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 War II, a war of lightning drives, elaborate intelligence agencies, and highly mobile reserves, large-scale DECEPTION has come into its own. It is more important than ever – and more difficult than ever – to strike the enemy hard where he is weakest. A natural result of this condition was to increase interest in camouflage, spoof, counter-intelligence and anti-intelligence agencies. The British have always delighted in battle ruses and have taken to big-time DECEPTION with great enthusiasm. The victorious Battle of El Alamein in October 1942 owed much of its success to a deceptive "cover plan." In reviewing this critical battle, Churchill told the House of Commons: "By a marvelous system of camouflage, a complete tactical surprise was achieved in the desert."
American military observers soon heard of this deception and some experiments along this line were carried out by the U.S. II Corps in the Battle of Tunisia. One of these enabled the 1st Armored Division to hit the Germans 50 miles south of the Medjiz el Bab when the enemy G-2 thought he had them spotted 15 miles west.
But all of the American (as well as British) deceptive efforts were handled by a small group of officers with pick-up detachments. It was an unorganized affair.Some observers felt that deception could be strengthened and its employment widened, by the formation of a self-contained unit especially and solely designed for tactical deception. This group would serve as a nucleus of experts and its T/E would be loaded with tricky devices. So ETOUSA asked the War Department for such a unit and sent along recommendations for its T/O&E.