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 email@example.com.
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 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.
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.
When Colonel Harry L. Reeder arrived in Camp Forrest, the big camp was almost deserted. The 8th Infantry Division had just pulled out and the 17th Airborne was not due for another month. The assignment in "DECEPTION" must have looked highly irregular to an old soldier. Nothing that he had learned on the Mexican border with the Maryland National Guard or in France with the 1st Infantry Division or while occupying Germany with the 4th Infantry Division or in Panama, Benning, Leavenworth or the Desert Training Center seemed to apply. The Colonel had met new military theories before, however, when he had been among the first American officers to attend the Ecole de Tank in Paris. He had also spent many years in U.S. military classrooms studying and instructing in the latest tactical developments. Finally, he had solid command experiences behind him: most recently as CO of the 46th Armored Infantry Regiment, 5th Armored Division.
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 with deceptive installations in Louisiana and Tennessee maneuvers. It was composed mainly of artists from New York and Philadelphia with an average IQ of 119. After the assignment of a deceptive mission and addition of dummy equipment, the official name became 603rd Engineer Camouflage Battalion Special. Strength: 28 officers. 2 warrant officers, 349 enlisted men.
244th SIGNAL OPERATIONS COMPANY, Captain Irwin C. Vander Heide, Commanding. This year-old AGF unit had just come off Desert Maneuvers. It was radically modified in Camp Forrest for use as a counter-radio intelligence company. Five new officers and 100 radio operators were added and an almost equal number of wire, teletype and message center personnel were released. It was nearly a 40% turnover. The official name then became SIGNAL COMPANY SPECIAL. Strength: 11 officers, 285 enlisted men.
COMPANY A, 293rd ENGINEER COMBAT BATTALION, Captain George A. Rebh, Commanding. This company was chosen from a battalion which had been activated a year before and had gone through Tennessee and Desert Maneuvers. It was a hardy, disciplined group of combat engineers, which the 23rd needed for security and rough jobs. It was lifted in toto and renamed the 406th Engineer Combat Company Special. Strength: 5 officers, 163 enlisted.
3132nd SIGNAL SERVICE COMPANY, Major Charles R. Williams, Commanding. This company was the only unit within the 23rd that was specifically organized and trained for DECEPTION. It was activated separately at the Army Experimental Station, Pine Camp, New York, in March 1944 and did not join the 23rd until August 1944 in France, This was the pioneer "sonic deception" unit in the U.S. Army. The equipment was SECRET, the mission was dramatic, the personnel young and eager. The combination was more theatrical than military. The unit name remained the same except for the addition of "SPECIAL." Strength: 8 officers, 137 enlisted men.
Since no one knew how a deception unit was supposed to operate, the training program was not easy to write. There was very little literature on the subject. Lt. Col. Clifford G. Simenson, then S-3, recently of the AGF G-3, probably contributed more than anyone else to the formation of the early SOP. He planned several field problems based upon the simulated appearance, under various tactical conditions, of units ranging from division to corps. These problems were not particularly satisfying because it was hard to make the mental transition from solider to dummy. The results looked like so much window dressing with no place to go. Officers who had once commanded 32-ton tanks, felt frustrated and helpless with a battalion of rubber M-4s, 93 pounds fully inflated. The adjustment from man of action to man of wile was most difficult. Few realized at first that one could spend just as much energy pretending to flight as actually fighting. Many useless theories, however, were exposed in these little maneuvers and the unit grew older.
During this period of experiment, gaps and fallacies were discovered in the existing T/O&E. For example, no wire was called for in the Signal Company, and only one officer was supposed to handle the mammoth 196-man radio platoon. Corrections were made and needs anticipated with as much wisdom as possible at this stage of the game. No one yet had much of an idea how large-scale deception would fare in battle.
Lt. Col. Merrick H. Truly, Executive Officer, Majors Charles H. Yocum, Signal Officer, and David E. Bridges, S-4, flew to Washington to present the modified T/O&E. AGF eased the new ideas through the War Department with practically no opposition because no none knew any more about deception there than in Camp Forrest.
By the end of March, the new T/O officers began to arrive. They were hurriedly and hazily oriented on the very strange mission of the unit. Many later admitted that it left them somewhat dizzy. This was only natural, however, because at this time, the "veterans" knew no more than the "rookies."
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 with all the sources of enemy intelligence before it could begin to confuse or neutralize them. The Signal Officer tried to secure information under three general headings: (1) The power and range of German signal intelligence, (2) Signal deception attempted by the British and Americans previous to D-Day. (3) Radio set-up and signal policy of American corps and divisions already in the ETO. Similarly, the rest of the party checked on their specialties. Unfortunately, the trip was not too rewarding. The officers were hampered by the high classification of their subject; the U.K. was bustling with invasion preparation and, as usual, there was little or no information on the type of deception the 23rd intended to practice.
The main body entrained for Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, 21 April. Here they went through the usual POM tests, lectures, demonstrations, and eight-hour passes to New York. On the night of 2 May, they boarded the USS HENRY GIBBONS in New York harbor. There was no band or cheering. The troops filed aboard quietly. The GIBBONS was a good clean ship. She was modeled after the American President luxury liners and rode well. The officer accommodations were superb and the men were stacked comfortably like sardines. Lt Co. Frederick E. Day, AA O, assumed command of all troops aboard and Major David Haviland was appointed Adjutant.
The trip across was uneventful. After a few days everyone got used to the magnificent sight of our big convoy and settled down to poker. Boat drills were held regularly, but enemy submarines fired no torpedoes into us. There were, however, a few alerts and bursting depth charges wakened us occasionally. The business of morale was taken over by T/4 Alfred G. Berry pf the Sig Co Sp and 1st Sgt. Jerry Gluckin, A Co 603rd Engr Cam Bn Sp. The former ran the library and public address system with great success. The latter lent his tremendous personality to the nightly deck shows. The chaplain objected to Gluckin’s language and sulked in his cabin during the performances.
The factory section of 603rd Engineers Camouflage in an orchard in Normandy. Here dummy items were tested, repaired and new ones designed. Note pump in foreground which made inflation simple.
603rd Factory Section checking a dummy L-4. The American rubber equipment was superb, but expensive. Each item was carried in its own bag made of heavy canvas.
An American camouflage officer looks critically at a British army pump. The British material could not stand the beating that the US structure could.
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 (London Midland and Southern RR). The CP was a dark rambling Victorian chateau called "Walton Hall." The owner, old Lady Morduant, lived off by herself in a wing. The grounds included velvet lawns, tailored forests, and a swan lake. The troops lived in Nissen huts and referred to the big house as "the castle." Headquarters called it "Mouldy Manor."
The priority job now was supply and the "4" section immediately set about procuring the unit’s T/E equipment. It was scattered in huge storehouses throughout southern England. As soon as vehicles were secured, the Sig Co Sp began installing its specially mounted radios. At the same time, the Cam Engrs were checking and repairing their dummy equipment at Ramsgate (vic Canterbury). Training by all units was continued with considerable emphasis on athletics and recreation. The pass policy was liberalized in view of the fact that no leaves or furloughs had been granted prior to coming over. Some men attended the superb plays staged by the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-on-Avon, but most seemed to prefer the more realistic pleasures of Leamington Spa. The passees that went as far as Coventry got their first glimpse of a long dreary succession of war-devastated cities. Liquor was hard to get but the women were unbelievably friendly. Two very colorful parties were held in the Manor House. At the first one, Capt. Gerald N. Wagner, Dental Surgeon, lost all the brass buttons on his Class A blouse.
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 as an advance task force, hereinafter to be referred to as ELEPHANT.
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 apparent that there were so many real Q lights – at so many points – that the small deceptive effort would be ridiculous, so it was not tried. Instead, the sergeants busied themselves with the camouflage of early beach installations and supply dumps. Two of the party were wounded. (S/Sgt Chester J. Piasecki and Sgt. Tracy B. Slack.)
On 14 June 1st Lt. Bernard H. Mason, 603rd Engr Cam Bn Sp, flew to the Omaha Air Strip with 15 men and a trailer-load of dummy artillery. He was attached to VII Corps Artillery from D-9 to the end of the Cherbourg campaign. This employment of dummy 155 mm rifles was an experiment and it was considered successful. There were no casualties.
