Concord Monitor: The inflatable tanks that tricked the Germans
Marie Kirk’s father was an artist. He sketched, he painted and he sculpted.
And in 1944, Kirk said, her father used these abilities – creativity and sheer artistic talent – to help save thousands of lives.
Peter Horbick was a member of the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, a U.S. Army unit in World War II with a special purpose: to deceive enemy troops about the size and location of U.S. forces.
They used giant inflatable tanks, painted to look like the real deal from above. They employed giant speakers to mimic the sounds of an army 20 times larger. Actors met up in bars and talked over radios, swapping false information for German spies to intercept.
They were called the “Ghost Army” – for just as quickly as troops seemed to arrive, they would disappear, moving on to stage their next performance.
“The art was a big part of it,” said Kirk, a Concord resident. “The Germans thought we had a lot more tanks on the ground than we did. It was all one big trick.”
The unit’s story is a lesser-known one because the information was classified by the government until 1996. The operation began to draw more attention in 2013, with the release of Rick Beyer’s PBS documentary The Ghost Army.
“We are talking about a traveling road show of deception on the battlefields of Europe,” Beyer said. “It’s a story about imagination, and it’s about creativity – and using those things in an unexpected way to save lives.”
In the documentary, Beyer interviewed 20 of the 1,100 artists, engineers and actors that composed the Ghost Army to paint the true story of the 21 deceptions staged between the time of D-Day and the crossing of the Rhine River in March of 1945.
“To me, it’s very inspiring because it makes you realize that there may be an out of the box way to think about something that can really solve the problem in a completely different way than you would ever expect,” he said.
The Ghost Army’s story may spread even more in the near future. Bradley Cooper and the producers of American Sniper optioned the movie rights to Beyer’s book in summer 2015.
Around the same time, U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster launched a campaign to award the men of the unit the Congressional Gold Medal. With few Ghost Army veterans still living, Kuster currently has 44 co-sponsors for her bill, a number she said she hopes to increase in the near future.
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