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Secret Soldiers: The Story of World War II's Heroic Army of Deception Hardcover – June 1, 2002

4.5 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Although it includes some U.S. Navy deception activities carried out by the late actor Douglas Fairbanks Jr., among others, novelist Philip Gerard's Secret Soldiers: The Story of World War II's Heroic Army of Deception concentrates on the WWII activities of the Army's 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, whose activities were kept secret for many years. The 23rd used sound effects, camouflage and radio to mislead the Germans about Allied plans and conceal Allied troop movements during the liberation of France and the invasion of Germany in 1944-1945. Their story is told here through veteran recollections, memoirs and published works, and includes anecdotes of army life and combat.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Theater designers, sound technicians, painters--these are not at first glance the kind of vocations that bring to mind war heroics until one considers their record of deception in war. One operation famously fooled the Germans about where D-Day would land; less well known are the doings of the unit Gerard has brought to light. In this originally researched saga of the Twenty-third Headquarters Special Troops, Gerard explains that actor Douglas Fairbanks Jr. lobbied to have a deception unit created. Press flack Hilton Howell Railey was appointed to assemble the troops, and he picked creative people (including future fashion plate Bill Blass) attuned to visuals vital to deception. Once shipped to Europe, the Twenty-third, now under the command of a career officer, tried to perpetrate frauds on the Germans by posing either as fake divisions or as real divisions that were actually posted elsewhere. Gerard interviewed veterans and read their war papers in doing research for his book, and their personal experiences are the highlight of this work. Fresh material for the WWII shelf. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Dutton; 1st edition (June 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0525946640
  • ISBN-13: 978-0525946649
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.4 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #791,617 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By CB Bassity on August 24, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I generally have little interest in military stories, but this book is exceptional. I can't recommend it too highly. I had trouble working last week because my reading hours ran long.
The 23rd Headquarters Special Troops makes for a great story to begin with. This specialized and highly secret unit of guys put on "shows" throughout the Allied campaign from Normandy into Germany with inflatable tanks, stereo broadcasts over the countryside of moving tanks and equipment (where nothing was moving but show-people), and pyrotechnic light shows -- all designed to cover up weak spots in the Allied line, tie up German divisions where they were ineffectual, and to draw attention away from actual troop movements.
But who do you round up to do such work? For camoufleurs you need artists, including a guy who's spent years studying how birds blend into their habitat; for producing "shows" you need scriptwriters and other show people. Fashion designer Bill Blass was involved. The antithesis of gung-ho Army grunts became a unit that saved untold numbers of lives. The interplay of contrasting styles between unconventional creative artists and career Army officers is captivating. Yet, for the most part, they all made it work. You get a sense of even the men themselves shaking their heads in wonder.
Philip Gerard's writerly craft brings much to the story. The book is arranged chronologically, introducing the various players and their training before following them to England and through the operations in Europe. Early on, certain readers might find some of the technical detail a bit much, but later when the action cranks up overseas we understand exactly what's going on and appreciate the careful preparation.
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Format: Hardcover
My last 40 months in the Army (1996 - 2000) were spent at Ft. Drum, New York. While there I soon learned that such well known divisions as the 45th Infantry Division and Patton's famous 4th Armored Division trained there before shipping out for combat in Europe. What I also learned about was a signal corp unit which did top secret or "hush-hush" work. Unfortunately there wasn't much else in the way of information. When I was there I heared that the surviving members of the unit had a reunion and that an author was researching for a book. I made a mental note to look for the book, but after a couple of years forgot.
Well this year for Fathers Day my seven year old daughter bought Secret Soldiers for me. It's a great read. It keeps your attention and shines a light on a part of the war effort that has been dark until recently. No these men did not engage the enemy in hand to hand combat, sieze a vital target or hold out for several days against overwhelming odds. What these men did is harder to measure in those terms. But their contributions were important in so many ways. This is a well researched book and also well written. Those two things don't always go together. The author goes technical just enough so one can understand exactly how the various operations worked and he also explains how these soldiers and their ruses could lead the Germans to deploying their forces where they shouldn't have.
If for no other reason this book should give one an appreciation for the pioneering efforts in developing speakers and tape recorders. One could argue this unti is the reason why we now have compact discs. But it should also give one a sense of appreciation for those soldiers who served in ways other then on the front line in a foxhole.
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Format: Paperback
I picked up this book expecting one thing, and got another. The Hardback version ~seems~ to promise an overall history of Deception Warfare in WWII, the most famous of which is probably "Fortitude" - the deception of Rommel into believing Patton would lead the D-Day forces to Calais, closely followed in general public awareness by the story of "The Man who Never Was".

Well, while these are indeed touched on, they're not dealt with in depth. What you get in its place, however, is admirable. The story of the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops is a great one - ESSENTIAL, I'd say, because it helps open your eyes to the activites of US Army "support" Units, which you must know to have a well rounded view of WW II.

As I've said in another review on the 3AD's WW II Maintenance Operations (Deathtraps), most books on the War in Europe give the view from the Foxhole or the View from HQ, with little said about the activities of other units, which were just as important to the success of the overall campaign.

The Good Points of this book:

- Needed light shown on a unfamiliar topic

- Great attention to the detail in portraying the individual work of the units of the 23rd(Camofleur ops with Dummy vehicles & Encampments, Sonic Operations, Radio Spoofing, etc), and how that work evolved and improved over the course of their operations

- Great attention to the personalities of the men who made up the unit. An unlikely mix of combat men, artists, showmen and techies who found a way to work together against the enemy and upon occasion, shortsighted leadership. Whoda' thunk Bill Blass or Douglas Fairbanks Jr. played such roles in WWII?
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