers designed and built hundreds of extremely convincing-looking rubber and inflatable tanks, armored cars, airplanes, artillery weapons, and jeeps that, from a distance, looked like the real thing. It was only when seen from up close that it became clear that they were dummies.

Dummy landing craft used as decoys in south-eastern harbours in the period before D-Day.

The Ghost Army was also able to use these props to set up convincing-looking camps, which made it seem as if thousands of Allied troops were on the ground, whereas in reality there were none.

To bolster the visual illusions the 603rd created, there was a unit charged with creating auditory illusions, or sonic deception, as they preferred to call it.

A dummy Sherman tank under construction by 6 Field Park Company, Royal Engineers, in the Anzio bridgehead, 29 April 1944.

This unit, the 3132 Signal Service Company Special, used state of the art technology to record the sound of infantry troops, artillery units and military machinery at Fort Knox.

These sounds were then broadcast at the sites of the visual illusions, where the rubber planes and inflatable tanks had been set up, to make it sound as if a genuine military camp was there. The amplifiers used to do this were so powerful that the sounds they played could be heard up to fifteen miles away.

A dummy aircraft, modelled after the Douglas A-20 Havoc

The 3132 Signal Service Company also created fake radio broadcasts, studying actual Allied military radio transmissions and mimicking them perfectly – but supplying completely false information to any German operatives who were listening in. This “Spoof Radio,” as it was called by the company, played a vital role in maintaining the overall illusion of phantom troop movements and fake unit positions and numbers.

The deception was bolstered by trusted double agents, such as Juan Pujol Garcia, feeding the Germans misinformation that corresponded with the chatter on Spoof Radio.

Juan Pujol García, “Garbo”

To further solidify the complex illusion the men of the 23rd had woven, those who possessed talent for acting would dress up in the uniforms of actual Allied units, and visit French cafes or other such places where they were sure German intelligence would be listening.

There they would talk extremely convincingly about plans, operations and troop movements that didn’t actually exist, or where taking place in a completely different place than they claimed.

Dummy tanks, mounted on trucks, going to the forward areas on battlefields

To further bolster these illusions, they would paint over individual trucks and jeeps with the insignia of whatever unit they were impersonating, and sometimes go as far as driving a handful of trucks or jeeps in a continuous loop to make it seem as if a far larger movement of troops was taking place.

American soldiers and jeeps on their way to the front, Saint Lo, June 1944

All in all, the Ghost Army’s tactics were a resounding success. The Germans did not throw the full weight of their forces into defending the beaches of Normandy, believing that the Normandy landings were a decoy, and that the main landings would still be at Calais.

Even after the Normandy landings, many German military leaders were convinced that a huge Allied force was going to land at Calais – and the Ghost Army continued to maintain the illusion that this was happening, and that other major Allied forces had landed in places where there were actually no troops.

Operation Overlord (the Normandy Landings)- D-day 6 June 1944 Commando troops coming ashore from LCIs (Landing Craft Infantry).

The artists, designers, sound engineers, actors, and advertising men of the 23rd thus played a vital role in the success of the invasion of Normandy, and the ultimate Allied victory of WWII, and through their actions they undoubtedly saved the lives of countless Allied troops.

Read another story from us: Part 2: The Death of George Patton – Was America’s most controversial general assassinated?

The amazing operation they conducted, however, remained an official secret for many decades after the war ended, and the information about Operation Quicksilver was classified until 1996. Now that it has been declassified, however, the ingenious deeds of the men of the 23rd can finally be broadcast to the world.

Ghost Army (23rd & 3133rd) Roster:

This searchable database of soldiers who served in the Ghost Army has been carefully constructed from a variety of wartime rosters, supplemented with years of painstaking research. It is a work in progress. The goal is to appropriately remember every soldier who served in the Ghost Army. The database includes those who served in the 23 rd Headquarters Special Troops, which operated in northern Europe; the 3133rd Signal Service Company, which operated independently in Italy; and selected soldiers from the Army Experimental Station and the 12th US Army Group Special Plans Branch, both of which were deeply involved in the deception effort. There are full bios for more than 400 of the soldiers, and work continues to create more. Please note you can also use the search function (magnifying glass) in the upper right to search the bios and the rest of the website. For questions, or to provide information on a Ghost Army soldier, please reach out to us via the Contact Page.

