As soon as the Joint Chiefs of Staff approved the OSS Operational Groups and assigned the necessary allotment of personnel, recruitment began. On April 20, 1943 six officers from the Engineer School at Ft. Belvoir in Virginia reported for duty. They were immediately sent to an old Civilian Conservation Corps camp near Triangle, Virginia where they received some basic infantry orientation. Two weeks later they were transferred to Area F. There they met a contingent of enlisted personnel from the 100th Division. Soon they were followed by more officers and enlisted men as they were recruited from other Army units, including medics and radio operators. These personnel formed the first Operational Group to be activated and was identified as Operational Group A.
Plans were for Area F to serve as a basic OG training base for the OGs. Unfortunately for Operational Group A, that facility had not yet been established. The training which was available at that time consisted of patrolling, physical training, hand-to-hand and knife fighting and some use of foreign weapons. The unit was then sent to Ft. Benning, Ga. for a strenuous course on jungle warfare and some preliminary parachute training. Upon return to Area F, the radio operators, medics and demolition personnel were trained in their specialties.
At the end of July the unit was transferred to a staging area near "Shangri La" (later Camp David). While waiting for overseas orders mock attacks on the Marine Corps Detachment there were practiced. Later in August the unit arrived at the OSS Station X near Algiers consisting of a pine grove on sandy soil where they lived in pup tents. While at Station X it was planned that parachute training would be given. That training was barely started when, almost immediately, operations began.
One group went to Italian occupied Corsica together with a French force to liberate the island in conjunction with the local Maqui, and to harass the German 90th Panzer Division which was evacuating Sardinia by moving up the east coast of Corsica to the port of Bastia. On September 25, 1943, just a short four months after activation, Unit A suffered its first casualties—two enlisted men and an officer. A French officer who observed the action said it was the bravest thing he had ever seen.
Another group was parachuted into southeast Italy to help recover Allied prisoners released by the Italians upon their surrender September 8th. The officer commanding the group was captured and some of the men remained behind the lines for almost nine months. OG personnel jumped blind into Sardinia to notify the Italian command there of the armistice and with orders from their new government to cooperate with the Allies.
In mid-October the rest of Unit A moved from Station X to Ile Rousse in Corsica. This became Unit A’s base for nine months. Operating from the east coast port of Bastia and utilizing either American PT or British MT boats they captured the islands of Capraia and Gorgona and maintained outposts there to observe the enemy coastal shipping, furnish weather reports and provide early warning for Air Force units stationed in Corsica; and to administer the prison and civilian populations of the islands. Reconnaissance and sabotage of targets on the Tyrrhenian coast and the island of Pianosa were also conducted.
Meanwhile the Allied Armies in Italy moved slowly up the peninsula. Rome was not liberated until June 4, 1944. Two days later the Allies landed in Normandy. Seven of the most experienced divisions fighting in Italy were transferred to the Seventh Army for landings in southern France. Thus the weakened armies to remain were unable to breach the heavily fortified German Gothic Line to take Balogna and break into the Po Valley. The winter of 1944-1945 was one of the worst bitter cold in Italian history. The GIs asked, whatever happened to sunny Italy?
During the Allied advance to the Gothic Line some excellent partisan bands were overrun and proved to be very valuable in tactical situations. The bands in the north occupying the mountains were in a position to attack the German lines of communication. Obviously they had to be supplied and their operations coordinated with those of the regular army forces. This was the job for which the OGs were created. At the end of August Unit A was transferred to Sienna. Now designated Co. A 2671st Special Reconnaissance Battalion, they were placed under operational control of Special Operations , G-3 15th Army Group. In mid-August 1944 the first military mission in uniform was dropped in the Liguria area near the important port of Genoa. It consisted of an OG section of two officers and 13 enlisted men. By May 3, 1945 when the Germans formally surrendered, in spite of bad weather and limited availability of aircraft and supplies, there were ten OG missions with a total of 120 men in strategic areas of northern Italy.
In some cases as much as two weeks elapsed after the surrender before being overrun by Allied troops and the arrival of Allied military governors. In the interim food and essentials for the civilian population were dropped to the OG teams. They and the partisans administered the areas and maintained order. Recalcitrant Fascists and Germans suspected of being war criminals were rounded up and arrested. During the winter when parachute operations were difficult the OGs were used for a variety of tasks. The responsibility for partisan bands at the front in tactical situations belonged to the OSS and to the Fifth and Eighth Army Detachments. On the western front the Fifth Army did not have sufficient personnel so five OG officers and twenty OG enlisted men were loaned to the Fifth Army until that unit came up to full strength. Early in 1945 a packing station was opened at an airbase near Leghorn and a Troop Carrier Group flying Dakotas (C-47s) was stationed there to resupply forward positions. Lacking dispatchers for that mission, OGs performed that dangerous mission until Airforce dispatchers could be found or trained. In northern Italy OG missions regularly furnished weather reports and bomb assessments to the Air Force and provided assistance to downed airmen.
The numerous operations of support to the regular
military operations in Italy, plus the special OG operations with the
partisans, drew unanimous praise from the Allied commanders. In recognition,
the Italian Operational Group received the Distinguished Unit Citation,
2 Distinguished Service Crosses, 20 Silver Star Medals, 10 Legion of
Merit Medals, 30 Bronze Star Medals, 25 Air Medals, eight with Oak Leaf
Clusters and 29 Purple Heart were individually awarded to members of
Italian Operational Group Missions:
The above table has been compiled from the history of Co. A, 2671 special recon. BN, NARA RG 26 Entry 43, Box 9.