Super-Rangers: The Early Years of Army Special Forces 1944

Super-Rangers: The Early Years of Army Special Forces 1944-1953
Jason Bryant Gibson
A thesis submitted to the faculty of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in partial
fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in the Department of History
Chapel Hill
Approved by:
Richard H. Kohn
Joseph T. Glatthaar
Michael C. Hunt
Jason Gibson: Super-Rangers: The Early Years of Army Special Forces 1944-1953
(Under the Direction of Richard H. Kohn, Joseph T. Glatthaar, Michael C. Hunt)
The United States Army Special Forces is an unconventional warfare organization of
the United States Army with roots in World War II. Soldiers and civilian policymakers who
participated in guerilla warfare during that war saw unconventional warfare as a way to
further American interests in situations where a conventional army could not operate
effectively. In the postwar national security policy battles, these soldiers and government
officials fought for a permanent unconventional warfare unit in the US Army. By 1951 They
had successfully argued for the establishment of Army Special Forces Groups utilizing
guerilla warfare to fight Soviet Communism in the event of a general war. The problems of
understanding and defining unconventional warfare, however, crippled the ability of Army
Special Forces to instigate guerilla warfare against the Soviet Union wherever and whenever
MASTERS THESIS………………………………………………………………………1
The United States Army Special Forces was an organization born in the debates of early
Cold War policy immediately after World War II. The Army created Special Forces in 1952 to
train American troops to lead indigenous soldiers in Soviet satellite states in guerrilla conflict
against the Soviet Union. Most histories of the organization, however, begin in 1956 with
Special Forces troops preparing to aid anti-Communist governments in the Philippines and South
Vietnam against the threat of Communist insurgents.1 These histories forego the critical
influence Cold War policy had on the development and future of Special Forces in favor of a
focus on Army Special Forces operations in Vietnam. In doing so, they fail to explain the true
origins of Special Forces, a unit whose operations were so significant in Vietnam, Afghanistan,
and Iraq.
Army Special Forces soldiers were trained to organize and develop indigenous troops as
guerrillas to harass, raid, and sabotage larger enemy forces over time to degrade and ultimately
destroy their ability to fight. The Army considered guerilla warfare to be part of unconventional
warfare, a term that in the 1940s referred to combat that was not on open ground between two
opposing forces. Special Forces modeled their tactics for guerilla war on American experiences
in World War II. In the Philippines, American forces left behind after the Japanese invasion led
Thomas K. Adams, US Special Operations Forces in Action: The Challenge of Unconventional Warfare (Portland:
Frank Cass, 1998) focuses on a general history of all Special Operations Forces from the 1950s to the present day
and treats this period briefly. Charles M. Simpson III, Inside the Green Berets: The First Thirty Years: A History of
the U.S. Army Special Forces (Novato: Presidio Press, 1983) focuses on the tactics Special Forces used and is
primarily a personal recollection of a Special Forces officer. Shelby L. Stanton. Green Berets at War: U.S. Army
Special Forces in Southeast Asia 1956-1975 (London: Arms and Armour Press, 1986) deals only with Southeast
Asia. Only Stanton and Adams have bibliographies, most of which are based on books written not by historians but
by field experts in the CIA and Special Forces. Even Alfred H. Paddock’s U.S. Army Special Warfare: Its Origins
(Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2002) has no secondary work focusing on Special Forces before the
conflicts in Southeast Asia written by a historian. The majority of secondary sources on Special Forces are written
by CIA and Special Forces field experts who focus on Vietnam and describe the 1950s in an introductory fashion.
Philippine soldiers in a guerilla war that lasted until the Americans returned three years later.
“Merrill’s Marauders” fought using unconventional tactics such as destroying bridges and
attacking isolated Japanese forces in occupied Burma to support the supply link between British
India and allied China.
The Office of Strategic Services (OSS) was a military organization President Franklin D.
