world war 2 ghost stories

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The Creepiest Ghost Stories And Legends From WWII

Jen Lennon

Conflicts are always ripe for ghost stories. With all of the tragedies that occur, it’s not uncommon for people to have encounters with some restless spirits. WWII was particularly brutal, and with all of the soldiers, prisoners, and civilians who lost their lives, the possibility of the paranormal is not surprising. These creepy stories from WWII will definitely put you on edge.

There are plenty of WWII ghost stories and legends , and any have been passed down through generations of families. Some soldiers experienced unexplained phenomena, but some people have seen ghosts of those who fought long after - ghosts still in their uniforms , stuck in time. This list includes everything from missing blimps to a mystery in the Swiss Alps. And, of course, the occult.

Missing Children

Missing Children

This story comes from Reddit user Igloo444 . Their grandfather was a member of the British Army and was stationed in a remote village in the Swiss Alps during the winter of 1943. The village quickly got snowed in, and all the telephone lines were out. The roads were blocked, and the whole battalion was just stuck in the Swiss Alps for the entire winter.

Most of the villagers only spoke German, and most of the soldiers only spoke English. So when the soldiers were out at a local bar one night and a man began yelling "Where… take you… the children?" at them, they were pretty confused. They rounded up a translator and took the man back to the base, where he told them that, since their arrival, several small objects had gone missing. A tarp. Some wood. A halberd, which is similar to an ax. And then the children started disappearing. If it had just been one child, they probably would have written it off as a weird or tragic incident. They were, after all, stuck in the mountains, surrounded by snow and wild animals. But three kids?

Redditor /u/Igloo444 explains:

The Captain told the villagers that he would continue to look into the matter, and that he would begin sending some of his men to patrol the streets each night looking for whoever (or whatever) was the culprit behind all the strange [disappearances].

Later that night, Private Reginald disappeared from the barracks.

Disappearing children was one thing, but a grown man? It seemed unlikely that an animal (even a wolf) could have taken down a healthy full-grown man on its own. Naturally, rumors began to surface that there was some sort of monster living in the mountains that came down at night to feast on the occupants of the village."

So they keep doing nightly patrols. One night, the grandfather and a few other soldiers see a person standing outside the windows of a darkened house, peering into it. They shout for the figure to stay put. Instead, it takes off running. They gave chase. Eventually, it jumped into a hidden cave and began targeting them. They returned fire, and when the exchange stopped, they investigated. They found Reginald in the cave, deceased, surrounded by seven half-eaten children.

Japanese Cannibals

Japanese Cannibals

Toward the end of the conflict, Japanese soldiers in Singapore and New Guinea began eating captured POWs. And it is not because they were starving -   they were doing it simply because they could and to reinforce their bonds.

Sometimes the prisoners were deceased when the Japanese began to hack off their flesh, but sometimes, they were still alive .

The Diplomat Hotel

The Diplomat Hotel

The Diplomat Hotel in Baguio City, Philippines, was once a monastery in the early 1900s. During WWII, Japanese soldiers invaded the monastery and beheaded all the clergy and nuns. They turned the building into a sanatorium, and after the conflict, it was converted into a hotel. Guests often reported seeing black figures and a woman in white.

They also heard screaming and banging in the middle of the night. The hotel is now abandoned, and a prime spot for ghost hunters.

The Mystery Of The L-8 Blimp

The Mystery Of The L-8 Blimp

In 1942, a Navy blimp called the L-8 took off from Treasure Island in the Bay Area on a submarine-spotting mission with a two-man crew. A few hours later, it came back to land and collided into a house in Daly City. Everything on board was in its proper place; no emergency gear had been used.

But the crew? The crew was gone. They were never found.

Ghosts Of Normandy

Ghosts Of Normandy

One father took a trip through France with his family. He wanted to visit Normandy and see a few sites from WWII. His daughter was 7 years old at the time, and he says that she had, at that point, never been exposed to any history about WWII and didn't know what either side's uniforms looked like. After they returned home, things got a little odd. He writes:

Over the past year, my daughter has often spoke of 'things' or 'men' that she saw looking at her, pointing guns at her, and following her while we were in the bunkers and around the Normandy area. She often described them as crouching down, hiding behind corners, holding guns and looking as if they were very mad.

He started asking her questions about what she saw. Here's one conversation he had:

'Were you scared?'
'Yes, but I knew they weren't trying to hurt me. So I didn't think anything of it, but there were a lot of them. Everywhere I looked. They were moving around, like army men do. Kind of crawling, but bent over. When we would walk out of a bunker, I would see one in the grass, or behind a tree. Then when I was in the car, I could see them looking at me from behind a fence in a field. Sometimes a lot of them, sometimes only one or two.'

She also described their uniforms perfectly, camouflage and everything.

Ghost Planes

Ghost Planes

After WWII ended, many people saw "ghost planes." These fighter aircrafts would appear in the sky, then disappear without a trace. One scary story takes place a year after what occurred at Pearl Harbor. The US Army picked up an incoming plane on their radar. They sent a few pilots out to investigate, and when they came back, the pilots said that they had seen an American combat aircraft - a P-40, to be exact - that looked like it had been through hell. It was pierced with holes, the landing gear was missing, and the pilot was bloody.

Then, the plane just went down. Dropped right out of the sky. When they went to investigate the site, they found the plane - but no pilot.

Man In The Attic

Man In The Attic

In Colmar, France, a young woman experienced something strange in the summer of 1991. Her family had just moved into a new house, and she found a hole in the wall of the attic. Through the hole, she could see another room, but as far as she could tell, it had no door. She felt something strange coming from the hole but didn’t investigate. Later, she went back with a flashlight and saw something:

There was a young man sitting on the floor, his knees against his chest. His arms were crossed on his knees, like he was hugging himself. He turned his head toward us and smiled. We bolted out of the room and went to the storage room. My heart was pounding, I was out of breath. I first thought that it was a real person, but he had no color. It was like a 3D dark shadow. And we never heard any footstep. My friend refused to admit that we saw a ghost and we never talked about it…
My grandmother learnt later that our house was a clandestine printing office during [WWII]. The owners printed slogans against the Germans. But I think that there was something else in that house. I believe that the secret room was used to hide people.

The Alkimos

The Alkimos

The SS Alkimos was built as an American ship for use in WWII. It was sold to Norway, which used it for arms transport. In 1944, one of the crew ended the life of a radio operator who worked on the ship, Maude E. Steane. The perp then shot himself. Norway covered up the incident and claimed that enemy fire caused Steane's passing. After the conflict, the ship was sold to a Greek shipping company.

Strange, unexplained incidences kept happening with the ship. In 1963, it collided into a reef off the coast of Australia. It was towed to Fremantle for repairs, but while it was there, the Alkimos caught fire and was to be towed to Hong Kong for more work. It had barely left Fremantle when the tow line snapped and it ran aground. The tow company couldn't get it unstuck, so they left a caretaker on board until something could be done. The caretaker experienced many strange things onboard, including feelings of anger, knocking, footsteps, and voices.

Over the years, a few companies tried to salvage the ship, but each time someone tried, bad things would happen to their crew. Eventually, it was abandoned and began slowly sinking into the water, where it can still be seen today.

Nazis And The Occult

Nazis And The Occult

One former Navy serviceman recounted his chilling experience while he was living aboard a barge in Norfolk, VA, in 1999. He and another crew member shared a fondness for WWII history, so his friend gave him a strange book. It was about the Third Reich trying to find and use occult artifacts to help them win. He writes:

For those not overly-religious, the 'Spear of Destiny,' was the spear used by the Roman soldier Longinus to pierce the side of Christ during the crucifixion. The myth went that anyone that possessed Longinus' spear would hold God-like powers. The [SS] were [unstable] enough to believe in that stuff.

One night, he was reading the book before going to bed. It was a chapter about Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler, who led an archaeology team for the SS. After that, he put the book under his pillow and falls asleep. Later that night, he awoke to the sound of slow, heavy footsteps walking through the bunks in the dark. Then the footsteps passed him:

[A]ll of the sudden, the curtains to my rack began to blow in towards me, and I can't even describe the cold that accompanied it. It was as if a freezing wind was howling in upon me, and I could feel my jaw lock tight, my teeth instantly becoming a solid block of ice that froze and fused together. I grew up in Michigan and had never known such a cold in all my life. I tried to cry out as the cold pierced me deeply to the core, like ten million frozen needles stabbing me all at once. It was truly indescribable.

He heard the footsteps pass by him again, and the door to the sleeping compartment open and close. Everything returned to normal. He gave the book back to his friend the next day and told him what happened. The friend laughed it off, but a few weeks later, he experienced the exact same thing. So what does this service member think was responsible for his eerie encounter? He explains:

Had it been the conniving former chicken farmer Heinrich Himmler, head of the dreaded SS, or could it have been someone even more foul and loathsome; the evil spirit of Adolf Hitler himself, exacting a little payback scare on two active duty US servicemen, the grandsons of men that had helped defeat his military machine?

Saipan Airport

Saipan Airport

During WWII, the US wrested control of Saipan, an island near Japan, from the Japanese army. The Japanese army had built an airport there, and inside the airport were bomb shelters. One woman saw the ghosts of Japanese soldiers inside one of the shelters during a visit to the island. She writes:

As I was standing there right inside the doorway, quietly looking around, the light suddenly started to get really dim inside the [...] shelter, and I heard a rushing sound in my ears. The rushing sound was like if you put coffee cups over your ears, but much louder. Then a shadow rushed right by me and sat down on the bench seat that was now mounted on the formerly rusted metal sticking out from the wall. Several more shadows rushed by me and sat on the bench seats.
One shadow would rush to the left room and the next would rush to the right room. The shadows were rushing by about every second and if they had both gone the same direction they would have collided. It looked like they had practiced drills of rushing into the bomb shelter quite a bit before. I could see the shadows. They looked like they were made out of grey [...] smoke. I could see their heads and bodies, but not their hands or feet. I saw that they were thin Japanese soldiers.

