The SECRET Story of the U.S. Coast Guard Intelligence in World War II
Last Update: 09 February 2008
In the buildup to America’s entry into World War II during the summer of 1941, President Roosevelt empowered William J. Donovan of New York, a highly decorated World War I veteran and recipient of the Medal of Honor, with a directive to stand up the office of the Coordinator of Information (COI). In 1942 the COI became the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), laying the foundation for what would later become the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The men and women of the COI, and later the OSS, were recruited from America’s elite colleges and universities, federal agencies, and military services to collect and analyze information as one of the primary directives provided by the president. Equally important was the “supplementary activity that would facilitate securing information important for national security…,” meaning the responsibility to conduct covert, counter-intelligence and espionage operations.
The history of the Office of Strategic Services has been well documented throughout the years. What is little known, however, is the relationship between the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and U.S. Coast Guard, including the formerly Classified history of the Coast Guard men attached to the OSS during World War II in Europe and the China, Burma, India (CBI) Theater of Operations.
The story begins with the creation of the office of Coordinator of Information (COI) and its use of Coast Guard signals intelligence intercepts, and then moves to the SECRET “Philadelphia Plan” negotiations. This important dialouge facilitated possible OSS cooperation with the Coast Guard as a source for training its newly-created Auxiliary and a goal of enhancing domestic port security operations. Even less known, many of the Coast Guardsmen recruited for their swimming, diving, boat handling and signaling skills were at the heart of OSS Maritime Unit (MU) and Operational Swimmer Group (OSG) operations.
Lieutenant John Babb (USNR), Chief of the OSS Maritime Unit in the India, Burma Theater said in his July 1945 report to OSS HQ in Washington D.C. that:
Enough cannot be said in the praise of these [Coast Guard] men and the remainder of the group which joined on 13 January, for the spirit in which they took up their new assignment and the cooperation and loyalty that they gave us. Their lot was not an easy one, but their previous training proved invaluable. They were engaged in the infiltration of agents where the existence of the enemy was known and in working their way many miles into enemy lines through mangrove swamps under enemy outposts, and dodging enemy M.L’s. We can be thankful that no men were lost through enemy action.
This research documents and analyzes not only the archived history of these operations, but also the stories of the 120 Coast Guard men who were pioneers of the OSS to include OSS/USCG Domestic Coordination; OSS Detachment 101, 404, and 505 Air and Maritime Unit operations; UDT 10 in the Pacific; and the Operational Swimmer Groups referred to as “Frogmen,” which later became the foundation for Central Intelligence Agency covert dive operations, U.S. Navy SEALS, and Special Operations Command Combat Swimmers.
On September 11, 1941 President Roosevelt directed in Executive Order 8895:
"…the Coast Guard, with the approval of the Secretary of the Treasury, shall, during the period of the present unlimited emergency, operate as a part of the Navy, subject to the orders of the Secretary of the Navy…”
Admiral Waesche, the longest serving Commandant of the United States Coast Guard and the first Coast Guard officer to achieve three and four stars, oversaw the transformation of the small peacetime Coast Guard fleet into a force of 160,000 men manning 30 destroyer escorts, 75 frigates, 750 cutters, 290 Navy vessels, and 255 Army vessels, among scores of smaller craft.
Not mentioned in any formal history of WWII, the Coast Guard or the OSS was the unprecedented cooperation between General Bill Donovan of the Office of Strategic Services and Commandant Waesche of the United States Coast Guard. Under the leadership of both men the Coast Guard provided significant support to OSS operations on the Potomac, the Maritime Unit in Europe and the Burma India theater, and West Coast Schools and Training until the OSS was disbanded under Executive Order 9621 on October 1, 1945 by President Harry Truman.
By August of 1944 there were 226 men in the Maritime Unit of the OSS. Almost half of those men were Coast Guard. The Coast Guard has long been known as "guardians of the sea." These Coast Guard men are part of the long blue line of Coast Guard Operational and Intelligence history. From their development of SIGNALS Intelligence during the Rum War through their support to the OSS during World War II regarding Covert, Counter Intelligence, Espionage and Sabotage Operations in the maritime environment, these Coast Guard men, these Guardianspies, were a unique instrument for National Security Policy during World War II domestically and abroad and helped to lay the foundation not only for future Coast Guard Operations, but also for organizations not yet formed.
 Roosevelt, Kermitt. "War Report of the OSS." Originally published in 1947 at the Top Secret level and declassified in 1976 and published in an unclassifed version. The original was part of the History Project of the OSS Strategic Services Unit. Kermitt Roosevelt was the Chief Historian. The declassified version released in 1976 was published by Walker and Co of New York.
 National Archives. OSS Files. Record Group 226-92-549-13. “Burma War Diary.” Drafted by LT Jon Babb, Chief Maritime Unit, India, Burma Theater. July 1945. The “Burma War Diary” provides a summary of the activities of the MU in Burma, listing names, missions and responsibilities of the men conducting covert and sabotage operations in that theater up until the MU was disbanded after D Day. Many of the men from Operational Swimmer Group 2 (OSG) were Coast Guard members. LT John P. Booth (USCGR), recipient of the Bronze Star for his service with the OSS in the Burma Theater, was the Commanding Officer in the field of OSG2. These “Frogmen” from the OSG later became the foundation for CIA covert operations, the U.S. Navy SEALS and Special Operations Command.
 Information on Admiral Waesche was obtained from the Arlington National Cometary web site at: http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/waesche.htm
and the U.S. Coast Guard Historian's Office at: http://www.uscg.mil/history/people/RRWaescheSRBio.html
This research is based on primary source documentation provided by the OSS/USCG veterans and their familes, declassified archived information from the OSS Archive in Washinton, D.C., and the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, MO.
We are conducting an oral history project in order to preserve the accurate, real-life stories of the heroic Coast Guard men who were attached to the OSS during World War II. Members and their families are being interviewed to capture their amazing story for the Archive. Thus far the following USCG/OSS Veterans have been located and are participating in the in the Oral Histroy Project:
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