William J. Donovan in 1941 had not intended his new intelligence service to become a “spy” agency, running espionage operations in foreign capitals. He wanted COI to support military operations in the field by providing research, propaganda, and commando support, but he quickly became convinced of the value of clandestine human reporting. In 1942 OSS established the Secret Intelligence Branch (SI) to open field stations, train case officers, run agent operations, and process reports in Washington. Headed from 1943 on by international executive and lawyer Whitney H. Shepardson, SI by the end of the war had become a full-fledged foreign intelligence service, with stations in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, excellent liaison contacts with foreign services, and a growing body of operational doctrine.
In November 1942, the most famous SI station chief, Allen W. Dulles, set up shop on “Hitler’s doorstep” in the American legation in Bern, Switzerland. He found there a complicated and ever-shifting scene. Dulles quickly adopted a remnant of the fine prewar French military intelligence service, which gratefully provided him reports on German deployments in France that were prized by Allied invasion planners. He also found that Allied agents sent into Nazi Germany had scant hope of eluding the Gestapo, but that travel between the Reich and neutral Switzerland was free enough to bring a variety of Germans to him. Dulles established wide contacts with German émigrés, resistance figures, and anti-Nazi intelligence officers (who linked him, through Hans Bernd Gisevius, to the tiny but daring opposition to Hitler in Germany itself). Although Washington barred Dulles from making firm commitments to the plotters of the 20 July 1944 attempt to assassinate Hitler, the conspirators nonetheless gave him reports on developments in Germany, including sketchy but accurate warnings of plans for Hitler’s V-1 and V-2 missiles. In addition, Dulles was contacted by a German Foreign Ministry official, Fritz Kolbe, who volunteered to report from Berlin. Kolbe’s periodic packets illuminated German foreign policy and military matters, and helped the British spot the German spy “Cicero” working in the household of the British ambassador to Turkey.
Secret Intelligence Branch operations by 1945 had extended beyond the running of operations in foreign capitals to encompass the actual penetration of Nazi Germany. Donovan wanted to replicate the successes that the SI mission in Algiers had had in running the “Penny-Farthing” network in Southern France, but Germany, with no organized Resistance, was a much tougher objective. SI’s mission in London, led by William J. Casey, found a solution by adopting the methods of a successful OSS Morale Operations Branch project in Italy. Casey’s unit—knowing that no Americans could survive in Hitler’s Germany—learned how to find “volunteer” agents among the thousands of Axis prisoners-of-war in England. Casey’s London SI trained the agents, provided them with meticulously prepared clothing, documentation, and equipment, and dropped nearly 200 of them into the Third Reich to gather intelligence in the last months of the war. Agent teams established themselves in Bremen, Munich, Mainz, Dusseldorf, Essen, Stuttgart, and Vienna—and even in Berlin. They paid a high price in casualties—36 were killed, captured, or missing at war’s end—but the data they collected on industrial and military targets significantly aided the final Allied air and ground assaults on Germany.
<< Allen W. Dulles in Bern, Switzerland.
Allen Dulles was born to high affairs of state. The nephew of one Secretary of State and the grandson of another, he was graduated from Princeton and joined the Foreign Service in World War I. As a junior diplomat, he acquired a taste for intelligence work while serving in Vienna and—after America declared war—in the American Legation in Bern, Switzerland. He gained valuable experiences, one of which stuck with him for the rest of his life. In Bern in 1917, Dulles kept a tennis date with a young lady one Sunday morning instead of meeting with an obscure Russian revolutionary named Lenin. Ever afterward he insisted that anyone who knocked on a case officer’s door deserved at least a hearing.
Dulles kept his career focused on foreign affairs after the war. Allen and his brother John Foster advised their uncle, Secretary of State Robert Lansing, at the Paris Peace negotiations at Versailles. More diplomatic postings followed in Berlin and Constantinople before Dulles returned to the State Department to head the Division of Near Eastern Affairs. He resigned from the government in 1926 to practice law and, for the next 15 years, he practiced with the firm of Sullivan & Cromwell in New York. Like his acquaintance William J. Donovan, Dulles traveled frequently abroad for business and pleasure in the 1930s, meeting Hitler and Mussolini and other European leaders in the course of his journeys. He joined the Council on Foreign Relations, ran as a Republican for Congress (and lost) in 1938, and advised former colleagues in the Department of State.
An early foe of Hitler, Dulles joined the fight against Nazi Germany well before Pearl Harbor. He had persuaded Sullivan & Cromwell to close its Berlin office in 1935. As head of COI’s New York office in the autumn of 1941, Dulles worked with William Stephenson (“Intrepid”) of British Security Coordination and gathered data on the Axis from refugees and from American businessmen and journalists with ties in Europe. His long institutional experience and wide contacts superbly equipped him to run wartime intelligence operations out of neutral Switzerland, and Dulles made the most of his many opportunities in Bern.
<< Crew members of a B-24 bomber flown by OSS on special missions over Central Europe pose beside their plane at Area T.
As defeat loomed for the Third Reich in the spring of 1945, Allen Dulles and SI made one of OSS’s greatest contributions to the war effort. German generals and officials as high-ranking as SS chief Heinrich Himmler began floating secret peace proposals to the British and the Americans. While some of these offers were genuine, the Allied “unconditional surrender” policy—and fear of provoking the suspicions of Joseph Stalin—constrained American diplomats and intelligence officers who might otherwise have been able to encourage these peace feelers. One important exception was made. Despite the unconditional surrender policy, higher authority in Washington allowed Allen Dulles to meet with SS general Karl Wolff, who had secretly offered to broker a surrender of German forces in Italy. The result of the meetings was Operation SUNRISE, a dangerous and devilishly complicated series of contacts over the next several weeks. Dulles had to manage the contacts and negotiations from Bern. Time after time the scheme came right to the edge of breakdown or disaster, but in the end SUNRISE succeeded, bringing about an early end to the Italian campaign in late April 1945—and saving hundreds if not thousands of lives.