OSS (Office of Strategic Services)

"SOE’s American partner"

 

The Special Operations Branch (SO) of OSS ran guerrilla campaigns in Europe and Asia. As with many other facets of OSS’s work, the organization and doctrine of the Branch was guided by British experiences in the growing field of “psychological warfare.”

 

British strategists in the year between the fall of France in 1940 and Germany’s invasion of the USSR in 1941 had wondered how Britain—which then lacked the strength to force a landing on the European continent—could weaken the Reich and ultimately defeat Hitler. London chose a three-part strategy to utilize the only means at hand: naval blockade, sustained aerial bombing, and “subversion” of Nazi rule in the occupied nations.

Test adapted from the CIA web site, with thanks:

www.cia.gov/library/publications/intelligence-history/oss/art05.htm

A civilian body, the Special Operations Executive (SOE), took command of the latter mission and began planning to “set Europe ablaze.” This emphasis on guerrilla warfare and sabotage fit with William Donovan’s vision of an offensive in depth, in which saboteurs, guerrillas, commandos, and agents behind enemy lines would support the army’s advance. OSS thus seemed the natural point of contact and cooperation with SOE in combined planning and operations when the Anglo-American Combined Chiefs of Staff decided in 1942 that America would join Britain in the business of "subversion."

 

The Special Operations Branch served as SOE’s American partner. Together, SO and SOE created the famous “Jedburgh” teams parachuted into France in the summer of 1944 to support the Normandy landings. Jedburghs joined the French Resistance against the German occupiers. There were 93 three-man teams in all, each of them with two officers and an enlisted radio operator. Typically an OSS man would serve with a British officer and a radioman from the Free French forces loyal to General Charles de Gaulle. Trained as commandos at SOE’s Milton Hall in the English countryside, they were a colorful and capable lot that included adventurers and soldiers of fortune, as well as author Stewart Alsop and future Director of Central Intelligence William Colby. Officers trained alongside enlisted men in informal comraderie because, once inside France, rank would have to be secondary to courage and ability.

 

After landing (hopefully into the arms of the Resistance) the teams coordinated airdrops of arms and supplies, guided the partisans on hit-and-run attacks and sabotage, and did their best to assist the advancing Allied armies.

The Office of Strategic Services (OSS) left a legacy of daring and innovation that has influenced American military and intelligence thinking since World War II. OSS owed its successes to many factors, but most of all to the foresight and drive of William J. Donovan, who built and held together the office’s divergent missions and personalities. Given the toughness of OSS’s adversaries and the difficulty of the tasks assigned to the office, Donovan and his lieutenants could take pride in what they achieved. Ironically, by the end of the war, he had done his job so well that his presence was no longer essential to carry American intelligence into a new peacetime era. When the White House wanted to retire him in 1945, it also took care to save valuable components of the office that he had created.

 

Today’s Central Intelligence Agency derives a significant institutional and spiritual legacy from OSS. In some cases this legacy descended directly; key personnel, files, funds, procedures, and contacts assembled by OSS found their way into the CIA more or less intact. In other cases the legacy is less tangible - but no less real.
 

More OSS related pages

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