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Official History of the 23rd

OFFICIAL HISTORY of the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops

Introduction by Rick Beyer

Cover of official history of the 23rd Headquarters special forces Ghost Army

The Official History of the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops was written in September 1945 by Captain Fred Fox. It is the most important primary source documenting activities of the unit. The original document was declassified in 1996, and is now held by the National Archives. It can be found in the Archives II, College Park, Maryland. Along with other records of the unit, it can be located using this reference information:

Record Group 407 SPHQ-23
Entry 427 – WWII
Stack Area 270 Row 64 Compartment 24 Shelf 6 Boxes 18481-18483

Author Fred Fox was a 1939 graduate of Princeton who served as an officer in the unit, and was instrumental in developing “Special Effects.” He later went on to become a minister, a freelance writer for the New York Times Magazine, a White House staffer in the Eisenhower Administration, and the recorder of gifts at Princeton.

The text here has been faithfully reproduced from the original. The maps and photos all appear in the original as well, though some appear in slightly different locations. Watermarks have been added by the Ghost Army Legacy Project. If you are interested in reproducing a photo without the watermark, please contact us at

This web version of the Official History was prepared in 2018. An electronic transcript of the document created in the early 2000’s was checked against a Xerox copy of the original and edited to insure accuracy. Any links that appear have been added by the Ghost Army Legacy Project to provide context and additional information.

Deception Forward

DECEPTION has played an important part in military tactics since man first fought. The American Army, like all other armies, has used it to a more or less degree since the Revolution. General Washington took elaborate pains to mislead the British before his brilliant surprise thrusts at Trenton and Princeton in 1777. But it was not until 167 years later that the U. S. Army organized a unit especially trained and equipped for DECEPTION. This unit was called the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops and this is the story of that unit. In World read more

23rd Activation

The 23rd Headquarters Special Troops was activated by the War Department through AGF’s Second Army on 20 January 1944. It assembled its units, trained quickly and prepared for overseas movement at Camp Forrest, Tennessee. By 6 June 44, the first of its detachments was in action against the enemy. By 23 June of the following year, the unit was on its way home after having served with four U. S. armies through England, France, Luxembourg, Belgium, Holland and Germany. This is an unusual record for a young organization with such a strange mission. read more

23rd Organization

On 20 January 1944, Col. Reeder has 1 officer and 57 enlisted men. By the time the unit had reached France, the strength of his command had grown to 82 officers and 1023 enlisted men. The Headquarters and Headquarter Company were new but the great proportion of men and officers came from four established units which were absorbed: 603rd ENGINEER CAMOUFLAGE BATTALION, Lt. Col. Otis R. Fitz, Commanding (later led by Major William U. Hooper). This battalion had been working with FIRST ARMY for nearly two years. It had experimented read more
The factory section of 603rd Engineers Camouflage

Advance Party

Soon preparations were begun for overseas movement. On 10 April 1944, the advance party left by plane for England. This group of seven: Col. Reeder; Lt. Cols John W. Mayo, FA O; James W. Snee, Armd O; Clifford G. Simenson, S-3; Majors Joseph P. Kelly, S-2; Charles H. Yocum, Sig O; David H. Bridges, S-4; hoped to find in the ETO answers to many problems unsolvable in the States. The S-2 was particularly interested in enemy intelligence activities. He knew that the 23rd must be completely familiar read more


The GIBBONS sailed up the Bristol Channel 15 May without incident, completing her transatlantic crossing in a little over three times the "BLUE RIBBON" record: 13 days. During the night before debarkation, enemy planes bombed Bristol and many people thought themselves the target. There were no casualties among the 23rd. Col. Reeder and some members of the advance party met the boat at the dock. They brought word that the first bivouac area was located near Stratford-on-Avon in the lovely green midlands. It took seven hours to get to it on the LM&SR read more
Operation cabbage Map

Operation CABBAGE

One formal exercise in deception was held in England. It was called Operation CABBAGE and involved about 40% of the command in the area around Thetford, 29 May – 3 June. It was supposed to act as a dress rehearsal for a real operation in France which called for the simulation of an armored division. (See Operation CERISY, 1-4 July. ) Neither radio, sonic or special effects were used and the practice of operation did not add much in the way of technique to the 23rd. It was decided to send the same 40%to France read more
Map of detachments sailing to Europe

