high key can u give me a rundown of ur fav wacky wwii shenanigans
Okay friends today we are gonna learn about the GHOST ARMY, which, disappointingly, was not actually an army made of ghosts
pictured: the unit patch for the Ghost Army, which is DOPE AS FUCK
see one of the things that made WWII so fucking nuts was the totally bizarre level of technology. Like wow we invented the first real computer and radar but also if you wanted to see how many troops were hanging out somewhere you had to send a dude to fly over and take pictures manually??? this left A LOT of room for shenanigans
so the normal method of dealing with aerial surveillance was to cover shit with camouflage netting. Say you’ve got an nice air base that you really don’t want any bombs dropped on- you literally just cover that with a ludicrous amount of netting and some fake trees and BAM now it looks like just an empty field from the air
there’s a building under that weird lump
that’s cool! That’s really cool! But not cool enough
At some point somebody sat down and went “hey wait. What if…what if instead of disguising buildings and units as fields, we disguise fields as units”
holy fucking shit!!!
the British had used a bunch of fake tanks and like, boxes of provisions stacked up in tank shape and then covered with a tarp in 1942 during Operation Bertram and it worked really well, but they didn’t have a special unit devoted to just clowning on the Germans like that.
so the US military decides they do want a designated clowning unit and goes out and recruits a bunch of fucking nerds from all the art schools and makes them into the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops aka THE GHOST ARMY, WHY THE FUCK WOULD YOU USE ANY OTHER NAME LIKE SERIOUSLY
the ghost army’s job was basically to go in, sidle up to a real unit, and then basically set up a fake version of that unit while the actual unit sneaked away to go dunk on Nazis where the Nazis weren’t expecting them
okay time to get into the really cool part of this story, which is HOW the ghost army faked being a real unit:
step 1: INFLATABLE TANKS AND AIRCRAFT OH MY GOD
that’s a big ol balloon!!!
the ghost army had a stockpile of inflatable tanks, aircraft, artillery, cars, whatever, that they would set up and then poorly cover with camouflage netting so from the air it looked like someone had just done a real shit job of hiding actual materiel. They even had dummy soldiers that they would set up to make the scene look populated, since the ghost army itself was about 1,000 dudes regularly imitating units of 30,000 men
what’s really cool is that visual deception was more than just the inflatable stuff itself. If the ghost army plopped down a balloon tank, they then also had to go out with shovels and rakes and shit to make a fake track that a real tank would have left, because it turns out tanks are really hard on your landscaping
step 2: “spoof radio”
the last couple of days before the real unit moved out, the radio operators of the ghost army would move in. see, radio transmissions were done in Morse code, and it turns out every radio operator has a slightly different “fist” when typing Morse. A “fist” is basically typing style- some people would take longer to type out certain letters or would have pauses between groups or anything like. Anybody listening to the radio transmissions who was skilled enough could tell different radio operators apart from just their fist
anyway the ghost army operators would move in and basically listen to all the real unit’s radio transmissions until they had learned the real operators’ fists. Then they would take over radio traffic, imitating that fist so it seemed like the real operator had never left. I forgot to make this section funny because I was too caught up in how rad it is SORRY
step 3: making a lot of noise
the ghost army had special trucks fitted with huge fuck off speakers and a whole library of stock sound effects. Once the real unit left and the fake unit inflated, the sound trucks would come in, select a combination of sound effects that matched the unit they were impersonating, and then played everyone in the 15 mile radius of the speakers their fire mix tape
step 4: fuckin partying!!!
see the thing about impersonating your own units is that other allied units would know about it and might talk about it where enemy collaborators could hear. So the ghost army had to fool the Germans but they also had to fool their own army. Every time they impersonated a new unit, the ghost soldiers would paint that unit’s insignia on all the fake materiel, make fake signs with the unit’s name and colors, and sew the unit’s patches on their own uniforms
once they were dressed up as soldiers from the impersonated unit, the ghost army dudes would go into town and mingle with other soldiers from actual fighting units nearby and hang out in bars while loudly saying things like “YES HELLO I AM DEFINITELY A REAL SOLDIER FROM THE WHATEVER DIVISION, ABSOLUTELY FOR REAL STATIONED ON THAT HILL OVER THERE”
so anyway this bunch of weedy American art nerds staged 20+ battlefield deceptions between 1944 and the end of the war, sometimes fooling that Germans so successfully that they actually got shelled
I'mma leave you with this quote from the book “The Ghost Army of World War II” by Rick Beyer and Elizabeth Sayles, because it’s a quote from an actual member of the Ghost Army and that alone makes it funnier than anything I could ever write:
On another occasion, two Frenchmen on bicycles somehow got through the security perimeter. Shilstone managed to halt them, but not before they had seen more than they should. “What they thought they saw was four GIs picking up a forty-ton Sherman tank and turning it around. They looked at me, and they were looking for answers, and I finally said ‘The Americans are very strong.‘”