On History with Mark Bielski, filmmaker and author Rick Beyer visits with Mark to discuss the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, the extraordinary deception soldiers better known as the Ghost Army. Rick made the PBS documentary, The Ghost Army, and co-authored the book, The Ghost Army of World War II. Rick is also the historian for The Ghost Army Tour, one of the many bucket list WWII tours you can take with Stephen Ambrose Historical Tours.
The Ghost Army that we discuss in this episode, conducted a series of deception operations that took place once we had American troops on the ground in Europe. The appellation specifically refer to the 23rd HQ Special Troops, an outfit that later became known as the Ghost Army. It was a little-known operation, and it was extremely secretive. Not even the soldiers, in close proximity on the front lines, knew anything about what the men of the 23rd were doing. They conducted twenty-one different deception operations as, with “stagecraft and sleight of hand.” Everything they did was top secret—certainly during and for decades after the war. Their operations called for creative imagination, and often artistic interpretation that worked in concert with the brute military force enacted by the armed units. The Allies absolutely needed military force, and success in the field of battle. The Ghost Army helped our advancing forces be successful.
To put it succinctly, “miltary deception is much like a successful magic trick. It is about fooling people into believing that something is happening that isn’t.”
As writer and producer, Rick provides an excellent portrayal of the vital and technologically amazing work this unit produced in WWII. It sometimes bordered on WIZARDRY, and there is little wonder why the U.S. Army kept it secret for a long time after the war.
Learn more about Rick Beyer at his website.