13 June 1942
Mission:  Intelligence analysis, espionage, counter-espionage, guerilla warfare, and psychological warfare
Jurisdiction:   Global outside of the Western Hemisphere and the Southwest Pacific
Headquarters:  E Street Complex, Washington DC
History/Profile:  In June 1942, the Office of the Coordinator of Information was saved from the chopping block by becoming the Office of Strategic Services. With its new status under the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the OSS broadened its mission from intelligence collection and research to focus on espionage and guerilla warfare behind enemy lines. There was still debate over how broad the mission of OSS should be, so the agency remained in administrative limbo throughout the rest of 1942.
With the future of the OSS being decided in committees, its officers and agents began to show the first fruits of their labor. The OSS was particularly successful during Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of North Africa in November 1942. This success lead the Joint Chiefs to issue a charter for the OSS on 23 December 1942, which made the OSS an equal partner in the intelligence community with ONI and G-2, and tasked the agency with "the planning, development, coordination and execution of the military program for psychological warfare," with a proviso to compile "such political, psychological, sociological and economic information as may be required by military operations." Essentially, this meant that the business of OSS would now clearly be to support the military through sabotage, espionage and commando raids. Donovan was brought back to active duty with the rank of brigadier general, and approval was given to transfer military personnel to the OSS in large numbers. This "militarization" of OSS became complete in January 1943, when the agency was reorganized to focus on paramilitary operations:
While new branches were added throughout 1943, this remained the organization of the OSS until the end of war. Donovan now had a clear plan: OSS researchers and spies would keep command informed of the enemy's strength and capabilities, while OSS saboteurs would disrupt the enemy's lines of communication and divert their attention from the front. Rarely would the branches of the OSS ever coordinate their efforts in such a singular manner; but, taken in the broad overview of the war, this is how the OSS went to war.
The militarization of the OSS not only changed its organization but also its personnel. While the Ivy League Anglo-Irish conservatives that dominated COI continued to represent those who staffed the headquarters, the OSS officers in the field took on a very different character. These officers needed to work with the mutually-hostile political and ethnic factions within resistance movements, and it was found that the best people for this job were New Deal liberals, whose political sympathies made them ideal to work with the leftists dominating the European underground. Exiles and ethnic Americans were also recruited to fill out the ranks, and some four thousand women joined the OSS, though few served overseas and fewer still in occupied territory. A small number of criminals were also given a safe haven in the OSS, as they possessed the kind of skills necessary for espionage (forgery, fraud, smuggling, burglary, theft, assault, and murder) as well as contacts in the criminal underworld of occupied nations.
Most OSS personnel were assigned to headquarters on friendly soil or in detachments in the rear areas of the advancing Allied army, but those officers and agents behind enemy lines did the most significant (and dangerous) work and made the biggest impact on the war. Naturally, tensions developed due to the political, social and cultural differences between the old guard COI men that ran the headquarters and the New Dealers and non-Anglos at the front, which became reflected in animosity against the "dilettante" staffers or the "cowboy" officers. More tensions developed as more uniformed soldiers came into the ranks of OSS, which remained, in theory, a civilian organization.
Ever since the war began, COI and OSS both faced the problem of their civilians being called up for military duty. While some local draft boards allowed occupational deferments, it wasn't until mid-1943 that the OSS had the power to give out draft deferments and military commissions. Until then, the OSS had their personnel inducted into the military, given basic training and rank as enlisted men, and then had the War Department reassign them back to their positions at the OSS. These enlisted personnel were allowed to wear civilian clothes in the United States, while the civilians in the OSS assigned to paramilitary operations wore "civilian" uniforms in the field. Many civilians joined the OSS with the promise of an officer's commission, only to remain at enlisted rank because the allotment was full. These policies meant that people in high positions of authority often had no higher rank than private or corporal, and could even be in charge of captains and majors assigned to the OSS.
Though the OSS was now allowed to recruit military personnel, it could take five weeks to pass the security check, two weeks for the paperwork, at least three weeks for training, and then two weeks to transport them to the field. Once in the field, many of these people lacked commissions as military officers, and had to barter (or steal) resources from REMF's (Rear Echelon Mother Fuckers) because they lacked the proper rank. This situation wasn't helped by the bitter enmity existing between Donovan and the chief of G-2, General George Strong, which resulted in OSS operations being hindered by Army officials who denied transportation and other resources.
Despite all this conflict, the OSS remained Donovan's "league of gentlemen," a close-knit community whose recruits, no matter their background, shared a passion for their work and an "us-against-them" attitude towards the conventional military. Conversely, OSS also earned its reputation as "Oh So Social" and the "Cloak and Dagger Club," once described as "one of the fanciest groups of dilettante diplomats, Wall Street Bankers, and amateur detectives ever seen in Washington." While the men and women in the field were invariably more focused than the dilettantes at headquarters, there was always something amateurish about the OSS. The agency was known to spend its money freely, and was resented as an easy-out for the well-to-do to avoid combat and play at spying. Indeed, the culture of improvisation within OSS could be clumsy and amateurish, allowing lesser officers to goldbrick the war away; but, it also gave better officers the freedom to carry out daring plans that produced huge rewards.
As the OSS was changing within, its relationships with its allies was also in flux. While Roosevelt and the Joint Chiefs were signing the orders creating the OSS in June 1942, Donovan was in England negotiating with Britain's Special Operations Executive (SOE). The two agencies agreed to cooperate in the field in June 1942, dividing up the theaters of operations. In Europe, SOE was initially responsible for France, the Low Countries, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and most of Norway and the Balkans, and the OSS was responsible for Finland, Bulgaria, Romania, and northernmost Norway. Elsewhere, the OSS was responsible for North Africa, China, Manchuria, Korea, the Southwest Pacific, and the Atlantic islands, while SOE was responsible for the Middle East, India, West Africa, and East Africa. Both SOE and the OSS shared Burma, Thailand, Malaya, Sumatra, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland, Portugal, and Spain. Either agency was allowed to operate in any region with the permission of the party to which that region had been assigned. SOE gained the manpower and resources of the OSS, while the OSS gained the training, equipment, advice and access to the infrastructure that SOE had built in Europe since 1940.
While the OSS was establishing bonds with SOE, their fertile link with Britain's Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) was on the decline. As the cadre within the OSS changed from Anglo-Saxon Protestants to include Jewish, Eastern European, and even Arabic agents, the SIS came to see the OSS as an agent of anti-imperialist sentiment. The relationship worsened as OSS personnel and material poured into Europe and the Far East after 1943, encroaching on the intelligence empire SIS had created since 1939. By mid-1943, SIS effectively barred the OSS from carrying out espionage independently within Britain or its colonies.
During 1943, the OSS expanded its relations beyond the British to include the French and the Soviets. Tenuous connections were made with Charles De Gaulle's Bureau Central de Renseignements et d'Action (BCRA), but Donovan's true ally was Henri Giraud's Service Renseignements (SR), formed from the remains of the Deuxième Bureau, France's prewar secret service. In July 1943, the alliance with SR resulted in the first independent OSS mission into occupied Europe, as all others had been joint operations run by and for the British.
The OSS had a much less cordial alliance with the Soviets. Covert missions into the Soviet Union began in September 1943, using as a cover an American engineering firm working in Russia under the Lend-Lease program. The OSS was also able to get diplomatic cover for an agent in the American embassy in Moscow. That same year, Donovan flew to Moscow and negotiated with General P. N. Fitin, chief of external intelligence for the NKVD, to trade in documents, special equipment and secret intelligence, and to establish an OSS mission in Moscow. Just as this plan was to go into effect, it was shut down by Roosevelt under pressure from J. Edgar Hoover. Donovan continued to communicate with Fitin from December 1943 to April 1945, the last transfer of information being Hitler's dental records which Donovan hoped might aid the Soviet pathologists with the remains they found in Berlin.
