The Ghost Army

Directed by Rick Beyer
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“Riveting, fascinating…unbelievable…this film is an astonishment.”
-Rick Kogan, WBEZ Radio, Chicago
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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?
der: 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.

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the-ghost-army_still_01The 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.

Rick Beyer is an award winning documentary producer, a successful author, and a lifelong history enthusiast. His most recent film, Expedition Apocalypse, appeared on the National Geographic Channel in 2010. It documented a scientific expedition to the wilds of Siberia to shed light on the origins of the mysterious 1908 Tungska Event. He has produced numerous films for The History Channel including Revolution in Boston, Godspeed to Jamestown, The Wright Challenge (winner of a Parents Choice Award) The Patent Files, and Timelab 2000, an acclaimed collection of 200 history minutes hosted by Sam Waterston. He was also the Executive Producer of the irreverent A&E documentary series Meet the Royals. Rick has also produced short films for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American Historic Mount Vernon, and other museums. Credits include: Emancipation Proclamation, State Dinner at Mount Vernon, and First Shot: The Day the Revolution Began.

He is the author of The Greatest Stories Never Told series of history books published by Harper Collins. The Chicago Tribune described the series as “an old fashioned sweetshop full of tasty morsels” and the Army Times said “Just when you thought you knew everything about everything, along comes Rick Beyer to prove you wrong.” The fourth book in the series, The Greatest Science Stories Never Told, was published in October 2009. Rick has also worked as a radio reporter, a TV news producer, an ad agency creative director, a costumed historic guide, and a janitor (although not in that order).