Book Reviews of Piercing The Reich

Piercing The Reich
Piercing The Reich
ISBN-13: 9780760720868
ISBN-10: 076072086X
Publication Date: 2000
  • Currently 3.3/5 Stars.

3.3 stars, based on 2 ratings
Book Type: Paperback
Reviews: Amazon | Write a Review

2 Book Reviews submitted by our Members...sorted by voted most helpful

reviewed Piercing The Reich on + 136 more book reviews
Against the backdrop of mounting Allied casualties and prolonged conflict, author Joseph E. Persico tells the dramatic story of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) agents who risked their lives behind enemy lines and played a critical role in the war effort. All the exciting missions are here: from the ill-fated operation code named DILLON, which was foiled by a traitor in its midst, to the most daring move of all - the dropping of spies into Berlin itself.
reviewed Piercing The Reich on + 1707 more book reviews
I obtained the book as an add on to an order for a fulfilled wish, thinking it would be good for the shelf at the old soldiers' home (although we have few readers). It did not disappoint and I may also use it as collateral reading for a US History class wherein students would form a group and then each choose a chapter to read and share.
Mr. Persico includes a glossary (mainly of organizations identified by initials), a list of missions and of interviews. There is an index, bibliography, and interesting photograph section. No footnotes.

My notes for introductory remarks would be based on the Preface and ending chapter.
Preface. pp. ix-xi. Much of this book is based on the author's ability to get FOI requests filled, the willingness now of agents to talk, i.e. original sources.
"The penetration of Germany was a long postponed decision, one that OSS had avoided and hoped would not be necessary until the prolongation of the war after the autumn of 1944 made it unavoidable. The British, mentors of the inexperienced Americans in affairs of intelligence, had no great faith that the Reich could be penetrated and made little effort in that direction themselves. Their experiences had left them dubious of any espionage operations within enemy territory not supported by a reasonable strong local resistance organization. But the United States did succeed on a significant scale and reaped an abundant harvest of intelligence. OSS, in fact, reached it fullest maturation as an intelligence service in the penetration of Nazi Germany. The United States, essentially without such a service at the war's beginning, had by the end of the German operations, an espionage apparatus to rival any nation's. Of all the clandestine battles of World War II, this piercing of the Nazi heartland emerges as one of the most daring, and it was carried off by some of the boldest combatants in the secret war (xi)."
Chapter Nineteen. Debriefing. pp. 331-337.
The advice of OSS agents was in demand by the occupation forces in 1945 to nominate certain Germans as trustworthy and help in the capture of important Nazis, but soon little distinction was made between Germans working with the occupation unless they had a known horrible wartime record.
"The fear among OSS officers that their homeward-bound German agents might suffer retaliation proved exaggerated. It was true after World War I that Germans who had collaborated with the Allies were treated as pariahs. But the Nazis had so debased German values that concepts of patriotism and decency had become twisted almost beyond recognition (332)." OSS officers did help former agents support their families, find a job, etc.
The OSS had lost 36 agents out of nearly 200 operating in German cities, many of which were of military importance. "The reports of OSS agents inside the Reich contributed to the mosaic of information which enabled decisive attacks on V-weapons sites, oil fields, and synthetic-fuel plants. Their intelligence-gathering led to the destruction of German jets on the ground before they could extend the war in the skies. When Allied bombers moved, artillery spoke, or troops marched, it was often toward objective revealed by the heroism and craft of American spies operating within Germany (334)."
HST shut down the OSS in 1945 but some elements that had gone to other departments were available when HST started the CIA in 1947.
My notes for chapters I shared with the group.
Chapter Two. The Manufacture of Illusion. pp.17-34.
Much of this chapter deals with the establishment of the OSS, briefly with in the USA and more extensively in the UK for European operations. Much of the management problems were in dealing with the British, the Army Air Force, and so forth. Thus Bill Casey wore mufti because he could get better results as a civilian than as a low ranking officer when dealing with the other services. Geo. Bowden and Arthur J. Goldberg sought recruits among the many labor organizers in exile.
"Among the exiles Arthur Goldberg met during his journeys to London was Samuel Zygelbojm, a Socialist labor leader and a member of the Polish government-in-exile. Zygelbojm, who had escaped from the Warsaw ghetto in 1940, was the first to reveal to Goldberg the blackest secret of the Third Reich: that the Germans were embarked on the extermination of a whole people. Zygelbojm pleaded with Goldberg to urge the Allies to demonstrate their awareness of the death camps, even if the only desperate gesture available was to bomb them. Hundreds of lives were already being lost in these camps every day anyway. Goldberg agreed to raise the issue. He later reported to Zygelbojm that Allied commanders could do nothing about the concentration camps at that point; they had priority targets. Goldberg had passed this information to the bitterly disappointed Zygelbojm over dinner at Claridge's. The next day, May 12, 1943, Samuel Zygelbojm killed himself. He had taken an overdose of pills to protest Allied indifference to the tragedy of Europe's Jews (22)."
There is much about obtaining the materials to manufacture fake IDs and the like. German newspapers obtained via neutral nations were carefully read.
"At times the talents of his printers made Carl Strahle uneasy. He had seen how effortlessly his men had solved the scarcity of cigarettes simply by counterfeiting extra ration stamps for themselves. He had examined the English five pound note with some trepidation. Producing the British bill would be a cinch for his printers. Strahle and his staff learned that anything which can be printed can be counterfeited. The essential elements were the human skills and enough money. OSS, by this stage, had both (31)."
Chapter Seven. 'I Pledge Allegiance to Adolph Hitler.' pp. 101-115.
Bert Jolis, a diamond merchant with many connections in both business and the labor movement, had emigrated to the United States and was in training as a private. Arthur Goldberg recruited him and he served with the OSS in North Africa and London, relocating to Paris after the liberation.
There are several pages about a White Russian, Youri Vinogradov, who was sent to Berlin in 1945 in hopes that he could penetrate the SD (Nazi Security Service) which knew most everything going on.
"Youri presented Jolis with a classic intelligence dilemma. 'In all these cases, Jolis noted, âthe degree of ideological commitment versus the degree of opportunism of someone who offers to become an agent is extremely difficult to assess. One of the first things you want to know is the motivation. Is he a double? You're never absolutely sure. You have to get to know him as an individual. Time is really the element.' (103)."
Taking a chance, and with excellent documents plus $10,000 in diamonds sewn in his clothes, they were able to get Vinogradov across the front lines.
Mr. Persico gives examples of how many agents were lost in crossing the lines, with the Americans even more prone than the Germans to start shooting.
Henry Hyde, the commander of the Seventh Army OSS Detachment is profiled, Persico noted that they operated on the front lines, not from London. Pushed by Lt. General Alexander Patch, whose Seventh Army had been stymied by stiffening German resistance in eastern France, arrangements were made to recruit agents from freshly arriving POWs, something forbidden by both SHAEF and Geneva Convention rules.
"It was not the stuff of espionage melodrama. They did not plot the assassination of tyrants or filch secrets from a cabinet minister's safe (114). What they reported mostly were numbers: amp coordinates signifying where bombs and shells should be dropped to destroy concentrations of the enemy's tanks, aircraft, and troops (115)."
[See Chapter Fifteen, pp. 264-266, for Vinogradov's life behind the lines as the war was winding down. He did return to Paris for a few weeks, but then disappeared from the OSS when they wouldn't guarantee U.S. citizenship (324).