D Day and detachments

It took two months, two planes and nine ships to get all of the 23rd from England to France. Of course, this does not include replacements. The first group included four sergeants from the 603rd Engr Cam Bn Sp who left the unit at Bristol to go directly to an invasion staging area with the 602nd Engr Cam Bn. Their mission involved the use of phony "Q lighting" during the first critical nights following D Day. They left from Plymouth on four different LSTs and began landing on D Day H-10. It was soon read more

Operation ELEPHANT

Operation ELEPHANT (1-4 July 1944) was the initial operation of the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops against the enemy. It employed the personnel of the ELEPHANT loading plus various elements of the 23rd which had arrived in France prior to D-18. This only 37% (44-O, 351-EM) of the command participated. (For a detailed report of this operation and all subsequent operations, see "Report of Operations" 23rd Headquarters Special Troops. ) The mission of the 23rd was to cover the movement of the 2nd Armored Division when it left a reserve position to go into the line between read more
operation elephant map from the ghost army declassified documents

Lessons from ELEPHANT

As in most of the 23rd deceptive work, it was impossible to discover exactly how successful Operation ELEPHANT was. There is every reason to suspect, however, that little good was done. But even though the operation was of little help to the 2nd Armored Division, it was of considerable help to the 23rd. The technique and efficiency of the unit were boosted 100%. The 23rd learned: (1) There must be close coordination with higher headquarters directing the "big picture. " Elephant suffered from delayed orders, lack of understanding and incomplete information. If deception was read more
operational map of normandy from ghost army declassified documents


Normandy in June and July was not unpleasant for the 23rd. The bivouac areas of Ecrammeville and Rubercy looked like picnic grounds. The only disturbance was the nightly demonstration by the anti-aircraft artillery. That was terrific. Most everyone dug foxholes but they were not necessary. Diggers gave sheepish answers as to why they dug: "It makes my pup tent roomier…I like a smooth bottom for my bedroll," etc. Tourists revisited Utah and Omaha beaches and wondered at the astonishing job that was being done there. Small bands occasionally went rubber-necking along the read more
operation brittany map ww2 the ghost army

Operation BRITTANY (9 12 Aug 1944)

In this position the 23rd set up its Special Service tent and waited for the next mission. The Signal Co Sp did some SIAM (Staff Information and Monitoring) for 12th Army Group and took a little credit for speeding up the air delivery of gasoline to the 4th Armored Division. Optimism was widespread. The first Naafi liquor ration was distributed and lots of people thought Paris would be liberated soon. A week later, the 23rd was alerted for one of it most geographical operations (BRITTANY 9-12 Aug 44). It involved four notional task forces read more
ww2 map of operation brest in france during ww2

Operation BREST (20 27 Aug 1944)

The next operation saw continued improvement in the technique of deception but a worsening in the employment of it. The locale was the great port of Brest; the time, 20-27 August; the general mission: to bluff the surrender of the city by augmenting the U. S. show of force around it. The 6th Armored Division, which had originally sliced through the Brittany Peninsula to Brest had withdrawn. The VIII Corps with three infantry division: 2nd, 8th and 29th was assigned the job of taking the fortress, The 23rd Hq Sp Trs was given the specific read more
operational map of tourcencharnie france ww2 ghost army

Torcé en Charnie

While half of the command was storming Brest, the 23rd headquarters moved deep into France, halfway between Laval and LeMans. Here at long last, the countryside was neat, abundant and apparently untouched by war. The CP was located on the grounds of a charming chateau unfortunately gutted by fire. Twelfth Army Group was 30 miles away. The nearest town was Torcé en Charnie and there were a number of good restaurants in it. Here everyone ate richly and quietly indoors for the first time since the "debarquement. " The French cuisine is superb, especially read more
operations map ww2 ghost army mauny

Cognac Hill / St. Germain (near Paris)

