The Office of Strategic Services
by Bruce L. Brager
Intelligence collection played a role in American history even before the
nation declared its independence. George Washington used scouts and spies
almost from the moment he took over command of the Continental Army in 1775.
However, even after World War I, 150 years later, Americans seemed to have an
aversion to spying. In 1929, the American Secretary of State, Henry Stimson,
received some deciphered Japanese diplomatic messages. He is said to have
remarked, "Gentlemen do not read each other's mail." Stimson then shut down
the State Department office in charge of cracking Japanese codes. One Naval
intelligence officer later described the pre-war American attitude towards
spying by saying "The United States has always prided itself on the fact that
no spies were used and its intelligence officers accredited overseas have
always kept their hands immaculately clean." A senior Foreign Service
officer later commented, "Our Intelligence organization in 1940 was primitive
and inadequate. . ."
Four relatively small departments in the Federal government handled foreign
intelligence in 1940. The State Department handled general foreign affairs,
primarily through open diplomacy. Occasionally diplomats would establish secret
contacts. The Navy had the Office of Naval Intelligence. The War Department
(which ran the Army and, since it was then part of the Army, the Air Force) had
the Military Intelligence Division, which was better known as G-2. In 1940 the
FBI set up a Special Intelligence Service to collect information in Latin
America. All efforts received little funding. In 1940, for example, G-2 had
only 80 people. The United States Army, though, had a total strength of less
There was no centralized intelligence analysis or coordination. Each
intelligence office would send information up the chain of command to its
bosses, and hope the information reached decision makers at the White House.
The major concern of each office was countering espionage and sabotage in the
United States. They also seemed more concerned with their own turf than with
cooperation with other agencies. This began to change in 1939.
On July 19, 1939, Senator William E. Borah, the isolationist-minded Republican
Senator from Iowa, declared that "There is not going to be any war in Europe.
At least not soon. Germany is not ready for it. All this [war] hysteria is
manufactured and artificial." Just about six weeks later, early in the
morning of September 1, 1939, the German military implemented Adolf Hitler's
April 1, 1939 order and invaded Poland. War had been expected in the higher
reaches of the United States government, but it came as shock to the American
people. Two days after the German invasion of Poland, Britain and France
declared war on Germany. American government officials realized the good chance
the United States would be involved in the war and that the country would have
to get ready.
President Franklin Roosevelt moved slowly at first, as he was aware of the
political pressures opposing even "just in case" military improvements.
However, by 1941 Roosevelt had won his third term in office. He had received
authority to mobilize the National Guard. In 1940 the first peacetime draft in
American history had been passed. The draft was extended in 1941, though by
only one vote in the House of Representatives.
At this time the British were pressing Roosevelt to improve American
intelligence gathering and coordination. On July 11, 1941, the President
ordered the establishment of the post of Coordinator of Information, COI,
within the White House. This was America's first formal peacetime intelligence
organization. William J. Donovan, a New York attorney, was chosen to head COI.
Donovan was an experienced combat commander from World War One, having risen to
the rank of colonel. He was wounded twice. After the war he resumed his legal
practice in New York. He served as Assistant Attorney General under Republican
President Calvin Coolidge.
Donovan got off to a mixed start in coordinating intelligence information. The
four existing intelligence organizations, FBI, Office of Naval Intelligence
(ONI), Army G-2 and the State Department, worked to limit the power of the new
organization. The military put code breaking off limits. FBI and ONI also
refused to let COI operate in Latin America.
After the United States entered World War Two, on December 7, 1941, Donovan
made efforts to improve his organization's capabilities. He proposed that the
COI be placed under the military Joint Chiefs of Staff (which itself was first
formed for World War Two) to improve trust and gain access to military
resources. This measure was taken on June 12, 1942, when COI was changed to
Office of Strategic Services (OSS), considered the direct ancestor of the
Central Intelligence Agency.
The COI office in charge of what was known as "white propaganda," distributing
accurate information about the United States, became the Office of War
Information. OSS would handle so-called "black propaganda," spreading false
information about the enemy designed to hurt enemy morale, but was still
not allowed to engage in formal code breaking.
