Unconventional Military Units

1. Ghost Army
Britain pulled the trick first in North Africa, but the U.S. iteration became the best-known utilization of this concept. During the summer of 1944, the U.S. Army built a phantom army. Artists, designers, and sound effects experts were commissioned to help design a deceptive-looking and sounding unit. Together the team brought the ghost army, aka the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, to life. Inflatable rubber tanks and jeeps were accompanied by sound effects and subterfuge. Actors were enlisted to spread misinformation, sound engineers created phony radio traffic mimicking the sounds of a unit on the move to broadcast. The unit participated in over 20 missions during World War II and was successful, confusing the Germans, and even helping to fill a gap in General Patton’s lines during one period of time. The unit remained top secret until 1996, and then it was revealed that the unit’s members included fashion designer Bill Blass, Ellsworth Kelly, and Arthur Singer.

2. Monuments Men
2014’s star-studded film named after this unit immortalized them in cinema forever. But this unit, composed of art historians, museum curators, and scholars, was deployed to the front lines of World War II for the sake of culture. They had a number of crucial roles during their deployment, which all centered around preserving the art and architecture of Europe in the face of the destructive nature of war. The Monuments Men designed maps for pilots to help them avoid unintentionally destroying significant structures during air raids. As the war wound down, their mission changed. They were then responsible for hunting down and recovering the art looted by the Nazis. Artists’ works recovered by the Monuments Men included Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, and Botticelli. 

3. The Mormon Battalion 
There’s separation of church and state in the United States, but for one moment in military history, those lines blurred. This faith-based U.S. Army battalion was made-up entirely of Latter Day Saints, and formed in July 1846. It never saw any combat, and was dissolved two years later, but was one of the most well-traveled in history. The 500-man unit marched out of Iowa to Santa Fe, through Arizona, and then on to San Diego and Los Angeles.

4. The Night Witches
During World War II, a Soviet unit made up entirely of women in their late teens and early twenties instilled crippling fear in the Germans. The unit was so feared and disdained that if a German soldier could down even just one of their planes, they were automatically awarded the Iron Cross. The Night Witches, as they were known, carried out continuous bombing missions in the night, sometimes up to 18 in a single night. In just three years they conducted over 30,000 bombings. Their planes were made of plywood and canvas, making them extremely susceptible to tracer bullets, which could set one of the aircraft up in flames if contact was made. The wooden planes dipping down made a swooshing sound which they likened to a witches’ broomstick, hence their name.

5. The Tunnel Rats
When US forces began arriving in Vietnam in the 1960’s, a tunnel system was discovered that ran for tens of thousands of miles. The tunnel system first began in the 1940’s, but expanded over the years. They became a focal point of the Vietnam War and caused the U.S. Army to solicit volunteers to descend into the tunnels and perform a number of tasks ranging from gathering information to capturing/killing occupants, or just destroying them. Often the tunnels were narrow and dug by hand, so men of smaller stature were enlisted for the task. It was dark and treacherous combat in tight quarters, and you never knew what might await you beyond armed enemy combatants. Instances of traps and creatures such as fire ants, scorpions, and snakes are all well-documented amongst the adventures of the tunnel rats. 

6. The Potsdam Giants
Armies are all about bringing the best and the brightest to the battlefield, but some wanted the biggest and the strongest. That was the case for Prussia’s King Frederick William I. During the early 18th century, he was obsessed with building an army of the biggest (literally the tallest) men he could find. Some of them stood at seven-feet tall, and one Swedish recruit was allegedly eight-feet tall. The monarch was so obsessed that he would beg, borrow, steal, or pay for them. He had to have them, and even used them as a tool to brighten up his dull and ill days, by making them march through his bedroom. The unit never saw combat, but they cost a lot of money, so upon the monarch’s death, his son quickly disbanded them. 

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Posted on May 2 2022 in Blog

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