The Ghost Army

MITRE Engage
MITRE Engage™
Published in
5 min readMar 29, 2024


by Dr. Frank Stech

World War II was a high point of military deception by American Forces. The London Controlling Section coordinated deception operations with the Allies global strategy. Operational deceivers devised devious theater-wide plans, like Operation Mincemeat, floating a dead body into enemy hands with a briefcase full of cunningly crafted correspondence that fooled Hitler and his High Command, and helped the Allies land in Sicily against significantly reduced German opposition.

Tactical deceivers, however, performed their magic up close, here and now, in the face of enemy combat troops. When their deceptions succeeded, they often took the enemy fire intended for the friendly forces they were protecting. One diversion in Italy, Operation Second Wind, intended to reveal Nazi artillery positions, “was considered successful,” according to an official report, “inasmuch as 24 of the 35 dummy tanks were knocked out by enemy fire.” In the Europe Theater of Operations these magicians of tactical art, guile, wits, and courage came to be known as the Ghost Army.

On March 21, 80 years after their service, surviving members of the Ghost Army were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal [1]. During the ceremony at the U.S. Capitol, Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth said “The actions of the Ghost Army helped change the course of the war for thousands of American and Allied troops and contributed to the liberation of a continent from a terrible evil. Even though technology has changed quite a bit since 1944, our modern techniques build on a lot of what the Ghost Army did and we are still learning from your legacy.”

Officially, the Ghost Army was the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops and the 3133rd Signal Service Company Special, covert units of just over 1100 and about 200 soldiers, respectively. They carried out 25 battlefield deceptions in France, Luxembourg, Belgium, Germany and Italy, operations that remained classified until 1993. The unit members were hand-picked — visual and sound artists, engineers, technicians, script writers, selected and trained to create a traveling road show of deception on the battlefields of Europe, with the Nazi Wehrmacht as their audience. The Ghost Army used inflatable tanks and trucks, sound trucks blaring tapes of tank movements and artillery fire, dummy division radio nets, fake uniforms with false insignia, barroom and café gossip, and dazzling performance art to bluff, dazzle, and deceive the Nazis

The 23rd was the creation of two U.S. Army officers working on Allied deception plans: Major Ralph Ingersoll and Colonel Billy Harris. Ingersoll was a celebrity journalist and best-selling author. The New York Times once described Ingersoll as “a prodigiously energetic egotist” with a reputation for generously embellishing the truth. “I’ve never met anyone who was such a bright guy who was such a goddamned liar,” said a fellow American intelligence officer. “He’d say anything to get what he wanted.” His boss, Colonel Harris was a straight-arrow West Point graduate. Harris’s father, uncle, and brother were generals. Eventually Billy Harris became a general. Together, they sold the Ghost Army to the top brass.

This illustration, by Lt. Fred Fox, shows the separate components of the 23rd and compares them to a theatrical company. “We must remember that we are playing to a very critical and attentive radio, ground, and aerial audience,” he wrote. “They must all be convinced.”

From the Ghost Army Legacy Project:

“As the Allies moved inland through Normandy [after D-Day], … Patton broke out of the hedgerows and raced across France, as General Bradley ordered the relief of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge, the Ghost Army was there, playing an unsung role. In July 1944, Operation Brittany tricked the enemy about where General George Patton was headed, helping him to race across France …. In September, Operation Bettembourg helped hold a dangerously undermanned part of Patton’s line as he was attacking the fortress city of Metz. “There is one rather bad spot in my line, but I don’t think the Huns know it” Patton wrote to his wife. “Hiding it now by the grace of God and a lot of guts. In December 1944, During the Battle of the Bulge, the unit conducted a radio-only deception, Operation Kodak, that helped draw German attention away from [Patton’s two divisions racing] to relieve Bastogne. In March 1945, they put on a dazzling deception along the Rhine River … Operation Viersen drew the enemy away from a real crossing by the 9th Army. They succeeded in fooling the Germans about when the 9th US Army would cross the Rhine, and are credited with saving thousands of lives … It earned them a commendation from 9th Army commander William Simpson.”

“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.” Top-Secret U.S. Army report

Further Reading: [2]

Jack Kneece (2001) Ghost Army of World War II, Pelican Publishing Company.

Jonathan Gawne (2002) Ghosts of the ETO: American Tactical Deception Units in the European Theater, 1944–1945, Casemate.

Rick Beyer & Elizabeth Sayles (2015) The Ghost Army of World War II: How One Top-Secret Unit Deceived the Enemy with Inflatable Tanks, Sound Effects, and Other Audacious Fakery, ‎ Princeton Architectural Press.

Gerry Souter & Janet Souter (2019) The Ghost Army: Conning the Third Reich, Arcturus.

[1] Three of the seven known surviving members attended the Congressional ceremony: Bernard Bluestein, 100, of Hoffman Estates, Illinois; John Christman, 99, of Leesburg, New Jersey; and Seymour Nussenbaum, 100, of Monroe Township, New Jersey. Other surviving members are James “Tom” Anderson (Dover, DE); George Dramis (Raleigh, NC); William Nall (Dunnellon, FL); and John Smith (Woodland, MI). In 2021 President Joe Biden signed into law the Congressional Gold Medal Act, awarding a Congressional Gold medal to the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, and the 3133 Signal Co. Special, which practiced sonic deception in Italy. The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest distinction Congress can bestow. The bill was sponsored by Senators Ed Markey (D-MA) and Susan Collins (R-Me) in the Senate, and Representatives Annie Kuster (D-NH) and Chris Stewart (R-UT) in the House.

[2] Available, on loan, on request from Dr. Frank Stech @

©2024 The MITRE Corporation. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Approved for public release. Distribution unlimited PR_23–02179–4



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