Home   Genealogy   Forums   Search   Contact
MHO Home
MHO Home
 17th Century
 18th Century
 19th Century
 American Civil War
 World War I
 World War II
 20th - 21st Century

 Write for MHO
 Search MHO
 Civil War Genealogy Database
 Privacy Policy

Member Articles
Margaret Cochran Corbin
Sherman's March
The French vs. German Strategy of Warfare 1871
South Africa in WWI
USS North Carolina vs Bismarck
Imperialistic Wars
Book Review: Gallipoli
Operation Compass
Book Review: APc-48
Book Review: Fighting Blind
Book Review: The Secret State
Was the Civil War Modern?
Agent 110: An American Spymaster
MacArthur and Baseball
Movement around Pope's Army
The Battle of Tondibi
From Shell Shock to PTSD
Rudolf Hess/Tancred Borenius
Soviet Rifle Corps of WWII
The Morality of Okinawa
Invention of Counterinsurgency
U.S. Army Model 1913 Cavalry Saber
The Somme
The First Class at RAF No. 31 Radio School
Second Battle of Ypres
Operation Dragoon and Invasion of Southern France
Soviet Invasion of Manchuria
Battle of Buna Gona
Timothy Webster, Pinkerton Man and Spy
Khrushchev’s Last Bluff
Origins of WWI
Korean War Chronology – Pt 1
Military Intel of WWI
Battle of Thatis River
From Small Causes, Great Events Pt4
In Memoriam: Lt(jg) James A. Nist, USNR
Third Romano-Samnite War - Phase 1
War Nurses
The Silent Service and the Turkey Shoot
The New York Naval Militia - Part II
LtCol Adrian Grant-Duff, C.B. (1869-1914)
Al Asad Air Base, Iraq During Desert Storm
The New York Naval Militia - Part I
Alfred Thayer Mahan: Advocate for Seapower
From Small Causes, Great Events Pt3
Into the Special Forces: Rudi Horvath
American Airborne Units in WWII
Czechoslovak Exile Units of WWII
The Battle of Pinkie Cleugh
The Fulda Gap
Published works on WWII OOB for land forces
Flying Tiger, Hidden Eagle
SAARF – Special Allied Airborne Recon Force
Force at la Difensa
The Third Battle of Megiddo
The Third Battle of Anchialus
Sabotaging Hitler’s Heavy Water
Return of Rogers' Rangers
Soviet Offensive in the Arctic
The Siege of Mazagan, 1562
T.E. Lawrence and Asymmetric Warfare
The Borinqueneers: 65th Inf Regt
Americans in the Boer War
Logistics and Western Way of War
The Failure of Strategic Bombing
Dutch Harbor: Unraveling of Japan’s Pacific Strategy
The Third Day at Gettysburg
From Small Causes, Great Events Pt2
Ed Ramsey, 26th Cav Reg (Philippine Scouts)
Response to Everett L. Wheeler’s review
Marching to Timbuktu
US Army in Czechoslovakia '45: An Operational Overview
Strategic Culture of the IJN
Battles of Luneville: September 1944
Adolphus, Genius of Sweden
Visual Guide to US Fleet Subs Pt 1
British Infantry Tactics in WWI
Lodge Act Soldier
The Sharif and the Sultan of Fishermen
The Fate of the Kido Butai
From Small Causes, Great Events
Charge of the Polish Light Horse at Somosierra
Second Samnite War Phase 2
Air Recon in WWII
The Roman Disaster at Adrianople
Cyberwar in the 21st Century
Ninety Five Theses and the Revolution
Bullets Quickly Write New Tactics
Second Lebanon War
WWII Veteran Interview - Walter Holy
The influence of Neurotechnology on Just War
Turning East: Hitler's only option
Fury, Fumaroles and Brimstone
Resupply Operations to Malta, 1942
Son of an Artilleryman Follows Father’s Footsteps
Colonel Patrick O'Rorke
Plague of the Spanish Lady
Cairo’s Fortress on the Mountain
WWII Veteran Interview
Why Arnhem?
Hell Ship - From the Philippines to Japan
The Battleship USS Oregon
SMS Dresden's War
Air Recon in WWI
US Army in Czechoslovakia '45 to '48
Jewish Resistance in WWII
Betrayed by a Mason?
Angel of Mons
Who Killed the Red Baron?
Armenian Warriors, Japanese Samurai
Benedict Arnold in Canada
D-Day Gate Crasher
Vets Tell All -- He Listens
308th Infantry during Argonne
Battle for the Seaports
British Officers and Gentlemen
Banzai Attack on Attu
End of the Battle of the Java Sea
Texas National Guard in WWII
How Arnhem was Lost
The War between Norway and Sweden 1808
Armenians in Strategikon
Suez Canal Guerrillas
Birth of a PMC
Sir Thomas Stukeley
Cuban Missile Crisis
Saga of Ormoc Bay
Memorials Past and Future
Second Samnite War
Korea: Study In Unpreparedness
Intelligence in the Philippine Insurrection
Stanley at Shiloh: A Improbable 'Indiana Jones'
The Green Beret Affair: A Factual Review
Silent Service of the Pacific
USS Wahoo
Gulf War Press Mobilization
Special Order 191: Ruse of War?
Mexican Revolution and US Intervention 1910-1917
Polish Cavalry: A Military Myth Dispelled
Confucian Martial Culture
Operation Market Garden
War in So. Italy 342-327 BC
Avoiding World War III