Lt. Cols James W. Snee, Armored O, and Olen J. Seaman Jr. Ln O, flew over the D-11. Through First Army they reserved a bivouac area for the 23rd advance echelon and reconnoitered the 2nd and 3rd Armd Divs for future employment of the ELEPHANT task force.
Col Reeder started for France with ELEPHANT (39-0. 1-WO, 319 EM) on 16 June. He was immediately misdirected to Exeter and the entourage spent the first two nights in the fields of Bishop’s Court. On 18 June the group was re-routed east to a shabby camp near Southampton. On the following day they boarded LSTs 284 and 335. Then, by error, LST 284 dropped out of the convoy and hung off the Isle of Wight for a week. But no one cared because the ship was very comfortable and the weather perfect. Motion pictures were shown down in the tank deck and hot bread, butter and coffee were served at 0100 each night. The ship’s phonograph had a large library of classical records. Buzz bombs were just beginning to come over Southern England but at that time they were more curious than frightful. On 24 June LST 335 put ashore on Utah Beach and three days later LST 284 came in. The gracious skipper of LST 284 made a final gesture toward Army-Navy goodwill by opening up his well-stocked larder to all departing passengers.
The residue of the command (32-0, w-WO, 563 EM) was officially called RESIDUE or informally, "Garbage." It remained at Walton Hall until 8 July. On that day under the leadership of Lt. Col Merrick H. Truly it departed for Charborough Park near Bournemouth. This was the spacious estate of Adm. Lord Reginald Ernst-Ernle Drax, K.C.B., D.S.O., and a very fine Lord indeed. Everyone lived in pup tents but the days were balmy and the Admiral often invited the officers in for a warm bath and a glass of port. RESIDUE stayed here for a week and enjoyed themselves very much watching the Lord’s deer and playing baseball on his beautiful lawn. Toward the end, however, a jarring note was introduced when the gray-haired Knight Commander of the Bath said: "Someone has been in my sherry." The next morning RESIDUE pulled out for Falmouth where they boarded the Liberty ship JOHN S. MOSBY – incidentally the same boat that had carried TROUTFLY on D-1. It was a wretched ship which stuffed everyone into the No. 5 hatch. The trip was foggy, uneventful and generally unpleasant. On 21 July D-45 the last man got off on a big, wet "rhino" at Omaha Beach.
HEATER (3132nd Sig Serv Co Sp) did not arrive in England until 11 June so it was not prepared to come to France until 8 August. By this time marshalling yards and channel crossings had achieved a high state of efficiency. Consequently, HEATER had an extremely full passage on LST 1195 to Utah. It joined the 23rd on 9 Aug D-63 in Le Fremondre just north of Coutance. Now for the first time, Col. Reeder finally had all of his command together.
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 the FIRST U.S. and the SECOND BRITISH Armies. (See map: Operation ELEPHANT.) On 1 July the 2nd Armored began moving out of the Forest of Cerisy. As each unit moved, the 23rd attempted to replace dummies for real vehicles – tank for tank. In some cases they were successful. In others they were late or insufficient. Only one deceptive radio was used. Of course, no sonic deception was employed because HEATER (3132nd Sig Sv Co Sp) had not arrived. No attempt was made to duplicate shoulder patches, bumper markings or CP signs. Individual and vehicular play activity was not used to any important degree. In the meantime, the real 2nd Armored had moved only four miles away. Its artillery was firing and some of its infantry was in the line. (Therefore, assumed to have been identified by the enemy.) On 3 July elements of the 3rd Armored Division began to come into the phony 2nd Armd reserve area so the 23rd "faded out" on the following day.
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 new to the 23rd, its needs, capabilities and limitations were completely unknown to the rest of the Army. This was corrected in later operations by the use of 23rd liaison officers. During inactive periods, these officers would act as DECEPTION "salesmen" – selling and explaining deception to whomever would listen. In this latter role, they were restricted by the TOP SECRET classification of their subject.
(2) There must be close association with the associated unit or units. ELEPHANT’s chances of success were practically nullified by the 2nd Armored brazen movement in full regalia in broad daylight. No attempt was made to hide bumper markings, shoulder patches or CP signs. It immediately became clear that no cover plan could be successful without strict camouflage control of the "covered" unit. In future operations this error was partly corrected by detaching 23rd liaison officers to the associated real units, and partly by orders to them from higher headquarters prompted by the 23rd.
(3) Since the enemy was known to be employing a large number of low-grade agents for the express purpose of ascertaining U.S. shoulder patches, bumper markings and CP signs – and since it was quite apparent that a very accurate U.S. Order of Battle could be reconstructed by the enemy from these easy visual evidences -- it was obvious that the 23rd had a new "spoof" weapon to play with. The weapon was called SPECIAL EFFECTS. It included everything from borrowed shoulder patches to phony major generals, from empty gas convoys to prepared stories for loose tongues – anything to fool the enemy ground agent.
(4) By super skimping ELEPHANT was able to replace only parts of the 2nd Armored Division. Therefore, the capabilities of the 23rd were no longer advertised to include the simulation of more than one division unless additional troops were attached.
(5) The almost complete absence of the Luftwaffe decreased the value of dummy equipment which was designed for enemy aerial reconnaissance. Emphasis shifted to "Special Effects." In later operations, dummies were sometimes left out altogether.
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 front lines. One group nearly got themselves decorated by being the first in St. Lo after they had read in the STARS and STRIPES that the town had been taken. The news was a little premature.
The main job was reconnaissance: SIGNAL reconnaissance which enabled the 23rd to build up an unequalled library of combat SOPs, SOIs and radio peculiarities. This was to prove invaluable in deception planning. Nearly every corps and division within the 12th Army Group was contacted. VISUAL reconnaissance by the 603rd Cam Engrs was just as extensive. They were interested in studying unit "atmosphere" and collecting material for the new "Special Effects" section. Soon they had copies or specifications for every corps and divisional shoulder patch, bumper marking and CP sign. They could duplicate the appearance of any U.S. unit in the 12th Army Group. COMMAND reconnaissance followed the same routes as VISUAL and SIGNAL. It was made for two reasons: (1) To acquaint officers with the terrain, combat units and situation, (2) To tell responsible parties about the potentialities of 23rd deception. Naturally, these reconnaissances never ended. New divisions kept coming in and the situation and practices kept changing. By V-E Day the 23rd probably contained the most widely traveled and best-informed officers in the ETO. A majority of the jeeps had driven over 16,000 miles.
ELEPHANT was the only operation in July so the 23rd was not over-worked. Much time was spent looking for jobs but the Normandy build-up simply did not lend itself to deception. At least, no one with sufficient influence thought it did. The 23rd was told to wait for the expected "break-through." With the Germans reeling back toward the Siegfried Line, we could "fight ‘em and feint ‘em" until they were dizzy. So the 23rd waited, trained and reconnoitered. Calvados, a powerful native stimulant, was sampled. Private contracts for laundry were made with local farmwomen who preferred candy, soap and cigarettes to francs. Towns were OFF LIMITS but some visiting was done on various pretexts. One scheme that worked for a long time was to tell the MPs you were looking for blue paint. No Army supply dump carried this color. On 26 July about 2000 Allied bombers passed over to blast an opening in the German lines. The terrible rumble of those bombs could easily be heard in Rubercy and the 23rd knew that it would be on the move.
The unit did not go as far as it thought it was going. The next CP was only 32 miles away. On 3 August, the convoy was routed by way of Periers and the devastation of the "break-through" was everywhere. The roads were lined with blasted vehicles and bloated cows. The bivouac area was another orchard bit it was full of German foxholes and filth. The nearest name-town was Coutances. The nearest headquarters was the huge new 12th Army Group. It looked like the 23rd was going to be attached to them. They gave the unit their APO 655 and changed the code name from ARIZONA to BLARNEY. This sounded like a crack but nothing could be done about it.
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 streaming into the Brittany peninsula. The objective was to stop the withdrawal of enemy units (SEVENTH German Army) from the Normandy pocket by creating the impression that the United States Army was weakening its forces in front of the main battle position and turning to clear the Brittany peninsula prior to a major push into France. The Germans did not withdraw. In fact they counterattacked to cut the FIRST and THIRD ARMIES at Mortain 7 August, but this was two days before the 23rd went into action. By 19 Aug they were bottled up and destroyed when the bloody Falaise-Argentan gap was closed. See map.
