A gripping account of the eclectic group of artists, sound engineers, theatrical designers, actors, and writers who became America’s masters of battlefield deception during WWII.
Novelist Gerard (Desert Kill, 1994) tells an amazing and little-known story about the greatest generation. Following the battle of El Alamein, where the British general, Bernard Montgomery, revolutionized the use of camouflage to surprise and rout the German army, movie star and adventurer Douglas Fairbanks Jr. sold the American military on the idea of creating a unit that specialized in covert deception operations. Gerard chronicles not only the efforts of free-thinking senior officers like Fairbanks and Lieutenant Colonel Hilton Howell Railey, but also those of artistically inclined junior officers and soldiers like Lieutenant Fred Fox, a scriptwriter for NBC radio in civilian life, and Bill Blass, who would go on to become a famous fashion designer after the war. Surprisingly, he finds that this flamboyant blend of artists and technicians, armed only with a few dozen radios, truckloads of inflatable rubber tanks, and jeeps modified to serve as mobile loudspeakers, quickly adapted to military discipline and learned to create the perception of tens of thousands of soldiers and armored vehicles. Drawing on interviews with veterans, Gerard reveals that success for these young artists resulted in convincing the enemy to concentrate troops and fire on their “Ghost Army” so that real Allied fighting units could maneuver more safely. Gerard concludes that the efforts of these soldiers saved thousands of more conventional soldiers from facing massed German defenders.
The focus on this different type of soldier renders this more than a mere paean to the WWII generation; their stories offer intriguing evidence of a unique and selfless service that resonates poignantly in today’s crisis-filled world. (Photos and illustrations throughout)