Training for War and Espionage
Office of Strategic Services Training During World War II
Dr. John Whiteclay Chambers II
In the histories of the Office of Strategic Services, the heralded predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency in World War II, what has been largely neglected is the challenge OSS leaders faced in developing a program to train the “glorious amateurs” of America’s first central intelligence and covert operations agency. OSS’s response to the challenge of preparing operatives for missions deep inside enemy-controlled territory began in 1942 with a paramilitary training program in two national parks. One of its legacies is the CIA training program today.
In examining OSS training, this article draws on the author’s recent 600-page report to the US National Park Service on OSS training in the national parks as well as his subsequent research for a forthcoming book on OSS training and service in World War II. The article deals primarily with the two main direct action branches, Special Operations (SO) and Operational Groups (OG). In the process, it also refers to training in other operational branches: Secret Intelligence (SI), X-2 (Counterintelligence), Morale Operations (MO), and the Maritime Unit (MU), plus the Communications (Commo) Branch. Most of the organization’s other components, such as the Research and Analysis Branch, employed people who were already skilled in their fields and who did not generally require OSS training.
This essay addresses several questions. Why were the national parks chosen as training sites? How was the training program created? What were its aims and methods? How did it evolve? Most importantly, how effective was the training and what was its legacy?
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