"Operatives, Spies, and Saboteurs is a superbly told story of the men and women of the OSS. They helped write the book on special operations. I was struck by the similarity of the context of their stories to ones I've experienced in different combat situations. This book is a must-read for those in the special operations business today and anyone else who wants to learn about the exploits of the real warriors of the OSS during WW II. Only by understanding the deeds of those who have gone before us can we appreciate the sacrifices made that paved the way for the outstanding records established by present-day special warriors."--Captain Robert A. Gormly, USN (Ret.), author of Combat Swimmer and former SEAL team commander.
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Patrick K. O'Donnell is a bestselling military historian and the critically acclaimed author of numerous books, including Beyond Valor, Dog Company, and First SEALs. He has provided historical consulting for DreamWorks' award-winning miniseries Band of Brothers and for documentaries produced by the BBC, the History Channel, and Fox News.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
CHAPTER ONE: Spy School
A few days after Pearl Harbor, General Donovan summoned two men to his office: Dr. J. R. Hayden, former vice-governor of the Philippines, and Kenneth Baker of the Psychology Division of COI's Research and Analysis department. Neither had any idea what the meeting was about. After the men were seated, Wild Bill quickly came to the point: "I want you to start the schools."
"The SI training schools."
"But we don't know anything about espionage schools -- "
Baker and Hayden had their hands full. The newly designated Coordinator of Information (COI), later redesignated OSS, had the unprecedented task of creating a world-class intelligence organization overnight, from scratch. It was hampered by America's traditional aversion to spycraft. Unlike most of the world's great powers, America had limited experience in espionage.
The same could not be said of America's British allies. Britain's SOE (Special Operations Executive) and SIS (Secret Intelligence Service), having been at war for over two years, had all the experience necessary to lay the foundation for COI's undercover training program. The British worked with a team of COI personnel, led by Hayden and Baker, to develop a training curriculum designed to produce spies, saboteurs, and guerrillas.
While the curriculum was being written, OSS was also constructing training facilities in the Washington, D.C. area, but they wouldn't be up and running for several months. Therefore, the first COI/OSS agents trained in Canada, at "Camp X." Established by the British expressly to assist America with the shadow war, Camp X was the first secret agent training school in North America. Also referred to as Special Training School 103, Camp X was located in the countryside between the sleepy towns of Oshawa and Whitby, about thirty miles outside of Toronto. The camp was so secret that even the Canadian War Cabinet wasn't informed of its existence.
Camp X played such an important role in the war that the head of the British Security Coordination (BSC), Sir William Stephenson, described it as the "clenched fist" of all Allied secret operations in World War II. A number of notable British and American agents passed through the school. Ian Fleming is said to have drawn from the underwater frogman exercises in Lake Ontario for his James Bond character.
One of the first Americans trained at Camp X was Frank Devlin. "I was given a set of orders that read like a spook book. 'Have civilian clothes. Take train such and such to Penn Station New York and get a train to Toronto, Canada. Go to Hotel and there you will find a message with a number. That number indicates the license on the vehicle you will take and it will be at the west entrance of the hotel.'
"After I got in the vehicle, we were taken to Camp X and were enrolled as the first class. We learned night work going out. On one of our missions they told us that we had to blow part of the Canadian-Pacific railroad. 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 woods 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.
"We had lots of classes on what to do if you were behind the lines. We learned all the things that could give you away. 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. You played dirty here. We learned how to dislocate someone's arm while you had a knife under their rib. I can still do it. If I try it I might take you and throw you over the back of that chair. Eifler [commanding officer in Detachment 101] did it to everybody. He would get their hand and do something with it, turn it in the right place. You just do a flip and you're helpless."