Arguably, the most significant work of the OSS was carried out by the Special Operations (SO) branch, which organized, trained, lead and supplied underground resistance groups to, as Donovan put it, "sow the dragon's teeth." According to theory, SO officers entered occupied territory by parachute, plan, submarine, or simply by walking across the lines. There, they made contact with the local resistance, or if necessary, created such a resistance, and trained them in guerilla warfare. Clandestine radio posts were set up to call in supplies and coordinate the resistance with an upcoming invasion, and when the Allies made their assault, the SO officers lead their units to sabotage enemy communications and supply routes.
Although the work of SO sounds exciting, the majority of the job was administrative rather than combat. In Europe, the job mostly involved setting up supply drops and maintaining radio liaison for resistance groups that had long ago been established either locally or by the British. Nevertheless, the work was essential and well-regarded by theater commanders like Eisenhower, who needed the OSS to coordinate proven resistance groups more so than set up possibly unreliable spy networks. So, while recruiting, training, and supply were handled by OSS headquarters in Washington, SO was directed in the field by the theater commanders.
SO sent their first agent into France in June 1943, and between April and August of 1943, the number of SO agents in occupied Europe had risen from 17 to 387. This huge growth was nothing compared to what the SIS and SOE were accomplishing at the time. By spring 1944, the British ran ten supply drops to every one made by the OSS to their resistance networks, as the US Army Air Force refused to divert aircraft from their bombing campaigns.
In the Far East, SO was as active or more so than SOE, because they were allowed to act with greater independence and had to develop their own resistance groups. The OSS also lacked the imperialist stigma held of the British by native troops, and used military recruits rather than refugees to avoid the the divisive factions among ethnic groups.
In May 1944, SO and SOE established the Special Forces Headquarters (SFHQ), responsible for command and supply of all resistance groups in Western Europe. SFHQ directed the resistance through personal messages tacked onto BBC broadcasts following the nine o’clock news. First, an alert message corresponding to a particular resistance group was sent, indicating that they should gather their members and prepare their weapons and explosives. Then an action message was sent soon after, directing them to carry out their pre-assigned mission (i.e. blowing something up). SFHQ was most important in France, though it only operated there during the critical months following the D-Day invasion, as the French resistance was put under the command of De Gaulle's French Forces of the Interior in July 1944.
The job of the Secret Intelligence (SI) branch was to place spies in enemy territory purely to gather intelligence. Few of these spies were OSS personnel, but were instead local agents recruited by SI officers, called "joe-handlers," who accompanied their agents through training, holding, and prepared them for departure. Inside enemy territory, these agents would then develop their own sub-network of agents, or already have them in place (such as the anti-Hitler "Black Orchestra" resistance).
SI was divided into four Geographic Desks (Europe, Africa, Middle East, and Far East) which administered the SI departments within OSS bases overseas. Its largest networks were in France and Italy, though SI was also very active in the neutral countries in Europe, as they served both as conduits through which agents could be sent into enemy territory and as easy meeting grounds with dissident elements in Germany and Japan. The most common spy networks used by SI early in the war were networks created by these dissidents, who negotiated with the OSS but were not run by them. Only in mid-1943 did the Fake Document Section in Washington began to produce the papers needed by an OSS officer jumping into occupied Europe, allowing SI to finally build their own networks. For this purpose, connections were also made between the OSS and the black market in Lisbon and Algiers to obtain necessary currency like reichsmarks and lire.
The first step in sending an agent into the field would be the study of enemy units suspected in that area. The agent would also meet with a communications officer to review the current system of codes. All the agent's clothing and personal items would be examined for anything that might identify them as foreigners (laundry marks, matchbooks, coins), and letters, such as those from a lover or family, would be written for the agents to carry in their wallets. Along with the special equipment and weapons surreptitiously packed in their suitcases, agents would pack suits, shirts, ties, undergarments, bus and rail tickets, money, laundry chits, toiletries, local newspapers, thread (used to measure fixed distances between a landmark and buried equipment), and forged documents (ID cards, work and travel permits). Over the clothes they wore for their cover (usually civilian attire but sometimes enemy uniforms), the agents would don a one-piece camouflaged jumpsuit for the parachute drop. Finally, the agent would be issued a set of tablets: the “K” tablet for rendering someone unconscious, the “TD” tablet that could act as a truth drug during interrogations, and the ever-popular “L” tablet, which was harmless if swallowed but instantly deadly if bit into and ingested.
While other branches of the OSS worked closely with regional military commands, SI remained as independent as possible, for reasons of security, verification, and control of the information being gathered. This was also true with their relations with allies such as the SIS, and it was because all OSS missions out of Britain required SIS or SOE control that SI in Europe chose to work out of other bases such as Algiers and Cairo. This independence worked both ways, as SI was never given direct access to either American MAGIC or British ULTRA decrypts.
Following the liberation of France in September 1944, the distinctions between the SI and SO branches became blurred. As SO support of partisan groups became less important with the advance of Allied armies, officers of the two branches merged until these distinctions were formally abolished in late 1944.
Besides the resistance groups that SO worked with, the OSS also developed guerilla warfare units of their own through the Operational Group Command, established in May 1943. Known as “Donovan’s private army,” the Operational Groups (OG) were made up of military personnel fluent in the language of the region in which they would operate, that were dropped behind enemy lines to carry out commando raids and ambushes. Unlike SO officers, the OG's were units unto themselves, though they could work closely with partisans, and were the true forerunner of the modern Army Special Forces A-Team. Most members of the OG’s were volunteers from infantry and engineer units, and wore their uniforms into the field (though they remained subject to the German order calling for the execution of all commandos).
In theory, an OG consisted of thirty enlisted men, three lieutenants, and a captain as commanding officer. Within the OG were two sections, each consisting of two officers, thirteen soldiers, a radio operator, and a medic. The section was further broken down into two squads, each lead by an officer. In reality, an OG could simply be a section lead by a captain (the most common unit in France) or as small as a three-man liaison team. An OG was armed almost entirely with small arms (rifles, machine guns, etc.), supplemented by bazookas, explosives, mines, and booby traps.
Despite its military organization, the OG’s paid more attention to a soldier’s role than their rank, with officers called “leaders” and enlisted men called by their specialty (the weapons NCO, the demolitions NCO, etc.). While SO and SI operated deep in occupied territory, OG worked closer to the battlefield in conjunction with regular units, although they usually ventured deeper into enemy territory than their counterparts in the US Army Rangers. Besides their guerilla warfare missions, some members of the OG’s were also assigned to act as bodyguards on intelligence missions.
The first OG’s were sent overseas in July 1943. During the Normandy invasion, they worked with the British Special Air Service on special demolition jobs to prevent the Germans from carrying out scorched-earth tactics. On August 1944, the OG’s in Europe were activated as the 2671st Special Reconnaissance Battalion, Separate (Provisional), becoming a separate military unit that remained under the operational control of the OSS but was now within the military chain of command. Company A of the battalion operated in Italy, Company B in France, and Company C in the Balkans. A Norwegian OG had been sent to Europe in December 1943, a Greek company was dispatched to Cairo in early 1944, and OG’s were sent to China in March 1945.
At the urging of British intelligence, a Counter-Intelligence Division was established within SI in March 1943. Headquartered in New York, liaison officers were sent to London to work with Section V (Counter-Espionage) of MI-6 and MI-5, who gave the OSS officers access to their files. In June 1943, this division became the Counter-Espionage (X-2) branch, and was placed under the command of the Deputy Director of Intelligence. Its administrative headquarters was moved to Washington, while OSS/London remained the base of X-2 operations in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. In the Far East, X-2 also set up a bases in New Delhi, Myitkyina, Kandy, Kunming and Shanghai.
Beyond liaison with MI-5, the purpose of X-2 was to neutralize enemy networks of spies and saboteurs that would "stay-behind" as the Allies advanced into Italy and France. X-2 “vetted” OSS personnel (checking records for affiliations with “unfavorable or potentially dangerous” groups) and infiltrated enemy intelligence agencies by turning prisoners-of-war into double agents. Later in the war, X-2 created Special Counter-Intelligence (SCI) teams to work alongside the Army’s Counter-Intelligence Corps (CIC) to look through files captured from enemy intelligence agencies and work against pro-Axis subversive elements.
