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“Our German Wehrmacht Is Being Stopped By A Shadow”
The furious speaker was Field Marshal Kesselring. The time was 1944. And the “shadow” was cast by Italian partisans and a handful of brave Americans from General Bill Donovan’s O.S.S.
February 1970 | Volume 21, Issue 2
The O.S.S., or Office of Strategic Services, was a special World War Il agency created by President Roosevelt to handle America ‘s covert, or “black, “propaganda. Its opposite number, which dealt with overt, or “white,”propaganda, was the Office of War Information. At the insistence of the director of the O.S.S., General William J. (“Wild Bill”) Donovan, the agency remained independent of all other intelligence units, but it served them all.
For obvious reasons, O.S.S. operations and even the names of its personnel were top secret during the war and have been only spottily revealed since then. In the forthcoming book Donovan of OSS , Corey Ford, who had access to General Donovan ‘s private papers, has told for the first lime, the whole story of the agency’s clandestine and dangerous mission. The book, from which this article is taken, will be published later this month by Little, Brown and Company. Its publication will be posthumous, since Mr. Ford died on July 27, 1969, after he had completed work on the manuscript. Mr. Ford was best known as a highly successful humorist, but his more than thirty books and five hundred magazine articles included nature writing, autobiography, and history.
On his way back to Washington after the Sicilian landings of July i o, 1943, General William Donovan conferred with General Mark Clark at Fifth Army headquarters in Morocco and offered to place his agency’s resources at the disposal of the Fifth Army for the coming invasion of Italy. It was decided to expand the O.S.S. functions by adding operations specialists and research experts for tactical and strategic intelligence procurement, and a special reconnaissance battalion, an O.S.S. unit reorganized on a full military basis, was assigned to the Fifth Army’s G-2, or intelligence branch. This was to be the first time that O.S.S. techniques would be employed directly by ground armies.
The decision to invade the Italian mainland had been reached after prolonged and heated debate. With the surrender of the German forces in Tunisia in May of 1943 and the capture of fifteen Axis divisions, the U. S. Joint Chiefs of Staff had renewed their pressure for a cross-Channel assault on German-occupied France. Prime Minister Churchill countered that the recent success in North Africa had exposed what he called, with both rhetoric and accuracy, the “soft underbelly” of Europe, and he insisted that the Allies should maintain their momentum in the Mediterranean. Roosevelt reluctantly acknowledged the logic of Churchill’s argument, and the all-out attack on the German homeland was postponed for another year.
For a time events seemed to justify Churchill’s decision. Sicily and Corsica and the outlying islands fell to the Allies virtually without a struggle, due in part to previous O.S.S. infiltration that had organized the local resistance, and early in September the Anglo-American forces established a successful foothold on the mainland at Salerno, near the tip of the Italian boot. On September 8, Mussolini’s Fascist dictatorship toppled, the United States recognized the royal government of Victor Emmanuel III, and his prime minister, Field Marshal Pietro Badoglio, hastened to arrange the capitulation of the Italian army. Hopes for a speedy Allied victory faded when the German forces, although deserted by their Axis partner, continued to fight on stubbornly, and the attack on the “soft underbelly” proved eventually to be the longest and bloodiest campaign of the European war.
While the Anglo-American armies moved slowly and painfully up the Italian peninsula, five O.S.S. infiltration teams slipped into the harbor of Naples, behind enemy lines, in small fishing boats. Two teams were repulsed by machine-gun fire from German shore patrols, but the others succeeded in entering the captive city. They carried arms for Neapolitan patriots and began to organize guerrilla resistance against the Nazis. Agents crossed the enemy lines as many as twenty times a day, and intelligence was radioed to the Fifth Army to pinpoint Air Force bombing missions. When the Germans evacuated Naples on October I, the O.S.S. teams and their partisan followers greeted the American army of liberation with cheers and Chianti.
The Allied advance bogged down in December at Cassino, where Field Marshal Albert Kesselring’s Tenth Army succeeded in halting the fourteen divisions of the American Fifth and the British Eighth armies at the heavily entrenched Winter Line. To break the stalemate, it was decided to launch a daring amphibious landing north of the Winter Line at Anzio, only thirty-three miles from Rome. Operation Shingle, as it was named, was conceived as a “cat-claw” thrust using parachutists to seize the Alban Hills, a key mountain group near Rome, and to hold the ground long enough to cut the communication and supply lines of the German Tenth Army at Cassino. “It is not intended to maintain these divisions for long over the beaches,” Churchill cabled the Chiefs of Staff on December 26, “but rather to bring the battle to a climax in a week or ten days.” The Shingle target date was to be on or about January 20, 1944.