The Ghost Army was a United States Army tactical deception unit during World War II officially known as the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops. The 1,100-man unit was given a unique mission within the U.S Army: to impersonate other U.S. Army units to deceive the enemy. From a few weeks after D-Day, when they landed in France, until the end of the war, they put on a “traveling road show” utilizing inflatable tanks, sound trucks, fake radio transmissions and pretence. They staged more than 20 battlefield deceptions, often operating very close to the front lines. Their story was kept secret for more than 40 years after the war, and elements of it remain classified.
Virginia Hall receives the Distinguished Service Cross, 5/12/1945
“Miss Virginia Hall, an American civilian working for this agency in the European Theater of Operations, has been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against the enemy.
We understand that Miss Hall is the first civilian woman in this war to receive the Distinguished Service Cross.
Despite the fact that she was well known to the Gestapo, Miss Hall voluntarily returned to France in March 1944 to assist in sabotage operations against the Germans. Through her courage and physical endurance, even though she had previously lost a leg in an accident, Miss Hall, with two American officers, succeeded in organizing, arming and training three FFI Battalions which took part in many engagements with the enemy and a number of acts of sabotage…”
Denied a career in the Foreign Service due to an amputated leg, Virginia Hall would go on to work undercover in France during World War II for British intelligence and later the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS), organizing numerous sabotage operations against German forces. In the memo dated May 12, OSS Director William J. Donovan informs President Truman that she has been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross — the only female civilian in the war to receive this honor. After the war she became one of the new CIA’s first female officers.
You can read (and transcribe!) one of Virginia Hall’s Activity Reports in the National Archives Catalog:
Pictured above is Colt’sT-12, a rare prototype clandestine weapon designed to be used for assassinations. Chambered in a .12 calibre round the weapon is just 2 inches long and with a diameter of ½ inch. The T-12 has a passing resemblance to a pen and would have been used at close range, perhaps to the back of the neck or temple. It is believed to have been developed for the OSS or SOE although I haven’t been able to find any mention of the T-12 outside of the auction sites selling them. It is possible the T-12 was developed after World War Two.
The T-12′s .12 cal bullet, apparently a non-firing dummy round (source)
The T-12 is loaded by unscrewing the end of the barrel to allow the user to load a single cartridge. From the images we can deduce that the weapon functioned by retracting the brass cocking knob on the top of the receiver and then releasing it to slam forward and strike the cartridge. There is what appears to be a safety slot cut into the receiver to allow the cocking knob/bolt to be placed in a cocked but safe position. Presumably the weapon was cocked and put on safe and when ready to fire the bolt was released from the safety slot by the operator’s thumb.
Whether the T-12 is genuine or not and how many were made remains unclear, the presentation style and label seem questionable. However, a similar ‘stinger’ gun was made for the OSS in 1943 and appears in declassified documents.
…I began my courses in various super-secret ‘schools’; hair-raising cross-examinations, tough soldier’s training. If anyone had told me that I would spend the summer of 1943 being timed at assault courses, tapping Morse messages on a dummy key, shooting at moving pieces of cardboard, crawling across the countryside and blowing up mock targets, I would have shrugged my shoulders with disbelief. And then, when I had arrived at the parachute school, I had realized that I never really believed it would happen. And if I had jumped, it was only because the boys expected the girls to be scared and to refuse.
“Ha, ha,” they had said. “We just can’t wait to see you shake like jellyfish and howl with terror on the edge of the hole…” And they had rubbed their hands in anticipation of a good laugh. Only we’d all jumped, and their throats had been as dry as ours when the despatcher had laid a firm hand on our shoulder to warn us that the fatal moment was approaching.
After the jump school, we were sent to a 'security school’ where we had learnt the art of being a proper gangster: how to open locks, lie successfully, disguise ourselves and adopt different personalities, how to recognize German uniforms and armament and how to code and decode messages.
Anne-Marie Walters, on her training for the Special Operations Executive, prior to her deployment to France.
Fresh Air critic at-large John Powers reviews London Spy:
If there’s any one sensation that’s distinctively modern, it’s surely paranoia, the feeling that somewhere unseen forces are conspiring against us – to steal our identities, take away our civil liberties, kill us in shopping malls. Small wonder that so many books and movies are bursting with stories about ordinary people – like Cary Grant in North by Northwest – who stumble into a shadowy world of murderous conspiracy and struggle to get out alive.
That’s precisely what happens in London Spy, a moody five-part BBC America series created and scripted by Tom Rob Smith, who wrote the terrific Soviet-era crime novel Child 44. The show divided audiences when it played in the UK last year, and will surely do same here. For Smith and Dutch director Jakob Verbruhun are trying do something almost impossibly ambitious – to capture genuine emotion while still delivering the artificial excitements of a spy thriller.
After the end of World War II and during the Cold War, there was a drastic increase in a phenomenon now known as “numbers stations”. Numbers stations are shortwave radio stations which broadcast exceedingly odd and unusual broadcasts, such as a long list of numbers, a random list of letters, or a nonsensical list of words or phrases. It was not uncommon for such broadcasts to interrupt the communications of ham radio operators, truck drivers, air traffic controller, and shortwave radio enthusiasts. Speculation grew as to what these numbers stations were used for, but the sudden increase in such shortwave traffic during the Cold War leads to only one plausible conclusion; that they are clandestine coded broadcasts used by governments to communicate with spies and other intelligence agents. Today there are a number of shortwave radio hobbyists whose past time is to locate and identify the source of these numbers stations. With certain equipment it is possible to trace a shortwave radio signal to its source, and with a given location it can be quite easy to infer whose is making the broadcasts. For example, one of the most popular numbers station, known as the “Lincolnshire Poacher Station”, was traced to the Royal Air Force Base in Akritiri, Cyprus. Thus it is logical to assume that the British Government had some role in its broadcasts between 1988 and its closure in 2008. Over several decades scores of stations have been identified belonging to the US, British, Russian/Soviet, Israeli, French, German, and numerous other governments. All of course, deny knowledge of such broadcasts.
When the Cold War ended in 1989, the number of numbers stations decreased drastically. While today numbers stations are still common, they are nowhere near as common as they were during the Cold War. Along with the end of the Cold War, the invention of new communication methods which are more advanced and more secure could explain the decrease in the use of numbers stations. More and more numbers stations are becoming commonly used by less powerful nations such as North Korea and Cuba. Cuba especially has been known as a prolific shortwave radio user, albeit not a very effective one as dozens of Cuban spies have been rooted out and prosecuted using shortwave radio messages as evidence (see the Attencion Spy Case and The Miami Five). In addition, many numbers stations today have been found to belong to non-governmental groups, such as rebel groups, freedom fighters, terrorists, drug cartels, and organized crime.
If a good spy does their job correctly, you will have never heard of them. That’s why we’ve told you before that James Bond is basically the worst spy ever. But if you refuse to accept reality and want to live out the Hollywood version of international espionage, Mission X has what you need.
First, you need to have what they need, which is $19,500 per person, minimum. So in order to pretend to be a spy, it might first help to be an actual bank robber. If you can afford it, you will start in London where ex-SAS officers give you your “mission briefing.” From there you travel around Europe, conveniently hitting some of the continent’s most beautiful cities instead of the dangerous ones this kind of thing would actually go down in. Watch your SAS officer companions try not to laugh as you meet with “suspected weapons dealers, assassins, drug lords, and rogue agents.” Once you arrive on the French Riviera, you might consider saying fuck it to all the spy work and just lie on the beach.