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Operational Groups, Office of Strategic Services

Page Created
November 15th, 2022
Last Updated
Januari 30th, 2024
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Additional Information
Order of Battle

Badge Office of Strategic Services
December 23rd, 1942
Theater of Operations
Organisational History

On December 23rd, 1942, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a directive issue mandates that the Office of Strategic Services establishes operational nuclei for deployment in enemy and enemy-occupied territories. These Operational Groups consist of soldiers proficient in foreign languages, trained in sabotage techniques and small arms, and skilled in parachuting. Their design allows for their use in small teams behind enemy lines, with the primary aim of disrupting enemy activities.

The first specific demand for Operational Groups arises following the approval of the Joint Chiefs of Staff 170 by AFGH, outlining the objectives of the Office of Strategic Services in the Western Mediterranean. This request entails the deployment of four to eight Operational Groups to act as organisers and instigators in areas near North Africa. Upon a request from the War Department to allocate officers and men for Operational Group missions in the North Atlantic Theater of Operations, G-1 queries if organisational structures for other theaters will also be provided. In response, the Office of Strategic Services confirms positively, leading the War Department to allocate approximately 540 positions to the Operational Groups.

As the Joint Chiefs of Staff approve the OSS Operational Groups and assign the required personnel, recruitment commences immediately. On April 20th, 1943, six officers from the Engineer School at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, report for duty. Initially, they undergo basic infantry orientation at a former Civilian Conservation Corps camp near Triangle, Virginia, before transferring to Area F.

The Operational Group branch is established on May 13th, 1943. Following this, an immediate recruitment program is launched.

Meanwhile at Area F, the six officers join forces with enlisted personnel from the 100th Division. Further officers and enlisted men, including medics and radio operators, are steadily recruited from various Army units, forming what becomes known as Operational Group A.

Area F is earmarked as the foundational training base for the Operational Groups. However, Operational Group A encounters initial challenges due to incomplete facilities. The training available at this stage encompasses patrolling, physical training, hand-to-hand combat, knife fighting, and training with foreign weapons. The group then proceeds to Fort Benning, Georgia, for intensive jungle warfare and preliminary parachute training. Upon returning to Area F, the radio operators, medics, and demolition personnel undergo their respective specialized trainings.

In June 1943, at the behest of William J. Donovan, director of the Office of Strategic Services, the Joint Chiefs of Staff authorise the formation of Italian, Greek, Yugoslavian, French, German, and Norwegian Operational Groups. These groups comprise specially selected, rigorously trained, and physically robust U.S. Army soldiers equipped for combat operations behind enemy lines. An Operational Group typically consists of thirty enlisted soldiers and four officers, although most groups deploy with teams of fifteen to twenty-four members. Recruiters from the Office of Strategic Services strive to select individuals fluent in the language of their operation country, but there are instances where recruits are chosen based solely on the ethnicity implied by their surname, without verifying actual language skills.

Interviews for potential recruits usually occur in groups, focusing on candidates who meet the physical and linguistic prerequisites. During these sessions, recruits are informed about the hazardous nature of the duties awaiting them behind enemy lines. Although operational plans are kept confidential for security reasons, enough information is provided to ensure recruits have a clear understanding of what to expect. Selection is reserved for those demonstrating a genuine willingness for such duty, with approximately 10 percent of initial interviewees eventually volunteering.

By the end of July, Operational Group A relocates to a staging area near what is later known as Camp David. Here, they practice simulated attacks on the Marine Corps Detachment while waiting for overseas deployment orders. In August, the group arrives at OSS Station X near Algiers, setting up camp in a pine grove on sandy ground, living in pup tents. Although parachute training is initially planned, operational demands quickly take precedence.

On November 27th, 1943, the Operational Group Command is established as a distinct military entity within the Office of Strategic Services. This move results from various factors suggesting the need to administratively separate the Operational Groups from the Office of Strategic Services. A key reason for this separation is the observation that, despite operating exclusively in uniform, Operational Groups are often not treated in accordance with the Geneva Convention upon capture. To protect these groups, efforts are made to minimize any association with the Office of Strategic Services.

Another factor is the exclusively military nature of the Operational Groups, which contrasts with the quasi-military administration of the Office of Strategic Services, leading to administrative confusion. Despite these changes, the Office of Strategic Services continues to exert coordinated operational control over the groups.

