The multi-faceted mission of the Operational Groups was to organize, train, and equip local resistance organizations, and to conduct ‘hit and run’ missions against enemy-controlled roads, railways, and strong points, or to prevent their destruction by retreating enemy forces. Major General William J. Donovan believed that qualified soldiers with language skills and cultural backgrounds could be found among ethnic groups in the United States. These soldiers could then be inserted as a team into enemy-occupied territory and successfully operate as small guerilla bands. Unlike OSS Special Operations (SO) teams, the Operational Groups (OGs) always operated in military uniform. They were trained in infantry tactics, guerilla warfare, foreign weapons, demolition, parachuting, and had attached medical personnel. A country-specific OG had four officers and thirty enlisted men. But in practice, sections sent into the field were often half that size.
OGs were active in Burma, China, France, Greece, Italy, Norway, and Yugoslavia. In the Mediterranean Theater, the OGs were controlled by the 2671st Special Reconnaissance Battalion, Separate (Provisional) and were divided into regional sections. The OGs were first employed in Italy in September 1943. Eventually thirty teams were sent into occupied Italy. In Greece, eight OG teams operated from April to November 1944. OG teams also conducted operations against the Dalmatian coastal islands from January to October 1944. OGs, like the Jedburghs, were not dropped into occupied-France until after D-Day, 6 June 1944. Twenty-one OG teams supported subsequent Allied landings at Normandy and the invasion of Southern France. Two OG teams served in Norway from March to June 1945. In the Far East, OG personnel were parceled out to Detachment 101 teams, or worked with the OSS Maritime Unit conducting operations along the Arakan coast of Burma. Many OG personnel were sent to China in 1945 to organize and train the first of twenty Chinese airborne units, called ‘Commandos.’ Although the war ended before all the units could be trained, several Commandos with their OG ‘advisors’ conducted operations against the Japanese before the final surrender.
The OGs accounted for thousands of enemy killed and captured, destroyed numerous bridges, locomotives and rail lines, and caused the diversion of large numbers of enemy troops. The lasting legacy of the OGs is found in Operational Detachments Alpha (ODA) of today’s Special Forces. The original A teams were modeled after the OGs.