OSS specialized in special operations, dropping operatives behind enemy to
engage in organized guerrilla warfare as well as to gather information on such
things as enemy resources and troop movements. William Donovan even told
President Roosevelt that the Germans were the "big league professionals" of
warfare, and America the "bush league club." The only way to quickly get up to
speed against Germany was to "play a bush league game, stealing the ball and
killing the umpire."
The major departments within the OSS were:
Research and Analysis (R&A) – intelligence analysis.
Research and Development (R&D) – in charge of creating and developing
weapons and equipment.
Morale Operations (MO) – "black propaganda" designed to hurt enemy morale.
Maritime Units (MU) – transporting agents by sea to target areas. MU also had
frogman units of undersea swimmers to engage in sabotage and reconnaissance.
X-2 – Counterespionage.
Secret Intelligence (SI) – agents in the field who covertly gathered
Special Operations (SO) – sabotage and guerrilla warfare.
Operational Groups (OG) – similar to special operations, high trained
foreign-language speaking commando teams.
Donovan recognized that the first thing the United States needed was a way to
train agents. In December 1941, a few days after the attack on Pearl Harbor,
Donovan called two men into his office. After Donovan asked them to start a
training school for special operations, they responded they did not know
anything about espionage schools. "Who does?" Donovan responded.
The British did, so the two men worked with a team of COI personnel, and
British advisors, to develop a curriculum for the training. The COI, and then
the OSS, started constructing training camps in the general area of Washington,
DC, and Baltimore, Maryland. Since it would take a while to finish
construction, the first American agents trained at "Camp X" near Toronto,
On one of his first nights there, one of the first American trainees, Frank
Devlin, was told that he and a small group had to "blow up" part of the
Canadian-Pacific Railroad, a key transportation link in Canada. As Devlin
"On one of our missions they told us we had to blow part of the
Canadian-Pacific railroads. There were a set of rails right before a bridge.
They said that this area was completely guarded and we haven't told the guards
that you are coming and they have loaded weapons. We had to rehearse it, work
it out in the wood so when we did it we didn't get shot. It worked like
clockwork. We planted all the charges under the rails and didn't blow it up of
course but we could have done it."
Devlin learned survival and basic fighting techniques. "We had lots of classes
in what to do if you were behind the lines. We learned all the things that
could give you away [to the enemy]. There was the use of weapons, close-up and
hand-to-hand, all common today. It was all stuff that was dirty; not the kind
of thing you learned in infantry school."
Training would later include a class taught by William Ewart Fairborn, a former
senior British official of the Shanghai China police. This was a method of
fighting that combined the Chinese martial area jiu-jitsa and basic street
brawling. It was first called "gutter fighting" and given the more respectable
name of the "Fairborn Technique." Fairborn also invented a knife for OSS agents
to use in the field. The idea of this training was to do what was necessary to
Fairborn was later asked if the typical American trainee was reluctant to use
the nasty methods he and his associates were teaching. He responded that
trainees "have a natural repugnance to this kind of fighting. But when he
realizes that the enemy will show him no mercy, and that the methods he is
learning work, he soon overcomes it."
Donovan wanted people in his organization who would get the job done, not worry
about methods, or even about American government bureaucracy. One such man was
Lieutenant Charles Parkin, Jr., transferred to the OSS from the Army Corps of
Engineers School at Fort Belvoir, in Maryland not far from Washington, DC.
Parkin had noticed National Guard troops guarding bridges in the area. He
thought the security was "pathetic." Parkin decided to do something about
it, and created a plan to "attack" the bridges with his platoon. He went to his
immediate superior, a captain, who refused to go along with the operation but
apparently did not order Parkin not to go ahead. Parkin went ahead. One night
he took his platoon to some railroad bridges across the Occoquan River south of
Washington, the only railroad bridges into Washington from the south. While his
men were planting fake explosives, Parkin went up to distract a guard by
talking with him.
