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The Office of Strategic Services: Research and Analysis Branch

With the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the United States entered World War II. In June 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt created the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) – the forerunner of today’s CIA — to collect and analyze strategic information and to conduct espionage and special operations. For the first time in U.S. history, the nation had in the OSS a single intelligence service engaged in all basic secret activities: analysis, espionage, covert action, propaganda, and counterintelligence.

The following article is the second in a series that will explore the different branches of the Office of Strategic Services. This article focuses on the Research and Analysis Branch.

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The Research and Analysis Branch

When the OSS was created in 1942, its leader Gen. William J. Donovan had not intended for it to be an organization of spies. Donovan originally wanted OSS to support military operations in the field. However, he soon realized the value of clandestine human reporting. The OSS consisted of five branches:

  • Secret Intelligence (SI) Branch
  • Research and Analysis (R&A) Branch
  • Special Operations (SO) Branch
  • Morale Operations (MO) Branch
  • X-2 Branch

The R&A Branch was one of the first branches established, and its purpose was to find Axis strengths and vulnerabilities using all open-sources available. Donovan believed that valuable information for the Allies could be found in such open sources, including:

  • Libraries,
  • Newspapers, and
  • Government and industry information.

Utilizing these resources, the R&A Branch became a force to be reckoned with. The work of R&A analysts was able to win over even its harshest critics, and won many allies for the OSS. The R&A Branch was held in such high esteem that when the OSS was disbanded in 1945, it was one of the few components that was salvaged and handed over to the State Department.


The Best and Brightest

The R&A Branch was headed by Dr. James Phinney Baxter, president of Williams College. Harvard historian William Langer later replaced Baxter as director.

The R&A Branch was composed of 900 scholars from many different disciplines, including:

  • Historians,
  • Economists,
  • Political Scientists,
  • Geographers,
  • Psychologists,
  • Anthropologists, and
  • Diplomats.

Many famous names made contributions to the R&A Branch, such as Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Sherman Kent, and Ralph Bunche. R&A veterans included seven future presidents of the American Historical Association, five of the American Economic Association, and two Nobel Laureates.


Axis Vulnerabilities in Europe: German Oil Production

The most important contribution the R&A Branch made to the war was supporting the Allied bombings in Europe. The Enemy Objectives Unit (EOU) — a group of R&A economists posted in London — were able to pinpoint German oil production as a major vulnerability in the Nazi effort. This analysis by the EOU sent Allied bombers toward German aircraft factories. The idea was to weaken the Luftwaffe first, and then begin bombing German oil facilities.

The bombing campaign was a success. The destruction of German aircraft factories grounded Hitler’s Luftwaffe. When Allied bombers began to target German oil facilities in the fall of 1944, it caused great panic among the German high command. German fuel production suffered greatly and thousands of Nazi tanks and trucks were immobilized.


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Posted: Jan 28, 2010 12:03 PM
Last Updated: Apr 30, 2013 12:35 PM