Secret Soldiers: How the U.S. Twenty-Third Special Troops Fooled the Nazis

Secret Soldiers: How the U.S. Twenty-Third Special Troops Fooled the Nazis
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Release Date
April 23, 2019
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In his third book about deception during war, Paul B. Janeczko focuses his lens on World War II and the operations carried out by the Twenty-Third Headquarters Special Troops, aka the Ghost Army. This remarkable unit included actors, camouflage experts, sound engineers, painters, and set designers who used their skills to secretly and systematically replace fighting units — fooling the Nazi army into believing what their eyes and ears told them, even though the sights and sounds of tanks and war machines and troops were entirely fabricated. Follow the Twenty-Third into Europe as they play a dangerous game of enticing the German army into making battlefield mistakes by using sonic deceptions, inflatable tanks, pyrotechnics, and camouflage in more than twenty operations. From the Normandy invasion to the crossing of the Rhine River, the men of the Ghost Army — several of whom went on to become famous artists and designers after the war — played an improbable role in the Allied victory.

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Fascinating Look at WWII Espionage
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During WWII, there were dozens and dozens of departments and units doing things that 95% of the population still has no clue about. Whether it was the art units or African-American women sorting mail, the Fly Girls, or the Candy Bombers, I am always amazed by the things I read about WWII that most of the history buffs I know aren't even aware of! Certainly, very few people know about the Twenty-Third Headquarters Special Troops, also known as the Ghost Army. Their job was to go in, with about 1,100 members, and impersonate troops of up to 50,000 soldiers or sailors. They were also instrumental in throwing off the enemy by making it look like there were tanks, encampments, and even troop transport ships when they were merely inflatable items and scores of dummies! Even better, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. was instrumental in the idea! It was sort of like a covert USO, made up of artists, sound technicians, and other special effects experts. My favorite was when they staged a naval attack to try to siphon troops away from the area where an actual attack was planned-- they had the fake ships, threw up a smoke screen, played sound effects, and sent in a few bombs! And it actually worked. Tactics like this would probably not work today, but how intriguing that they did.
Good Points
This book followed the "secret soldiers" from their inception through the many different activities in which they were involved in a very orderly fashion, and there were lots of good pictures of people, equipment, and areas. There were so many fascinating details that I wanted to share with someone: did you know that Quonset huts were called Nissen huts in the UK? That the Beach Jumpers were named that because they wanted other words to fit the acronym for be-jesus? And... Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.! (Look him up on he was quite the dashing actor)

Here's the thing: I have zero interest in WWII. None. And yet, my students love to read about it, so I have acquired enough of a background knowledge that I could, say, hold up my end of the conversation if I were on a date with a WWII buff. This book was so well-researched; where would you even get pictures of the fake tanks? Surely, there was some kind of security that would have made this difficult to sneak back home after the war.

This is an essential addition to a middle school or high school library, and will probably be my nominee for the Cybils middle grade nonfiction award for 2019.

I knew of Paul Janeczko mainly from poetry anthologies in my library that have seen years of use; Blushing: Expressions of Love in Poems and Letters (2004), Preposterous: Poems of Youth (1991), Strings: A Gathering of Family Poems (1984), and Don't Forget to Fly (1981). Dark Game (2011) and Double Cross (2017) surprised and delighted me with their spy details, and showed me another side of this author. Sadly, he passed away 21 February, just as this new book showed up on my radar. According to his obituary in Publishers Weekly, there are two more manuscripts in the hands of his editor. I always thought fond thoughts about this author when I handed his books to students; I'm sorry I never got to tell him how much easier he made my job.

Secret Soldiers is a masterpiece; pick it up for your WWII fans as a fitting tribute to a great author.

Well done, Mr. Janeczko.
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