Review: The Ghost Army of World War II by Rick Beyer and Elizabeth Sayles

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Ghost Army CoverThe Ghost Army of World War II: How One Top-Secret Unit Deceived the Enemy with Inflatable Tanks, Sound Effects, and Other Audacious Fakery is the history of a unit that went into battle wearing fake arm patches, carrying inflatable tanks, and playing recordings of heavy weaponry. The Twenty-Third Headquarters Special Troops aka The Ghost Army’s job was to pretend to be more people than they were, to hide in plain sight, and pretend to be someone else so that the unit they were impersonating could go about its business elsewhere, and to distract the enemy from what was really happening. And, incredibly, it worked.

Rick Beyer and Elizabeth Sayles have drawn on unpublished papers and interviews to tell the story of the artist-heavy Ghost Army and its exploits. The writing is as clear and engaging as the story is incredible. Who would ever have imagined that a lightly-armed unit could block a gap in Patton’s lines for several days before the real unit could arrive? Or successfully fool the Germans into thinking that an attack was coming ten miles south of its actual start? The technical aspects of the deception are fascinating, as are the lengths the men went to to keep their fakery from being spotted: sewing on fake patches, measuring signs, and learning a unit’s favorite songs and pastimes: “If the division was prone to play softball in off-duty moments, softball was the game of the day,” Corporal Sebastian Messina recalled in an interview.

The Ghost Army of World War II also includes numerous pictures painted and drawn by the artists in the unit. These include familiar names like designer Bill Blass, comic book illustrator Victor Dowd, and artist Ellsworth Kelly, among others. Their work shows the beauty of the countryside, portraits of the men in their down time, and the humor that helped keep them going—there are numerous cartoons and a set of caricatures by Corporal Jack Masey included. There are also haunting pictures of the displaced persons the Ghost Army guarded near the end of the war.


All images from The Ghost Army of World War II by Rick Beyer and Elizabeth Sayles, published by Princeton Architectural Press 2015. Used by permission.

Put this high on the list of books to read. The Ghost Army of World War II is recommended to anyone who is interested in World War II, history, unexpected events, art, or people.

The The Ghost Army of World War II: How One Top-Secret Unit Deceived the Enemy with Inflatable Tanks, Sound Effects, and Other Audacious Fakery by Rick Beyer and Elizabeth Sayles is available now. Look for it on Amazon or on Princeton Architectural Press.

You can learn more about the Ghost Army on The Ghost Army website.

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