Wednesday, August 12, 2015

August 12, 1944 – Ghost Army Charges into Falaise Pocket

While the Manhattan Project worked to split the atom into a terrible new weapon, another project was crafting a way to improve biological defenses. The scientific work into bio-manipulation of the human body was decades ahead of its time, working blindly into fields of genetics that would not be better understood until X-ray crystallography determined the structure of DNA. Yet, just as fictional scientists did in comic books like Timely’s Captain America, the real ones created a method to make super-resilient men.

Although the primary goal was to make soldiers able to withstand severe trauma and even heal rapidly, the project proved to have two bonuses in the experiments’ subjects: inhuman speed and strength. The process was readied for human trials, and a group of 1,100 men were collected into the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops at Camp Forrest, Tennessee to be transformed into super-men. They underwent special training at Pine Camp, NY, and sailed for England to join in the D-Day assault.

The super-men were visually indistinguishable from normal (albeit extremely large and muscular) soldiers, but their ferocious advances wowed anyone who witnessed their activities on the battlefield. With some thirty-times the usual strength of an adult male, the men could sprint in excess of sixty miles per hour in huge bounds. As the Allies gained ground, a pair of French cyclists who happened upon the 23rd’s camp were astonished to see four soldiers picking up a 40-ton Sherman tank, repositioning it without expending extra fuel. One soldier, Arthur Shilstone, recalled, “They looked at me, and they were looking for answers, and I finally said: ‘The Americans are very strong.’”

Due to their speed and seeming invincibility to bullets, the soldiers were nicknamed the “Ghost Army” as they tore through German lines. They were instrumental in the war effort, running ahead of Canadian advances to cut off and capture thousands of retreating Germans as the Allies encircled Falaise. Gradually the Ghost Army was moved east, liberating Luxembourg as a base from which they raided across the Ruhr River, Maginot Line, and Hurtgen Forest. Their feinted crossing of the Rhine in March of 1945 distracted so many German soldiers that the actual Allied force met with almost no resistance on the banks.

The Ghost Army became a celebrated part of Allied propaganda, even though there were drawbacks that had to be overcome. The first side-effect of the process was clear in the early days with the soldiers’ monstrous appetites, eating as much as 60,000 calories and 1,800 grams of protein each day. Although their wounds healed practically within hours, scar-tissue was a major problem not only cosmetically but also in restricting movement at joints. The most unnerving consequence was the body’s breakdown due to the increased metabolism. The men visibly aged years within only a few months.

The war ended, and America began to disarm. Ghost Army veterans were quietly tucked away into a special hospital where they could live out their remaining few days with treatment for their increasing ailments. Their fates were largely covered up, and families were warned against un-American activities like leaking word to the press. Although there would be additional Ghost Army soldiers in Korea and Vietnam, the Army largely disbanded their use except for highly classified Special Forces agents.

In reality, the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops were artists. Their “Ghost Army” consisted of dummy inflatable tanks and planes, piped-in sound effects, and entire sets of fake camps and airfields, including fake laundry on clotheslines. The soldiers pretended to be armies thirty times their size through the use of impersonating military police, uniformed officers, and even other soldiers by getting “blasted” and repeating their favorite drinking songs for Germans to overhear. Their diversionary tactics (believed to have saved thousands of lives) were highly classified, and, although a documentary has been released about them, much of their efforts remain under wraps.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Guest Post: Icebreaker

Two posts on Today in Alternate History explored a potential “shadow history” where Stalin had pitted Western Europe against one another as the opening part of a plan to swoop in and seize the whole continent once it was weakened, based on Viktor Surovov’s book Icebreaker. One man, Rudolph Hess, who did attempt to broker peace in our own history, rushes to Britain to stop the war before it is too late.

10 May, 1941 - Mysterious Flight to Scotland

A twin-engine heavy fighter was shot down for ignoring an Identification Friend or Foe transmission sent by two Spitfires of 72 Squadron dispatched by the British Chain Home station at Ottercops Moss near Newcastle upon Tyne.

MI5 investigators at the crash site began to piece together an extraordinary chain of events. There was no body in the plane, prompting a search for a survivor. Local farmer David McLean had discovered a man wrestling with a parachute in a field south of Glasgow. The German was desperate to reach the Duke of Hamilton with a message, so McLean helped him to get in touch with the Home Guard and police. MI5 realized they already knew who the inexperienced pilot of the Bf 110E-1/N Messerschmit was: Rudolf Hess, Deputy Fuhrer of Germany.

