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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 6 of 11

Continued from page 5

The OSS had parachuted four spies into Burma's Tavoy district in October 1943, but they all landed in the sea, losing their radio, rations, and weapons. They swam ashore and were sheltered by a series of Karen villagers, even after the team's parachutes washed ashore and the Japanese military police began torturing Karens for information.

The records are so detailed that they name Karens suspected of betraying the unit. Three of the OSS men subsequently were captured and the fourth escaped, only to die of an illness while in hiding.

Eight months later, the OSS sent in another four agents, this time via rubber rafts launched from a seaplane. Local Karens help them set up a spy nest at a Baptist mission, but again Japanese police used torture to catch the four.

Taylor said a third OSS team tried to penetrate the Tavoy region, this time arriving aboard a submarine. These two men walked to a village that the Japanese had already threatened to wipe out if the locals aided any more Allied agents.

Still, the people of the village helped the men haul their equipment from the beach. This mission, too, was doomed. The Japanese had ordered some of the captured agents to spy for the military police if they wanted to live, and that led to the capture of the third group.

Most of the agents were Karens recruited and trained by the OSS. As with many other foreign nationals sent on dangerous assignments in their enemy-occupied homelands, Taylor could not pin down whatever happened to the three OSS teams.

The Karens said a nationalist group had intended to resist British rule once the Japanese were expelled, which would mean massacres of pro-British Karens. The prophecy came true, and today, Karens continue a forest rebellion in a totalitarian Burma.

A rift with Britain

Though it varied greatly from country to country, both passive and active resistance against the Axis clearly benefited the Allies. "In general, particularly in the second half of the war, Nazi forces were spread thin, so resistance did matter, but so did noncooperation short of violence," says Richard Breitman, another historian on the presidential panel.

General John Magruder, who replaced Donovan as an interim head of central intelligence after Truman abruptly dissolved the free-wheeling OSS at war's end, told a top secret meeting of military and civilian intelligence chiefs in 1946 that the resistance was vital to combat operations.

"The Norwegians, Danes, Belgians, Dutch, Poles, Yugoslavs -- during the period before the invasion of France in London our clandestine people had contact with these clandestine organizations, and it paid dividends," he said, according to a transcript. The underground supplied "a great part" of the intelligence used to launch the Normandy invasion.

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