A Glimpse Back in Time (#11) // Spy on History: Victor Dowd and the World War II Ghost Army by Enigma Alberti & Scott Wegener + Review

Friday, January 19, 2018

A Glimpse Back in Time is a feature where I talk about the interesting history behind the books that I read! If you want to see previous posts for this feature, look here!

So, it's been a hot minute since I did one of these posts! I have read a few really excellent books that I have post ideas for for this feature. Today, though, we are going to be talking about VICTOR DOWD AND THE WORLD WAR II GHOST ARMY! 

Publisher: Workman Publishing Company
Publication Date: January 23rd, 2018
Rating: 4 Stars
Source: Publisher
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 96

Summary (from Goodreads):

Your mission: Find Victor Dowd’s missing sketchbook. And discover one of the most unusual stories of World War II.

Meet the 603rd Camouflage Engineers, better known as the Ghost Army. This group of artists and sound engineers were trained to deceive the Germans in World War II with everything from fake tanks to loudspeakers broadcasting the sound of marching troops. And meet Victor Dowd, a real-life sergeant who with his fellow Ghost Army troops fought his way from Normandy, through France, and eventually across the Rhine.

Second in the Spy on History series, it’s a compelling story of a little-known chapter from the war—and a mystery to solve. Using spycraft materials included in a sealed envelope, readers will discover and unravel the clues embedded in the book’s text and illustrations, and uncover the mystery of Victor Dowd’s missing sketchbook.


Workman Publishing // Amazon // Barnes and Noble // Books-A-Million // Indiebound


VICTOR DOWD AND THE WWII GHOST ARMY was a super interesting read! I had never heard about the Ghost Army before I received the email asking if I'd like a copy of this book! So obviously I had to say yes!

This book is super informative and interesting with clues for a spy mission hidden throughout the book. I read the book through and then went back and looked for the clues and ultimately failed the spy mission. I guess I didn't pay close enough attention to detail.

The book tells the story of the Ghost Army and who they were and what their jobs were. It talks about some of the missions that they were assigned and what it was like for them.

I absolutely loved this book. If you like WWII history or little known history, you should check this book out! Or keep it in mind for when you are scrambling to finish your GR goal at the end of the year since it's only 96 pages!

A Glimpse Back in Time

The Ghost Army was a tactical deception unit whose job was to fool the Germans into thinking they were a real army (and often a much bigger one) with inflatable tanks and special effects.

The 23rd Headquarters Special Troops were made up of several units with different specialties, all used to make the Germans believe that the Allies were in fake locations.

The 603rd Engineer Camouflage Battalion Special were tasked with visual deception. They had inflatable tanks, trucks, guns, airfields and airplanes, etc that they set up to make the Germans believe there were many forces somewhere.

Men in this group weren't drafted by traditional means. They were usually hand selected from art schools around the country for their skills.

^^Victor Dowd^^

The Signal Company Special handled radio transmissions. They impersonated radio operators from real units, mimicking their methods of tapping out Morse code so the Germans would never know the real unit was long gone. The Germans listened to enough radio transmissions that they knew the names of men in different units and could tell Morse code operators apart based on how they tapped it out.

So the Signal Company had to be really good at their jobs.

The 3132 Signal Service Company Special were the sonic deception specialists. They recorded the sounds of armored and infantry units with wire recorders. The sounds could be mixed and matched to create whatever scenario was needed at the time. They were played from speakers on the backs of halftracks that could be heard from 15 miles away.

^^Aforementioned halftrack^^

There were also a few weathermen in this unit because weather could affect how sound travels and that was something that they needed to keep in mind. 

And finally the 406th Engineer Combat Company Special were the only ones trained in combat in the group. They were tasked with security and also with digging tank and artillery positions and setting up explosives to make it look like their dummy guns could really fire.

The Ghost Army carried out about 20 operations from 1944-1945. One of the riskiest deceptions they pulled off was in September 1944. General George Patton swept across France so fast that a seventy mile hole opened up in his line. The Ghost Army was called in to plug the hole until someone else could make it there to replace them.

They'd never tried to impersonate an entire division at once. But they did everything they could think of to imitate an infantry battalion. They played tracks of tanks and soldiers moving in. They set up their inflatable tanks and started on their "special effects". They gathered firewood and hung out around fires. They washed and hung up laundry. They sewed Sixth Armored patches onto their uniforms and painted markings on their vehicles and went into town so that everyone would see them there.

The operation was only intended to last for three days, but it ended up lasting a week. The Germans were fooled though because they blew their bridges and retreated back across the river.

The final, and most dramatic, performance of the Ghost Army was in March of 1945. The Ninth Army was preparing to cross the Rhine into Germany and the Ghost Army was tasked with faking a crossing ten miles South of where it was really going down.

The one thousand men of the Ghost Army had to impersonate two full divisions of the Ninth Army, which was about thirty thousand men.

They did a lot to build this deception. They sent radio transmissions from different locations and made it sound like major forces were on the move. 

They set up hundreds of inflatable tanks. They even had some real tanks that they would set up with the fake ones obscured behind it to look more believable. At night they played the sounds of tanks rolling in.

^^Inflatable tanks^^

During the day they played sounds of orders being shouted and bridges being built. They had an actual crew along to build bridges to support the deception.

They set up fake artillery and used flash canisters to make it look like they were actually firing. They also had real firepower from some of the Ninth Army.

They used smokescreen after smokescreen to hide their numbers and equipment. 

They set up two fake airfields with fake airplanes. The fake airfields were so believable that a pilot from their own side landed at it!

They set up field hospitals to make it look like they were prepared to deal with casualties.

The mission was very successful. The Germans sent the bulk of their forces to where the deception was and when the two divisions being impersonated actually attacked, they were met with a very disorganized and confused resistance. There were less than fifty casualties and the war was over soon after.

The Ghost Army wasn't declassified until 1996.



(All pictures from here)

Had you heard about the Ghost Army before now? Let me know in the comments!

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