X-2 also had a number of special departments, such as the Intelligence Insurance Unit, which used insurance companies to gather strategic information on enemy industrial targets for bombing raids. Another such group was the Art Looting Investigation Unit, established in late November 1944. This unit recruited art historians to compile a list of dealers and scholars believed to have moved art objects that had been looted by the Germans and could be used to finance postwar Axis subversion. Unfortunately, much of this intelligence was based on rumors and was often inaccurate.
Research & Analysis
The four hundred historians, economists, political scientists, and geographers of the Research & Analysis (R&A) branch continued to collect information and draft reports on every aspect of the war; but, with the militarization of OSS, the branch shifted its focus from broad surveys to target analysis and estimates of enemy forces. Following the reorganization of January 1943, the branch was split into four desks (Europe-Africa, Far East, USSR and Latin America), which each had an Economics, Political, and Geographic section. The Psychology Division was disbanded, and the Central Information Division was created as the reference library of the OSS, where all classified and unclassified material was centralized.
In October 1943, R&A was freed from all geographic restrictions and allowed to operate anywhere in the world, including within the United States. Headquartered in Washington, the branch established field offices in New York and San Francisco in August 1942 to take over the functions of the disbanded Oral Intelligence Division. By November 1944, R&A had outposts in London, Algiers, Cairo, Caserta, Paris, Stockholm, New Delhi, Bari, Honolulu, Chungking, Bucharest, Istanbul, Rome, Lisbon, Kandy and Athens. These overseas staffers gathered information not covert enough to be handled by SI but also not overt enough to be the province of State Department diplomats.
Though it had never been implicit in either the charter for COI or OSS, Donovan remained fascinated with propaganda, especially “black” propaganda: subversive information like rumors (or “sibs”) that hides its source and attempts to lead its target into believing that the information is not only valid but comes from other sources. This is unlike “white” propaganda, that admits its source and makes an attempt at truth. It was a conflict over the morality of “black” versus “white” propaganda that started the rift between Donovan and Robert Sherwood, the head of the Foreign Information Service, the propaganda section of COI. Sherwood and his department did not become a part of OSS, instead moving to the Office of War Information (OWI), although Donovan gave the function of black propaganda to the SO branch.
In January 1943, the black propaganda section in SO became the Morale Operations (MO) branch, which Donovan created to carry out any methods that could subvert the morale of the enemy. For months, the MO branch remained in limbo as the OWI and OSS sparred over the right to carry out any kind of propaganda work. Finally, in October 1943, MO was given a clear mandate to use both resistance movements and black marketeers to carry out bribery, blackmail, counterfeiting, kidnapping, assassination, biological warfare, and black propaganda that would sap the fighting spirit of the Axis powers. To placate OWI, MO agreed to only disseminate propaganda behind enemy lines.
MO operations were vast and varied, and (like R&A) they were allowed to operate in regions not usually amenable to the OSS. While pamphlets and surrender instructions were a common tool, MO also relied heavily upon radio. They set up the “Soldatensender” radio network, that broadcast American jazz and recruited German performers like Marlene Dietrich. The network was quite popular with German troops, as it did not send out ham-fisted propaganda, but instead used music and drama that would appeal to the soldiers’ nostalgia for home and thus an end to the war. A similar network was set up in China. As the war progressed, MO became even more sophisticated, creating entirely fictitious dissident movements such as “Das Neue Deutschland," a non-existent underground German peace party whose liberal and religious propaganda sought to convince Germans that unconditional surrender was an honorable option.
Back during the COI days, Special Activities/Goodfellow (the forerunner of SO) had experimented with maritime techniques at the Area D training camp. This resulted in the creation of the Maritime Unit (MU) in June 1943, which carried out naval sabotage and transported agents and supplies by sea, as well as developed special equipment necessary for these missions. Only a few sabotage missions were ever attempted by MU, whose main tasks were training, research, and infiltration.
MU continued to run Area D as a training ground and testbed for new devices, while building schools at Camp Pendleton in California in November 1943, at Catalina Island in February 1944, and in the Caribbean at Nassau in May 1943. The MU research team built an underwater breathing apparatus (the SCUBA invented by Jacques-Yves Cousteau in 1943 was unavailable to the Allies), an inflatable electric surfboard, midget submarines, and many different models of kayaks. MU also obtained a number of submarine chasers and motor torpedo boats for their fleet. In Europe, MU established a base in Corsica to infiltrate agents and supplies into Italy and France, and bases in the Aegean islands and southern Italy to make runs into the Balkans.
Within the OSS were also a number of special departments, including the only section allowed to operate on home soil, the Foreign Nationalities Branch (FNB). The FNB had been inherited from COI, tasked with monitoring foreigners in the United States for political intelligence and recruiting those suitable for OSS operations overseas. Virtually all FNB investigations concerned European groups, and no attempts were made towards Asians in the United States due to a lack of funding and interest. The FNB had offices in New York and Washington, with representatives in Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Boston, Seattle, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit and Wisconsin. FNB was also tracked dissident groups on over twenty college campuses, with these operations based at Princeton University. Between August and September 1945, the FNB dropped from forty-seven to nine staffers, who were then transferred to the R&A branch.
Another department inherited from COI was the Oral Intelligence Division, which was disbanded in September 1942 due to the decrease in the number of refugees entering the United States. The Visual Presentation branch was also abolished, though its Field Photographic Division was transferred to the SI branch and then made independent during the January 1943 reorganization. The division produced historical and training documentaries, and conducted photographic missions on installations and coastlines using B-25 bombers or L-5 planes.
New departments included the Labor Unit, created in 1942 to recruit agents within European trade unions and aid in domestic investigations of American trade unions that could jeopardize war production. Also created in 1942, the Ship Observer Unit enlisted seamen to gather intelligence while visiting ports-of-call, as well as provide cover for OSS agents as merchant sailors. The Special Projects Office was created in December 1943 as a catch-all for any “special assignments and missions” under the direct operational control of Donovan, and focused on special weapons development by the Germans and Italians.
One of the most illustrious of the special units were the Jedburgh teams. Similar to SO and OG units, the Jedburghs were an SFHQ project to parachute teams of three agents (American, British and French) into France (primarily Brittany) shortly before the D-Day invasion. These 150 Jedburgh teams linked up with the French resistance and organized them under Eisenhower’s command. Before D-Day, the main role of the Jedburghs was the same as SO and SOE: to build up supplies and keep the French from any unnecessary operations. Once the invasion began, the Jedburghs directed their groups to sabotage communications and railways. Unlike the SO teams, the Jedburghs wore Army uniforms and had no cover story, expecting to demand POW status should they be captured. Recruiting for the Jedburghs began in September 1943, and, following training at Camp X in Canada, the first teams were available for duty beginning in late December.
The sister project to the Jedburghs were the Sussex teams, which attempted to use the Jedburgh model to conduct espionage rather than guerilla warfare. The Sussex teams also consisted of three operatives: a French radio operator, a British SIS agent, and an OSS SI agent. They were dropped into France from April to August 1944, gathering tactical intelligence for Allied operations following the Normandy invasion.
OSS training became centralized with the establishment of the Schools & Training Branch in January 1943, which ran the OSS schools in the United States. The heart and soul of OSS training was the three-week basic intelligence course, given to virtually all OSS field personnel and some R&A staffers, with the exception of the Operational Groups. During the course, students were taught the basics of espionage (how to maintain cover, organize cells, establish safe houses and letter drops), communications (radio operation, the use of codes, ciphers and hidden inks), small arms, sabotage techniques (how to penetrate installations and airfields), close combat, demolitions, orienteering, intelligence reporting and concealing items in clothes and personal accessories. To graduate from the basic course, students had to penetrate industrial sites in cities like Baltimore, Philadelphia, or Pittsburgh.
After the basic intelligence course, students could receive specialized training by branch. SO training was a three-week course in physical conditioning, survival, demolitions, orienteering, small arms, close combat, and Morse code, and was often taken by SI officers as well. There was also a ten-week communications course for clandestine radio operators, which was the capstone of the sixteen-week training period (including basic intelligence and SO training) given to SI and SO officers. There were also special courses for MO, X-2, and the Maritime Unit. Since many OSS personnel were drafted into the Army, they received a version of basic training that was condensed into four weeks.
