Saturday, June 22, 2019

The Ghost Army

By Marilyn Turk

With this month’s celebration of the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion in World War II, much has been written about how the final phase of the war was won by Allied Forces. A combined force of over three million troops from the United States and eleven other countries participated in the largest seaborne invasion ever carried out.
But did you know about the Ghost Army that was also part of the plan to overthrow Hitler’s Army? A couple of months after the D-Day invasion, this secret army arrived in France with a special mission: to deceive, mislead and befuddle the enemy by conducting a traveling road show.

Fake convoy
Officially known as the 1st Headquarters Special Troops, this 1100-man Army unit was trained to impersonate other Allied Army units. Many of these soldiers were recruited from art schools, advertising agencies and other occupations that encouraged creative thinking. In civilian life, they had been artists, actors, set designers and engineers.

There were four basic tactics the ghost army used to deceive the German Army: Visual deception, Sonic deception, radio deception and atmosphere.

Fake airplane
The visual deception was carried out by the 603rd camouflage engineers which used inflatable jeeps, cannons, tanks, trucks and airplanes which the men would inflate with air compressors, then partially camouflage them so the enemy could still see them. They created dummy airfields, troop camps (complete with laundry hanging on clotheslines), motor pool, artillery batteries and tank formations.

Inflatable rubber tank
Under the Signal Service Company, sonic deception was carried out. Aided by engineers from Bell Labs, a team went to Fort Knox and recorded sounds of armored and infantry units onto a series of sound effects records. These sounds were “mixed” to match the scenario they wanted the enemy to believe. Recorded on state-of-the-art wire recorders (predecessor to the tape recorder), the sounds were played with powerful amplifiers and speakers and could be heard fifteen miles away.

Sound deception unit with 500 lb. speakers
The radio deception was also carried out by the signal company. Creating “spoof radio,” special operators created fake radio transmissions, impersonating radio operators from real army units. They were so skilled in mimicking a departing operator’s method of sending Morse Code that the enemy couldn’t tell that the real unit with its real operator had moved on.

Inflatable truck
“Atmosphere” was the term used to describe the theatrical effects which supplemented the other deceptions. Using various techniques, this unit simulated actual units deployed elsewhere by using copies of their insignia, painting it on vehicles, and pretending they were being deployed as if they were regimental headquarters units. Trucks were driven in convoys with only a couple of men seated near the rear to simulate a truck full of infantry under the canvas cover. The unit’s members put their theatrical skills to use as well, engaging in "playacting, like pretending to be MPs (military police) who would stand at crossroads wearing divisional insignia. Other actors spent time at French cafes near the war's front to spread gossip among the spies who might be there, to, as one former Ghoster put it, "order some omelets and talk loose." Some actors would also play the parts of Allied generals, dressing up like officers and visiting towns where enemy spies could see them.

Fake artillery 
All these tactics were amazingly effective at creating believable scenes. From their landing in Normandy until the Allied Forces crossed into the Rhine River Valley, these men staged more than twenty battlefield deceptions, or “illusions” as the men preferred to call them, with some taking place just a few hundred yards from the front lines.

Kept classified as a military secret until 1996, the Ghost Army is estimated to have saved tens of thousands of soldiers’ lives with its deceptions and to have been instrumental in several Allied victories in Europe.

Have you ever heard of the Ghost Army? Do you know of anyone who served in it?

Marilyn Turk’s roots are in the coastal South, raised in Louisiana, moved to Georgia, then retired to Florida. Calling herself a “literary archaeologist,” she loves to discover stories hidden in history. She is the author of two World War II novels, The Gilded Curse and Shadowed by a Spy, and the four-book Coastal Lights Legacy series set in 1800s Florida—Rebel Light, Revealing Light, Redeeming Light, and Rekindled Light—featuring lighthouse settings. Marilyn’s novella, The Wrong Survivor, is in the Great Lakes Lighthouse Brides collection and Love’s Cookin’ at the Cowboy Café, in the Crinoline Cowboys collection. She also writes for Daily Guideposts Devotions.

She lives with her husband, 10-year-old grandson Logan, and a 17-year-old cat. When not writing, Marilyn can be found playing tennis, gardening, walking, fishing, or kayaking. She and her husband have visited over 100 lighthouses so far, but the RV is ready to travel and go see more. Marilyn is the director of the Blue Lake Christian Writers Retreat in Alabama, Website: @

If you're interested in World War II history, you might like the books I wrote that take place during that era.


  1. Fascinating post, Marilyn. I knew about the Ghost Army, but didn't realize the extent of the deception carried out, such as the sound effects that were used. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Linda, I can't believe I knew something you didn't! LOL. The research for this post was very enlightening for me too.

  2. I had never heard of the Ghost Army. How fascinating! Thank you for telling about it.

    1. Hi Lisa, Thanks for your response. I found it quite fascinating too.

  3. Wow!! This is so very interesting I had never heard of it! Thank you so very much for sharing this. A million Thanks to the Ghost Army for saving so many lives! :)

  4. I'm glad you enjoyed the post, Licha. Thanks for the comment.

  5. I seem to recall the ghost army was described in Ken Follet's Eye of the Needle. It was a fascinating read.

  6. Very interesting! Thank you for bringing it to light.