‘Ghost Army’ to Receive Congressional Gold Medal

‘Ghost Army’ to Receive Congressional Gold Medal

Inflatable tank
Photo by: U.S. National Archives

More than 75 years after they conducted visual, sonic and radio deception against German forces during World War II, soldiers who served in the so-called “Ghost Army” will receive the Congressional Gold Medal. 

President Joe Biden signed the “Ghost Army Congressional Gold Medal Act” on Feb. 1 “in recognition of their unique and highly distinguished service.” The Congressional Gold Medal is the “highest expression of national appreciation,” and it is given “for distinguished achievements and contributions by individuals or institutions,” according to a Senate website.

The Army’s 23rd Headquarters Special Troops was activated in January 1944 with the sole mission of deceiving German forces during World War II, according to the Army. Nicknamed the “Ghost Army,” the soldiers were “a carefully selected group of artists, engineers, professional soldiers, and draftees,” and they made up the first mobile, multimedia, tactical deception unit in U.S. Army history, according to the National World War II Museum. 

To mislead the enemy, they used inflatable tanks and artillery, sent false radio transmissions, and blasted audio recordings of troop movement and construction to create phantom forces, according to the Army. 

“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,” according to the National World War II Museum.

The unit of about 1,100 soldiers, commanded by Col. Harry Reeder, was capable of simulating two divisions—about 30,000 troops, according to the museum.

The 23rd conducted its first “full-scale deception” effort with Operation Elephant, from July 1–4, 1944, according to the museum. Its sister unit, the 3133rd Signal Company Special, operated in Italy and carried out two deceptions as the war there neared an end, according to the museum.

The “Ghost Army” was instrumental in helping defeat the Axis powers, according to the “Ghost Army Congressional Gold Medal Act.” 

“The United States is eternally grateful to the soldiers of the 23d Headquarters Special Troops and the 3133d Signal Service Company for their proficient use of innovative tactics during World War II, which saved lives and made significant contributions to the defeat of the Axis powers,” the act says. 

An Army analysis quoted in the act emphasizes the unit’s contributions: “Rarely, if ever, has there been a group of such a few men which had so great an influence on the outcome of a major military campaign.”