Parkin reported to his superiors that he and his men could have blown up the
bridges and cut off important rail transportation to the national capital.
Parkin's superiors did not want to get involved in a dispute between the
Regular Army and the National Guard, so they transferred him to a place where
they thought both his talents and his frame of mind would better fit – the
Coordinator of Information. Parkin soon became the primary demolition
Parkin recruited a man named Frank Gleason. Gleason later recalled
"Charlie recruited me and one of the first things he did was send me to
industrial sabotage school in England run by the SOE [Special Operations
Executive, the British special operations group]. What they teach you at
sabotage school will blow your mind. Six or seven people that are properly
trained can cripple a good sized city. . . We learned how to operate and
destroy locomotives and power plants, the turbines in power plants,
communication systems, and telephones. We also learned how to make people sick
by poisoning a city's water supply."
One of the interesting sabotage devices developed by the OSS was an explosive
nicknamed "Aunt Jemima." This was what is called a "plastic explosive," meaning
it can be formed into different shapes. What was interesting about this
explosive is that not only did it look something like flour, but also it could
actually be baked into different shapes. Aunt Jemima would not explode without
blasting caps, a type of trigger device, to set it off. Unfortunately, in at
least one case a cook ate an Aunt Jemima muffin, and almost died.
COI/OSS training was designed to give trainees not only the skills needed to
survive, but also the attitude that would make them effective agents.
"Aggressiveness of spirit and willingness to close with the enemy were
stressed," is how the training was later described in a government report.
Graduating agents would face two tests. The first and known test was to be sent
in small teams to industrial areas of Philadelphia, Baltimore or Richmond to
see what information they could gather or what simulated sabotage missions they
could undertake. One group snuck into an industrial plant in Baltimore, left a
note on a boiler saying "this is a bomb," and called the FBI. A member of that
group recalled that "Luckily we never got caught. I understand some people got
really roughed up before the FBI called OSS to see if they were OSS or
The same veteran went on a more advanced test, which had him becoming friendly
with the managing director of a steel mill in Philadelphia. One day, while
waiting in the office of the director to go to lunch, the agent noticed that
the secretary was putting used carbon paper into a trashcan. The agent managed
to steal a couple of day's worth of carbon paper from the trash, and determine
the planned steel production of the plant. There is no indication as to whether
this agent was the inspiration, but it became a basic security technique, until
computers replaced typewriters, to securely dispose of carbon paper and lock up
typewriter ribbons at night.
A second OSS veteran managed to pass himself off as a writer interested in
doing an article on war production in Baltimore and the role of the
Baltimore-Ohio Railroad. He summarized his efforts and the information he
obtained. "Just being a nice guy could get you into the most sensitive areas. I
went back to the OSS training area with this appalling load of stuff, turned it
in, and was later informed that I graduated."
The final test, unknown at the time to the students, was a graduation party.
The students were plied with liquor, and urged to talk freely. The OSS wanted
to see if potential agents would give up their covers when relaxing, without
time to mentally prepare to keep their secrets. Students were evaluated on how
well they performed at the party.
The COI/OSS actually began its work in Washington, D.C. In March 1942, with the
approval of President Franklin Roosevelt himself -- because of the potential
major diplomatic problems if the agents were caught violating what is legally
foreign territory -- Donovan had his agents break into several foreign
embassies in Washington. The primary targets were Spain, which had remained
neutral (The United States wanted to ensure that Spain would remain neutral),
and Vichy France, the semi-independent German puppet government still
officially in control of southern France.
The United States would be aided by sympathetic diplomats and by technical
specialists. One such specialist was described as a "specialist in safes who
was brought from New York," to quote a report's polite way of saying safe
cracker – the COI/OSS recruited for skills rather than for background. "Black
bag jobs" of secretly breaking into embassies often meant two break-ins.
Technology of the time made it much harder to photograph material on site, so
the OSS operatives and agents either had to wait inside, or break in a second
time to return the documents.
