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Secret Soldiers: The Story of World War II's Heroic Army of Deception

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They were masters of the craft of illusion and deception, and their greatest disappearing act was to vanish from history. The men of the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops were recruited to become phantom warriors in a ghost army to help win the Battle of Eurpoe. A thousand strong, they fought in more campaigns, from D Day to the Rhine River, with more Allied armies, than an They were masters of the craft of illusion and deception, and their greatest disappearing act was to vanish from history. The men of the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops were recruited to become phantom warriors in a ghost army to help win the Battle of Eurpoe. A thousand strong, they fought in more campaigns, from D Day to the Rhine River, with more Allied armies, than any other unit in the European Theater of Operations-yet not even their fellow American soldiers were aware of their presence. After Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., USNR, completed a tour of England and its special forces installations, the Hollywood star convinced the Navy brass to train an elite unit that eventually evolved into the only Army force of its kind. These elite soldiers counted among their number designer Bill Blass and painter Ellsworth Kelly, and was inspired by Hilton Howell Railey, the "P.T. Barnum of Deception." The Special Troops' mission was two-fold: to deceive the German Army into believing that the Allies possessed more troops and material than they actually did and, even more heroically, to draw enemy fire on their position to allow other units to advance free of lethal resistance. Through the art of camouflage, sonic deception, and illusion this extraordinary troop of brave, ingenious men saved countless American lives-while sometimes losing their own. From the use of inflatable rubber tanks and howitzers to elaborate sound effects, fake radio transmissions, special effects artillery, and other elments of stagecraft, these shadow soldiers put their lives on the line for their brother soldiers and for their country-only to disappear from history and memory. Secret Soldiers tells the astonishing story of this special troop whose mission was so top secret, information about it was only recently declassified. More than half a century later, these uniquely talented patriots can at long last take their place alongside the other honored veterans of World War II.


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They were masters of the craft of illusion and deception, and their greatest disappearing act was to vanish from history. The men of the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops were recruited to become phantom warriors in a ghost army to help win the Battle of Eurpoe. A thousand strong, they fought in more campaigns, from D Day to the Rhine River, with more Allied armies, than an They were masters of the craft of illusion and deception, and their greatest disappearing act was to vanish from history. The men of the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops were recruited to become phantom warriors in a ghost army to help win the Battle of Eurpoe. A thousand strong, they fought in more campaigns, from D Day to the Rhine River, with more Allied armies, than any other unit in the European Theater of Operations-yet not even their fellow American soldiers were aware of their presence. After Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., USNR, completed a tour of England and its special forces installations, the Hollywood star convinced the Navy brass to train an elite unit that eventually evolved into the only Army force of its kind. These elite soldiers counted among their number designer Bill Blass and painter Ellsworth Kelly, and was inspired by Hilton Howell Railey, the "P.T. Barnum of Deception." The Special Troops' mission was two-fold: to deceive the German Army into believing that the Allies possessed more troops and material than they actually did and, even more heroically, to draw enemy fire on their position to allow other units to advance free of lethal resistance. Through the art of camouflage, sonic deception, and illusion this extraordinary troop of brave, ingenious men saved countless American lives-while sometimes losing their own. From the use of inflatable rubber tanks and howitzers to elaborate sound effects, fake radio transmissions, special effects artillery, and other elments of stagecraft, these shadow soldiers put their lives on the line for their brother soldiers and for their country-only to disappear from history and memory. Secret Soldiers tells the astonishing story of this special troop whose mission was so top secret, information about it was only recently declassified. More than half a century later, these uniquely talented patriots can at long last take their place alongside the other honored veterans of World War II.

