OSS involvement in WW2
“[The] OSS had to overcome many obstacles…Historians have tended to relegate OSS to a sideshow, suggesting that it made little difference in the war’s outcome. Now that the records are open, and the veterans are telling their stories, however, it can be shown that the OSS played a key role in the Allied Victory.”1 In Operatives, Spies, and Saboteurs, Patrick K. O’Donnell tells the stories of the many men and women who served in the OSS, or Office of Strategic Services, during World War II. By recounting the numerous missions of OSS involvement in the European theatre, O’Donnell manages to convey the importance of the act of espionage and the contribution of the OSS during World War II. While the significance of the OSS is questioned by many historians, the importance of intelligence gathering is made evident throughout the course of the book. Patrick O’Donnell expresses, through the stories of many veterans, the crucial elements of reconnaissance, intelligence, and surveillance during times of war. He makes it clear as why the development of the CIA and other intelligence groups like the MI6 is essential to governments today. The OSS was successful during World War II only because of America’s early action in the extensive training and deployment of OSS agents in Europe.
Operatives, Spies, and Saboteurs begins with the establishment of the OSS. William J. Donovan was given the difficult task of creating an intelligence-organization from the ground up. American officials started by working with their British ally counterparts and establishing base camps where new OSS agents would be recruited and trained. Agents were extensively trained in the acts of espionage, given information and told how to react in almost every possible scenario. The OSS was quickly developing into a formidable agency; Dr. Stanley Lovell quickly became the head of the OSS’s most important branch, Research and Development. The other most important branch, Research and Analysis, was equipped with more than 900 scholars mainly focused on analyzing information that the OSS was gathering. Pressed for time to train agents, the OSS’s first real mission was to steal ciphers from a Vichy embassy in 1942. American and British intelligence were focusing on North Africa, with the OSS in charge of all operations as they were preparing for an Allied invasion of North Africa. The OSS then focused their attention on neutral Spain and Portugal, the perfect targets for intelligence gatherings on the Axis powers through the German and Japanese embassies. The OSS played a minor role in the invasion of Sicily for fear that OSS involvement prior to the invasion would jeopardize the surprise element of the invasion. The OSS responded by dispatching small teams to Italy after the main invasion of Sicily. The OSS infiltrated Rome at the same time that Allied forces conducted their last great invasion of mainland Italy. After Italy, the OSS focused its attention on neutral Switzerland, a perfect vantage point for intelligence access into the Axis heartland.
OSS involvement turned towards chaotic Yugoslavia, which was going through a brutal civil war. OSS teams were sent in to make sure that German units in Yugoslavia did not meet up with German divisions in Italy or were redeployed to help defend against the Allied invasion of France. The OSS communicated with both sides during the civil war, as both sides were seen as allies against the Germans. In the August of 1943, the OSS began being involved in Greece, focusing on gathering information on a radio-guided bomb that the Germans used to call HS-29. Transportation into Greece was highly limited due to constant firefights; agents were parachuted in small numbers, or slipped in through the use of submarines. The OSS maritime unit was the precursor of all the present day amphibian special force teams. Donovan focused the maritime unit on supplying the communist side of the Yugoslavian civil war. With the Allies focusing their attention on winning Europe back from the Axis powers, the OSS focused on gathering intelligence in France. OSS teams deployed in France worked with the Maquis, the French resistance group, to gather intelligence. The OSS set up base not in London like the other many government agencies, but in Algiers so that Britain would not be able to restrict OSS operations. The OSS agents that were deep undercover in France played a very important role in the Allied invasion of France.