In November 1942, Area E in Maryland became the primary site of the basic intelligence course. The Farm outside of Washington became the advanced school for intelligence training. At Quantico, Area A was used for the SO course, Area B offered paramilitary training, and Area C ran the communications course. Area D became the home of the Maritime Unit and special courses in amphibious infiltration. After mid-1944, all training was gradually transferred to schools on Catalina Island on the West Coast as the OSS sent more personnel to the Far East. From its beginning, the OSS also sent trainees to Camp X, an SOE school in Canada; and, many personnel were also trained at SOE schools in Britain.
Beginning in April 1943, the OG’s developed their own training program at Area F, the Congressional Country Club in Washington DC. Since all members of the OG’s had already completed military training, their OSS training focused on specialized areas: physical conditioning, demolitions, small arms (American and foreign-made), scouting, first aid, survival, close combat, camouflage, orienteering, parachuting, mountaineering, amphibious assaults, and radio operation.
Parachute, intelligence, and sabotage schools were also established overseas. These schools were primarily for locally-recruited intelligence agents and guerilla forces, and developed their own training curriculum based on the job at hand.
The militarization of the OSS greatly affected the training curriculum. Students were well-trained in small arms and explosives, but were not as well-trained in other the subjects of espionage. However, the majority of SI agents were locally-recruited and therefore trained in overseas schools, where the training was very specific to the job and did concentrate on necessary subjects. And, while students did wear military fatigues, they were without rank and required to use an alias to emphasize the importance of maintaining cover. This kept true military discipline from taking away the collegiate atmosphere that remained the trademark of OSS training throughout the war.
OSS in the United States
The headquarters for the OSS remained the E Street Complex in Washington. When COI became OSS in June 1942, the only other office in the United States was the field office in New York City, at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, the same building that housed the headquarters for British intelligence in the United States. By the end of 1943, the OSS had also established offices in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle.
The first office established by COI overseas was in London, set up on Grosvenor Street in Mayfair in August 1941. OSS/London was supposed to be the “theater headquarters” for European operations; and, while it was responsible for most SO missions in France, Poland, Holland and Belgium, virtually all of these missions were under British control. It was impossible to arrange transportation out of England without British consent, so OSS/London became the center of joint OSS-SOE missions in Europe, culminating in the establishment of Special Forces Headquarters (SFHQ) in May 1944.
Most of those the OSS sent into France were SO officers recruited from the military, placed with the French resistance to restrain them from making attacks before the D-Day invasion that could lead to German reprisals against the French citizenry, thus jeopardizing pro-Allied sentiment. Perfect French accents were not required, as the SO officers were expected to work deep inside the already-established resistance infrastructure. The officers were infiltrated into France either by landing in small boats, crossing the border from Spain and Switzerland, or by making a night landing by Lysander or C-47 aircraft. The most common method remained parachuting by night into the arms of a "reception committee" arranged by the local resistance. As the day of the invasion neared, the SO teams directed their groups to carry out industrial sabotage. Factory managers either agreed to perform this sabotage out of patriotism or were threatened that if they did not, the factory would be bombed with many civilians killed.
As these networks had been established by SOE, SO officers assigned to OSS/London often underwent SOE training to familiarize them with the British system. The SO officers were first sent to the reception center at Franklin House at Ruislip outside London, where they received physical conditioning and learned the basics of fieldcraft while SOE checked their clearance. Then the officers went through the four-day SOE Student Assessment Board, with the successful candidates moving on to a five-week paramilitary course in small arms, close combat, demolitions, radio operation, small boat handling, advanced fieldcraft, and tradecraft. This was followed by a six-day parachuting course, and then a three-week finishing course to test what the student had learned. Most SO officers then took specialized training at SOE schools, such as the Wireless Training School at Thames Park, or courses on Foreign Weapons, Mines and Booby Traps, Industrial Sabotage, Propaganda, Reception Committees (meeting supply planes), and Street Fighting. After all this training, the SO officer was billeted to an Operational Holding Area, where they took refresher courses while waiting for transport to occupied territory.
Besides SO teams working with SOE networks in France, OSS/London was also responsible for the Jedburgh and Sussex teams. With the exception of those Sussex teams, there were very few SI missions directed out of OSS/London due to Donovan’s insistence that their espionage operations be under the sole control of the OSS. OSS/London made some attempts to independently transport agents out of Britain by naval vessels, but these failed. US Army Air Forces planes were also approached as a means of infiltration, but the OSS lacked permission to use them until January 1944, and then found that available flights were few and far between.
In September 1944, OSS/London began its own intelligence operations, with Germany as the target. Thirty-four teams were recruited from the Labor Desk and other OSS bases in Europe, trained in England, and sent to holding bases at Harrington in England, Dijon in France, and Namur in Belgium. They were then parachuted into the heart of Reich, using Joan-Eleanor radios to communicate back to OSS/London.
OSS/London was also the center of all X-2 operations in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, due to its proximity to the headquarters of MI-5 and other Allied counter-intelligence agencies. Finally, many of the men and women assigned to OSS bases in Europe were processed through OSS/London, whose greatest accomplishment was as the administrative headquarters of the theater.
When the OSS found it impossible to use OSS/London as their base for SI missions into Europe, the bulk of that work was passed to their base in Algiers. OSS/Algiers was formed from ten COI officers operating clandestine radio stations in Algiers, Casablanca, Oran, Tunis and Tangiers, which was consolidated into the Algiers base following Operation Torch in November 1942. As the central headquarters for OSS operations in North Africa, OSS/Algiers first set out to conduct reconnaissance and commando raids in Tunisia. These patrols were sometimes carried out with the aid of Arabs, but they were found too politically unreliable and most missions used only OSS personnel.
By February 1943, OSS/Algiers had developed into the primary site for independent OSS operations in Western Europe. Though OSS/Algiers was only a third the size of OSS/London, its ability to act without British oversight and the local French colonial population made it ideal for SI missions into southern France. OSS/Algiers also infiltrated SO teams and OG’s into France, Italy, Corsica, Sicily and Sardinia, and was the point of contact for OSS bases in Spain and Portugal.
Whereas OSS/London sent mostly military personnel into France, OSS/Algiers recruited French citizens from North African colonies and French unit that had defected to the Allied cause after Operation Torch. And whereas OSS/London sent agents into SOE networks working with established groups, the missions out of OSS/Algiers were “blind drops,” where the agents had to set up their own networks from scratch. Though few of the OSS personnel assigned to OSS/Algiers were fluent in French, this was offset by the quality of the agents recruited in French North Africa, who could pass as French citizens and often had local knowledge.
The French agents underwent a fifteen-day intelligence course at an OSS school in the Atlas Mountains, with undercover exercises in Tunisia and Morocco to test the students' abilities. Parachuting and special operations were taught at the Club des Pins near Sidi Ferruch, west of Algiers. By August 1943, one C-47 transport plane and two B-17 and seven B-25 bombers were assigned to the school. Another special operations school named Station P was built outside Algiers in January 1944, moving to Chrea in April.
The source of these French recruits was through the Service de Renseignement (SR), the clandestine intelligence service of Henri Giraud. The Germans had taken over Vichy France following Operation Torch, causing the Deuxieme Bureau to flee to North Africa and established itself in Algiers as the SR. OSS/Algiers provided training and equipment to the SR, who assigned SR agents to the OSS and gave them French submarines to infiltrate the agents into southern France. Giraud vied for the affections of the Americans and British with his rival, Charles De Gaulle, whose own intelligence service, the BCRA, arrived in North Africa in May 1943. De Gaulle and the BCRA demanded an equal share in OSS operations in southern France, but was rebuffed. The SR-OSS alliance lasted until November 1943, when the SR and BCRA were merged under De Gaulle’s command, ending the supply of French agents for OSS/Algiers.
In June 1943, X-2 duties in North Africa were transferred to OSS/Algiers. These duties were reassigned to the control of Washington in early 1944. From July to November 1944, the personnel of OSS/Algiers was transferred to the headquarters of the 2677th Regiment in Caserta, Italy. From then till the end of the war, all that remained of OSS/Algiers were X-2 stations in Casablanca, Tunis, Tangier, Oran, and Algiers.
