COVINGTON — Jack Stanley was a ghost during World War II. He was a master of deception, tricking enemy forces into believing the Allies were in places they weren’t, spilling secrets that were really misinformation, and saving tens of thousands of lives in the process.
His Army unit didn’t officially exist during the war, or indeed, for half a century after. Stanley, of Covington, was a member of The Ghost Army, an elite 1,000-member secret unit of the U.S. Army that used inflatable tanks, sound effects, fake radio broadcasts and good old-fashioned playacting to confound the Nazis. The show they put on was massive in scope.
“Some of that stuff we did would have made old Cecil B. DeMille proud,” Stanley said.
But unlike a Hollywood production, their mission had life or death consequences. The Ghost Army staged some 20 battlefield deceptions from June 1944 to March 1945, and was part of the most infamous conflicts in the war, including the Battle of the Bulge and the crossing of the Rhine River.
Stanley was a radio operator, transmitting fake radio messages for interception by the Germans. He and his comrades would imitate different divisions in the field and make it seem as though they were on the move or getting ready to move.
But The Ghost Army’s trickery didn’t end there. Sound effects specialists would play records of tanks cranking up and moving out. They’d use rubber inflatable tanks, trucks, jeeps and airplanes that “we’d blow up like a balloon,” Stanley said. The inflatables looked very realistic, from the ground and the air, and fooled the Germans about troops’ locations and where they were headed. They’d put fake bumper markings identifying a specific division and ride through town, pull into a vacant field at night, remove the markings and replace them with those of a different division. They’d also sew patches from various divisions they were portraying onto their uniforms.
“To anybody in these villages, we were one outfit after another moving up to the front line,” he said. “Meanwhile, as a radio operator, I’d send fake radio messages identifying me as such and such an outfit and it would all paint a picture.”
Sometimes, Ghost Army members would act as if they were drunk and stumble into local bars, pretending to spill classified information about operations.
“We knew the Germans had stool pigeons in these places,” Stanley said.
Many of the members of The Ghost Army were make-up artists, engineers, actors, sound technicians and press agents, some recruited from Tinseltown. Famed fashion designer Bill Blass was a member of the unit. Stanley was picked because of his training in radio operations and because he had a high I.Q., a requirement to be in the unit.