30 review for Secret Soldiers: The Story of World War II's Heroic Army of Deception

  1. 4 out of 5

    Joyce

    You wouldn't think a book with this topic could possibly be this dull and underwritten -- at times it genuinely reads like notes rather than a complete book. Someday someone will write a great historical thriller using it as background research. You wouldn't think a book with this topic could possibly be this dull and underwritten -- at times it genuinely reads like notes rather than a complete book. Someday someone will write a great historical thriller using it as background research.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Martin

    A really interesting book on a topic seldom covered in the WWII Canon. As the USA was preparing for WWII, a number of brilliant visionaries, among them Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., the Hollywood scion, convinced the US Army that Deception could be used as a real Weapon. From that idea came the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, a unit that used Radio Deception, Recorded Sound deception, Visual Camouflage deception, and physical acting ruses to create phantom units, and false buildups or drawdowns all A really interesting book on a topic seldom covered in the WWII Canon. As the USA was preparing for WWII, a number of brilliant visionaries, among them Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., the Hollywood scion, convinced the US Army that Deception could be used as a real Weapon. From that idea came the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, a unit that used Radio Deception, Recorded Sound deception, Visual Camouflage deception, and physical acting ruses to create phantom units, and false buildups or drawdowns all over Europe. In doing so they probably saved Thousands of lives. But it wasn't easy. This is sort of three books in one. There is the concept/hardware story, as the idea spreads, tests are done and unique equipment is developed. There is the unit history, training to a high level of capability in the US and England(who had already pioneered some of the techniques), a growing pace of operations after the Breakout from Normandy culminating in a masterful operation for the Rhine Crossings in 1945, and then the postwar demobilization. But lastly, there is an oral history, and a tale of individual artists (Bill Blass, for instance) who flourished in the unit, many of them using artistic, persuasive, and management skills honed in Europe to become Business and Art leaders in the postwar world. The writing style starts out with a little bit of that "American Journalist Breathlessness" I find annoying, but soon settles in to nicely paced prose. This would be a good and fun book for a junior reader to access this unique story. There are a few adult moments in the book, mainly the carnal exploits of young men on their own-but should be teachable points. I was of two minds for my Military Enthusiast/Gamer/Modeller audience. My first was that this is great for Background and fascinating- but not perhaps something that Gamers/Modellers can really exploit fully . But then I thought more outside the box and felt it might be a perfect New element to add to games. For campaign/strategy games, gamers can work out their own ways to represent this unit and its work, for miniatures, this secret unit can be the "McGuffin", the noncombatants your infantry/recon screen MUST protect off the table. For modellers, the unique M3 Halftrack and M10 Guncarriage "Sound Cars" can be recreated and put into a whole new sort of diorama. So those audiences may want to give this one a look.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Marie

    I read this on the plane yesterday. It was wonderful! Highly, highly enjoyed, and not just because I had hours and hours of time to kill.

  4. 5 out of 5

    George Siehl

    Secret Soldiers is a compelling read. It is the story of a group of World War II soldiers and sailors who engaged in deception operations to deceive enemy forces as to where American units were located and misleading the enemy as to where American forces were likely to attack. The naval units are mentioned early in the book where the important role of screen actor Douglas Fairbanks Jr. is described. The bulk of the book then details the operations of the army units, some 2000 officers and men op Secret Soldiers is a compelling read. It is the story of a group of World War II soldiers and sailors who engaged in deception operations to deceive enemy forces as to where American units were located and misleading the enemy as to where American forces were likely to attack. The naval units are mentioned early in the book where the important role of screen actor Douglas Fairbanks Jr. is described. The bulk of the book then details the operations of the army units, some 2000 officers and men operating from the Normandy landings until the wars ends in Germany. Their stateside training was centered in Camp Pine, now part of Fort Drum on the edge of the Adirondack Mountains in New York State, and at Fort Meade, MD and Camp Forrest, TN. The overall unit was the 3313d Sonic Deception Company, along with associated special units in support of the sonic operations. The men making up the units were an interesting mix drawn from civilian careers, or aspirations, in art, music, sculpture, electronics and related fields. They worked to provide camouflaged inflatable tanks, trucks, artillery and other equipment to deceive aerial observers or on-the-ground spies as to the strength and location of American forces. Others ran the sonic deceptions, using high quality recordings of battlefield preparations and movements. These were played at night on sound systems the groups largely developed. The operations ran close to enemy lines so observers there would inform their officers of what the Americans seemed to have and to be doing with it. This could be used to convince the Germans that an attack was being prepared at a location many miles away from where the real attack was planned. The intent was to lessen the opposition the attacking forces would face, thus saving American lives and increasing the chances of a successful attack. A risk for the deception teams is that they would draw enemy fire upon themselves. The information on the operations was highly classified, the soldiers maintained their silence on what they had done for decades after the war, and much of the material used was trashed or sold as surplus after the war. Thus, this book's investigations reveal much about the actions and value of the Secret Soldiers. Author Gerard reveals the roles and personalities of a small number of the soldiers and officers, but notes that these elements were typical of many of the men serving in the units. The book includes an index, photographs, a bibliography of sources, and author notes. Maps indicating the locations of operations across western Europe would have enriched the story being told (as always with military history). This exciting and informative read is recommended for any with an interest in WWII history, emerging technology in warfare, and the utilization of unusual civilian skills in wartime.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Johns