Sandakan Death March Ghosts

Sandakan Death March Ghosts

In 1945, Allied forces pushed the Japanese Army out of Borneo. Rather than give up their prisoners, the Japanese Army forced thousands of Allied soldiers to march more than 160 miles over the course of a month. Only six captors survived.

In 2010, Major John Tulloch retraced part of their route, driving along the path the soldiers marched. He took dozens of photos, including one that is eerily reminiscent of hunched-over soldiers marching down the road. Major Tulloch says  that the illusion was created by a towel on the dashboard of the car reflecting on the glass of the windshield. Despite the explanation for the picture, he doesn't think it was a coincidence:

It took me a few moments to work out how it had occurred but it was too weird for words. I showed it to several people and they said it is quite extraordinary, some even refused to look at it because it was so haunting.

The Headless Gringa

The Headless Gringa

During WWII, the US Army set up a base in the Galapagos Islands. According to legend, a soldier and his girlfriend were living at the base. The soldier found out that she was cheating on him, so he pushed her off a cliff, ending her life. But despite how gruesome that is, it gets worse: as she fell, her head got caught between some rocks and she was decapitated.

The soldier covered up the incident, but the woman still haunts the island, appearing as a vengeful spirit to men who are alone at night.

A Ghost In Islington

A Ghost In Islington

Rosina French lived in the London Borough of Islington during the darkest days of WWII. Both she and her husband performed separate duties to help aid the country in the fight against Adolf Hitler. In fact, French was a volunteer fire watcher. She couldn't serve on the front lines, but she was part of a rotation that checked for bomb threats and traveling fires. It was during one of her night shifts that she encountered an allegedly supernatural force. While standing at her post, French noticed a strangely shiny, white figure. At first, she thought it was a gravestone or person, but the apparition was too tall to be either.

She realized the creature must be a ghost when she began to feel her hair stand on end. The figure did not approach the woman or harm her. As the story is told by French's son, Alan :

It was when she peered more to the left, where she had possibly not glanced before, she experienced what must have been one of the most frightening sights in her life. There it was! A very tall shining white figure! Such a conspicuous contrast to the surrounding area's darkness! The apparition was too tall for the average tombstone, but more alarmingly, it was also too tall for a living human being. The sighting was so eerie, it must be a ghost! What other explanation could there be? It was definitely a phantom-like figure. Oh Dear! The possible reality of the situation had started to sink in. Despite her fear, she nervously accepted that she was witnessing a spectral sighting.
A supernatural experience was not one that she wished. My mother was of a nervous disposition. In fact, she could be sometimes exceptionally highly strung. Looking at a ghost whilst performing fire watching duty from her doorstep was not what she needed. She required something to calm her down. She could utter no sound, for her vocal chords became useless. She could not move. She could only stand, transfixed in stoic silence. Then something else strange started to happen. It was a condition that she had heard of, but as far as I am aware, had not experienced. She claimed that she actually felt the hairs on her head move. My mother firmly believed that they were stiffening and standing on their ends. That is how terrified she was.
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Creepy stories from wwii, normandy ghosts, disappearing aircraft.

world war 2 ghost stories

Wars are full of inspiring stories and tales that defy the odds. They are also the best place for creepy stories that will keep you up in the dark midnight hours.

World War II is no different and offers many stories of the darker side of human nature, as well as of unexplained phenomena for years after the war’s end.

The missing children

During the war, Switzerland did its best to remain neutral, but was sought after by both the Allied and Axis powers. When Germany initiated acts of aggression against the country, the United Kingdom sent reinforcements. That was how one British company found themselves stationed in a remote village in the Swiss Alps.

Swiss Alps: Furka Pass. Photo: – CC BY 2.5

A few weeks after the British company had entered the village, the locals started to notice a series of strange incidents.

Pieces of wood and tarps disappeared from sheds. Valuables were stolen from their homes. The culmination of these events was a child from the village going missing. At first, it was assumed that the disappearance was a tragic accident, but then more children disappeared.

The only adult to disappear was Private Reginald from the British unit. He went missing from the barracks and this led to a rumor that a monster was living in the mountains and preying on the village. After Private Reginald, more children disappeared.

Access road in positions, Switzerland.

One night a figure was seen peering through the window of a house as the soldiers patrolled the town.

The soldiers yelled at the figure, which took off. They gave chase, reaching the edge of the village where the figure appeared to jump into the ground. The soldiers found a cave hollowed out of the side of a snowdrift.

Shots were fired from the cave and returned by the soldiers. After moments of silence, they investigated the cave further. Inside they found Reginald shot through the heart–and surrounded by the half-eaten bodies of seven children.

Swiss border patrol in the Alps during World War II.

The Japanese cannibals

Cannibalism during war has happened throughout history. In most cases, it occurred due to dwindling supplies and a need for survival. For Indian prisoners of war held by Japanese forces in New Guinea and Singapore, however, this was the culmination of their torture.

According to testimonies from POWs for the war crimes investigations commissions, cannibalism was conducted under supervision.

Two testimonies state that nineteen prisoners were eaten by their Japanese captives. The reason was not survival, but the simple fact that they could.

The Sikh prisoners are here seen seated blindfolded with target marks hanging over their hearts and stakes placed in the ground in front of them bearing the butt numbers of each “target”. They sit with dignity awaiting their end.

The testimonies state that certain parts were removed from the body and cooked including the thighs, liver, and buttocks. There were times when the prisoners were dead when this happened, and others where they were still alive.

Ghost planes

Many people saw ghost planes during and after the war. Fighter aircraft would appear and disappear without a trace. One such sighting occurred a year after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

A three-quarter view of a P-40B, X-804 (s/n 39-184) in flight.

When the United States Army’s radar started to pick up the signal of an incoming plane, a few pilots were sent out to investigate. They returned with an amazing story: they had seen a plane, but it was an American P-40 that looked like it had been through a battle.

The plane was said to be covered in bullet holes with the landing gear missing and the pilot bloody. The pilots had seen the plane suddenly crash as if it had just dropped out of the sky. They went to investigate the crash site only to find the plane with no pilot.

A crashed U.S. Army Air Force Curtiss P-40E Warhawk.

The L-8 blimp mystery

Ghost planes are not the only aircraft linked to strange happenings in the war. An L-8 blimp which took off from Treasure Island in 1942 has its own mystery. The blimp was on a submarine-spotting mission and crewed by two men. It was a simple mission, but an hour and a half into the patrol the pilot radioed that they were investigating a possible oil slick in the water.

That was the last transmission to come from the L-8. Later that day, the blimp was seen drifting over the coast and was starting to sag in the middle. The flight of the L-8 ended when it crashed into a house in Daly City.

The U.S. Navy blimp L-8

The rescue team sent to the crash site found something strange. The doors to the cabin were open and the crew was missing. Everything was in its correct place and no emergency gear had been used. The crewmen had simply disappeared, and were never found.

The Diplomat Hotel

The Diplomat Hotel in the Philippines is a prime spot for ghost hunters, with banging and screams being heard in the middle of the night. The terror seen in this building occurred when the Japanese invaded the Philippines. The building was once a monastery and the invading forces beheaded all of the nuns and clergy when they took the city.

Ruins of the abandoned Diplomat Hotel. Photo: Ramiltibayan / CC BY-SA 4.0

The monastery was turned into a sanatorium for the remainder of the war. After the war, the use of the building changed again as it became a hotel. Guests of the hotel often reported seeing black figures, and women in white.

The Normandy ghosts

Normandy has a number of sites from WWII that can be visited today. One father decided to do this with his 7-year-old daughter. While in France, nothing strange occurred, but in the year after the visit, his daughter often spoke of men and other things that she saw while there.

50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division of the British Army coming ashore from Landing Craft Infantry at Gold Beach near La Rivière-Saint-Sauveur, Normandy, France, on 6 June 1944

She described men pointing guns at her and following her while they toured the bunkers in the area. She described them as hiding behind corners and moving around like soldiers would.

While this could normally be written off as an active imagination, she was able to perfectly describe the uniforms of both sides of the conflict.

The SS Alkimos

The SS Alkimos  was an American ship where strange accidents happened. The ship was built for use in the war and sold to Norway, which used it to transport weapons. In 1944, a radio operator was killed by one of the crew who then shot himself.

The death was covered up and the radio operator was claimed to have been killed by enemy fire.

Alkimos as viewed from the shore, August 2012. Photo: / CC BY-SA 3.0

Following the war, the ship was sold to a Greek shipping company. In 1963, the ship crashed into a reef, and then caught fire while in Fremantle for repairs. The ship had barely left Fremantle for Hong Kong for more repairs when the tow line snapped.

The Alkimos could not be unstuck from its location, though many companies tried to salvage it over the years. Each attempt was met with bad things happening to the crew. The caretaker on board also reported hearing footsteps and voices, and having strange feelings. The ship was eventually abandoned and slowly sank into the water.

The ghost in Islington

During the darkest days of the war, Rosina French was a volunteer fire watcher in the London Borough of Islington. While she could not serve on the front lines, she could check for traveling fires and bomb threats.

During one of her shifts, she encountered a supernatural force. While standing at her post, she noticed a shining white figure. At first, she assumed it was a person or a gravestone, but the figure was too tall.

Bomb Damage in London, England, April 1945.

When she later told other people about the being, it appeared as if she had called it. Her post was next to a church and cemetery, and it is believed that the figure was lost souls escaping from the grave.