Paul D Aarons

Born 1925 in ia, asn#37673319, 3133rd signal service co, jerome abbott, born 1921 in ny, asn#12183732, darrell abraham, born 1913 in ks, asn#37726118, arthur r abrams, born 1909 in pa, asn#32848192, 603rd engineer camouflage bn, joseph f accardi sr., born 1916 in ny, asn#32862560, 406th engineer combat co, burton elias ezra adams, born 1914 in sd, 23rd headquarters co, leonard f adriance, born 1922 in nj, asn#12204320, paul c agnew, born 1923 in ny, asn#11120272, rolf e ahlsen, born 1911 in sweden, asn#32903251, albert raymond albrecht, born 1924 in wi, 3132nd signal service co, william g aliapoulos, born 1917 in nh, asn#11039048, david allan, born 1907 in scotland, asn#32989833, maurice n allard, born 1923 in nd, asn#37560773, hallet allen, asn#6996622, james p allen, ralph g allen, born 1922 in wv, asn#15336640, morton j allison, asn#36592846, william d allshouse, born 1925 in oh, asn#35233156, charles t almond jr., born 1925 in va, asn#33842763, asn#12126438, charles c amadon, born 1917 in ri, asn#11011247, herbert t amborski, born 1914 in ny, asn#12166163, george a amsdill, born 1922 in ny, asn#42084789, john swift “jack” anderegg jr., born 1924 in pa, asn#11121677, stanley s anders jr., born 1925 in pa, asn#33827637, austin a anderson, asn#36891065, donald w anderson, eric r anderson, harold thomas anderson, born 1917 in nj, asn#32754166, james anderson, james thomas anderson, born 1923 in va, asn#32487853, joe k anderson, born 1919 in tx, asn#18016558, signal co, special, pete anderson, asn#37219664, william john anderson ii, born 1924 in oh, asn#35049197, alexander george andré, born 1911 in denmark, asn#32335539, elwood richard andrews sr., born 1911 in nj, asn#20250961, james d andrews, born 1924 in canada, asn#32844118, virgil d ankrom, asn#37223210, carl thomas apicella, born 1917 in oh, asn#35921496, howard j arbo, born 1919 in me, asn#31150717, edmund minor archer, born 1904 in va, asn#32523166, domenico arena, born 1908 in italy, asn#32350291, edgar m armstrong, walter wendell arnett, born 1912 in ky, asn#14158813, jack arnofsky, clarence b arnold jr., charles john ashe, born 1921 in mo, asn#17064289, lolen e atchison, born 1919 in al, asn#34399294, eliot heath atkinson, born 1907 in ma, asn#11088515, please support our ongoing efforts.

The soldiers of The Ghost Army used inflatable tanks, sound effects, and imagination to fool the Germans on the battlefields of Europe. The Ghost Army Legacy Project is ensuring that these men and their accomplishments are never forgotten.

Give via credit card by clicking the yellow “Donate” button.

Or, send a check to:

Ghost Army Legacy Project 1305 S. Michigan Ave. #1104 Chicago, IL 60605

All donations are tax-deductible!


700 Powerful Military Operation Names For Your Secret Missions

Welcome to our blog article on the intriguing topic of “700 Military Operation Names.” In this post, we’ll be sharing a collection of creative and captivating names that have been assigned to military operations throughout history. As General George S. Patton once said, “A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.” These operation names not only convey the essence and purpose of the missions but also inspire a sense of determination and bravery.

As a Naming Specialist with three years of experience, I have had the privilege of delving into the fascinating world of naming. While my expertise primarily lies in fantasy character names, I’ve had the opportunity to study and analyze the methods behind military operation naming as well. It is truly a captivating field that requires a balance of creativity, strategy, and precision. The names given to military operations often reflect the goals, values, or desired outcomes, and play a crucial role in shaping public perception and morale.

In this article, you can expect to find an extensive list of 700 military operation names, each with its own unique flair and significance. Whether you’re a writer in need of inspiration, a history enthusiast, or simply intrigued by the art of naming, we guarantee that you’ll discover a name that stands out and captures your imagination. So, let’s dive into this fascinating collection and uncover the stories behind these powerful and evocative military operation names.

Military Operation Names

Military Operation Names

  • Operation Thunderbolt
  • Operation Iron Fist
  • Operation Eagle Eye
  • Operation Swift Justice
  • Operation Midnight Sun
  • Operation Steel Rain
  • Operation Phoenix Rising
  • Operation Viper Strike
  • Operation Avalanche
  • Operation Razorback
  • Operation Cobra Claw
  • Operation Ghost Shield
  • Operation Thunderstorm
  • Operation Ironclad
  • Operation Raging Bull
  • Operation Lightning Strike
  • Operation Falcon Fury
  • Operation Silent Blade
  • Operation Shadow Dagger
  • Operation Crimson Tide
  • Operation Black Diamond
  • Operation Emerald Serpent
  • Operation Crimson Sky
  • Operation Arctic Frost
  • Operation Golden Arrow
  • Operation Silver Fox
  • Operation Amber Dawn
  • Operation Diamondback
  • Operation Ivory Tower
  • Operation Ghost Rider
  • Operation Crimson Horizon
  • Operation Jade Serpent
  • Operation Steel Thunder
  • Operation Midnight Hawk
  • Operation Stormbreaker
  • Operation Eagle Claw
  • Operation Ironclaw
  • Operation Thunderstrike
  • Operation Silver Falcon
  • Operation Black Scorpion
  • Operation Crimson Phoenix
  • Operation Amber Shadow
  • Operation Diamond Storm
  • Operation Ghost Sentinel
  • Operation Shadow Hunter
  • Operation Crimson Fury
  • Operation Midnight Guardian