So the whole thing was a mistake. The entire command was drawn up to some fields outside of Mauny (near Sens) and just sat. A few of the more active men, however, continued to reconnoiter and by great good fortune found an immense German liquor cache in Les Granges, only 25 miles away. All one had to do was back up the 21/2 ton trucks. By clever manipulation the 23rd was able to garner 520 cases (6240 bottles) of Cognac. This was enough liquid to drive one jeep 22,000 miles if Cognac would explode. read more
operation bettemborg map ww2 ghost army

Operation BETTEMBOURG (14 22 Sept 1944)

Paris was put OFF LIMITS and ON LIMITS so often that everyone in confusion visited it whenever possible. It was a great town. Architecturally it had not changed at all. The girls looked like delightful dolls especially when they whizzed past on bicycles with billowing skirts. They were in considerable contrast to the red-faced Norman farmer daughters. The Parisians were very happy to see us but on the surface did not look particularly maltreated. The thin-legged children were the most obvious products of war. Perfume and fineries were fairly easy to buy read more
ww2 operations map WILTZ ghost army

Luxembourg / Operation WILTZ

On 25 September, the entire 23rd reassembled in Luxembourg City. At that time, even the worst pessimist did not predict that the headquarters would remain there for nearly seven months. It was not such a bad city. In fact, the quarters were excellent but the forward motion was missing and the prospect of a stalemate was most depressing. The staff first seized the spacious German Legation but was subsequently ranked out of it and down to the Italian Legation. This building was not as roomy but the china was gilt-edged and the read more
ghost army photo coming soon

Operation VASELINE

On 10 October when Operation WILTZ terminated, most of the 23rd returned to Luxembourg. A sonic task force, however, headed north for what looked like the first operation inside Germany. This operation was called VASELINE but it never materialized. Its mission was to indicate an Armored Division (5th) concentrating for an attack across the border just south of Monschau. It would have been loud, short and possibly furious because the play area was under intense enemy observed artillery fire. The sonic unit was heavily supported by a company of medium tanks, a read more

Luxembourg Again

For the next three weeks, the 23rd mostly enjoyed Luxembourg. Many soldiers and officers found friends among the Luxembourgeosie. It wasn’t long before the native "moyen" replaced "hello" and the girls seemed to grow less lumpy and fat. EAGLE TAC, General Bradley’s Twelfth Army Group forward CP moved in and the social competition became more severe. Perhaps in deference to General Bradley, the Germans started pumping some large caliber railroad shells into the city. Finally on 22 October assignment came down from V Corps of First Army. It was another "cover job. " read more
Tactical Map of Elsenborn Belgium


Operation ELSENBORN (3-12 November), as it is called, revolved around a complicated series of divisional moves. First, the 28th Infantry left Elsenborn barracks to replace the 9th Infantry for the abortive push toward the Roer River dams. The 9th Infantry then came to Elsenborn for a rest. After the 9th had caught its breath, it planned to relieve the 4th Infantry, which in turn was going up to the Hurtgen Forest to puts its strong back behind the 28th’s drive. The Elsenborn sector was under V Corps. The Roer River came under VII Corps. read more

Operation CASANOVA

Meanwhile, General Patton’s Third Army was also on the offensive and the 23rd was engaged down there, too. In Operation CASANOVA (4-9 November) a detachment of the 23rd supported a river crossing demonstration in the vicinity of Ukange. The idea was to use the 3132nd sonic bridge-building program together with the diversionary crossing by a battalion of the 95th Infantry Division dressed as soldiers of the 90th. This would draw the enemy’s attention away from the XX Corps effort of the 90th backed by the 10th Armored Division 11 miles down the Moselle. At the read more
Military Police Jeep in the snow

Operation DALLAS

Another part of XX Corps final action against Metz was the secret move of the Corps artillery to a support position behind the 90th Infantry Division’s main effort. The 23rd also had a hand in this. From 2-10 November, Operation DALLAS maintained an extensive display of dummy guns and flash devices in the old XX Corps artillery area around Jarny, France. DALLAS did not attempt to support the deception by myth alone. The phony artillery brigade was not completely phony. Every battalion was reinforced by at least one battery of real shooting pieces. read more

