By Richard Baker, U.S. Army Military History InstituteMay 29, 2007
Paratroop decoys were used by the Allies during Operation Dragoon, the mid-August 1944, invasion of southern France. Afterwards, Axis Sally a German radio propagandist called them the "product of a fiendish Anglo-Saxon mind." The adoption of parachutes gave armies the ability to rapidly insert large forces behind enemy lines. This capability allowed for the use of surprise and deception operations, fostering the use of decoys.
The German Army launched history's first large-scale airborne operation during the invasion of Holland and Belgium in May 1940. The first use of decoy, or dummy, paratroops occurred during the assault upon Fort Eben Emael. Postwar, German Field Marshal Albrecht Kesselring remarked that "the attempt at surprise was successful. Today, one cannot even imagine the panic which was caused by rumors of the appearance of parachutists, supported by the dropping of dummies." These operations were not the last time the Germans used dummy parachutists. In December 1944, Adolf Hitler ordered General Kurt Student, commander of German airborne forces, to form a battle group of paratroops for action in the planned Ardennes offensive: the Battle of the Bulge. Among the supplies available were "several dozen straw filled dummies that would be dropped on dummy landing zones to confuse the enemy." Overall, the resulting airborne operation was a resounding failure, though indications are that the deception action was the most successful feature of the entire plan.
For the Allied effort an American manufacturer, George Freedman, of Ashland, Massachusetts, secretly created a decoy for the British in 1939. Codenamed "Rupert," it appeared in Operation Titanic, a major deception ploy used during the June 1944 Normandy invasion.
The U.S. military continued developing the concept, creating the "Navy PD Pack" and later the Army decoy codenamed "OSCAR." The National Defense Research Committee oversaw the early American development of paratroop decoys. In 1944, working with the U.S. Navy, the Navy PD [Paratroop Decoy] Pack simulator was developed. The Navy PD Pack was one of the early examples of several decoy models created over the following decade. Designs included a windsock model made from salvaged Army sheets, a plastic film figure, and a composite cloth, plastic, steel and plaster version.
The latter culminated in the creation of "OSCAR," or, in Army parlance, "simulator, decoy paratrooper: self-destructive," federal stock number item (FSN) 1080-650-0201. Entering service in 1955, "OSCAR" remained a part of recommended airborne strategy and tactics found in Army Field Manuals until 1977. The item was dropped from the stock number listing in July 1977. "OSCAR" and his ancestors were part of the world's military arsenal for over thirty-seven years.
"OSCAR" represented years of research and experience involving paratroop decoys. From humble beginnings of simple straw-filled uniforms the concept evolved through a variety of means, methods, and materials. The dummies presented significant advantages for assaulting forces while creating serious problems for defenders, causing "considerable confusion" on the battlefields of Europe and the Pacific. "OSCAR" earned his stripes and deserves to be considered one of the most successful of deception devices.