The OSS and the Italian Resistance in World War II is a powerful but overlooked tale of devotion, courage, tragedy and ultimate triumph. While many brave soldiers have risked their lives for the country they loved, few have fought for two countries at once. The Italian-American men who undertook this harrowing journey did so as part of a covert war of liberation and their story deserves and needs to be told.
In the early days of American involvement in World War II, Italian-Americans represented the largest group of civilians whose parents had arrived in the latest wave of immigration from Europe to the United States. The United States' intelligence organization, the Office of Strategic Service (OSS), a precursor to the CIA, proposed a bold gambit -- recruit a vast number of these first-generation Americans for specialized training to aid the Italian Resistance. OSS leaders believed that the cultural backgrounds of Italian Americans combined with their knowledge of language and their empathy for people whose values of family and community were similar to their own, would provide them with advantages behind enemy lines.
In a matter of a few weeks, approximately 350 men had agreed to return to Italy to fight the Germans alongside the Italian resistance. These recruits, each speaking their own dialect of Italian and with only a fragile identity as an American, journeyed to Italy for the first time in their lives to fight for a land which they had never before seen.
The methods and purpose of this specialized group of OSS soldiers marks a crossroads in history when culturally and politically diverse groups came together in a greater cause to defeat Hitler’s occupation of Italy. The OSS efforts focused on intelligence gathering, sabotage, and surprise attacks on German strategic and military posts in collaboration with the Italian Resistance, These operatives assumed some of the most dangerous duties in the Allied effort and did so knowing if they were caught they might not be afforded the rights allowed other prisoners of war under the Geneva Convention. The OSS and Partisan bands kept as many as seven German divisions out of commission for extended periods of time and forced the surrender of two full German divisions, leading directly to the collapse of German forces in and around Genoa, Turin, and Milan.