Legacy of WWII Sub Veterans
Chosin Reservoir
Lausdell Crossroads
Asian Art of War
Kasserine Pass
Gonzales: Crucible of Texas Revolution
Sheridan's Southern Plains Campaign
Milvern Harrell: Dawson Massacre
Arnhem Startline
15th Illinois Infantry
Bushido: Valor of Deceit
British Lion Polish Eagle
British Offensive Operations
Decisions of Disaster: Jutland 1916
Endgame in Flanders, 1918
Constantinople - Citadel at the Gate
Bacon's Rebellion
First Samnite War
Phoenix Reven
USS Charger
English Way of War
Roman Expedition into Dacia
Sir Winston Churchill
Chinese Support for Vietnam
Fannin's Regiment
Battle of Poyang Lake
German Commerce Raiders
Indecisiveness of Battles
8th New Hampshire Infantry
American Stubbornness at Rimling
Mexican American War
The OSS in Greece
China Marines
Pompey and Ancient Piracy
The Northwest Army
MacArthur and the Cavalry
Naval Infantry in US Military History
Strategy of Blitzkrieg
Giuseppe Garibaldi
Breaking Seelow Heights
Soviet Experience in Afhanistan
Apocalypse Then
American Revolution
Western Way of War
American Way of War
The Battle Tannenberg
The Rape of Nanking
The Kitona Operation
Solferino: Slaughter and Rebirth
Siege of Osaka
Confederate Railroad
Shenandoah Campaign
Fredericksburg Campaign
Commanders and Censors
Tet Offensive
Battle of Lundy's Lane
Battle of Paris
Flip Side of Containment
Small Battle: Big Implications
Unconventional Warfare
Harris Class APA
Aerial Defense of East Indies
Sun Tzu and Overland Campaign
ACW Military Theory
Why the Bulge Didn't Break
MacArthur: 1931-1935
American Forces in WWII
Shadow Warriors
Bear River Massacre
Reflections on Iran
The Success of Napoleon
Battle of Surigao Strait
Cuba's Operation Carlotta
Panzer Brigades
Adolf Eichmann
Battle of Great Bridge
Seapower in the Yuan Dynasty
Frederick: Battle of Leuthen
Nutmeggers on Antietam Creek
Nathan Bedford Forrest
G. Washington and J. Monroe
Mao and Giap On Guerrilla Warfare
Interview of a WWII Veteran
Stephen Douglas and Popular Sovereignty
The "Green Beret Affair"
The Start: Ft. Necessity
Napoleon's Campaign of 1809
Clark Field, Philippines
Winter Warfare
The Great Retreat
The Raid on Thurso, 1649
The City Point Explosion
Capture of USS President
Operation Rusty: The Gehlen-U.S. Army Connection
The Hundred Years War: An Analysis
Why France Lost the Seven Years' War
A Cold War Retrospective
Dalton to Atlanta-Sherman vs. Johnston
The Fenian Raids
Military History of War of 1812
Hitler, Germany's Worst General
A Path Across the Rhine: Remagen
Failures during the Spanish Civil War
Surface Actions of World War II
Austerlitz: Napoleon Makes His Own Luck
MacArthur's Failures in the Philippines
The Battle of Cowpens
The Failures at Spion Kop
Combatants in Black Hawk War
Japan's Monster Sub
Britain's Participation Justified?
Popski's Private Army
The Maple Leaf Adventure
An Odd Way to View WWII
America's Paradoxical Trinity
The Soviet Formula for Success
Basic Counter-Insurgency
The Onin War
The Battle of Pea Ridge
Tunisian Army in Crimean War
Japan's TA-Operation
The Cambodian Incursion
Hitler Youth: An Effective Organization
Dien Bien Phu: A Battle Assessment
After Midway: The Fates of the Warships
Lafayette Escadrille Pilots
Governor Kieft's Personal War
Barbarossa: Strategic Miscalculation
History of 138th PA
Giuseppe Garibaldi
The Story of a "Go Devil"
Long Range Desert Group
Island of Death
The Caterpillar Club
Foundation of Modern Army Regiments
One of Ten Thousand
The Design Was Not Passed On
Subverting the Sultan
John Paul Jones and Asymetric Warfare
The Liberation of Czechoslovakia 1945
Dien Bien Phu 50 Years Later
The Battle of Mogadishu
"A Time of Testing": Battle for Hue
StuIG at Stalingrad
Only the Admirals were Happy
Bicycle Blitzkrieg - Singapore
What if?
The Effect of Industrialization
Tanks in the Garden of Eden
Early Texas Military History
Office of Strategic Services
The Mitrailleuse
The Grande Armee of 1812 in Russia
Role of Artillery in Korea
Thermopylae, Balaklava and Kokoda
Battle of Mantinea
Pearl Harbor
American Revolution in the Caribbean
The French Campaign of 1859
The Battle of Midway
The Battle of Franklin
Waffen SS - Birth of the Elite
Want of a Nail: Confederate Ironclads
Changing Generalship and Tactics
Nomonhan and Okinawa
Der Bund Deutscher Mädel
Boudicca: What Do We Really Know?
Rulers of the World: The Hitler Youth
The Master's Misstep
The Order of St. Lazarus
Breakout From the Hedgerows
St. Etienne: US 36th Division in WWI
Memories of D-Day
Life and Death of the 10th NJ Infantry
The Raid on Dieppe