One particularly able OSS operative was code named Cynthia. She was actually
Elizabeth Pack, an attractive, rich woman, divorced from a British diplomat,
with several years of espionage experience. She began work as a spy in Poland
in 1938. After volunteering to work with the British, Cynthia seduced a Pole
with information on his country's code breaking efforts. The result of this was
that Cynthia was one of the sources for British knowledge of the perhaps the
most important secret of the war, outside of the atomic bomb. This was the
so-called Ultra Secret (named for the highest British security classification)
the British and American reading of virtually all German radio communications
during the war.
Posing as a pro-Vichy freelance writer, Cynthia met the French ambassador and
his press attaché, Charles Brousse. Brousse was instantly smitten by Cynthia's
looks and charms, and became her lover. Cynthia also became Brousse's case
officer, and began to receive daily intelligence reports from Brousse. The next
step was to get the Vichy French naval ciphers.
The first step in their plan was for Brousse and Cynthia to befriend the one
nighttime guard at the embassy – security could be loose in those days. They
would ask the guard to use the embassy at night for their affair. (They would
drug the guard, and his dog, and call in the safe cracker.) The guard agreed,
after Brousse convinced the guard that a hotel room would be unsafe for their
affair, since he had told his wife he was working late.
On June 19, 1942, Brousse and Cynthia entered the embassy, with several bottles
of champagne. They offered the guard a glass of champagne, with a sleeping pill
secretly mixed in. A similar pill went into the dog's water bowl. In a few
minutes, both were asleep. They then signaled the safe cracker. He found it
easy to get into the naval attachés door, but had trouble with the safe. By the
time he got in it was 4AM. Embassy personnel would start to arrive at 6 AM,
which left them insufficient time to photograph the codebook. They would have
to come back a few nights later.
Drugging the watchman a second time seemed too risky. This time, after he let
them in, Cynthia waited about an hour and then opened the door to the naval
attachés office. A window was opened for the safe cracker. Cynthia guessed that
the watchman might come around to check the building. She then took off all her
clothes and told Brousse to do the same. The door swung open and the watchman's
flashlight shone on the two naked lovers. The watchman quickly apologized "I
beg your pardon a thousand times, madame, I thought. . ," and equally
COI/OSS black jobs ended soon after, when an OSS team had to abort a break-in
at the Spanish embassy after two cars with FBI agents showed up. The team
managed to escape, but from then on the FBI took over black bag jobs.
In November 1942 the Americans and British invaded Vichy-controlled North
Africa. There was far less resistance then expected. Like many espionage
operations, there is no way of knowing what value stealing the French naval
codes played. However, sometimes after that invasion, her case officer told
Cynthia that the lack of resistance was "due to your ciphers. They have changed
the course of the whole war."
Cynthia's spying adventures ended after the adventure into the Vichy French
embassy. Just before she was due to be sent into France in 1944, the OSS
learned that the Gestapo, the German secret police, suspected she might be an
agent. It was considered too dangerous to send Cynthia into enemy-occupied
The most unlikely OSS employee during World War Two was Julia Child, later
famous as the "French Chef" until her death in August 2004. Child was not an
operative, but worked in several Asian field offices, including India and
China. Her work included processing all documents, many of them top secret,
which came into the OSS offices.
The effect of stealing the French naval codes was uncertain. However, the OSS
was praised for its contribution to the success, at a relatively low cost, of
the Allied invasion of North Africa, Operation Torch. "Rarely had intelligence
and diplomacy meshed as smoothly," William Casey, OSS veteran and later
director of the CIA, wrote after the war.
The OSS played little role in the July 1943 invasion of Sicily, a
stepping-stone to mainland Italy. The Allied high command thought OSS activity,
particularly sabotage, would alert the Germans to the pending attack. The OSS
may have helped negotiate a deal with New York gangster Lucky Luciano, for the
Mafia gangsters to gather intelligence in Sicily and to help protect the New
York waterfront against Nazi agents. Luciano, in prison, would be released from
a lengthy prison sentence at the end of the war and deported to Italy. There is
little indication of what the deal accomplished – a familiar problem with
intelligence history is lack of documentation. However, not long after the war
ended Luciano was released from prison and deported to Italy.
