'Ghost Army' veterans recall secret World War Two decoy mission

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By Alastair Jamieson
'Ghost Army' veterans recall secret World War Two decoy mission

Surviving veterans of the secret ‘Ghost Army’ tasked with fooling Nazi forces about the location of allied troops have been recalling their extraordinary role in World War Two.

More than 1,000 artists, actors and sound experts were recruited by the U.S. Army to engage in tactical deception as it prepared to recapture territory from Germany following the Normandy landings in June 1944.

The squadron used decoys such as inflatable tanks and fake noises to draw Nazi soldiers into the wrong areas in the final months of the conflict.

They were able to confuse Germans about the scale and position of allied forces and their ingenuity is credited with saving many lives among the 30,000 troops tasked with crossing the Rhine and moving into Nazi-held areas.

“They really are the unsung heroes of World War Two,” said Rick Beyer, a documentary filmmaker who has researched the mission.

Among the recruits was 19-year-old art student Bernie Bluestein, now 95. “I didn’t know what to think, didn’t know what our missions would be,” he told NBC News’ Kelly Cobiella.

The decoy role took him to the centre of the conflict. “We were sitting on the other side of the Rhine from the Germans, waving and saying ‘Hey here I am, shoot at me’,” he recalled.

The ‘Ghost Army’ was kept secret even from allied soldiers on the ground, and its existence only become known when some military files were declassified in the 1990s.

The realistic fake tanks could be inflated within 20 minutes and quickly moved around, said veteran Gilbert Seltzer, now 104.

“We had one incident where two Frenchmen saw a tank being lifted by two men and moved,” he joked. “They turned to me and said ‘How can two men lift a tank?’ so I said: ‘You know, the Americans are very strong’ and that seemed to satisfy them.”

Last week, Variety reported that Ben Affleck will direct and star in a Hollywood film about the ‘Ghost Army’.