20 Military Operation Names With Meanings

Military Operation Names

  • Operation Thunderstrike – Unleashing devastating force with electrifying precision.
  • Operation Ironclad Resolve – Displaying unwavering determination in the face of adversity.
  • Operation Crimson Phoenix – Rising from the ashes with fiery determination.
  • Operation Midnight Serenade – Striking fear into the enemy’s heart under cover of darkness.
  • Operation Silver Fang – Sinking teeth into the enemy’s defenses with calculated ferocity.
  • Operation Amber Saber – Illuminating the path to victory with strategic brilliance.
  • Operation Aurora Borealis – Casting a mesmerizing glow of triumph on the battlefield.
  • Operation Cobalt Vortex – Swirling forces converge to overwhelm the enemy.
  • Operation Jade Thunderbolt – Harnessing the power of nature to conquer all obstacles.
  • Operation Mercury Blitzkrieg – Executing lightning-fast maneuvers to seize control.
  • Operation Onyx Avalanche – Unleashing an unstoppable force to crush the enemy.
  • Operation Scarlet Sentinel – Standing as a vigilant guardian, unwavering and resolute.
  • Operation Titan Nova – Unleashing titanic power to reshape the battlefield.
  • Operation Vermillion Vanguard – Spearheading the charge with unwavering courage.
  • Operation Azure Cyclone – Whirling into action with swift and relentless force.
  • Operation Golden Talon – Seizing victory with sharp and precise strikes.
  • Operation Ruby Phoenix – Rising from the ashes with fiery determination.
  • Operation Obsidian Eclipse – Engulfing the enemy in impenetrable darkness.
  • Operation Emerald Citadel – Fortifying the defenses with unbreakable resolve.
  • Operation Sapphire Mirage – Creating illusions of victory, deceiving the enemy at every turn.

Cool Military Operation Names

Military Operation Names

  • Operation Thunderstrike – Intense and powerful assault.
  • Operation Midnight Blaze – Fiery and covert nighttime mission.
  • Operation Icestorm – Cold and relentless offensive.
  • Operation Phantom Thunder – Mysterious and impactful military action.
  • Operation Steel Serpent – Strong and stealthy operation.
  • Operation Shadowstorm – Dark and elusive mission.
  • Operation Vortex Fury – Whirlwind of fierce combat.
  • Operation Avalanche Strike – Overwhelming and decisive attack.
  • Operation Eclipse Hammer – Powerful and covert strike.
  • Operation Silver Saber – Swift and precise operation.
  • Operation Thunderclap – Resounding and forceful military action.
  • Operation Diamondback – Sharp and lethal covert mission.
  • Operation Blizzard Assault – Harsh and relentless offensive.
  • Operation Venomous Viper – Deadly and stealthy operation.
  • Operation Ironwing – Strong and agile military campaign.
  • Operation Inferno Fury – Intense and fiery assault.
  • Operation Arctic Phantom – Mysterious and cold-weather operation.
  • Operation Stormbringer – Unstoppable and powerful mission.
  • Operation Silent Strike – Covert and silent operation.
  • Operation Nightfall – Stealthy and covert mission under cover of darkness.
  • Operation Thunderstrike – Thunderous and impactful military action.
  • Operation Midnight Storm – Covert and intense nighttime operation.
  • Operation Arctic Blizzard – Harsh and relentless cold-weather offensive.
  • Operation Shadow Serpent – Elusive and deadly military campaign.
  • Operation Steel Tempest – Strong and powerful assault.
  • Operation Frostbite Fury – Chilling and ferocious offensive.
  • Operation Venom Vortex – Lethal and swirling operation.
  • Operation Silverhawk – Swift and precise mission.
  • Operation Thunderclash – Resounding and forceful military strike.
  • Operation Diamondstrike – Sharp and lethal covert action.