    Readers who don't much about WWII in the European theatre will need to scramble to keep up with this fine history of a specialized, niche operational group in the US Army. (US Navy Lieutenant Douglas Fairbanks Jr. is also spotlighted for his heroic seaborne activities.) But if you have a grip on our extensive preparations for the Allied landings at Normandy, the brave execution of those landings and the final push across the Rhine into Germany, there is a lot of interesting information in this b Readers who don't much about WWII in the European theatre will need to scramble to keep up with this fine history of a specialized, niche operational group in the US Army. (US Navy Lieutenant Douglas Fairbanks Jr. is also spotlighted for his heroic seaborne activities.) But if you have a grip on our extensive preparations for the Allied landings at Normandy, the brave execution of those landings and the final push across the Rhine into Germany, there is a lot of interesting information in this book. Frontline infantry, armor, artillery, medical and air force personnel should always receive our maximum respect. But there are also many other units that were part of our resolute victory against Nazi Germany. Our Secret Soldiers are not to be overlooked. They were a significant part of our effort against Germany; their crucial work, rendered on a carefully synchronized basis, saved many Allied lives.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Paul S

    If you are a fan of military history this book is worth a look. The book is about a special detachment in WW2. A unit of theatrics and deception comprised in part of people who in civilian life would be designing movie sets and performing plays. They practice the art of misdirection and subterfuge and saved thousands of Allied lives. Need a tank battalion to magically appear where it isn’t? Need a hundred or so real troops to hold a miles long front line while convincing the enemy they are facin If you are a fan of military history this book is worth a look. The book is about a special detachment in WW2. A unit of theatrics and deception comprised in part of people who in civilian life would be designing movie sets and performing plays. They practice the art of misdirection and subterfuge and saved thousands of Allied lives. Need a tank battalion to magically appear where it isn’t? Need a hundred or so real troops to hold a miles long front line while convincing the enemy they are facing massed infantry or tanks? Need to simulate an artillery emplacement to draw fire from real emplacements? That’s but some of the things the unit did. Through razzle dazzle, sleight of hand and just good old fashioned detailed deception and showmanship they were able to tie up or move German units and even to get units to surrender due to facing overwhelming allied troops that were non-existing. Interesting book on an underreported part of history!

  7. 5 out of 5

    James

    A very well written story of World War 2 that I never heard before.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Frederick Bingham

    This is the story of a group of soldiers in World War II. Their mission was deception. They were trying to fool the Germans in various ways. They used bogus radio transmissions, pneumatic fake tanks (camouflaged, but not too well), fake airfields and planes, recordings of tanks and soldiers moving into position, fake uniforms and insignia. The soldiers were not conventional ones. They were artists, actors and architects in their real lives. In fact, one of the leaders was Douglas Fairbanks Jr., This is the story of a group of soldiers in World War II. Their mission was deception. They were trying to fool the Germans in various ways. They used bogus radio transmissions, pneumatic fake tanks (camouflaged, but not too well), fake airfields and planes, recordings of tanks and soldiers moving into position, fake uniforms and insignia. The soldiers were not conventional ones. They were artists, actors and architects in their real lives. In fact, one of the leaders was Douglas Fairbanks Jr., son of the famous actor.Their final triumph came in the crossing of the Rhine River. They impersonated a division preparing to cross the Rhine. Meanwhile, the real division was getting ready to cross 30 miles away. The deception worked exceedingly well. The real army crossed the Rhine with almost no casualties, leading to the complete collapse of the German army and their surrender a short time later.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Catherine