By June 1944, the OSS had grown into a very sizeable operation and recruited agents for involvement in France not from the United States but mainly from Frenchmen who had escaped from Vichy France. They went through a vigorous training process that included being sent through a mock interrogation. Months before the Allied invasion, the OSS began working in full cooperation with the Britain SI forces. The OSS transported 40 agents behind enemy lines before the Allied invasion. After the successful Allied invasion, the OSS worked with the U.S. 7th army during Operation Dragoon, which entailed targeting German defenses in Southern France. The OSS had gained around 8,000 intelligence reports before the invasion, helping play a crucial role in the accomplishment of the invasion of France. In 1943, Donovan created a new branch in the OSS called X-2, or counterespionage; it quickly gained a reputation as an elite group within the OSS. X-2 was focused on controlling enemy agents and feeding them information that was deemed “harmless.” X-2 developed into an essential element for intelligence gathering during the Cold War. Once Allied armies began reaching Germany’s borders, the OSS looked towards POW’s as a new form of agent recruits. The OSS used a former SD POW, or Sicherheitsdienst, the OSS’s counterpart in Germany, to infiltrate Germany’s SI agency. The OSS soon focused their attention on Czechoslovakia, where anti-German revolts were taking place. Germany soon realized the risk of the revolts and sent SS units to neutralize the threat. The Germans captured the OSS team and cruelly tortured and executed each member of the team. The Axis fall of 1944 brought the liquidation of the OSS by a letter from President Roosevelt himself; however Hitler’s operation Wacht am Rhein forced the OSS to infiltrate Germany directly.
The OSS began specializing in forms of psychological warfare, and created a new branch called Morale Operations. Deep divisions in how America should conduct psychological warfare led to the establishment of the OWI, the Office of War Information, for propaganda based on sources and truth, while the OSS conducted “black” propaganda. Hitler’s counteroffensive at the Bulge was one of the largest Allied SI failures of the war. The U.S. First Army stopped using OSS intelligence, which had been one of the main causes for the failure at the Battle of the Bulge. While the war was almost over, the OSS concentrated on the final offensive in northern Italy. The OSS coordinated the CLNAI, an Italian resistance group, to help make the final invasion of Italy. OSS officials began negotiating with German forces in Italy for a separate surrender. American OSS agents inside Berlin worked with the Russians who slowly taking the city. On September 30, 1945 President Truman issued Executive Order 9621, which officially disbanded the OSS.
Patrick K. O’Donnell makes many repetitive statements in Operatives, Spies, and Saboteurs. By telling the stories of the many missions of the OSS during World War II O’Donnell manages to capture the emotions and perspective that the newly founded organization went through. His interpretation of the choices the OSS made makes it obvious to the reader that SI groups were of the highest importance during World War II, and more specifically that the OSS played a major role in the success of the Allied forces in Europe. Patrick states that, “A balanced assessment of the agency’s substantial achievements should conclude that the OSS shortened the war, and in process saved the lives of thousands of Allied combat soldiers.”2 He understood that many historians downplay the role of the OSS during World War and aimed to disprove them by providing personal accounts of missions from actual OSS operatives. O’Donnell makes the connection between the importance of the OSS during World War II to the importance of intelligence agencies in modern governments today. He shows America’s requirement for an intelligence group by explaining the transition from the OSS to the CIA. This acknowledgement from O’Donnell about intelligence groups leads him to make the even larger connection: that the OSS and intelligence groups were absolutely critical for the Cold War. All throughout Operatives, Spies, and Saboteurs, Patrick O’Donnell stresses the importance of SI agencies and how the OSS made a large influence in Allied successes.
O’Donnell faced many potential influences while he wrote Operatives, Spies, and Saboteurs. As a former war correspondent, Patrick understood the struggles and frustrations of war enough to make insight into what the soldiers felt during their missions. His ability to connect to the soldiers and make emotional and mental appeals to the reader made a big impact in the way the book was read. He managed to write in a way that gave the reader a unique perspective towards the way that the OSS was run. His strong American patriotism and military knowledge also played a big role in the way the book was written. ”The teams took on an advisory role, supplementing the existing F and RF circuits by supplying additional arms.”3 His tactical knowledge about warfare allowed him to make explain military decisions and permitted him to explain the importance of certain key military strategies during the war. His military knowledge may also allowed him to become highly specific when describing different missions and slowed him fully appreciate the job of the OSS. O’Donnell was able to value the job that the many agents did for the United States and in that led to a larger appreciation for what the OSS did during World War II. His deep patriotism and military appreciation may have led to an even greater acknowledgement of the job that the OSS achieved by the end of the war. Patrick K. O’Donnell’s desire to honor and to appreciate the work that the agency had completed led him to make a conscious effort to disprove historians by providing factual evidence of what the OSS accomplished. The period in time in which Patrick wrote the book also played a contributing factor into the organization of the book. Written in the early 2000’s the United States had a positive view of war at the time, with the invasion of Afghanistan occurring in 2001. O’Donnell used this momentum during the early 2000’s as a praising period for the United States’ military accomplishments during World War II. A period of great respect for war veterans and World War II in general may have been an important point to consider while Patrick O’Donnell wrote this book. The general respect towards World War II veterans may have led O’Donnell to avoid criticizing certain decisions made by the OSS. This causes the reader to read the book with a positive perspective and eliminates or diminishes the flaws or negative aspects of the OSS, leading to a natural bias in the book.