The Allied invasion of North Africa prompted many of the Italian Fascist
associates of Benito Mussolini to start wavering in their support for his
government, particularly his support for Germany. The Italian King, Victor
Emmanuel III, was among those wavering. With the Allied invasion of Sicily, and
the conquest of the island in roughly one week, the King decided to act.
On July 25, 1943, Mussolini was arrested while leaving the 74-year-old King's
palace. The King then formed a new government under a 72-year-old former Army
Chief of Staff, Marshall Pietro Badoglio. Badoglio almost immediately assured
Berlin of his government's continued support. He also sent secret emissaries to
the Allies to discuss an Italian surrender.
Just before the invasion of Sicily, it was assumed among Allied planners that
an Italian collapse and withdrawal from the war would cause the Germans to
withdraw from Italy. Ultra intercepts confirmed that this was the German
intention. Though his practice was to order "no retreat," Hitler had decided
not to defend southern and central Italy after the expected Allied invasion and
expected departure of Italy from the Axis.
Directly striking at Rome was very tempting to Allied planners. However, Rome
was outside of the range of ground-based aircraft operating from Sicily. The
Naples area was as far north an invasion site as seemed feasible. Naples was a
large port. Once the expected German sabotage, and any battle damage, was
repaired, Naples would be a valuable port for bringing in supplies and troops.
The Gulf of Salerno was selected as the landing site. The town of Salerno was a
small port, which would be helpful until Naples could be captured and put back
into working order.
Planning became more complicated on July 25, 1943. Benito Mussolini, ruler of
Italy for 22 years, was overthrown. Marshall Pietro Badoglio, Mussolini's
successor, immediately declared that Italy would remain in the war as a member
of the Axis. Virtually simultaneously, Badoglio opened secret
negotiations on Italy's surrender with Eisenhower and his staff. The
Italians wanted Allied protection if they left the war, fearing German wrath
once the surrender was announced.
If the Italians surrendered, why invade? Why not just let Italy leave the war
and take her army with her? There were several reasons why this was not
considered feasible. Surrender negotiations with the Italians were somewhat
messy. The possibility always existed that something could go wrong. The Allies
must also have considered the possibility, however remote, that the Italians
could switch sides a second time. Defecting countries, like defecting people,
however honest their motivations, have a problem being fully trusted.
Perhaps most importantly, landing in Italy was still seen as necessary to tie
down German units, and keep them away from the Soviet front or northern France.
Not only did planning continue for the invasion, but the Americans and British
now also considered Italian surrender necessary for the invasion to succeed.
The German plan for invasion or Italian surrender was basically a fighting
withdrawal to the get back to the Rome area with as little damage as possible.
They would then withdraw to a "permanent" defensive line in the Apennine
mountains north of Rome. There was no plan of action in case of an invasion and
an Italian surrender.
The Italian surrender was announced on September 8th. The surrender
announcement was broadcast to the men of the 36th Division, a day before
the landing at Salerno. Many cheered, thinking the invasion would now be a
cakewalk. Some regretted missing out on action. Others pointed out that the far
tougher Germans would now be defending the beaches, and the men would get all
the action they could possibly wish.
The American/British invasion fleet arrived off the Salerno area the night of
September 8, 1943. At 11 PM the ships sounded general quarters. Soon after
midnight on September 9th the assault and landing craft were lowered, and the
men boarded. When the craft were ready to go, the boats headed toward the
appropriate British or American rendezvous area, three to five miles from
shore. From there they would head to an unknown reception on the shores of
Italy. Roughly three hours elapsed before all the troops reached the rendezvous
areas. Landing craft are not comfortable, so it was fortunate the sea was calm
with little wind.
