During World War II, the United States Army formed a very unique and interesting unit called the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, otherwise known as the Ghost Army. No, the US Army did not grab an ouija board to summon the fallen and re-recruit them (as far as we know, at least). This unit held an important mission in the Normandy Landings. Their main weapon? An inflatable tank and a whole lot of wild imagination. We’re not joking.

Before the Invasion

Before the Allied forces rushed to the coast of Normandy, the US Army recruited a total of 1,100 people from art schools, advertising agencies, and other fields of work that foster creative thinking. They were artists, architects, actors, set designers, and engineers. They assembled the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops with the main purpose of misleading, deceiving, and befuddling the German Army. They were equipped with dummy tanks and artillery, fake aircraft, and giant speakers to broadcast the sounds of men and artillery to trick the Germans into thinking it was upwards of a two-division 30,000-man force. Above all, the mission was classified and remained so for 40 years until it was revealed to the public in 1996.

This course of action was inspired by the deception technique that the British did in the battle of El Alamein in late 1942 called Operation Bertram.

23rd Headquarters Special Troops - US Army: "Ghost Army" United States Army tactical deception unit during World War II.
23rd Headquarters Special Troops – US Army: “Ghost Army” United States Army tactical deception unit during World War II. (US Dept of Defense – Dept of the Army, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

On June 6, 1944, exactly on the first day of the D-Day Invasion, the First Army landed and engaged with the German forces on the coast of Normandy. The Ghost Army started their work in the background. Their tasks were divided by their combat units depending on the type of deception they were assigned to do: sonic deception, radio deception, visual deception, and the collective atmosphere.

3132 Signal Service Company Special

This unit was responsible for the sound deception. Led by Col. Hilton Railey, the journalist who recruited Amelia Earhart to fly across the Atlantic. As written by The Ghost Army Website:

With the help of engineers from Bell Labs, the men of the 3132nd painstakingly recorded sounds of armored and infantry units onto a series of sound effects records that they brought to Europe. For each deception, sounds could be mixed to match the scenario they wanted the enemy to believe. This program was recorded on state of the art wire recorders (the predecessor to the tape recorder) and then played back with powerful amplifiers and speakers mounted on halftracks. The sounds they played could be heard 15 miles away.

The men of the 3132nd, sonic deception experts. (ghostarmy.com)

Lt. John Walker of the 3132 Signal Service Company said, “We could go in at night and crank the speakers up out of the back of the half-track, and play a program to the enemy all night, of us bringing equipment into the scene. And we could make them believe that we were coming in with an armored division.”

Signal Company

They handled the “spoof radio” where they made phony traffic nets, impersonating radio operators from real units. They even applied Morse Code to mimick the operator’s method to make the enemies think they were still there even though its radio operator was long gone.