Hess had traveled to Scotland in a last-ditch effort to save Europe from Stalinism. MI5 had intercepted a letter from Hess to the Duke of Hamilton, whose home Dungavel House Hess had been trying to locate before becoming lost over Scotland. Hess warned of “Icebreaker,” the planned Soviet invasion for taking control of all of Europe.

Hess had actually been seeking to negotiate peace since September 1940, but he failed to understand the power struggle at the apex of the British Government. Various factions within it were concerned with the conflicting objectives of saving the British Empire and the Class System, avoiding future domination by either America or the Soviets, and of course the overt idée fixe: defeating the Nazis. Needless to say the only point of agreement was that ending the war either through victory or peace settlement was highly unlikely to achieve all of these goals.

Yet Prime Minister Winston Churchill was far from a friend to Josef Stalin. Churchill had played an active role in the War of Intervention in 1918, the failed attempt to overthrow the Bolshevik State soon after the Russian Revolution. Most likely because of these anti-communist credentials, he was probably not the right man to engage with Stalin. Prior to the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop agreement, Britain had failed to ally itself with the Soviet Union. Suddenly ending the fight with Hitler to turn on Stalin might seem a possibility to Hess, but he had vastly misread British sentiments after Poland.

Worst still, Hess misaligned himself with the Establishment trying to engage the Duke of Hamilton in the mistaken belief that he was an opposition leader. Although he had correctly presumed Churchill would not break off the war with Germany, Hamilton was not the man to overthrow Churchill. Despite receiving no response (due to MI5’s interception), Hess decided to fly to Scotland but was delayed by the weather and his own meager flight training. Time was of the essence: the pre-emptive Soviet attack was less than a month into the future.

11th May, 1941 - Dungavel House Talks Collapse

There was never any realistic prospect of an agreement being reached at Dungavel House, and yet details of the secret negotiations were concealed by the forty-five year incarceration of Hess which finally ended in his murder by British agents in Spandau Prison. Hess’s initial flight was covered up as “Raid 42,” declared by MI5 in the books as a mission to test British northern defenses.

While MI5 followed Hess’s trail, the Duke of Hamilton met with him after serving duty at RAF Turnhouse. After discussion and meeting with the MI5 agents, Hamilton took Hess to Dungavel House for talks. The centerpiece to the proposed Anglo-German Peace Treaty was that British Prime Minister Winston Churchill would recognize the Deputy Fuhrer as the Head of Government. Hess in turn had made arrangements for a coup d'état led by senior German officers in Berlin. Only a peace settlement with Great Britain would deter Stalin from launching Icebreaker, the Soviet invasion of Europe. Hess even argued that Hitler was in favour of the deal brokered by Hess, his overthrow being necessary to end the war with the Western Allies.

Hamilton sent word to Churchill, but of course offer was rejected out of hand. The Nazis could not withdraw from all of their occupied territories (Hess himself had been a proponent of Lebensraum since his days at the University of Munich), and Churchill would not accept anything less. Agreeing to German demands would have portrayed Churchill as surrendering in the ongoing Blitz. Hess’s signal for the coup in Berlin never came as he was placed under arrest, first in the Tower of London and then in the luxurious “Camp Z” at Mytchett Place in Surrey.

Stalin’s invasion of Europe began soon after. Although Britain suddenly found herself allied with Soviet Russia against Germany, it made for uncomfortable bedfellows. Through the course of the war, Churchill would constantly argue for strategies that seemed to put Russia at a disadvantage, such as fighting Germany in North Africa rather than opening up a European front immediately and campaigning against Operation Dragoon in southern France, instead prompting an invasion of the Balkans to secure oil fields there (a suggestion American President FDR and his “Uncle Joe” in Moscow refused). The Soviets would not dominate all of Europe by the end of the war, but more than half with a great deal of influence into Italy and France.

Given the subsequent events that occurred in the summer of 1941 and through the coming years into the Cold War, many would take the view that the British Government had made a terrible mistake, and it was for this reason that the negotiations were shrouded in secrecy, particularly the plots to overthrow Hitler and Churchill.
Hess’s stubborn intransigence at doom for Europe raised the remote prospect of the Duke of Hamilton attempting to force Churchill from power, but there was even less likelihood of this gambit succeeding. Had Hess gone to a different source, the war might have gone very differently.

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