“The OSS Morale Operations Branch in Action, 1943-1945”


The OSS Morale Operations Branch, unlike the U.S. Army or the OWI, practiced covert strategic and tactical morale operations based on deception and subversion. The types of campaigns conducted and the methods used supposedly closely resembled Nazi fifth-column activities of the 1930s and early 1940s. The OSS used whatever means gained results, and its members believed that Nazi psychological warfare had been extremely successful. The belief in the efficacy of Nazi methods indicated how firmly OSS policymakers supported a propaganda of realpolitik in which, as in Nazi Germany, scruples, ethics, and universally accepted agreements and decencies were morally relative if not totally discarded to obtain national goals. As MO output was covert, it could act without fear of damaging America’s reputation or moral standing.
In the early days rumors were used to disseminate MO propaganda which consisted of simple, brief, concrete, and vivid stories, purporting to come from inside sources concerning familiar persons and events. Successful examples were easy to remember, had a plot, concerned current events, and appealed to emotion and sentiment. Rumors were intended to subvert and deceive, to promote fear, anxiety, confusion, overconfidence, distrust, and panic. Once created and cleared by the OSS and PWE, up to twenty rumors were disseminated each week by agent, radio, and leaflet and through plants in enemy and neutral newspapers. Success was gauged by a “comeback,” or mention of the rumor ill the foreign, neutral, or Allied press or by Allied or enemy intelligence services. According to OSS tallies of comebacks, rumors were extraordinarily effective.
Forged documents, letters, and poison-pen letters were MO staples and were used to create dissatisfaction, anxiety, and confusion, to intimidate collaborators, to terrorize soldiers and civilians, and to harass the Gestapo. In one operation, based on the 1944 capture of Generalmajor Karl Kreipe by British commandos, MO hoped to convince enemy soldiers that their officers were surrendering to save themselves.
The Sauerkraut and Ravioli missions exemplified perfectly the willingness of the OSS leadership to use whatever means were necessary to defeat the Nazis since these operations were in violation of the 1929 Geneva Convention and the U.S. Army Rules of Land Warfare, both of which applied to the OSS. William Casey was a major proponent of using expendable POWs for MO work and for equally dangerous SO and SI missions. He assured OSS member J. Russell Forgan of the full cooperation of the U.S. Army’s provost marshal’s office, which had guaranteed the OSS an unending supply of POWs. 30 The idea of using POWs, partisans, and Allied agents for OSS work spread to Northwest Europe after D-Day. The most famous infiltration teams there were commanded by Maj. Paul Mellon, a relative of OSS leader David Bruce and heir to the Mellon family fortune, and Maj. Stacey Lloyd; both men were U.S. Army officers attached to the OSS. MO field teams operated in France after August 1944 and initially consisted entirely of Americans divided into three teams of eight officers, seven enlisted mew and six civilians. One team was eventually attached to each army of the Twelfth Army Group. The teams conducted sixty operations behind the lines, disseminating rumors, leaflets, stickers, stencils, and forged letters in mailboxes, under the doors of dwellings, in railroad cars and stations, in taverns, and by word of mouth.
Forgeries were always a staple of OSS black propaganda. MO developed postage stamps bearing the likeness of Himmler rather than Hitler, to give Germans the impression that der Fuhrer had been ousted in a secret coup d’etat. In conjunction with PWE, MO produced counterfeit ration cards and forged civil certificates, forms, vouchers, military travel orders, and sick leave and furlough passes. The OSS Planning Group even considered counterfeiting German currency to destroy the Reich’s economy. In another plan, to increase the likelihood of troops picking up MO material, it was suggested that propaganda be printed on the back of counterfeit banknotes or that special offers of rations or privileges be guaranteed to a person bearing the note when surrendering. 36 In cooperation with the OSS R&D Branch and Britain’s PWE, MO developed a variety of unusual gadgets intended to lower morale, such as the exploding ink pen. At one point, Jack Daniels suggested producing ammunition in enemy calibers that contained high explosives rather than smokeless powder, which could then be smuggled into the Wehrmacht supply system. When the device was fired, the resulting explosion would destroy both weapon and owner
It is difficult to assess the effectiveness of OSS Morale Operations accurately. The relatively small scale of branch activities, when compared with propaganda campaigns carried out by the U.S. Army and the OWI and with the United Nations’ conventional warfare efforts, seems insignificant. MO, unlike the army, lacked the personnel to conduct major postwar studies, and few surveys were completed describing the number of Germans who were exposed to or influenced by MO work.

Is there a comprehensive History of the OSS available?


5 Responses

  1. I think the people who brought us the Haditha Information Operation read about OSS Morale Operations.

    Don’t know if the comprehensive history of the OSS has been written yet. A Man Called Intrepid comes to mind for the origins of the OSS.

  2. Thanks for the references. I wil check them out.

  3. I just watch ed this movie which was on the use of german POW to go back and gather intel.


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