Roosevelt ordered into existence in 1942 to collect and analyze intelligence for the Joint Chiefs
of Staff and to perform covert operations when required. The Army scorned unconventional
warfare and viewed the OSS not as a military organization but as a civilian organization that
employed military personnel. The OSS trained and supplied the French Resistance in Occupied
France in addition to gathering covert intelligence on German military plans and conducting
covert operations in Europe. Some OSS units, called Jedburghs after a town in Scotland where
the soldiers trained, operated for several months in France to disrupt German forces before the
Normandy invasions in 1944. The OSS performed similar missions in Burma and Southeast
The Army itself did, however, form specific units for unconventional warfare. The
famous “Ranger” battalions, created in 1942 as American commandos along British lines, also
destroyed bridges and raided enemy strong-points to support the operations of regular,
conventional American forces. Rangers operated very close to the American frontlines, however,
never going more than a few dozen miles into enemy territory. During the Normandy invasion,
the 2nd Ranger Battalion scaled the cliffs of Point du Hoc to destroy German artillery batteries
threatening American troops on the beach. Neither Rangers nor Marauders trained or used
indigenous troops in their operations, and only the Marauders operated independently of
conventional units for long periods of time. Another form of unconventional warfare was the
psychological warfare units in Europe. The Psychological Warfare Branch in Europe headed by
Brigadier General Robert McClure used leaflets, pamphlets, and loudspeakers to weaken the
enemy’s morale and even convince soldiers to surrender. None of these units led directly to
guerilla warfare and Army Special Forces.
After World War II the Army demobilized millions of personnel including those
organized into unconventional warfare units. The Army, which eschewed unconventional
warfare as an effective tactic, largely phased out these unconventional units. Though many
soldiers who participated in these units recognized a need for them in the future, these soldiers
were a small minority made smaller after demobilization. The OSS, which handled much of the
military’s covert intelligence program, was disbanded and its functions distributed among the
State and War Departments. While both Departments were quick to retain the OSS covert
intelligence capability, they dissolved its covert operations branch which included the Jedburghs.
The Rangers, “Merrill’s Marauders,” and American guerrilla forces in the Philippines were
simply disbanded and their personnel dispersed into the Army. The Psychological Warfare
Branch focused primarily on “Denazification,” the program to rid German society of Nazi
thinking and ideology and remove Nazi party members from influential positions in occupied
Germany after the war.
With the beginning of the Cold War in the last half of the 1940s, American officials
began to see the need for an unconventional warfare capability to combat Soviet expansion,
particularly in Europe where Soviet forces continued to occupy many countries in Eastern
Europe. In Greece, with Soviet help, Communists undertook a guerilla campaign to wrest control
of the country away from the British supported monarchy. In the Far East, the fall of China in
1949 convinced American policy makers that East Asia was under Communist threat. American
military and foreign policy planners began to focus on how to deal with that threat while
avoiding another world war that could perhaps devastate the United States.
In response to these developments, The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was formed in
1947 to adequately and efficiently coordinate all information that the United States could use to
fight the immense Communist threat. The National Security Council (NSC), the highest advisory
council to the President, was formed in that same year to facilitate coordination between
political, military and financial policymakers towards a single goal.
By 1950 the Truman Administration reached the conclusion that the United States would
have to do everything possible to “contain” the Soviet Union until it collapsed on its own. The
Truman Administration decided to use any “method short of war” to halt that expansion.2 The
United States would train and support allies against Communist insurgency while building up its
own military forces in preparation for a massive Soviet invasion of Europe.
The Army, whose mission in the postwar world had been heavily contested, suddenly had
the job of resisting Communist forces when they “probed” their boundaries. It received the funds
and men to fight Communist forces around the world. The Army began rebuilding and preparing
its forces to fight the immense Red Army in Europe, and its proxy armies in places like North
Korea. At the same time many of the soldiers and civilians who had experience with
unconventional warfare during World War II felt that guerilla warfare had an important place in
the new policy of “all means short of war.” These men, like Brigadier General Robert McClure
Chief, Psychological Warfare Division 8th Army during the Korean War and head of the
Psychological Warfare Board in Europe during World War II; Colonel Aaron Bank, who
participated in many OSS Jedburgh units from France to Southeast Asia; and Lieutenant Colonel
Executive Secretary, NSC 68: U.S. Objectives and Programs for National Security, Documents of the National
Security Council (Washington: University Publications of America, 1980), text-fiche, 0544, Reel II.