The 23rd was divided into four task forces. Each was supposed to simulate one column of combat team-size of four different divisions: 35th, 80th and 90th Infantry Divisions and the 2nd Armored Division. They assembled in the approximate areas of their respective divisions and then turned west or south while the real divisions kept traveling east. If the German G-2 received the picture the 23rd was trying to present, he would think that THIRD ARMY was detaching RCTs from four divisions to clean up Brittany.
The phony 35th column under the command of Lt. Col. John W. Mayo intended to go to Brest but stopped short of Dinan for want of an armed escort. Desperate bands of Nazis still roamed the peninsula. The phony 80th column under the command of Capt. Oscar M. Seale Jr., also intended to go to Brest but camped just west of Rennes. The phony 90th column under the command of Lt. Col. Edgar W. Schroeder nearly got to its destination, Lorient. It received desultory sniper fire along the way and covered 602 miles altogether. The phony 2nd Armored Combat Command traveled south into "Indian" country near Chateaubriant. Here they set up some rubber dummies, went swimming and forwarded some real prisoners turned over to them by the FFI.
The deception was done mostly with Special Effects and Radio. Each column was complete with signs, bumpers and shoulder patches. The visual display was excellent. If the 23rd did not fool the Germans, it certainly misled civilians and the rest of the Army. There were many tales of personnel from the real divisions getting mixed up with the phony columns. A powerful spook radio net including all the columns was directed from the THIRD ARMY CP where the command of the 23rd was located. Two liaison officers got through to Brest and Vannes. Their mission was to establish radio contact with the approaching notional columns. At Brest with the 6th Armd Div, Lt. Col Frederick E. Day was also instrumental in the capture of about 300 Germans and a good store of Wehrmacht chocolate. Capt. Edward M. Cowardin did not find anything but the 4th Armd Div in Vannes.
While the 23rd does not hold itself responsible for the destruction of the German SEVENTH ARMY, there is always a possibility that its ruse helped becloud the German estimate of the situation. The enemy G-s, however, must have been fairly confused as it was.
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 job of enlarging the Corps by the addition of two phony tank battalions of the 6th Armored Division and replacing one of the real 2nd Inf Div field artillery battalions with three "flash" batteries.
Simulated supply dump in a courtyard near Anrath, Germany, in Operation VIERSEN (18-24 Mar 1945). Every vehicle in sight is a dummy except the jeep on the left. The decoys were moved around at night.
A British sister unit exhibits some of its inflated tanks. These were admirable reproductions but could not be assembled as quickly as the U.S. models.
It was reasoned that since the Germans had been giving up fairly readily, they might capitulate again if faced by a sizeable corps. But the estimate of the enemy strength and determination was way off. Instead of 21,000 troops, Von Ramcke had 38,000 and instead of surrendering, he fought hard for 27 days.
The BREST task force left Le Fremondre on 20 August. It closed in a bivouac area near Lesneven the next day after a trip of 190 miles. The unit then divided into three deceptive forces: X, Y, and Z but maintained a base camp near Lesneven. The notional 15th Tank Battalion was played by "X" in the area of the 9th Regt 2nd Inf Div. The notional 69th Tank Battalion was played by "Z" in the area of the 23rd Regt 29th Inf Div. Both "X" and "Z" had tank companies of the real 709th Tank Battalion to act as a nucleus for their notional tank battalions. The rest of the picture was filled in by dummies, spoof radio, special effects and sonic. The deception was superb but, unhappily, "X" deceived the enemy into believing that the tanks were going to attack from exactly where they did. The S-2 of the 9th Inf Regt reported that the enemy installed from 20 to 50 more anti-tank guns after the "X" operation, When he VIII Corps finally attacked on 25 August, Co D, 709th Tank Battalion met very heavy resistance in front of the "X" area prior to crossing the line of departure.
Deception experts were agreed that this was poor use of deception, In that Co D, 709th Tank Battalion was placed opposite the best ridge line for a tank attack into Brest, it would have been much wiser to: (1) have employed deception elsewhere to draw enemy antitank defenses away from this ridge line, or (2) have cancelled the attack of Co D, 709th.
Operation Brest was notable for the 23rd ‘s first employment of sonic and artillery "flash" deception. Five sonic half-tracks were used by each of the two notional tank battalions. On the nights of 23, 24 and 25 Aug, within 500 yards of the enemy, they projected the noises of tanks approaching, "harboring" and withdrawing. Friendly troops a mile away were firmly convinced that tanks were assembling in heir vicinity. After the fall of Brest, 27 Sept, Von Ramcke said that he had held out pretty well against three infantry and one armored division.
The dummy flash batteries were located 600-800 yards in front of the 37th Field Artillery Battalion (105 How). They were installed to draw off enemy counterbattery fire. The phantom artillery operated for three nights (23-25 Aug) and received some 20-25 rounds of enemy fire. The real battalion received none up to the time the 23rd "X" force was withdrawn.
After the BREST operation, Col. Cyrus H. Searcy, VIII Corps Chief of Staff, wrote that although deception had achieved "limited apparent results," it was not through any fault of the 23rd. He stated that deception around Brest had been adversely affected by: "(1) the complete lack of enemy aerial observation, (2) the determined defensive tactics already decided upon by Von Ramcke, and (3) the prior appearance of strong armored elements in the Brest area." But, he added, "the work of these deception units is complete, thorough and correct to the smallest detail. It is believed that units of this type are of considerable value to the Army."
Col. Searcy might also have mentioned the risks involved in the use of deception and the extreme urgency of coordinating it with the combat plans. In addition to the spotlighting the attack of Co D, 709th Tank Battalion, the 23rd nearly gave away the jump-off time of the 29th Inf Div on the night 24-25 Aug. At the last minute, a loud sonic "program" was cancelled because it came 15 minutes before the infantry zero hour and would certainly have alerted the enemy.
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 when they have food and this region was the center of the fat Paris Black Market produce.
Torcé was the only town in all Europe that was formally "liberated" by the 23rd. It was an impressive ceremony. There was a crack American color guard from the Sig Co Sp, a band of French firemen, a pretty white column of schoolchildren with flowers and leading citizens. Col Reeder delivered a gallant speech, which ended with a rousing VIVE LA FRANCE! Torcéans were visibly moved and their rendition of "La Marseillaise" was all the more thrilling from four years of silence.
In Torcé, the 23rd tasted its first French onion soup with a floating piece of toast and cheese (au gratin). The Hotel du Commerce in Evron was the best place to get it. The first bottles of Cointreau were obtained here too, and quickly transformed by Maj Joseph P. Kelly into stunning "Sidecars" (1/3 COINTREAU, 1/3 COGNAC, 1/3 LEMON JUICE). Every one stopped throwing away the lemon powder packets in their K ration dinners. On 25 August all units spent a joyous night celebrating the fall of Paris. De Gaulle spoke in Le Mans on his way to the capitol. Franco-American relations had never been so good.
On 31 August, Col Reeder and four of his staff raced 210 miles east to the CP of THIRD ARMY near Troyes. They were called up to help in the design of the most grandiose deception job ever considered. For a while it looked like the 23rd was going to be pitted against the whole German NINETEENTH ARMY – single-handed.
Twelfth Army Group at this time was driving straight at Germany with two armies abreast: the FIRST on the left; the THIRD on the right. It was planned to persuade the enemy G-2 that the main allied effort would now be against the Pas de Calais (V-1 sites) area with a secondary assault at Dijon to link up with the U.S. SEVENTH army moving north from the Mediterranean. Meanwhile, the American Armies would actually continue rolling toward the Reich: the FIRST in the direction of Liege; the THIRD in the direction of METZ.
The 23rd was to be involved only in the secondary assault. It was supposed to portray a strong armored force moving southwards from Sens with the ultimate objective of seizing Dijon; sealing the Belfort gap; and arresting the German NINETEENTH ARMY. The Germans had about five divisions, one of them Panzer, and were withdrawing in good order. The deceptive columns of spoof radio, sonic and special effects would probably have been reinforced by some real combat strength.
On 1 Sept, Col Maddox, THIRD ARMY G-3, turned down the plan. He stated that it was too late to implement the ruse because real troops had already pushed so far towards Germany that the enemy could no longer be deceived as to allied intentions. The 23rd should have been ordered into position not later than 28-29 Aug.
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. And don’t think it wouldn’t. So his bivouac area is referred to as "Cognac Hill." The Blarney Theatre presented "GHOSTBREAKERS" with Abbot and Costello for four nights running but each night it looked different.
