The Second World War is full of odd stories (most notably, the time the OSS planted fake documents on a dead body or the tale of the Japanese soldier who kept fighting the war from a jungle in Philippines until 1974).

But my absolute favorite is the story of the U.S. unit called the 23rd Special Headquarters Troops, otherwise known as The Ghost Army.

GhostarmypatchIt was a unit tasked with “tactical deception.” The 23rd was a motley assortment of artists, set designers, and actors (abstract painter Ellsworth Kelly and fashion designer Bill Blass were among its members). They spent the war creating fake units to deceive the Germans into allocating their forces in all the wrong places.

The 23rd moved around battalions of inflatable tanks and wooden artillery, drove small convoys of trucks in endless loops through towns where they knew spies were watching, and created fake radio chatter to dupe the Nazis. The 1,000-man unit staged more than twenty elaborate illusions during the campaign in Europe, and some historians credit the Ghost Army with saving the lives of at least ten thousand Allied soldiers. The project was only declassified in 1996.

PBS aired a documentary a couple years ago about this incredible unit.

Hooray for fakes and forgers!

You can read more about the 23rd in this article in the Atlantic or rent The Ghost Army from Amazon.