Oddities, Rarities, Mysteries and Fakes
by Les Hughes
Oddities: The Insignia of British Security Coordination
In the two decades following WWI, there was increasing disillusionment among the American public with this country’s involvement in foreign conflicts, which led to a rise in isolationism. These sentiments resulted, in the mid- to late-1930s, in a series of neutrality acts that significantly limited the ability of the US government to aid Britain and France, our historical European allies, as they were threatened by Nazi Germany. Indeed, cooperation between the American FBI and Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (SIS, aka MI-6) ceased following Britain’s declaration of war against Germany in September 1939. The fall of France in June 1940 only strengthened isolationist sentiment, as Britain’s situation appeared hopeless to much of the American public. It was clear to Churchill that it was imperative America join Britain in its war against Germany, and that for this to happen American public opinion would have to change. SIS sought to reestablish liaison with the FBI, a liaison that President Roosevelt approved. To help effect this change of public opinion, British Security Co-ordination, a covert organization, was established by SIS in May of 1940 with the tacit approval of President Roosevelt.
The exact number of personnel working for the BSC may never be known. One estimate put the number at around 3,000 in 1940. In spite of its name, the organization, and its personnel, were largely Canadian. Headed by William Stephenson, a Canadian, and based in New York City, BSC’s mission ostensibly was to protect British shipping interests in American ports. In reality, BSC undertook an effort to manipulate American newspaper and radio coverage of the war in Europe in such a way as to shift public opinion in favor of America’s involvement, an effort the extent of which was probably never fully known, even to the FBI.
In December of 1941, Stephenson established a facility in Ontario, Canada, known as Camp X, to teach clandestine warfare methods to British agents who would be deployed into occupied Europe. After America first entered the war, the OSS, until it developed its own training facilities, sent many of its personnel to Camp X for training. And Stephenson provided valuable advice to OSS Director William Donovan on problems of organizing special operations and secret intelligence, as well as on negotiating the intense rivalry between the SIS and SOE, advice that may have been critical to Donovan’s decision to separate Special Activities of COI (later to become the OSS) into separate branches, Secret Intelligence and Special Operations, to work with their British counterparts.
Given the clandestine nature of its mission, the last thing BSC would seem to have needed was an insignia, and yet two badges were struck, by Scully of Montreal. (The author contacted Scully and learned that their records from the period in question no longer exist.) The badges may have been intended for those in BSC whose duties reflected the organization’s cover mission of protecting British shipping interests in American ports. Whatever the reason for their manufacture, there is no evidence that the badges were ever worn.
References: The Overseas Targets, War Report of the OSS, Volume 2, K. Roosevelt, Chief Historian, Walker Publishing Co., 1976; “The Secret Persuaders,” William Boyd, The Guardian, August 19, 2006; Some Talk of Private Armies, Len Whittaker, Albanium Press, 1984.
Rarities: The Insignia of Plans SUSSEX and PROUST
The major concentration of OSS effort during the war was aimed at France and emanated from its bases in London and Algiers. Each of these bases operated, largely, on a different model: London on the special operations model of Britain’s Special Operations Executive (SOE); Algiers on the covert intelligence-gathering model of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (SIS, MI6). Indeed, OSS’s Secret Intelligence Branch (SI), London, mounted but one large-scale operation, SUSSEX, in mid-1944, before Operation JEDBURGH of SO/SOE. SUSSEX was a joint operation with SIS using personnel provided by the Free French BCRA (Central Bureau of Intelligence and Action).
Whereas the 3-man Jedburgh terms comprised two officers and a radio operator, and an effort was made to make the teams tripartite, the 2-man Sussex teams comprised two French officers, one of whom functioned as a radio operator. Some Sussex volunteers were drawn from French forces in Britain, but most were men who had recently escaped from occupied France, either directly by boat from Brittany or via Spain, and as such they knew how to conduct themselves in occupied territory. The volunteers for Sussex were subjected to a rigorous selection process. Those who were selected underwent training in intelligence-gathering techniques. And whereas the primary objective of the Jedburgh teams was to work with local resistance groups in conducting sabotage and guerrilla actions against the Germans in conjunction with the D-Day invasion, the objective of the Sussex teams was to function in the run-up to the invasion as sources of intelligence independent of existing Resistance networks that may have been compromised.