A week later, the command wheeled around and headed back for Paris. 12th Army group had set up in Versailles and it was important to be near them. Besides, Paris, the City of Light, beckoned with a long and graceful finger.
The CP in St. Germain was one of the best the 23rd ever had. The staff with Hq Co and the 406 Engrs tok over the MAISON d’ Ecole de la LEGION d’ HONNEUR, a nice palace which Napoleon had built for his wife, Josephine. The rest of the unit was quartered down the road in CAMP les LOGES, a French military base with tennis courts. It was the first time since Camp Kilmer, N.J., that the personnel could sleep under roofs.
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 and the prices did not become terrible until later. Cigarettes, D-ration chocolate and K-ration cheese made welcome gifts. Many friends were made. While driving down the Champs Elysees with a jeep-load of fashionable civilians, one had a tendency to think that the war was over.
Far from it. While allied support was diverted to the First Airborne Army’s unsuccessful attempt to slice into Germany, the First U.S. Army was impaled on the Siegfried Line and the Third U.S. Army halted on the Moselle. On 14 September, the 23rd Headquarters returned to the war. This time it was to play Operation BETTEMBOURG (15-22 Sept), a purely defensive role, in southern Luxembourg for XX Corps.
Corps Headquarters was in a mud hole just west of Metz. It was attacking the fortress city with two divisions from a bridgehead to the south while the 90th Infantry contained it from the west. This left only part of the 3rd Cavalry Group to fill the 50-mile gap to the north. Actually, it was nearly 70 miles between the 90th CP and the nearest V Corps division. The 23rd, in the guise of the 6th Armored Division, was thrown into this hole. Its mission was first to draw enemy pressure away from the Metz area, and second to reinforce the 43rd Cavalry Squadron. Later, the second mission became more important than the first, however, after the Germans apparently reacted strongly to the ruse. Originally, the operation was scheduled to last not more than 60 hours, but as a hollow checkmate to the newly arrived German 36th Infantry Division, the 23rd was held in position for seven days – until it was "relieved" by the U.S. 83rd Infantry.
During this period the real 6th Armored was moving east from Lorient. CCB had already reached the XII Corps area around Nancy so the 23rd assumed it was spotted and did not attempt to portray it. Therefore, the show was limited to CCA, CCR and 6th Armored Division Headquarters.
Four means of deception were employed: radio, dummies, sonic and special effects. The radio picture was considered the best to date. In involved 10 radios in five nets, three of which were real. Only 23 decoy items were emplaced because enemy aerial reconnaissance was nil and the danger of compromise by ground agents was high. The sonic company played the tanks in various movements for four nights. In these black moonless nights, the roaring columns were extremely realistic. During the day, the sonic half-tracks were used in Special Effects. Other visual measures included: shoulder patches, bumper markings, military police, vehicular activity (a platoon of light tanks was borrowed from the 43rd Cavalry Squadron), water points and a phony major general. A short history of the 6th Armored was given all the men and they were sent into nearby towns for church, showers and recreation. There was more than one shifty-eyed civilian observed photographing bumpers, taking notes and asking more than friendly questions.
Only half of the command was used in this operation. The rest of the unit stayed in St. Germain until 20 September and then moved up to Verdun. It was felt that this personnel could have been used to better advantage at Bettembourg and thereafter no major operation was performed at less than full strength. Despite this and the fact that XX Corps prolonged the operation longer than a ruse normally could be sustained, BETTEMBOURG is believed to have been a success. It might be held partially responsible for the German nickname for the real 6th Armored Division – the "Phantom Division."
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 wine glasses rang like bells. Mme Nestgen, a splendid cook, was engaged together with a fireman and two upstairs maids. Headquarters Company and the 3132nd were billeted in the Hollerich School and the Engineers and Signal Company took over a big seminary full of atrocious Nazi murals. It began to look like the 23rd was bedding down for the winter.
About a week later, the 23rd was called on again. As the front was reshuffled and U.S. striking power moved north, the 23rd could be employed to advantage. In this case, the 5th Armored Division, which liberated Luxembourg early in September, was being pulled 60 miles north to the area around Malmedy, Belgium. In Operation WILTZ 4-10 October, the 23rd attempted to "cover" the movement of this division.
The original plan was to cover the 5th Armored completely. That is to say: permit the entire division to rumble 60 miles undetected and persuade the German G-2 that it was still in the same old area and had never moved at all. In order to have done this, it would have been necessary for the division to "blackout" thoroughly (remove all visual means of identification) and go north by infiltration at night. Unfortunately, it was impossible to secure such camouflage cooperation at this time. The division did remove its bumper markings but 5th Armored shoulder patches were still obvious and the huge, clanking columns blocked the roads in full daylight.
So the 23rd decided to ride with the punch and admit that the 5th Armored had moved but not as far as it actually had. The 23rd notional CCA set up in the vicinity of Malscheid, Belgium, which was about 20 miles less north than the real CCA. The notional CCB and Div Hq established their CPs near Wiltz, Luxembourg, or about 35 miles less north than their real counterparts.
In Operation Wiltz, deception relied mainly on spook radio and special effects. No dummies and very little sonic were used. The signal picture employed 17 radios over an area of 1,000 square miles. This cover operation was notable for an advance in deceptive radio technique. Since the 5th Armored radios were active in the old area, the 23rd radios began "infiltrating" into the real nets two days before the actual operation began. This meant that 23rd radios had enough time to be briefed thoroughly by the real 5th Armored operators and gradually take over the operation of the nets. The transition from real to spook was therefore smooth and the enemy radio intelligence should have had a hard time detecting it. Naturally, the real 5th Armored moved north under radio silence while the 23rd used its call signs, frequencies, cryptographic systems and distinctive traits.
The big lesson relearned in WILTZ was the absolute necessity for coordinating deceptive efforts with the actions of the covered unit. Because of the unconcealed movement of the 5th Armored Division, the chances for success of this operation were greatly endangered. (As the 2nd Armored did in ELEPHANT back in July.)
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 company of armored infantry and a battery of armored artillery. The action would have been completed in one night and the real 5th Armored attack was to have jumped off the following morning from a concealed position further south. VASELINE was postponed over a number of days and finally called off altogether when the 5th Armored was deployed elsewhere.
JEEP marked as 5th Armd Div at an outpost along the road north of Wiltz, Belgium. This was during Operation WILTZ (4-10 Oct 1944) and it was just beginning to get cold.
Note special 79th Cross of Lorraine insignia on JEEP parked in Anrath, Germany. Catch the white flags hanging from the windows, too, in Operation VIERSEN (18-24 Mar 1945).
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." The 23rd was destined to play a distant hand in the grinding autumn operation to seize control of the Roer River east of Aachen. At least it was supposed to make it easier for the 4th Infantry Division to participate in this operation.
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. The 23rd’s objective was to cover the northward movement of the 4th Infantry Division by simulating the division (less one RCT) in the rest camp at Elsenborn barracks.
Since the 23rd was involved in two other simultaneous jobs, only one third of the command took part in ELSENBORN. No dummies or sonic were used. It was purely a radio and special effects show. 23rd radios began to infiltrate into the 4th Infantry nets just as in Operation WILTZ while the 4th was still holding part of the front. For over a week, the 23rd radios and operators handled all of the 4th’s transmissions. It was ample time for the 23rd radios to become identified as the 4th.
When the 9th Infantry was resting at Elsenborn it was instructed by V Corps (prompted by the 23rd) to take a three-day radio exercise – otherwise, its radios would naturally have been silent. This established a precedent and enabled the phony 4th to take the same Corps-directed exercise. Every afternoon from 8-11 November, 23rd radios, which had been spotted as the 4th Infantry by the German Signal Intelligence, blared forth from Elsenborn. One hundred operators and 22 transmitters were engaged in this deception.
The rest of the play was filled out by the Special Effects section whose road signs were especially effective. As far as the U.S. Army was concerned, everyone thought the 4th was resting in Elsenborn barracks – even officers of the real division were sucked into the phony CP and stared blankly around at the unfamiliar faces. The first snow of 1944 made vehicular movement difficult but 4-X bumpers and MPs were spread liberally around the neighborhood.
