During World War II, the OSS (Office of Strategic Services), Special Operations Branch had recruited foreign language speakers who would volunteer for hazardous duty behind enemy lines and parachute into denied territory. The Jedburgh teams were born.
Wanted: Volunteers for immediate overseas assignment. Knowledge of French or another European language preferred; Willingness and ability to qualify as a parachutist necessary; Likelihood of a dangerous mission guaranteed.
The Americans, neophytes in this type of warfare, leaned heavily on their British counterparts’ experience. The results were the teams not only copied the British in the manner that they were selected, trained, and utilized, but they matched the Brits’ operational success as well.
These Special Operations teams were at the forefront of the Allied advances in France, Belgium, and the Netherlands and supported conventional troops by coordinating parachute drops of supplies and weapons, guide local resistance fighters on hit-and-run raids and ambushes as well as sabotage. OSS Special Operations teams were also active in Asia as well.
This birth of an Unconventional Warfare (UW) unit in the United States military was headed up by the right man in William “Wild Bill” Donovan. Personally, chosen by President Roosevelt, Donovan was a WWI hero and a man who believed that the US could weaken the German war machine by means of guerrilla warfare and subversion.
The partnership with the British SOE (Special Operations Executive) in the targeting of Nazi Germany was a success. Jedburgh teams consisted of between 2-4 men with either a British or American officer, a second officer from the country they were being deployed to and a radio operator.
The Jedburgh teams received extensive foreign language instruction, as well as training in airborne and amphibious operations, skiing, mountain climbing, Morse code, small arms, land navigation, hand-to-hand combat, explosives, and espionage tactics. Each Jedburgh team carried a communications radio, the Type B, Mark 2 commonly referred to as a “Jed Set,” which encased in a suitcase and later two small containers.
The code name of the teams, Jedburgh has led to discussions on where the name came from. One popular theory from the CIA archives has the name after a Scottish border town where, during the 12th Century, Scots conducted guerrilla warfare tactics against English invaders. Legend has it that these fierce warriors wielded their Jedburgh axes with such determination that their war cry struck fear in all those who heard it.
Ninety-three Jedburgh teams parachuted into France to help with the Normandy invasion, the first, the night before D-Day and later into Southern France for the follow-on invasion there in August 1944. Six more jumped into Holland prior to the large airborne invasion in September. Among those Jedburgh team members were Aaron Bank, considered the Father of the US Army Special Forces, and William Colby the future head of the CIA.
The Jedburgh teams would parachute into France, on many occasions a blind drop and try to link up with the French Resistance (Marquis), in order to create a link with advancing Allied units and the French resistance. The partnership proved invaluable.
The modern Special Operations Forces under JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command) owe a great deal of their legacy to the Jedburgh teams. Here under a joint headquarters, members from all the services come together under one umbrella to conduct Direct Action (DA) missions. But that was just the beginning.
The Special Forces Command HQs has addressed the need for the modern “hybrid” type of warfare command structure by recreating the Jedburgh team concept. The 1st Special Forces Command brings together all the units that are best at unconventional missions, including Green Berets, psychological warfare experts, civil affairs specialists and special logistics personnel.
The Jedburgh team legacy continues to live on, with better training and equipment, and with ever sharper teeth.
Photo courtesy of DOD