ABUNDANCE OF VALOR: RESISTANCE, SURVIVAL AND LIBERATION, 1944-45
By Will Irwin
Ballantine Books, $30, 378 pages
On Nov. 13, 1941, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, based in the Philippines as commander of the newly constituted U.S. Forces Far East dismissed concerns of a staff officer, Capt. Russell W. Volckmann, about Japanese intentions. “Well, I’ll tell you, Russ,” MacArthur said confidently, “I haven’t got anything really on paper yet. I’ve got it all in my mind, but we really don’t have to worry about things at this point. The Japanese have a second-rate navy and about a fourth-rate army, and we don’t have to worry about them until around July .”
That MacArthur indeed was able to return was due in large measure to Volckmann. Retreating to a mountain sanctuary in North Luzon, he assembled a ragtag guerrilla army of Americans and Filipinos that harassed the Japanese invaders at every turn. Submarines brought in enough supplies to arm a force that ultimately totaled some 22,000 men, who killed more than 50,000 Japanese soldiers.
More importantly, they gathered information on Japanese defense capabilities that enabled MacArthur to invade the Philippines in October 1944. A “bamboo telegraph” of native runners supplied information from town to town. Without this intelligence, asserts Mike Guardia, MacArthur would have been forced “to go in blind.” And when the Japanese commander decided to surrender, it was Volckmann he approached.
Fortunately for Mr. Guardia, a serving Army officer, Volckmann kept a rudimentary diary for much of the period, describing how he managed to put together his “private army,” one that waged arguably the most successful guerrilla campaign of the entire war. When peace came, Volckmann wrote the Army’s first two field manuals on modern counterinsurgency, “Operations Against Guerrilla Forces,” and “Conduct of Guerrilla Warfare,” that essentially outlined the concept for what became Army Special Forces. Mr. Guardia argues, convincingly, that Volckmann deserves the title of “father” of Special Forces. Volckmann retired as a brigadier general.
Interestingly, at least two historians of the Philippine campaign who did mention Volckmann in their works described him as being with the Office of Strategic Services, wartime predecessor of the CIA. Such was not true; he had no connection with OSS. The irony is that Volckmann, operating essentially on his own, was far more successful at guerrilla warfare than was OSS.
No one familiar with OSS history would question the raw courage of men and women who underwent arduous training and risked their lives behind enemy lines. But even such a figure as Richard Helms, former director of the CIA, and himself an OSS veteran, has an opinion that many in the intelligence community would consider to be pure heresy. In a post-retirement interview with a CIA historian, Helms stated, “If you really look honestly at what the OSS contributed to the winning of World War II, it really isn’t all that much.”
Helms did praise the “rather brainy bunch” who did economic studies and the like, who “really did contribute to the war effort.” But, Helms continued, “I think most of the ‘derring-do’ of the OSS reads better in books than it was if you were a general worrying about how you’re going to win the war.”
I thought of Helms’ comment as I read “Abundance of Valor,” a gripping account of Operation Market-Garden, the September 1944 airborne assault intended to seize bridges in Nazi-occupied Holland that would enable Allied forces to surge across the Rhine. Retired Special Forces officer Will Irwin recounts the efforts of three OSS teams - the so-called “Jedburghs” - of three or four men each, tasked with working with the Dutch resistance to harass German defenders and gather intelligence.
Sadly, their bravery for the most part went to naught, and through no fault of their own. Mr. Irwin conducts a postmortem on the failures with a professional’s keen eye. He lists several flaws in planning the operation:
The Germans had thoroughly penetrated much of the Dutch resistance organization. Dozens of persons parachuted into the Netherlands by British intelligence were quickly snatched up.
The Market-Garden drops of teams were made into areas containing heavy concentrations of German troops, meaning that the teams had to scramble to survive. A wiser deployment would have put them further behind enemy lines, not smack-dab in the middle of mainline defenses.