At the same time OSS/Algiers was established, a detachment was sent to Oujda in French Morocco to liaison with the US Fifth Army. The detachment was staffed by veterans of the Spanish Civil War, who recruited Moorish nationalists and Berber adventurers to patrol the border with Spanish Morocco, carried out X-2 missions against Axis saboteurs in Allied-controlled territory and inserted agents onto the Spanish mainland. OSS/Oujda was closed in September 1943 when the Fifth Army departed for Salerno, but its work was carried out by other OSS outposts in Casablanca, Tangiers, Tunis, and Oran.
The OSS in Africa
The OSS was also active in the rest of Africa, setting up posts in the Canary Islands, the Cape Verde Islands, French West Africa, Portuguese Guinea, Liberia, French Equatorial Africa, British East Africa, the Belgian Congo, Angola, South Africa, Mozambique, Ethiopia, and French Somaliland. However, no base was created outside North Africa, so these outposts were run through OSS/Washington. There were less than a hundred OSS agents in this region, who first set up stay-behind networks in case of an Axis takeover of the entire continent. Following Operation Torch in November 1942, the officers carried out X-2 missions to hunt down Axis spies in the region.
In April 1942, the OSS established a base in Cairo to coordinate activities in Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Transjordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan and Turkey. OSS/Cairo infiltrated agents into Greece, Albania and Yugoslavia, but its proximity to the British made them less independent than the other OSS bases in the Mediterranean. OSS/Cairo was most important as a conduit for the spy networks working out of Istanbul (which reached as far as Germany itself) and for training agents in the region. In July 1944, OSS/Cairo was redesignated the 2791st Provisional Operations and Training Unit.
The OSS in Italy
During the Allied invasion of Italy in July 1943, the OSS sent detachments to accompany the Fifth Army at Salerno and Anzio. The Fifth Army detachment sent agents to Naples and Rome by parachute, crossing the battle lines, and with an Italian submarine confiscated in Brindisi. OSS/Brindisi also began parachuting agents into Greece by August 1943, and remained the center of aerial and maritime operations in the Mediterranean until its transfer to Cecina in March 1945. In January 1944, the OSS set up a base within Campione, a pro-Badoglio enclave in northern Italy. SI had its base at Palermo in Sicily, while the OSS radio network in Italy was based at Bari.
The Fifth Army detachment was activated as the 2677th Regiment in June 1944, with its headquarters at Caserta and field detachments along the forward zone of the Allied advance. The 2677th Regiment inherited the personnel and duties of OSS/Algiers, becoming responsible for OSS operations in the Mediterranean, including Italy, southern France, the Balkans and the Middle East. Beginning in early 1945, the OSS in Italy parachuted agents into Austria to infiltrate the Nazi “Redoubt” the Allies believed was being built by the Nazis to wage guerilla warfare following the Allied invasion of Germany and await the “eventual” war between the Allies and the Soviets.
Following the surrender of German and Fascist Italian forces in northern Italy in April 1945, the OSS sent missions to Bologna, Genoa, Turin, Milan, Venice, San Remo and Trieste to deactivate resistance operations, gather intelligence useful against Japan, and suppress any stay-behind Axis networks. SI operations in Italy ceased by July, while X-2 and R&A continued to function until late September.
After its liberation in October 1943, the seaport of Bastia in Corsica became an advance base for OSS/Algiers operations into southern France, as well as the headquarters for OG’s working in Italy.
The OSS in Greece
The OSS began infiltrating agents into Greece in August 1943, sending them by air from OSS/Cairo and OSS/Brindisi, by land across the border with Turkey, and by sea from ports in Turkey and Italy. These agents were first recruited at Cairo, where the OSS ran all operations inside Greece. The agents underwent a nine-day basic intelligence course at Cairo, followed by training in demolitions, fieldcraft, small arms, close combat and parachuting at the British school in Ramat David in Palestine. Transport by air was done through the Balkan Air Force run by the British, whose waiting times could take months before a flight was available. So, the OSS used Greek caiques (six-man fishing boats), sailing them from Alexandria to Cyprus and then to Rema Bay in Turkey, from which the agents were infiltrated into Greece.
The Germans withdrew from Greece in October 1944, and the OSS immediately established a base in Athens. OSS/Athens maintained liaison with the rival Greek partisan forces, even after the country descended into civil war in December 1944. OSS/Athens also dealt with saboteurs left behind by the Abwehr in Athens and Salonika.
Just days before the Soviets occupation of Rumania, an OSS team established a base in Bucharest in August 1944. They operated under the cover of evacuating American flight crews that had bailed out over Rumania, while gathering intelligence on the Ploesti oil fields and searching through captured documents. OSS/Bucharest also created liaison with partisan forces in the Ukraine, Slovakia, Transylvania, and Hungary. In September 1945, its cover as an Air Crew Rescue Unit became untenable, and OSS/Bucharest was closed down.
As in Bucharest, the OSS placed a team in Sofia in mid-September 1944 under the cover of an Air Crew Rescue Unit. The base was in existence for a mere two weeks before the Soviets occupied Bulgaria and the team had to withdraw. In November 1944, some OSS personnel were allowed to return to Sofia to carry out X-2 duties for a short while.
The OSS in Albania
Beginning in November 1943, a handful of SI agents were sent from OSS/Bari into Albania. After the German withdrawal in October 1944, the OSS established a base at Tirana which carried out a wide variety of duties and acted as an unofficial embassy until the State Department arrived in mid-1945. OSS/Tirana was closed down in September 1945.
The OSS in Yugoslavia
OSS/Bari and OSS/Cairo began sending teams into Yugoslavia in August 1943. These teams made contact with both the Communist Partisans and the Nationalist Chetniks, but by early 1944, the Allies shifted their support entirely to the Partisans. Then in August 1944, the OSS sent a team to evacuate downed Allied fliers being sheltered by the Chetniks, and the Partisans took this as a renewal of OSS support for the Chetniks. The Partisans confined all OSS personnel in Yugoslavia were confined to headquarters, and while the OSS was allowed to continue to arrange supplies no intelligence was shared with the Americans. In January 1945, the OSS was allowed to establish a base in Belgrade, but solely for the purpose of evacuating Allied air crews. The OSS withdrew entirely from Yugoslavia in March 1945.
The OSS in Czechoslovakia
Czechoslovakia revolted against German occupation in August 1944, and OSS/Bari sent teams to Banska Bystrica in September 1944. The OSS teams were to bring in supplies for the Czechs, but little was accomplished before the revolt was suppressed by the Germans within the month. All but two of the OSS men and women were captured and sent to a concentration camp at Matthausen, where they were tortured and executed. Following the German withdrawal, the OSS sent a team to Prague in May 1945, but the Soviets pressured its removal to the American zone in Pilsen.
SCI teams with the Twelfth Army entered Paris in late August 1944 and set up an office. OSS/Paris became the center of OSS operations on the western front and controlled operations in Italy through the 2677th Regiment in Caserta. The office itself was concerned with X-2 operations against Axis intelligence in liberated territory, successfully turning German stay-behind agents of the Abwehr and the SD into double agents. X-2 at OSS/Paris also maintained surveillance on the Communist movement in France. Other duties included an R&A section that searched through the volumes of German material captured during the liberation of France.
Externally, the primary role of OSS/Paris was coordinating the OSS teams working in Allied headquarters along the western front. Besides the SCI teams, OSS/Paris directed the field detachments (FIDES) who made short-range missions behind enemy lines to gather tactical intelligence and set up two-man teams of “sleeper” agents among Frenchmen who had worked with OSS to stay behind should the Germans counterattack. Most of the FIDES detachment were ignored or hindered by G-2, but that of the Seventh Army was remarkably active, dispatching forty-four missions into Germany between January and May 1945. These missions involved agents recruited from German POWs, usually Catholics, Bavarians or Austrians, and members of penal battalions, and shock troops (assigned to high-casualty units for being politically unreliable to the Nazis). Some German women were also recruited, and none of these agents were ever turned against the OSS.
