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Friday, June 05, 2015

 By Jim McAllister

Note:  I wrote this story originally on April 27, 2005 for the NORTH SCOTTSDALE INDEPENDENT newspaperI was fascinated by the ghost army and the bravery of those guys in World War II. With D-Day, June 6 upon us I feel a tribute to them and our current fighting forces is once again appropriate with a reprint of that column....JM, Scottsdale, AZ, 6-5-2015.

You may be wondering, "What in the world was the ghost army of World War II?" It’s an interesting and fascinating story which is not well known.

Ever since warfare has existed, armies have relied on some type of deception to gain an advantage on their opponents. Some ancient armies used plaster dummies, others used fake smoke signals and spies, and we all know about the famous Trojan horse. These ancient examples of deception were carried into modern warfare during World War II with the exploits of the ghost army or their actual title which was the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops.

The ghost army was a unique and little known group of American soldiers who played a big part in the Allied victory over Germany through their abilities in the art of deception. Even though information on this unit became available about thirty years ago, not much has been written about them. As World War II faded into history, so did the 23rd Special Troops.

The ghost army was organized by Lieutenant Colonel Merrick Truly. He was the executive officer in charge of these deception experts. Although Truly’s men reported to the American ground commander in Europe, General Omar Bradley, most of the American soldiers did not know of the existence of the Special Troops. They operated at night under strictly special orders and were not even required to give their identity to superior officers.

The ghost army consisted of 82 officers and 1,023 enlisted men. With their eclectic mixture of talents, they were strictly in the deception business. The Special Troops were made up of four units: a sonic deception company, a special radio company, a company of combat engineers, and a battalion of camoufleurs. They served with four armies in five European countries in five major campaigns from D-Day (June 6, 1944) until the end of the war in 1945.

The most unique part of this already unique group was the composition of its members. Many of these men were already famous as artists, sculptors, architects, literary figures, and others from the world of the arts and humanities. Actor Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. was perhaps the most well known for his Hollywood successes, but there was also renowned fashion designer Bill Blass, Olin Dows: a prominent artist, George Diestal: a Hollywood set designer, Art Kane: a fashion photographer, and Harold Laynor, whose artistic works depicting World War II and other subjects, are shown in galleries throughout the country.

The Special Troops used six major methods of deception: camouflaging troops and tanks, placing dummy tanks and artillery, firing pyrotechnics to simulate actual artillery fire, the use of artificial sound effects, using artificial radio communication, and using fake special effects. This created an atmosphere of great danger as they needed to be in close to front line battles.

Although these brave men were involved in at least twenty other confrontations with the enemy, their biggest contribution was probably at the battle between Allied Forces and Germany at the Rhine River on March 23, 1945. Their contributions were essential in weakening the German assault and forcing Germany to surrender two months later in May of 1945.

Although records and information concerning the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops are sketchy, the aforementioned artist Harold Laynor (1922-1991) made a series of fifty paintings covering two years of participating in World War II. His works include paintings of army buddies, aspects of training and, as the series progresses, he relates the brutality and horror of war.

Like the above mentioned celebrities participating in the 23rd, Dr. Laynor was highly distinguished in his field. Although he used primarily watercolors for his World War II work, he was also a pioneer in the use of lacquer as a medium of painting and the use of 3D paintings for the blind.

Optical illusions, bluffs, sleight of hand, misinformation, disappearing acts: all part of the ghost army of World War II; a brave and cunning bunch of guys who were instrumental in giving us the lifestyle we enjoy today.

                                                      Scottsdale's Harold Laynor
 Fake rubber tanks were good distractions                                

For more on the ghost army, check out Rick Beyer's Twitter page at

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Jim McAllister said...

The Ghost Army of WWII played an important role in American victories from June, 1944 to the end of the war in 1945

I hope you enjoy reading about them. They were quite a bunch.


Joe Finnerty said...

The abililty of the Allies to bread the coded messages of our enemies played a major role in our winning the war. I worked as a "Crpypto" in the Air Force and alwasy had an interest in our wartime spy and intigue activities. In this vein, here's some history a pal of mine sent me recently. We have way too much time on our hands.

