Ghost Army:
The Combat Con Artists of World War II

John Hawley Olds LaGatta Gallery | Floor 3

Ghost Army: The Combat Con Artists of World War II relates the unique story of more than 1,100 men who deceived, sketched, and painted across Europe to manipulate Hitler’s armies during World War II.

Activated on January 20, 1944, the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, known as the “Ghost Army,” was the first mobile, multimedia, tactical deception unit in US Army history. Consisting of an authorized strength of 82 officers and 1,023 men under the command of Army veteran Colonel Harry L. Reeder, this unique and top-secret unit was capable of simulating two whole divisions—approximately 30,000 men—and used visual, sonic, and radio deception to fool German forces during World War II’s final year.

The unit consisted of a carefully selected group of artists, engineers, professional soldiers, and draftees, including famed artists such as fashion designer Bill Blass, painter Ellsworth Kelly, and photographer Art Kane. The unit waged war with inflatable tanks and vehicles, fake radio traffic, sound effects, and even phony generals, using imagination and illusion to trick the enemy while saving thousands of lives along the way. Armed with nothing heavier than .50 caliber machine guns, the 23rd took part in 22 large-scale deceptions in Europe from Normandy to the Rhine River, the bulk of the unit arriving in England in May 1944, shortly before D-Day. The 23rd, along with the 3133rd Signal Service Company in Italy, helped liberate Europe from the grip of Nazi tyranny.

Produced by the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, this exhibition brings together archival photography, historical artifacts, uniforms, sketches, and life-sized recreations of inflatable military equipment used during combat.

Ghost Army: The Combat Con Artists of World War II is exclusively sponsored by the E. L. Wiegand Foundation.

 

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