Many of us in the summer months like to sit in the sun, at the beach or at the pool, with a good book to pass the time away. And we could use some good escape from the constant bad news regarding the spread of the coronavirus.
My better half prefers murder mysteries or true crime stories, while I’m the history buff and love reading military history.
For the July reading program by the poolside, I opted for a couple of classic World War II books that I really enjoyed. They are books that link our past to our present. Anyone who has been reading SOFREP for any length of time knows that I have a love for reading anything about O.S.S. So, these books shouldn’t come as a surprise.
“From OSS to the Green Berets” by Colonel Aaron Bank
Colonel Bank is considered the “Father of Special Forces” and with good reason.
Bank was a member of the Office of Strategic Services’ (O.S.S.) Jedburgh teams. The O.S.S. was the forerunner of both the CIA and the U.S. Army Special Forces. It was the first true intelligence organization fielded by the United States. During the war, it also conducted Special Operations on all fronts.
The Jedburgh teams conducted Unconventional Warfare (UW). They consisted of two-four special operators who would parachute into occupied Europe, link up with Resistance forces, and tie-down German units. The teams were comprised of British, French, U.S., and Dutch personnel. Ninety-three Jedburgh teams jumped into France ahead of D-Day and the Southern France landings. William Colby, the future head of the CIA in the 1960s (pictured), was also a member of the teams.
Bank takes the reader through his entry into the teams during the war. He highlights several missions, several of which were canceled, including one where he was to capture Adolf Hitler in the final stages of the war.
An interesting footnote is the meeting Bank had with Viet Minh leader Ho Chi Minh. After the war in Europe was over, O.S.S. sent Bank to meet with Ho to determine whether he was worthy of support. It should be mentioned that both Bank and another O.S.S. officer, Maj. Allison Thomas, thought the U.S. should support the Vietnamese independence movement, but the Truman administration sided with the French colonial government. Had they followed the suggestions of the O.S.S., the United States may have been able to avoid the costly war in Vietnam entirely.
Bank’s book then gets into the earliest days of the 10th Special Forces Group, of which he was the first commander. Much of the same lessons on UW and tradecraft, perfected by O.S.S. in WWII were quickly pressed into service in the new Army Special Forces unit.
It is a fascinating, unique insider’s glance at how SF came to be and at the men who shaped it into the force it would become in the war in Vietnam and beyond.
“American Guerrilla: The Forgotten Heroics Of Russell W. Volckmann” by Mike Guardia
Students of Guerrilla and UW should study the struggles of Volckmann against the Japanese that stretched on for three years after the Japanese captured the Philippines in the early days of WWII.
After Douglas MacArthur left the Philippines for Australia, Volckmann didn’t surrender. He melted into the jungle and while keeping a daily diary, he outlined the difficulties in raising, organizing, leading, and training a guerrilla force of Filipinos from Luzon.
The Filipino guerrillas grew into a sizable force of 22,000 strong. They were a constant thorn in the Japanese’s side, committing acts of sabotage, raids, ambushes as well as intelligence gathering. That proved extremely valuable to the Americans once they began their attempts to recapture the Philippine Islands.
And yet, for all of his sizable contributions, and his efforts, which definitely saved countless lives, Volckmann is scarcely mentioned, if at all, in all the books about MacArthur’s triumphant return. This is a tragic oversight.
After the war, Volckmann was tasked to write the Army’s field manuals “Operations Against Guerrilla Forces” and “Organization and Conduct of Guerrilla Forces” for the Psychological Operations Command. The tactics he used in Asia, were the tried and true ones that the O.S.S. had used during the war as well.
The book has some flaws, however. The author doesn’t delve into other resistance groups in the Philippines, of which there were many. He also didn’t include any quotes or interviews with Filipino guerrilla fighters.
But “American Guerilla” is a compelling read simply because it is a good look at the American and Filipino guerrilla warfare efforts against the Japanese.