Russell Volckmann, who led American guerrilla forces in the Philippines, were convinced that
the Army should train units to fight a guerrilla war using indigenous forces against the Soviet
Union much as the Soviets had done during World War II when tens of thousands of Soviet
guerillas harassed German forces behind the lines, tying down thousands of German forces and
contributing to the German inability to successfully occupy and utilize Soviet territory.
The problem was that these men and their allies were the only group in the Army who
spoke out on the values of guerrilla war. The majority of Army officers still saw unconventional
warfare as peripheral to regular warfare, and did not see its value in a time of great budgetary
constraints. With the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950 and the removal of many budgetary
restraints from 1951-53, however, this group of men was able to gain enough support for the
establishment of a Psychological Warfare School and Army Special Forces at Fort Bragg, North
Carolina, which would participate in a plan developed in the Truman Administration called
“retardation.” The plan stated that Special Forces would cooperate with CIA covert operations
groups to instigate a massive guerilla war against the Soviet Union whenever possible. The
Truman Administration saw the Soviet problem as a global military problem that had a primarily
military solution. When President Eisenhower came to power in 1953, however, he believed that
the United States did not have the resources to combat the Soviet Union using only military
means without destroying democratic freedoms in the process. In limiting military forces to
nuclear and conventional warfare in the “New Look” Policy of 1953, the Army could no longer
support Special Forces as the ghost leader of a massive secret guerrilla army. When in 1953
President Dwight D. Eisenhower felt that trying to fight Communism everywhere would lead to
bankruptcy and defeat, Army Special Forces as a concept was largely abandoned.
The debate over unconventional warfare after World War II originated in discussions
over creating a central intelligence organization for the United States government. Debates over
the future of national intelligence in the United States determined the National Security
Council’s (NSC) understanding of unconventional warfare, and thus the future of Army Special
Forces. Beginning in 1944, Major General William H. Donovan, head of the Office of Strategic
Services (OSS), proposed several ideas concerning the future of a peacetime national intelligence
agency in the United States with the same tasks as the OSS.3 In his initial document, which
became known as the “Donovan Plan,” he advocated a peacetime national intelligence agency
reporting directly to the President. The Secretaries of State, War, and Navy would have no
control over the agency, though they could comment on its reports. The Joint Chiefs of Staff
contested their exclusion from a future central intelligence agency. The Joint Intelligence
Committee, an agency of the Joint Chiefs of Staff which oversaw military intelligence, created
two counter-proposals as a response to the Donovan Plan.4 The proposals differed primarily from
Donovan’s in granting significant control to the military Secretaries. Public distaste for
Americans engaging in morally ambiguous covert activities in peacetime and the death of
President Roosevelt, however, ended the possibility of a compromise until after the war.5
The debate that erupted over the Donovan Plan continued well into1945.6 In August, the
question of maintaining a national intelligence agency could no longer be put off. Harry S.
Truman, the new President, was keen to liquidate as many wartime special agencies as possible
Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States: 1945-1950, Emergence of the Intelligence
Establishment, Founding of the National Intelligence Structure, August 1945-January 1946, Introduction
(Washington, DC, 1996).
