‘Ghost Army’ medal sought by House bill
- Published: May 22, 2019, 4 AM
Legislation introduced in the 116th Congress on April 22, if passed by both houses and signed into law, would present a congressional gold medal to the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops of the 3132nd Signal Service Company, also known as the “Ghost Army.”
Deployed in France in the aftermath of D-Day in 1944, the Ghost Army conducted counterintelligence operations using large fleets of inflatable tanks, artillery pieces, and other military materials to confuse German reconnaissance. The bill, H.R. 2350, the “Ghost Army Congressional Gold Medal Act,” has yet to receive any substantive legislative action.
H.R. 2350 was introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Ann Kuster, D-N.H. It seeks to present a medal to the Ghost Army as a collective. The Ghost Army’s exploits were kept largely secret until decades after the war, and some of their operations and techniques remain classified.
Inspired by the British
The 23rd Headquarters Special Troops drew inspiration from the British, who had used deception units to some effect at the Second Battle of El Alamein two years earlier in 1942. Seeking to spread misinformation about distribution of troop and armor units and to bolster the appearance of their forces, American and Allied military planners planted deceptive decoys in the lead-up to the D-Day invasion as well.
To camouflage their training facilities and hardware from German reconnaissance planes operating in the English skies, inflatable dummy tanks, trucks, and other vehicles were produced and moved around, so the Germans could not be certain how many vehicles and how many soldiers the Allies were preparing, and would have inaccurate information about where they were.
The fake vehicles were apparently of good enough quality to fool any German observers into thinking that they were the real thing.
The Ghost Army’s recruiters sought out soldiers with artistic experience and creativity. Recruits were drawn from art schools and advertising agencies, and creative thinking was highly valued. Only 1,100 people were recruited for the Ghost Army, which was composed for four subunits: the 406th Combat Engineers, the 603rd Camouflage Engineers, the 3132nd Signal Service Company and the Signal Company Special.
During the attack on Normandy, inflatable tanks were rather less useful, but once the Allies had gained a foothold, the Ghost Army began further operations in earnest. Operating near the front lines and coming under fire from the Germans, the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops used not only inflatable vehicles but deceptive radio broadcasts, recorded sounds of moving armor, and entire fake operations involving some real and some fake vehicles emblazoned with real units’ insignias. They even produced a full fake mulberry harbor, one of the pontoon-based embarkation points at the beaches of Normandy for Allied personnel and material, to lure German artillery fire away from the real ones. They managed to convince the German defenders at Brest that the force surrounding them was larger than it was.
The Ghost Army pushed eastward with Allied forces, eventually setting up in Luxembourg, where it continued to direct counterintelligence operations, faking crossings of the Ruhr River and Maginot Line, as well as the Hurtgen Forest. When the real Allied assault across the Ruhr River began, the Ghost Army created an elaborate fake invasion elsewhere to attract German forces.
If the legislation becomes law, the U.S. Mint can strike and sell duplicates in bronze of the gold medal.
The bill must pass both houses and be signed by the president to become law.
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