"In May of '41, the Brits captured U-110 complete with Enigma machine but, more importantly, with the Naval Code books that gave the settings for months in the future. The Brits already had the machine, courtesy of the Poles in 1939 and, of course, had built Alan Turing's "Bombe" to laboriously solve the randomly-changed daily settings. But the capture of U-110 gave them an instantaneous way to read the German's naval radio traffic; and they went to great lengths to make Germans believe U-110 had been sunk, not captured.
The big secret was that ability of the Brits, shared with US, to read Enigma-coded traffic.
When the US Navy captured U-505 in June of '44, the seizure of sub's Enigma machine and codes was, in itself, of limited value. But the US Navy realized that it, too, must keep the fact from the Germans for fear they would guess we had captured Enigma with the sub. And particularly because it been that very code-breaking ability that led the Navy to locate U-505."

Jim McAllister said...
9:10 AM (2 hours ago)

I’m familiar with them. and having Patton as the titular head of first army group was a masterpiece of deception as he was across from the Pais de Calais

Jim Johnson

Jim McAllister said...

Thanks, Jim.

Good to hear from you; it's been a while.

Jim McAllister said...

Hi Joe,

Good to hear from a fellow airman even though you were in way before my hitch of 1961-65.

It sounds like a real cat and muse game then with each side trying to outsmart the other. Thanks for sending.

Mike Slater said...

Hi Jim, The Germans were convinced that Patton would led the invasion because they believed that he was the best combat general the allies had.

Jim McAllister said...

Mike, Patton was definitely "the man." One tough SOB.

SteveBuzzardo said...

I just saw the movie about Alan Turing and the Enigma machine. Its called "The Imitation Game". Its a great story about breaking the Nazi code.

Jim, you should see it. I know you don't like too many new movies, but this is a great story.

Jim McAllister said...

Your recommendation is good enough for me, Steve. I'll look for it.

Jim McAllister said...

A message from a veteran:

God Help Us!!!

Every year the French have a 4 day celebration in Normandy complete with American uniforms, tanks, jeeps and guns. They still honor the Americans who died there....

June 6, 2013, the 69th anniversary of "D-Day", the largest invasion ever attempted, where 200,000 Americans stormed the beaches at Normandy to begin the final push to defeat Nazi Germany in WWII. D-Day marked the turning point in WWII in Europe... Today, European heads of state make it a point to recall and honor the sacrifices of those who landed in Normandy, as do our Presidents.... well, most of them....

In the 69 years since D-Day, there are four occasions when the President of the United States chose not to visit the D-Day Monument that honors the soldiers killed during the Invasion.

The occasions were:

1. Barack Obama, 2010

2. Barack Obama, 2011

3. Barack Obama, 2012

4. Barack Obama, 2013

For the past 69 years, every American President except Obama have taken the time to honor the memory and sacrifices of the 6,000 American soldiers killed on D-Day. ...Except Obama!

June 6 2010, Obama had no events scheduled.

June 6, 2011, Obama met with the National Security team and was interviewed by WEWS Cleveland and WDIV in Detroit about the auto industry - FAR too busy to visit the D-Day memorial.

June 6, 2012, instead of honoring our fallen soldiers, Obama made a campaign trip to California on Air Force 1 (at our expense) to raise funds for (his) upcoming election.

June 6, 2013, Obama was doing ANOTHER fund raiser with the multimillionaires in the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in Palo Alto, CA, once again at our expense.

America - Aren't you proud?

Four times in 69 years!!



Rick Kepple said...

All war is deception - Sun Tzu.

Troll Wars: I read the other day confirmation of my suspicion that some trolls writing "American" discontent on Facebook and Twitter are actually Russian and Chinese trolls. I don't care what Obama says. It's a kind of Cold War.

ISIS leadership posted on Twitter and Facebook that only they were allowed to use their cellphones to post gruesome photos and rants, because they know that NATO is targeting them. Every time an IS member posts, the Air Force pinpoints their location and BOOM! The Air Force calls it, a war with morons.

I never voted for Obama and I will not vote for him in the next election. I'm too funny for myself.

Jim McAllister said...


I'm proud of your not ever voting for Obama. I wish a lot of others would have felt the same.

Rick Kepple said...

Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton vs. Presidential candidate Jeb Bush. It's the perfect election.

Proud of me for not voting for Obama? Gut instinct, Jimmy. Just plain guessing.

Rick Kepple said...