The headless gringa

The Galapagos Islands were home to a US Army post during the war. According to the legend of the headless gringa, a soldier lived on post with his wife. When he found out that she was cheating on him, he pushed her off a cliff.

U.S. Army airbase located on the island of Baltra (Seymour) in the Galapagos Islands during World War II.

As if this were not gruesome enough, her head caught between some rocks as she fell. The momentum of the fall caused her head to separate from her body.

While there are no records of this actually happening, ever since then sailors and airmen have had encounters with the headless gringa. The most common experience is someone climbing into their bed and pressing their weight on their chest to suffocate them.

The man in the attic

In 1991, a young woman was in her new family home in Colmar, France. In the attic, she found a hole in the wall through which she could see another room, but there was no door to it. She later returned with a flashlight and saw something in the room.

A member of the FFI -French Resistance Interior

Read another story from us: Ghost Blimp Mystery of WWII – Crashed in San Francisco & Crew Was Never Found

A young man was sitting on the floor with his knees pulled up to his chest. He turned his head to the woman and her friend, then smiled.

At first, they believed he was a real person, but they later realized that he had had no color. Their grandmother later learned that the house was a clandestine printing office during the war that printed slogans against the Germans.

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world war 2 ghost stories

6 haunting military ghost stories

world war 2 ghost stories

With a history as old as the United States itself, there is no doubt that there are plenty of ghost stories from the U.S. military’s almost 246 active years to keep you up at night. From watery graves to haunted houses, sites of battles and ghoulish residences of military leaders long gone are ripe for spiritual and sinister happenings.

Here are six ghost stories that’ll chill you to your bones.

1. The USS Hornet’s ghostly inhabitants

The USS Hornet and her crew served in World War II and the Vietnam War, achieving numerous awards for service and operations. She also was the prime recovery ship for the Apollo 11 and 12 missions.

During her active years, about 300 crew members died from accidents and suicides. Visitors to the ship’s permanent location in San Francisco report hearing voices and seeing apparitions of soldiers. Electronic equipment is also known to go haywire on board. Now the host of ghost tours, the USS Hornet holds the title of the most haunted ship in America .

2. The watery grave of the USS Arizona

Next on our list is another haunted WWII-era Navy ship, the USS Arizona. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the Arizona became a mass tomb for the 1,102 that perished with her. She serves as an underwater graveyard and memorial to those that died during the tragic event. However, many believe that the dead did not go in peace and still haunt the area .

Today, officers blame a ghost called “Charley” for many of the eerie happenings near the USS Arizona. This famous apparition is reportedly harmless, only turning on water faucets and causing heavy doors to swing open and closed. Another ghost, however, inspires more fear. One of the sailors who abandoned his post during the bombings allegedly haunts the deck of the ship at low tide, inspiring fear and sadness in visitors to the memorial.

3. Fort Leavenworth

U.S. Army Garrison Fort Leavenworth is widely considered one of the most haunted posts in America. Though it’s still actively used today, residents and visitors claim that it is host to a myriad of ghosts that wander its buildings and grounds. One of the more famous haunts is Gen. George Armstrong Custer, who is said to roam the General’s Residence (while also haunting another site on this list). Though he did not die here, his spirit is said remain after he was found guilty of mistreating his troops and deserting his command.

But some buildings are more haunted than others. The Rookery at 14 Summer Place is considered both the oldest and most haunted. The U.S. Army reports numerous incidents that have happened to Rookery residents, including missing items, unexplained noises, spectral visitors and more. One of the ghosts is said to be a woman with long hair who attacks residents by clawing at them with her fingernails.

Another haunted site is the St. Ignatius Chapel which has been rebuilt multiple times due to fires. A house now stands at the first location of the chapel, but residents have claimed to see the ghost of a young priest who died in a fire. As for the rebuilt chapel, it inexplicably burned to the ground again in 2000.

4. The never-ending Battle of the Little Bighorn

Though the Battle of the Little Bighorn happened in 1873, present-day visitors to the battlefield claim they can still hear and see the spirits of U.S. Army soldiers and Native American warriors fighting. Now a cemetery and national monument, it is no surprise that this site of such death and violence is haunted by those that passed there, including U.S. Army General George Armstrong Custer .

Stone House, the late 19th century cemetery caretakers’ house located there, is home to many apparitions, including mutilated soldiers and headless cavalrymen. The Crow tribe called those that lived in this house during the 1800s “ Ghost Herders .” They saw the flag the caretakers raised and lowered as a signal for spirits to come out at dusk and then return to their graves at dawn.

5. The Jefferson Barracks

Missouri’s Jefferson Barracks are now home to the Army and Air National Guard, but a spooky sentry with a bullet hole through his head allegedly still confronts soldiers in the barracks headquarters. Legend has it he still thinks he is on duty during a munitions raid and believes the living soldiers are his enemies. A soldier was once so scared by the bloody sentry that he left his post and the army altogether, according to one story .

Another, older, story tells of a Halloween party at the Veteran’s Hospital in part of the barracks where a Civil War era ghost made an appearance. A man in a strikingly realistic Civil War officer’s uniform made an appearance before the party’s host. When the host asked him how he liked the party, the man was rude and then disappeared. Later when the host asked about the guest, no one knew him or anyone who wore that costume to the event.

6. Monster in the Mountains

Though this might not be a story based in the United States, this chilling tale deserves an honorable mention for being truly terrifying.

During World War II, a remote village in Switzerland became the site of strange happenings when a British company of soldiers stayed there. Wood, tarps and valuables began disappearing which were dismissed until a child went missing. When more children, as well as a private from a British company, disappeared, rumors of a monster spread.

One night, soldiers saw a mysterious figure and chased after it, thinking it was the being that preyed on the village. Thought they never caught the figure, the soldiers discovered a cave. Shots were fired from inside of the cave and the soldiers returned fire. Upon pressing further into the cave, soldiers found the body of the British private who had been shot through the heart. He was surrounded by the half-eaten bodies of the children that went missing.

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World War II's 10 Weirdest Paranormal Mysteries

About matthew l. swayne.

Matthew L. Swayne (State College, PA) is a journalist who currently works as a research writer at Penn State. He has also worked on writing projects with Paranormal State's Eilfie Music. Matthew is the author of five books, ...

  • Paranormal Encounters in the American Southwest
  • Ghosts Are Where You Find Them
  • Four Haunted National Parks
  • 5 Reasons Your Home May Be Haunted
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Eternal Soldiers: 8 World War II Ghost Stories

Eternal Soldiers: 8 World War II Ghost Stories

Changi Beach, Singapore

Changi Beach and its nearby hospital are considered to be among the most terrifying places in all of Singapore. In fact, the Changi Hospital provided the inspiration for Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Singapore in 2016. The hospital was a focal point of a local film called Haunted Changi . The pop culture that surrounds the hospital is a direct result of the history and the ghost sightings that accompany the location. Changi Beach was the location of the Sook Ching massacre where many Chinese were brutally murdered during the Japanese occupation.

Those who are brave enough to walk along the beach where thousands were tortured and murdered can find ghostly evidence of those atrocities. Among the common reports are the sounds of screams and people crying. There are sounds of fear and desperation as ghosts relive the fear of watching those they loved to be murdered either on the grainy sand or shot to death by machine guns after being forced into the water. But the sounds of the beach are among the tamer hauntings that the location had become known for.

Others have reported seeing floating heads flying over the sand or headless bodies trudging along the shore. Beheadings were a popular form of execution and many who lost their lives on the beach did so by losing their head. Other accounts tell of large holes dug into the sand in the same shape and depth as one would expect for a mass grave. The tortured souls continue to leave their mark on the beach and throughout the neighboring area.

The Changi Hospital nearby was used as a wartime hospital and has its own dark history. Many soldiers lost their lives at the hospital and have been said to walk the halls ever since. There are also reports of black magic rituals having been performed at the hospital as occultists tried to use the hospital’s souls in order to convene with the devil.

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Eternal Soldiers: 8 World War II Ghost Stories

Polish Nazi Hospital

Built in Legnica in the 1930s by the Nazis this Polish medical complex was in use by the Nazis until 1937. After the Nazis lost control it went into Soviet hands and the Russians were happy to put the high-tech facilities to good use. It was known to attract the Soviet elite who were glad to have state-of-the-art medical care available, even President Leonard Brezhnev ‘s wife made use of the medical complex.

Even today the building has good bones and could be very useful, but it has sat abandoned since 1993. It was not for lack of interest that the building fell into disrepair. A group of locals tried to get investors interested in the building and held a public tour and meeting for the property. Things took a bad turn when a sheet of glass broke underneath a man and he fell 33 feet to his death. The hospital has since been left alone with the exception of the guards and dogs that continue to keep people from the premises.

The reason for the fear is well-founded as there have been many reports of hauntings at the hospital and malevolent spirits. It was rumored that the Nazis used the state of the art facilities to perform many of their inhuman experiments . There are many who believe that those who died at the hospital, especially from the rumored experiments still haunt the expansive building. The bodies of those who died at the hospital are still somewhere on the grounds.

There is a large network of tunnels under the hospital leading some to think that the hospital was just a front and the Nazis used the location as a means to move agents around the region. When the Soviets abandoned the building in 1993 , they left most of the medical equipment and files behind, some of them have been looted but most of it remains. Few will dare to brave the ghosts or the guards at the site.

Eternal Soldiers: 8 World War II Ghost Stories

Penang War Museum, Malaysia

The Penang War Museum is a unique case on the list because it is a place full of World War II ghost stories but there is very little reason for them. It has been called one of the most haunted places on earth and was even the focus of a television show or two, but by all historical accounts, it is not a place that should be haunted. The Penang War Museum is located at Bukit Batu Maung Hill and is in the remains of a British fort from the days when the British colonized Malaysia.