OSS/Paris was also the headquarters for the Target-Forces in Europe. The Target-Forces, better known as “T-Forces,” were dispatched by General Eisenhower to capture enemy documents and technology as soon as territory was overrun. Staffed by X-2 and R&A officers, the T-Forces gathered data on the V-1 and V-2 rocket technology and other German “wonder weapons.”
The OSS in Belgium and Holland
The OSS was not very active in Belgium and Holland as the resistance movements there were already well-established and did not require SO assistance, and because the British refused to allow SI missions there while under German occupation. FIDES detachments did set up bases in Brussels and Eindhoven in September 1944, and by the end of the war, an OSS base had been established in Maastricht, Holland.
The OSS in Norway and Denmark
Supply drops were made to the Norwegian resistance from the OSS in Sweden after 1943, but the resistance in Norway did not require SO assistance. In May 1945, teams were sent to Oslo and Copenhagen, whose primary role was to disseminate captured documents, and remained active until the end of the war.
The OSS in Sweden
All SFHQ headquarters were dominated by the British except for the office in Stockholm, where the Americans were allowed to conduct independent operations. COI had dispatched an officer to Sweden in March 1942, but there was no base until SFHQ/Stockholm was set up in November 1943. Sub-bases were established at Malmoe, Haelsingborg, and Goeteborg within the year.
The most valuable work done in Sweden was in espionage, as the OSS ran its best spy networks out of neutral countries. Agents were run from Sweden into Norway, Denmark, Finland, Lithuania and Germany. After Swedish ships stop transporting goods to Germany in late 1944, the OSS came to rely on fishing boats heading for Denmark to insert agents across the North Sea. Another role was supplying resistance movements in Norway and Denmark. The supplies were delivered by air from Scotland and by boat from the Shetland Islands, and SFHQ/Stockholm stockpiled the supplies at bases along the northern frontier with Norway above the 62nd parallel.
The most significant OSS intelligence operations of the war were carried by Allen Dulles and the officers of OSS/Bern in Switzerland. A dozen or so SI officers under Dulles had been placed in Switzerland during 1942. By November, OSS/Bern was isolated with the German takeover of Vichy France, and had to supplement their ranks by recruiting Americans trapped in Switzerland, air crews that had bailed out there, and State Department personnel. The isolation of OSS/Bern caused administrative and communication problems, but it also gave Dulles the freedom to act without any interference or oversight.
OSS/Bern ran spies within the Vichy French government and most of the OSS spy networks inside Germany before 1945. Unlike other SI networks, OSS/Bern did not send agents into enemy territory but rather cultivated contacts within already-established groups, such as the anti-Hitler cabal within the German military. Through this contact, OSS/Bern was first to learn of the V-2 rocket project and orchestrated Operation Sunrise, the bloodless surrender of German forces in northern Italy days before the end of the war in Europe. In December 1942, OSS/Bern did open their own networks by establishing a sub-base in Lugano to infiltrate agents into Italy; and, another sub-base was established in Geneva to infiltrate agents in France and smuggle French francs to the maquisards in Savoy. Other sub-bases in Switzerland were created in Zurich, Ascona, and Basel, though OSS/Bern was hesitant to run their own networks due to strict policing by the Swiss, who feared a German invasion over any indiscretion.
The intelligence capability of OSS/Bern was enhanced in December 1942 when they virtually took over the Deuxieme Bureau in Switzerland following the complete occupation of France by Germany in the wake of Operation Torch. Their isolation continued until the French border was opened up in November 1944, and a sub-base was created at Annemasse near Geneva to infiltrate agents over the Alps into Italy and Germany. Other sub-bases were established at Pontarlier and Hegenheim to penetrate Germany.
Turkey was one of the major centers of espionage during the Second World War. Seventeen intelligence services operated there, supported by a cottage industry of informants. The majority of Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe traveled through Turkey, as well as a host of businessmen and diplomats. The OSS had developed contacts in Istanbul and Ankara beginning in April 1942, but it wasn’t until April 1943 that the OSS established a base in Turkey. The staff of OSS/Istanbul was about fifty personnel under business, journalist, diplomatic and military attaché cover. The work of OSS/Istanbul focused on counter-espionage and coordinating spy networks inside Austria, Germany, Hungary and Bulgaria.
The OSS in Spain and Portugal
In Spain and Portugal, the OSS was originally concerned with a German takeover, and its first steps were to set up a stay-behind network. It wasn’t long before the OSS came to see the neutral countries as the means by which to infiltrate agents into France. SI placed agents in Lisbon and Madrid in April 1942, where they set up safe houses and arranged passage for Frenchmen crossing through Spain to join the Free French in North Africa.
Most of the OSS officers were under State Department cover, limiting their ability to do anything more than to pass messages. Some were undercover as businessmen, and these SI officers carried out most of the intelligence gathering in Spain, though always against the wishes of the US Ambassador that felt it “un-American” to be spying on a “friendly” nation. Much of the espionage was halted in November 1943 due to diplomatic pressure, but the OSS continued to develop assets in Spain, especially among Basque separatists, who Donovan even considered using as assassins against the Werwolf resistance in postwar Germany.
Besides espionage, the OSS in Spain and Portugal were concerned with counter-espionage against the widespread German intelligence presence in the region. The State Department did not hinder these X-2 activities as much as they did SI; and, by November 1943, X-2 had expanded its offices to Barcelona, Bilbao and San Sebastian through diplomatic cover. X-2 in Spain monitored the creation of postwar Nazi organizations like ODESSA, but was not allowed to take action against them.
The OSS in Germany and Austria
While the OSS in neutral countries ran a number of networks and field detachments sent agents through enemy lines, it was the role of OSS/London to carry out long-range penetration of Greater Germany by OSS officers. This could not be accomplished until the general issue of the Joan-Eleanor two-way radio in the fall of 1944, when it became feasible for SI teams to make contact from the Reich. From November 1944 till the German surrender, fourteen Joan-Eleanor teams were sent into Holland, Stuttgart, Berlin, Munster, Regensburg, Munich, Landshut, Leipzig, Plauen, Straubing and Bregenz. Most of these missions were unsuccessful due to the radios being damaged during infiltration, but few of the teams were captured due to the confused state within the Reich during its last eight months. The SI teams found it easy to travel with the many foreign workers then employed in Germany. The Joan-Eleanor teams sent into Germany were "blind drops" due to the lack of a serious resistance movement in the country. For the same reason, the OSS did not attempt to send SO teams into Germany.
A darker fate awaited those Joan-Eleanor teams sent into Austria. While there was a significant Austrian partisan movement there to meet the teams, they were captured at a rate of fifty percent of those sent from England and France and nearly one hundred percent of those sent from Italy.
Following the German surrender, the established bases at Biebrich and Salzburg, with senior personnel headquartered in Berlin and Vienna. Sub-bases were later established in Bremen, Kassel, Heidelberg, Nuremberg, Hamburg, Munich, Innsbruck, Klagenfurt, and Linz. The Allies believed that the Nazis would wage a campaign of guerilla warfare following the German surrender, a fear that became justified in the Werwolf movement. SI in Germany developed the Twilight plan training German agents in England for infiltration of the Nazi underground, while SO planned to use Communist and Basque assassins. Neither of these plans came to fruition, but the OSS did investigate the Nazi underground through it SCI teams, headquartered in Wiesbaden. These investigations continued well-on past the dissolution of the OSS in late 1945, some not ending until the next year.
OSS/Pacific Ocean Area
The COI built an office in Honolulu soon after the Pearl Harbor attack to liaison with Army and Navy forces in the Pacific, becoming OSS/Pacific Ocean Area (OSS/POA) in June 1942. The only duties Admiral Nimitz allowed OSS/POA to undertake in the Pacific were field photographic missions and a few maritime operations, principally those of Maritime Unit Group A, who worked with Navy Underwater Demolition Team 10 beginning in August 1944. A representative was sent to work in MacArthur’s staff in mid-1942, but besides some basic research duties, the OSS was not allowed to operate in the Southwest Pacific region. A Morale Operations team was allowed to set up a radio station in Guam in the late spring of 1945. After May 1944, OSS/POA worked through the Joint Intelligence Center Pacific Ocean Areas (JICPOA), which disseminated military and naval information from the Pacific theater through ONI channels.
