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How inflatable tanks served in World War II

Updated: Oct 6, 2020

When you hear the word “inflatable,” your thoughts probably jump straight to bouncy castles. But in addition to serving up fun at kids parties, inflatables also have a surprising past in military service.

Delve into the fascinating history of the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, otherwise known as the “Ghost Army,” whose job it was to fool the enemy during World War II.

The Origins

The United States Army organized a special unit comprised of 1,100 men. The mission of this unit was to pose as a bonafide military force many times this size in order to fool the enemy. One of the most notable tactical items used in this deceptive maneuver was the inflatable tank.

A world war 2 Inflatable tank being held by soldiers
Inflatable tank

Between the years of 1944 and 1945, the men assigned to the Ghost Army staged more than 20 different mock battles. The timeline of the battles stretched between Normandy and the Ruhr Battle that took place in the Rhine River Valley in the spring of 1945. The stakes were high during these mock battles, as many of them actually occurred within close proximity of the front lines. Part of the goal was to give the illusion of a greater Allied military force.

How they operated

These traveling shows were effective at creating an intimidating presence while also confusing the enemy forces. Powerful speakers broadcasted realistic noises to give the impression of a military unit on the move, creating a “sonic deception.”

Some of the tanks employed by the Ghost Army were genuine while others were inflatable imposters. From a distance, the enemy could not tell the difference. Some of the troops even dressed to impersonate officers and Allied generals. With a constant flow of fake military radio chatter discussing fabricated battle plans, German intelligence easily fell prey to the deceptions.

Inflatables used in WWII by soldiers
Inflatables used in WWII

The 23rd Headquarters Special Troops holds a special spot in both military and inflatable history, having laid the groundwork for special operations still in use today.

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