The fort was built in the 1930s as a way to protect the British shipping routes around Malayan Peninsula. The British were only at the fort for a few years before the Japanese invaded in December of 1941. The fort was built to withstand sea attacks and had little defense against the Japanese air attack . The British fled and left the area to the Japanese. The Japanese used the fort to protect their own shipping routes until the end of the war, at which time it was abandoned.

That ends the official history of the fort. But the Penang War Museum has their own self-researched history that is much more gruesome and offers plenty of reason for ghosts. The museum claims that the Japanese turned the fort into a POW camp where there were frequent tortures and daily beheadings. The cruel executioner, the museum claims, was Tadashi Suzuki. Many visitors to the museum claim to have seen him or other Japanese soldiers walking throughout the area.

The museum plays upon this dark history with pictures of Tadashi Suzuki, plaques with gruesome stories and large effigies of ghosts that were said to have been seen by the construction crew during the renovation of the base. Despite all the reports of ghost sightings and the fear that can be felt at the place, there is no evidence that it was ever a POW camp or that Tadashi Suzuki was ever there. Many attribute the stories of the museum to taking advantage of dark tourism and playing on the atrocities of war that did happen elsewhere in Malaysia.

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He Led A Platoon Of Artists Who Fooled The Germans: 'Imagination Is Unbelievable'

Camila Kerwin

Emma Bowman, photographed for NPR, 27 July 2019, in Washington DC.

Emma Bowman

world war 2 ghost stories

A young Gilbert Seltzer in uniform in October, 1942, after graduating from Officer Candidate School in Fort Belvoir, Va. Courtesy of Gilbert Seltzer hide caption

A young Gilbert Seltzer in uniform in October, 1942, after graduating from Officer Candidate School in Fort Belvoir, Va.

After World War II broke out, 26-year-old Gilbert Seltzer enlisted into the Army.

Soon after, he was told he was being put on a secret mission — and an unconventional one at that.

Seltzer, then an architectural draftsman, was selected to lead a platoon of men within a unit dubbed the "Ghost Army." Made up mostly of artists, creatives and engineers, the unit would go on to play an instrumental role in securing victory in Europe for the U.S. and its allies.

Their mission was deception. From inflatable tanks, to phony convoys, to scripted conversations in bars intended to spread disinformation, they used any and all possible trick to fool the enemy.

In the Ghost Army, a shadow unit of 1,100 American troops, men were tasked to outwit German forces through three specialized arms — visual, radio and sonic.

At 104 years old, Seltzer sat down with his granddaughter, Sarah Seltzer, for a StoryCorps conversation in January to remember this unusual outfit.

Shortly after arriving in Normandy, Seltzer says, his platoon was instructed to take the place of an American anti-aircraft battery that had been set up on the land of a French farmer.

The farmer, who was upset by all the noise the real battery was causing, was delighted when he saw it move out during the night.

world war 2 ghost stories

The Ghost Army built deceptive technology to thwart the Germans, like this dummy 155 mm gun, pictured sometime between 1943 and 1944. Photo courtesy of Ghost Army Legacy Project, The George William Curtis Collection hide caption

The Ghost Army built deceptive technology to thwart the Germans, like this dummy 155 mm gun, pictured sometime between 1943 and 1944.

But the following morning, he saw that Seltzer's platoon had set up four rubber guns for the purpose of impersonating the real battery and drawing fire from German troops.

The angry farmer approached Seltzer, the officer in charge.

"He said, 'Encore boom boom?,' and I didn't know how to answer him," Seltzer said.

The farmer then punched the rubber gun with his fist, which naturally bounced back. "He looked at it, and he said, 'Boom boom ha ha!' "

"And in four syllables, it described the mission of our outfit — to fool the German army," Seltzer said.

Artists of Battlefield Deception: Soldiers of the 23rd

World War II Stories

Artists of battlefield deception: soldiers of the 23rd.

The soldiers would project the sound of tanks as if they were traveling along the roads of Europe.

"We would move into the woods in the middle of the night going through villages in France, Belgium, Germany," he said. "The natives would say to each other, 'Did you see the tanks moving through town last night?' And they were not lying. They thought they were seeing them! Imagination is unbelievable."

world war 2 ghost stories

Sarah Seltzer interviews her grandfather, 104-year-old Gilbert Seltzer, in West Orange, N.J., in January for StoryCorps. Afi Yellow-Duke/StoryCorps hide caption

Sarah Seltzer interviews her grandfather, 104-year-old Gilbert Seltzer, in West Orange, N.J., in January for StoryCorps.

The Ghost Army's arsenal may have been fake, but Seltzer says they saw plenty of combat. The unit saw action in five strategic military campaigns across Northern Europe.

"The goal was to draw fire away from the real battery to us," he said. "For instance, when the Rhine [River] was crossed, we were able to get the German army to assemble opposite us, firing at us. And when the actual crossing was made, about 20 miles to our north, there was practically no resistance."

According to Smithsonian magazine, the unit is believed to have saved as many as 30,000 American lives.

"I don't believe there was 30,000, but if we saved one life, it was worth it," Seltzer said.

Since the mission had been classified top secret for 50 years, Seltzer told his granddaughter that he could only talk about the experience with fellow veterans, most of whom have died.

"It was an experience that can't be translated," he said.

"It was funny, it was distasteful, it was crazy. We did it to overcome a terrible, terrible enemy. And the fact that we did so successfully is probably the biggest source of pride."

StoryCorps' Military Voices Initiative records stories from members of the U.S. military and their families.

Audio produced for Weekend Edition Saturday by Camila Kerwin.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at .

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10 Eeriest Unsolved Mysteries of World War II

Ghost trains, unexplained aerial phenomena, and disappeared men still haunt World War II scholars.

unsolved WWII mysteries

  • Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

War is a strange time, and there is perhaps no stranger one in history than World War II. From rumors that the Nazis were involved in occult research—rumors that have been successfully mined in films like Indiana Jones and comic books like Hellboy —to ominous sightings, mysterious battles, and ghostly planes, World War II scarred the world, and left behind countless mysteries, many of which have never been solved. We’ve written in the past about some of these, such as the vanishing Amber Room , but now we’re going to investigate a few of the spookiest, eeriest, and most uncanny enigmas left behind by the Second World War.

1. The Nazi Gold Train

unsolved WWII mysteries

Alleged hiding place of the train in Wałbrzych

In April of 1945, it was pretty clear to the Nazi forces that the war was almost over, and it wasn’t going in their favor. According to some accounts, they loaded a train with Nazi treasure, including gold and other valuables looted from Jewish victims of the Holocaust, and sent it on a trip through the Owl Mountains, where it disappeared. Some believe that the train vanished into tunnels created in the mountains as part of Der Riese , a secret facility built by the Nazis during the war. In spite of the efforts of countless treasure hunters over the decades, however, the so-called Nazi “ghost train” has never been recovered. 

Related: What Lies Beneath: The Deadly Mystery of the Oak Island Money Pit  

2. Foo Fighters

Even before the term UFO (or Unidentified Flying Object) had been officially adopted by the United States Air Force in 1953, pilots were spotting strange things in the sky. During World War II, they called these mysterious objects “foo fighters,” a name that was borrowed from the Smokey Stover comic strips of artist Bill Holman. Initially reported by the 415th Night Fighter Squadron, and named by their radar operator Donald J. Meiers, these objects were generally thought to be secret weapons employed by the Axis forces, though the Robertson Panel later determined that they were likely natural phenomena such as St. Elmo’s Fire. 

3. The Disappearance of Flight 19

bermuda triangle

An artist's depiction of Flight 19

While technically occurring shortly after the end of the war, the disappearance of Flight 19 is notable in part because of its role in helping to establish the legend of the Bermuda Triangle. While on a training flight over that infamous patch of ocean, five Grumman TBM Avenger torpedo bombers lost contact with the tower. A Martin PBM Mariner flying boat was launched to search for the planes, which were assumed to have crashed, but the Mariner disappeared as well. No wreckage or bodies were ever recovered, either from Flight 19 or the Mariner, and Navy investigators were unable to determine a cause for the total disappearance of, in all, some 27 men and six planes. 

4. The Battle of Los Angeles

The attack on Pearl Harbor shocked America so much that it probably comes as no surprise that when an unidentified object was spotted in the sky over Los Angeles only a few months later, the response was swift. Witnesses described the object in question as round and glowing orange. It didn’t take long for searchlights to begin sweeping the skies or for anti-aircraft guns to fire more than 1,400 shells at the mysterious object. If anything was hit, no wreckage was found. In 1949, the United States Coast Artillery Association claimed that a weather balloon had started the shooting, while in 1983 the U.S. Office of Air Force History chalked the whole event up to a case of “war nerves.” 

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5. Hitler's Globe

unsolved WWII myteries

Hitler's Globe was also known as the Führer Globe

Made famous by Charlie Chaplin in his film The Great Dictator , Hitler really did have an enormous globe with a wooden base in his office. Manufactured by the Columbus factory, the globe was one of Hitler’s most prized possessions, but after the end of the war, it was never seen again. Some claim that a globe, recently auctioned by its owner, was Hitler's, but historian Wolfram Pobanz disputes that , saying the globe in question actually belonged to Joachim von Ribbentrop.

Related: The Dead Man Who Duped Hitler: The Beyond Bizarre Tale of WWII’s Strangest Operation  

6. Die Glocke

During World War II, Nazi propaganda popularized the idea of a number of Wunderwaffe , or “Miracle Weapons” that were supposedly going to help Germany win the war. Most of these weapons remained prototypes or even simply theoretical, but the idea of them entered the public consciousness, and has proven fertile ground for science fiction writers over the years.