At 2:00 AM, German shore batteries opened fire on the northern section of the
invasion fleet, the British 10 Corps and supporting ships. The warships began
returning fire. Precisely at 3:10, on schedule, an American Ranger force under
the command of William Darby landed near the tiny port of Amalfi, the first
step in cutting a possible route for German reinforcements from the direction
of Naples. An OSS force landed with Darby, and was given the task of gathering
tactical intelligence for Darby's forces. A French officer serving with the OSS
remembered "Colonel Darby. . . requested a very capable agent for a dangerous
mission. I supplied him with an Italian air force officer of the [Italian
Intelligence Service]. This agent crossed the lines, was captured by the
Germans and he succeeded in getting their confidence and he was finally
utilized as an interpreter. He returned four days later and supplied to the
organization the most useful information and reports." The main American
and British units landed on schedule.
The OSS's primary contribution in Italy in the months after the Salerno
invasion was probably helping take over the islands of Corsica and Sardinia
after the German garrison evacuated. More importantly, an OSS detachment was
sent in with a follow-up landing in Italy, January 1944 at Anzio, just to
the west of Rome. The actual beachhead was quickly sealed off by the Germans,
and stayed sealed off for six months.
The Germans, despite heavy counterattacks, were unable to destroy the
beachhead. One OSS agent was in contact with an OSS informant working in the
headquarters of the overall German commander in Italy. From this agent the OSS
operative received details of two pending German attacks on the Anzio
beachhead. He was able to pass word on to the Allied command and the attacks
were beaten off.
The OSS was not limited to tactical intelligence on the battlefield. Allen
Dulles, working in Bern, the capital of Switzerland, ran their main efforts
directly against Germany for most of the war. Perhaps his most important
contact in Germany was a man named Fritz Kolbe, who worked in the German
foreign office. Kolbe was an anti-Nazi who had decided to work against the Nazi
regime. Kolbe has access to high-level information. He was trusted by the
government, and from time to time was able to travel to Switerland to deliver
copies of documents and report directly to Dulles. Kolbe confirmed much of what
Ultra intercepts had revealed to the Allies.
Kolbe also helped expose a major security leak at the British embassy in
Ankara, Turkey. In January 1944, a German agent working at the Ambassador's
residence, who had a key to the Ambassador's safe, copied a document written by
Dwight D. Eisenhower that read "Maintain a threat to the Germans from the
eastern Mediterranean until Overlord is launched." Overlord was the code
word for the Allied invasion of Northern France, D-Day, June 6, 1944. It was
considered the most secret code word in the European theater. Fortunately,
Kolbe saw the copied document and passed word to Dulles. Dulles notified
British intelligence. The German agent was never caught, but was also never
able to spy again.
Dulles had two ways of sending messages back to Allied headquarters. One, very
modern, was to use a scrambled equipped radiotelephone. The second was more old
fashioned, and used when documents had to be smuggled. The materials were
microfilmed in Bern to reduce their bulk. They were then given to a locomotive
engineer working for the OSS. This was in the period before diesel locomotives
were common. The locomotive used coal for fuel. The engineer had created a
secret compartment above where the coal was burned. If the Germans searched his
train, the engineer would open the trap door to the compartment and the film
would be destroyed.
The train took the microfilm from Bern to Lyons, after which it
went with another agent by bicycle to the southern French port of Marseille, by
ship to Corsica, and then by plane to Algiers. The total trip could take 10 to
The OSS and its British counterparts infiltrated operatives into occupied
France throughout most of the war, to help resistance fighters engage in
sabotage and to gather information. The OSS also helped the French networks
that smuggled downed Allied pilots out of France. These efforts picked up in
the weeks leading to the June 6, 1944 D-Day invasion of Normandy, in northern
France. Interestingly, for a few weeks before the immediate "run up" to D-Day
the Allied command asked the French resistance to hold off most sabotage
efforts. These tended to provoke German reprisals. The Allies wanted the French
to concentrate on gathering information.
Sabotage began again just before and after the D-Day landings, focusing on
bridges, roads and other means the Germans might use to bring troops to the
front. OSS and resistance fighters, for example, tracked the movements of the
powerful Panzer Lehr armored division to the Normandy front. This information
enabled the Allied air forces to attack and severely damage the division.