State Dept., Foreign Relations,
in order to support his domestic programs and balance the federal budget.7 In the wake of World
War II there appeared no reason to keep up a large military establishment. The OSS was
disbanded, and its functions distributed to other agencies of the government.8 The War
Department received responsibility for “black” propaganda, or the use of covert propaganda both
true and false against an enemy to undermine the morale of hostile forces and to convince an
occupied country’s population to resist its conquerors. This was opposed to “white” propaganda,
in which open, ostensibly truthful information would be used to strengthen the will of American
civilians and show enemy civilians the truth of the benefits of American society. The War
Department also received the special operations branch of the OSS, which organized the
resistance movements in Europe. Brigadier General John Magruder, Director of the new
Strategic Services Unit in 1945-6, an office created as a home for the OSS functions of covert
intelligence and covert operations in the Army, quickly disbanded any subversive operations
capability.9 The Army still supported Psychological warfare and intelligence gathering, but
eschewed subversive operations in any form. The State Department received the research and
analysis branch of the OSS which had collected and analyzed overt intelligence during World
War II.10
Meanwhile the debate over the future of national intelligence continued towards a
resolution when President Truman gave Secretary of State James Byrnes the authority to develop
a national intelligence agency.11 The Bureau of the Budget had by this point become a strong
Michael J. Hogan, A Cross of Iron: Harry S. Truman and the Origins of the National Security State, 1945-1954
(New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 115.
Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States: 1945-1950, Emergence of the Intelligence
Establishment, Psychological and Political Warfare, Introduction (Washington, DC, 1996)
State Dept., Foreign Relations,
player in the debate over a future national intelligence agency.12 Having consulted for the service
intelligence organizations, the Bureau of the Budget advocated the establishment of a centralized
national intelligence agency in the State Department, despite the reluctance of State Department
officials to house such an agency.13
By 1947, however, it was becoming clear in the Truman Administration that the future
intelligence agency would act under the control of the State, War, and Navy departments while
possessing its own budget.14 It would be the nation’s central intelligence agency and take
responsibility for secret intelligence, “white” and “black” propaganda, and subversive
operations, though the council that organized the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was initially
as resistant to subversive operations as the Army.15 At the same time a growing interest in the
State, War, and Navy Departments in psychological warfare as opposed to subversive operations
provided a new avenue for covert political action.16 At first, psychological warfare was
considered a tactic for wartime only. But rising concern over the success of Communist political
parties in Western Europe brought about a desire to attempt peacetime psychological
operations.17 These operations would use leaflets, radio broadcasts, speeches, and pamphlets to
discredit Communist parties during elections. In the latter part of 1947 a State-Army-Navy-Air
Coordinating Committee (SANACC) meeting decided that peacetime psychological warfare
should be performed only under the State Department, using both black and white propaganda.18
The black propaganda program would operate with the advice of the Director of Central
Department of State, “Memorandum From the General Counsel of the Central Intelligence Agency (Houston) to
Director of Central Intelligence Hillenkoetter,” Foreign Relations of the United States: 1945-1950, Document 241
State Dept., Foreign Relations,
State Dept., “Report by an Ad Hoc Subcommittee of the State-Army-Navy-Air Force Coordinating Committee,”
Foreign Relations, Document 249,
Intelligence and a military representative of the JCS. Secretary of State George Marshall,
however, did not want the Voice of America, a “white” propaganda program of radio broadcasts
into the Soviet Union and its satellites, to engage in anything but truth.19 The service branches
were also unwilling to take on subversive operations of any kind.20 This reluctance resulted in
the separation of white propaganda from black propaganda and subversive action in general.21
By the beginning of 1948 Secretary of Defense James Forrestal and George Kennan, head
of the Policy Planning Staff in the State Department, expressed suspicion in the lack of outside
control over CIA subversive operations.22 A decision by the NSC in 1947 attempted to end the
debate by directly assigning the Director of Central Intelligence the power and responsibility to
initiate and conduct subversive operations in the interests of the United States.23 Forrestal and
Kennan, however, continued to suspect the CIA and especially Director of Central Intelligence
Admiral Roscoe Hillenkoetter of being unable to effectively mount subversive psychological and
covert operations.24 This matter was brought up in the next NSC meeting on June 3, 1948, and
referred to the staff for a draft proposal.25 Kennan was unwilling to accept anything less than
State Department and indirectly his control over covert operations.26 In the end he and Forrestal
relented and on June 17, 1948 the NSC established an Office of Special Projects in the CIA that
State Dept., Foreign Relations,
State Dept., “Memorandum of Discussion at the 2d Meeting of the National Security Council,” Foreign Relations
of the United States: 1945-1950, Document 250
Executive Secretary, NSC 4: Office of Special Projects, Documents of the National Security Council
(Washington: University Publications of America, 1980), text-fiche, 0249, Reel I; Executive Secretary, NSC 10/2:
Office of Special Projects, Documents of the National Security Council (Washington: University Publications of
America, 1980), text-fiche, 0249, Reel I.