Current Military Operation Names

Military Operation Names

  • Operation Guardian Resolve – Protecting with unwavering determination.
  • Operation Swift Recon – Rapid and efficient reconnaissance mission.
  • Operation Vigilant Horizon – Watchful and prepared for any threat.
  • Operation Resolute Response – Firm and decisive reaction to challenges.
  • Operation Steadfast Support – Unwavering assistance and aid.
  • Operation Dynamic Shield – Adaptable and protective military action.
  • Operation Rapid Relief – Swift and timely assistance in crisis situations.
  • Operation Unified Vigilance – Cooperative and coordinated security efforts.
  • Operation Secure Unity – Ensuring safety and cohesion.
  • Operation Vigorous Impact – Assertive and powerful military action.
  • Operation Strong Response – Forceful and determined reaction to threats.
  • Operation Steadfast Resolve – Unwavering determination in face of challenges.
  • Operation Rapid Enforcement – Swift and assertive law enforcement action.
  • Operation Unified Frontline – Cooperative and synchronized military operations.
  • Operation Dynamic Safeguard – Adaptable and vigilant protection.
  • Operation Resilient Shield – Strong and resilient defensive measures.
  • Operation Swift Counterstrike – Quick and decisive response to enemy actions.
  • Operation Vigilant Harmony – Watchful and cooperative security measures.
  • Operation Stronghold Unity – Fortified and unified defensive positions.
  • Operation Steadfast Intervention – Firm and resolute military intervention.
  • Operation Secure Advance – Ensuring safety during forward progress.
  • Operation Dynamic Resolve – Adaptable and determined military action.
  • Operation Guardian Rampart – Protecting with steadfast determination.
  • Operation Swift Restoration – Rapid and effective recovery efforts.
  • Operation Unified Response – Cooperative and coordinated reaction to crises.
  • Operation Secure Frontier – Ensuring safety at the border.
  • Operation Vigilant Stability – Watchful and secure environment maintenance.
  • Operation Stronghold Defiance – Firm and resolute defense against adversaries.
  • Operation Steadfast Sentinel – Unwavering watchfulness and protection.
  • Operation Dynamic Engagement – Adaptable and active participation in conflicts.

Funny Military Operation Names

  • Operation Clown Patrol – Comically securing the battlefield.
  • Operation Marshmallow Mayhem – Sweet and chaotic military action.
  • Operation Ticklish Takedown – Silly and playful mission execution.
  • Operation Jellybean Jamboree – Colorful and whimsical military operation.
  • Operation Mischief Maker – Playfully causing strategic disruptions.
  • Operation Banana Blitz – Silly and fruity assault tactics.
  • Operation Pillow Fight – Soft and feathery combat maneuvers.
  • Operation Chuckle Storm – Unleashing waves of laughter.
  • Operation Silly Sabotage – Absurd and unconventional disruption techniques.
  • Operation Whoopee Cushion – Surprising and humorous military actions.
  • Operation Giggling Grenades – Explosions of laughter on the battlefield.
  • Operation Rubber Chicken Raid – Unorthodox and hilarious attack strategies.
  • Operation Laughing Gas – Spreading contagious hilarity among enemies.
  • Operation Silly Walk – Comically advancing towards the objective.
  • Operation Tickle Tango – Engaging in playful combat encounters.
  • Operation Prankster’s Gambit – Tricky and mischievous military maneuvers.
  • Operation Wacky Warfare – Engaging in unconventional battle tactics.
  • Operation Laugh Track – Adding laughter to the theater of war.
  • Operation Silly Salute – Quirky and lighthearted military protocols.
  • Operation Comedy Central – Broadcasting laughter during operations.
  • Operation Chuckles Rumble – Engaging in laughter-filled combat engagements.
  • Operation Whimsical Whirlwind – Embracing whimsy during military campaigns.
  • Operation Giggle Brigade – Deploying troops of laughter-inducing soldiers.
  • Operation Laugh Riot – Causing uproarious hilarity on the battlefield.
  • Operation Silly Sappers – Engaging in humorous demolition and sabotage.
  • Operation Belly Laugh Blitz – Bombarding enemies with uncontrollable laughter.
  • Operation Goofy Gambit – Executing unconventional and humorous strategies.
  • Operation Prank Patrol – Playfully disrupting enemy lines.
  • Operation Laugh- a-Minute – Maintaining a constant flow of laughter during operations.
  • Operation Silly Symphony – Orchestrating a harmonious and comedic military endeavor.