So this kid says he can't vote because he's got a felony record. So I says, why don't you just run for Congress?

Jim McAllister said...

That's a great idea. Being a felon would stop one from getting votes.

Looks like the Repubs want Obama to have all the power over everything. Why else would they support a bill with so many attachments giving the SOB all the power? I don't know this country anymore. I'm going to quit wasting my time voting. They are all jerks and crooks.

Rick Kepple said...

The Tampa Bay Times Politifact says that roughly 161 members of Congress have been arrested or have convictions from DUI, bad checks, fraud, tax evasion and also 71 members have a bad FICO score and can't get a credit card. But of those 71 members who can't get a credit card, they do get government credit cards.

You have to vote, Jimmy. Otherwise, the crooked bums have won.

Jim McAllister said...

It's not surprising. Why should they be that different from the general public of today? I never miss voting day. When all my picks get beat no one can say I didn't do my best.

Rick Kepple said...

The working poor that I know are planning to give Jeb Bush their vote.

Hey, how about a film of the Ghost Army, but with real ghosts in the story fighting the Nazi's and later ISIS. I haven't seen any films from Spielberg lately. Sounds like an idea that he'd like.

I'd forgotten that the Ghost Army was under Patton. The Germans couldn't fathom that the USA would waste the greatest general on a fake.

From America In WW II, "The bull struck the tank at top speed, and with a lazy hiss of air, the Sherman deflated into a pile of olive-drab rubber sheeting. The bull and the farmer had stumbled onto one of the most elaborate deceptions in the history of warfare: the creation of a phantom army to divert attention from the real Allied army poised to invade France in the spring of 1944."

Jim McAllister said...


It's hard to say what the Repubs will do with that bunch of guys they have seeking the nomination. Jeb would be the third Bush to make it but I have doubts if that will happen. I just want to be sure Hillary doesn't get it. Her numbers are slipping with all the stuff coming about her lately. It would be a helluva deal for Bill to get back in the WH; maybe he could sneak Monica in just for old times sake.

Isn't politics fun? They are all a bunch of liars.

Rick Kepple said...

Hey, I had to buy a new cellphone and they've really dropped in price and the technology is incredible! I found Jim McAllister's entire biography! Dude, you've done some stuff in your life! I don't recall if I've ever read that before.

Hillary Clinton is ahead of Jeb Bush across the board. I think his high morals from the 50's is against him.

The number one selling album last year was Guardians of the Galaxy's soundtrack featuring the music of the 70's, including Blue Swede, Norman Greenbaum and the Raspberries. People are looking to the past for happy moments, Jimmy. It's probably why Hillary Clinton will win, cause they remember the prosperity her husband brought under a Republican led Congress.

Jim McAllister said...


Right now the election looks crazy. Too many Repub candidates and i just don't know about Hillary. Too soon to tell. I heard that Norman Greenbaum had a heart attack or some other malady hit him. He was a one hit wonder with "Spirit in the Sky" but what a great tune that is. Great guitar!

The Rasberries were good too. I like that 80s stuff like them and Journey. We need more of it.

Rick Kepple said...

I'll bring up a slow tune and play guitar with it. I don't hang out with musicians anymore, so it's the best I can do.

John Ellis Bush aka JEB Bush is announcing his candidacy on Monday. Unlike the GOP hardliners, Bush was a pothead in college.

Hillary Clinton's marijuana use is like her life. Smoked, but didn't inhale. Just faked it.

Rick Kepple said...

Psst, Netflix has the movie, "The Ghost Army."

Jim McAllister said...

A guy named Rick Beyer did a film on the Ghost Army. He has a Twitter account with lots of info.

Rick Kepple said...

The more Donald Trump talks, the more votes Hillary Clinton will get. He's an embarrassment to the Republican Party.

Jim McAllister said...

He won't be around long. I don't know why he keeps trying other than to gain some face time on TV. I don't dislike him; I just think he is wasting his time and money. He must have something up his sleeve or maybe not.

Jim McAllister said...

Hi Jim,

Your editorial, as always, was quite interesting. I had known about the deception practices used before D- Day, but did not realize they were performed by a specifically dedicated unit.

Also had a bit of difficulty getting to COMMENT within you bog page, so I am doing so this way.

Damn good editorial.


Jim McAllister said...