In the year 2000, a Polish journalist named Igor Witkowski described a particularly chilling Wunderwaffe known as Die Glocke , German for “The Bell.” This bell-shaped weapon was said to be roughly 12 feet tall, and contained two rotating cylinders filled with a metallic liquid known as Zerum-525. When activated, the terrifying weapon was supposed to create a zone of effect around itself that would cause blood to coagulate inside the body and plants to decompose. Many of the scientists who worked on Die Glocke were said to have died while testing it, though the weapon was never used and, depending on whom you believe, may never have actually existed at all.

7. The Blood Flag

unsolved WWII mysteries

Hitler is accompanied by the Blutfahne

Before the rise of the Third Reich, the infamous Nazi flag had already made its appearance during Hitler’s failed Beer Hall Putsch of 1923. During the fighting that followed, the flag was soaked in the blood of Nazi Brown Shirts, and became a potent symbol of the movement.

Throughout the war, Hitler would use replicas of the flag, which was sometimes referred to as the Blutfahne , or “Blood Flag,” in rallies, but the flag itself was last seen in 1944. Some believe that the bloodstained flag was destroyed during the Allied bombing of Munich, while others assert that the flag still exists. Many have claimed ownership of it over the years, but no claims have been proven.

8. 17 British Soldiers at Auschwitz

In 2009, during excavations at perhaps the most infamous of the Nazi concentration camps, a list was found containing the names of 17 British soldiers. What is unclear is what the list was a list of. Were these former prisoners of war, or defectors who joined the SS? What’s more, some of the names had marks by them, which seemed to indicate something, though what they indicated remains unclear. 

9. Who Turned in Anne Frank?

unsolved WWII mysteries

Through her famous diary, Anne Frank has become one of the most well known voices of the atrocities of the Holocaust. The diary was written while Frank was hiding in Amsterdam, but she ultimately died in the Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp. While her diary shed light upon much of her life, the reason for her death remains a mystery. Someone must have reported her, but who ultimately made the anonymous phone call that led to the capture and execution of Anne Frank and her family?

Related: 15 Biographies of Remarkable Women That You Need to Read  

10. Big Stoop

For a war that was fought more than 70 years ago, the number of Allied soldiers who remain listed as MIA is staggering, clocking in at more than 70,000. Many of these men disappeared in the war’s Pacific theater, where oceans, islands, and jungles made recovery—and discovery—difficult. Among these were the crew of a B-24 bomber called Big Stoop, shot down near Palau. For decades, the plane and its crew were considered lost, with no wreckage or bodies to be found. It wasn’t until 2004 that the plane’s fuselage was located by a team of divers, and not until 2010 that the families of the crew were able to bury at least some of their bones in Arlington National Cemetery, though mysteries still surround the exact fate of the bomber. 

These are just a few of the strange and unexplained events that took place during and surrounding the Second World War. Even when the mysteries of war find solutions, the fog that war leaves behind often obscures as much as it reveals, and there can be no doubt that the aftermath of World War II left many other secrets behind, some of which we may still not be aware of even today. 

Featured photo: Wikimedia Commons; Additional photo: Alchetron  

Editor’s note: this list was updated on 12/2/21 to remove the mystery of the Pearl Harbor ghost plane, which has since been debunked. You can read more about it here .

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Explore the lives of little-known changemakers who left their mark on the country

How the Ghost Army of WWII Used Art to Deceive the Nazis

Unsung for decades, the U.S. Army’s 23rd Headquarters Special Troops drew on visual, sonic and radio deception to misdirect the Germans

Kellie B. Gormly

Contributing Writer

Inflatable dummy tanks

Bernie Bluestein was 19 years old when he spotted a vaguely worded notice on the bulletin board at his Cleveland art college in March 1943. It was the middle of World War II, and the United States Army was seeking recruits for a new, non-combat camouflage unit that would draw on the art of deception to misdirect the enemy.

All for serving his country but not exactly the “fighter-type person,” Bluestein enlisted in the enigmatic unit. He didn’t know it at the time, but the assignment would prove riskier than most non-combat roles: If the Nazis found out that members of the so-called “ Ghost Army ” were playing them for fools, they were likely to retaliate brutally.

“If I had known that before I got into the service, I probably would have made a different decision,” says Bluestein, now 98. A resident of Schaumburg, Illinois, he remains an avid artist , making everything from paintings to ceramics.

Bernie Bluestein in an undated photo

Known formally as the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops , the unit carried out more than 20 deception campaigns during the final year of the war. Drawing on members’ artistic talent and technological savvy, the Ghost Army created elaborate illusions featuring inflatable tanks, jeeps and artillery; speakers that blasted prerecorded tracks of troops in action; and falsified radio dispatches. Their goal: to confuse and intimidate the Germans by offering a false sense of the Americans’ numbers and troop movements.

In total, the 23rd saved the lives of an estimated 15,000 to 30,000 American servicemen. Their successful missions included D-Day and Operation Viersen , a March 1945 hoax that convinced the Germans their enemies were planning to cross the Rhine River far north of where they actually attacked. Though the unit’s numbers were limited—it comprised 1,023 men and 82 officers—the soldiers’ visual, sonic and radio deceptions managed to convince the Germans that they faced enemy forces of up to 40,000 men .

Despite the Ghost Army’s pivotal role in the Allied victory, few outside of the unit knew of its existence until decades after the war. Smithsonian magazine published the first feature-length, public account of the group’s exploits in April 1985; veteran Arthur Shilstone illustrated the article and offered firsthand testimony of his wartime experiences. The U.S. government declassified the unit’s official history around that same time, according to the Ghost Army Legacy Project , but soon reclassified the records and kept them under wraps until 1996.

The opening pages of Smithsonian magazine's April 1985 story on the Ghost Army

Seventy-seven years after the war’s end, the men who served in the Ghost Army—no more than ten of whom are known to still be alive—have received one of the nation’s highest honors: the Congressional Gold Medal. In February, President Joe Biden signed a bill granting the award to the unit for its “unique and highly distinguished service in conducting deception operations.”

“My mouth was wide open,” says Bluestein of the recognition. “It’s a thrill to have that honor. If you ask most of us, we never thought much about what we did. We did what we had to do in the war … and that was it.”

Comprising artists, architects, set designers, painters, engineers and other highly skilled creatives, the four-unit Ghost Army—the first of its kind in American history—was activated on January 20, 1944. (A separate, sonic-only unit called the 3133rd Signal Service Company operated in Italy.) It was inspired by the British troops who fought Erwin Rommel , a German field marshal nicknamed the “Desert Fox,” in Egypt in fall 1942. To trick the Germans, the British disguised tanks, weapons and supplies as trucks , masking the army’s progress and convincing the enemy that the attack would come from the south, not the north, two or three days later than actually planned.

A dummy tank used by the British in Operation Bertram, seen under construction in 1942

The brainchild of London-based U.S. Army planners Billy Harris and Ralph Ingersoll , the Ghost Army “was more theatrical than military,” wrote Captain Fred Fox in the official history of the 23rd. “It was like a traveling road show that went up and down the front lines impersonating the real fighting outfits.” Led by Colonel Harry L. Reeder, the unit included graduates of West Point and former Army Specialized Training Program participants; the men’s average IQ was 119—one of the highest in the Army, according to the National WWII Museum , which debuted a traveling exhibition on the Ghost Army in 2020.

“This is a unit that used creativity and illusion to save lives and help win the war. ... That’s something highly worthy of honor,” says Rick Beyer , producer of the 2013 documentary The Ghost Army and president of the Ghost Army Legacy Project . “It was a crazy idea applied in a challenging situation.”

After arriving in Europe in the summer of 1944, the Ghost Army immediately got to work. “The adjustment from man of action to man of wile was most difficult,” noted Fox in his history of the unit. “Few realized at first that one could spend just as much energy pretending to fight as actually fighting.”

An inflatable M8 Armored Car.

Members of the 603rd Camouflage Engineering Battalion division created 93-pound , inflatable tanks that looked like the real thing from thousands of feet in the air. Blown up under cover of darkness, these dummy tanks and assorted inflatables featured painted details that lent the ruse an air of authenticity. The 3132 Signal Service Company and Signal Company Special supplemented the illusion with recordings of training exercises and construction, as well as radio messages that skillfully mimicked the styles of other units. The fourth and final unit in the 23rd, the 406th Engineer Combat Company Special , provided perimeter security and helped with construction and demolition.

“It really did make a dent in the German planning,” says Gerry Souter , co-author of The Ghost Army: Conning the Third Reich alongside his wife, Janet. “It kept them confused. It kept them off balance.”

Janet adds, “[The Germans] fell for it terrifically. They saw groups of tanks, and they heard people marching back and forth at night. They were so convinced that they sent over their jet plane bombers and fighters.”

Bluestein recalls learning how to construct dummy planes and trucks out of wood, which was then covered in burlap and “imperfectly camouflaged” with paint to attract the attention of enemy aerial scouts, per the Ghost Army Legacy Project .

A sonic halftrack equipped with playback equipment and 500-pound speakers

“They looked so real,” he says. “[But] the equipment was just part of it. We circulated in the saloons and everywhere we could go into town at dusk, letting [locals] know that we were the real troops. … The tanks were just part of the visual effect.”

According to Gerry, the Ghost Army’s work was so secretive that none of the men in the unit spoke about it to their friends and family. Even their wives had only a vague idea of their husbands’ daily work overseas. Soldiers outside of the 23rd had no idea of the unit’s existence; when the men were off duty, they camouflaged themselves as members of other divisions by wearing fake badges and painting different insignias on their vehicles. In reading the men’s letters , says Janet, you can sense their loneliness and isolation.

“It is too bad I can’t tell you about the places I’ve seen—I hope I’ll be able to remember it all after I get home. Probably I will, bit by bit,” wrote Sergeant Harold J. Dahl in a September 3, 1944, missive to his family.

