Hands down, the greatest underground special-operations unit ever was the Office of Strategic Services, the OSS, designed and built by Major General William “Wild Bill” Donovan, and modified, adapted, revised and polished by hundreds of clever OSS personnel in dozens of different countries during WWII.

The SAS Ain’t Got Nothin On The OSS

Sure, some say they were modeled after the British Special Air Service, the SAS, and I say those historians are dead wrong. The SAS had too many rules and too complicated an ROE.

Regardless of the politically correct intel written about the OSS, it played mean and dirty and never advertised it. And for good reason: no war was won playing nice. Besides, the best advertising was word of mouth . . . their enemies telling other bad guys to beware of the demons that lurked in the dark. And the light.

US Army Medal of Honor, awarded to “Wild Bill” Donovan in 1923 for his WWI exploits. A copy from Dino Garner’s personal collection.

Books have been written about Donovan’s exploits, first a Wall Street lawyer and businessman, then advisor to high-level politicians, a heroic warfighter, and finally the architect and driving force behind the OSS.

What those books don’t share is that Donovan was a well-trained Irish-Jesuit who played dirty at nearly every turn, even on Wall Street. He had the knack for getting his enemies to bend over and say please, though they were unknowingly giving up the booty.

His tactics and strategies were second to none, simply because the Jesuits use a no-holds-barred approach to fighting their enemies. The only ROE they employ is “anything goes.”

His WWI Medal of Honor citation reads: “Lt. Col. Donovan personally led the assaulting wave in an attack upon a very strongly organized position, and when our troops were suffering heavy casualties he encouraged all near him by his example, moving among his men in exposed positions, reorganizing decimated platoons, and accompanying them forward in attacks. When he was wounded in the leg by machine-gun bullets, he refused to be evacuated and continued with his unit until it withdrew to a less exposed position.”

WWII’s Best-Kept Secret

Famous celebrity Chef Julia Child worked for the OSS as a clerk typist but talent tends to show through. She went to the Emergency Sea Rescue Equipment Section of the OSS and helped cook up early shark repellent.

Back in the day, no ordinary Americans were aware of the OSS or its otherworldly operators. “Wild Bill” and his staff were connected to every sector of American society, and they recruited men and women from those sectors to fill every possible position in the OSS. It wasn’t until 70 years later that we mere mortals became aware of some of the men and women of the OSS and their heroic deeds.

We now know people like famed chef and author/presenter Julia Child, author Roald Dahl, and Hollywood actress Marlene Dietrich operated on sneaky missions behind enemy lines and foiled the Nazis at many a turn. They even enlisted author Ernest Hemingway to lead a group of French Partisans after the Normandy Invasion.

Child was known then by her maiden name, McWilliams. She was forced out of one of her first jobs (Wm. Sloane in Beverly Hills) and described amusingly: “Fired, and I don’t wonder.” That was Julia: when knocked down, she hopped right back up and moved out smartly, not once recalling what had floored her in the first place.

Child later served honorably as a senior clerk with Donovan’s office, then in Ceylon (Sri Lanka today) and China. How in God’s name she later morphed into a world-class chef is beyond me, so do your own research. If her humor had anything to do with it, I’m not surprised.


Marlene Dietrich, Actress/OSS Agent

The OSS Field Manual

Cover of OSS Field Manual #3.

The guys who wrote Donovan’s field manuals weren’t typical military researchers/writers. They were also high-ranking Jesuits who’d been trained in the art of warfare all their lives and had special access to every “field manual” in every language. The Jesuit Curia in Rome houses every possible book, document, parchment, etc. on every subject known to humankind. You might say they wrote the book on how to fight. And how to do it dirty and ugly. Of course, that is a gross understatement.

The OSS Strategic Services Field Manual #3 outlines various methods of simple sabotage that ordinary civilians who wished to actively resist the enemy.

From the manual:

Wild Bill Donovan, the Grandfather of American Intelligence

Read Next: Wild Bill Donovan, the Grandfather of American Intelligence

a. The purpose of this paper is to characterize simple sabotage, to outline its possible effects, and to present suggestions for inciting and executing it. 

b. Sabotage varies from highly technical coup de main acts that require detailed planning and the use of specially-trained operatives, to innumerable simple acts which the ordinary individual citizen-saboteur can perform. This paper is primarily concerned with the latter type. Simple sabotage does not require specially prepared tools or equipment; it is executed by an ordinary citizen who may or may not act individually and without the necessity for active connection with an organized group; and it is carried out in such a way as to involve a minimum danger of injury, detection, and reprisal. 

When I re-read the manual just before writing this article, I laughed out loud at its naked audacity. I’m including a pdf file for you to enjoy on your own. But before I alight for points north, I’ll leave you with a particularly funny and witty passage from page 35, section 12. I love the item (c) because it worked well for me in the Army and got me outta many a jam:

General Devices for Lowering Morale and Creating Confusion

(a) Give lengthy and incomprehensible explanations when questioned. 

(b) Report imaginary spies or danger to the Gestapo or police. 

(c) Act stupid. 

(d) Be as irritable and quarrelsome as possible without getting yourself into trouble. 

(e) Misunderstand all sorts of regulations concerning such matters as rationing, transportation, traffic regulations. 

(f) Complain against ersatz materials. 

(g) In public treat axis nationals or quislings coldly. 

(h) Stop all conversation when axis nationals or quislings enter a cafe. 

(i) Cry and sob hysterically at every occasion, especially when confronted by government clerks. 

(j) Boycott all movies, entertainments, concerts, newspapers which are in any way connected with the quisling authorities. 

(k) Do not cooperate in salvage schemes. 

‘Nuff said.

Please download the manual here: OSS-SimpleSabotageFieldManualStrategicServicesProvisional.

About the Author

Dino Garner loves researching and analyzing history, making sense of it, and sharing it with the world. He is a former biophysicist, Army Ranger, corp. merc., military aviation photographer, and New York Times bestselling ghostwriter/editor of many books. His latest books are TOPGUN: The Otherworldly Dreams of a Lifelong Ten Year Old and 61 Is The New 41: Crosstrain Yourself to Health and Well-Being. If you’d like to view a pdf draft of TOPGUN and write a testimonial for the book’s Advance Praise pages, please email Dino: [email protected].