The Ghost Army
by James J. S. Johnson, J.D., Th.D. *
Sometimes the best defense is an offense, even when the “offense” is really a bold bluff. This tactic is valued in wartime, and when God uses this principle He deserves our appreciation.
America’s top-secret World War II “Ghost Army” used cleverness and technology to fool German forces by masking military vulnerabilities. Yet the main fakery they used wasn’t mere camouflage—the daring deception involved threat-reversal mimicry.
During September 1944, the Ghost Army masqueraded as a large force of “Super Sixth” Sherman (M4) tanks1 in order to intimidate a German Panzer division near the Moselle River.2 A high-stakes hoax, it employed inflatable rubber tanks, audio recordings broadcast by loudspeakers, and bogus radio transmissions. And the daring ploy worked!
Their mission was to put on a show, with the German Army as the audience. They were plugging a hole in General George Patton’s line by pretending to be the Sixth Armored Division, with all its tanks and might.
But the men of the Twenty-Third had no tanks…and precious little might….This cast of artists, designers, radio operators, and engineers was equipped instead with battalions of rubber dummies, a world-class collection of sound-effects records, and all the creativity the soldiers could muster.
They understood all too well that their own lives depended on the quality of the performance—if the Germans saw through their deception, they could attack and overrun the small, lightly armed unit....But thousands of lives were at stake as well. If the Germans realized how thinly held the sector was, they could break through and attack Patton from the rear.2
The Ghost Army’s main tactic did not use camouflage concealment tactics. Rather, its purposeful playacting was designed to be noticed—and to be misinterpreted as a viable threat. By the end of the war, it is estimated the Ghost Army saved between 15,000 and 30,000 American lives!
This kind of shrewd trickery, if successful, reverses the roles of attacker and target. The target fools the attacker into actually fearing the target—and the nervy bluff deters the attack. The boldness of the vulnerable target in feigning readiness to attack the attacker is a brilliant reversal of predator-prey roles, but only if the prey successfully fakes out the predator.
Such is ordinary life for the mourning dove (Zenaida macroura), which feeds on the ground and nests there or within shrubs, on buildings, or in trees—the same places where opportunistic and omnivorous rats, like Rattus rattus and Rattus norvegicus, roam for food. Consequently, dove eggs and hatchlings are sometimes vulnerable to prowling predatory rats.3
How can vulnerable mourning doves intimidate the neighborhood rats? God invented and installed a specialized acoustical mimicry that has benefitted countless doves generation after generation. Their doleful moanings (cooOOoo-woo-woo-woooo) sound sad to humans, like someone mourning. But to rats, that moaning sounds like an owl hooting4—and owls eat rodents!3
When the Ghost Army used threat-reversal mimicry it was truly ingenious—so we give credit where credit is due.5 But when mourning doves make noises like rat-snatching owls—practicing threat-reversal mimicry—God’s cleverness all too often goes unseen, unacknowledged, and unappreciated.
God’s creatorship is not a secret. Let’s give Him due credit for all of His cleverly made creatures, including gentle mourning doves, whose needs He has caringly provided for.
- “Super Sixth” refers to the U.S. Army’s 6th Armored Division.
- Beyer, R. and E. Sayles. 2015. The Ghost Army of World War II: How One Top-Secret Unit Deceived the Enemy with Inflatable Tanks, Sound Effects, and Other Audacious Fakery. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 10-11. The 23rd Headquarters Special Troops “Ghost Army” activities are now declassified.
- Schmidly, D. J. 1994. The Mammals of Texas, rev. ed. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 438-441. Rat diets include bird eggs. Owl “pellets” routinely include rodent bones.
- Mourning doves and owls sound alike. Compare Isaiah 38:14 (doves “mourn”) with Micah 1:8 (owls “mourning,” KJV).
- “Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor” (Romans 13:7). Unlike paying taxes, giving credit where credit is due is an obligation that is easily neglected.
Image Credit: U.S. National Archives. Adapted for use in accordance with federal copyright (fair use doctrine) law. Usage by ICR does not imply endorsement of copyright holder.
* Dr. Johnson is Associate Professor of Apologetics and Chief Academic Officer at the Institute for Creation Research.
Cite this article: James J. S. Johnson, J.D., Th.D. 2015. The Ghost Army. Acts & Facts. 44 (11).