Americans now take for granted feats of derring-do by unconventional warriors, such as Army Rangers and Navy SEALs, who possess almost super-human strength and stamina and wreak havoc behind enemy lines.
Oakton author Albert Lulushi’s new book, “Donovan’s Devils: OSS Commandos Behind Enemy Lines – Europe, World War II,” details the rigorous training and daring missions undertaken by OSS agents.
Lulushi obtained much of his material from declassified OSS documents at the National Archives. The book has plenty of entertaining asides, from doggerel about lethal dangers facing low-altitude parachutists to quirky methods used to convey coded messages over open radio channels.
“I tried to bring this human aspect into the stories to flesh out the rigid narrative that’s been built around these events,” he said.
The fledgling OSS had much to learn from the Germans and British, who had engaged in such operations for years. OSS agents gathered military intelligence, worked with and encouraged local resistance fighters, rescued escaped prisoners of war and sabotaged enemy operations and infrastructure.
Recruits were astonishingly fit, often spoke foreign languages and trained to do everything from basic first-aid and bullet-wound dressing to parachuting, silent killing, and operating and repairing enemy weapons and vehicles.
The operatives’ underwent some of their training at Prince William Forest and Quantico and took pistol training at specially designed buildings, where they learned how to fire at targets while crouched and not looking over their weapons’ sights.
Lulushi’s book is not a cut-and-dried, black-and-white tale of good guys vs. bad. Both sides had heroes and villains, engaged in summary executions and faced treachery from within.
German troops sometimes committed horrific atrocities on enemy personnel and civil populations, often as reprisals for the commandos’ actions. But in other cases, the Germans showed restraint, surrendering in the face of certain defeat and even trying to prevent the execution of captured guerilla fighters.
The Germans shot to death 15 OSS operatives in 1944 following the failed Ginny mission in Italy. German Gen. Anton Dostler later told a Allied tribunal he ordered the killings while carrying out an order from Hitler that he could not disobey without facing a court martial. Despite a strong defense put forth by a Judge Advocate General colonel, the tribunal found Dostler guilty of war crimes and had him executed via firing squad.
No such justice was obtained on behalf of Capt. William Holohan, who led the Mangosteen-Chrysler mission in Italy in August 1944. Some of Holohan’s comrades, either out of partisan feelings, personal dislike or desire to steal the $14,000 their leader was carrying, poisoned him with potassium cyanide and then shot him to death. The main two conspirators never had to pay for their crime.
President Harry Truman dissolved the OSS in 1945 after the war, but the immediate commencement of the Cold War led American officials in 1947 to form the Central Intelligence Agency, which took over many functions previously performed by the OSS.
Truman has been excoriated by critics over the past several decades for creating the national-security state, so readers might be surprised to learn he had qualms about setting up the CIA, fearing it would spy on American citizens.
Lulushi was born in Albania and emigrated to the United States in 1991. The 15-year Oakton resident works in information-technology services.
He previously authored “Operation Valuable Fiend: The CIA’s First Paramilitary Strike Against the Soviet Union,” which detailed the agency’s paramilitary operation to overthrow Albania’s communist regime.
The author speaks Albanian, French, Italian and German, and took pains to include comments from foreign soldiers and civilians who experienced the war.
“I focused on the simple man – ordinary people, most of them first- or second-generation Americans, who responded to the call of duty and went behind enemy lines to fight the Germans and Italians,” he said. “My hope was to bring a multidimensional picture that was as close as possible to reality.”
Few Americans know about the OSS, which preceded the CIA and the U.S. Special Operations Command, said Charles Pinck, president of the OSS Society Inc.
“Fewer still have heard about the OSS Operational Groups that were the predecessor to U.S. Special Operations Forces,” he said. “Albert Lulushi’s book is the first account of their breathtaking courage during World War II, which prompted OSS founder Gen. William Donovan to say they performed ‘some of the bravest acts of the war.’ We are indebted to Albert Lulushi for bringing this little-known history of World War II to light.”(*insidenova.com)