A documentary on the art of war and the practice of deception. This film was dedicated to the 1100 men of the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops.
The Ghost Army is an amazing documentary that vividly shows how WWII was a complete and total effort from every corner of American and Allied creativity. Surely, as has been unanimously proclaimed, this was “The Greatest Generation”, and I am still learning every day just how great they were. The Artists that are the subject of this film were not a bunch of 4Fs safely nestled away in their comfortable studios, these soldiers were right there on the front lines, in harm’s way, and the job they did was a significant part of the war effort. These brave soldiers, after designing fake sets, sonic decoys and fake radio broadcasts, were ordered to Normandy to precede the actual invasion by setting up dummy artillery stations and attempting to DRAW ENEMY FIRE! At Normandy! Yeah, that’s what I thought…We are not worthy.
The artists provided the eye for detail and the perception of something substantial that was not really there. They created phony divisions, phony division headquarters staffed with phony people wearing fake arm patches that they created. The bogus jeeps had authentic looking decals for non-existent units. After the Allied forces had punched well into France, the artists were sent to Brest, a French port that was still under German control.
It was here that they really worked their magical deception and were able to implement not only the fake war sets, but the sonic and radio deception as well. These soldiers created their own virtual reality and with their deception successfully drew the Germans away to the flanks, enabling a frontal thrust by the actual armoured divisions. The Ghost Army even saved Patton’s ass at Metz, mimicking real army troop and tank strength for 5 harrowing days, with nothing but their rubber tanks and giant ancient boom-box speakers. The Germans bought the deception until the real troops arrived!
The early morning hours of Dec. 16 1944 the Germans launched what would be one of their last gasps in WW2 in the Battle of the Bulge. Fortunately, The Ghost Army had just pulled out of the area the night before or they would have been most likely destroyed. This special Unit was forced into actual combat activity, manning machine gun turrets as the battle raged.
This Unit travels more miles in Europe than any other Unit during the War, and suffered surprisingly few casualties until The Bulge, where their luck ran out and many were seriously wounded or killed. Less than two weeks later what was left of the Unit was sent off on their most dangerous mission ever. The mission of the Ghost Army was again to try to divert the German Army by deception and illusion. It worked and broke the back of the most powerful army that had ever existed up to that time. This was the final performance of the Ghost Army.
The next time you are tempted to characterize artists as just a bunch of useless, limp-wristed fags, you might want to watch this documentary. After you have finished weeping into your Captain America Pillow, you might also want to murmur a little prayer to all the gods that do not exist, to thank them for the creativity and the sacrifice of these artists.
After the end of the war, many of these heroes such as Bill Blass went on to become famous and successful artists or designers in their respective fields. I don’t believe in ghosts, but I sure believe in The Ghost Army. This special group of soldiers helped end the war, but what else would we expect from the greatest of The Greatest Generation?