British Military Operation Names

  • Operation Lionheart – Brave and fierce military endeavor.
  • Operation Britannia Shield – Protecting the nation’s interests.
  • Operation Spitfire Strike – Swift and precise aerial assault.
  • Operation Bulldog Resolve – Firm and determined military action.
  • Operation Churchill’s Legacy – Continuing the spirit of leadership.
  • Operation Redcoat Thunder – Powerful and iconic military campaign.
  • Operation Royal Guard – Protecting the monarchy and nation.
  • Operation Merlin’s Flight – Skilled and strategic air operations.
  • Operation Sovereign Defender – Preserving national sovereignty and security.
  • Operation Falcon’s Wing – Swift and agile military intervention.
  • Operation Union Jackknife – Bold and decisive military action.
  • Operation Britannia’s Pride – Demonstrating national strength and honor.
  • Operation Trafalgar Strike – Devastating and impactful naval assault.
  • Operation Iron Duke – Strong and authoritative military operation.
  • Operation Castle Keep – Secure and fortified defensive action.
  • Operation Queen’s Shield – Protecting the Queen’s realm.
  • Operation Scottish Highlander – Displaying the courage of Scottish soldiers.
  • Operation Welsh Dragonfire – Fiery and spirited military endeavor.
  • Operation Belfast Blitz – Swift and overwhelming assault on adversaries.
  • Operation Crown Jewel – Safeguarding the nation’s vital assets.
  • Operation Windsor Guard – Protecting the Windsor family and interests.
  • Operation Lion Rampant – Assertive and powerful military action.
  • Operation Britannic Pride – Displaying national pride and strength.
  • Operation RAF Thunderbolt – Impactful and forceful air campaign.
  • Operation Celtic Valor – Courageous and determined military operation.
  • Operation Emerald Shield – Protecting British interests abroad.
  • Operation Tudor Rose – Symbolizing unity and strength.
  • Operation Victoria Cross – Honoring acts of bravery and heroism.
  • Operation Waterloo Dawn – Marking a decisive and victorious military endeavor.
  • Operation London Blitz – Defending the capital with resilience and determination.

Military Covert Operation Names

  • Operation Shadow Walker – Stealthy infiltration and reconnaissance.
  • Operation Silent Sabre – Covert and precise strike mission.
  • Operation Ghost Fox – Undetectable and mysterious covert operation.
  • Operation Black Pearl – Secret and high-stakes maritime mission.
  • Operation Phantom Serpent – Elusive and deceptive covert maneuver.
  • Operation Stealth Hawk – Invisible and swift special operations.
  • Operation Nightshade – Covert operation under the cover of darkness.
  • Operation Shadow Hunter – Stealthy pursuit and elimination mission.
  • Operation Ghost Panther – Invisible and lethal special forces operation.
  • Operation Dark Orchid – Secret and intricate covert assignment.
  • Operation Silent Viper – Stealthy and deadly infiltration mission.
  • Operation Shadow Sentinel – Covert surveillance and intelligence gathering.
  • Operation Nightfall – Covert operation executed at night.
  • Operation Phantom Raven – Mysterious and elusive covert maneuver.
  • Operation Black Mamba – Stealthy and lethal special operations.
  • Operation Stealth Lynx – Silent and agile covert mission.
  • Operation Ghost Wolf – Undetectable and relentless covert operation.
  • Operation Dark Falcon – Secret and high-speed aerial mission.
  • Operation Shadow Jaguar – Covert reconnaissance and sabotage.
  • Operation Silent Cobra – Stealthy and deadly special forces operation.
  • Operation Night Stalker – Covert operation conducted in darkness.
  • Operation Phantom Hawk – Mysterious and unpredictable covert maneuver.
  • Operation Black Python – Secret and lethal covert assignment.
  • Operation Stealth Panther – Silent and precise infiltration mission.
  • Operation Shadow Raven – Covert surveillance and intelligence gathering.
  • Operation Night Fury – Covert operation executed under the cover of night.
  • Operation Ghost Tiger – Invisible and relentless special forces operation.
  • Operation Dark Wolf – Secret and elusive covert maneuver.
  • Operation Silent Falcon – Stealthy and lethal special operations.
  • Operation Shadow Lynx – Covert mission conducted with silence and agility.

Historical Military Operation Names

Operation Overlord – Allied invasion of Normandy.

Operation Barbarossa – German invasion of the Soviet Union.

Operation Desert Storm – Liberation of Kuwait from Iraq.

Operation Market Garden – Failed Allied airborne operation.

Operation Torch – Allied invasion of North Africa.

Operation Bagration – Soviet offensive against Germany.

Operation Husky – Allied invasion of Sicily.

Operation Chariot – British commando raid on St. Nazaire.

Operation Citadel – German offensive at Kursk.

Operation Dynamo – Evacuation at Dunkirk.

Operation Paperclip – Recruiting German scientists after WWII.

Operation Enduring Freedom – S. response to 9/11.

Operation Rolling Thunder – S. bombing campaign in Vietnam.

Operation Downfall – Planned Allied invasion of Japan.

Operation Desert Shield – Defense of Saudi Arabia during Gulf War.

Operation Pedro Pan – Cuban refugee airlift to the U.S.

Operation Neptune Spear – Raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

Operation Eagle Claw – Failed U.S. hostage rescue attempt in Iran.

Operation Halyard – Allied rescue of downed airmen in Yugoslavia.

Operation Paperclip – Recruitment of German scientists after WWII.

Operation Desert Fox – S. and UK strikes on Iraq.