Reviews of Operatives, Spies, and Saboteurs all emphasize Patrick O’Donnell’s unique way of telling the story of the OSS through the viewpoint of agents. One reviews states,“This gives the flavor of being in the action not provided by other histories.”4 O’Donnell makes his repeating theme of perspective evident through the use of firsthand accounts of missions. He puts the reader into the story and allows him or her to establish their own viewpoint on a particular part of history. He answers the doubts of other historians and acknowledges the significance of the OSS through factual evidence. One review states, “O’Donnell doesn’t denigrate the OSS as do some other historians…”5 The reviewers understand that O’Donnell offers a unique perspective of espionage during World War II that is not offered by many other historians. O’Donnell’s new viewpoint keeps the reader interested in the stories and missions of the many OSS agents that served during World War II.
Throughout Operatives, Spies, and Saboteurs O’Donnell’s unique standpoint of the role the OSS played in the Allied victory keeps the reader interested and hooked for more. The way that he conveys the importance of each mission through the stories of the agents upholds the significance for each accomplishment of the OSS. By incorporating the real stories and accounts of various operatives, O’Donnell establishes a strong emotional connection with the reader. Patrick writes about how “300 oral history interviews were conducted with these remarkable individuals around the country.”6 His technique of describing the story of the OSS is fascinating because of the accounts, backed by factual evidence to create a full picture off the OSS. Patrick O’Donnell encourages the reader to view the OSS and intelligence agencies as an essential part of the government. This key point is repeated throughout the book and becomes a focus point for Patrick. He manages to make connections between the role of the OSS during World War II and the larger picture of Intelligence gathering being a necessary portion of the American government. He hints to the reader how the OSS’s action during World War II led to the use of more intelligence gathering during the Cold War.
O’Donnell makes many points in Operatives, Spies, and Saboteurs; however one of the larger points he makes is about how the OSS during World War II led to a larger desire for intelligence groups not only in the United States, but throughout the world. He recognizes that World War II and the 1940s as a whole was a big turning point for military, economic, and social changes. Patrick applied knowledge about espionage groups during World War II to make judgments on the importance of intelligence gathering for present day. O’Donnell subtly suggests how warfare has changed and how intelligence is now essential for victory in conflicts. American spying during World War II led to new innovations and also to new tensions and conflicts during the Cold War. Patrick O’Donnell also managed to tell the whole story of a new branch of the government, and how the OSS led to the establishment of the CIA, a branch of government that plays a huge role in the American system every day. By telling the story of a part of the government, O’Donnell makes commentary about the interactions of the different branches of the government and how the establishment of the CIA was initially criticized as a “super Gestapo agency.”7

Operatives, Spies, and Saboteurs tells the story of the OSS and how it played a key role in the Allied victory in World War II. Patrick O’Donnell offers a unique perspective by telling the stories of missions by actual OSS agents, and to captures the reader by offering factual evidence and providing a contrary viewpoint on the OSS as compared to most historians. O’Donnell makes connections and acknowledges the importance the OSS played concerning intelligence groups, as well as the role it played in the establishment of the CIA today. The establishment of the OSS during World War II led to intelligence groups being a key part in governments today throughout the world.

1. O'Donnell, Patrick K. Operatives, Spies, and Saboteurs: The Unknown Story of the Men and Women of World War II's OSS. New York: Free, 2004. Print. Xviii
2. O’Donnell, Patrick K. 311
3. O’Donnell, Patrick K. 175
4. Blwewtt, Daniel K. "Operatives, Spies, and Saboteurs: The Unknown History of the Men and Women of World War II's OSS." Library Journal 129.1 (2004): 132. Print
5. Green, Roland. "Operatives, Spies, and Saboteurs: The Unknown History of the Men and Women of World War II's OSS (Book)." Booklist 100.13 (2004): 1124. Print.
6.O’Donnell, Patrick K. xviii
7.O’Donnell, Patrick K. 310