State Dept., Foreign Relations,
Executive Secretary, NSC 4, Reel I.
State Dept., Foreign Relations,
State Dept., “Memorandum for the President of Discussion at the 12th Meeting of the National Security Council,”
Foreign Relations, Document 283 (Washington, DC, 1996),
State Dept., “Memorandum From the Director of the Policy Planning Staff (Kennan) to the Under Secretary of
State (Lovett),” Foreign Relations, Document 286 (Washington, DC, 1996),
would handle subversive operations under the authority and responsibility of the Director of
Central Intelligence, who himself would be subject to the oversight of the NSC.27 Even this
compromise did not stop the debates, however, as the CIA did not agree with the separation of
subversive operations from secret intelligence in its own “quasi-autonomous” office within the
Thus the CIA, as the official covert operations branch of the American government,
would determine what subversive operations the United States would initiate in the future. All
long term subversive operations, of which guerrilla warfare was one, could only succeed with the
support of the CIA. Only the CIA officially had the personnel trained and experienced in covert
action. Only the CIA had the long term intelligence needed to understand potential adversaries.
In 1949 The Joint Chiefs of Staff had decided to use CIA unconventional warfare resources
rather than its own during wartime, and created the Joint Subsidiary Plans Division (JSPD) to
liaise with the CIA.29 While the Army may have held control over subversive operations during
wartime, the establishment of the CIA as a vocal, independent agency in the bureaucratic debates
of the late 1940s meant that external control would most likely be light at best.
Debates over what agency would be responsible for subversive operations and secret
intelligence continued in the National Security Council for years despite several NSC documents
attempting to settle the conflict. From 1948 on, however, the definition of political warfare -- the
use of psychological and subversive operations against an enemy – was settled. By the time NSC
Executive Secretary, NSC 10/2: Office of Special Projects, Documents of the National Security Council
(Washington: University Publications of America, 1980), text-fiche, 0249, Reel I.
State Dept., Foreign Relations,
Colonel Aaron Bank, From OSS to Green Berets: the Birth of Special Forces (Novato: Presidio Press, 1986), 149150.
68 was promulgated on 14 April 1950 all methods short of war would be used to combat the
alarming growth of Soviet power including subversive operations and psychological warfare.30
Since the OSS had run these operations during World War II, and OSS had been separate from
the Army, the Army had no real experience with subversive operations.31 Even though the Army
had officially been given the subversive operations portfolio when the OSS had disbanded at the
end of the war, Brigadier General Macgruder had quickly dissolved it.
Nor did the Army have the funds or the interest in unconventional warfare during the late
1940s. From the end of the Second World War to 1949, the Truman administration attempted to
rein in spending and balance the federal budget, something President Truman had promised for
the fiscal year 1950.32 His priorities were domestic programs to extend the New Deal, and
Truman was willing to sacrifice the military budget to keep his pledge. For the fiscal year 1951
budget, Bureau of Budget chief Frank Pace reduced the military budget projection from $15
billion to $13.5 billion.33 Pace led the change for a small, balanced federal budget, which he
argued was the first step to national security. One of his allies happened to be the Secretary of
Defense Louis Johnson, who simply refused to accept calls for increasing the budget from the
service secretaries.34 Pace even considered reducing foreign military aid.35
In the end, however, the President reversed his decision on a balanced budget. Johnson’s
heavy handed treatment of the military budget forced the Joint Chiefs of Staff to work around
him in their preparation of a proposal for the future of the military, JIC 502, on 20 January
Steven L. Rearden, History of the Office of the Secretary of Defense: The Formative Years 1947-1950,
(Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1984), 7.
Alfred H. Paddock, U.S. Army Special Warfare: Its Origins (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2002),
Benjamin O. Fordham, Building the Cold War Consensus: The Political Economy of U.S. National Security
Policy, 1949-1951. (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1998), 30.