Back to Luxumbourg / BLARNEY THEATRE

Nearly a month elapsed before the 23rd was given any more work. Although this inactivity led to boredom, obesity and internecine strife, the weather in Luxembourg was getting colder by the minute and operations lost their picnic attraction. The troops were kept busy and unhappy taking basic courses in military courtesy, interior guard, first aid and sanitation. The irrepressible Sgt. Berry helped save the nights with his BLARNEY THEATRE. This wasn’t the first or last location in which he set up his old faithful 16mm "gun" as he called it. He estimates that read more
Tactical map of France near Bettembourg with arrows showing movements

Operation KOBLENZ & Operation GRIEF

On 15 November, the 23rd was directed to prepare and submit to 12th Army Group a deception plan with the objective of containing the present German strength on the VIII Corps front until 30 December. This plan was called Operation KOBLENZ because it intended to poise a notional attack aimed down the Moiselle Valley toward Koblenz. It was to have been executed in two phases but only the first one was completed (6-14 December). The second part was interrupted by Operation GRIEF (16 December), the Ardennes counter-offensive of Field Marshal Gerd Von Runstedt. read more

German "Bulge" counterattack

Beginning 11 December, "CT" commanders began reconnaissance of forward areas as if in preparation for an attack. Beginning 12 December, some real tanks were moved up to Osweiler and at night were tripled by sonic means. On that day, too, the 75th began "fading" from the area and fictional columns were reported by spook radio to be moving north. The ruse was complete about a fortnight later when the real 75th came in on the northwest slops of the "bulge" near Marche, Belgium. Again there is no complete confirmation as to the success of Operation read more

Operation KODAK

Halfway to Doncourt, the Signal Company was notified that it was to engage in another operation. This one was called KODAK (22-23 December) and was thusly christened by Lt. Col. Ralph M. Ingersoll (editor-on-leave from the newspaper, PM). He chose this name because he considered the operation an attempt to confuse the enemy by presenting them a "double exposure" of our order of battle. But the 23rd had barely enough time to load the camera before it was all over. KODAK only last 24 hours. The 23rd mission was to show read more


Christmas was a very sad day for everyone. On 26 December all of the command, less Headquarters, which stayed in Luxembourg and the 603rd, which was bogged down in Doncourt, arrived in Verdun. They took over a very dirty and windy French military caserne. People with plum pudding and yuletide goodies soon found them eaten by rats. The 603rd joined the rest of the unit here. The men busied themselves with the interminable training schedule and guard duty for the 12th Army Group Main. Verdun is a depressing city filled with a million read more

Operation METZ 1

New Year’s Eve plans were interrupted for a few (sic) by Operation METZ-1 (28-31 December). It was a small effort by less than 200 special effects men. A little spoof radio was donated by the 3103rd Signal Service Battalion, a sister unit which practiced strategic signal deception and usually left the tactical field alone. The objective was to cover the non-secret movement of the 87th Infantry Division when it came up to Reims to take part in the attack on the Nazi bulge. A phony 87th Headquarters was established in Metz and divisional bumper markings, read more
Tactical map of Operation Koblenz France

New Years Eve

When New Year’s Eve did come it wasn’t particularly gay. It is hard to celebrate in dreary, cold, unlighted barracks, especially when neither liquor, victory, home nor girls are available. read more

Operation METZ 2

The first job of the new year was rather sloppy and unsatisfying. It was a cover job called METZ-2 (6-9 January 1945). The Battle of the Bulge was still taking all available American divisions. In fact the bottom of the barrel had been reached and General Patton was demanding some of the staves. In METZ-2, the 23rd’s mission was to protect the opening left by the removal of one of those staves. The 90th Infantry, a veteran Normandy outfit, was holding the Saar line east of Thionville. It was needed for the American read more
Mao of Operation LEglise

Briey & Operation L’EGLISE

From Metz, the 23rd raced north to take part in another cover job called Operation L’EGLISE (10-13 January). On the way up, some members dropped off in Briey, France, which was to be headquarters of the main body until April. They began to clean out the Caserne Guard Mobile in preparation for the return of the command. Due to some local politics it was difficult to turn on the plumbing. (The Briey Water Commissioner demanded a "pourbois" of two dozen bars of chocolate, a case of soap and 16 loaves of white bread. This read more


