OSS Operational Group (OG's)

The Office of Strategic Services was initiated during World War II by General William J. Donovan with the approval and support of President Franklin D. Roosevelt to improve, coordinate and provide intelligence needed for wartime activities, and was placed under the direct control of the Joint Chiefs of staff. Branches of the OSS included SI (Secret Intelligence), SO (Special Operations), OG (Operational Groups), MO (Morale Operations), and others.

While the O.S.S. in general is considered to have been the forerunner of the C.I.A. and its history has been much written about, the Operational Groups in particular have remained largely undocumented, even though they are recognized as the forerunner of the U.S. Special Forces.

The OG concept was based on General Donovan's belief that the rich ethnic makeup of our country would provide second generation American soldiers with language facility who, if organized in small groups and trained with commando capabilities, could be parachuted into enemy occupied territory to harass the enemy and to encourage and support local resistance organizations.

With a Joint Chiefs of Staff directive of 23 December 1942, which provided that OSS should organize "operational nuclei" to be used in enemy occupied territory, a recruiting program was initiated. Line outfits, officer candidate and specialty schools were targeted as pools for candidates who, at a minimum, had already received basic training. Infantry and engineer units were sources from which most OG candidates were sought; with radio operators coming from the Signal Corps and medical technicians from the Medical Corps.

Working knowledge of a foreign language was a priority consideration advanced in the recruiting promotions, though candidates with other special skills or foreign area knowledge were also considered for recruitment. Soldiers with language skills in Norwegian, Italian, French, Greek and German were the primary languages being sought.

Prospective candidates were given the opportunity to volunteer for "hazardous duty behind enemy lines." Interested individuals were interviewed, and possible operational situations were presented to enable the candidate to have an understanding of potential personal dangers. Only men with a real desire for such duty were chosen. Approximately ten percent of those interviewed volunteered.

Soon after interview, those selected received orders to report to OSS Headquarters at 2340 E Street in Washington, D. C. In the complex located there was the OG HQ unit in "Q Building". Most recruits then, after processing in, were transported to "Area F" (the Congressional Country Club in nearby Potomac, Maryland) The Club, which had been taken over by the OSS for it's use during the war, served as a base for several different OSS activities. Except for the OGs, most of those persons went home off base after their days work Apart from a base headquarters unit which included an MP detachment, the OGs were the only military personnel living there.

The main club house facility provided office and work space for the OSS non-OG personnel, office space for the military/MP HQ unit, living quarters for the OG officers, dining facilities for all, and recreation facilities in the ball room, bowling alleys and swimming pool for the OGs (when the training schedule, which went from early morning until about 9-10 PM each day, provided a break at the end of each two week period)

The golf course was fully used for OG training. Special obstacle courses, pistol firing ranges as well as open air class rooms were located there. Such resources as the Potomac River, the Potomac River Locks and other local landmarks and facilities nearby were also fully utilized for operational problems.

Basic OG training was built on physical conditioning, map reading, night reconnaissance, demolition's operations, special weapons use and hit-and-run commando tactics - with much of the latter taken from the British commando experience; and special visits by British Colonel Fairbaine who provided training in special uses of the 45 caliber pistol and for techniques for use in hand-to-hand combat; and for use of the stiletto, a special issue for the OGs. The courses were designed to make all OGs proficient in use of small arms of both American and foreign make; map reading and the use of compass for night operations in scouting, patrolling and reconnaissance; proficiency in the handling and use of demolitions and for living off the land.

During the period of basic training at Area F the formal T/O and command assignments of individual OG units (i.e., Norwegian, Italian, French, Greek and German) were generally completed and designated overseas station assignments established. From that point additional training was more specifically tailored for particular operational needs envisaged for the areas in which they would be working. Some of that training was conducted at other OSS and military facilities in the United States, and some at OSS, military and allied facilities overseas. For example, while all OGs received parachute jump training, for those who would be dropped using special exit holes that were cut in the belly of bomber aircraft, extra training was given. That training was given at OSS parachute training facilities overseas. Some OG units also received ski training and some received amphibious training.

The basic organizational structure of an OG section consisted of two officers and thirteen enlisted men ( the enlisted men were non-commissioned officers - no privates). As noted above, all members of the team were equally prepared in weapons and operational skills, with two being specialists - one a medical technician and the other a radio operator. The fact that all had the same operational capabilities (except for the medic and the radio operator specialties) was a major factor which enabled flexibility of assignment and deployment to fit varied mission requirements.