Ibid., 30.
Ibid., 34.
Ibid., 34.
1950.36 Secretary of State Dean Acheson and the new Director of Policy Planning in the State
Department, Paul Nitze, who had desired a much larger military budget since 1947, used JIC 502
as the basis for drafting NSC 68.37 NSC 68 provided the basis for the future of American foreign
policy during the Cold War. The NSC argued that in light of the eventual Soviet development of
nuclear weapons, the United States would have to decide how to combat the growing Communist
power.38 The NSC accepted George Kennan’s argument in 1946 that the Soviet Union would
avoid war against a powerful United States to avoid destabilizing its own internal control, but
would not hesitate to attack any perceived weakness in the non-Communist world whether
through its armed forces or its unconventional warfare capability.39 The United States would
therefore have to develop a powerful military able to contest Soviet attacks in any part of the
world, as well as use “means short of war” to keep Soviet power from expanding during peace.40
When the National Security Council accepted NSC 68 in 1950, Acheson and Nitze were able to
get Frank Pace successfully moved from head of the Bureau of Budget to Secretary of the Army
immediately after NSC 68 had been presented.41 By 1950, President Truman had tentatively
accepted an increased military budget.
But the Korean War truly convinced the American government that the Soviet Union was
prepared to use force to expand Communism. In 1950 North Korean forces attacked South Korea
with the support of the Soviet Union and Communist China. According to NSC 68, the Truman
Administration led a United Nations “police action” to support the South Koreans against
Gregory Mitrovich, Undermining the Kremlin: America’s Strategy to Subvert the Soviet Bloc, 1947-1956 (Ithaca:
Cornell University Press, 2000), 50.
Fordham, Consensus, 47.
Executive Secretary, U.S. Objectives and Programs for National Security, Documents of the National Security
Council (Washington: University Publications of America, 1980), text-fiche, 0475, Reel II.
George Kennan to Secretary of State James Byrnes, 22 February 1946 “The Long Telegram,” Telegraph,
Moscow, accessed March 8, 2008.
Executive Secretary, National Security, Reel II.
Ibid. 51-52.
Communist aggression through the use of United States armed forces. The end result was an
Army that in the span of six years had been forced to constrict and expand in quick succession.
By 1947 military personnel had dropped from a 12 million man peak in 1945 to a 1.5 million
man low.42 Only 683,837 soldiers remained in the Army from a high of 8 million. Every one of
the Army’s 10 divisions by 1947 was understrength.43 In 1951, the Army was well into the
Korean conflict and numbers had risen once more to 1.5 million, and in 1952 approached 1.6
million.44 For Fiscal Year 1952, Armed Forces expenditures reached 42.8 billion, a more than
threefold increase from the low of 1949.45 It was simply impossible for the Army to handle this
immense contraction and expansion without strict priority levels. Millions of soldiers had to be
processed and transported around the world after World War II. Four years later one million
more had to go through the same process in reverse. They all had to be fed, clothed, and paid,
and the whole process had to be documented. Innovative projects such as the establishment of an
unconventional warfare capability were understandably a low priority in the face of
reestablishing critical conventional forces for defense against the North Korean invasion of
South Korea.
There were several attempts at forming some sort of subversive action force in the Army,
including several papers on the subject despite the official decision to rely on the CIA for
subversive operations.46 There were a number of individuals within the Army who participated in
many of the key unconventional battles of World War II. After the Japanese seized the Philippine
archipelago in 1942, for example, Lieutenant Colonel Russell Volckmann trained a force of
Kenneth W. Condit, History of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: The Joint Chiefs of Staff and National Policy, Volume II:
1947-1949, (Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1996), 11.
Ibid., 72.
Ibid., 31.
Paddock, Special Warfare, 64.
