Donovan’s Devils

Title:                      Donovan’s Devils

Author:                 Albert Lulushi

Lulushi, Albert (2016). Donovan’s Devils: OSS Commandos Behind Enemy Lines: Europe, World War II. New York: Arcade Publishing

LCCN:    2015037691

D810.S7 L727 2016


  • Office of Strategic Services — Irregular warfare in the early years of World War II — The OSS operational groups — Special operations in the Western Mediterranean — Rescuing escaped prisoners of war — Operations from Corsica — The ill-fated Ginny Mission — Operational groups in France — Americans in Vercors — Mission Walla Walla in Italy — Mission Mangosteen-Chrysler — Rescue missions in the Balkans — Mission Peedee-Roanoke — OSS investigations into war crimes — Swift justice for the Ginny men — No justice for Major Holohan — Epilogue.


Date Updated:  April 4, 2017

Complied and Reviewed by Hayden B. Peake[1]

The exploits of the OSS have been the subject of numerous histories, memoirs, and movies. The best-known tell stories of espionage behind enemy lines, Jedburgh teams in France, and counterintelligence operations in Europe. Less frequently mentioned are the OSS special operations groups commonly called OGs. Donovan’s Devils gives them long overdue attention.

The concept of a special operations capability was part of Donovan’s vision for US intelligence even before the creation of OSS in 1942. But it was not as readily accepted by his military masters as were the analysis and espionage functions of the OSS mission. Initial opposition to OGs came from military traditionalists who had no experience with elite units staffed with uniformed personnel and part of a civilian organization operating behind enemy lines, even when subject to the approval of theater commanders.

After reviewing the historical precedents for special operation-type units, intelligence historian Albert Lulushi recounts how Donovan overcame significant bureaucratic obstacles from senior war department generals, during wartime, to create the OGs. Donovan’s main argument was that the ad hoc OG he had created on his own authority—to support Operation TORCH—the invasion of Northern Africa—proved valuable, and General Marshall said so in writing. (p. 34)

In December 1942, the Joint Chiefs of Staff issued directive 155/4/D that, among other things, authorized the OGs. A typical OG unit contained four officers and 30 enlisted men. In addition to basic military skills, OG members needed language abilities for the target area, commando training (parachute, hand-to-hand combat), and signal communications proficiency. They were trained at the Congressional Country Club outside Washington, DC, and at various military facilities. The first group was ready for deployment in mid-1943 to support Operation HUSKY, the invasion of Sicily. Results were modest but encouraging.

Lulushi describes OG operations, problems, and successes, in Italy, Corsica, France, and the Balkan states. In each country this included rescuing POWs from behind enemy lines. He devotes particularly detailed attention to Operation GINNY, an ill-fated mission involving an OG unit assigned to blow up a railway tunnel on the Genoa-La Spezia line. After several failed attempts, they tried again in March 1944, which was another failure, but on this attempt 15 members were captured. When the German commander in the area invoked Hitler’s directive to execute all captured saboteurs without trial, they were shot and buried in common graves. After the war, the Germans involved were tried and convicted—the commander was hanged—in the first war crimes trial, setting an important precedent for the subsequent Nürenberg Trials.

Donovan’s Devils is a well-documented, superbly written account of how OSS established the model for today’s Special Forces. As Jack Devine notes in his back-cover comments, it is a “must-read book for any student of OSS and the general public.”

Reviewed in The Intelligencer[2]

Donovan’s Devils tells the story of the OSS of ordinary soldiers, recruited from first- and second-generation immigrants who volunteered for dangerous duty behind enemy lines and risked their lives in Italy, France, the Balkans, and elsewhere in Europe. Organized into Operational Groups, they infiltrated into enemy territory by air or sea and operated hundreds of miles from the closest Allied troops.

They performed sabotage, organized native resistance, and rescued downed airmen, nurses, and prisoners of war, sometimes betrayed by their closest friends. They were the precursors to today’s Special Forces. Based on declassified OSS records, personal recollections, and oral histories of participants from both sides of the conflict.

[1] Hayden Peake in The Intelligencer (22, 2, Fall 2016, pp.  ).  Hayden Peake is the Curator of the CIA’s Historical Intelligence Collection. He has served in the Directorate of Science and Technology and the Directorate of Operations. Most of these reviews appeared in recent unclassified editions of CIA’s Studies in Intelligence. Other reviews and articles may be found online at

[2] The Intelligencer: Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies (21, 3, Fall/Winter 2015, p.128-129).


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One Response to Donovan’s Devils

  1. Pingback: The OSS in World War II Albania | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

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