The Office of Strategic Services (OSS) grew out of humble beginnings and Washington’s political infighting to be a huge part of the American effort in World War II. OSS agents provided important intelligence, furnished operatives who worked behind the lines, and helped resistance and guerrilla movements against occupying German, Japanese, and Italian forces. One of the most successful operations of OSS was the capture of Sardinia, where four American operators convinced more than 270,000 Italian troops to surrender. 


The Glorious Bastards

General William Donovan and his band of “PhDs who can win a bar fight” had developed a stellar reputation among the senior Allied leaders. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, credited the American OSS and the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) with the exemplary manner in which the resistance forces were organized, supplied, and directed. After the war, Eisenhower said,

“In no previous war and in no other theater during this war, have Resistance forces been so closely harnessed to the main military effort…I consider that the disruption of enemy rail communications, the harassing of German road moves, and the continual and increasing strain placed on the German war economy and internal security services throughout occupied Europe by the organized forces of Resistance, played a very considerable part in our complete and final victory.”

General George Marshall, after WWII, wrote how the OSS had far surpassed expectations. “The Resistance surpassed all of our expectations, and it was they who, in delaying the arrival of German reinforcements and in preventing the regrouping of enemy divisions in the interior assured the success of our landings.”

OSS Jedburgh team William Colby
OSS Jedburgh team gather around Lt. William Colby, future Director of the CIA, prior to a mission. (U.S. Army)

A Russian Aristocrat in Sardinia

Sardinia had a garrison of 20,000 Germans and over 270,000 Italians. With the invasion of Italy underway, the Allies wanted to capture Sardinia without having to resort to another full-scale invasion by ground troops. 

It was a tailor-made mission for the OSS. The mission was tasked to a four-man special operations team. General Marshall later wrote that he wanted to “give [General] Donovan a chance to do his stuff without fear of compromising some operation in prospect. If he succeeds, fine, if not, nothing will be lost.”

Chosen to lead the OSS team was the larger-than-life character Lieutenant Colonel Serge Obolensky.