Office of Strategic Services

Media Included

  1. Arrival of OSS Recruits at Catoctin - Actual footage from OSS training videos produced by John Ford. Captioning added by the National Park Service.
  2. Arrival of OSS Recruits to Catoctin Part 2 - OSS recruits arrive at Catoctin. Actual footage from OSS training videos produced by John Ford.
  3. Trainazium - Actual footage from OSS training videos produced by John Ford.
  4. House of Horrors - Actual footage from OSS training videos produced by John Ford.
  5. Gutter Fighting - Actual footage from OSS training videos produced by John Ford.
  6. Final Exam - Actual footage from OSS training videos produced by John Ford.

The Office of Strategic Services (OSS) was the precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and America’s Special Forces Units. Formed to aid the Allied cause in World War II, the OSS gathered information about the enemy, aided resistance groups, and sabotaged enemy assets. The OSS recruited America's social elite and top minds, as well as burglars and con men. The OSS created a new training program for this new mission. Their camps were hidden in places that are now national parks.

"In a global and totalitarian war, intelligence must be global and totalitarian." Major General William J. Donovan

Creating the OSS

When war broke out in Europe in 1939, America’s intelligence-gathering apparatus was decentralized.  For example, the Army, Navy, and State Department each collected data independently. Many saw this decentralization as a weakness.

As conflicts in Europe and Asia deepened overseas, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt sought new solutions for old problems.  He appointed Army Reserve Colonel William J. Donovan as Coordinator of Information, a new civilian intelligence position reporting directly to the President.  Together, they planned changes in policy for national intelligence.  Political pressures, however, kept FDR from fully implementing fresh ideas.  

Donovan was at a football game in New York on December 7th, 1941.  An announcer interrupted the game broadcast to page Donovan for a for a telephone call. The Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor and the president of the United States wanted to see Donovan at once.  After Congress declared war, FDR created the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), and appointed Donovan as its director.

Donovan had been deeply interested in international affairs for most of his life.  As a young man, he fought in World War I was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, the Distinguished Service Medal, and the National Security Medal. As a Wall Street lawyer, he traveled the world on business. OSS was his brainchild.  The intelligence apparatus of Great Britain was his inspiration.  For the first time in history, Donovan built a spy agency under civilian control.  After working closely with British intelligence, Donovan set up shop.

OSS required space with both infrastructure and convenience.  Instructors needed facilities with water, electricity, shelter from the elements, and space for live fire exercises.  Agency managers needed a place within a day’s travel of Washington, D.C.  In a few hours’ time, they could easily check on training and implement new lessons learned.  Isolated property, already in the federal inventory would be an ideal location.  Prince William Forest Park, then known as Chopawamsic Recreation Demonstration Area, and Catoctin Mountain Park met all selection criteria.  Civilian Conservation Corps-built cabin camps in both parks provided shelter and administrative offices for operations and training.

Donovan directed the War Department to obtain a lease for the parks. OSS instructors  transformed cabin camps where children used to play into intelligence and special operations training grounds.  Beginning in April of 1942, recruits used the forests and fields of these national parks to perfect map reading skills that could save their lives and accomplish missions.  They qualified on makeshift rifle ranges and practiced armed assaults against abandoned farmhouses.  In the early days of the war, trainees jumped out of airplanes over the park to practice parachuting. They learned how to communicate the intelligence they gathered from behind enemy lines without being detected.



Individuals were recruited for skills rather than background.  After undergoing a battery of mental and physical tests, they were chosen based on a combination of intelligence, imagination, creativity, courage, and ruthlessness.  An ideal candidate was once described as a "Ph.D. who can win a bar fight."

The recruits arrived at the training facilities with nothing.  They were given everything they needed upon arrival including false identification documents.  Their name badges included a fictitious student name such as "Joe" or "Fred".  All trainees were to remain anonymous.  Their mission, location, and true identity were secret.

Training Camps

The Office of Strategic Services (OSS) had many training facilities. Most were located in Maryland and Virginia. The first and largest facilities were Chopawamsic Recreational Demonstration Area (RDA)  and Catoctin Recreational Demonstration Area (RDA).  Chopawamsic RDA, located near Quantico in Northern Virginia, is now called Prince William Forest Park.  Catoctin RDA, located in Western Maryland, is now called Catoctin Mountain Park.  Both had been partially developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and Works Progress Administration (WPA) during the 1930s.

These sites were chosen for many reasons.  The areas were remote, secluded, and heavily forested. They were also federally owned lands that already had facilities to accommodate large groups.  The War Department would lease the facilities from the Department of the Interior.

Chopawamsic RDA included 15 thousand acres.  The camp was designed as an outdoor recreation area for urban youth. Its cabins were built to shelter children during their first experiences in the great outdoors.  The OSS would convert the sleepy summer camps into secret training Areas "A" for Advanced Special Operations training and "C" for Communications training.

Catoctin RDA included about 10 thousand acres.  It had been developed into three recreational camp areas.  Because the camps were built for summer use, they had to be winterized by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  Catoctin RDA would play a significant role in training Special Operations (SO), Secret Intelligence (SI) and Operational Groups (OG) personnel.  It became Area “B” for Basic Special Operations training.

Area B-2:   The OSS officers and enlisted men occupied Camp #2 (currently Camp Greentop) which was designated as Area “B-2”. A wooden obstruction and a guard were placed at the main park gate near the town of Lantz.  The first of William "Wild Bill" Donovan's organization to occupy Area B-2 was Commanding Officer Major Ainsworth Blogg on April 1, 1942.   

Area B-2 consisted of rustic chestnut cabins, a mess hall kitchen, recreation hall, headquarters building, and a swimming pool which was filled and covered over during the war.  There were four groups of cabins, each having a latrine and wash bowls but no hot water.

Officers quarters and instructional staff occupied two buildings. Classrooms, reading rooms, and a theater occupied the two recreational buildings.  The four-cot children's cabins were converted to two-cot cabins.  The capacity at Area B-2 in October of 1943 was 149 (20 officers and 129 enlisted men).

Area B-5: In September of 1942, the permanent cadre moved into the abandoned Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp, currently known as Camp Round Meadow, approximately one mile west.  A motor pool was added, and this area became the camp headquarters.

The old CCC camp had offices, officers’ quarters, an educational building, recreational building, mess hall, kitchen, dispensary and five barracks.  The Army Corps of Engineers made many improvements to the old CCC camp.  They added hot water and flush toilets, improved the water supply and waste disposal system; and they added a walk-in refrigerator to the mess hall.  The mess hall, with a capacity for 50 men, was the largest building at B-5.  It served as a theater for training and for showing Hollywood movies.  Located just outside the mess hall was a small building that served as a post exchange.  In October of 1943, the capacity at B-5 was 265 (25 officers, 40 enlisted men, and 200 trainees).

The current mess hall in Camp Greentop is not the same building, but it is in the same location.  The current Recreation Hall is larger than the facility that the OSS trainees used.  The current office at Camp Greentop was the headquarters building for the officers of the OSS.  The existing classrooms  built behind the OSS headquarters building accommodated 15 to 20 students.

The CCC barracks at Area B-5  are now gone, but they had been located behind what is the current dining hall in Camp Round Meadow. The building just outside the mess hall which served as a post exchange for the OSS was used later as a nurse's station, but it is now vacant.

Training Facilities at Area B-2, Catoctin Recreational Demonstration Area:

The OSS facility had both physical and weapons training areas. The basic training facility for students and the instructional staff remained at Area B-2 (now Camp Greentop), although surrounding areas were also used.  

The first obstacle course was constructed in early 1942 along Owens Creek.  It consisted of a wire stretched taut across the creek with a rope line tied several feet above the wire.  Trainees, carrying full packs, made their way along the wire holding onto the rope.  Many ended up in the creek.

To create a space for demolitions training, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers leveled a 100 ft x 100 ft. area within a 15 acre cleared zone.  There, recruits trained in the use of grenades and rifle-propelled grenades. (That area is now Chestnut Picnic Area.)  

Trainees went to Fort Ritchie Army Base about five miles northwest of the camp for rifle and submachine gun training.   In late 1943, a range was constructed just west of Area B-5.  Trainees were later taught to operate both friendly and enemy weapons at that rifle range. The rifle range had targets operated  by men using a pulley system of ropes.

Along the "Demolition Trail" that went between Area B-2 and Area B-5 instructors would set small explosive charges.  Trainees learned to stay low and keep their heads down.  The only injury, according to Demolitions Instructor Frank Gleason, was a young officer who broke his jaw and lost several teeth.  Later he found out the injured agent was future CIA Director William Casey.

In April of 1942, munitions and explosives storage was in hand-dug caves.  Weapons were  kept in a wooden building located across the field in front of the Mess Hall at B-2.  Later in 1943, the Army Corps of Engineers replaced the storage facilities with a cinderblock arsenal guarded by an armed sentry.

In the field in front of the mess hall at B-2 there were various pieces of training equipment.  Included were ropes for hand-over-hand climbing and a football tackling dummy, as well as other devices.  An 8-foot wooden platform was erected over a sand pit.  That  was used to practice parachute jumping and landing. Close combat exercises such as ju-jitsu, wrestling, and knife fighting took place in large, open, sawdust-filled pits.

The "Trainazium" was another piece of special training equipment.  This was a 20 ft. x 20 ft. rectangular structure constructed from a dozen large oak trees, approximately 15 to 18 inches in diameter.  Here, the recruits learned to maneuver and walk in narrow spaces and to improve strength and dexterity.  Beneath the 18-foot tall structure, safety nets were in place to catch fallen trainees.

A pistol range was constructed at B-2 for firing .45 Colt automatic and other pistols.  The range had pop-up targets of enemy soldiers.  Students learned how to fire a pistol using a special quick firing method from the hip called "Point and Shoot".

Another unique training structure, designed by British Special Operations, was the "Pistol House".  It was also known as the "Mystery House", "House of Horrors", and the "Haunted House".   Inside, the recruits learned close shooting practice under realistic conditions.  Trainees entered the house with an instructor and armed with a .45 automatic pistol.  The house simulated a building occupied by Nazis. The interior was  completely dark.  Floors in the house were unstable and included frequent drops.  A hidden phonograph played realistic sounds including men speaking German.  As they moved through the house, trainees encountered papier-mâché Nazis with pistols.

Training at Area B also involved basic survival techniques, compass use, map reading, photography, and cryptography (the coding and decoding of messages).  Recruits learned various languages, document forgery, stealth, disguise, and uniform identification.  A large part of the OSS training involved mentally and psychologically challenging tests.  Some agents practiced undercover assignments or "schemes" in nearby cities such as Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Richmond.  Not all trainees were successful.  Many were arrested and jailed by authorities. If caught, the agents were on their own; the OSS would deny any knowledge of their existence.

The final test was to perform some type of scheme involving sabotage or collection of information.  Many recruits went through a final assessment known as a "graduation party".  The trainees were not aware that the party was actually a test.  The atmosphere was relaxed and included serving of alcohol.  The purpose of the test was to collect psychological data and tempt the recruits to divulge secrets.

Donovan’s Special Operations (SO) Branch copied the British Special Operations Executive’s (SOE) penchant for rugged, isolated terrain for training. It set up Training Areas A, B, C, and D in secluded woodlands. The only deviation was Area F.  The war department leased the financially struggling Congressional Country Club for the Operational Groups. OSS’s Secret Intelligence (SI) Branch replicated British Secret Information Service’s (SIS) by using country estates as spy schools.  OSS established Training Areas E and RTU-11 (“the Farm”) in spacious manor houses with surrounding horse farms.

Donovan, now a general, directed the War Department to obtain a lease to use Chopawamsic Recreation Demonstration Area.  OSS veteran Colonel Preston Goodfellow recalled in 1945 “We got three camps from the Department of Interior for a dollar a year, provided we’d clean up the farm areas which they contained.” In April of 1942, park management cancelled all camping reservations for the coming summer.  OSS personnel moved in.

Training activity began even before the lease was finalized.  During a field exercise in March, OSS destroyed an old house on Joplin Road.  They later learned the property had not yet been purchased by the government.  Today, visitors are often surprised to learn that no old farmhouses exist in the park.  The OSS blew them all up for practice during the war.

New management put additions on some buildings.  They built more latrines with more sinks, showers, and toilets.  Workmen winterized buildings by installing pot-bellied stoves and insulation behind wallboard.  All kitchens got an upgrade. The kitchens needed new electrical wiring to run large new refrigerators and dishwashers.  For ammunition storage, Army Engineers built two bunkers.

NPS Manager John Gum supervised most of the construction work.  A resident of nearby Dumfries, Gum spent the rest of the war assigned to OSS in the park.  Park superintendent Ira Lykes became a Marine Corps Reserve Officer.  He spent five days a week working fire control on Quantico Marine Base.  On the weekends, he monitored the condition of the parklands and facilities.

From Camping to Training at Prince William Forest Park

The southern and western part of the park became Area A.  Cabin Camp 2  became Area A-2.  Cabin Camp 3 became Area A-3.  The CCC camp location became A-4.  Cabin Camp 5 became Area A-5.   

OSS dedicated Area A to training Basic Special Operations (SO) and Operational Groups (OGs).  Here, agents lived in the cabins built for children and counselors.  They ran through the forest on compass courses and mock reconnaissance missions.  Craft cabins, designed to shelter kids on rainy summer days, morphed into classrooms.  Cadre lectured on leadership, tactics, and code work.  Outside, instructors taught agents to sabotage bridges and railroads.  They demonstrated the use of small arms for maximum effect.  In the abandoned farm fields, spies practiced tactical movements.  Ravines provided firing ranges for pistols, rifles, and grenades.

Men from all over the United States and the world began to arrive.  Many were recruited from the ranks of the military.  Others came straight from civilian life.  Serge Oblensky, a 51 year-old former Russian prince, reported here after training at Area B Catoctin.  When he graduated from a course at A, he helped write a training schedule and manual for OGs.  Later, the course was so closely identified with training here that it was called the “A-4” course.

Area A-2  
As one of the largest cabin camps at Chopawamsic, A-2 performed a variety of functions during wartime.  It was a training ground for OGs and a basic training area for OSS recruits scheduled for overseas deployment.  A-2 was a holding area for incoming and outgoing personnel.  Within A-2 stood a pistol range, a sub-machine gun range, and an obstacle course.  OSS used all the buildings at the site.  They also built a guard house near the entrance road and an armory that still stands today.

Within Area A, several specialized buildings earned billing as “Mystery House” or “House of Horrors”.  With the passage of time, the exact location of these houses has been lost.  It is fairly certain, though, that A-2 was home to at least one. A radical departure from traditional weapons training, the mystery house challenged trainees to fire instinctively.  Pop-up targets tested reaction time and decision-making.

Area A-3
Cadre ran a parachute school out of A-3 in the summer of 1942.  Army officer Lucius Rucker, Jr. came with a crew from Fort Benning, Georgia, to set up training.  Agents took off from the airstrip at Quantico Marine Base. After the plane flew over the park, OSS trainees parachuted to certify as airborne-qualified.  In those times, there were more open spaces in the park than today. Once on the ground, the spies had to hike back to base and catch a ride to the airstrip to do it all over again.  Many agents jumped five times in one day.  Later the school was shut down, and personnel went to Fort Benning for training.  OSS did run a parachute school in Algiers for several more years.

Area A-4 
When the CCC built the park, they maintained a year-round camp near Joplin Road.  Complete with motor pool and winterized headquarters, supply buildings, and barracks, the camp was in fine shape.  Today, this is the park’s modern maintenance yard.  In the spring of 1942, Area A-4 became headquarters for Detachment A. Permanent cadre occupied the CCC barracks. At capacity, Detachment A contained 280 cadre and 600 trainees

Area A-5 
One of the smaller camps, A-5 hosted Advanced Special Operations course.  Army Engineers built a boathouse and dock on the lake for official purposes.  Art Reinhardt, a trainee waiting to go to Area C, saw a pylon structure with rope ladders in the water.  “The idea was to practice jumping off—supposedly in full battle gear— and tread water and survive.”  SO personnel practiced waterborne landings and crossings.  OSS later created a new Maritime Unit (MU) and transferred instruction to Area D on the Potomac.  (Area D is thought to be near Smith’s Point, Charles County, Maryland.)

Area C
Donovan established a new and separate Communications Branch (CB) of OSS in September 1942.  It replaced the separate communications systems that SO and SI created.  The Communications Branch combined all previous OSS signal and traffic facilities.  OSS charged it with developing a global communications network.  It became responsible for all communications training in OSS. The CB or “Commo” Branch recruited and trained staff and field personnel, both civilian and military.  It provided instructors for communications courses in all the OSS training camps.  Commo ran the communications school at Area C and at the other camps as well.  Area C was the main communications school for OSS.  For every spy or operational group, good intelligence demanded radio operators.

Although the Communications Branch ran the training at Area C, the camp itself and the cadre who ran it were in the Special Operations Branch. Commo Branch chose the trainees, the instructors, and the course of instruction. More than 1,500 communications personnel trained at Area C between 1942 and 1945.  Highly technical courses ran from nine to thirteen weeks.  Courses included telegraphy, short-wave radio, codes and ciphers, OSS equipment operation and maintenance.  After physical and mental conditioning, trainees learned weaponry, demolition work, field craft, and close combat skills.  Counting cadre and trainees, Area C’s total capacity was 357.

Major Albert H. Jenkins remained commanding officer of Detachment C from December 1942 until February 1945. A reserve Marine captain who served in World War I, Jenkins and had been recalled to active duty in World War II.

OSS Training Area C was composed of two cabin camps some 400 yards apart.  These camps in the northeast section of park lay between Quantico Creek and the Dumfries-Manassas Road (Route 234). The main gate was off Dumfries Road.  No one was allowed to enter without proper authorization. Taxicabs from nearby Triangle often dropped off trainees or staff at the site. Cabs were not allowed to drive past the main gate.

As at Area A, the OSS altered many of the NPS summer camp buildings. The layout of the camps at Area C resembled those in the western part of the park.  Clusters of cabins stood in sub-groups with a lodge, a dining hall, and office. Workers quickly insulated buildings.  In 1943, the OSS upgraded the kitchens. They added a 500-gallon hot water tank and heater, gas ranges, a heavy-duty electric baking oven, and gas-heated hotel-type steam tables.  Assigned personnel enjoyed new electric coffee grinders and gas-heated coffee urns. Contractors installed ice boxes, refrigeration units, an electric meat slicer, electric food mixer, and an electric-powered dishwashing machine.  In the summer of 1944, contractors put in a swimming pool.  The pool could accommodate water-borne instruction.

