10 Operations of the Office of Strategic Services during World War Two
10 Operations of the Office of Strategic Services during World War Two

10 Operations of the Office of Strategic Services during World War Two

Larry Holzwarth - May 28, 2018

10 Operations of the Office of Strategic Services during World War Two
Ho Chi Minh,(standing third from left) and members of an OSS team in Indochina in 1945 OSS operations in Asia are largely ignored historians of the war. US Army

The Nisei Linguists

In 1943 an OSS specialist was assigned the task of providing 14 candidates of Japanese descent fluent in English and Japanese. He found them in the 442nd Infantry Regiment, a Japanese-American combat unit which was stationed at the time at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. All fourteen were volunteers and all were Nisei, meaning they were first generation Americans born in the United States of Japanese immigrants. Before volunteering all the men were told was that the men selected were destined for extremely rigorous and dangerous duty. More than 100 volunteered. At the time of the selection it was the intent of the OSS to place some of them in Japan.

Throughout 1944, the volunteers were trained in hand to hand combat. They underwent survival training. They were schooled in Japanese language, geography, and culture. They received training in the handling of explosives and demolition. They were destined to be attached to one of two OSS units, Detachments 101 or 102, which operated in the China Burma India (CBI) theatre, under the command of Lord Mountbatten. These units conducted covert operations. The Nisei were also to be used to interrogate what few prisoners were taken, translate intercepts, and listen to Japanese communications.

In Burma, the OSS operated behind the Japanese lines, supported by airdrops of supplies. Their primary mission there was the training of Kachin troops to fight the Japanese. The environment was heavy jungle and the Kachin were as ruthless as the Japanese troops themselves. The Nisei in Burma were warned that the Japanese were likely to torture them as prisoners, and recommended suicide in the face of inevitable capture. The ethnic Kachin hated the Japanese, and during covert missions the Nisei were often as afraid of them as they were of the Japanese. The Japanese Army offered a bonus for anyone capturing a Nisei.

The operations performed by Detachments 101 and 102 included the rescue of downed airmen before they could be killed by the Japanese, disruption of enemy supply lines, and cutting communications. As it became clear that the Japanese were losing the war, the OSS detachments ventured into China, and even Korea, to rescue POWs as the Japanese communications intercepted by the OSS and other intelligence agencies revealed their intention of killing all prisoners of war. The OSS operations in the CBI were welcomed by Mountbatten, who also had the support of SOE specialists in the theatre, which is an often overlooked story of the war.

The OSS operatives selected from the 442nd Infantry Regiment (incidentally the most decorated infantry regiment in American history) were some of the few Japanese-Americans sent to fight in the Pacific. Their role too has been largely overlooked by history, in part because of the clandestine nature of their duties and in part because the CBI is often ignored in histories of the war against Japan, which focus on the contributions of MacArthur and the US Navy and Marines. The OSS was dissolved following the war and its many contributions remained classified for many years. Some still are, because revealing them could reveal assets used by the CIA during the Cold War.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“The Wolves at the Door: The True Story of America’s Greatest Female Spy”, by Judith L. Pearson, 2005

“OSS: The Secret History of America’s First Central Intelligence Agency”, by R. Harris Smith, 1972

“A Most Ungentlemanly Way of War”, by Bernd Horn, 2016

“The Recipe for Adventure: Chef Julia Child’s World War II Service”, by Jeanette Patrick, National Women’s History Museum, 2017, online

“OSS and Yugoslav Resistance 1943 – 1945”, by Kirk Ford, 1992

“Donovan of OSS”, by Corey Ford, 1970

“Nisei Linguists: Japanese Americans in the Military Intelligence Service During World War II” review by Stephen C. Mercado, United States Central Intelligence Agency Library, cia.gov