This operation was especially notable for the cooperation given by both V Corps and the 4th Infantry. It was a model in this respect. The division signal section made the 23rd radio infiltration very easy and originated, sustaining traffic in order to keep the nets alive. Before moving, the division blacked out thoroughly by erasing all visual evidences and then infiltrated north on secondary roads at night. V Corps, too, did everything that the 23rd thought necessary to make ELSENBORN a success. And when the 4th finally jumped off into the terrible woods of Hurtgen, it is said that the enemy was surprised by their presence. In fact, a captured German overlay was supposed to have placed them in Elsenborn.
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 last moment, however, the Commanding General of the 95th Division decided against the use of sonic because he decided to build a real bridge at Ukange and did not want to call his shot in advance. Therefore, CASANOVA was limited to Special Effects alone. It merely splattered the Ukage area with 90th division atmosphere. No dummies, sonic or radio were used.
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. One battalion had a battery of captured German 88s. The Dallas battalions were built around the gun batteries and expanded to regular size by the addition of rubber dummies and flash devices. In all, the XX Corps supplied over 500 men and 12 guns to replace 2,230 men and 48 guns. The 23rd taskforce consisted of 195 men, 36 dummies and art flashes.
JEEP parading as part of 4th Armd. Div. in Operation L'EGLISE (10-15 Jan 1945). The snow-packed ground is in Habay la Vieille, Belgium, which served as the administrative CP during this operation.
Whitewashed JEEP acting as a member of the 95th Inf Div in Operation LANDONVILLE (28 Jan - 2 Feb 1945) east of Metz, France
Applying the stencil bumper markings to a JEEP in Operation METZ-2 (6-9 Jan 1945). Paint is especially hard to use in cold weather and, at this time, it was freezing.
The same tempo of harassing fire was maintained as before. Mock flashes were synchronized with the fire orders to give the effect of battalion concentrations. Patrolling and adjustment of fire by liaison planes was continued. Real Corps units departed secretly and at night. DALLAS used no sonic and no radio deception.
There is no positive evidence that the Germans were fooled by DALLAS, but, as usual, there were plenty of Americans who were completely hoodwinked.
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 he shot 2,741,523 feet of film of 69,716 fellow soldiers during his tour in the ETO. This amount of entertainment could run for 679 continuous hours or the entire month of February day and night. Berry maintained his BLARNEY THEATRE in eight different CPs across Europe and toward the end of the war he also had a "mobile unit," which played anywhere.
However, it was not through lack of trying that the 23rd was twiddling its thumbs. On 15 November the command started planning what turned out to be the most embarrassing operation of the war.
For a long time, the Luxembourg sector was the dullest part of the Western front. It was held lightly by VIII Corps and used primarily as a rest area for tired divisions or an orientation area for new divisions. Over a period of a few weeks, the 2nd, 8th and 83rd Infantry Divisions were replaced by the 9th Armored and 106th Infantry (brand-new) and the 28th and 4th, both weak from the Forest of Hurtgen. On the other side of the border, the Germans seemed to be doing the same thing. They would bring in a baby-fresh Volksgrenadier division or a pea-green "Battle Group," permit them to enjoy a short course of leisurely combat and then move them either north or south into the steaming cauldrons of the Roer or Saar. The American High Command did not like to see the fresh German troops being trained in an deployed from such a rest sector so steps were taken to prevent the enemy from moving its units around at will.
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.
Operation KOBLENZ was beautifully organized in everything but the G-2 point of view. While the 23rd thought they were waving a red flag at a sucking calf, a Nazi bull was preparing to charge. Instead of Luxembourg being the dullest sector with school troops and resting veterans, it soon hit the headlines of the world when two raging Panzer Armies drove into the "bulge." This is what was so embarrassing.
The 23rd did not handle Operation KOBLENZ alone. It acted in a supervisory capacity for VIII Corps and, of course, supplied its skilled deceptive units. But the best part of the operation was the fact that Corps actually drew up plans to attack through Trier to Koblenz. Preliminary air bombardment was to have been started 9 December and last for five days. Corps artillery moved some units into support position using assumed names. Real infantry patrolling was to have been intensified and on 13 December a feint made by the 28th Infantry Division. Engineer and Ordnance dumps were to have moved as if in a "buildup." Propaganda, press and counter-agents were to spread the word. The 23rd would supply an extra "division."
The guise of the 23rd was changed four times: from the 9th to the 78th to the 106th to the 75th. Each time a name was decided upon, the operation was postponed and the real division appeared in person somewhere else along the front. The 9th stayed around Elsenborn; the 78th went into the Hurtgen Forest; and the ill-fated 106th took over St. Vith. The 75th was finally chosen because it was moving from England to France and the enemy probably did not know its exact location. A 23rd Liaison Officer was, therefore, flown to England to "type" the 75th (i.e., secure SOIs, itinerary, shoulder patches and specifications for other special effects.)
On 7 December, Lt. Col Schroeder of the 23rd, acting as billeting officer for the "75th" Infantry, reported to the Town Major (sic) and arranged for division billets east and northeast of Luxembourg. (Sector then held by the 4th Infantry Division.) On this same date, 23rd "CT" and unit commanders reconnoitered their assigned areas preparatory to bringing in troops, The phony 75th moved in over a three-day period beginning 9 December. This was accomplished by infiltrating unmarked 23rd vehicles into a hidden transit area west of Arlon, Belgium, where signs, bumpers and insignia were supplied. The vehicles then moved out in "75th" convoys. These convoy movements were reported to German Signal Intelligence in SLIDEX (weakest of codes) by 23rd traffic control radios spotted along the way and as far back as Sedan. Traffic was augmented at night by use of sonic deception.
Pointed threateningly at Metz is a rubber 155 in Operation DALLAS (2-10 Nov 1944). Flash simulators were shot off nearby.
Dug in and camouflaged near Jarny, France, a decoy 105mm how. This item could be zipped from the bag, inflated and in position in less than 12 minutes.
A battery of 105mm hows are drawn out of the woods east of Luxembourg for firing. Note the rubber tubing which was the basis for all the dummy construction.
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 KOBLENZ. In an evacuation hospital a few days after the German counteroffensive began, a soldier from the 4th Infantry was heard to remark: "I’d like to get my hands on those elusive bastards of the 75th." Also reported was a PW statement from the 4th Infantry 12th Regiment (which held Echternacht) to the effect that the German thought he had been captured by the 75th Infantry Division.
Operation KOBLENZ (Phase II) was scheduled to begin 21 December using practically the same scenario as Phase I but playing slightly to the north. The 23rd was destined to act in its advisory role and also to impersonate the 76th Infantry Division – which, incidentally, reported into this exact location five weeks later. Although no formal cancellation of Phase II was ever made, it soon became obvious that it would never be attempted – especially after the 23rd Liaison Officer with VIII Corps lost his trailer in Bastogne.
On December 16th, the German counterattack was launched after the 23rd had returned to its base in Luxembourg. Then, as the official chronology states in terse, unexcited prose: "Organization alerted, documents and records placed in vehicles under guard for immediate departure. Rubber items and special equipment prepared for fire. Guard doubled. Machine gun nests set up for defense of sector surrounding billets. Attacked by air; 23rd gunners posted on roofs fired at enemy planes during entire night." What the official report leaves out is the enthusiasm with which those guns were fired. It was the first and last time they were to have been shot at the enemy.
The danger to Luxembourg City was not great enough to force the retreat of the 23rd but the arrival of thousands of fighting reinforcements necessitated the evacuation of all 23rd units. By 21 December, the city housed four major headquarters: 12th Army Group PAC; General Patton’s Third Army, XII Corps and the 80th Infantry Division. The 4th Infantry was less than a mile outside of town. On this date the 23rd columns were streaming ignominiously westward to some cold, dirty flophouse barracks in Doncourt near Longuyon, France. Only 23rd headquarters remained behind and they decided to stick it out in the Italian Legation with Mme Nestgen.
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 by spoof radio alone, the presence of the 80th Infantry and 4th Armored Divisions slightly northeast of Luxembourg and in position to forestall any German plans of extending their counterattack southwest through Echternach. At the same time the real 80th was preparing to jump off due north of Luxembourg and the 4th Armored was getting ready to roll up from Arlon to effect its historical juncture with the 101st Airborne in Bastogne.
Operation KODAK was a big (29 sets) loose radio show. The desired result may have been achieved because plenty of enticingly insecure traffic was put on the air. The brevity of the operation and the confused situation made it impractical to produce a polished reproduction of the 4th or 80th. Therefore, no sonic, dummies or special effects were used.
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 ghosts of other unhappy soldiers. That makes it much too crowded.
