The Ghost Army: battlefield deceptions from World War II

War is often the mother of inventions. Most of these innovations are obviously horrific. Fortunately, there are also a few charming ideas which we can learn from. A wonderful example is the “Ghost Army”. An unbelievable story about a classified mission that took place during World War II. A true story that was kept secret for more than 40 years after the war.

In many ways, running a business is similar to waging war. Both war and business are all about strategy, conquering terrain and staying ahead of opponents using smart ideas. It’s no coincidence ‘The Art of War’ by Chinese general Sun Tzu can be found on many managers’ bookshelves.

One theme that has proven very effective in times of war, is fooling the enemy. Everybody knows the story of the large wooden horse that fooled the Trojans. Much fewer people know about the ‘Ghost Army’ that helped the Allied troops win the Second World War.

The Ghost Army

The Ghost Army, formerly known as the ‘23rd Headquarters Special Troops’, was an elite force in the U.S. Army that operated between 1944 and 1945. Their top-secret mission was to fool the enemy about the strength and location of the American units while using inflatable tanks, rubber aeroplanes and sound effects.

The unit created phoney convoys, phantom divisions, and fake headquarters, to confuse the Germany legion and to lure the enemy away from the locations of the real combat units. Although the unit consisted out of only 1100 soldiers, they impersonated a 30,000 man force.

The soldiers of the Ghost Army were equipped with inflatable tanks, jeeps, trucks, and aeroplanes. They could create entire airfield troops (complete with fake laundry clotheslines), artillery batteries and tank formations in just a few hours. They also simulated mobile units by driving looping convoys.

Part of the success of the Ghost Army was the fact that the soldiers would often put real tanks in front of their dummies, to make the fake ones in the distance seem more realistic.

Besides the visual trickery, the soldiers of the Ghost Army used state of the art sound effects to fool the enemy. They used sound recordings to imitate large units (the sounds were recorded at Fort Knox). By using powerful amplifiers and speakers, they made sure the sound could be heard 15 miles away.

In addition to this “sonic deception”, the Ghost Army also created “Spoof Radio”. Actors from the Ghost Army would create radio deceptions, by impersonating radio operators from other units. The actors would also visit nearby towns disguised as Allied generals in order to ensure that enemy spies would see and overhear them.

The G.I.s from the Ghost Army were no ordinary soldiers, but young artists recruited from art schools, the advertising industry, and other creative professions. They applied their creativity to create tactical deceptions to impersonate other U.S. army units and to deceive the enemy.

The Ghost Army staged more than 20 battlefield deceptions in France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Germany. Often operating very close to the front lines.

It’s estimated that the Ghost Army’s deceptions saved tens of thousands of soldiers lives.

Hungry for more?

The Ghost Army is a great example of a creative solution. If you’re interested in more examples of creative problem solving, or if you’re curious what creativity can do for you, be sure to download our FREE EBOOK on business creativity. In this ebook, you’ll find many inspiring examples of creative problem solving and a bunch of practical tips to use in your own work.



Below, the trailer for the documentary film ‘The Ghost Army‘.

Featured image: Rick Beyer/Hatcher Graduate Library

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