Four days later, the 3132nd tore up to the Moselle River east of Luxembourg for a one-night stand involving sonic alone. This operation was called FLAXWEILER (17-18 January). It was designed to assist the XII Corps Diekirch attack by supporting a river crossing demonstration 19 miles to the south. This diversion was operated by the 2nd Cavalry Group. The Cavalry stepped up reconnaissance; displayed bridging material and boas, threw over some artillery concentrations and smoke; moved some tanks up and crossed the river with combat patrols. Te 3132nd augmented the deception with a heavy read more

Operation STEINSEL

When the 23rd signalmen reported into the 4th Infantry Division mess for Operation STEINSEL (27-29 January), the cook threw up his hands in dismay crying, "Here come those sons-of-bitches who helped us into the Hurtgen Forest. " STEINSEL was a cover job similar to ELSENBORN but only radio was used. If it was successful, it was one of the most economical ever attempted. A total of 72 men, four officers and 22 vehicles were used. No mess was carried. There were plenty of warm messes in this area and people ate wherever they happened to read more


January, the 23rd’s biggest month, wound up with Operation LANDONVILLE (28 January-2 February). It ran concurrently with STEINSEL but neither operation suffered for lack of manpower. LANDONVILLE was practically identical to METZ-2. Even to the same area. Only in this case the 95th Infantry was being replaced by the 26th. (90th by 94th in METZ-2). The 23rd played the 95th and by radio alone held them in position for 12-24 hours until the ticklish transition period was completed. Then the notional 95th was brought back into reserve east of Metz by radio read more
tactical map of Luxembourg in World War 2

Operation WHIPSAW

Almost immediately the 23rd was called out to aid in a diversionary effort along the southern half of the Third Army front. Operation WHIPSAW (1-4 February) was really two simultaneous operations: one pure sonic and the other pure dummy. No special effects or spoof radio were used although the signal company furnished its usual straight communication. The sonic half of the job took place in the sector east of Luxembourg. The 3132nd had played there less than a month before in Operation FLAXWEILER. This time it projected the sound assembly of three tank battalions read more

Operation MERZIG

Sonic deception was becoming more popular. About a week after WHIPSAW, the 3132nd was on another mission for XX Corps. They called this one MERZIG (13-14 February) and it was an attempt to pin down the elusive 11th Panzer Division. The 11th Panzers were variously reported all over the front and as far east as Russia but there were strong indications that most of the outfit was near Remich opposite the U. S. 94th Infantry. In this position they were fairly harmless so 12th Army Group wanted them to stay there. For this read more
tactical map of operation METZ 2


At this point in the story, your correspondent was subjected to a private operation called APPENDECTOMY (23 Feb) in the vicinity of the 193rd General Hospital, Verdun. It was a complete success. The American nurses, clean white sheets and expert care made APPENDECTOMY the most pleasant operation of the war. read more


LOCHINVAR (1-11 March) is a hard operation to explain. It was a little like the old shell game with someone knocking over the table halfway in between. On 28 February, the 23rd was called in by its best customer, XX Corps, to help cover the juggling of three divisions on the Saar front. First: the tired 94th on the north was to be relieved by the 26th, the division on its immediate right. Second: the hole left by the 26th was to be filled by the 65th, cosmolene-fresh from the States. This is what read more
tactical map of Operation Legise

Operation BOUZONVILLE / Tom Wells & George Peddle

From LOCHINVAR the 23rd stepped right into Operation BOUZONVILLE (11-13 March). This was done in practically the same area and was the last deception job pulled for XX Corps. Although BOUZONVILLE was one of the shortest operations on record (33 hours), it was the most costly in casualties: two killed, 15 wounded. Capt. Thomas G. Wells, earnest young headquarters commandant, and S/Sgt. George C. Peddle, enterprising radio platoon sergeant, were killed in action 12 March 1945 near Picard, Germany. The main effort of XX Corps was going to be between Trier read more
tactical map of Operation Flaxweiler