More Archived Articles...

Bruce Brager Articles
Book Review: Operation Paperclip
Book Review: Midnight Rising
Cuban Missile Crisis
Memorials Past and Future
American Way of War
Flip Side of Containment
Stephen Douglas and Popular Sovereignty
The Start: Jumonville's Glen
Winter Warfare
The City Point Explosion
A Cold War Retrospective
John Paul Jones & Asymetric Warfare
Early Texas Military History
The Office of Strategic Services
The Battle of St. Etienne

Book Reviews
Security First

Books by Bruce L. Brager 

The Texas 36th Division

John Paul Jones America's Sailor

There He Stands: The Story Of Stonewall Jackson

The Iron Curtain: The Cold War in Europe

Ads by Google

The Office of Strategic Services 
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."[1] 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."[2] A senior Foreign Service officer later commented, "Our Intelligence organization in 1940 was primitive and inadequate. . ."[3]

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 than 200,000.

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."[4] 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."[5]

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 intelligence.

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?"[6] 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, Canada.

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 described it:

"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."[7]

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."[8]

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 survive. 

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."[9]

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."[10] 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 instructor.

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."[11]

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,"[12] 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 not."[13]

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."[14]

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,"[15] 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. . ,"[16] and equally quickly left.

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."[17]

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 France.

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,"[18] 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."[19] 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."[20] 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 12 days.

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 accomplished forthwith."[21]

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."[22]

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."[23]

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.[24] It was an appropriate end for the Italian campaign, a "cruel, bitter campaign that all too often seemed to be going nowhere."[25]

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 Soviets.

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,"[26] 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 the OSS.

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."[27]

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.


[1]. Norman Polmar and Thomas Allen, Spy Book: The Encyclopedia of Espionage , New York: Random House, 1997, page 606.

[2]. 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.

[3]. Michael Warner, Office of Strategic Services: America's First Intelligence Agency , Washington, D.C.: CIA Public Affairs Office, 2000, page 2.

[4]. Quoted page 180, Richard M. Ketchum, The Borrowed Years: 1938-1941 , New York: Random House, 1989.

[5]. Richard Dunlop, Donovan: America's Master Spy , New York: Rand McNally, 1982, page 276.

[6]. O'Donnell, page 1.

[7]. Ibid O'Donnell, page 2.

[8]. Ibid, O'Donnell, page 4.

[9]. Ibid, O'Donnell, page 5.

[10]. Ibid, O'Donnell, page 6.

[11]. Ibid, O'Donnell, page 7.

[12]. Kermit Roosevelt, The Overseas Targets: War Report of the OSS , Washington D.C., Carrollton Press, New York: Walker & Co, 1976, Volume I, pages 223-224.

[13]. O'Donnell page 10.

[14]. Ibid, O'Donnell page 12.

[15]. Ibid, O'Donnell, page 26.

[16]. H. Montgomery Hyde, Cynthia , New York: Ballantine Books, 1965, page 151.

[17]. Hyde, ibid, page 154.

[18]. William Casey, The Secret War Against Hitler , Washington, D.C.: Regnery Gateway, 1988, page 17.

[19]. O'Donnell, page 54.

[20]. David Kahn, Hitler's Spies , New York: MacMillan, 1978, page 344.

[21]. 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.

[22]. O'Donnell page 188.

[23]. Roosevelt, War Report of the OSS, Volume II, page 238.

[24]. 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.

[25]. Ibid, page 545.

[26]. O'Donnell, page 310.

[27]. 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 articles.

Published online: 02/12/2006.
© 2018, LLC Contact Brian Williams at: