Thursday, May 23, 2013

Spy Rings, Ghost Armies and Military Intelligence.

Gah! I think if I hear this one more time, when someone asks me what I did in the Army, I’m going to scream. “Military Intelligence is a contradiction of terms.” Yeah, the famous *MASH* line that anyone who served in Military Intelligence has heard one time or another.  If you’re MI, or former MI, you know what I’m talking about. Stop for a moment, and listen to one of the brilliant reasons this isn’t true.

As we approach Memorial Day weekend and we think about the heroes of the past who have fought and died for our country, there are many you may not know about, many who fought as ghosts.
Now we all know about the CIA’s memorial that has 103 stars for fallen agents, omitting names, and bears the inscription, “IN HONOR OF THOSE MEMBERS OF THE CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY WHO GAVE THEIR LIVES IN THE SERVICE OF THEIR COUNTRY”, but what of the 1100 men who pulled off one of the greatest deceptions in history? There are many heroes you don’t hear about until their missions have become declassified, as is the case with the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, aka, The Ghost Army.

When I say Military Intelligence, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Cloak and dagger? Gathering intelligence with drones or spy planes? How about spies behind enemy lines?
How about ghost armies? No, and I'm not talking about the Army of dead from Lord of the Rings. I'm talking about a true, blue ghost army.

I bet you didn’t think of them, but they are part of the cloak and dagger operations of our military in WWII, and a lot of what they did, saved thousands of lives and turned the war in the United States favor.
Military Intelligence has a deep rooted history, going back as far as the Revolutionary War in America, and Washington’s Culper Spy Ring. Washington understood two very important things about spying. One, that it was about gathering intelligence on enemy movements and processes, and two, it was about deception. By planting false information, Washington manipulated the enemy into doing things they might otherwise not do. From those roots, military intelligence has grown. But nothing demonstrates deceptive tactics better than the once top secret mission of the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops.

Inflatable tanks, artillery and convoys were planted, camouflaged with nets and moved around battlefields to give the appearance of larger forces in the area. Much thought was put into how much and what could be seen from above by enemy planes, as well as spotters and spies on the ground. Tank tracks created with bulldozers, a slip of net, exposing the corner of a tank. Unit patches painted or sewn onto uniforms, unit designations painted on military vehicles, and men driving said vehicles up and down the roads to give the appearance of a certain division occupying an area. They changed their patches like we change our undies.
 A perfect example of this “seen from above deception” is a munitions factory in Baltimore that appeared from above as farm fields, painted by members of the ghost army to hide its true nature, and protect it from potential bombings.

But where did the Army find men with such creative minds? They recruited them from art schools throughout the United States, and these artists brought the art of war to a completely new level.
The second part of the Ghost Army consisted of speakers on mobile vehicles, with recordings of troop movements, tanks and convoys, even engineers setting up a bridge to cross the Rhine. These recordings gave authenticity to an otherwise silent inflatable army. They called it sonic warfare.

The third part of the Ghost Army was the radio operators, whose chatter, mimicked the movements of the inflatable divisions. So good at the deception, they fooled German radio operators that had never been tricked before, resulting in the drawing live fire, and repositioning of German forces.
What’s amazing is that fifty-mile gaps in the front line were filled with armies that didn’t exist, keeping the Germans from flanking US troops by going through the holes. That the trickery manipulated the Germans into moving away from where we didn’t want them and to where we did. This ghost army also drew the fire away from real divisions, as in the case of the crossing of the Rhine. So certain we were building a bridge to cross the river, the ghost army diverted the attention of German forces away from where our troops were really crossing.

So, I hope you’ve developed a new appreciation for Military Intelligence and the art of gathering and planting information, as well as the previously unknown heroes who pulled off one of the greatest deceptions of all time.

Hmm, I'm thinking a little modern-day ghost army story just might be in my future.
Have a wonderful Memorial Day Weekend.
D. L. Jackson


  1. This is wonderful! I love how real life inspires stories. And this one is very inspirational. Thanks for sharing. :)

  2. Thanks, Bethanne. It's amazing what they pulled off if you think about it. And it definitely has me inspired to pen something.

  3. Dawn, this is absolutely one of my favorite tales of military intelligence. It's just so damn clever and yet the simplicity was executed with utter sophistication! Thanks for sharing it.

  4. I really enjoyed this blog post! I have been 'penpals' with a Marine who is in MI for the last year or so. She and her family have been reassigned and will pass near where I live enroute to their new assignment. We're hoping that we get the chance to meet. Looking forward to reading your ghost army story, too!