The 26 teams that operated in the US Army’s area of operations were collectively designated Ossex teams; the 29 teams that operated in the British-Canadian 21st Army Group’s area of operations were designated Brissex teams. Radio communication with the Ossex teams was handled by OSS/SI station Victor, while communication with the Brissex teams was handled by an SIS station in England. In order to make communications with teams more secure, the Mitchell B-25 bombers of C Flight (codenamed “Ginger” flight) of RAF 226 Squadron, flying from RAF Hartford Bridge, were outfitted with special quarter-wave radio equipment. Quarter-wave voice transmissions that were difficult to pickup at ground level were easily received by aircraft at 20,000 feet, and messages could be conveyed by voice much quicker than by Morse code, giving the Germans less time to triangulate their source. The aircraft, flown by RAF crews with French observers to communicate with agents on the ground, conducted leaflet-dropping to cover the true nature of their sorties.
Thirty-eight agents, six acting as pathfinders, were dropped into France before D-Day; 66 were dropped after D-Day, six of whom were on their second mission. The last team of Sussex was dropped on September 4. The teams provided valuable intelligence to the Allies, and Sussex was judged a success. But that success was not without a price: Nine agents, including Sussex’s only female agent, were captured in the course of their missions and executed.
The PROUST Plan was formulated in January 1944, as SUSSEX was entering its operational phase. It was intended that Proust provide agents for unanticipated intelligence needs that arose following the invasion of France that could not be addressed by Sussex teams. Whereas SUSSEX was tripartite, PROUST would involve only the OSS and the BCRA. To facilitate the formation of teams, the OSS wished to consider Sussex trainees who had not been selected for missions, and augmented those deemed suitable for PROUST by new BCRA recruits from North Africa. Some of the excess Sussex trainees so selected, unaware of the reasons they were not selected for Sussex missions, were unenthusiastic and came to view PROUST, whose implementation involved a degree of uncertainty, as a place to shelve them, which led to low morale and to some disciplinary problems. It did not help matters that SUSSEX was operational and had a priority for resources. Some who were critical of the PROUST Plan suggested that its name was a reference to Marcel Proust’s book In Search of Lost Time, and to what they viewed as the lost time engendered by this endeavor. But the name Proust had been chosen before the appearance of such problems. (The choice of the name Proust is attributed to one of the OSS officers, Major Justin O’Brien, a Columbia University professor in civilian life and a noted translator of French literature.)
With SUSSEX underway, American instructors from that program were released to PROUST. Parachute training was conducted at the British facility at Ringway, after which morale among the agents improved considerably. But most of the training was conducted at Drungewick Manor (aka Area B) in Sussex. Deployment of Proust teams began after D-Day and continued into late-September. Twenty teams were deployed, most by parachute, a few by boat or air-landing. One of the three teams that comprised MARCEL included three OSS officers: LTC W. B. Booth, LT (USN) E. M. Burke, and LT W. P. Kuzmuk. PROUST was judged to have been a success based both on the intelligence its agents provided and on the low number of casualties among its agents: only one was lost during its operations, Joseph Jourden, the radio operator of Team GIRAFE, who was captured and executed.
As August drew to a close, the Proust trainees not assigned missions were reassigned, some to OSS field detachments, but most to the French Secret Service (DGER). The DGER used the personnel of PROUST, and of SUSSEX, for subsequent missions of its own, including counter-espionage screening of returnees, prisoners and deportees, from Germany and France.
Metal badges were produced for award to the personnel of SUSSEX and PROUST. As SUSSEX preceded PROUST, so too did the SUSSEX badges precede those of PROUST, and more is known of the history of the SUSSEX badge. The SUSSEX badge features SUSSEX 1944 in chief; below and center is the Cross of Lorraine suspended from a parachute, the cross being upon the French tricolor, which is flanked by representations of the flags of Britain and America. An estimated 120 badges were produced, of which 101 were numbered on the back, for the agents who were operational, and featured a bolero pin for attachment that was mounted vertically. The balance, intended for non-operational personnel of Sussex, were not numbered and employed two rings for attachment that were oriented horizontally to one another. Additionally, a few smaller examples of th e badge, suitable for lapel wear, were made. The design of the badge is attributed to Captain Guy Wingate, a British officer on the training staff at Drungewick who later was operational, while the badges were likely procured from a manufacture in Paris by Major Malcolm Henderson, also a British officer of the SUSSEX staff. The badges were made available to the Sussex agents after Christmas 1944 from Mrs. André Goubillon at her cafe in Paris, which she later named Café of the Sussex Network. The numbered badges were signed for, either by the recipients or by individuals they designated.