The Operational Groups assigned to Italian Operations are known as Company A, those for France Operations as Company B, and those for the Balkans (Yugoslavia and Greece) as Company C. Additionally, there is a unit designated for operations in Norway, not identified by a company symbol.

In August 1944, the Operational Groups are reclassified as the 2671st Special Reconnaissance Battalion, (Separate) (Provincial), encompassing a total of 1,100 members.

The communication system employed by the Operational Groups is the British network. This arrangement is agreed upon by the Office of Strategic Services in Cairo, given the British desire to maintain a single point of information and control. The British aim to avoid the potential confusion that might arise from the Operational Groups transmitting radio reports to headquarters other than their own. Therefore, to centralize tactical command, the Operational Groups enter their operational areas without their own radio equipment.

Italian/United States Operational Group

In August 1944, recruits primarily hailing from the New York-New Jersey-Boston area, who are part of the Italian/United States Operational Group, undergo a significant transition. This group is redesignated as Company A of the 2671st Special Reconnaissance Battalion, (Separate) (Provincial).

French/United States Operational Group

In August 1944, the French/United States Operational Group undergoes a significant transition, being redesignated as Company B of the 2671st Special Reconnaissance Battalion, (Separate) (Provincial). This marks a new chapter in the group’s operational history, reflecting its evolving role in the theatre of World War II.

Later, in November 1944, the French/United States Operational Group embarks on a pivotal mission. They are chosen to travel to China with the objective of training Chinese commandos and leading them into combat. To bolster their ranks and enhance the effectiveness of their mission, the French/USOG command puts forth a request. They seek the inclusion of 15 members each from the Greek/USOG and Yugoslavian/USOG enlisted ranks to join the French Group. This strategic move aims to leverage the diverse skills and experiences of these soldiers to accomplish their critical tasks in China.

Greek/United States Operational Group

On January 23rd, 1944, a contingent of sixteen officers and 169 enlisted men arrive in Egypt, volunteering for the Greek/United States Operational Group (Greek/USOG) of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). These men, originally part of the 122nd Infantry Battalion (Greek Battalion) disbanded in September 1943 at Camp Carson, Colorado, are designated as Headquarters, Third Contingent, Unit B, Operational Group. Despite their commitment to hazardous duty behind the lines in Greece, some are unable to fulfill this intent due to factors like casualties or reassignments before deployment.

The men are sworn into the OSS in September 1943 and, after a brief leave, return to Camp Carson. In October, they move to the OSS’s main camp, Area F, in Bethesda, Maryland. Departing the United States on Christmas Day 1943 aboard the liberty ship Pierre L’Enfant, they disembark at Port Suez, Egypt, on January 22nd, 1944, and are stationed at Camp Huckstep near Cairo.

Six operational groups are formed, with Groups I, II, and V undergoing parachute training in Haifa and then being flown to Brindisi, Italy. These groups, at different times in Spring 1944, leave Brindisi by Landig Craft Infantry, landing behind German lines in Northern Greece. Groups III, IV, and VI travel to Alexandria and board the British troop ship HMS Stratfordshire to Taranto, Italy, eventually arriving at the Island of Vis on February 17th, 1944, where their operational history begins.

In August 1944, the unit, alongside the Yugoslavian/United States Operational Group, is redesignated as Company C of the 2671st Special Reconnaissance Battalion, (Separate) (Provincial).

By November, the six groups retreat from their operational areas. By the end of the month, they are transferred to Camp Kallitsis near Bari, Italy, and shortly afterward, the Greek/USOG is disbanded.

Many former members are invited to join the French/USOG bound for China to train Chinese Commandos. However, most who qualify are reassigned to combat units such as the 17th, 82nd, or 101st Airborne Divisions in Germany. Notably, the 17th Airborne Division conducts the last American combat parachute jump in Europe across the Rhine River. A few, including Captain Robert Houlihan and First Sergeant Theophanes Strimenos, join the Italian/United States Operational Group in Northern Italy.

The Greek/USOG’s record includes seventy-six commando operations: attacking five convoys and fourteen trains, destroying eleven locomotives, thirty-two train cars, fifty-one trucks, several bridges, and nearly ten kilometers of railway, and inflicting casualties on approximately 2,000 enemy troops.

Yugoslavian/United States Operational Group

Headquarters, Third Contingent, Unit A of the Operational Group, which includes the Yugoslavian/United States Operational Group, is designated with a notable inclusion of 27 Greek Americans. By the close of 1943, this group finds itself stationed in Brindisi, Italy, marking a significant stage in their deployment.

