Opinion: There are certainly times when one is forced to scratch his own head. And others where you are just forced to throw up your hands and utter WTF! Today would be more of the latter than the former.
But I guess it really shouldn’t be a shock because as our boss Jack frequently says, “SF eats its own.” And in this case, like usual, he’s spot on.
So what’s the flap you say? Well, I’m very glad you asked. Like every Special Forces soldier that came before me and those that followed, we learned our legacy, like Moses coming down from the mountain about where we sprung from, what our true lineage is and the debt we owe to those we followed in World War II.
The current day Special Forces came from the wartime, World War II OSS. OSS, the brainchild of William “Wild Bill” Donovan was created at the beginning of the war and by war’s end numbered around 13,000 personnel, of which about half was stationed overseas.
OSS not only gave birth to the modern day Special Forces groups but to CIA as well. OSS espionage operatives set up stations in foreign countries where the head, the Station Chief ran all operations. That hasn’t changed and the names and hierarchy remain the same.
But now the USASOC (US Army Special Operations Command) Historian’s Office has published an article in the official magazine “Veritas” that states that the lineage that SF has long believed to be gospel is a “fallacy” and a product of “disinformation”.
And yet if you log onto the USASOC official website, and click on SF History you’ll read this:
Special Forces traces its roots as the Army’s premier proponent of unconventional warfare from the Operational Groups and Jedburgh teams of the Office of Strategic Services.
The OSS was formed in World War II to gather intelligence and conduct operations behind enemy lines in support of resistance groups in Europe and Burma. After the war, individuals such as Col. Aaron Bank, Col. Wendell Fertig and Lt. Col. Russell Volckmann used their wartime OSS experience to formulate the doctrine of unconventional warfare that became the cornerstone of the Special Forces. In the Army’s official Lineage and Honors, the Special Forces Groups are linked to the regiments of the First Special Service Force, an elite combined Canadian-American unit that fought in North Africa, Italy, and Southern France.
Aha! You say, then why doesn’t SF simply use the lineage and honors of OSS? Again, glad, you asked. OSS was a joint interagency wartime agency, therefore OSS does not have any history, lineage, and honors, at least as far as the Army Institute of Heraldry is concerned. But Special Forces troops know who they are.
After all, isn’t Aaron Bank considered the “Father of Special Forces” and has been honored by the Regiment as such for longer than we can all remember?
Bank created the 10th Special Forces Group in 1952, during WWII, he was a Jedburgh assigned to Europe and recruited other paratroopers, OSS operators, and the 1st Special Service Force. Using the training and tactics he learned with OSS, Bank created the Special Forces groups that we know today.
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 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 Special Operations side of OSS later morphed into the CIA’s paramilitary Special Activities Division but it became the backbone of the US Special Operations Command of today. The Special Operations branch of OSS was the basis for many of the Unconventional Warfare (UW), Counter-Insurgency (COIN), and Foreign Internal Defense (FID) tactics and techniques used by today’s U.S. Army Special Operations Forces.
During the war, OSS’ Special Operations Branch fielded units called Operational Groups (OGs) that conducted raids, ambushes, sabotage, and armed resistance groups. These OGs were active in Yugoslavia with the partisans, in Burma as well as France, Italy, and Norway. The most well-known was the Jedburgh OGs which carried out operations in Europe.
But back to the beginning. Yes, SF not only had Bank but guerrilla fighters Russell Volckmann, Wendell Fertig and Donald Blackburn who all had tremendous experience fighting the Japanese in the Philippines. But their experiences, while outstanding in its training value, did not come close to following the organization for the Special Forces Groups which took their lineage straight from OSS.
For instance, how did the Operational Detachment Alpha get its name? Early draft papers by Bank and Volckmann, as we’ve noted often referred to the small SF teams as the “Special Forces Operational Group,” reusing OSS terminology. USSOCOM uses the old OSS patch as its own today. Hmm.
But perhaps the best example is to use Colonel Bank’s own words to show the way. Bank made it clear that he and Volckmann based their plans for the Army’s unconventional warfare capability on their World War II experiences with the Philippine guerrillas and OSS, and that Special Forces units were developed “in the OSS pattern of
tiny units with the prime mission of developing, training, and equipping the guerrilla potential deep in enemy territory.”
As for the “official” US Army forerunners of Special Forces, Bank clearly stated that “actually they [Special Forces] have no connection with ranger-type organizations (read 1st SSF) since their mission and operations are far more complex, time-consuming, require much deeper penetration and initially are often of a strategic nature.”
Colonel David Maxwell (Ret) writes in an excellent website which is highly recommended if you aren’t already reading it called “Small Wars Journal”. Colonel Maxwell is a retired SF Colonel and after seeing this mention from “Veritas” I wondered if he had seen it and what his thoughts were. They were exactly what I thought they’d be.
Rather than assess the numbers of OSS members in SF the author would do a great service by reminding readers that today’s SF assessment and selection, organization (especially the ODA), training, doctrine, and most important the foundational mission of SF, unconventional warfare, are directly related to and descended from the OSS. For those interested, I recommend perusing the USASOC website OSS Primer and Manuals accessed HERE… I personally traced the development of SF doctrine and the unconventional warfare mission from the OSS to the present (then 1995) HERE.
What this article indirectly highlights is that the US Army has failed to include the OSS in the lineage of Special Forces. This is most likely because the OSS was not an Army unit (like SOF today it was a very effective joint and interagency (civilian) organization with members from all services). Therefore, the Army chose to make the 1st Special Service Force the predecessor of US Special Forces. While original members of the 1st SSF were recruited by Colonel Aaron Bank to join SF (along with paratroopers and foreign troops through the Lodge Act) the “Force” was a hyper-conventional American and Canadian direct-action raiding unit. While it fought valiantly and deserves recognition for its tremendous exploits it did not make formal contributions to the assessment and selection methodology, the organization of the Special Forces A-Team or the unconventional warfare mission.
I don’t understand the rationale behind this latest hit piece about the history and lineage of Special Forces. Disinformation? Perpetrated by whom? That is such an insult to the men of OSS that it defies description. How can USASOC print this in its own magazine “Veritas” which means truth, when the command’s own website promotes the opposite. What could possibly be the motivation to print such an article? Is there a hidden meaning or agenda that is in play here?
I used to believe Jack was overstating things when I first heard him say, “SF eats their own” No longer. This was incredible. And not in a good way.
Photo: OSS Jedburgh teams with future CIA Director William Colby in the center
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