Ghost Army veteran George Dramis —a native of Ashtabula, Ohio, who was drafted in 1942 at age 18—remembers “roughing it” most of the time, sleeping outside and often lacking adequate supplies.

“It was just a wild and woolly period of time, but it was very interesting,” says Dramis, now 97. “I could hear fighting all the time—bullets whizzing by.”

George Dramis (center) with two fellow soldiers from the 23rd

After getting drafted, Dramis took a Morse code test and was selected for the Signal Company Special radio team. He took part in the Normandy landings on D-Day and a deception campaign conducted ahead of the Battle for Brest in August and September 1944. In addition to sending fake radio transmissions, Dramis and his comrades intercepted German radio signals.

“The idea was that we’re going to create a little unit of about 1,000 men or so, and we’re going to try to pretend we are a much larger unit,” Dramis says. “We were going to fake [out] the Germans … while the true divisions pulled out of the line and moved north or south of the position to attack. We would hold that position with just a few men. It was dangerous work because we didn’t have the firepower to withstand a frontal attack.”

Often operating within a few hundred yards of front lines across the Western Front, the Ghost Army may not have been directly involved in combat, but their work required much courage. All of the men carried a weapon—mostly carbines , or short-barreled rifles—but they lacked the heavy arms of combat units, leaving them vulnerable. Three members of the 23rd were killed in action, and around 30 were wounded by artillery fire.

An inflatable dummy tank modeled after the M4 Sherman, pictured in southern England during Operation Fortitude in 1944

“It’s a special kind of bravery,” Beyer says. “That’s a pretty nervy thing to do.”

Gerry adds, “[E]ventually they learned how to be a soldier, and how to be an effective soldier. They had to learn how to deal with something completely different.”

Per the Army’s official history , the 23rd’s “last deceptive effort of the war was fortunately [its] best.” Dubbed Operation Viersen , the March 1945 mission found the Ghost Army impersonating two entire divisions—around 40,000 soldiers—in an attempt to convince the enemy the U.S. Ninth Army would cross the Rhine River ten miles south of its actual crossing point. The men inflated more than 600 dummy vehicles, transmitted false radio dispatches and blared simulated sounds of soldiers building pontoon boats, enabling the Ninth to enter Germany with little resistance. The unit returned to the U.S. in July and was deactivated on September 15 , after the Japanese surrender.

At the end of the war, according to the Souters’ book, the Ghost Army’s deception equipment was recycled for use in the Army’s aggressor force training program, which created a hypothetical enemy for troops practicing fighting. None of the inflatable tanks are known to survive today , but the techniques pioneered by the unit have had a lasting influence on modern military tactics.

Men from Company D of the 603rd Camouflage Engineers, the unit that handled visual deception for the 23rd

As for the men who served, some remained in the military after the war. But most returned to civilian life, still guarding the top-secret details of their wartime campaigns. Bluestein went back to school in Cleveland, became an industrial designer and settled in the Chicago area. Dramis was married for 75 years and eventually moved to Raleigh, North Carolina, to be near family. Other veterans found fame in creative fields: Notable alumni of the Ghost Army include fashion designer Bill Blass , artist Ellsworth Kelly and photographer Art Kane .

The Ghost Army may have been a small unit, but it made a big impact on the war’s success, Beyer and other historians argue.

“Rarely, if ever, has there been a group of such a few men which had so great an influence on the outcome of a major military campaign,” declared a classified Army report released 30 years after the war.

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The creativity and ingenuity of the Ghost Army undoubtedly contributed to the Allied victory, Beyer says.

“They’re worthy of hearing about,” he adds. “What they did is a real lesson in that war isn’t always about [charging] the hill. ... Sometimes, it’s about doing something smart and clever …. that will result in fewer deaths.

Beyer concludes, “Imagination and thoughtfulness can result in people [not having] to lose their lives.”

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Kellie B. Gormly is an award-winning veteran journalist who freelances for national publications including The Washington Post, German Life, and Catster . She is a former staff writer for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, The Associated Press and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram .

In France, ghosts of World War II are still very much alive

world war 2 ghost stories

ORADOUR-SUR-GLANE, France — When President Barack Obama joins other heads of state in France to mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day on June 6, attention will focus on the Allied offensive’s main landing site, the beaches of Normandy.

But on a continent that saw a generation slaughtered in combat and millions more perish in the Nazi concentration camps of German-occupied Poland and Germany, there are many other poignant reminders of World War II.

In this small town in the Limousin region more than 300 miles south of Omaha Beach, people will gather to remember the worst Nazi atrocity on French soil.

Although what happened here didn’t change the course of the war like the American arrival at Normandy, it’s important for how the war is remembered today.

Three days after D-Day on June 9, 1944, an armed Waffen SS infantry unit from Hitler’s brutal Das Reich regiment rounded up this town’s entire population in an act of revenge for the alleged kidnapping of a Nazi commander by the French Resistance.

The men were massacred with machine guns before their bodies, some still alive, were covered in hay and incinerated. Women and children who sought refuge in the church were locked in and the building set alight. Of the 500 people inside, only one child survived.

A few escaped the bloodshed by lying under corpses or in nearby fields. Some others returned from work in nearby towns and villages that evening to find their homes decimated, their family and friends burned to ash.

The Germans torched the town so thoroughly that no building escaped the flames.

In all, 642 people died that day, including 193 children, their bodies mostly unidentifiable. The event would come to horrify the country.

When Charles de Gaulle, then leader of the interim government, arrived to pay his respects the following March, he was so horrified by what had taken place that he ordered the village abandoned.

Charred cars were left on street corners and in burned-out garages, sewing machines and bicycles remained exposed to the elements and the railway tracks would remain idle.

De Gaulle wanted Oradour-sur-Glane to serve as a reminder to future generations of what human beings can do to each other under the most appalling of circumstances. The extraordinary loss of life in what was once a very ordinary French town would be a symbol of everything wrong with war.

In the years that followed, a new town was built across the road from the old one. It now provides car parking, cafes and accommodation for tourists who come here — largely on word of mouth recommendations — to visit what’s now a ghost town.

More than 130,000 people come to Oradour-sur-Glane each year to wander the abandoned streets, mostly in silence.

Last year, the presidents of Germany and France visited the village to join hands with survivor Robert Hebras, then 88.

In January, German prosecutors charged an 88-year-old ex-soldier over the attack, one of six people to have been accused after Germany reopened a war crimes case into the attack in 2010.

Elsewhere in France, hundreds of thousands more people visit the beaches of Normandy and poppy fields of the Somme, where one of the deadliest battles of World War I took place.

Despite its somber subject, war tourism is big business, contributing millions of dollars to the French economy each year. This year is expected to be more lucrative than ever, with an expected 60 percent increase in visitors.

In the Calvados department of Lower Normandy alone — where most D-Day ceremonies take place — commemorative tourism generates an estimated $280 million a year. At last count, there were 64 hotels and 860 bed-and-breakfasts and self-catering holiday homes — or gites — within reach of the landing beaches.

More from Global Post:  Europe’s south struggles to rise again

As excitement over the 70th anniversary started building last year, Americans represented almost 40 percent of foreign tourists — or more than 19 percent of all tourists — in the vicinity.

But reminders of the war are everywhere in France. Every village, town and city lived under the Nazi shadow, and every single one has a memorial to its dead.

Elsewhere across Europe, the list of places that witnessed unspeakable horrors and are now open to the public is long, from the former World War II concentration camps of Auschwitz , Dachau and Bergen-Belsen , to the Belgian town of Ypres, all but annihilated during the World War I but now home to an extraordinary museum .

Those places are still doing what De Gaulle hoped: Their ghosts still alive, reminding the world about the horrors war continues to inflict on innocent people everywhere. 

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Eight Ghost Stories in Which the Dead Won’t Go Quietly

Literature has a long tradition of using the genre to address unsettled pasts and forgotten traumas.

One man and two women in clothes from the past, all semi-transparent like ghosts in front of a house's porch

“I do not believe in ghosts,” Edith Wharton once wrote, “but I am afraid of them.” Writers turn to ghost stories not just for chills and fear but also because they’re a powerful medium for reckoning with memory and history. Many classic ghost stories involve a forgotten trauma that’s resurfacing or a repressed disaster that’s returning. The ghost clings to things left undone and unsaid; it demands witness, accountability, or restitution. For much of America’s history, powerful forces have attempted to bury the country’s violent past—the stain of slavery, the Native American genocide, and so many other smaller acts of terror. The ghost-story genre allows those silenced voices a say. Toni Morrison’s Beloved remains the best-known example of this, but it is by no means the only great work built around a ghost.

Here is a collection of other fascinating stories about ghosts, in which characters are confronted by unresolved pain that erupts into the present in sometimes frightening but always illuminating ways. Not all of these ghosts are terrifying—some are even comedic—but all of these books will cling to you long after you’ve put them down.

Ghosts , by Edith Wharton

The cover of Ghosts by Edith Wharton.

In addition to the novels she’s famous for, Wharton (like Henry James) wrote ghost stories throughout her career; this recent collection from NYRB Classics includes 11 of them from 1902 to 1937. Wharton was always an acute observer of social mores and hidden power dynamics, and she used tales about ghosts to further explore the psychic damage those structures inflicted on individuals. In “The Lady’s Maid’s Bell,” for example, the protagonist is hired as a maid in a gloomy house where the previous maid has died. Soon enough, she begins to see the ghostly apparition of the woman she’s replaced. With a mood similar to James’s “The Turn of the Screw,” Wharton here tells a tale of how domestic servants were used up and seen as replaceable by the upper class—and the uncanny consequences of such attitudes.