Less is known of the history of the PROUST badge, but undoubtedly it would have been created at about the same time as the SUSSEX badge and probably procured early in 1945, given photographic evidence of its having been worn in the summer of that year. The badge features PROUST 1944 in chief, and below a paratrooper descending, flanked by an automatic weapon and a star, snow-capped mountains in the background; at the bottom, in a fashion similar to that of the Sussex badge, depictions of the American and French flags, behind which, across the mountains, run barbed wire. The badges were not numbered and featured, like the numbered badges of Sussex, a bolero pin on the back but unlike that of the Sussex badge, oriented horizontally. Photographs show the Sussex and Proust badges being worn on the right pocket of the uniform.
Genuine examples of the Sussex and Proust badges are rare, and, as is typically the case, copies exist. Details that differ between genuine badges and and copies are the orientation of pins of attachment and the following: Sussex: Genuine: there is a circle at the top of the Cross of Lorraine, and only the outer-most risers of the parachute extend to the circle. Fake: the circle at the top of the cross is not distinct and all risers extend to it. Genuine: the American flag depicts stars; Fake: the stars appear as circles. Proust: The barbed wire depicted on the genuine badge appears as a chain on the copies.
I wish to thank Clive Bassett, for providing images, and Serge Larcher, for providing images and copies of his two articles: “Historique Le Plan Sussex,” Symboles & Traditions, No. 176, pp. 9-25; “Historique Le Plan Proust,” Symboles & Traditions, No. 185, pp. 23-32. Additional references: The Overseas Targets, War Report of the OSS, Volume 2, K. Roosevelt, Chief Historian, Walker Publishing Co., 1976; American Intelligence in War-time London: The Story of the OSS, Nelson MacPherson, Routedge, 2014; Mission Marcel Proust: The Story of an Unusual OSS Undertaking, Waller B. Booth, Dorrance Publishing Co., 1972.
Rarity: The Patch of the Special Attack Corps
Collectors are familiar with examples of unofficial insignia that sprung up in small units, enjoyed limited distribution, and today are considered rare, if they are known at all. This is an example of one such insignia, that of the Special Attack Corps (SAC).
OSS Special Operations Team GOAT operated in Hengyang area of Hunan, Province, China, and in French Indo-China. The team comprised seven OSS personnel: Majors Francis L. Coolidge, Gerald W. Davis, Thomas F. Penney; SGT Walter N. Dugan, T/SGT Michael C. Puleo, and M/SGT Arthur Gruen. Working with the team were about 80 Chinese Nationalist guerrillas. Major Penney came up with the name Special Attack Corps for the combined group, and he created a triangular patch for the group. The example illustrated here is one that was brought home by SGT Dugan
Mystery: The U.S. Gorkha Rangers
Who were the U.S. Gorkha Rangers? Were they part of the OSS? These questions were posed to me by a collector who acquired a badge to the unit from a “picker” who found it among some WW2 insignia, mainly AAF pieces, at a yard. He later found the image shown here, which had been posted on an online forum with no information regarding its origin, of what appears to be a period photograph of the Gorkha Rangers’ headquarters tent, the sign in front of which seems to indicate they were part of the OSS. But the answer to neither question is clear. War Report of the OSS includes no references to “Gorkha” and only two to “Gurkha” (of which “Gorkha” appears to be an accepted alternative spelling), both on page 380 of Volume 2, where it states that Detachment 101 employed a force of 45 to 50 “semi-militarized” Gurkhas to guard its 27 camps. Troy Sacquety, an historian with the army who sifted through 1500 boxes of files at the National Archives in the course of researching Detachment 101, reports never having seen a reference to Gorkha (or Gurkha) Rangers. Troy recalled the badge in question, having been queried about it circa 2010 by a collector who was unable to furnish any background information on the badge. He remains skeptical of its association with the OSS. There are aspects of the photograph that are puzzling. If the unit in question is the force of Gurkha guards employed by Detachment 101, would not the sign reflect the unit’s affiliation with Detachment 101, or with USA as the Kachin Rangers SSI does, rather than the OSS? And is the abbreviation on the sign actually OSS? Might it be SOS (eg., Services of Supply) or perhaps 505 for Detachment 505, which, based in Calcutta, served as a supply base for Detachment 101? As of this writing, it is a mystery. (My thanks to Eric Queen for bringing both the badge and photograph to my attention.)
