Intelligence in Public Literature/
Studies in Intelligence; “Donovan’s Devils”by Albert Lulushi is a well-documented, superbly written account of how OSS established the model for today’s Special Forces.
By Hayden Peake/
Donovan’s Devils: OSS Commandos Behind Enemy Lines—Europe, World War II, by Albert Lulushi (Arcade Publishing, 2016) 367, endnotes bibliography, photos, index.The exploits of the OSS have been the subject of numerous histories, memoirs, and movies. The best-known tell stories of espionage behind enemy lines, Jedburgh teams in France, and counterintelligence operations in Europe. Less frequently mentioned are the OSS special operations groups commonly called OGs. Donovan’s Devils gives them long overdue attention.
The concept of a special operations capability was part of Donovan’s vision for US intelligence even before the creation of OSS in 1942. But it was not as readily accepted by his military masters as were the analysis and espionage functions of the OSS mission. Initial opposition to OGs came from military traditionalists who had no experience with elite units staffed with uniformed personnel and part of a civilian organization operating behind enemy lines, even when subject to the approval of theater commanders.
After reviewing the historical precedents for special operation-type units, intelligence historian Albert Lulushi recounts how Donovan overcame significant bureaucratic obstacles from senior war department generals, during wartime, to create the OGs. Donovan’s main argument was that the ad hoc OG he had created—on his own authority—to support Operation TORCH—the invasion of Northern Africa—proved valuable, and General Marshall said so in writing. (34)
In December 1942, the Joint Chiefs of Staff issued directive 155/4/D that, among other things, authorized the OGs. A typical OG unit contained four officers and 30 enlisted men. In addition to basic military skills, OG members needed language abilities for the target area, commando training (parachute, hand-to-hand combat), and signal communications proficiency. They were trained at the Congressional Country Club outside Washington, DC, and at various military facilities. The first group was ready for deployment in mid-1943 to support Operation HUSKY, the invasion of Sicily. Results were modest but encouraging.
Lulushi describes OG operations, problems, and successes, in Italy, Corsica, France, and the Balkan states. In each country this included rescuing POWs from behind enemy lines. He devotes particularly detailed attention to Operation GINNY, an ill-fated mission involving an OG unit assigned to blow up a railway tunnel on the Genoa-La Spezia line. After several failed attempts, they tried again in March 1944, which was another failure, but on this attempt 15 members were captured. When the German commander in the area invoked Hitler’s directive to execute all captured saboteurs without trial, they were shot and buried in common graves. After the war, the Germans involved were tried and convicted—the commander was hanged—in the first war crimes trial, setting an important precedent for the subsequent Nuremberg Trials.
Donovan’s Devils is a well-documented, superbly written account of how OSS established the model for today’s Special Forces. As Jack Devine notes in his back-cover comments, it is a “must-read book for any student of OSS and the general public.”