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, shoulder patches, signs and vehicular traffic helped to fill out the picture. A total of 50 signs were posted around town. The results of the operation are, of course, unknown but the usual number of friendly troops was deceived without harmful results.
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.
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 drive against the Nazi bulge at Bastogne. The 94th Infantry was rushing over from Lorient to take its place but it took like it would be a little late. The 23rd’s mission as to "hold" (by spoof radio alone) the 90th in its old location until the 94th was securely in position – and also to bring the "90th" south to a reserve area in Metz.
Eleven 23rd radios replaced the existing 90th network for three to 18 hours but there was no message traffic and only the most infrequent call-ups. It is doubtful if the hard-pressed German Signal Intelligence was able or willing to allot receivers to these practically inoperable nets. It was an unremunerative use of radios for deception.
In Metz the rest of the command set up the normal SOP on division special effects. Shoulders, bumpers and signs advertised the presence of the 90th throughout the area. It was very cold and the roads were slick with packed snow but 23rd men and vehicles were kept out of doors during most of the daylight hours. No sonic, dummies or radio were used in Metz. In spite of the fact that one 90th Regiment had pulled out without obliterating its identity, the 12th Army Group G-2 spotlighted the secret move as a model and called it a complete success. The 90th did do a splendid job in the Bulge (It cut off an entire Nazi paratroop regiment on the first day). But the 23rd hesitates to take much credit for it.
As soon as METZ-2 was completed, 23rd deception machinery was set in motion to do the same job for the 94th Infantry Division, which was going to be relieved by the Bulge-tired 26th. By the time the 94th network was taken over by the 23rd radios, however, the situation had become less critical and METZ-3 was called off.
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 was not given him so the plumbing was very erratic.
Two "MP"s from the 406th Combat engineers stand in front of the 75th CP in Operation KOBLENZ (6-14 Dec 1944) near Sandweiler, Luxembourg.
Even fake MPs have to keep their feet warm. Here two MPs from the 23rd Hq direct traffic, in Operation KOBLENZ. Note battalion road sign in the background.
Code signs were carefully preserved in all operations. "Custom" was the code word for the 30th Inv Div and it was displayed with shoulder patches and bumper markings. If someone had tapped the wire, they would have heard "custom" code words on there too.
At this time, the 4th Armored Division fighting with the 101st Airborne Division at Bastogne was being withdrawn. It was to be used in a new blow east of Luxembourg. The effectiveness of this attack was going to be increased by making this move under secret blackout and covering the departure with the 23rd.
By radio and special effects, the notional 4th Armored was brought back from Bastogne into VIII Corps reserve in the vicinity of L’Eglise, Belgium. No dummies or sonic were used. They really were not needed. The region was swarming with tanks from four armored divisions: 4th (blacked out). 6th, 10th and 11th. It was frightfully cold but the snow was lovelier than the finest Belgian lace. Everyone was snugly billeted. The fictional headquarters was especially comfortable in a home, which later turned out to belong to a notorious collaborator. He kept the fires high and served hot chocolate every night.
The 4th Armored did not attack, however, until March when it broke through to the Rhine. Until that time, it remained under a security blackout and its location was not even carried in the 12th Army Group G-3 periodic. The 23rd maintained its ruse for a few days and then returned to its new base camp in Briey. The planning staff officers went back to their Italian Legation in Luxembourg.
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 sound play. From 0025 to 0500 on a little road 1500 yards from the river, the sonic vehicles raced up and down broadcasting the arrival of tank forces, A decided increase in enemy artillery fire was received in this section on the following morning but the 3132nd had slipped back to Briey before daylight.
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 be. The weather continued icy cold and snow lay round about: deep, crisp and even.
STEINSEL was a simple matter of infiltrating spoof radios into the 4th Division network beginning two days before the operation began. It was made easier due to the fact that 23rd operators had already worked with the 4th Division and were familiar with its procedure.
In the big picture, the 4th Infantry was going to be pulled out of the line Diekirch-Echternach to swing north for a surprise punch into Houffalize. By radio, the 23rd was to show a notional 4th in XII Corps reserve near Luxembourg until the real 4th jumped off. Operation STEINSEL was probably aided by the simultaneous cross-movements of many divisions in that general area. In addition to the secret 4th, the 76th Infantry under a security blackout had just replaced the 87th on the right flank; the 80th had come down to relive the 4th; a little further west the 26th had withdrawn to make a secret move to XX Corps and the 95th was making a similar move northwards. In all, four divisions were tearing around with their bumper markings and shoulder patches removed.
Unfortunately, the anti-visual discipline of the 4th was not as good as it had been in ELSENBORN. The Advance Party reconnoitered the Houffalize area in full 4-X display and there were a few untouched bumpers and shoulders in the daylight convoys. Naturally, it does not take many oversights like these to compromise the secret movement of a division.
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 and special effects. Both real divisions obliterated all identifying marks and insignia during the relief.
The fake CP of 95th was in the gloomiest chateau in all Lorraine. Luckily, however, someone received a bottle of Southern Comfort from home and the arctic weather finally broke on 1 February. The ride back to the base camp in Briey was slushy but almost balmy. The most popular food during this operation was a bar of D-ration heated to fudge-like consistency over a pot-bellied stove.
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 in Grevenmacher on the night of 1-2 February. The following night it did the same thing in Wormeldingen. During the third night it broadcast random tank movements around both areas and then returned to Briey.
Again the sonic demonstration was greatly assisted by real diversionary tactics of the 2nd Cavalry Group. The Germans reacted to the combined deceptive effort by a generous use of flares, increase in mortar and artillery fire and low-flying reconnaissance planes.
The decoy FA operation was not as profitable. This half of WHIPSAW centered around Saarlautern 30 miles south of the sonic show. Rubber dummies and camouflage nets were installed in positions formerly occupied by real U.S. batteries. No real guns or flashes were employed as in Operation DALLAS. It was just a static representation of two battalions of field artillery. Insofar as enemy aerial reconnaissance was nil, the results of this part of the operation are believed to be negligible.
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 purpose the 3132nd simulated by sound the concentration of American armor in the vicinity of Merzig some 15 miles to the southeast.
Just as the 2nd Cavalry Group had done in FLAXWEILER and WHIPSAW, the 3rd Cavalry Group did in MERZIG. The Cavalry diversionary effort included a real tank buildup, increased fire and a smokescreen. Naturally, this flesh and blood deception materially assisted the more gossamer contribution of the 23rd unit. No one ever knew exactly what happened to the 11th Panzer but the enemy certainly acted up locally. During the two nights of operation, 135 rounds of 80 mm mortar and 28 rounds of artillery fire exploded in the vicinity. Also, enemy planes flew over on the hour every hour of darkness dropping flares. The MERZIG commander was sorry he did not have rubber tanks to simulate a combat command in march column along the road.
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.
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 was going to happen but the 23rd was supposed to deceive the enemy into believing that the 94th and 26th were merely exchanging sectors. The freshman 65th was to be hid under the veteran mantle of the 94th. The 65th infantrymen were to wear 94th shoulder patches; the 65th vehicles were to be marked 94-X; spoof radios, which had infiltrated into the 94th nets were to move down and play in the 65th area. Meanwhile, the real 94th was to go into Corps reserve and get a good rest.
What actually happened was something else again. When the operation was only partially complete, the Germans took advantage of the unstable situation and attacked. This threw LOCHINVAR into a small tailspin. The vulnerable 94th, half in and half out of the line, returned to its original position. Two 23rd spoof radios were damaged by shellfire and two others were cut off by the enemy for about 48 hours. The 65th continued to relieve the 26th, not, however, wearing the 94th’s identity but under a security blackout. The visual evidences of the other two divisions were also obliterated.
The 23rd furnished only radios and advice in this operation. No dummies, sonic or special effects were employed. No division was simulated. The effects of this double-dealing ruse were never revealed but if the enemy was half as confused as we were, LOCHINVAR was a glorious success.
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 and Saarburg, Germany. To draw attention away from it, the 23rd was to show a buildup further south opposite Saarlautern. For this purpose, the 80th Infantry Division was simulated assembling in the rear of the 65th. On the morning of the real attack the 65th Div Arty was to put on a demonstration supplemented by 23rd rubber guns and artflashes. On the night of 12 March, the sonic unit played a tank program along the west bank of the river two miles north of Saarlautern. Spoof radio nets were set up on a division SOP but no traffic was carried. Special Effects duplicated all visual evidences of the 80th while the real division attacked on the morning of the 13th under a security blackout.