One of Devlin's instructors was British Captain William Ewart Fairbairn, also known as "Fearless Dan" or the "Shanghai Buster." During the twenties and thirties, Fairbairn rose to the rank of assistant commissioner of the municipal police of one of the toughest cities on earth, Shanghai. He created one of the first SWAT teams, a counterterrorist outfit known as the Reserve Unit (RU), to quell the Chinese gangs and the organized crime that ran rampant in the city. In the back alleys of Shanghai, Fairbairn developed his own revolutionary hand-to-hand fighting system, a deadly mix of jiu-jitsu and street fighting, known initially as "Gutter Fighting" and later renamed the "Fairbairn Technique." In his own words, Fairbairn described his black art. "When I organized and trained Riot Squads for the Shanghai Police I developed a system of fighting out of the methods that got results...but in modern warfare, the job is more drastic. You're interested only in disabling or killing your enemy. That's why I teach what I call 'Gutter Fighting.' There's no fair play; no rules except one: kill or be killed."
Fairbairn made a lasting impression on just about everyone he met, including OSS, who got him on more or less permanent loan from the British. OSS promoted Fearless Dan to the rank of major and transferred him to Area B, a 9,000-acre compound in the Catoctin Mountains outside Washington, D.C., the present-day site of Camp David. At Area B, Fairbairn taught his lethal hand-to-hand fighting technique, and also how to handle the Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knife, a razor-sharp stiletto of his personal design.
"The knife is a silent, deadly weapon. It's great for sentries. Never mind the blood. Just take care of it quickly."
After completing a course in knife fighting, the new students took a course in unarmed "Gutter Fighting."
"In a sense, this is for fools, because you should never be without a pistol or knife. However in case you are caught unarmed, foolishly or otherwise, the tactics shown here will increase your chances of coming out alive."
A technique that Fairbairn demonstrated was the "Tiger's Claw," a clenched hand that is directed at an opponent's eyes. "Deceive your opponent. Make him think you're out on your feet. Now bring the Tiger's Claw up from the cellar and put force behind it. It will knock your opponent out. But you must attack with surprise."
The Shanghai Buster gave this advice on how to counter a bear hug: "To break a bear hug...go limp...grab his testicles. Ruin him...."
When asked if the typical American trainee was reluctant to employ the "Fairbairn Technique," since it runs counter to the American sense of sportsmanship, Major Fairbairn responded: "He does 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."
Fairbairn was joined by several other legends in hand-to-hand combat such as Rex Applegate, a crack pistol shot and the pioneer of a technique known as "offensive shooting." Applegate taught recruits how to handle a pistol in combat. "When a man is faced by an assailant who has a gun in his hand and murder in his heart, he must be able to use his pistol instantly and effectively."
COI and OSS recruited a broad variety of men and women. The common thread was creative, "out of the box" thinkers distinguished by boldness and decisiveness. One such man, Lieutenant Charles Parkin, Jr., was unceremoniously transferred to OSS from the U.S. Army Engineer School at Fort Belvoir after displaying some unwelcome initiative.
"On our way back from maneuvers I saw all of these National Guard units guarding bridges. Security was pathetic. Some units were guarding the railroad bridges with unloaded rifles or a single shotgun so I decided once I got back to Fort Belvoir to try to change things so the bridges would get proper security. I put together a plan to take my platoon to one of the bridges. First, I mentioned the plan to the officer in charge, a captain. I told him about the lack of security and that I wanted to do something about it. He said, 'Charlie, I wouldn't touch that with a ten-foot pole!' I went ahead with the plan since this was good training for my men. I wanted to show them we better get off our asses and start doing things right.
"Anyway, I called out half of my platoon that night and we rode on assault boats across the Occoquan River. These were the only railroad bridges that crossed the river into D.C. from the south. We landed and silently planted dummy explosives on the girders of the railroad bridges. It was raining that night, and to divert the guard's attention I went up and talked to him. The fake charges were set in all the right places; if they had been real explosives we could have blown the bridges sky high. When I got back to the base that morning I sat down and wrote a report of what we did and why we did it. The report went to my battalion commander and I don't know what he said but the next thing I knew I was being called to HQ with his boss. He said in essence, 'This thing is too hot to handle. The National Guard versus the Army? I'm transferring you to an outfit in Washington called the Coordinator of Information that can put your talents to use.'" Parkin soon became COI's primary demolition instructor.