Ceremony , by Leslie Marmon Silko

The cover of Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko.

Next to Beloved, no other American novel has used ghost metaphors to deliver such a devastating critique of American history. Tayo, half white and half Laguna Pueblo, is a veteran of World War II. Back in New Mexico, he’s haunted by the ghosts of his dead family members, by what he’s seen in war, and by the ecological damage inflicted on the land he once understood. A punishing drought has settled in, mirroring the spiritual desolation in Tayo, whose sickness can be healed by neither white doctors nor Pueblo medicine (“There are some things we can’t cure like we used to,” the old man Ku’oosh tells him). Shot through with gorgeous writing about the American Southwest, Ceremony is by turns lush and harrowing, built on the idea that white people are actually the conjurings of witches—and that handling their presence will require new kinds of rituals. Published in 1977, it remains a stunningly eerie meditation on a country full of ghosts.

White Tears , by Hari Kunzru

The cover of White Tears by Hari Kunzru.

To call an old recording “haunting” is cliché, but Kunzru’s White Tears takes this idea literally. Two young, white music lovers in New York City, Carter and Seth, stumble upon one of Seth’s field recordings of an otherworldly blues song. He can’t remember making it, but he and Carter remix it into their own composition, giving the singer the name Charlie Shaw. Kunzru’s interest is ultimately in the effects of appropriation, using a ghost to examine the long legacy of white exploitation of Black culture: Once Carter and Seth learn that their fictitious blues musician is somehow real, and vengeful, they realize that stealing from the past has repercussions. As the previous person followed by Charlie’s “ancient and bloody” voice tells Carter, “Charlie Shaw wants something from you, and it’s something you don’t want to give. You’ve crossed the line and now you have to prepare yourself.”

Read: A Ghost Story is a haunting modern fable

Taaqtumi: An Anthology of Arctic Horror Stories , edited by Neil Christopher

The cover of Taaqtumi.

The natural world is out of balance—sometimes subtly, sometimes horrifyingly—in this collection of contemporary stories primarily by Indigenous writers and published by the Inuit-owned Inhabit Books. Individuals conjure spirits best left alone, indulge in unnatural appetites, and learn the price of forgetting traditional wisdom. In Aviaq Johnston’s “ Iqsinaqtutalik Piqtuq : The Haunted Blizzard,” a teenager named Inu is caught at home alone in a storm that appears from nowhere. Over the phone, her mother reminds her that it’s just weather, but Inu isn’t entirely convinced: “She’s too grown up to remember the scary parts of our land. The scary things that hide around us.” The town’s elders, after all, have warned her that sometimes such events bring danger or worse, and no amount of her mother’s faith in science can stop whatever is calling out to Inu from behind the shower curtain—or protect her as the curtain is slowly pushed aside. Each of the stories in Taaqtumi warps reality in surprising and often terrifying ways, a reflection of the unsteady relationship between nature and human culture.

Unseen City , by Amy Shearn

The cover of Unseen City by Amy Shearn.

The Brooklyn writer Shearn’s most recent novels rely on magical realism to open up unexpected layers of New York, and her lighthearted touch belies a serious fascination with how the city works. Her third novel, Unseen City , follows Meg Rhys, a librarian who lives with her dead sister Kate’s cat—and Kate’s ghost. The ghost is hardly malevolent; to Meg, it manifests more as “a sense of comfort, a certain Kateliness in the air.” But when Meg’s forced to move, she begins to worry that her sister’s spirit may not know how to follow her. Meanwhile, she’s drawn into helping a handsome patron research a house that may also be haunted. Thrumming beneath these plotlines is a darker story, one that Meg and her new companion slowly uncover, involving the 19th-century Black community of Weeksville. In a place like New York, each generation is buried under fresh layers of gentrification, and each new developer or house-flipper is eager to erase the past in search of a quick buck. As keepers of both personal memory and a place’s history, the ghosts of Unseen City continually resurface to tell their own stories as well as those of their homes.

Hades, Argentina , by Daniel Loedel

The cover of Hades, Argentina by Daniel Loedel

Loedel’s Hades, Argentina details a spectral love affair between two casualties of Argentina’s brutal military junta. Tomás, a resistance spy, fled the country and has only now returned, traumatized, after democracy has been restored. He reunites with his lover, Isabel, who was killed by the regime and exists only as a ghost. During the seven years of Argentina’s so-called Dirty War , tens of thousands were killed or “disappeared.” Many victims’ families have been denied the basic closure of even knowing what happened. “You know there are no dead in Argentina, Tomás. Only disappeared,” the Virgil-esque Colonel explains before Tomás descends into the netherworld of the book’s title. In Loedel’s novel, ghosts are a language for this open wound, a way to narrate death and loss in the absence of any kind of record.

Read: My sister was disappeared 43 years ago

Ghosts , by Dolly Alderton

The cover of Ghosts by Dolly Alderton

Nina is a successful cookbook author who’s met the man of her dreams—except that as soon as he’s told her he loves her, he ghosts her, not answering any of her texts and then dropping off the face of the Earth. Max has no online presence or social-media accounts, and without the usual means of keeping tabs on someone, Nina is forced to confront the fact that Max is gone. To be ghosted, Nina’s friend reminds her, is to be “haunted by someone who vanishes, you don’t get any closure,” and though Alderton’s novel has little to do with the supernatural, she nonetheless explores how those who depart without a trace leave strange holes in the world that make one’s own memories feel uncanny. How can you say what was real if the other half of the relationship is simply missing without explanation? Alderton’s novel mainly targets immature men, but in the process, she asks questions about what we leave behind when we move in and out of other people’s lives.

The Sentence , by Louise Erdrich

The cover of The Sentence by Louise Erdrich

White Americans have long been obsessed with the idea of the ghosts of Native Americans , disturbed by construction on burial grounds and coming for revenge. It’s a kind of ghost story that allows white people to approach the horror of North America’s colonization without having to confront it directly. Erdrich’s novel inverts this trope: Her Ojibwe narrator, the bookstore-worker Tookie, finds that the shop’s most annoying customer, a white woman named Flora, has come back from the grave. Flora’s apparition flips the clichéd script. “Think how white people believe their houses or yards or scenic overlooks are haunted by Indians, when it’s really the opposite,” Tookie’s friend Asema explains. “We’re haunted by settlers and their descendants.” In life, Flora claimed Native ancestry and asserted a false kinship with Tookie; in death, she leaves behind a mystery, a book that contains a sentence so powerful that Tookie comes to believe it may have killed her. As Tookie watches the country undergo dramatic upheavals during the pandemic and amid protests after the murder of George Floyd , she must also attempt to understand what Flora’s ghost wants from her.

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Ghost Soldiers: The Epic Account of World War II&#39;s Greatest Rescue Mission

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Ghost Soldiers: The Epic Account of World War II's Greatest Rescue Mission Paperback – May 7, 2002

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  • Print length 384 pages
  • Language English
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  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Vintage (May 7, 2002)
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HAMPTON SIDES is the author of In the Kingdom of Ice, Ghost Soldiers, Blood and Thunder, Hellhound On His Trail, and other bestselling works of narrative history and literary non-fiction. His newest work, On Desperate Ground, will be published by Doubleday this October. Hampton is an editor-at-large for Outside magazine. His magazine work, collected in numerous published anthologies, has been twice named a Finalist for the National Magazine Awards in feature writing. A recent fellow of the Santa Fe Institute, he teaches literary journalism and narrative history at Colorado College. A native of Memphis with a BA in history from Yale, he lives in Santa Fe with his wife Anne.

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Ghost Army Header

Ghost Army: The Combat Con Artists of World War II

Activated on January 20, 1944, the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, known as the “Ghost Army,” was the first mobile, multimedia, tactical deception unit in US Army history. Consisting of an authorized strength of 82 officers and 1,023 men under the command of Army veteran Colonel Harry L. Reeder, this unique and top-secret unit was capable of simulating two whole divisions—approximately 30,000 men—and used visual, sonic, and radio deception to fool German forces during World War II’s final year. Now, through The National WWII Museum’s newest special exhibit, Ghost Army: The Combat Con Artists of World War II, visitors can learn the story of the 23rd and their role in Allied victory through featured artifacts such as artwork, uniforms, an inflatable tank, and more.

Armed with nothing heavier than .50 caliber machine guns, the 23rd took part in 22 large-scale deceptions in Europe from Normandy to the Rhine River, the bulk of the unit arriving in England in May 1944, shortly before D-Day. The brainchild of Colonel Billy Harris and Major Ralph Ingersoll, both American military planners based in London, the unit consisted of a carefully selected group of artists, engineers, professional soldiers, and draftees, including famed artists such as fashion designer Bill Blass, painter Ellsworth Kelly, and photographer Art Kane. Many West Point graduates and former Army Specialized Training Program participants were assigned to the 23rd, and it was said to have one of the highest IQs in the Army with an average of 119. The unit waged war with inflatable tanks and vehicles, fake radio traffic, sound effects, and even phony generals, using imagination and illusion to trick the enemy while saving thousands of lives along the way. The 23rd, along with the 3133rd Signal Service Company in Italy, helped liberate Europe from the grip of Nazi tyranny.

Following the war, the unit’s soldiers were sworn to secrecy, records were classified, and equipment packed away. Except for a newspaper article right after the war, no one spoke publicly about the deceivers until a 1985 Smithsonian article. Though knowledge of the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops was then public, it was still officially classified until the mid-1990s.

In Ghost Army , the unique story of the 23rd’s more than 1,100 men who deceived, sketched, and painted across Europe to manipulate Hitler’s armies is told through multiple elements including historical narrative text panels detailing unit operations, profiles of unit officers, archival photography, and even sketches and uniforms from unit officers. In addition, a robust schedule of public programming and educational initiatives, free to the public and students, will further explore the exhibit’s themes.

