by: Jim Lewis [ ]
Originally published on:
One of two military history authors I enjoy following and purchasing their works, Jonathan Gawne is a writer/historian who has a knack for presenting complicated and obscure information in a concise style. His books are easy to read and often do not delve deeply into minute detail modelers often crave - like the shade of Olive Drab on a piece of equipment. He does provide information this detailed in his books - but with a awareness of when and how it's relevant and supports the information he's presenting.
In Ghosts of the ETO: American Tactical Deception Units in the European Theater 1944-1945, Jonathan Gawne presents quite a bit of coverage and information on previously classified and unreported US Army PSYOP (Psychological Operations) used in Europe in the last months of the Second World War. Though recounting of former soldier's war time experiences are much appreciated by myself in gaining a "feel" for what was happening at that time, Jonathan Gawne presents more of an operational overview, replete with just enough (of what surely was difficult to obtain for printing even today) technical ordnance and photos to whet the US AFV modeler's appetite. As with all great journalism, the writer doesn't tell you what to think - the author presents enough information to cause the reader to think. Jonathan Gawne's reference book hits the target here.
Covered in the Book
Ghosts of the ETO presents PSYOP unit operations in an easy-to-follow style, supplemented by period photos, charts, rosters, etc to flesh out his coverage of the subject. Much of this book taught me a new perspective on American forces and what was employed during and after the Normandy Invasion - the US 23rd Special Troops (also known as the 23rd Headquarters, Special Troops). The 23rd employed what most modelers would imagine in fake uniforms and the like to spoof the troops, but Jonathan Gawne was able to extract more information from veterans of the unit about their operations.
The 23rd Special Troops not only used dummy guns, inflatable pneumatic decoys like M4 Medium Tanks and smaller vehicles like the Willys Jeep and other common trucks, they mounted large loudspeakers in their modified M3 Half-Tracks (sometimes called Sonic Tracks and shown in eight photographs) as well as an attempt to mount their equipment in a Willys Jeep - shown in two photographs as well. The operations the 23rd undertook are covered in individual chapters, and where available accompanied by photographs of dummy weapons and guns employed to fool the enemy, and charts of the local where action took place.
Organizational Rosters, also where available, are included in the book. Famous Fashion Designer Bill Blass, for example, was a member of the 603rd Engineer Camouflage Battalion, the largest element of the 23rd. Amongst the six appendices to the book, Jonathan Gawne includes in #5 a treatise on General George S. Patton and his possible use of PSYOP assets in his operations. The 23rd was the tactical deception unit that supported the whole 12th Army Group, and most of the 23rd's operations took place in Third Army territories. Jonathan Gawne pulls together some wartime rumors of Patton's connections to Dudley Clarke, Noel Wild and A-Force, among other small seemingly unconnected episodes during his service in WW II without forcing the reader to a conclusion.
Closing the Last Page
Published in 2002, the 358 pages in Ghosts of the ETO pleased me from beginning to end. It broadened and deepened my knowledge of previously untold US Army operations in Europe. Jonathan Gawne presents a pretty comprehensive history in this format and you feel you get a very good sense of what the 23rd was created to do, what they used, where they used it, and what the results were. So much so that you could confidently model one of their sonic deception vehicles or write a book report like this.
I purchased this book for review from Barnes and Noble Booksellers. It is also available online from Amazon.com. Permission to include page scans from this book was graciously provided by Casemate Publishing.