A review of the previous evolving development of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) illustrated with official files, some of its organizational structure, leadership, and notable internal features that paved the way for centralized American intelligence with military influences.
During the end of nineteen forty-two Colonel William Donovan, the Coordinator of Information (COI) under US President Franklin Roosevelt had pushed for the establishment of a military group to conduct espionage, sabotage, and psychological warfare similar to Confederate Rangers or British Commandos "imbued with the maximum of the offensive and imaginative spirit". Donovan sought to have the Coordinator of Information centralized under the military's Joint Chiefs of Staff and restated the need for a commando style group of his design to undertaking wartime subversion and espionage. Ultimately, the Office of Coordinator of Information transformed into the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during the summer of nineteen forty-two because the desire for greater intelligence operations was deemed of significant importance. To develop an effective foreign intelligence organization an uneasy compromise was enacted by several divergent personalities in government and military organizations holding separate controls over the collection and dissemination of intelligence. Donovan undertook repeated successful projects to secure greater funding and influence for the OSS but faced a list of growing military and civilian groups attempting to curb the group's increased power. Several officials were completely opposed to any paramilitary group not under their direct purview in stark opposition to the intentions of the OSS and these pressures coupled with the growing press for demilitarization after the Second World War rendered the once expansive OSS into the postwar Strategic Services Unit (SSU).
The Director of the Office of Strategic Services was responsible for administrating the operations assigned to subordinate OSS leaders directing international agents or operations and reported to a group of military and civilian leaders in regular correspondence and meetings. The director’s authority was never clearly defined and this led to confusion and internal dissension among the groups that held primary authority over intelligence and wartime operations. This lack of clear directives and frequent limitations upon what intelligence the Director and the OSS might access would eventual render its operations curtailed by political maneuvering and influence battles.
William Joseph Donovan: Donovan was the son of an Irish railroad superintendent that attended a local Catholic college in Buffalo later transferring to Columbia Law School where he joined classmate Franklin Roosevelt. He studied at Yale, graduated from Columbia Law School, practiced in New York the first decade of the twentieth century, and later served in the United States National Guard as WWI raged. Donovan was reportedly the most decorated American officer following the war and received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his accomplishments. He became one of New York State's US District Attorneys and subsequently achieved the office of Assistant Attorney General in the Justice Department by nineteen twenty-four. Donovan used his extensive political and legal connections with officials to great effect by advising President Franklin D. Roosevelt to conduct intelligence operations centralized under the American military in the wake of prior intelligence failures and conceived the OSS to this end. Roosevelt appointed Donovan to the position of Coordinator of Information in nineteen forty-one and the following year this office transforms into the OSS with Donovan leading the organization. Despite the success of repeated operations, internal policy conflicts would result in portions of the OSS being reassigned from Donovan's control to military and civilian departments. These reassignments hampered any single group from completely administrating intelligence across the government requiring further years and intelligence group incarnations before his goal of a central intelligence organization came to fruition. He did not accept later official roles within the descendant groups of the OSS but would serve in the position of Ambassador to Thailand during the nineteen fifties.
Gonzalo Edward Buxton: He attended a military academy in Massachusetts, graduated from Brown University, Harvard Law School, and became a reporter for the Providence Journal in Rhode Island. Buxton's media career included delivering war zone reports from multiple European countries and this led him to join the National Guard years prior to WWI while advocating preparation for a coming fight. He led huge demonstrations to incite the American public support for the war effort and later served in some of the most brutal areas of combat during military operations. Buxton's efforts resulted in him receiving high honors from both American and British governments and increased his military career prospects. His record and administrative skills led William Donovan to appoint him the Assistant Director of Strategic Services following the establishment of OSS structure and initial offices. Buxton was a vital figure in implementing policy to enable Donovan's future vision for the OSS and following his time in the government Buxton continued his public military advocacy to help establish the American Legion.
Whitney Hart Shepardson: He was born during eighteen ninety, later graduated from the Colgate Academy in Massachusetts, subsequently attended Balliol College in England, and was the first American to win the Gladstone Prize for history. Shepardson became a Rhodes Scholar during nineteen ten and would travel extensively for academic purposes to Europe and Africa advocating for the development of agricultural research. William Donovan appointed Shepardson to lead the OSS Intelligence Branches that controlled secret intelligence and research efforts. Deputy Director Shepardson would oversee the creation of field stations in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East that often served as the nexus of intelligence collection and operational activities. Subsequently he became a member of an educational board at Harvard University, a founding member of the Council on Foreign Relations, authored multiple books on international relations and government power, and was inducted with honors into several international societies.
John Leonard Magruder: He was born in Virginia during eighteen eighty-seven, graduated from Virginia Military Institute at the age of twenty-three to later serve in the United States Army infantry, field artillery units, and Magruder became the military attaché to Peking in nineteen twenty-six. He attended the Army War College and became a professor of military science and tactics at his former school in Virginia before serving as a military attaché in Switzerland. Officials appointed him to lead the War Department's Intelligence Division in nineteen thirty-nine and two years later Magruder is tapped by William Donovan to become the OSS Deputy Director of Psychological Warfare Operations. He was given authority over multiple branches that included the Special Operations and Morale Operations branches that launched countless projects during WWII across multiple geographic regions of military importance. Official historians noted Magruder's remarks on disputes between existing groups and the OSS regarding access to intelligence and he subsequently led the smaller Strategic Services Unit resulting from the dissolution of the OSS.
OSS Director Donovan created an expanding series of largely cooperative branches within the organization possessing subordinate units and varied operational groups supported by a network of station bases to oversee the local collection of information, house agents, and provide a secure area for operational planning. As time passed, new branches grew from lesser positions in the original structure developing rivalries and compartmentalization methods that would influence such practices in later American intelligence organizations.
The branch was designed similar to the British intelligence model and new recruits were sent to England to learn about "espionage techniques, covert communications, and secret codes." According to an official history, this branch was designed to create field stations, "train case officers", conduct operations, and "process reports". Among the most notable failures of the Secret Intelligence Branch was Operation Sunrise that was unable to broker the surrender of many German forces in Italy before the end of the war between Nazi commanders and members of the SI leadership. The haphazard efforts and minute amount of enemies surrendering preceding the formal end of combat was lauded as a major accomplishment but actually represented a paltry amount of German forces.
Former Coordinator of Information's New York office chief and later CIA Director Allen Dulles administrated this Switzerland based station. He created and expansive spy network of German émigrés and members of several foreign resistance groups and this network provided intelligence on the development of German rocket technology. Dulles contributed to OSS efforts to secure German sources of information for wartime exploitation and this with his brother's political influence would later position him to acquire multiple important political appointments.
This branch was initially established as a part of the Coordinator of Information's office and later grew within the OSS for the maintenance of a varied group of technical experts, academics, and professional contacts with "extensive knowledge" for related operations or questions that might arise from operational concerns. The Branch marked success by assisting the OSS with analysis and information about target areas such as landing zones that would allow allied ground forces ambush opposing groups or overcome enemy defenses with less difficulty.
William Leonard Langer: He was the son of German immigrants born during eighteen ninety-six and received a degree in academics from the Boston Latin School. Langer studied history and later was employed to instruct students in that subject and foreign languages at multiple schools including Harvard University. He earned a PhD in nineteen twenty-three and undertook extensive international studies focusing on diplomacy, modern history, and by nineteen forty-one, this eminent academic came to the attention of the American military. William Donovan appointed Langer to lead Research and Analysis Branch of the OSS and the new director recruited officers who themselves became later powerful officials such as Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and Walter Rostow. Several qualified supporting analysts would be instrumental to some OSS successes by providing requisite information for operational zones prohibited to most ground forces and agents. Langer following his OSS service would oversee the development of the Office of National Estimates and serve as its Assistant Director for the CIA. He subsequently took a large role in expanding Harvard's foreign educational endeavors, authored multiple books, and was appointed to President Kennedy's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.
This unit was integral to the assessment of German industrial vulnerabilities using business agents to identify targets of financial and strategic importance that later allowed systematic campaigns of bombing. Allied bombers struck airplane factories to prevent additional combat vehicles, they leveled fuel plants to deplete fuel production, and the combined efforts would drastically reduce the ability of German air forces to operate across Europe by immobilizing some ground forces reliant on fuel.
This branch was responsible for the development of psychological warfare projects and conducted guerilla warfare in regions of Asia and Europe and during nineteen forty two they joined British intelligence subversion plans in Europe intended to "set (Nazi held) Europe ablaze". Among the European operations the OSS undertook was the Jedburgh teams supporting the Normandy invasion force landings, other OSS units assisted the French Resistance, and over ninety small teams were among the Free French groups loyal to Charles de Gaulle. By the end of the war, the OSS had agents reportedly fighting in but not limited to Burma, China, France, Greece, Italy, Scandinavia, Thailand, and Yugoslavia. Varying notable people among the branch were author Stewart Alsop, Distinguished Service Cross recipient Virginia Hall, and subsequent CIA leader William Colby.
The Maritime Unit was formed to launch several international coastal and sea based operations to support Allied wartime projects. This Unit was tasked with the development of specialized "boats, equipment, and explosives (for demolition of enemy target vessels)...underwater breathing gear, waterproof watches and compasses", and inflatable motorized sea based transportation. Walter Mess is among the unit's members and he reportedly led over a hundred clandestine missions and rescued hundreds of downed pilots in conflict areas internationally. The Maritime Unit would prove a useful addition to the OSS repertoire of clandestine units deployed to for guerrilla warfare in active combat zones and repeated historians support the group is a predecessor to later Navy SEAL's Units and pioneered techniques still used in modern warfare.
This was possibly the closest realization of William Donovan's dream of a commando force that would support military goals using strategic operations. Detachment 101 made effective alliances and contacts with local Burmese Kachin tribesmen that were located behind Japanese enemy lines. The detachment used these contacts to launch intelligence gathering, conduct sabotage, spread propaganda, rescue allied service members, destroy isolated Japanese positions, and eventually helped liberate the capital of Burma.
For a number of reasons as the organization expanded so too did the importance of divisions within other groups and this spurred OSS Director Donovan to promote these division to full operational branches or replace groups lost to organizational restructuring. These new organizations would sometimes conduct wholly separate operations from the normal hierarchy and at least one wielded the authority to countermand other branch operations.
This division rose to the status of independent branch in nineteen forty-three from the Special Operations Branch to perform 'black' propaganda missions that were unfinished when higher officials removed some prior organizational authority from the OSS. These operations were designed to "lower the morale of Axis troops and increase civilian resistance to the regimes in Berlin and Tokyo.” This propaganda would include widely distributed rumors about Hitler's health, sanity, the promotion of subverting Nazi policies, and false "German" radio broadcasts and newspaper articles to sow dissension or confuse supporters. These broadcasts included music, film, and songs by celebrities designed to affect enemy troops and lower morale by disheartening them and challenging German nationalist ideology.
Groups in the Strategic Services Unit within Germany employed wartime Nazi collaborators to gather intelligence or conduct psychological and economic warfare. In some cases, they exfiltrated defectors including some captured German officials and scientists to the United States via the military without public knowledge. SSU members also provided support to nationalist and communist groups in China to establish intelligence networks opposing Japanese forces, free allied prisoners, and rescue downed pilots.
This branch was formerly the Counter Espionage Division led during nineteen forty-three by future CIA Director William Casey and was subordinate to the Secret Intelligence Branch until William Donovan raised the division office to branch level status during the same year. The strong influence of British intelligence on Donovan and US policy was among the reasons he elevated this branch and its leader would act in a liaison capacity with British intelligence leaders. According to one official history, gathering and analyzing intelligence allowed this branch create "hundreds of thousands of files on foreign espionage and sabotage that included the identities of foreign agents and firms used as cover by hostile services". X-2 possessed a compartmentalized structure that allowed them to operate bases separate from the normal OSS hierarchy and to develop independent relationships with international groups or intelligence services. Donovan further empowered this branch to veto operations planned by the Special Operations and Secret Intelligence branches due to their singular understanding of the counterintelligence files.
