Behind the Burma Road

Title:                      Behind the Burma Road

Author:                Lt. Gen. William R. Peers

Peers, William R. (1963) and Dean Brelis. Behind the Burma Road: The Story of America’s Most Successful Guerrilla Force. Boston: Little, Brown

LCCN:    63013980

D767.6 .P43


Date Updated:  February 27, 2017

Reviewed by George C. Constantinides[1]

Peers, then a colonel, commanded OSS Detachment 101, which conducted unconventional warfare operations behind Japanese lines in Burma. He is one of the few senior OSS operational commanders to have published his wartime experiences. The story he tells is mainly the broad picture of the OSS effort in Burma and the largely paramilitary and guerrilla support provided to Allied military operations. Intelligence collection, escape and evasion, and sabotage operations are mentioned, but only briefly in a general way. Peers’ perspective is that of the commander and career officer whose job is to support military operations. The strategic and tactical picture of both military and paramilitary operations is more thoroughly treated than details of organization and of intelligence and counterintelligence work; consequently, the merits of the book for the researcher will be found in the former. There are, all the same, some interesting individual items of historical and professional interest: the use of opium as a necessary means of payment in the area; General Donovan’s visit to an OSS team behind Japanese lines; a similar trip behind enemy lines of the U.S. general commanding the India-Burma theater; the loss of as many Anglo-Burmese agents as personnel of all other nationalities; the encoding and decoding of up to ten thousand messages per month by hand using three cryptographic systems. The appendix contains a list of all military personnel, regardless of nationality, associated with 101 operations. Peers later rose to be a general and was the author of the investigation report of the My Lai killings in Vietnam. Coauthor Brelis served in 101 and became a writer and foreign correspondent after the war. Consult the U.S. War Department’s War Report of the OSS.[2]

This is a review by the Defense Intelligence School.[3]

History of the operations of OSS Detachment 101 behind the Japanese lines in Burma. Peers was the commanding officer of the Detachment; Brelis served under him. Although the most spectacular of these operations were paramilitary, they were intertwined with collection of important tactical intelligence for the regular military forces. (For additional information on OSS Detachment 101, see Richard Dunlop, Behind Japanese Lines: With the OSS in Burma[4].

Reviewed by Paul W. Blackstock and Frank L. Schaf[5]

While the Allied Intelligence Bureau (AIB) was MacArthur’s answer to long-range intelligence and guerrilla operations in the Pacific island chain, OSS Detachment 101 was Stilwell’s answer to long-range reconnaissance and harassment of the Japanese lifeline in the Burma area. Behind The Burma Road is the story of Detachment 101 written by its commander (Peers) from 1943 to 1945. Peers went on to fame as an unconventional warfare expert of the postwar period and was promoted to the rank of lieutenant general. Coauthor Brelis was a field agent of Detachment 101, first as a sergeant, then a lieutenant, and [became] a successful novelist and journalist. The chief of intelligence of Burma’s Northern Area Command estimated that Detachment 101 provided from 85 to 95 percent of the usable intelligence available on Japanese movements, and the Tenth Air Force estimated that 85 percent of the targets it struck in the area were designated by Detachment 101.

[1] Constantinides, George C. (1983). Intelligence and Espionage: An Analytical Bibliography. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, pp. 358-359

[2] United States. War Department Strategic Services Unit. History Project. (1976). War Report of the OSS. New York: Walker and Co

[3] Defense Intelligence School (1981). Bibliography of Intelligence Literature: A Critical And Annotated Bibliography of Open-Source Literature (7th ed, rev.). Washington, DC: Defense Intelligence School, p. 49

[4] Dunlop, Richard (1979). Behind Japanese Lines: With the OSS in Burma. New York: Rand McNally & Co

[5] Blackstock, Paul W. (1978) and Frank L. Schaf, Jr. Intelligence, Espionage, Counterespionage, And Covert Operations: A Guide to Information Sources. Detroit: Gale Research Co., p. 210



This entry was posted in World War II and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Behind the Burma Road

  1. Pingback: War Report of the OSS | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

  2. Pingback: OSS—The U.S. Office of Strategic Service, Chapter 18 | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s