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 in XVI Corps zone, and furnish advice on the Army cover plan as well as technique of deception to Commanding General, XIII Corps."
VIERSEN was conceived, planned and coordinated by Lt Col Merrick H. Truly, 23rd liaison officer who was attached to the G-3 section of NINTH ARMY.
The beauty of this operation lay in three facts: (1) the contribution of the 23rd was only a part of a giant spectacle involving practically all of the real NINTH ARMY; (2) the 23rd had reached its highest state of efficiency and all of its deceptive strength was employed; (3) from all evidences, the operation was a success.
Late in February, the NINTH and FIRST ARMIES had finally broken across the Roer River to the Rhine. By an audacious dash, the FIRST ARMY then crossed the Rhine at Remagen but the NINTH ARMY was held on the river line. The NINTH had three corps, from north to south: XVI, XIII and XIX. The latter two were heaviest with three infantry and one armored division apiece. (XIII had the 30th, 84th and 102nd Infantry plus the 5th Armored. The XIX had the 29th, 79th and 83rd Infantry plus the 2nd Armored). However the XVI zone was the most advantageous for a river crossing so this was the corps that the NINTH chose for the Rhine assault of 23 March. Two crack infantry divisions, therefore, were taken from the other two corps and added to XVI's 35th Infantry, 75th Infantry and 8th Armored Divisions.
NINTH ARMY made every effort to conceal the fact that the Rhine attack was to be made by XVI Corps. From north to south, this is what was done by each of the three corps to conceal or exaggerate their intentions:
XVI: the assault buildup was done under the most absolute security. Divisions (30th and 79th) coming into the zone moved in darkness and remained visually obliterated. Artillery positions and engineer parks were either hidden or camouflaged. Artillery registration was done by battery fire on normal harassing missions.
XIII: prepared all evidences for a river-crossing operation, the maximum effect to be attained about 1 April. Corps and Division Artilleries stepped up fire and spread out installations by the addition of rubber dummies from the 23rd. Corps Engineers established new parks and paraded with bridging equipment. Preparations were supplemented by dummy items, installed and maintained by personnel from the 84th Infantry and 504th Engineer Camouflage Battalion. TD emplacements were constructed along the front similar in nature and number to XVI Corps. The AA was built up with sixty-four 40 mm and sixteen 90mm rubber guns furnished by the 23rd. On some nights on small pretexts the AA sent up fierce demonstrations of firepower which rivaled their activity on the Normandy beaches. Infantry patrolling was intensified to a point 50% greater than that done by XVI Corps. The two divisions (30th and 79th) which had actually transferred to XVI Corps, were notionally assembled in the XIII Corps zone by the 23rd Hq Sp Trs. Two battalions of real infantry (from the 84th and 102nd) were attached to each of the phony divisions to help fill out the picture.
XIX: Artillery leaving the corps zone (to support the XVI) was required to leave positions intact and well camouflaged. TD emplacements similar to XVI and XIII were installed along the front. The 83rd Infantry Division dropped back to the Maas River area vacated by the 30th in the rear of XIII Corps.
The Ninth Army air support given by XXIX TAC flew reconnaissance over the XIII zone on the same scale as over the XVI. Army medical installations gave the impression that the attack would take place in XIII Corps zone. Only one evacuation hospital was installed in the forward part of XVI Corps zone. A spoof Army Traffic Control net operated by the 23rd brought radio attention to the XIII Corps by reporting large vehicular movements in that area.
The 23rd’s notional divisions were brought up from the old areas and displayed to the east and west of Viersen. All means of deception were employed: sonic, dummies, radio and special effects. Each "division" had nearly 100 extra rubber vehicles – including five liaison planes. Aerial photos of these installations showed a remarkably authentic layout.
The real troops engaged in the Rhine Crossing were delighted with the success of the cover operation. The 30th G-2 said the U.S. attack came as a "complete surprise to the enemy with a consequent saving of American lives." The 79th G-2 captured a German overlay of the American Order of Battle just prior to the attack.
XVI: the assault build-up was done under the most absolute security. Divisions (30th and 79th) coming into the zone moved in darkness and remained visually obliterated. Artillery positions and engineer parks were either hidden or camouflaged. Artillery registration was done by battery fire on normal harassing missions.
XIII: prepared all evidences for a river crossing operation, the maximum effect to be attained about 1 April. Corps and Division Artilleries stepped up fire and spread out installations by the addition of rubber dummies from the 23rd. Corps Engineers established new parks and paraded with bridging equipment. Preparations were supplemented by dummy items, installed and maintained by personnel from the 84th Infantry and 604th Engineer Camouflage Battalion. TD emplacements were constructed along the front similar in nature and number to XVI Corps. The AA was built up with sixty-four 40mm and sixteen 90mm rubber guns furnished by the 23rd. On some nights on small pretexts the AA sent up fierce demonstrations of firepower which rivaled their activity on the Normandy beaches. Infantry patrolling was intensified to a point 50% greater than that done by XVI Corps. The two divisions (30th and 79th) which had actually transferred to XVI Corps, were notionally assembled in the XIII Corps zone by the 23rd Hq Sp Trs. Two battalions of real infantry (from the 84th and 102nd) were attached to each of the phony divisions to help fill out the picture.
XIX: Artillery leaving the corps zone (to support the XVI) was required to leave positions intact and well camouflaged. TD emplacements similar to XVI and XIII Corps were installed along the front. The 83rd Infantry Division dropped back to the Maas River area vacated by the 30th in the rear of XIII Corps.
The NINTH ARMY air support given by XXIX TAC flew reconnaissance over the XIII zone on the same scale as over the XVI. Army medical installations gave the impression that the attack would take place in XIII Corps zone. Only one evacuation hospital was installed in the forward part of XVI Corps zone. A spoof Army Traffic Control Net operated by the 23rd brought radio attention to the XIII Corps by reporting large vehicular movements in that area.
The 23rd's notional divisions were brought up from the old areas and displayed to the east and west of Viersen. All means of deception were employed: sonic, dummies, radio and special effects. Each "division" had nearly 400 extra rubber vehicles - including five liaison planes. Aerial photos of these installations showed a remarkably authentic layout.
With real troops engaged in the Rhine Crossing were delighted with the success of the cover operation. The 30th G-2 said the U.S. attack came as a "complete surprise to the enemy with a consequent saving of American lives." The 79th G-2 captured a German overlay of the American Order of Battle just prior to the attack.
It had the 79th placed approximately where the 23rd had portrayed it and had lost the 30th altogether. The NINTH ARMY G-2 stated that the Germans expected the main allied effort to be made north of Wesel with a minor crossing opposite Krefeld. "There is no doubt," he said "that Operation VIERSEN materially assisted in deceiving the enemy with regard to the real dispositions and intentions of this Army."
On 29 March, Lt. Gen. Simpson formally commended the 23rd for its part in the Rhine River campaign:
NINTH UNITED STATES ARMY
29 March 1945.
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 a special project, which was an important part of the operation. The careful planning, minute attention to detail, and diligent execution of the tasks to be accomplished by the personnel of the organization reflect great credit on this unit.
3. I desire to commend the officers and men of the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, Twelfth Army Group, for their fine work and to express my appreciation for a job well done.
/ s / t / W.H. SIMPSON
Lt. Gen, U.S. Army
With the Rhine crossed, there was no more need for deception. The American Armies were slicing up Germany at will and the 23rd would only have been in the way. After 25 March, therefore, the 23rd was practically out of the war. However, an admirable situation map was kept by Capt. Nelson Hotchkiss, Ass’t S-2, in Briey so the command did not lose touch with the fighting units altogether.
The 23rd had been informed as early as January that it would probably go to the Pacific Theatre. Many people wondered how deception would fare in the "island-hopping" war but as long as the unit went via a 30-day furlough in the States and not by way of the Suez, no one could complain very much. After Operation VIERSEN, 12th Army Group told the War Department that the 23rd was no longer needed in the ETO. This meant that the 23rd would be ordered to ship out any day and the fateful telegram was awaited with great expectation.