After its run on the Museum campus, Ghost Army will be available for booking at institutions across the country including museums and local history centers.

Ghost Army: The Combat Con Artists of World War II is exclusively sponsored by E. L. Wiegand Foundation.

world war 2 ghost stories

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  • January 2024 – December 2024

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Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center Skokie, IL Display Dates: June 16, 2022 – January 2, 2023

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  • 3 inflatables (optionals based on square feet)
  • 1 mock headquarters
  • 2 oral history stations
  • 2 interactive deception stations (audio and Morse Code stations)

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Are you interested in bringing this exhibit to your institution? Please review our current schedule/availability, installation logistics page, and the forms below and contact us by phone or email if you need more information. Once you have reviewed all the information, please submit all materials and we will review and inform you of any concerns regarding a potential exhibit presentation. If you are approved as a host venue, we will contact you and proceed with contracting. 

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These military ghost stories will have you hiding under your Woobie

"I'm not a true believer in all of that stuff," said one former Navy SEAL. "But I saw what I saw."

By Sarah Sicard | Published Oct 30, 2019 3:59 PM EDT

USS Hornet Haunted

Editor’s note: A version of this article originally ran on Oct. 29, 2016

All the battles fought on American soil early in American history mean that the military has its fair share of ghosts. From the Revolutionary War through World War II, these ghosts are fabled to be felt lingering through veterans cemeteries, on decommissioned ships, and even in the barracks where they died.

Though some of these spirits are considered harmless, these five hair-raising military ghost stories will have you hiding under your woobie with a flashlight.

The USS Hornet

Commissioned in 1943, the Navy’s USS Hornet saw its fair share of combat during World War II. While stationed in the Pacific, it helped to sink more than 1,400 Japanese vessels. However, at least 300 sailors died aboard during its 27 years in service in combat, by accident, and by suicide. Now a museum, the Hornet is said to be home to a number of ghosts. Some museum workers and visitors report hearing voices and feeling cold in certain parts of the ship.

Curator and former Navy SEAL Alan McKean said , “I’m not a true believer in all of that stuff. But I saw what I saw. One day I saw an officer in khakis descending the ladder to the next deck. I followed him and he was gone. I have no explanation for it.”

The Battle of the Alamo

The Battle of the Alamo in 1836 was the culmination of the Texan struggle for independence. The site in San Antonio is now essentially a cemetery for the 182 Texans defenders and 1,600 Mexican soldiers who were either killed or wounded in the fight. Their remains were dismembered, burned, and dumped in the San Antonio River, and tales of paranormal activity surfaced just a few days after the battle. The first account of ghosts at the Alamo came when Mexican Gen. Juan Jose Andrade, who made camp several miles away, sent a colonel with a contingent of men to burn the Alamo soldiers’ bodies to prevent the spread of disease. The men instead came back, having forsaken the mission, because six diablos or “devils” were guarding the front of the old Alamo mission.

And over the last 80 years, visitors to the site have reported seeing small boys tagging along in groups before disappearing, hearing the clatter of horse hooves on the pavement, and spotting an eerie man and small boy jumping from the roof of the Alamo mission.

The Cold Harbor Battlefield

Cold Harbor Battlefield in Virginia hosted one the bloodiest battles in American history. During the Civil War, it was the site of Union Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s Overland Campaign from May 31 through June 12, 1864. When it finally ended , Confederate losses hit nearly 5,000 and Union casualties were estimated to be more than 12,000.

Visitors to the site report seeing apparitions of soldiers wandering the grounds or performing battle maneuvers. Orbs are often spotted at night, and many locals report the sound of horses clopping along Route 156. Some even say they can smell gunpowder in the air.

The cemetery beside the Battlefield park is reportedly haunted by a little girl’s dressed in white with a bonnet and a very pretty face. Legend has it that she died falling out of the window of the Gravekeeper’s house, which still stands today. On occasion, you can purportedly even see the little girl peeking out from the window. The same house is also supposedly the gravesite for a hundred hastily buried Civil War soldiers.

The USS Arizona

Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii, marks the resting place of 1,102 of the 1,177 sailors killed by a Japanese attack on the USS Arizona during the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, which launched the United States into World War II. Those who died didn’t go peacefully, which makes Pearl Harbor ripe for ghosts.

One of its more famous ghosts, “Charley,” has been there so long and his presence so well documented that it isn’t uncommon for local officers to respond “That’s just Charley” when water faucets turn themselves on, radio stations switch, or heavy doors swing back and forth inexplicably. However, he’s harmless.

Many of those who visit the memorial built over the Arizona feel inexplicable sadness and pain. But one of the most harrowing ghost stories regards a sailor who was shot after leaving his post during the Pearl Harbor bombings. He is said to haunt the deck of the sunken ship at low tide.

The Jefferson Barracks

The Jefferson Barracks in Missouri was opened on October 23, 1826, named in honor of former president Thomas Jefferson who died earlier that year. Over the course of its history, it was used as a military staging area and a VA hospital, and a graveyard was established there in 1863.

Most of the scariest stories revolve around the barracks headquarters. A number of soldiers who have held guard positions there reported seeing a ghostly sentry who would challenge them while on-post. He supposedly has a gory, bleeding bullet hole in his head, and is said to be so frightening and aggressive that some guards have deserted their posts after encountering him.

According to lore , the sentry was a guard who had been killed in a munitions raid. He is believed to confront the living guards at the post because he is still on duty, and sees them as enemy trespassers.

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The Deceptive Role of The Ghost Army of World War II!

Though World War II ended nearly 80 years ago, the stories that continue to emerge from the remaining survivors of that war can be truly astounding, especially when it involves secrets that most of the military didn’t even know about.

Such is the case with the story of the Ghost Army, a unit of the U.S. Army that used a special fleet of  World War II Sherman tanks , tactical deception, and various forms of media to save the lives of tens of thousands of soldiers in a remarkable way during World War II.

It was an extraordinary defense mechanism used by the United States to scare off the enemy on the battlefields of Europe.

Now the story of the Ghost Army is out and has been verified and recognized by the American government for the ingenious and creative Army unit that it was!

What Was the Ghost Army?

Known more formally as the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, the Ghost Army was a troop of U.S. soldiers who used real-looking inflatable  World War II tanks  and trucks, sound effects, deceptive radio signals, and a lot of imagination to deceive the German Army and help the Allies succeed during numerous military operations in Europe.

The inflatable tanks and trucks looked very real from a distance and were used along with all the others tricks of illusion as a ruse to pull the attention of enemy troops away from the actual tanks and  military vehicles  on the battlefield, allowing Allied troops to pass undetected in their missions.

This highly effective presentation employed loud amplifiers to play recorded sounds of active military equipment as well as fake communications broadcasts that were used to intentionally confuse the Germans and lead them to attack the fake tanks while the real ones went unnoticed.

How Did The Ghost Army Come Into Existence?

The Ghost Army was an ingenious idea that was developed in 1943 by U.S. Army Planners Ralph Ingersoll and Billy Harris as a way to use the power of illusion to deceive the enemy and aid the Allied troops.

The project, which was advertised at numerous art schools to draw in recruits with artistic capability, involved the creation of dummy tanks and vehicles, sound equipment, artwork, and was led by 82 officers and 1,023 enlisted soldiers to create the illusion of troops and tanks on the field to draw enemy fire away from the actual troops.

Enlisted artists and illustrators from art schools in Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, and more were picked for this project and it was kept a secret, even from most of the U.S. Army itself.

Initially, the tanks were made from burlap-covered wooden structures, then painted and decorated with camouflage to make them look real from a distance.

With the help of the 603rd Camouflage and Engineering Battalion, the fakes evolved into 100-pound inflatable  Sherman tanks  and  military trucks , all of which were then used along with their other articles of deception in many successful decoy missions to protect Allied troops.

The Many Successful Stunts of the Ghost Army

In total, the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops executed more than 20 operations all over Europe, from France to Germany.

It was the first true multimedia tactical deception unit used by American military forces and the illusion was never broken throughout those successful 20-plus operations which were estimated to have saved the lives of 15,000 to 30,000 soldiers.

The top-secret Ghost Army unit could simulate two actual military units consisting of 30,000 men, their  tanks , and other  military vehicles  using decoys, sound equipment, and fake communications transmissions in a “traveling road show” deception that was used for various operations over eighteen months.

From January 1944 to July 1945, the Ghost Army – armed with nothing more than .50 caliber machine guns – operated throughout Europe until it returned to United States soil at the end of World War II.

The Ghost Army Recognized After Decades of Mystery

For more than forty years, tales of the Ghost Army were viewed as mere myths, considering even high-level Army commanders knew nothing of its existence.

It wasn’t until 1985 that veteran and artist Arthur Shilstone detailed the existence of the unit and his role in it for an interview for Smithsonian Magazine and the world outside of the 23rd began to actually believe the stories.

This led to additional stories from more of the remaining veterans who were a part of the Ghost Army speaking out, all of which prompted PBS to create an amazing documentary telling their tales for all to finally know.

Since the release of the documentary, the publishing of a number of books, and a grassroots effort to convince Congress to recognize the Ghost Army, that recognition did finally come in 2022.

On Tuesday, February 1, 2022, President Biden signed into law the Ghost Army Congressional Medal Act, awarding a Congressional Medal to all of the members of the Ghost Army.

As of that date, there were 10 remaining Ghost Army veterans still alive to receive this special honor and continue to tell their tales of this amazing project and how it helped the Allies win the war.


Related posts.

WW II’s “War Daddy” and His “In The Mood” Sherman Tank!

WW II’s “War Daddy” and His “In The Mood” Sherman Tank!

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