Postscript: Sometime after completing the above section, I revisited a book that I’d read years earlier, Richard Harris Smith’s OSS: The Secret History of America’s First Central Intelligence Agency. In doing so, I stumbled upon an intriguing comment (Chapter 9): “Then there was the group of Nepalese being trained as sabotage agents. They refused to work under the command of their colonial masters in SOE and insisted they would serve only the Americans of OSS.” In a footnote, Harris says the story of the Nepalese is discussed in Robert Hayden Alcorn’s book No Banners, No Bands: More Tales of the OSS. I bought a copy of this book and found that Alcorn, a former lieutenant colonel in the OSS, devotes an entire chapter (Chapter 4) to the story of how the Nepalese were recruited by a friend and fellow OSS officer whom he identifies, more for reasons of delicacy than security, only by his first name. In order to pursue the story of this group of Nepalese, I felt it was necessary to first identify the OSS officer in question. Using the OSS Personnel Index of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), I identified all officers of the same first name, and then I examined all of the records, including genealogical records, available to me that were pertinent to them. I found one officer whose particulars are similar to those of the officer Alcorn describes. Unfortunately, I’ve not been able rule him in or out as the officer of whom Alcorn writes because I cannot access his OSS personnel file, as NARA currently is closed to researchers due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That aside, the central question remains: Might these Nepalese saboteurs, who, according to Alcorn, were “tremendously effective against the Japanese,” have been the Gorkha Rangers? If Alcorn’s story is accurate, that is an intriguing possibility.
Fake: The Fifth Army OSS Detachment SSI
Where OSS insignia are concerned, the inauthentic versions of the spearhead patch that are perennial fixtures of the insignia market represent, in my opinion, by far the greatest fraud perpetrated on collectors. There is another patch worth noting in this regard, though it tends to fool few collectors by comparison. This is a shield-shape patch depicting a parachute and, on an integral arc above, the word Parachute. A patch in this design worn by Captain William DeSalvo of the Fifth Army OSS Detachment is illustrated in a photograph and in a line drawing in John Andrews's book The Airborne Album, Volume 1 (Phillips Publications, 1982), where it is identified as the patch of the Detachment. Following the publication of this photograph, patches in the same design began surfacing at militaria shows. As the photograph and line drawings are is in black and white, and as there is no description of the patch, some degree of latitude was allowed those making the patches, and one can find this patch in blue with white trim and in red with white trim. Whatever color they may be, invariably they are attributed to OSS in general, or, by the more 'knowledgeable', to the Fifth Army OSS Detachment.
William DeSalvo is deceased, but I was able to contact his son, who provided me with a photo (illustrated here) of his father wearing the patch and information regarding how his father acquired it. According to Captain DeSalvo's son, his father found the patch in a tailor shop in Italy, one of a number of patches the shop advertised it would make on request. Captain DeSalvo picked up a few of the patches for his own use, and his own use only. No one else in the Fifth Army OSS Detachment, according to DeSalvo's son, wore the patch - just his father. (The Detachment's personnel worked with Italian partisans, and, as was the case with many OSS units in the field, they tended to wear whatever they wanted in the way of insignia.) One of Captain DeSalvo's patches would be a marvelous addition to one's collection, but the sole surviving example is a treasured keepsake of his son. All of the others that one encounters are evidence of an entrepreneurial spirit that shows no sign of abating.
Fakes: OSS Distinctive Unit Insignia
I have encountered two distinctive unit insignia (aka DIs or crests) attributed to OSS: One to "Company D Operational Group" and the other to "Force 163 S.S.S." Both are illustrated here and both are fake. Company D was part of the 2677th OSS Regiment (Provisional). Companies A, B and C were part of the 2671st Battalion (to which I devote a section), which was an Operational Group unit. Company D, however, was not part of the 2671st, so while the scroll on this DI reading OPERATIONAL GROUP may be a nice touch, it is not correct. The other DI is intended to be that of the OSS's Strategic Services Section, effectively OSS's Seventh Army Detachment, which operated under the direct supervision of Force 163 of Seventh Army.
These two DIs represent an effort on the part of a handful of entrepreneurs over the past few decades to manufacture DIs for collectors. Some of the DIs produced by these individuals represent ones that were proposed but never approved, and some appear to represent ones that were never proposed but which these individuals believe should have been. The two illustrated here fall, I believe, in the latter category.