Operation VIERSEN

The 23rd's last deceptive effort of the War was fortunately the best. It was called VIERSEN (18-24 March) after a German city in the lower Rhine Valley North of Cologne. The objective as stated in the official report was: "As part of a NINTH U. S. ARMY deception plan, to deceive the enemy as to the actual Rhine River crossing area, strength of the crossing and time of crossing. " The specific mission was: "To simulate the 30th and 79th Inf Divs in assembly areas in XIII Corps zone while the actual divisions were assembling read more

Commendation by General Simpson

On 29 March, Lt. Gen. Simpson formally commended the 23rd for its part in the Rhine River campaign: HEADQUARTERSNINTH UNITED STATES ARMY 29 March 1945. SUBJECT: Commendation TO: Commanding Officer, 23rd Headquarters Special Troops,        Twelfth Army Group. THROUGH: Commanding General,        Twelfth Army Group. 1. 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, Twelfth Army Group, was attached to NINTH U. S. Army on 15 March 1945 to participate in the operation to cross the Rhine River. 2. The unit was engaged in read more
A phony MP in Operation LANDONVILLE France

V E & Volunteering for work

The rest of the 23rd was lent to FIFTEENTH ARMY who, in turn, gave them to XXIII Corps to ride herd on 100,000 hungry, homeless, haunted Europeans. These wretched people were officially called Displaced Persons but they were really liberated slaves of Nazi Germany. They needed food, shelter, clothes, baths, orientation and transport back to their native lands. They also had to be organized, screened and counted. The 23rd began "DP" work on 11 April in a dual capacity: (1) as actual camp managers and (2) as a DP staff section to XXIII Corps. read more


About a week later, some new field artillery units were attached to XXIII Corps and they began to relieve units of the 23rd Headquarters from actual operation of the DP camps. On 28 April, the 23rd was completely relieved of all responsibilities except as a Corps staff section. This relationship persisted until late in May when the War Department telegram finally arrived and the 23rd was ordered to prepare to return home. In this DP work, the 23rd takes a certain amount of pride in: (1) maintaining up to 100,000 destitute men, women and children in read more
tactical map of Operation WHIPN


The good boat left from Le Havre. It was called the GENERAL O. H. ERNST and sailed for America alone and with lights on 23 June 1945. The voyage was smooth, the quarters clean, the prospect glorious. It was a Navy transport and the Army passengers were impressed by the efficiency and good spirit. Sgt. Alfred Berry took over the library again; Cpl. Teddy Katz led his famous orchestra and Sgt. Seymour Kent produced a number of extravaganzas built around two Red Cross girls. Everyone else bathed in the sun. read more


Reprinted fromERNST ENQUIRERJune 30, 1945 The 23rd Hq Sp Trs has probably been associated with more Armies and been to more places than any other unit aboard ship. Some of its members landed on D-Day with the First Army. Later, part of the command participated in the Brittany campaign with the Third Army. When Field Marshall Montgomery crossed the Rhine in March, the 23rd was attached to the Ninth Army. Finally, when the war was practically over, this versatile outfit took charge of 100,000 milling Displaced Persons for the Fifteenth Army. read more


The 23rd debarked at Newport News, Va. , just after noon on a wharf full of smiling WACs. The POE did not believe in staffing the docks with men who might annoy returning veterans so the girls very sweetly said the usual: "Move along, please," No smoking, please," and "Kindly step into this here bus. " A number of people will be forever grateful to the Red Cross for their first glass of fresh American milk in 14 months. This was distributed very cheerfully with a doughnut in the buses. Camp Patrick Henry will be remembered read more
tactical map of Operation Lochinvar

Pine Camp, N.Y. V J Day, Deactivation

But 30 days will last for just so long. On 7 August the 23rd, somewhat subdued, began to trickle back into the Army at Pine Camp, N. Y. All the newspapers, magazines and radio commentators were predicting a long war with Japan but the first atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima 5 Aug. The command had hardly reassembled before the hectic week of V-J notes began. Finally, on 14 August, the Japanese accepted the Potsdam terms and the 23rd began to whoop it up in traditional style. The 406th Combat Engineers marched in the Watertown read more

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