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Book Review: OSS Agents in Hitler's Heartland (Gerald Schwab) : WW2

Originally published on Published Online: August 12, 2001 
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OSS Agents in Hitler's Heartland: Destination Innsbruck
by Gerald Schwab, Praeger, Westport, Conn., 1996, $55.The author has done an excellent job of researching and reporting one of the most successful WWII intelligence gathering operations launched by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), forerunner of the CIA. The author's use of interviews with mission members and other former OSS personnel and the use of recently declassified OSS documents make the book a reliable reference work and a highly entertaining read. While the infiltration team operated for only about three months inside Germany in early 1945 before the team leader was captured by the Germans, the quality and quantity of the tactical and strategic intelligence reported exceeded all expectations of their superiors.

The three junior spies featured in the account–all in their early twenties at the time of the mission and with no previous field experience in intelligence–are described in a way that brings them to life so that readers can understand their motivations and their fears. The narrative is grounded in the hard and often unpleasant facts of how clandestine operations in wartime were conducted. It was a fact of life that, more often than not, missions succeeded because of the resourcefulness and courage of the operators rather than the planning and support provided by their controllers. Against the grainy background of real life espionage, the story also includes elements that would not be out of place in a Hollywood spy story–a dashing, sometimes impetuous spy who somehow moves undetected within the enemy camp; a mission conclusion that approaches comic-opera proportions–but in this case all the elements are true and have been documented.

For those interested in the history of American espionage, this book provides valuable insights into the origins of the CIA's famous, some would say, infamous, "can do" credo.

John I. Witmer

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