James R. Murphy: He was the attorney friend of William Donovan that prior served with the OSS Director in the United States Department of Justice. Murphy sought to use other official groups to establish cover for X-2 operations and would eventually learn of the vast Soviet counterintelligence system damaging German operations during WWII. He sought to refine American counterintelligence operations due to multiple suspected and confirmed enemy penetrations of the OSS and commented on necessary introductions of stricter intelligence compartmentalization methods. Murphy was noted for using some officers and agents not in the mold of most OSS leadership to offer a diversity of talent and affirmed the need for increased source vetting. Additionally, he was a senior official and reportedly a "father figure" of later CIA Counterintelligence Division Chief James Angleton according to one historian. Murphy likely influenced the later tactics James Angleton used in his operations such as vast compartmentalization and recruiting agents contrary to the usual thinking of most leadership.
Among the most notable officers serving X-2 was the young and future CIA Counterintelligence chief James J. Angleton. Officials relate that Angleton proved "a model of an innovative, activist counterintelligence officer who contributions exceeded his job description." He cultivated Italian mafia and intelligence liaison contacts that other Allied intelligence shunned but would later utilize against Fidel Castro. Angleton further offered extensive reports of the political situation within the Italian capital and constructed methods to collaborate with military units guiding them with information he could possess but they could not. He would evolve these OSS methods in his later time at the Central Intelligence Agency to mold himself a private fiefdom within the larger intelligence organization much to the chagrin of his superiors.
This branch emerged from the Special Operation Branch under the Deputy Director of Strategic Services Operations to develop several clandestine weapons including pocket sized handguns, exotic silencers, explosive packages, concealed surveillance equipment, and specialized mines. Their work included creating exact replicas of functional common items with concealed purposes or complex inner workings and this branch was responsible for fabricating successful forged documents to support international operations or assist establishing false identities for agents in the field.
Stanley Platt Lovell: He was born an orphan and his personal ambitions carried him to graduate from Cornell University and develop his own chemical business. After expanding his business to significant prominence, Lovell served in multiple civilian offices that included the National Defense Research Committee. After he came to the attention of William Donovan and was offered a leading position at the forming OSS, Lovell expressed doubts about if he should participate in clandestine and operations that relied on un-American principals. One historical account states Donovan replied that Lovell was being naive and stated "The American public may profess to think as you say they do, but the one they expect of their leaders is that we be smart...Don't kid yourself P.T. Barnum is still a basic hero because he fooled so many people. They will applaud someone who can outfox the (enemy)". Despite Lovell's reservations, he was convinced by Donovan and joined the OSS to lead its Research and Development Branch.
Lovell was referred to by one official report as William Donovan's Dr. Moriarty (the classic wily nemesis of Sherlock Holmes) and other public stories cast him as the American version of Q, the weapons master of James Bond legend. Donovan selected Lovell to manage the OSS venture of creating technical innovations for warfare that included developing sabotage and assassination devices. As branch director, he was a skeptic who embraced a wide range of possible operations seeking to procure the most effective undertakings weighed against creative solutions. Yet Lovell would offer stern commentary to his superiors when he contended they were just wasting resources on plans without the hope of success.
He was credited with discovering the use of heavy water by the Nazis in experiments via data analysis as the Germans sought to develop atomic fission and resulting attacks on Nazi research centers less than two weeks following Lovell's discovery would significantly setback their development of rocket technology. He and OSS leadership would advocate for the strategic bombing of Japanese targets with gas to prevent the later tens of thousands of deaths resulting from attacking Japanese strongholds but President Roosevelt vetoed these plans. Under Lovell, the OSS would reportedly produce and acquire more than one hundred thousand tons of chemical weapons by the end of WWII and he was noted despite his more sinister designs to warn that increasingly un-American methods being used by some military and intelligence groups would assure future blowback and exposure.
Research by: C.A.A. Savastano