The OSS in Burma
Besides OSS/POA, the first operational OSS unit in the Far East was Detachment 101. The unit had been created by COI for guerilla warfare in China, but for political reasons was diverted to Assam soon after arriving in India in the summer of 1942. General Joseph Stilwell sought to reopen the Burma Road that supplied the Chinese from India, and Detachment 101 was only American unit at his disposal at that time. Although Detachment 101 was administratively under the command of the OSS in China, it was Stilwell that cut the orders.
Detachment 101 established their base camp near Nazira in Assam, and was activated in September 1942. There were some early attempts to recruit Asians and Eurasians in India, but this proved less successful than using American personnel. Beginning in February 1943, these agents parachuted into northern Burma, recruited natives, and established advance bases by cutting small airstrips in the jungle for supply and to bring in a cadre of eight to ten Americans that would trained the natives locally or back in Nazira. The natives used by Detachment 101 were almost all Kachin tribesmen, either recruited in the jungle or among the Kachin Levies under British command. Detachment 101 also had recruited some Japanese-American soldiers from US Army units to serve as interpreters.
A forward base was established at Sumprabum in Burma in December 1942, and moved back to Fort Hertz in March 1943, and finally back across the border to Nazira in India as the Japanese advanced. A rear base was established in Calcutta to transmit intelligence back to Washington and other OSS bases in the Far East, and a supply base was built at Dinjan, near Ledo in Assam. By July 1944, these rear bases had been consolidated at Calcutta into Detachment 505, the supply system for operations in northern Burma. Isolation from Washington caused Detachment 505 to rely more on “unofficial procurement” for scrounging supplies than from regular OSS channels.
The Burma Road was reopened by March 1944, and Detachment 101 went on to clear out the Shan States in Burma to prevent a counter-attack by the Japanese. The unit was deactivated in July 1945, with half of its personnel reassigned to the OSS in China.
The OSS in Southeast Asia
In December 1943, Stilwell’s forces in northern Burma and the British in southern Burma were combined under the new Southeast Asia Command (SEAC) of Admiral Lord Mountbatten. Until then, the British had resisted OSS operations outside of Detachment 101; but, Mountbatten had established “P” Division within SEAC to approve all clandestine activity in Southeast Asia. Under the nominal authority of “P” Division, Detachment 404 was activated in November 1943 at New Delhi and allowed to carry out OSS operations throughout the whole of Southeast Asia in return for providing guerilla units to the British.
Detachment 404 soon moved to SEAC headquarters at Kandy in Ceylon. A supply unit was based on the island of Ceylon at Colombo, along with training camps at Galle, Clodagh and Trincomalee. An supply and services unit remained at New Delhi, which became Detachment 303 in April 1944. MO was based at Calcutta, while R&A and X-2 were based at New Delhi and only active in India and Ceylon. An Operational Group was established at the Galle training camp, raiding the Arakan coast before being transferred to China. Working with this Operational Group was the Arakan Field Unit, an OSS group of OG and SI personnel attached to the XV Indian Corps for long-range patrols into Rangoon. A large Maritime Unit was established at the Trincomalee camp, working with the OG at Galle before also being sent to China.
Like Detachment 101, Detachment 404 attempted to recruit among Indonesian, Burmese and Chinese refugees in India, but since the British got first-dibs on these assets, the OSS relied instead on local populations, either recruiting Karen tribesmen or even outright shanghaiing “agents” by taking ships prisoner along the Indonesian and Malayan coasts. SO teams were sent into Siam, southern Burma, and Malaya, the Andaman Islands, Sumatra, the Dutch East Indies, and into southern French Indochina, while SI concentrated on Bangkok, Rangoon and the Kra-Tenassarim region of the Malay Peninsula. OSS operations were geographically limited for much of the war as aircraft based in India could only travel as far as the Gulf of Siam.
In January 1945, all the OSS units in Southeast Asia (Detachments 101, 303, 404, and 505) were combined under a new command: OSS/India-Burma Theater (OSS/IBT). While Detachment 101 remained as it had been before, Detachment 404 became the administrative core of OSS operations in Southeast Asia, and Detachment 505 in Calcutta turned into the primary supply base for the OSS in China. Following the Japanese surrender, OSS/IBT sent teams into Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Saigon, and Batavia. These teams assisted in the repatriation of Allied POWs as a cover for gathering intelligence on war crimes and postwar conditions.
The OSS in China
The OSS saw China both as a base of operations into Japan and as battlefield for guerilla warfare that could tie down Japanese troops from fighting elsewhere in the Pacific theater. Since the Japanese controlled Manchuria and Korea, the only regions close enough to reach Japan, the OSS concentrated on developing guerilla warfare units within the Chinese Nationalist Army of Chiang Kai-shek. This effort was hindered both by bureaucratic battles, corruption within the Nationalists, and their tendency to use their best units (and Allied supplies) to fight the Chinese Communists rather than against the Japanese.
The COI had sent representatives to China between January and May 1942, but the OSS was constantly rebuffed by the Nationalist government in Chungking. The head of the Bureau of Investigation and Statistics, the Nationalist Chinese intelligence service, was General Tai Li, who wished to maintain complete control over all clandestine activity in China. Tai Li was assisted in this endeavor by Captain M. E. Miles, the commander of US Naval Group China. In January 1943, Donovan sought to get around this by making Miles the Chief of OSS Activities in the Asiatic Theater, a nominal title that meant little to the OSS in Southeast Asia but gave Miles control of all OSS activity in China. With his new power, Miles and Tai Li created the Sino-American Cooperative Organization (SACO) in April 1943, which officially ran all clandestine and guerilla warfare projects in China.
SACO was utterly corrupt, and it existed mainly to hinder any American intelligence activity independent of Tai Li. Tai Li’s vast spy network was geared more against the Nationalists’ domestic enemies than the Japanese; so, it fell to the OSS to focus the Nationalists on waging guerilla warfare against the foreign enemy. However, Miles had little interest in such operations, concentrating on meteorological and coastal shipping information. Whatever intelligence Miles and his Navy Group did receive was promptly cabled to the Navy Department in Washington before it was handed over to the OSS.
The OSS in SACO was left mostly at handing out hoards of supplies to Tai Li, though three camps were established after September 1943 to train the Chinese in sabotage, photography and intelligence techniques. Finally, in December 1943, Donovan renegotiated to create Detachment 202 at Chungking, whose commander became the Strategic Services Officer, OSS/China-Burma-India, thus relieving Miles of his command over the OSS in the Far East. While Detachment 202 could operate free of Navy interference, it was still under the authority of the obstructive Tai Li. Nevertheless, an espionage school was established in Happy Valley near Chungking in January 1944, and by April 1944, Detachment 202 had their first Chinese agents working in the field. Detachment 202 gradually developed guerilla warfare operations in China, though the impediments posed by Tai Li and the poor quality of those Chinese they were allowed to recruit kept the OSS from any effective intelligence work.
Besides SACO, the OSS also operated through the Air and Ground Forces Resources and Technical Staff (AGFRTS, or “Agfighters”) within the Fourteenth Air Force, the only American combat command operating throughout China. Besides gathering tactical intelligence on aerial targets and rescuing downed fliers, the OSS used AGFRTS to run every kind of clandestine program in China without the interference of SACO. Through negotiations between Donovan and the commander of the Fourteenth Air Force, General Claire Chennault, R&A officers were assigned to Chennault’s staff in February 1944. AGFRTS was then activated as a unit in April 1944, headquartered in Kweilin. It continued to serve the Fourteenth Air Force until early 1945, when it was designated as a completely OSS unit and allowed to pursue intelligence beyond the air war in China.
