This week, I return to an interview I did with historian Rick Beyer, who co-wrote, The Ghost Army of World War II, and produced and directed an award-winning PBS documentary, The Ghost Army. It was just announced that Ben Affleck will direct and star in a Ghost Army movie based on Rick’s book and documentary. The book follows a group of young GIs, including fashion designer Bill Blass, painter Ellsworth Kelly, artist Arthur Singer, photographer Art Kane, and others, who conduct a secret mission. Their job was to create a traveling road show of deception, armed with inflatable tanks and sound-effects records.
The film will tell the true story of this squadron of recruits from art schools, ad agencies and other creative businesses who were tasked with fooling the Nazis into thinking the U.S. had larger troop numbers than it actually did.
The Ghost Army 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.”
This is the first of a two-part interview. In part two, as a 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.
Travel with Rick Beyer on the Ghost Army Tour
Rick Beyer leads our sponsor, Stephen Ambrose Historical Tour’s Ghost Army of WWII: Secret War Tour. This is a special edition of their popular D-Day to the Rhine Tour. As you follow the path of the American boys who liberated Europe, you will also discover the top-secret story of the deception troops known as “the Ghost Army” who made their own important contribution to ultimate victory.
This “traveling road show of deception” used inflatable tanks, sound effects and illusion to fool the Germans more than 20 times from Normandy to the Rhine. Their very existence was a military secret until the 1990s, and a U.S. Army analysis categorized their exploits this way: “Rarely, if ever, has there been a group of such a few men which had so great an influence on the outcome of a major military campaign.”
The itinerary includes key sites in Great Britain, a channel crossing, the Normandy Beaches, the besieged city of Bastogne and much more.