Filipinos to fight a guerrilla war against the occupation that lasted until MacArthur’s return to
Luzon in 1944.47
Colonel Aaron Bank participated in a number of American unconventional episodes from
the Jedburgh missions in German occupied France to the first hints of American interest in
French Indochina in 1945.48 In France, teams consisting of American soldiers called Jedburghs
supported the French resistance against the German occupiers, helping to tie down German
troops and destroy roads and railroads. In Indochina in 1945, Bank fought the Japanese alongside
Vietnamese and French guerrillas.49 These men, along with others participating at the time,
became skilled in unconventional operations. They were scattered, however, throughout the
Army, since the Army was prepared after 1945 to form unconventional units such as the Rangers
when needed. But these were not guerrilla forces per se. Volckmann’s operation in the
Philippines had been entirely his own creation, though General Douglas MacArthur supported
them with supplies.50 The Jedburgh teams in Europe were OSS and unofficial, even if the Army
participated in its activities.51 The Army looked upon these operations as sideshows, even if
helpful, to conventional war.
Such was the case when the Army helped combat the civil war that broke out in Greece
in 1947. Until then, the British attempted to aid the anti-communist forces in the civil war that
began the moment German forces pulled out of the country in 1944.52 When the British lacked
the resources needed to secure the Greek government and armed forces in the long term against
the communist led guerrillas operating in the north of the country, the United States quickly
Mitrovich, Kremlin, 131.
Bank, Green Berets, vii.
Ibid., 105.
Mitrovich, Kremlin, 131.
Bank, Green Berets, 2.
Rearden, Secretary of Defense, 148.
reacted to the British announcement in 1947.53 President Truman in his “Special Message to the
Congress on Greece and Turkey” outlined a program of aid of $400 million for the support of
these two countries against Communist aggression.54 Truman stated that the Soviet Union would
attempt to destabilize the two countries in order to secure direct access to the Mediterranean Sea.
Secretary of Defense James Forrestal, though initially unconcerned with the Greek situation,
became involved when communist successes in the north exposed the weakness of the Greek
military.55 He set up a Joint U.S. Military Advisory and Planning Group (JUSMAPG) to train the
Greek army at first as a conventional force along American lines.56 Greek forces, however,
unused to the substantial amount of fire support common in American forces and thus lacking
knowledge of its limits, relied on artillery and air power to deal with the insurgents before
moving in.57 This allowed the insurgents to simply retreat when ordnance began falling on their
To counter the problem, American advisors under General James A. Van Fleet switched
to unconventional training, removing much of the tanks and heavy artillery that was of limited
use in mountainous territory.58 The National Security Council debated sending actual American
troops into Greece, but decided the financial cost of supporting American troops and the
possibility of antagonizing the Soviet Union would not be worth the effort.59 Greek troops were
trained to either use the population to their benefit as informants or isolate them as spies, and to
harry the enemy with men rather than cumbersome firepower, even though at first Greek
Ibid., 9.
President Harry S. Truman, “Special Message to the Congress on Greece and Turkey: The Truman Doctrine,”
Official File 56; Truman Papers, Truman Library (March 12, 1947).
Rearden, Secretary of Defense, 150.
Ibid., 151.
Andrew J. Birtle, U.S. Army Counterinsurgency and Contingency Operations Doctrine 1942-1976 (Washington:
U.S. Government Printing Office, 2006), 48.
Mitrovich, Kremlin, 52.
Rearden, Secretary of Defense, 154.
commanders did not follow their training.60 When Yugoslavia defected from the Soviet sphere as
a result of Tito’s estrangement from Stalin, it was no longer a sanctuary for the Greek guerrillas,,
thus thwarting their ability to retreat from the conventional army.61 When guerrilla troops made
the decision to switch from unconventional to conventional warfare since they lacked a secure
base, they were unable to withstand the attacks of a trained Greek army.62 The Joint Chiefs of
Staff believed that American funds and training of the Greek army were key to defeating the
Communist guerrillas, however, and thus felt reassured in the American capacity to defeat
guerrilla wars.
