Directed by Rick Beyer
In June 1944, a secret U.S. Army unit went into action in Normandy. The weapons they deployed were decidedly unusual: hundreds of inflatable tanks and a one-of-a-kind collection of sound effects records. Their mission was to use bluff, deception, and trickery to save lives. Many were artists, some of who would become famous, including a budding fashion designer named Bill Blass. They painted and sketched their way across Europe, creating a unique visual record of their journey. The story of what these men accomplished was hushed up by the Pentagon for more than forty years.
After seven years of effort, and interviews with more than 20 veterans, the documentary that tells their story is coming to PBS on May 21 at 8 PM. There will also be a variety of theatrical screenings, please check out our SCREENINGS page.The little known story of one of the most bizarre missions of World War II: A hand-picked group of GIs’ using inflatable tanks and sound effects records to deceive the Germans on the battlefields of Europe. Even they had to wonder: would it work?
From Normandy to the Rhine, the “Ghost Army” used inflatable rubber tanks, sound trucks, and impersonation to bluff the enemy about the strength and location of American troops. Their secret war was a juxtaposition of the absurd and deadly. One day they could be laughing as French cows pushed around an inflatable tank. The next, their attempts to draw fire could bring down a deadly artillery barrage.
And there’s more to the story than their deception mission. The US Army recruited artists into the secret unit, including a soon to be famous fashion designer named Bill Blass. In their spare time, this “band of artistic brothers” literally sketched and painted their way through Europe. Their wartime works of art, and the stories behind them, offer a unique perspective on their sojourn across Europe.
The documentary draws on interviews with 20 veterans of the unit. They are compelling characters who talk of their adventures with enthusiasm and humor. There is rare archive footage (both black and white and color) of dummy tanks and the sonic deception unit, supplemented by other wartime footage. A key visual element is the artwork created by the men themselves during the war: hundreds of paintings and sketches and photographs.