September 26, 2007

The subterfuge artists of WWII

"Artists of Battlefield Deception: Soldiers of the 23rd" On NPR's All Things Considered, the last in a series about World War II features the U.S. Army's 23rd Special Troops, whose area of expertise was the art of deception. "The art of deception has been part of warfare since its beginnings. There is no more famous example than the Trojan Horse. But few people know much about the deceptive role the U.S. Army's 23rd Special Troops played in World War II. That's because their work was kept secret until 1996. The mission of the 23rd — made up largely of artists, designers, architects and sound engineers — was to deceive the enemy by drawing their attention away from real combat troops....More than a thousand troops were recruited into this top-secret, phantom army, some of whom came right out of art school. Fashion designer Bill Blass was one of them, as was photographer Art Kane and a number of now well-known artists, including painter Ellsworth Kelly."

Kelly and his pals designed the fake vehicles, tanks, and artillery pieces that were set up in southern England to fool the Nazis into thinking that Patton would land the D-Day invasion force in Calais. The ruse worked, and was central to the success of the decisive campaign in the European theater. The activities of the 23rd Special Troops were officially secret until 1996; Kelly never talked to anyone about them while they were classified.

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