The Office of Strategic Services (OSS) stood up in June 1942, a free-wheeling organization that had two main branches – operations and intelligence. By November 1944, ‘Wild Bill’ Donovan’s organization was robust, with 13,000 members assigned, some military, some civilian, some seconded from other agencies. It was a group of diverse talents, immense responsibilities, and daunting missions. There were nearly 4,000 women in the OSS, in all branches. Over 900 were deployed overseas.
In early 1944, Virginia Hall was in London, having just experienced a harrowing escape from the Nazis while working with the British Special Operating Executive in France.
She wanted to go back. The Brits thought it too dangerous.
Then, as the OSS came calling, she quickly agreed to the transfer.
She returned to France, disguised as an old woman with gray hair and filed-down teeth, shuffling along to hide the fact she was dragging a 14-pound wooden leg.
Hall was a special operator, training resistance fighters and leading them in battle—her time with the organization ended when the war was over.
She joined the CIA in 1947 but resigned a year later. She found the new organization a disappointment.
But she couldn’t stay away, returning to the agency in 1950. She was reassigned as an analyst, but her operational days were over.
While Hall was not a spy, Betty McIntosh was closer to that mark. But her work was in the directorate of “Morale Operations,” and her specialties were propaganda, psychological operations, and deception.
Betty served in India and China, where she directed a number of operations designed to degrade the Japanese army’s morale and fighting capability.
Her service, too, ended at the conclusion of the war, and she returned home with her husband Richard Heppner.
Heppner went to work in the Pentagon while Betty spent some time with Voice of America and later with Glamour magazine. But the work wasn’t satisfying, and she grew restless.
When her husband passed away in 1958, she visited CIA director Allen Dulles and asked to serve. She happily once again assumed undercover work, but she never revealed what she did in her second career.
On the intelligence side, Marion Frieswyk was a cartographer with the Cartography Division, a part of the Research and Analysis Directorate.
She and her team, including her future husband Henry, created the first maps to be used for intelligence purposes.
Their topographic maps helped Gen. Eisenhower and military planners decide routes and the ways and means of conducting the most significant operations of the war—Operation Husky, Sicily and Operation Overlord, Normandy.
At the war’s end, her branch, along with the rest of the directorate, was temporarily transferred to the State Department where they would remain until July 1947. The remainder of OSS intelligence was then under the purview of the War Department.
Many organizations were downsized, eliminated entirely, or disestablished as WWII drew to a close.
In October 1945, President Truman issued an executive order that terminated the existence of the OSS. By December, only 2,000 staffers remained in the former 13,000-member organization.
The reason for the abrupt dismissal was clear.
General Donovan was unsuccessful in convincing President Truman that the organization should continue in peacetime and that he was the right man to lead it.
It took until 1947 for President Truman to establish the Central Intelligence Agency.
In 1953, Allen Dulles, a former OSS agent in Switzerland, assumed the job of director. His brother, John Foster Dulles was named to head the State Department in 1953.
Its tenure may have been short-lived, but the OSS had a huge impact on intelligence gathering and numerous operations successes during the war.
The influence of the OSS continues to this day.
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