The OSS played an even more significant role in the August invasion of southern
France. The French resistance, the FFI, aided by the OSS, actually struck the
first blow. Increased sabotage efforts in southern France after August 1st made
it difficult for the Germans in the area to maintain communications. The
Germans had to use combat troops to keep supply routes open to the Riviera.
Rail lines and phone lines were regularly cut. The mountains made it hard to
communicate by radio. The FFI had become so aggressive that the Germans could
only move large, well-protected convoys along the highways and railroads in
southern France. The commander of an ad hoc American combat unit wrote
about the FFI that,
"The German dread of the Maquis came to the surface continuously during our
race into the interior. Really, some of our adventurous young officers became
quite persuasive salesmen. Many and many a garrison was taken after a few shots
-- an American advanced under a white flag and a parley. If the German
commander could be convinced that he and his force would become American
prisoners, and not be turned over to the French, surrender usually was
Lieutenant William Duff, head of an OSS tactical intelligence team attached to
the American 45th Infantry Division in southern France, described one OSS
mission undertaken after the August 15, 1944 landings:
"Proceeding cautiously, we entered the town over garden walls and discovered a
housed which showed a gleam of light. The occupants proved to be French, old
people and children, but they were so upset by the shelling that they could not
tell us anything about the Germans, except that there were troops in the
hospital near the center of the town, where [one of the American agents]
entered the building, spoke with some German soldiers and nuns, and came back
with information that the town's garrison consisted of twelve men. . . billeted
at the hospital and that four officers and few enlisted men were staying in
another building a few blocks away. While standing in the street discussing our
next move we noticed a German sentry about two yards behind us, but he took no
exception to our presence..."
Duff reported back to the command post, and suggested that a patrol be sent to
capture the twenty men. He was placed in command of the patrol.
"Leading the patrol across the same fields we entered town as light was
breaking. Two Germans were seen in the street but they escaped before they
could be shot. [Duff and two other operatives] reached the hospital some
distance ahead of the reluctant patrol and [one agent] entered the hospital,
this time shaking the Germans out of their sleep and telling them to surrender
for the Americans had arrived."
Duff was able to report additional information on German troop concentration,
not to mention driving back into American lines with a German weapons carrier
vehicle and an anti-aircraft gun.
A memorandum from the intelligence people at Allied Forced headquarters wrote
that "The intelligence for Operation Dragoon [the invasion of Southern France]
was probably the fullest and most detailed of any provided by G-2 AFHQ."
The OSS would continue to work in Europe until the Germans surrendered
on May 8, 1945. Allen Dulles played a major role in arranging the
surrender of all German troops in Italy. He began negotiations in March 1945
with Karl Wolff, a senior general in the German SS, for the surrender of
several hundred thousand German troops in Italy. President Roosevelt vetoed
initial efforts, on the grounds that it would upset the Soviets, and violate
agreements, if the Americans made a separate peace with any major German force.
By April 29, however, when Wolff showed up in Bern willing to sign an
unconditional surrender, Dulles was authorized to accept.
On April 29, 1945, German forces in Italy surrendered - to take effect May 2,
1945. The ending of the war in Italy had many twists and turns. They included
replacement of the commander of German forces in Italy for negotiating with the
enemy. His chief-of-staff not only refused to accept a similar firing but
worked with General Wolff to arrest their replacements and see that the
surrender was carried out. It was an appropriate end for the Italian
campaign, a "cruel, bitter campaign that all too often seemed to be going
Dulles had one more intelligence coup to carry out. Fritz Kolbe passed word
that General Reinhardt Gehlen, and an entire German military intelligence unit
directed against the Soviets, wanted to work for the United States. With
permission of the American government, Dulles arranged for Gehlen to surrender
and bring with him his men and his records. The United States now had an entire
intelligence network to use in the Cold War against the Soviets. The Americans
and British would seek to recruit additional Nazis with possible value against
The OSS had focused on Europe, but it was also active in Asia. One of
the most successful operations was working with Kachin mountain tribesmen in
Burma to tie down Japanese troops. Estimates are that by the end of the war,
they had inflicted 15,000 casualties on the Japanese while taking only a few
hundred casualties themselves.
