In the end, large conventional ground armies, vast naval fleets, and great air armadas won World War II. The ability of the Allies, especially the United States, to successfully mobilize the total resources of the nation-state to support a global conflict proved decisive. With the collision of mass armies overshadowing finesse and small-unit maneuver, special operations could do little more than provide support to the conventional forces that dominated the battlefield.
Although special operations played a secondary role in Allied miltary efforts throughout the war, they made significant contributions to the final victory. In some cases the Army turned to such activities in response to unforeseen needs. Partisan activities aided amphibious landings by slowing the enemy's response, and commando units seized key beachhead defensive positions, paving the way for the main assault. To meet the critical need for on-the-spot intelligence in the dense jungles of Burma and the Pacific, the Army used partisans, advised by liaison teams, and special reconnaissance units, including the Alamo Scouts and the 6th Ranger Battalion. In other cases the Army resorted to special operations to compensate for its shortage of conventional combat units, effectively employing guerrillas and commando forces in both the Philippines and Burma. Partisans not only provided timely operational and tactical intelligence but also interfered with the ability of the enemy to supply and communicate with his units on the battlefield. Although guerrillas and commando formations lacked the armament and staying power to serve as line units, they did fill gaps and screen the flanks of conventional Allied armies, as in the case of Patton's drive across France, Krueger's conquest of the Philippines, and Stilwell's
advance across northern Burma. While difficult to quantify, the value of the guerrillas, as well as the Ranger-type commando units, was acknowledged by Eisenhower, Patton, MacArthur, and Stilwell.
Wherever Rangers and guerrillas operated, certain factors proved essential to their success. Rangers succeeded best in mountainous or forested terrain, which obstructed larger, heavier units and left gaps in an enemy front for infiltration. Provided mobility through amphibious lift or motor vehicles, they could conduct operations against enemy-held coastlines and across deserts. Successful execution of commando-type missions by Rangers depended on surprise, boldness, and the ability to strike fast and hard at a clearly identified objective. Ranger forces thus needed to be carefully selected, well trained, and highly cohesive units, led by inspirational and resourceful officers.. Although their missions demanded careful planning and rehearsals, their leaders also had to be prepared to respond quickly to rapidly changing situations. Ranger-type units also needed superiors who understood their capabilities and limitations and recognized that their employment as line infantry should be a measure of last resort. The actions at Sened, Pointe du Hoe, the Irsch-Zerf Road, and Cabanatuan provide examples of successful Ranger operations, just as the fighting at Cisterna and the experiences of GALAHAD at Myitkyina demonstrate the danger of exposing such units to prolonged combat without reinforcement or support.
Some of the factors contributing to the success of Ranger missions also applied to guerrilla operations. Rough terrain often nullified the occupying force's superiority in heavy equipment and made it difficult either to locate the guerrillas or to bring them to battle. Charismatic and resourceful leadership proved critical to the success of the guerrillas, just as divided command, as in the case of the Filipino resistance, was sometimes fatal. Guerrilla movements needed time to establish themselves, and few could sustain their activities effectively without outside assistance. Such innovations as the airplane and the radio helped overcome obstacles to outside support and made possible a greater degree of coordination of guerrilla operations. Lacking the organization, training, and equipment of more conventional forces, the guerrillas avoided pro-
longed clashes, favoring the mobile hit-and-run tactics that had been used successfully by such forces since earliest times. Most critical of all, partisans needed the support of the population to obtain food, clothing, information, and moral support. Fortunately for the guerrillas, the brutality of the German and Japanese occupational forces greatly strengthened native resistance movements. Psychological operations helped turn popular sentiment against the Germans and Japanese, but a more enlightened occupation policy would probably have weakened the guerrillas no matter what the Allies might have done.
