Research & Analysis
American academics and experts in the Office of Strategic Services virtually invented the discipline of non-departmental strategic intelligence analysis—one of America’s few unique contributions to the craft of intelligence. Inspired by General Donovan’s vision of a service that could collate data from open sources and all departments of the government, analysts in OSS’s Research and Analysis Branch (R&A) comprised a formidable intelligence resource. Although the Branch suffered its share of internal bickering and sometimes had trouble finding customers for its reports, R&A’s experts made allies for OSS even in rival agencies. Even OSS’s harshest critics softened their tone when speaking of R&A and its contributions, and when OSS was dissolved at the end of the war, R&A was the one component that everyone agreed needed to be saved.
Headed by Harvard historian William Langer, R&A assembled roughly 900 scholars. Staffing R&A was not a problem. The Branch recruited from many disciplines, but especially favored historians, economists, political scientists, geographers, psychologists, anthropologists, and diplomats. Professors all over America welcomed the chance to serve the war effort with their academic skills. R&A’s roster reads like a Who’s Who of two generations of scholars: Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Walt W. Rostow, Edward Shils, Herbert Marcuse, H. Stuart Hughes, Gordon Craig, Crane Brinton, John King Fairbank, Sherman Kent, Ralph Bunche, and a host of distinguished colleagues and students joined the Branch. R&A veterans included seven future presidents of the American Historical Association, five of the American Economic Association, and two Nobel Laureates.
Bombs from 8th Air Force B-17s
smash the FW-190 fighter plant at
Marienburg, East Prussia, on 9 October
1943. R&A’s Enemy Objectives Unit
worked with British and Polish
intelligence to locate the factory.
R&A made one of its biggest contributions in its support to the Allied bombing campaign in Europe. Analyses by the Enemy Objectives Unit (EOU), a team of R&A economists posted to the US Embassy in London, sent Allied bombers toward German fighter aircraft factories in 1943 and early 1944. After the Luftwaffe’s interceptor force was weakened, Allied bombers could strike German oil production, which EOU identified as the choke-point in the Nazi war effort. The idea was not original with OSS, but R&A’s well-documented support gave it credibility and helped convince Allied commanders to try it. When American bombers began hitting synthetic fuel plants, ULTRA intercepts quickly confirmed that the strikes had nearly panicked the German high command. Although the fighting in Normandy that summer delayed the full force of the "oil offensive," in the autumn of 1944 Allied bombers returned to the synthetic fuel plants. The resulting scarcity of aviation fuel all but grounded Hitler’s Luftwaffe and, by the end of the year, diesel and gasoline production had also plummeted, immobilizing thousands of German tanks and trucks.
R&A’s contribution notwithstanding, the coordination of intelligence remained a problem in Washington throughout the war. The Pearl Harbor disaster underscored the problems with inter-service cooperation and could serve as a metaphor for the fragmentation of the American wartime intelligence establishment. The Army and Navy signals intelligence organizations barely cooperated, jealously guarding their reports and their access to President Roosevelt. They also prevented R&A analysts (with the exception of a few in the Enemy Objectives Unit) from reading signals intelligence at all. Outside of the Oval Office, no one collated and analyzed the totality of the intelligence data collected by the US Government. This lack of government-wide coordination limited the success of R&A and prompted efforts to reform the intelligence establishment as soon as the war was won.