Probably the last work done by the OSS in Asia was making contact with and
arranging to help the Viet Minh, under Ho Chi Minh, fight the Japanese
occupying Vietnam. The war ended before much could come of this.
In late 1944, William Donovan sent a long memorandum to President Roosevelt
proposing that the OSS be converted into a permanent peacetime intelligence
organization. The plan was leaked to a Chicago newspaperman who called the
proposal in print a "super Gestapo agency," after the German secret police.
This killed consideration of the plan until April 1945. While a revised OSS
memo was being prepared, President Roosevelt he died of a brain hemorrhage. On
September 30, 1945, President Harry Truman, Roosevelt's successor, disbanded
A recent analysis of the role of the OSS in World War Two summarizes the
organization's role well. "OSS is often dismissed by historians as having been
of little importance to the Allied war effort. Could the Allies have won the
war without OSS? Very likely. But a balanced assessment of the agency's
substantial achievements should conclude that the OSS shortened the war, and in
the process saved the lives of thousands of Allied combat soldiers."
Perhaps the major influence of the OSS was in preparing the United States for
the very dangerous 45-year cold war. The OSS was abolished for political
reasons, but the CIA was established within two years. The OSS established the
principal that the United States needs an intelligence agency, able to get our
government the information needed to function in a dangerous world.
. Norman Polmar and Thomas Allen, Spy Book: The Encyclopedia of Espionage
, New York: Random House, 1997, page 606.
. Patrick O'Donnell, Operatives, Spies, and Saboteurs: The Unknown Story of
the Men and Women of World War II's OSS , New York: Free Press, 2004,
Quoted page xi.
. Michael Warner, Office of Strategic Services: America's First Intelligence
Agency , Washington, D.C.: CIA Public Affairs Office, 2000, page 2.
. Quoted page 180, Richard M. Ketchum, The Borrowed Years: 1938-1941
, New York: Random House, 1989.
. Richard Dunlop, Donovan: America's Master Spy , New York: Rand
McNally, 1982, page 276.
. O'Donnell, page 1.
. Ibid O'Donnell, page 2.
. Ibid, O'Donnell, page 4.
. Ibid, O'Donnell, page 5.
. Ibid, O'Donnell, page 6.
. Ibid, O'Donnell, page 7.
. Kermit Roosevelt, The Overseas Targets: War Report of the OSS ,
Washington D.C., Carrollton Press, New York: Walker & Co, 1976, Volume I,
. O'Donnell page 10.
. Ibid, O'Donnell page 12.
. Ibid, O'Donnell, page 26.
. H. Montgomery Hyde, Cynthia , New York: Ballantine Books, 1965,
. Hyde, ibid, page 154.
. William Casey, The Secret War Against Hitler , Washington, D.C.:
Regnery Gateway, 1988, page 17.
. O'Donnell, page 54.
. David Kahn, Hitler's Spies , New York: MacMillan, 1978, page
. Brigadier General Frederick B. Butler, “Task Force Butler,” Part I, pages
12-18,. Armored Cavalry Journal , Volume LVII, January-February 1948,
Number 1, page 15.
. O'Donnell page 188.
. Roosevelt, War Report of the OSS, Volume II, page 238.
. Ernest F. Fisher, Jr., Cassino to the Alps , United States Army
in World War II, The Mediterranean Theater of Operations, Washington, DC:
Center of Military History, United States Army, 1989 and 1977, pages 512-534.
. Ibid, page 545.
. O'Donnell, page 310.
. Ibid, O'Donnell, page 311.
- - -
Copyright © 2006 Bruce L. Brager.
Written by Bruce L. Brager. If you have questions or comments on this
article, please contact Bruce L. Brager at:
About the author:
Bruce Brager is a writer specializing in military history, defense and foreign
policy. He is the author of ten published books and over fifty
Published online: 02/12/2006.