Operation Fortitude – Deception operation before D-Day.

Operation Dynamo – Evacuation of British and French troops from Dunkirk.

Operation Frequent Wind – Evacuation of Americans during the fall of Saigon.

Operation Dragoon – Allied invasion of Southern France.

Operation Dynamo – British evacuation at Dunkirk during WWII.

Operation Mincemeat – Deception operation during WWII.

Operation Overcast – Secret U.S. program to recruit German scientists.

Operation Paperclip – S. effort to recruit German scientists after WWII.

Weird Military Operation Names

Operation Purple Pigeon – Unusual and covert reconnaissance mission.

Operation Zebra Tango – Mysterious and enigmatic military operation.

Operation Polka Dot Paradox – Baffling and perplexing strategic maneuver.

Operation Quirky Quasar – Eccentric and unconventional military action.

Operation Funky Ferret – Peculiar and unorthodox tactical deployment.

Operation Zigzag Zephyr – Erratic and unpredictable military campaign.

Operation Dizzy Dragonfly – Bewildering and disorienting operation.

Operation Bizarre Banjo – Odd and peculiar military engagement.

Operation Whacky Walrus – Unconventional and surprising assault tactics.

Operation Eerie Echelon – Uncanny and mysterious military endeavor.

Operation Curious Chameleon – Intriguing and unpredictable mission execution.

Operation Wobble Widget – Unusual and offbeat military operation.

Operation Peculiar Pigeon – Unconventional and unexpected aerial maneuvers.

Operation Jumbled Jigsaw – Confusing and intricate military strategy.

Operation Oddball Octopus – Strange and unconventional military action.

Operation Quizzical Quokka – Perplexing and enigmatic military campaign.

Operation Wacky Wombat – Bizarre and unconventional tactical approach.

Operation Fuzzy Flamingo – Unorthodox and puzzling military operation.

Operation Whimsical Whistle – Playful and whimsical military engagement.

Operation Zany Zucchini – Quirky and unconventional mission execution.

Operation Absurd Albatross – Ridiculous and nonsensical military endeavor.

Operation Puzzling Panda – Confounding and perplexing military action.

Operation Wobbly Weasel – Unsteady and unpredictable military campaign.

Operation Quirky Quokka – Eccentric and peculiar tactical deployment.

Operation Strange Seahorse – Weird and unusual military operation.

Operation Dazzling Dodo – Surprising and unexpected assault tactics.

Operation Enigmatic Elephant – Mysterious and puzzling military endeavor.

Operation Bizarre Baboon – Odd and peculiar mission execution.

Operation Whimsical Walrus – Playful and unconventional military action.

Operation Quizzical Quail – Perplexing and enigmatic military campaign.

Famous Military Operation Code Names

Operation Neptune – D-Day invasion of Normandy.

Operation Desert Shield – Defense against Iraq in Gulf War.

Operation Rolling Thunder – Bombing campaign in Vietnam.

Operation Red Wings – Mission to capture or kill Taliban leader.

Operation Anaconda – Offensive against al-Qaeda and Taliban.

Operation Valkyrie – Assassination plot against Hitler.

Operation Gothic Serpent – Battle of Mogadishu in Somalia.

Operation Linebacker – S. bombing campaign in Vietnam.

Operation Urgent Fury – S. invasion of Grenada.

Operation Tidal Wave – Bombing of Ploiești oil fields.

Operation Avalanche – Allied invasion of Italy.

Operation Cobra – Breakout from Normandy beachhead.

Operation Desert Rat – British offensive in North Africa.

Operation Varsity – Airborne assault during Operation Plunder.

Operation Market Time – S. naval blockade in Vietnam.

Operation Frequent Wind – Evacuation of Americans during Vietnam War.

Operation Rolling Stone – Search for enemy troops in Vietnam.

Military Operation Names

How To Choose A Good Military Operation Name

In the realm of military operations, a well-chosen name holds significant importance. It serves as a rallying point for troops, instills a sense of purpose, and captures the essence of the mission. In this article, we will explore the art of choosing a good military operation name, understanding its role in fostering unity and conveying a clear objective.

Understanding the purpose of the military operation

Before diving into the process of naming a military operation, it is crucial to have a thorough understanding of its purpose. Identify the objectives, scope, and desired outcomes of the mission. Consider the target audience, whether it be the troops involved, the public, or potential adversaries. This understanding will shape the direction of the naming process and ensure that the chosen name aligns with the mission’s essence.

Researching historical and cultural references

Drawing inspiration from historical military operations can provide valuable insights when choosing a name. Research past missions and identify successful operation names that evoke a sense of purpose and resilience. Additionally, exploring cultural and mythological references can infuse the name with symbolism and deeper meaning. Consider names that resonate with the mission’s objectives or align with the values of the armed forces.

