In “The Art of War,” Sun Tzu stated “all warfare is based on deception.” While leaders since then have attempted to trick their enemies into thinking they were stronger, more prepared or headed in one direction while secretly marching in another, none have taken it quite as far as the U.S. Army’s 23rd Headquarters Special Troops. This 1100 man World War 2 unit was specifically formed for the purpose of tricking the Germans and they did a wonderful job – so good in fact that few outside the unit even knew it existed.
1944 – In the days following D-Day, the shores of France were the scene of seemingly endless landings by Allied troops resupplying and re-enforcing those who participated in the invasion. It was also the home to numerous German spies, both military and civilian, hoping to report on current Allied strengths and future operations. Mixed in with the infantry re-enforcements, supply trains and tanks racing to the front were the 23rd HQ Special Troops. No, they were not commandos tasked with blowing German escape routes or capturing supply depots. They were actors, artists, set designers and engineers tasked with making the Germans, and their spies, think they were a multitude of different units – all so the real units they impersonated could carry out their own missions in secret. They were the Ghost Troops of WW2.
These 1100 soldiers were specifically recruited from art schools, advertising agencies and the entertainment industry for their ability to create fake military units and sell them as the real thing. This was not the first time such trickery had been used; rumors report Gen. Patton once having been given command of plywood tanks in order to confuse the enemy regarding true pre-invasion strength, but this time the fake army was deployed to the front.
From these forward positions, units of the 23rd, including the 603rd Camouflage Engineers and 3132 Signal Service Company, would use inflatable vehicles, costumed soldiers and state of the art sound effects to impersonate a real unit. By letting enemy spies see these troops traveling the area and the fake company areas set designers had built, as well as hearing fake radio broadcasts, the 23rd confused German leaders regarding real unit locations, strengths and future assignments. Some German soldiers were even reported to have surrendered to members of the 23rd, posing as another unit, after hearing a broadcast and thinking they were soon to be surrounded by 30,000 Allied troops.
The real accomplishments of these Ghost Troops have never really been revealed; the very existence was classified until only recently. However, following a 2013 PBS documentary and 2015 book detailing some of their exploits, there has been a renewed interest in their war time contributions – including a current push to award the unit the Congressional Gold Medal.
Whether or not the 23rd actually receives this honor, which was also awarded to other unconventional units including the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section otherwise known as the Monuments Men, is not the real issue. Making sure their contribution is known is much more important. Because of them, many a German soldier faced into the dark and wondered what was out there.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.
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