Thanks, Allen.

Always good to hear from you.

Rick Kepple said...

Here come those laws that I've been trying to warn y'all about all these years. The excuse revealed himself. One person kills nine people and now laws will be made to control the entire U.S. population. You just watch. It has nothing to do with keeping people safe. It has everything to do with control by executive order.

On the lighter side, the hay loft is finished. It's a love shack now.

Jim McAllister said...

You nailed it Rick. It's the same old shit with BO. Any incident to him means changing everything to what he wants. He loves those executive orders; makes him feel like a big man instead of thew twerp he is.

Rick Kepple said...

Going to buy baby chicks this week. I barely eat eggs anymore, but it is a handy having a fresh egg for the electric skillet or baking.

The Confederate flag is under fire now, only because BO is wishing to keep the Union together equating it with racism. Fact is, the Civil War was about economics. It's the principal cause of any war - wealth and poverty. Who's got money and who doesn't.

Economics was the cause of all of our wars! The Ghost Army was approved because of the low cost. All war is about deception. With the Internet, wars are easier than ever to win before they ever start.

Jim McAllister said...

I agree, Rick. BO has no clue and with his current approval rating a lot of others agree. It's still hard to believe the guy got elected with no proof of citizenship, his sealed records and everything else he hid. No one at the schools he claims ever seemed to know the guy.

I've always liked the Confederate flag and don't see the big deal just because of that kid. What he did was terrible and he deserves maximum punishment but the flag itself doesn't seem like a big deal to me. People in the South enjoy it and many probably don't even know anything about its past and the Civil War. They just enjoy having something to represent them.

Rick Kepple said...

The removal of the Confederate flags by governors indicates a real concern of division within the United States that hasn't been seen since 1861. President Reagan knew the futility of disarming the American people. It can't be done without creating the war that the Far Left fears.

Jim McAllister said...

It is a good example of the typical knee jerk reaction that we are used to with Obama. He is not going to change the minds of Southerners by banning the flag. It is a big part of Southern history and the South will keep it in focus. This is all a typical over-reaction to something that was not a problem but was the action of one crazed individual. To Obama it is just another opportunity to try and erase the big picture.

Rick Kepple said...

My home is a private music and video studio now. Friends come by to jam out, but there's no engineer. I mostly watch Netflix on the gear.

Say, I could have sworn that I said a few times that all the government needed was the right violent action to gain greater control. Gee whiz, those state governments caved! Wonder what's in their closets?

Jim McAllister said...

Good question!

Rick Kepple said...

Now it's legal for gay people to marry in all 50 states, but the life saving marijuana is still illegal.

Jim McAllister said...

Whatever Obama wants, Obama gets.

Rick Kepple said...

That's the way it is with rich people, Jimmy. They destroy anyone to keep what they have.

I'm practicing on a Fender Squier Fat Strat today. I don't believe in a friendship with a famous chick anymore. The evidence does not support such a conclusion of friendship. Since the house fire, there was talk of a concert put on to help me, but no one cared about a liar such as me.

Dell Mack and I talked this morning, and I believe the recording equipment will be given to him. I'll be keeping my drums, bass, and guitars. And I considered writing a story of this experience, but no one would believe it. The rich control everything. Especially me. So there is only practicing music and remaining where I am.

If Americans don't like the way things are, it's because they wanted this to happen.

Rick Kepple said...

The White House is pink and blue, Jimmy. Did I mention that I don't do pink? No pink. Nope.

Now Facebook is saying that they will ban anyone with the Confederate Flag. Get used to these words, "Papers please."

You were right, Jimmy. There are good rich folks, bad rich folks and completely insane, one bottle left in the six pack, nuts, rich folks! Someone living in a bright blue and pink mansion would qualify for completely nuts.

Something that I forgot to mention. I do not believe that the Supreme Court would stop martial law if it were declared, judging by the way they are voting.

Please let some guy unzip the BO suit and say, "It was all just a big joke! Ha ha, gotcha!"

Jim McAllister said...


Gay marriage and Obamacare victories are for the present; let A-hole Obama enjoy them because when election time rolls around in 2016 I believe there will be a huge backlash against Democrats. Already states like Texas are refusing to obey the gay marriage law. They will lose but the bitterness will be retained and spewed out in November 2016.