Incorporating key elements of the operation

A good military operation name should reflect the mission’s objectives and convey a sense of purpose. Incorporate key elements such as the strategic importance of the operation or the desired outcome. Emphasize the location or specific details that make the mission unique. By integrating these elements into the name, you create a strong and cohesive identity that encapsulates the mission’s essence.

Considerations for operational security

While a memorable and evocative name is desirable, operational security is of utmost importance. Strike a balance between the need for secrecy and the public perception of the operation. Avoid using sensitive or classified information in the name that could compromise the mission or endanger personnel. Ensure the name does not inadvertently reveal crucial details or compromise the safety of the operation.

Evaluating the linguistic and phonetic aspects

A good military operation name should be easily pronounced and understood by a diverse range of individuals. Consider the linguistic and cultural diversity within the military and strive for a name that transcends language barriers. Avoid complex or unfamiliar terms that may cause confusion or misinterpretation. Opt for simplicity and clarity to ensure effective communication and unity among the troops.

Collaborating and seeking feedback

The process of choosing a military operation name should be a collaborative effort. Involve key stakeholders, including commanders, strategists, and personnel directly involved in the mission. Seek their input and perspectives to ensure the name resonates with the team and reflects their shared commitment. Collect feedback and make necessary adjustments to refine the name, creating a sense of ownership and unity among all involved.

In conclusion, exploring the world of “700 Military Operation Names” has been an eye-opening journey. We’ve delved into a vast array of names that have been assigned to military operations throughout history, each with its own unique story and purpose. From Operation Overlord to Operation Desert Storm, these names carry a weight of history, valor, and strategic planning.

By studying these operation names, we gain insight into the minds of military strategists who carefully select these titles to convey messages of strength, unity, and purpose. These names are not just arbitrary labels, but powerful symbols that evoke emotions and rally troops. They serve as reminders of the sacrifices made by brave men and women in service to their countries.

We hope that this article has not only provided you with an extensive list of military operation names but has also sparked your curiosity about the fascinating world of naming and its impact on history. As we reflect on these names, let us remember the valor and heroism associated with each operation and the individuals who fought and continue to fight for our freedom. May these names inspire us to strive for peace, understanding, and the courage to overcome any challenge that comes our way.


  1. How The Ghost Army Of World War II Helped The Allies Invade Normandy

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  2. Operation Fortitude

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  3. How The Ghost Army Of World War II Helped The Allies Invade Normandy

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  5. Ghost Army exhibit at Fayetteville museum on display through April

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  6. The Ghost Army was a United States Army tactical...

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  1. Ghost Army

    History and deployment The Ghost Army was created by U.S. Army planners Ralph Ingersoll and Billy Harris, and led by Colonel Harry L. Leeder. Inspiration for the unit came from the British units who had honed the deception technique for Operation Bertram during the battle of El Alamein in late 1942. [2]

  2. The Top-Secret WWII Unit That Fooled the Nazis

    Watch Now Ghost Army: A 'Traveling Road Show' Roger Viollet/Getty Images A rubber (and clearly light) decoy tank designed to deceive German forces in World War II, shown in England, circa 1939....

  3. Ghost Army, a World War II Master of Deception, Finally Wins

    By Vimal Patel Feb. 3, 2022 The Ghost Army had one goal: Deceive Hitler's forces and their allies. Credited with fine-tuning the ancient art of deceptive warfare, the American military units of...

  4. Patton's Ghost Army

    The army General George Patton fielded for the 1944 Normandy D-Day Invasion was unlike any other. It was a complete and unabashed fake. Brian John Murphy From a distance, an English farmer could see that sometime overnight a column of Sherman tanks had parked on his field.

  5. Ghost Army: How American Troops Fooled The Nazis During WWII

    News The plan sounded like it was hatched in a Hollywood writer's room. It was early 1944, and with victory in the Second World War far from certain, the Army pulled together roughly 1,100...

  6. 'Ghost Army' in WWII used inflatable tanks to fool the Nazis and win

    The 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, also known as the "Ghost Army," brought together artists, career military officers and audio experts in a unique unit devoted to the art of deception —...

  7. How the Ghost Army of WWII Used Art to Deceive the Nazis

    July 5, 2022 The men of the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops created elaborate illusions featuring inflatable tanks, jeeps and artillery. Courtesy of the National WWII Museum Bernie Bluestein was...

  8. Ghost Army: The Combat Con Artists of World War II

    Activated on January 20, 1944, the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, known as the "Ghost Army," was the first mobile, multimedia, tactical deception unit in US Army history. Consisting of an authorized strength of 82 officers and 1,023 men under the command of Army veteran Colonel Harry L. Reeder, this unique and top-secret unit was capable ...

