Cover image for Secret soldiers : the story of World War II's heroic army of deception
Title:
Secret soldiers : the story of World War II's heroic army of deception
Author:
Gerard, Philip.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Dutton, [2002]

©2002
Physical Description:
xv, 400 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 24 cm
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780525946649
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

They were masters of the craft of illusion and deception, and their greatest disappearing act was to vanish from history. The men of the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops were recruited to become phantom warriors in a ghost army to help win the Battle of Eurpoe. A thousand strong, they fought in more campaigns, from D Day to the Rhine River, with more Allied armies, than any other unit in the European Theater of Operations-yet not even their fellow American soldiers were aware of their presence. After Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., USNR, completed a tour of England and its special forces installations, the Hollywood star convinced the Navy brass to train an elite unit that eventually evolved into the only Army force of its kind. These elite soldiers counted among their number designer Bill Blass and painter Ellsworth Kelly, and was inspired by Hilton Howell Railey, the "P.T. Barnum of Deception." The Special Troops' mission was two-fold: to deceive the German Army into believing that the Allies possessed more troops and material than they actually did and, even more heroically, to draw enemy fire on their position to allow other units to advance free of lethal resistance. Through the art of camouflage, sonic deception, and illusion this extraordinary troop of brave, ingenious men saved countless American lives-while sometimes losing their own. From the use of inflatable rubber tanks and howitzers to elaborate sound effects, fake radio transmissions, special effects artillery, and other elments of stagecraft, these shadow soldiers put their lives on the line for their brother soldiers and for their country-only to disappear from history and memory. Secret Soldierstells the astonishing story of this special troop whose mission was so top secret, information about it was only recently declassified. More than half a century later, these uniquely talented patriots can at long last take their place alongside the other honored veterans of World War II.


Author Notes

Philip Gerard as scripted eleven documentaries for public television.


Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Theater designers, sound technicians, painters--these are not at first glance the kind of vocations that bring to mind war heroics until one considers their record of deception in war. One operation famously fooled the Germans about where D-Day would land; less well known are the doings of the unit Gerard has brought to light. In this originally researched saga of the Twenty-third Headquarters Special Troops, Gerard explains that actor Douglas Fairbanks Jr. lobbied to have a deception unit created. Press flack Hilton Howell Railey was appointed to assemble the troops, and he picked creative people (including future fashion plate Bill Blass) attuned to visuals vital to deception. Once shipped to Europe, the Twenty-third, now under the command of a career officer, tried to perpetrate frauds on the Germans by posing either as fake divisions or as real divisions that were actually posted elsewhere. Gerard interviewed veterans and read their war papers in doing research for his book, and their personal experiences are the highlight of this work. Fresh material for the WWII shelf. --Gilbert Taylor


Publisher's Weekly Review

Although it includes some U.S. Navy deception activities carried out by the late actor Douglas Fairbanks Jr., among others, novelist Philip Gerard's Secret Soldiers: The Story of World War II's Heroic Army of Deception concentrates on the WWII activities of the Army's 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, whose activities were kept secret for many years. The 23rd used sound effects, camouflage and radio to mislead the Germans about Allied plans and conceal Allied troop movements during the liberation of France and the invasion of Germany in 1944 1945. Their story is told here through veteran recollections, memoirs and published works, and includes anecdotes of army life and combat. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Table of Contents

Chronology of Eventsp. xi
Introduction--23 March 1945p. 1
Act I Rehearsal
1 The Swashbuckler--1941-1942 (Douglas Fairbanks Jr. brings deception to America from Britain)p. 11
2 Hilton Howell Railey, The P. T. Barnum of Deception--1942-1944 (The discoverer of Amelia Earhart creates a deception lab)p. 30
3 Casting Call for Camoufleurs--1942-1944 (Artists and other talented men recruited as camoufleurs at Fort Meade, Maryland)p. 53
4 Artists of Razzle-Dazzle--January-May 1944 (Special Troops created at Camp Forrest, Tennessee, and learn tradecraft of deception)p. 82
5 Deceptive Fidelity--The Sonic Campaign--1944 (From sonic "bomb" to sound effects at Pine Camp, sonic warriors prepare)p. 100
6 Dress Rehearsal at Stratford-upon-Avon--May-July 1944 (Special Troops train in England and wait for D-Day)p. 122
Act II Onstage
7 Seeing the Elephant--June-July 1944 (D-Day through the Battle of Normandy, doing it for real)p. 139
8 Bad Show at Brest--August 1944 (First combined deception leads American tanks into a deadly trap)p. 162
9 Hold That Ghost Line--September-October 1944 (Special Troops hold a seventy-mile-long gap in American lines, force a German retreat)p. 189
10 Can You Hear Me, Luxembourg?--October-November 1944 (Second troops into Luxembourg--more operations against German border)p. 206
11 The Long, Cruel Winter--December 1944-January 1945 (Battle of the Bulge erupts in the middle of a deception operation--winter campaigns with Patton and others to close the bulge)p. 225
12 The Deadliest Show--February-March 1945 (Luck runs out--German artillery at last finds them, kills and wounds seventeen)p. 245
13 Grand Illusion--March 1945 (The Rhine ruse succeeds spectacularly--Ninth Army crosses, the war is virtually won)p. 261
Act III Closing the Show
14 Striking the Set--April-August 1945 (Special Troops demobilized after a dramatic hunt for Russian fugitives)p. 295
Epilogue: Curtain Call--Fort Drum N.Y., 15 September 2000 (Veterans assemble at Fort Drum, New York, their old training ground, and find they have been erased from history)p. 323
Afterword and Acknowledgmentsp. 341
Selected Published Sourcesp. 349
Notesp. 353
Indexp. 385

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