    The title says it all. It's an historical account of the soldiers who fought against the Germans by creating the illusion of an army where there was none. Using inflatable tank and artillary decoys and recorded sound, they worked to lead the Germans to believe that platoons of soldiers were in one place when they were actually in another. The book is well researched and written with first-hand accounts of the soldiers that were there. It is the type of history that reads like a story, taking us The title says it all. It's an historical account of the soldiers who fought against the Germans by creating the illusion of an army where there was none. Using inflatable tank and artillary decoys and recorded sound, they worked to lead the Germans to believe that platoons of soldiers were in one place when they were actually in another. The book is well researched and written with first-hand accounts of the soldiers that were there. It is the type of history that reads like a story, taking us through the establishment of the mission, through their training, how their equipment was developed and finally into the war where they risked their lives. Because theirs was a secret mission, their story has not been told until recently. As I read about the men, I developed an empathy for them much like the heroes of a novel. The book is well worth reading.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Cori North

    Found this book because of research on George vander Sluis, one of my Colorado artists included in last couple exhibitions...Other artists such as hard-edged abstractionist Ellsworth Kelley and fashion designer Bill Blass are more a focus herein, but the idea of a whole artist camouflage/deception unit is Enthralling!! There's a documentary now being produced, "Ghost Army," on this very subject...This book is informative, but the writing style is not the best. So many one sentence paragraphs? And Found this book because of research on George vander Sluis, one of my Colorado artists included in last couple exhibitions...Other artists such as hard-edged abstractionist Ellsworth Kelley and fashion designer Bill Blass are more a focus herein, but the idea of a whole artist camouflage/deception unit is Enthralling!! There's a documentary now being produced, "Ghost Army," on this very subject...This book is informative, but the writing style is not the best. So many one sentence paragraphs? And, those, not even introducing exciting "spy" topics...Dan Brown doesn't have to worry...(urggh)(on both their houses)

  11. 5 out of 5

    Eileen Conner

    This is a very interesting book about a company of soldiers that was classified until recently. This company were the deceivers, the ones that made the enemy suspect troops were where they were not, and worked with the camo to make them not to be where they were. The beginning and formation of the company are discussed and stories of the men who thought up this theater of war acting. The missions of deception, using sound, dummy equipment and other props to fool the enemy is discussed throughout This is a very interesting book about a company of soldiers that was classified until recently. This company were the deceivers, the ones that made the enemy suspect troops were where they were not, and worked with the camo to make them not to be where they were. The beginning and formation of the company are discussed and stories of the men who thought up this theater of war acting. The missions of deception, using sound, dummy equipment and other props to fool the enemy is discussed throughout the war in Europe. This is a book I highly recommend

  12. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    interesting book about a little-known side of the war

  13. 5 out of 5

    Richard

    very good book.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Chad

    Enjoyed this book about American troops who used deception to trick Germans on the Western Front during WW2.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Richard Garcia

    Great Book. One of the best books about the Ghost Army. I used this for my dissertation on the 23rd Special Troops (Ghost Army).

  16. 5 out of 5

    Rachael

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

  18. 4 out of 5

    A Veteran

  19. 4 out of 5

    Callerstrom5

  20. 4 out of 5

    Luke

  21. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie Bearce

  22. 5 out of 5

    Dwight

  23. 4 out of 5

    Wanda Presley

  24. 5 out of 5

    Richard

  25. 5 out of 5

    Adam Epstein

  26. 5 out of 5

    Ginny

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jon

  28. 4 out of 5

    Michelle Dockrey

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jeremy

  30. 4 out of 5

    Paul Franco

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