Chapter Ten. The Courtship of Joan-Eleanor. pp. 157-183.
At the end of 1944, given the Battle of the Bulge and a German operation in the Alsace, the OSS needed to ramp up operations as the war would not be ending as soon as was expected in September.
Earlier they had obtained the use of worn B-24 Liberators (CARPETBAGGER) to drop agents behind the lines and had some pilots from the 492nd Bombardment Group who successfully flew a few hundred feet over the ground to drop agents and supplies in France. Those pilots and planes were now assigned elsewhere.
A new operating base was established in Lyon and Lt. Commander Stephen H. Simpson, an RCA engineer in peacetime, was assigned to get agents into Germany, which would be harder than it had been in piercing occupied territories and communicating with a suitcase-sized radio. "There, where safe houses would be few or nonexistent, wireless transmission, with its widely dispersed signal, would expose agents to detection by radio direction finders. These 'gonio' vans, for radiogoniometry, could pick up radio signal twenty miles from its source and home in on it until, at one hundred yards, monitors could hear the clacking of the radio keys (160)."
Simpson had long been considering a very small handset (3/4 lb. net weight, with long lasting batteries) for a radio system that the agent could use to speak directly, in plain English since it would hardly be intercepted, with a plane flying overhead. A wire recorder in the airplane would back-up the conversation. "Simpson named his system 'Joan-Eleanor': Joan, for a major in the WACs whom he much admired; and Eleanor, for DeWitt Goddard's [his RCA collaborator in this project] wife. The Joan component was carried by the agent on the ground, and Eleanor was the equipment aboard the plane (162)."
The plan to use B-17s was nixed by the air force because improved antiaircraft fire (using radar) made it suicidal to circle and circle the target area.
There was one USAAF squadron flying the British De Havilland Mosquito, mostly in photo reconnaissance. Stripped of its armament, it had the range to travel to Germany and return, but the OSS was again given planes that were nearly hangar queens. Simpson himself made the first flights, along with a brave pilot and navigator. BOBBIE was an operation to establish a route to bring agents from Holland into Germany.
"The pilot cruised along a prearranged bearing while Simpson played his directional antenna back and forth across the flight path. The receiver began to hum and crackle. Simpson locked the antenna onto the bearing that had yielded the response. The pilot brought the plane around to the same heading. Simpson turned on the wire recorder (164)." He made contact with BOBBIE who reported movements of a Panzer regiment and a bridge that could be blown to harry the Germans. He then asked for a drop of batteries, tires for an auto he'd acquired, maps, and flashlights. An outstanding success as the contact had been made with the Mosquito seven miles up. Simpson made a few more flights and then an OSS linguist (Lt. Calhoun Ancrum) took over as many of the agents being dropped spoke little English.
Mr. Persico for several paragraphs discusses the OSS's decision to use some of the Commies that were in exile. Many Europeans [who I would say knew their ilk well] would have nothing to do with them. The OSS saw it as a case of all hands on deck and so enlisted several via the Free Germany Committee, while downplaying that they were commies, not socialists.
The first recruits to be trained in London were actually all practitioners of skilled trades. Persico explains how false documents and appropriate clothing was obtained.
The initial successes made things move fast (this is all in February, 1945) and obtaining a new lightweight, fast bomber, the A-26 opened up the possibility of dropping agents in Berlin. "HAMMER became a pampered mission. The complex flight plan was rehearsed on four practice runs to Berlin, during which the navigator recorded each checkpoint with a stopwatch and compass (174)." HAMMER's first mission was 1 March 1945 and they didn't take off until a weather plane returned from Berlin. "The audacity of the HAMMER Mission had inspired the documents and cover staffs to extraordinary efforts (174)."
The agents were athletic and well chosen. Persico provides the backstory Paul Land used (176) as Ewald Engelke.
"Should they succeed in establishing themselves in Berlin, the HAMMER team had three objectives. To make contact with the Free Germany Committee, to procure and transmit intelligence from these sources, and to prepare for the reception of additional agents (177)."