Despite their success, American special operations in World War II still fell far short of their full potential. A betterorganized Ranger or commando program against German communications in Italy might have provided greater direct assistance to the slow Allied push up the peninsula. Given mechanized vehicles, Rangers in France could have taken advantage of German disorganization to seize key points, such as bridges, and conduct raids on supply dumps and prisoner-ofwar camps in advance of the Allied columns. In the Pacific the Filipino guerrillas constituted a nuisance to the Japanese occupation, provided support to American units, and maintained the morale of their people, but they lacked the resources and organization to force the Japanese to divert large numbers of troops to occupational duties. Whatever the merits of Wingate's scheme of long-range penetration groups, GALAHAD never had the chance to conduct such operations and instead performed deep flanking marches in support of the Chinese offensive into Burma. In northern Italy and France the Office of Strategic Services did not provide active support for resistance movements until the eve of offensives into those regions. While political complications furnish part of the explanation for the inability to exploit the potential of special operations, particularly in the case of the OSS, the lack of prior planning and allocation of resources, resulting from a basic Army disinterest in commando and guerrilla activities, was the main culprit.
The Army's initial hesitancy to become involved in special operations is easily explained. Prior to Pearl Harbor, U.S. military and political leaders had never envisioned that such activities would play a major role in any future war and thus never
attempted to establish a doctrine or overall concept for their use. Following the outbreak of war, the Army created provisional commando units, the Rangers, to meet certain temporary contingencies, such as the need to gain combat experience through raids and requests from theaters for elite units to spearhead amphibious landings. Once those units performed those tasks, they generally lingered on without a purpose, serving as line troops attached to corps and divisions until their dissolution. Except in the case of the Philippines, the Army left the mission of guerrilla warfare, with all of its political complications, to the OSS,in effect surrendering an entire area of military operations to the new agency.
Although OSS programs in theory came under the theater commands, American special operations in practice suffered from a general lack of coordination with conventional Allied military efforts. Unity of command in the area of special operations existed only in the Southwest Pacific, where MacArthur's headquarters took direct responsibility for the command of the Alamo Scouts, the 6th Ranger Battalion, and the Filipino guerrilla movement. A similar unification also took place in northern Burma, where Stilwell's headquarters after some misgivings operated closely with the OSS's Detachment 101. Where unity of command existed, the results indicated its importance to the maximum effectiveness of special operations in the future.
The problems resulting from lack of unity of command were only a few of the symptoms reflecting the unfamiliarity of U.S. Army officers with the field of special operations. Marshall proved to be more receptive to special operations units than most, but he had only a cursory knowledge and appreciation of such activities. In any event, he had little time or inclination to force his views on more orthodox subordinates. McNair, who was mass-producing large numbers of versatile standard formations for big-unit warfare, had little use for specialized commando units or guerrilla-organizing teams. Eisenhower quickly recognized the potential value of partisan operations to OVERLORD, but largely because of political complexities at his Allied headquarters, he did not create an effective headquarters to coordinate resistance activities in France until a few days before the invasion. He and Bradley appreciated the fighting
qualities of Ranger units but saw little need for them other than as amphibious assualt troops. Even Patton, a firm believer in the importance of morale and spiritual factors in warfare, thought more in terms of large formations and mass tactics than special operations. Among the high-ranking U.S. officers in other theaters, Clark appreciated the value of special operations conducted by the Office of Strategic Services in his area, but he misused Ranger units and the 1st Special Service Force in line operations. Stilwell, a conventional infantryman, turned to guerrilla warfare only with reluctance and insisted on using both GALAHAD and the Mars Task Force as line units.1
In contrast to the established U.S. tendency to overwhelm opponents with the superior firepower generated by American industry, dire circumstances had forced the British to take a different approach. Confronted by a continental opponent with greatly superior ground forces, Churchill and his military chiefs relied on Britain's traditional "Blue Water," or peripheral, strategy. They sought to wage a war of attrition against Germany through economic warfare (the blockade), diplomacy (supporting the Russian war effort), an aerial bombing campaign, guerrilla warfare (the resistance), and a program of amphibious raids against the enemy-held coastline. Always searching for the bold stroke that might catch the enemy off balance, Churchill personally supported the establishment of the British commando force and later backed Wingate's measures in the CBI Theater. The British prime minister's "dislike of the drab personality of contemporary warfare went hand-inhand with his distaste for democratic or mass warfare as a whole." 2 His views reflected his bitter memories of the bloody stalemate of World War I as well as Britain's difficult military position during the first half of World War II.3
Due to political and topographical conditions, special operations played a smaller role in Europe and the Mediterranean than in the Pacific and Asia. While all four theaters possessed subject populations anxious for liberation, northern Europe's broad, open plains and good roads proved more conducive to big-unit warfare. Although special operations would have been more appropriate to the rugged terrain and slower pace of warfare in the Mediterranean, U.S. commanders were slow to take advantage of opportunities there. Several factors contrib-
uted to this lethargy: the lack of resources; the complicated political situation in Italy and the Balkans; and the lack of interest in a theater that, to American planners, existed only to tie down German troops. Except for some isolated instances, conventional U.S. generals discarded special operations in Europe and focused almost totally on conventional warfare once their forces had consolidated beachheads in North Africa, Italy, and France.
