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Canadian Military Journal

The Phantom Army of Alamein

Rick Stroud
Rick Stroud
Abstract :

If some one were to ask you your opinion with respect to Operation Bertram, would you even know what operation they were talking about? I doubt that anyone but a diehard historian or a lover of the art of camouflage would know.

This book is a well written and annotated work dealing with the ‘marriage’ of two very unlikely themes – the artistry of the theatre, overlaid on the background of war, in particular, the North African Campaign of the Second World War, and the events leading up to the Second Battle of El Alamein.

The year was 1940, and Major Geoffrey Barkas had cobbled together a group of theatre designers, film makers, sculptors, model-makers, artists, and set painters who were to become the nucleus of the newly formed Camouflage Unit. The Phantom Army of Alamein tells, for the first time, the full story of how some of Britain’s most creative men put down their brushes, pencils, and cameras to join the rest of the world in the fight against the Nazis, and how they played a vital role in the winning of the war. The mandate of this unit was to support the British 8th Army by using a combination of concealment and embellishment, created with whatever came to hand, in an area and time when resources were very scarce. For example, early in the unit’s infancy, during the siege of Tobruk, they made a vital desalination plant appear to have been destroyed by German bombers. This was the beginning of the utilization of their storytelling skills to intricately weave webs of intrigue and deception; to make things appear that were not really there, and to make things disappear, all in an attempt to deceive the enemy and to give the Allies some advantages. Imagine having a film set the size of the Western Desert, flat and almost featureless, ‘bookended’ by the Mediterranean Sea and the Qattara Depression, upon which to create your illusions. The unit’s primary 1942 project became a crucial battlefield weapon for General Bernard Montgomery, when he ordered them to come up with a scheme to cloak and conceal all the preparations underway for the Second Battle of Alamein.

Keywords :
The Phantom Army of Alamein

Date Deposited : 08 Apr 2015 11:28

Last Modified : 08 Apr 2015 11:28

Official URL: http://www.journal.forces.gc.ca/arc/index-eng.asp

Volume 14, Number 1, - 2014

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