As the calendar turns to January 1944, the group’s assignment shifts to the strategically important island of Vis. This move is part of the broader strategic operations in the region, positioning them closer to the active areas of engagement.

In a significant development during August 1944, this unit, alongside the Greek/United States Operational Group, undergoes a major reorganization. They are collectively redesignated as Company C, forming part of the 2671st Special Reconnaissance Battalion, (Separate) (Provincial).

Norwegian Special Operations Group

The soldiers of the Norwegian Operational Group, a crucial segment of the Office of Strategic Services’ (OSS) special operations during World War II, are primarily drawn from the 99th Infantry Battalion (Separate), established in July 1942 at Camp Ripley, Minnesota, United States. This unique battalion is composed of a diverse mix: half of its members are Norwegians and Norwegian-descended Americans, fluent in Norwegian, while the other half consists of Norwegians who found refuge in the United States during the war.

In 1943, while stationed at Camp Hale, Colorado, the OSS extends an invitation for volunteers from this battalion. From this call, eighty enlisted men and twelve officers are selected to form the OSS Norwegian Special Operations Group (NORSOG).

Originally envisioned for operations in Norway, NORSOG’s focus shifts by 1944. The group is redeployed for missions behind German lines in France, reflecting the changing priorities and strategic needs of the war.

In a significant restructuring in August 1944, the Norwegian Operational Group is integrated into the 2671st Special Reconnaissance Battalion, (Separate) (Provincial). This reassignment marks a pivotal shift in the group’s operational scope.

As the summer of 1944 progresses, with no immediate missions planned in Norway, the Norwegian Operational Group becomes a major element of the French/United States Operational Group, actively participating in operations across France.

Following the liberation of France in December 1944, a thorough re-screening process is undertaken for all personnel of the Norwegian Special Operational Group. This process is aimed at determining their subsequent assignments, either in other combat zones or standard military units. Some members return to the United States for home leave and additional training before being deployed to operations in the Far East. Others join the Italian Operational Group for ongoing operations in Italy. Around fifty men from the original Norwegian Special Operational Group are selected based on tentative plans for operations in Norway, keeping alive the initial intent of their formation.

Chinese Operational Group

The Chinese Operational Group had a critical mission to form, train, equip, and integrate American personnel into twenty Chinese Commando units. This strategic decision was made in January 1945 during conferences between Major General Donovan, Commanding General of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), Lieutenant General Wedemeyer, and Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek. They believed that small, well-trained and well-equipped units, comprising both Chinese soldiers and veteran American officers and soldiers, could be more effective than standard Chinese divisions.

The core American personnel for this mission included members of the Operational Groups (OGs) who had previously parachuted into France from North Africa and England, as well as an OG unit that had conducted amphibious operations against the Burmese coast from Ceylon. Additional officers and men were recruited from replacement centers in the United States, bringing the total American contingent to 160 officers and 230 enlisted men, all under the leadership of Lieutenant Colonel Alfred T. Cox.

Each Commando unit was composed of 154 Chinese soldiers, 19 Americans, and 8 interpreters. The structure of a Commando included a small headquarters, three rifle sections, a 60 mm mortar section, a light machine gun (LMG) section, and a demolition section, with Americans serving as Special Intelligence (SI) officers and non-commissioned officers (NCOs).

Although initial plans aimed to train over 3,000 Chinese troops, only about a quarter of this number were found to be in adequate physical condition, allowing for the formation of only five Commandos initially. Screening efforts among the thousands of uniformed men yielded a limited number who met the physical and military training standards required for Commando operations. However, improved nutrition, physical training, and quality instruction by the American trainers soon yielded positive results. The training period, planned for eight weeks, included parachute training consisting of four days of ground activity and four jumps.

The Chinese soldiers exhibit a strong sense of morale, eagerness to be selected, and pride in being part of a Commando unit. Seven Commando units are ultimately deployed on missions. These include the 1st Commando in Operation Apple, the 2nd Commando in Operation Blueberry, the 3rd and 4th Commandos in Operations Cherry and Crabapple, and the 8th, 9th, and 10th Commandos in Operation Blackberry.

The training of the remaining units was halted due to the end of hostilities, marking the conclusion of this unique and collaborative military endeavor between the United States and China.