Monday, January 22, 2018

Spy on History: Victor Dowd and the World War II Ghost Army - a review

Spy on History: Victor Dowd and  the World War II Ghost Army
by Engima Alberti and Scott Wegener
Workman Publishing, 2018

Perhaps you've heard of the "Quaker guns" used in Revolutionary and Civil War battles—wooden logs painted to look like cannons to fool enemy soldiers into thinking that they faced a superior force.  In the 1980s, the little-known history of the 23 Headquarters Special Troops (a.k.a. the Ghost Army) was declassified, and uncovered a WW II deception of epic proportions.

This second book in the Spy on History series is the true story of the Ghost Army's role in defeating the Nazis—how a battalion of artists, set designers, and similarly creative individuals used elaborate sound, visual, radio, and atmospheric effects to fool the German Army.

Persistent readers will find it chock full of coded messages and clues to discover.  An envelope marked "TOP SECRET" and "CONFIDENTIAL" contains the necessary spy craft tools to decode the book's secrets, but it will take a careful eye to find them.  Clues are within text, borders, images, maps—even the copyright page!

In this sample page from Victor Dowd and World War II Ghost Army, the included red acetate sheet would uncover a clue within the illustration.  Other images require use of the included cipher wheel, velum, or informational WW II "poop sheet."

It should be noted that this book may not be an appropriate purchase for public libraries because the spy craft materials included in the book's "Top Secret" folder may not withstand multiple uses.  If funds were available, however, it would make an excellent choice for a middle-grade book club.  Kids could work cooperatively to find all of the clues, crack the code, and decipher the secret letter from Victor Dowd.

Upon purchase, the final pages that reveal the answers are sealed to avoid premature peeking. I confess that although I found almost all of the clues, I did not fully crack the code before peeking.  I do think, it can be done, however, with a little bit of time and perseverance.  The story of the Ghost Army is fascinating and true, and the book is entertaining on many levels.

National Archives Identifier 292565 "Inflatable dummy weapons" Department of Defense. Department of the Army. Fort Leavenworth, Kansas

My copy of Spy on History: Victor Dowd and the World War II Ghost Army was provided by the publisher.


  1. This book sounds fascinating! I'm hoping my library got it, despite your warning. If not, it's going on my wish list.

  2. Wow, what an interesting book! I'd like to get a copy of that just for myself (since I'm retired from teaching.)


Beneath the Waves - a review

As we read disturbing news accounts of dying manatees , environmental disasters caused by toxic waste, and ocean pollution on the scale of ...