Boing Boing 

How a WWII unit deceived the enemy with audacious fakery

They jokingly called themselves Cecil B. DeMille Warriors. To others, they were the Ghost Army. To the Army itself, they were the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops. To everyone, they were undoubtedly the most surreal soldiers of WWII.

Created in the summer of 1944, the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops was comprised mainly of artists, engineers, and movie effects technicians. Amongst the unit’s ranks were a young future fashion icon Bill Blass, Color Field painter Ellsworth Kelly, wildlife artist Arthur Singer, and photographer Art Kane. Their top-secret mission sounds like the punchline to some drunken soldier’s joke: to use an inflatable army of tanks, vehicles, sound effects, and other movie trickery to convince the Germany army that there were significant forces where there were none. Well, none other than DeMille’s finest. The unit plied their trade from Normandy to the Rhine.

So, what do you get when you send a lot of nervous artists and creative types off on a dangerous assignment? Lots and lots of art – made in boredom, in fear, and in celebration. The Ghost Army of World War II is a beautifully-produced print documentary of the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops and the role they played in WWII. The book is filled with countless paintings, sketches, cartoons, photos, hand-drawn maps, sketchbook pages, letters and post cards, and the military ephemera of the 23rd. All of these visuals are beautifully animated by the writing of authors Rick Beyer (who also produced a 2005 PBS documentary on the 23rd HST), Elizabeth Sayles (daughter of Ghost Army vet William Sayles), and the amazing stories recounted by the soldiers themselves.

It is unclear the full extent to which the deceptions of the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops changed the outcomes of battles and the course of the war, but there is no doubt that their audacious and dangerous actions saved the lives of thousands in its waning hours.

Note: Our Discordian readers (and fans of sketchy Jim Carrey thrillers) will certainly appreciate the auspicious number of the unit.

Previously on Boing Boing: WWII's "Ghost Army" that tricked German troops with inflatable tanks and sound effects

See sample pages from this book at Wink.

Katusha: Girl Soldier of the Great Patriotic War

Katusha

Amid the real war reporting on Medium's online magazine War Is Boring is a profile of comics artist Wayne Vansant, who, at 65, is still drawing wartime comics with his signature attention to accuracy and detail.

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Leaving China – a painted memoir about growing up during WW2

James McMullan, an illustrator and watercolorist known for his popular theatrical posters for Lincoln Center as well as various children’s book covers, has created a beautiful memoir entitled Leaving China.

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Alan Turing's lost notes discovered as crumpled insulation in Bletchley Park huts


After the war ended, Churchill ordered all of Bletchley's work -- the computers, the notebooks -- destroyed, but some of Alan Turing's notes were discovered between the walls of Hut 6 during a recent renovation, and are now on display at Bletchley Park.

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Pretend cities to fool bombers through history


Starting with a fake Paris built to lure Kaiser Bill's incendiary bombs, through to the pretend industrial towns used in WWII England to divert 900 tonnes of munitions, to the pretend airbases built in the Pacific Northwest and through to the Viet Cong's pretend villages to disguise tunnel complexes.

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Kickstarting Night Witches, an RPG about WWII Soviet airwomen


Night Witches is the latest game from Jason Morningstar, creator of the excellent caper/heist game Fiasco.

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WWII's VD posters: exciting nexus of propaganda, Mad Men, gender and design


Ryan Mungia's Protect Yourself: Venereal Disease Posters of World War II uncovers many obscure propaganda posters that were, once upon a time, just as popular as the iconic "We Can Do It!" woman.

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Duration of WWII vs duration of movies about WWII

In today's What If?, Randall "XKCD" Munroe tries to answer the question: "Did WWII last longer than the total length of movies about WWII? For that matter, which war has the highest movie time:war time ratio?" (Cue the theme from M*A*S*H).