In the meantime, the 23rd offered their services in any capacity to 12th Army Group. They should have known that one never volunteers for anything in the Army. The command was immediately split to the four winds and given some very strange assignments. Some of the Signal Company went to FIRST ARMY to act as a monitoring unit for the Corps. It nearly reached Czechoslovakia. The wire platoon worked for THIRD ARMY recovering previous "spiral-4." In five weeks this energetic platoon rolled up 800 miles of wire worth $500 per mile, saving $400,000 tax-paying dollars. Another part of the Signal Company served in the 12th Army Group code room and on May 7 "broke" the V-E announcement from General Eisenhower.
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. Naturally, no one, except a man who had been caught in the Mississippi flood of 1937, had ever come close to experiencing such a job before. The Mississippi refugees all spoke English, however, and were comforted by a sympathetic countryside. The DPs were divided into 26 foreign nationalities – many who hated each other – and all were feared and despised by the native Germans.
Five swarming camps in the Saar-Palatinate were immediately taken over by 23rd units: Baumholder (406th), Trier (603rd), Bitburg (603rd), Wittlich (603rd) and Le Bach (3132nd). The 23rd staff took over the Hotel Hermes in Idar-Oberstein which was also the headquarters of XXIII Corps. Fortunately, Mme Nestgen was smuggled across the Luxembourg border so the cuisine at the Hermes continued to be as good as that at the Italian Legation.
A phony MP of the 95th in Operation LANDONVILLE (28 Jan-2 Feb 45). These "MPs" were immaculately attired and coached. They obviously had to be quick-witted because they were asked many questions.
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 13 camps; (2) consolidating the nationalities by camps and thereby eliminating one big excuse for riots; (3) entertaining a host of temperamental repatriation officers; (4) demonstrating the uses of the latrine to approximately 43,000 middle Europeans.
The rest of the story is purely administrative and joyful – except perhaps for a dreary period on top of some hills outside of Idar- Oberstein. Here the 23rd units assembled late in May to make their Preparation for Overseas Movement (POM). Everyone slept in tents for the first time since Operation CASANOVA of the previous fall. The rain, purges, inspections, and training schedules could have been quite agonizing if the glorious sunlight of HOME! had not peeked through every dark cloud.
It took about three days for the happy 23rd convoys to motor from Idar-Oberstein to the staging area near Rouen. The distance was 350 miles and France never looked so beautiful. The wheat was ripe and mixed with poppies and blue-bells. To men dizzy with thoughts of home, every field could have been a rippling flag – or the neon lights of Broadway, a colorful county fair, a Mardi-gras, or a whirling rodeo in Flagstaff, Arizona.
The 23rd rolled into Camp Twenty Grand on 16 June. It was a rocky place but there was a lovely view of the Seine. Showdown inspections were required every 30 minutes or so. People who carried more than one wine gallon of liquor had to declare it but no one knew how much a "wine gallon" was. One man brought back a footlocker of champagne. A quantity of "liberated" goods was packed. This consisted mostly of worthless bric-a-brac and battle souvenirs that would cause quite a stir for the first few days at home but would eventually rot away in cellars and attics.
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. The ship’s paper, THE ERNST ENQUIRER, printed a nice vague history of the 23rd which violated none of the TOP SECET security classification but would serve to quiet the curious folks at home during the 30-day furloughs.
Huge dummy 155mm gun under a camouflage net. These items are easily blown up and hold their shape for long periods of time if properly attended.
Dummy 105 how in an emplacement recently evacuated by a Nazi shooting iron. Note this made the "trash" and debris much harder to reproduce because it was already ... Operation DALLAS (2-10 Nov 44)
Rubber artillery position dug by artillerymen near Krefeld, Germany. Note empty shell cases which sparkled in the sun. Operation VIERSEN (18-24 Mar 45)
June 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.
The itinerary of the 23rd sounds like a roll call of famous place names, although modest members of this unit will be the first to admit that they were not entirely responsible for publicizing those once-quiet little towns. They watched the liberation of Cherbourg, drove thru the rubble of St. Lo, could have been cut off by the German counter-attack at Mortain, helped put the squeeze on Von Ramcke at Brest, took the cheers and kisses of frenzied Parisiens, were second into Luxembourg after the 5th Armored Division, shared the cold snows south of Bastogne with the 4th Armored Division (but don’t let a 23rder tell you he relieved the 101st Airborne!), hung around the dreary Saarland with XX Corps, gaped as the 17th A/B flew over to secure a bridgehead on the lower Rhine. One detachment got as far as Pollwitz, a few miles from Czechoslovakia.
Almost any man in this peripatetic unit can toast in six different languages, and talk knowingly of the ETO campaign from the beaches to the Elbe.
Naturally, there have been some exciting moments. For instance, last summer one column was temporarily mislaid near Lorient; or when on 16 Dec the cooks and KPs of the 4th Infantry Division held the Germans just east of Luxembourg’s 23rd Hq; or when the Displaced Persons rioted at Trier because one nationality thought another nationality was borrowing its water while actually stealing its women.
After a month or so mouthing such sweet place names as Boston, New York, Denver, Phoenix and Kalamazoo, the 23rd Hq Sp Trps will possibly down a series of Oriental sourballs including Chofu, Uchidonari, Tomigusuku, Hakonegasaki and Fuchu. Igala desu ka!
Capt Ed Cowardin, the Old Codger from Virginia, got up early in the morning of 2 July to check the outer buoys of Hampton Roads. The GENERAL O.H. ERNST slid by them easily and heaved to for a while off Fortress Monroe. The U.S. shoreline looked like something one could eat. All of the buildings were clean and whole. There were shiny cars on the highways. The harbor did not wear bunting or toot a welcome but we could feel the celebration in our hearts.
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 by most as a gigantic telephone booth. Nearly everyone waited for hours to hear that wonderful gasp of joy on the other end of the wire. The initial processing was quick and involved mostly changing ODs for suntans. It was hot as a furnace but anyone who complained was proffered a trip to cool, fascinating Germany. Everyone stayed.
On 3 July, various groups began movement to reception centers all over the country. The trains were day coaches but again, few cared. Thirty-day leaves and furloughs were called "temporary duty for recuperation, rehabilitation and recovery." To most it was mostly reconversion. Japan and the Pacific looked further than the moon.
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 V-J parade. They looked like the toughest of veteran trips because most of them had hangovers.
It now looked like a progressive program of peaceful Information and Education would be set in motion. However, the Army wheels grind slowly and the 23rd continued their POW training. The men were told that the "readiness date" was sometime in February and the groan that went up was awful to hear. But it was all a mistake. On 30 August, Army Ground Forces wrote SECOND ARMY that the 23rd was to be deactivated by 15 September. Its ashes were to be placed in a small Ming urn and eventually tossed into the China Sea.
On 10 September the 23rd Adjutant told your 87-pointed historian that the only thing that kept him from being released was the completion of this story. So now it’s done and tomorrow I will be a free man again.
Frederick E. Fox
Capt AUS Sig O. ret.
|CERISY (ELEPHANT) 1-4 Jul||40||350||4|
|BRITTANY 9-12 Aug||13||341||4|
|BREST 20-27 Aug||42||513||8|
|BETTEMBOURG 15-22 Sep||48||682||8|
|WILTZ 4-10 Oct||83||1023||7|
|DALLAS 2-10 Nov||16||179||9|
|ELSENBORN 3-12 Nov||36||431||10|
|CASANOVA 4-9 Nov||15||265||6|
|KOBLENZ 6-14 Dec||59||982||9|
|KODAK 22-23 Dec||11||205||2|
|METZ I 12-31 Dec||12||145||4|
|METZ II 6-9 Jan||83||1023||4|
|L'EGLISE 10-13 Jan||70||9000||4|
|FLAXWEILER 17-18 Jan||9||177||2|
|STEINSEL 27-29 Jan||4||72||3|
|LANDONVILLERS 28 Jan-2 Feb||83||1023||6|
|WHIPSAW 1-4 Feb||40||650||4|
|MERZIG 13-14 Feb||9||137||2|
|LOCHINVAR 1-11 Mar||4||100||11|
|BOUZONVILLE 11-13 Mar||83||1023||3|
|VIERSEN 18-24 Mar||830||1023||7|
|FULL STRENGTH c Off||80||1023|
A rubber M-4 tank guards a phony air strip in Operation VIERSEN. The decoy L-5s were so realistic that a real L-5 landed there one afternoon.
Two dummy jeeps parked by a bivouac area in Operation WILTZ (4-10 Oct 1944). Note car tracks in grass leading up to the rubber vehicle.