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© The Boston Globe 2001.  Used by permission.
The Secret History of World War II

by Mark Fritz / Globe Staff / August 26, 2001

Page 5 of 11

Continued from page 4

"It was kind of a romanticized thing," says James Critchfield, the youngest colonel of World War II who later became a top CIA operative under Dulles. "I think there were elements of the resistance that did quite remarkable things. But they did not become effective when you tried to pull them into conventional warfare. They got killed quite quickly."

He said French fighters, however, were "fierce and brutal" guerrillas and essential as intelligence sources.

"I took a task force parallel to the Rhone up the Alps for about 150 miles," said Critchfield, 83, who lives in Williamsburg, Va. "Straight up the corridor to Grenoble. Sitting beside me was a member of the French resistance, telling me which way to go and where to turn. They knew everything."

Detachment 101

The Allies' ability to influence the resistance wasn't quite as effective in the Pacific, says Maochun Yu, a historian at the US Naval Academy and author of "The OSS in China: Prelude to Cold War."

"The Japanese waged war in the guise of anti-Colonialism," he said. "That had enormous appeal. It appealed to Gandhi."

Plus, the Allied commander in the Pacific, General Douglas MacArthur, ordered the OSS to stay out of his war. But that didn't stop Donovan from parachuting agents behind enemy lines and running anti-Japan propaganda campaigns throughout China and Southeast Asia.

Imperial Japan, stretched thin by the sheer size of the Asian empire it had built within weeks of Pearl Harbor, scored a big strategic victory in March 1942, when it drove the British from colonial Burma and cut off the Burma Road, a main supply line to the Allied-backed guerrilla campaigns being waged across occupied expanses of China.

Enter Detachment 101, an OSS guerrilla mission. The group probed behind Japanese lines, through dense jungle, stifling heat, and outbreaks of disease. Thanks in large part to the help of a tough hill people called the Kachins, two dozen American agents grew to a rebel force of 10,000 that disrupted supply lines, radioed targets to Allied aircraft, and killed more than 5,000 Japanese. Detachment 101 lost 200 lives, mostly Kachins, in three years of combat.

This was the OSS's most successful combat operation of the war in either theater, Yu says, though doubt lingers over the number of Japanese the unit claims to have killed. New records show in grim detail that some Burmese paid dearly for the fabled success of "Det 101."

Among them were the Karens, a Christian people who supported the British colonialists.

"You might find them interesting simply as a human document," OSS Lieutenant Commander E. L. Taylor wrote Donovan in a March 1945 memo. "There is perhaps a very slight American interest in the fate of the Karen people, owing to the extensive development of American missionary activities there before the war."

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