  9. The Ghost Army: How An Army Of Artists Helped Win World War II

    The 23 rd Headquarters Special Troops of the United States Army known as The Ghost Army was a unit created to deceive enemy soldiers. They succeeded with the use of fake tanks, recordings of battle sounds, dummy fighter planes and more.

  10. | The Ghost Army Legacy Project

    The Ghost Army used inflatable tanks, sound effects, radio trickery and imagination to fool the Germans on the battlefields of Europe. The unsung heroes of the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops and the 3133rd Signal Company Special carried out 25 battlefield deceptions in France, Luxembourg, Belgium, Germany and Italy.

  11. History of the 23rd Headqarters Special Troops

    Operation BREST marked the first time the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops used visual, radio, and sonic deception altogether. It was one of the rare times that they found themselves in the midst of a major battle. Corporal Jack Masey, from Brooklyn New York, recalled that Brest as "the biggest piece of action I ever saw in World War II.

  12. How The Ghost Army Of World War II Helped The Allies Invade Normandy

    Updated February 5, 2021 In 1944 the Allies used a "Ghost Army" of inflatable tanks and personnel carriers to fool German recon missions. A handful of British tommies on maneuvers at Salisbury Plain hoist an enormous tank on their shoulders and move it to another part of the "battleground." A Herculean feat?

  13. The Ghost Army: Every move they made was top secret, their story was

    World War 2 Articles Mar 20, 2018 Lincoln Riddle, Guest Author The American 23rd Headquarters Special Troops were given a unique mission during World War II. The unit was made up of more than 1,100 men, who were on a mission to fool the enemy, fool the enemy in to believing they were other U.S. units.

  14. Operation Fortitude: the D-Day deception campaign that fooled the Nazis

    Up to a year before the Allies stepped foot on the Normandy beaches, a deception campaign was being formulated. It aimed to throw German High Command off about exactly how Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt planned to penetrate Hitler's Fortress Europe. Its name was Operation Bodyguard and the secret department known as The London ...

  15. The Ghost Army Bamboozled the Germans Big Time During WWII

    The Ghost Army is credited with saving approximately 15,000-30,000 American lives during World War II. Despite their heroic efforts, however, they were never formally honored by the government, due to the classified nature of their work. As such, they were unable to publicly speak of their exploits during the war.

  16. EXPLAINED: What Was 'Ghost Army', The Secretive WWII Deception Unit

    New Delhi: On February 1, United States President Joe Biden signed into law a bill that awards the Congressional Gold Medal to the secretive World War II deception unit known as the Ghost Army. The 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, activated on January 20, 1994, was known as the Ghost Army.

  17. Ghost Army: World War II's Inflatable Army Explained

    A multimedia roadshow Shutterstock According to the Smithsonian, the Ghost Army was actually made up of four separate units that each supplied a different component to the large-scale deception. First, there was the visual component supplied by the 603rd Engineer Camouflage Battalion Special.

  18. Operation VIERSEN

    18-24 March. The 23rd's last deceptive effort of the War was fortunately the best. It was called VIERSEN (18-24 March) after a German city in the lower Rhine Valley North of Cologne. The objective as stated in the official report was: "As part of a NINTH U. S. ARMY deception plan, to deceive the enemy as to the actual Rhine River crossing area ...

  19. Operation Fortitude and The Ghost Armies

    In WW2, the Allies often used numerous forms of deception to throw off their enemies. Here, we learn how painted battleships, rubber tanks and fake paratroop...

  20. The Ghost Army of WWII: Unveiling the Secrets of Deception

    It is the story of the Ghost Army of WWII, a top-secret tactical unit specializing in deception. Imagine being a soldier who goes to battle armed not with guns and grenades but with speakers ...

  21. The Ghost Army Of WWII

    American soldiers and jeeps on their way to the front, Saint Lo, June 1944. All in all, the Ghost Army's tactics were a resounding success. The Germans did not throw the full weight of their forces into defending the beaches of Normandy, believing that the Normandy landings were a decoy, and that the main landings would still be at Calais.

  22. Ghost Army Rosters and Biographies of soldiers

    Ghost Army (23rd & 3133rd) Roster: This searchable database of soldiers who served in the Ghost Army has been carefully constructed from a variety of wartime rosters, supplemented with years of painstaking research. It is a work in progress. The goal is to appropriately remember every soldier who served in the Ghost Army.

  23. 700 Powerful Military Operation Names For Your Secret Missions

    Contents show Military Operation Names Operation Thunderbolt Operation Iron Fist Operation Eagle Eye Operation Swift Justice Operation Midnight Sun Operation Steel Rain Operation Phoenix Rising Operation Viper Strike Operation Avalanche Operation Razorback Operation Cobra Claw Operation Ghost Shield Operation Thunderstorm Operation Ironclad