Book Review: In the Devil’s Shadow: U.N. Special Operations During the Korean War (by Michael E. Haas) : MHQ
In the Devil’s Shadow: U.N. Special Operations During the Korean War, by Michael E. Haas, Naval Institute Press, $29.95.
Michael Haas, an experienced former special operations officer, has written the first comprehensive account of the United Nations forces’ clandestine operations during the Korean War. The book includes detailed descriptions of U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force behind-the-lines operations and as complete an analysis of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operations as is now possible.
Since there was only minimal coordination and cooperation between the separate U.S. special operations entities during the Korean War, Haas has chosen to describe the activities of each organization separate from one another. U.S.Army-controlled special operations activities constituted the largest clandestine-action effort against Communist forces–organizing, supplying, training, and directing a force of more than twenty thousand North Korean guerrillas at one point during the conflict.
Although there are few numbers available, Haas has gathered enough information for the reader to conclude that the CIA effort was next largest in size and complexity. However, he makes clear that the agency depended on naval and air force support to conduct its operations. The U.S. Air Force probably had the third largest commitment to special operations, if not in numbers of personnel, certainly in terms of the pervasive use of its aircraft over the Korean Peninsula. Air force planes conducted an almost around-the-clock intelligence-gathering effort throughout the long war.
There are a number of new revelations in the book, but the most striking to this reviewer was the CIA’s forthright and harsh self-criticism during postwar evaluations of its own performance of special operations. According to the CIA’s analysts, the agency’s failures were many and accomplishments few. Haas also recounts the astounding exploits of a particular member of the air force who measurably contributed to the exploitation of Communist rear area vulnerabilities. And there is a revealing description of U.S. Navy and British Commando combined operations.
Haas sums up this little-known aspect of the Korean War as being of only moderate, perhaps even minor, importance to the overall U.N. war effort. He makes it clear, however, that this somewhat depressing evaluation is due more to the course of U.N. war policy and strategy than to any lack of spirit, energy, ingenuity, or courage displayed by those who executed these dangerous operations. The value of special operations simply decreased in the spring of 1951, as soon as the U.N. command determined that the conquest and liberation of North Korea was no longer in the cards.
Those who follow the changing course of Korean War historical literature should not miss this book. Those who want to read about risky ventures by a diverse group of courageous men will not be disappointed.