Before the war, Cabin Camp 1 was a boys’ camp used by African-American youths. It had four clusters of buildings, labeled A, B, C, D, and a central dining and administrative area. During the war, the OSS designated it Area C-1.  It served primarily as the headquarters, accommodations, and maintenance facilities for Major Jenkins and the cadre of officers and enlisted men. When necessary, however, C-1 was also used for a variety of training purposes.  It was one mile away from the closest camp.  Cadre conducted a brief communications training for agents in operational branches such as SO or SI.  Trainees scheduled for overseas deployment had to take basic training.  If those personnel had not fulfilled this requirement yet, they got it done at C-1. At other times, C-1 was used as a holding area for men awaiting further assignment, including graduates awaiting shipment overseas or veterans returning from abroad. In 1945, C-1 served as an area for training Koreans and perhaps other Asians as well for OSS operations in the final offensives planned for 1946 against the Japanese Army in China, Korea, and Japan itself.

OSS erected several new wooden structures at C-1. A radio repair shop was the largest. A portable plywood building measured 16 by 16 feet, and may have served as a classroom. They built a radio transmitter building and two guard houses, one at the main gate and one at the northern end of Area C-1.

Area C-4 contained the main communications school.  Before the war, Cabin Camp 4 provided  or summer recreation for African-American girls.  Beginning in the winter of 1942-1943, the camp transformed into an intensive training center.  Young men in Army fatigues spent two to three months here learning to be clandestine radio operators behind enemy lines.  Instructors trained operators and other technical personnel on radios, wire, and base stations.  They learned to repair and maintain specialized radio and wireless telegraphy equipment.  Trainees learned to code and decode. Experienced cadre taught them to send and receive telegraphed messages rapidly and accurately.  Students practiced becoming faster and more accurate in Morse code.

Area C-4 was larger than C-1 with five sub-units of rustic cabins--A, B, C, D, and E.  Each unit had a lodge. One central dining hall and administrative area served the entire camp.  Workmen winterized the entire facility during the winter of 1942-1943.  They remodeled kitchens as at the other cabin camps. Building 78 became the OSS code room.   Contractors expanded the latrines and infirmary.  Donovan personally approved the construction of large multi-purpose building.  OSS used it to screen training and entertainment films and hosted assemblies there.  Today it still stands.

For training communications on weapons, OSS built target ranges about 200 yards east of sub-camp C of Area C-4. A pistol range with six silhouette stationery targets was constructed.  Later it was relocated when it proved to be in the way of the rifle range with eight targets. Both ranges pointed away from camp.  Shooters fired at targets mounted in front of an earthen embankment across Quantico Creek. A “utility range,”  was over a ridge and in a valley formed by Quantico Creek about another 200 yards southeast of the rifle range. It may have been the site of the grenade range and perhaps demolitions as well.  Some trainees helped clear trees and brush for the firing ranges and an obstacle course.  They also assisted in electronic installation for radio training.

Unlike paramilitary training in Area A, Area C focused on radio training with some marksmanship training at firing ranges. No deserted houses or other structures were deliberately demolished in Area C.  One cabin was destroyed by fire.  In a separate incident, one part of the building used for the motor pool burned down. In both cases, OSS rebuilt the structures. These were the only buildings destroyed by the OSS during the occupancy of Prince William Forest Park.


Operations and Outcomes

There is considerable evidence that  OSS expedited Allied victory. Many Allied lives were saved by the extraordinary efforts of the men and women of Donovan’s small but highly dynamic organization. Despite its brief existence, the OSS did have a lasting impact.

The unglamorous work of OSS men and women studying and writing in the Research and Analysis Branch (R&A) was a huge contribution to the war effort. They were little known by the public and unheralded by the media.  Donovan’s innovation was groundbreaking.  Civilians, expert in particular areas, not working for any particular department, gathered data on specific topics from as many sources as possible, analyzed the material, and generated strategic intelligence reports. They collected disparate scraps of information and assembled them into a meaningful mosaic.