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Dada vs Hitler: the anti-Nazi collages of John Heartfield


In the runup to WWII (and during it) Dadaist photographer John Heartfield and his collaborator George Grosz produced a startling series of anti-Nazi collages that echo through to today's practice of political shooping. An informative Metafilter post by Adamvasco has lots more links.

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Hitler's bookbinder

Michael Shaughnessy reports the untold story of Frieda Thiersch—and the mysteries of her life, her motives and her booksRead the rest

Jo Walton's "My Real Children": infinitely wise, sad and uplifting novel

An ambitious and nuanced story that left Cory Doctorow in tears, the new novel from award-winner Jo Walton is about an elderly woman who remembers two lives.Read the rest

Kickstarting an Arduino-based Enigma machine

ST Geotronics have exanded their Instructables project for building your own Arduino-based Enigma and turned it into a Kickstarter. $40 gets you some boards you can kit-bash with; $125 gets you the full kit; $300 gets you the whole thing, beautifully made and fully assembled.

The Open Enigma Project (Thanks, Tina!)

Massive collection of Soviet wartime posters


The University of Nottingham's Windows on War is one of the world's premier collections of WWII Soviet posters related to their war with the Nazis on the eastern front. The scholarly notes that accompany the exhibit are a treat, though they are presented in a way that makes it nearly impossible to read them. But the entire collection has been scanned and posted, and is available for viewing at very high resolutions.

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Bletchley Park's new management chucks out long-term volunteers

Here's more bad news from historic computing site Bletchley Park, where a new, slick museum is being put together with enormous corporate and state funding. Last month, it was the fact that McAfee had apparently banned any mention of Edward Snowden in a cybersecurity exhibit.

Now there's this heartrending BBC report on how volunteers who've given decades of service to Bletchley have been summarily dismissed because they don't fit in with the new plan. The museum of Churchill memoribilia that shared the Bletchley site has been evicted.

For people like me who've donated over the years, fundraised for it, and joined the Friends of Bletchley, this is really distressing news. I've always dreamt of Bletchley getting enough funding to do the site and its collection justice, but if it comes at the expense of decency and integrity, they may as well have left it as Churchill did -- abandoned and forgotten.

Update: Bletchley Trust has clarified to me that while this volunteer was dismissed from guiding tours because he refused to conduct the tour to the new spec, he still volunteers with the Trust in its educational department.

BBC News Bletchley Park s bitter dispute over its future (via /.)

Queen Elizabeth pardons Turing (but not the 50,000 other gay men the law unjustly criminalised)


Alan Turing has received a pardon under the "Royal Prerogative of Mercy by the Queen," 61 years after he was "chemically castrated" by court order as punishment for homosexuality. Less than two years of forced hormone treatments drove him to suicide at the age of 41. The pardon came at the request of the government's justice secretary. It's a wonderful vindication of Turing.

But I agree with Turing's biographer Dr Andrew Hodges, who says that the idea of a pardon for Turing establishes the principal that "a sufficiently valuable individual should be above the law which applies to everyone else." In my view, the Queen should have pardoned every man and woman persecuted under the cruel and unjust law that ruined so many lives.

But I'll take Turing. For now. And if Stephen Fry gets his wish and we get Turing on a bank note, I'll frame one and hang it in my office.

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Bletchley Park's archives being digitised


The archives of Bletchley Park are being digitised for online use, bringing to life the records of the legendary codebreaking effort whereby Alan Turing and colleagues invented modern computing, modern crypto, and took years off the war, saving millions of lives. HP underwrote the effort, which aims "to put everything into the public domain."

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Podcast: Ian Tregillis explains the Milkweed novels

Rick Kleffel interviewed Ian Tregillis, author of the amazing alternate history Milkweed books, about Nazi X-Men fighting a secret war against British warlocks. Tregillis describes the process by which he came up with the premise, and especially -- and most interestingly -- how he came up with his brilliant treatment for Gretl, a precognitive villain who is pretty much evil personified (MP3).