In the Pacific and Asia conditions proved more favorable for special operations. Americans campaigned in jungles and mountains, terrain that channeled all conventional military operations and greatly lowered the operational level at which the war was fought. Here the battles were waged by regimental, battalion, and company commanders, while those at division headquarters and above rarely entered the tactical arena. Largely because of these conditions, commanders in the Pacific and CBI theaters, particularly MacArthur, proved more amenable to the use of special units, such as the 6th Ranger Battalion, the Alamo Scouts, and OSS Detachment 101. Feeling a sense of obligation to provide some assistance to the Filipinos who awaited his return, MacArthur was elated by the growth of the guerrilla movement in the islands and eager to provide direct assistance. Thus, favorable terrain, support from the population, and inspirational leadership, along with the appreciation of higher-level commanders in the Pacific and the lack of alternatives in the CBI Theater, contributed greatly to the success of special operations in the war against Japan. Yet even in the Pacific and the CBI theaters, the chronic lack of manpower caused field commanders to use GALAHAD and the guerrillas as line infantry with predictably heavy casualties, and in China the lack of politico-military unity at the top made it exceedingly difficult for U.S. Army and OSS representatives to accomplish anything concrete throughout the conflict.
The decisive role of conventional operations in World War II confirmed the Army's orientation toward big-unit warfare in the postwar period. Although some veterans of special operations, notably Volckmann, Fertig, and Aaron Bank of the Office of Strategic Services, managed to persuade the Army to develop a guerrilla warfare capability, the effort necessitated a long struggle. In 1952 the Army finally established an organi-
zation simply called Special Forces and modeled it largely on the experiences of the OSS wartime Jedburghs and operational groups. But command interest in the new force was lacking. Most officers continued to believe that if the Army remained prepared for a large-scale conflict, it could handle lesser contingencies, including guerrilla warfare, with ease. The Army's later experiences with limited war in Asia, South America, and Africa led many to question that judgment. The result was a surge of interest in special operations forces, first in the early 1960s and then again in the early 1980s. Nevertheless, many questions regarding doctrine, command and control, roles and missions, and organization in this field remain unanswered, and the Army can still learn much from its experiences during World War II.
1. Weigley, History of the U.S. Army, pp. 466, 470; U.S. Army, Army Ground Forces, A Short History of Army Ground Forces, Army Ground Forces Histories, Study 2 (Washington, D.C.: Army Ground Forces, 1946), p. 31; Ltr, Eisenhower to Milton Lehman, 13 Jul 46, in Alfred D. Chandler and Stephen E. Ambrose, eds., The Papers of Dwight D. Eisenhower, 9 vols. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1970), 7: 1194-95; Omar N. Bradley, A Soldier's Story (New York: Holt, 1951), p. 139; Martin Blumenson, ed. The Patton Papers, 2 vols. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974), and King, Wilham Orlando Darby, p. 137.
2. Trumbull Higgins, Winston Churchill and the Second Front, 1940-1943 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1957), p. 189.
3. Eliot A. Cohen, Commandos and Politicians: Elite Military Units in Modern Democracies, Harvard Studies in International Affairs 40 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978), pp. 35-40.