The detailed reports R&A made of economic, geographic, strategic and political aspects in various countries proved valuable during the war.  These reports were still being used by intelligence officers for years afterwards.  Donovan’s R&A demonstrated that valuable intelligence could be obtained from mundane published sources.   Civilian scholars could play an important role in obtaining, summarizing, and evaluating intelligence data.  Intelligence agencies all over the world adopted this model.

OSS’s counter-intelligence and counter-espionage seems to have been more effective than the Army’s Counter-Intelligence Corps.  They ferreted out enemy agents planted behind advancing American armies. The most spectacular achievement of OSS Secret Intelligence, however, was certainly the accomplishments of Allen Dulles in Switzerland. Dulles obtained some of the best human intelligence coups of the war.  Through his top level contacts within the German foreign ministry, general staff, and military intelligence agencies in Berlin, Dulles collected intelligence on a deep scale.  Fritz Kolbe was his most important contact. Kolbe was a career foreign service officer and anti-Nazi, who had been rebuffed by the British. Dulles’s contacts with disaffected Germans provided much valuable economic, political, and strategic information.  His intelligence included the location where the V-1 and V-2 rockets were being developed.  He found out about  the spying of the Albanian valet to the British ambassador to Turkey, who as “Cicero” was selling secrets to the Nazis. Dulles had  foreknowledge of the German generals’ conspiracy against Hitler in 1944.  Germans reached out to Dulles. This helped negotiate a German Army surrender in Italy a week before the Nazi regime capitulated in Berlin. Regarding Fritz Kolbe, Richard Helms, retired Director of Central Intelligence, wrote in a memoir published in 2003 that “Kolbe’s information is now recognized as the very best produced by any Allied agent in World War II.”

In Europe, Secret Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence was also effective.  Army commanders often utilized effective OSS intelligence to supplement their own G-2 staff reports. OSS’s chief agent in occupied Rome, Peter Tompkins, provided information about an impending German counterattack on the Anzio beachhead.  This  enabled Allied commanders to sustain their position against a surprise attack. Lieutenant General Alexander M. Patch, head of the Seventh U.S. Army, used OSS information to analyze whether or not to risk initial landings in southern France.  He only had three U.S. divisions and a small Allied airborne force.  The landings turned out to be a success. In Patch’s subsequent drive through the upper Rhone River Valley, intelligence from OSS revealed a hole in the German defenses.  He then raced forces 150 miles around the enemy’s left flank. By pinpointing the location of the German commander’s only remaining armored division, OSS agents led to its destruction by Allied airpower.  OSS helped the Seventh Army push forward, eliminate the Colmar pocket, and drive into Germany. In March 1945, an OSS agent in a German uniform provided key tactical intelligence, the location of a German Panzer division.  The Ninth U.S. Army then crossed the Rhine River.


Americans were relatively new to centralized espionage by WWII, and many were skeptical of "Wild Bill" Donovan's agency and his ideas. By 1945, Donovan had plans to expand the OSS and use it to combat Communism after the war. President Roosevelt's death on April 12, 1945 ended that dream.

After securing Allied victory in World War II, President Truman disbanded the OSS on September 20, 1945. For those who worked toward the OSS's mission, it was a heartbreaking end.

As Truman cut the OSS, others worked to continue the valuable services the OSS had pioneered. Six days after the OSS dissolved, Assistant Secretary of War John McCloy created the military’s Strategic Services Unit, stating "the continuing operations of OSS must be performed in order to preserve them."

In light of the pervasive Soviet threat, Truman eventually corrected his error. The National Security Act of 1947 established the Central Intelligence Agency. The Act created the permanent, global intelligence network Donovan had envisioned for the OSS.

The CIA recognizes its roots with the OSS, and honors its fallen officers with a special memorial inside the CIA headquarters. Below a single star carved into the wall, the names of 116 fallen OSS officers appear in the Book of Honor alongside a statue of William Donovan. The OSS's legacy lives on in the men and women around the world who continue the work of central intelligence, advising presidents and protecting American interests at home and abroad.

Last updated: December 16, 2015