One of Parkin's first recruits was his fraternity brother from Penn State, a former national wrestling standout, Frank Gleason. After the war Gleason continued a career in demolitions and special operations, retiring as a colonel and professor at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. "Charlie recruited me and one of the first things he did was send me to industrial sabotage school in England run by the SOE. 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. It is as easy as can be. These terrorists scare me. If they know this stuff, which I'm sure they do, it's really easy to cripple a medium-size city with trained demolitionists and arsonists. 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. Shitty stuff like that -- we were taught how to fight dirty.
"Using a locomotive we learned how to take the controls and get the train moving at a high speed, and jump off -- creating a runaway train that would plow into something -- isn't that awful? We destroyed rolling stock by removing grease in the gearboxes and putting sugar in gasoline tanks to destroy the engines. We learned how to make explosives from sugar, from basic household supplies. How to start a fire that could take out a city.
"I knew Stanley Lovell, head of OSS R&D, quite well, and he introduced me to 'Aunt Jemima.' It was a plastic explosive that looked like baking flour. The concept of it was that you could easily transport it behind the lines. In China we made muffins from the stuff. I wanted to show Major Miles how you could bake Aunt Jemima into muffins, put a blasting cap into it and blow something up. It looks like regular flour but if you look carefully at a little piece you'd see it was gritty, unlike flour. It could make bread so I told this Chinese cook at Happy Valley to make some muffins out of the explosive flour. I said, 'Do not eat those muffins! They are poison. Do not eat them!' You should have seen them when they came out of the oven, they were gorgeous. The cook thought to himself, 'Well those damn Americans want those muffins for themselves.' He violated what I told him and he ate one. He almost died."
One of Area B's early trainees was Milt Felsen, an ambulance driver and machine gunner who had fought in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade during the Spanish Civil War in the thirties. After the war Felsen went to Hollywood to produce movies, including the hit Saturday Night Fever. "Donovan came to the headquarters of the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. We had a little place in New York City. He came up and said he wanted a half dozen or so guys to help set up the OSS. He questioned folks and chose about ten of us. He told us to meet him in Washington, which we did.
"We went to D.C. and were sent to an abandoned boy's camp, called Area B, now Camp David.
"We went up to Area B. We helped set up the place as a training base for the OSS. There were cabins and a big hall and another building we later set up as a training building. One of the things we faced was Fairbairn's house of horrors. As you entered, pop-up targets that looked like Nazis would come at you from darkened rooms. This would be accompanied by simulated gun shots and strange lights. The goal was to get off two quick shots on the targets. You had to make your way through an obstacle course which also included pop-up targets that you had to hit and keep going.
"At Area B we met Jerry Sage, our commanding officer in North Africa. He saw that we were veterans and he stuck to us. We advised him on what we thought was needed to work behind German lines. One of the things we got was a little booklet that Mao put together on guerrilla warfare. There was nothing else in those days and we had to create it.
"We did five parachute jumps. We did everything on the basis that nothing existed and we had to create it. On our jump training we jumped in different places, i.e., mountain, river, etc. We got as many weapons as we could from the Axis and other European countries. In the event we were in Europe and came across weapons they were using, we'd know what to do with them.
"We went out on a submarine. After the sub surfaced we inflated a raft on the deck and paddled to shore. Once ashore we had to hide the raft and go someplace where the people guarding the area did not know we were coming and I'm sure would be very offended and take shots at us if they discovered us. It was as realistic as it could be...maybe too realistic."
Realistic training was a hallmark for the OSS commandos, who worked in units called Operational Groups (OGs). The OGs received most of their training on the lavish 18-hole Congressional Country Club, known as Area F. "Aggressiveness of spirit and willingness to close with the enemy were stressed," so OG training was designed to be as close to reality as possible. Tragic mistakes were inevitable, as OG trainee Al Materazzi found out. "We moved to the Congressional Country Club and were trained by a Russian prince, Serge Obolensky, whose last wartime experience had been with the White Russian guerrillas. Major Fairbairn trained us in knife fighting and hand-to-hand combat. Tragically, a private accidentally killed another private during a simulation."
The first independent Secret Intelligence training school set up by OSS was RTU-11. Known as "the Farm," since it was located on a sprawling country estate about 20 miles north of Washington, RTU-11 offered elementary and advanced intelligence training. Recruits were taught the importance of cover, intelligence-ga...
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