In January 1945, the OSS in China was recognized as an agency independent of SACO and freed from the interference of Tai Li. While the Chungking base remained the seat of OSS liaison with SACO, Detachment 202 moved their headquarters to Kunming. Other units were created, including Detachment 203 at Chungking, to carry out R&A, SI and MO duties; Detachment 204 at Kaiyuan to running training schools; Detachment 205 at Dinjan, India, being the main supply base for OSS/China; and Detachment 206 at Chengtu, focusing on X-2 operations and liaison with the 20th Bomber Command. Field Commands were also established to send small OSS teams behind enemy lines, based at Hsian (for operations north of Yangzte River), Chihkiang (for operations south of the Yangzte River), and Szemao (for operations in Indochina). “Mercy Teams” were also created, six-man OSS units that parachuted behind enemy lines to liberate Allied POWs.
With its guerilla warfare campaign in full swing, the OSS returned to the original idea of sending agents into Japan from China. The Nationalists were not active in the north, where the Communists fought the Japanese. It was not until July 1944 that the Nationalists allowed the US to send representatives to the Communist capital in Yenan. The DIXIE mission consisted of personnel from G-2, the State Department, Twentieth Bomber Command, the Fourteenth Air Force, the Office of War Information, and the OSS. A trade in intelligence was established and the Communists were amenable to a complete OSS training and operations program, but the Nationalists would not authorize such a measure. The DIXIE Mission was gradually withdrawn in June and July of 1945. No OSS personnel were ever sent into Japan during the war, not simply for lack of nearby airbases but also because the OSS recruited so few Asian-Americans.
China was also used as a based from which to sending agents into Siam and French Indochina. A group of Siamese students were recruited in America and trained at a base at Szemao in the southern Yunnan province of China in early 1944, though little was achieved. In the spring of 1943, Frenchmen were recruited and trained in North Africa, then sent to Chungking for infiltration into Indochina, which also produced few results. An spy network in Indochina was formed in 1942 by a cabal of American oilmen called the Gordon-Bernard-Tan Group, coming under the aegis of the OSS through AGFRTS in April 1944. Headquartered across the border in Lungchou, the GBT Group sent spies into Hanoi, Haiphong and Saigon until it was virtually eliminated during the complete Japanese takeover of Indochina in March 1945.
Near the end of the war, OSS/China consolidated its headquarters to a new base in Shanghai in September 1945. A liaison staff remained at Chungking while the rest of OSS in China returned to the United States through Kunming. Following Japan’s surrender, SO in China was dissolved, while X-2 and SI personnel were transferred to the new Strategic Services Unit (SSU) of the War Department. R&A personnel were also transferred to the SSU, although once they returned to the United States, these officers were sent to the State Department.
The End of the OSS
The OSS was doomed by the death of Roosevelt in April 1945. FDR had always been Donovan’s most important supporter, and, though the Joint Chiefs recognized the need for the agency, many prominent officers (such as MacArthur and Nimitz) thought the OSS was superfluous. The FBI and G-2 remained enemies of COI/OSS throughout the war. Near the end, Hoover made leaks to the press that characterized Donovan’s plan for a post-war OSS as an American “Gestapo.” G-2 went so far as to send a report to Truman listing over 120 charges of “incompetence, insecurity, corruption, ‘orgies,’ nepotism, black-marketing, and almost anything else one could name.” Finally, Truman distrusted the predominantly Republican leadership of OSS, and might have held a personal grudge against Donovan for his prosecution of Truman’s political mentor when Donovan worked as an attorney for the Department of Justice in the 1920’s.
The OSS began working under a liquidation budget in August, though Donovan continued to lobby for the postwar existence of the OSS. As part of the political campaign for and against the OSS, articles began to appear in the press on the once-secret agency. People knew the OSS existed, but its nature and activities remained a closely-guarded secret. By the end of August, the OSS was on track to dissolution as personnel began returning from overseas duty, barracked under strict military discipline at the old OG training ground at Area F. There they waited, called up in order of rank, until they were debriefed and reassigned or released from duty. By the end of the war, 26,000 men and women had served in the OSS.
The Office of Strategic Services was disbanded by executive order on 20 September 1945. It functions were absorbed back into the traditionally military structure. The Special Operations branch was completely abolished, though the concept would later be revived in the creation of US Army Special Forces in 1952. The Secret Intelligence and X-2 branches formed the basis for the new Strategic Services Unit of the War Department, which continued to carry out whatever work theater commanders in Europe and the Far East believed to be important following the end of the OSS. By the end of 1946, the SSU had been reduced to skeleton crew. The only branch of the OSS to survive for any length of time was the Research & Analysis Branch. By the end of the war, R&A did most of its work for the State Department, which absorbed the branch as the Interim Research Intelligence Service (IRIS). In turn, IRIS became the Office of Research Intelligence in July 1947 and brought into the new Central Intelligence Agency.
Foreign Nationalities Branch Investigator
Background: Private Detective, Federal Agent, Policeman
Skills: Fast Talk, Persuade, Psychology, Other Language, Spot Hidden and any three of the following: Drive Auto, Handgun, Hide, Law, Library Use, Sneak or Track
Operational Groups Commando:
Background: Soldier, Officer, or anyone with necessary language skills
Skills: Climb, Hide, Listen, Martial Arts, Machine Gun, Navigate (Land), Other Language, Parachute, Rifle, Sneak, Spot Hidden and three of the following: Demolitions, First Aid, Signals, Knife, Handgun, Submachine Gun, Throw
Maritime Unit Commando:
Background: Sailor, Soldier, Officer
Skills: Boating, Climb, Deep Sea Diving, Demolitions, Hide, Listen, Navigate (Land), Navigate (Air/Sea), Rifle, Sailing, Sneak, Swim, Spot Hidden and three of the following: Cartography, Signals, Knife, Handgun, Martial Arts, Submachine Gun, Throw
Morale Operations Officer:
Background: Journalist, Radio Engineer, or anyone with necessary language skills
Skills: Bargain, Electrical Repair, Fast Talk, Other Language, Persuade, Psychology, Signals
Research & Anaylsis Staffer
Background: Professor, Researcher
Skills: Credit Rating, English, Library Use, Other Language, Persuade and up to three fields of study (ie. Archaeology, Geology, etc.)
Special: +3 to EDU
Secret Intelligence Officer:
Background: Journalist, Diplomat, Businessman, Dilletante, Professional Spies
Skills: Conceal, Credit Rating, Fast Talk, Locksmith, Other Language, Signals, Spot Hidden and any three of the following: Disguise, Cryptography, Handgun, Hide, Forgery, Listen, Photography, Persuade, Sneak, and Tradecraft
Special Operations Officer:
Background: Soldier, Officer, or anyone with necessary language skills
Skills: Climb, Demolitions, Hide, Listen, Navigate (Land), Other Language, Parachute, Rifle, Signals, Sneak, Spot Hidden and three of the following: Conceal, Cryptography, Fast Talk, Knife, Handgun, Martial Arts, Machine Gun, Submachine Gun, Throw, and Tradecraft
X-2 (Counter-Intelligence) Officer
Background: Same as SI and SO
Skills: Credit Rating, Fast Talk, Handgun, Library Use, Listen, Other Language, Psychology, Sneak, Spot Hidden and any two of the following: Conceal, Forensics, Law, Locksmith, Persuade and Tradecraft
Captain Clay MacDonald
STR: 15 DEX: 17 CON: 17 SIZ: 15 INT: 15
APP: 14 POW: 12 EDU: 19 SAN: 60 HP: 16
Damage Bonus: +1d4
Education:  M.A. Mideast Studies, Harvard University
Occupation: OSS Secret Intelligence Officer
Skills: Anthropology 75%, Credit Rating 50%, Demolitions 40%, Hide 65%, Listen 50%, Martial Arts (Greco-Roman Wrestling) 40%, Navigate 40%, Parachute 60%, Persuade 60%, Psychology 70%, Sneak 65%, Spot Hidden 60%, Swim 50%
Languages: English 95%, Arabic 69%, German 22%, Italian 15%, Awjilah 13%, Hebrew 3%
Thompson Model 1928 submachine gun 80%, 1d10+2
Colt M1908 pistol 65%, 1d10
Fist/Punch 60%, 1d3+db
Grapple 70%, Special
Kick 40%, 1d6+db
Written by Gil Trevizo.
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