On the other side of the world, the Philippines were the scene of another Communist
guerilla conflict born from the ashes of World War II.63 Communist-Nationalists, once more
veterans of partisan warfare against an Axis occupier, in 1945 effectively attacked a corrupt
government in much the same fashion as in Greece.64 American forces, present since the
Philippines had been invaded in 1944, had a reputation and history that allowed for a much more
favorable relationship between American advisors and Philippine armed services.65 American
soldiers therefore often participated in operations against Communist guerrillas, and American
advisors such as Lieutenant Colonel Russell Volckmann were usually well versed in Philippine
military affairs.66 Helped by friendship with the local population and the presence of an effective
commander, the future Philippine President Ramon Magsaysay, the Americans were able to
defeat the Communist guerrillas in much the same fashion as they had done in Greece. 67
Mitrovich, Kremlin, 52.
Ibid., 38.
Rearden, Secretary of Defense, 160.
Mitrovich, Kremlin, 62-3.
Condit, Joint Chiefs of Staff, 220.
Ibid., 220-222.
Breuer, William B. MacArthur’s Undercover War: Spies, Sabotuers, Guerrillas, and Secret Missions. New York:
John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 1995.
Birtle, Counterinsurgency Doctrine, 63-64.
Greece and the Philippines showed the Army’s approach to handling guerrilla warfare on
the periphery of the Soviet sphere using Military Assistance and Advisory Groups (MAAGs).
Both guerrilla uprisings were treated as conventional conflicts. American advisors taught
conventional tactics top-down to Philippine or Greek military forces in the belief that aggressive
leadership that took the offensive would defeat guerrilla opposition.68 American advisors did not
directly train divisions or regiments. The United States Army did not train indigenous military
formations in a guerrilla conflict for the purposes of fighting a guerrilla war. Because the NSC
believed guerrilla conflict to flourish in poor economic and political conditions, the problem was
not the military’s to solve. 69 The Army did not see any reason to connect subversive action and
unconventional warfare.
Brigadier General Robert McClure was perhaps the best individual in the Army to
advocate that the Army should develop an unconventional war capability. During World War II,
he led the Psychological Warfare Division of the Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary
Force (PWD/SHAEF) under General Dwight D. Eisenhower, established in early 1944.70 He
knew OSS chief Major General William Donovan well, and the two agreed about a connection
between unconventional and psychological warfare.71 After the war, General McClure became
director of Information Control Division in Germany, an organization in the Army responsible
for American propaganda in Germany. Though he wanted psychological warfare to have its own
staff section at the theater level, McClure constantly argued for the placement of psychological
Condit, Joint Chiefs of Staff, 220.
Mitrovich, Kremlin, 58; Condit, Joint Chiefs of Staff, 221.
Paddock, Special Warfare, 12.
Ibid., 36.
warfare capabilities in the Operations and Plans Division of the Army rather than Intelligence in
order to emphasize that psychological operations were an essential part of conventional military
operations rather than an auxiliary and marginal branch of intelligence.72
Throughout the five years after the war, General McClure constantly pushed for the
recognition of psychological warfare as an important part of the Army’s fighting capability. In
1948, he wrote to General Albert Wedemeyer, Chief of Army Plans and Operations, detailing his
position on the future of psychological warfare.73 Wedemeyer, recognizing McClure as the
expert on psychological warfare within the Army, was impressed with his plans. Several high
level officers and civilian Army officials also knew and respected McClure, including the
Secretaries of the Army Gordon Gray (1949-1950) and Frank Pace Jr. (1950-1953). Both men
strongly advocated psychological warfare. After his time as Secretary of the Army, Gray became
head of the Psychological Strategy Board.74 Pace eventually authorized the creation of the
Psychological Warfare School at Fort Bragg, the home of Army Special Forces.75 McClure had
also during the Korean War headed the psychological warfare program as the Chief,
Psychological Warfare Division, 8th Army - a position created at the insistence of Secretary Pace
and the chief of Staff and Operations (G-3), Major General Charles Bolte.76 Bolte had even
written a study on the need for Special Forces operation within the Army in 1951, stating that the
Army needed a counter against the Soviet partisan forces so effectively employed in World War
II.77 Both men were convinced that the psychological warfare program in the Army needed an
Ibid., 43.
Paddock, Special Warfare, 54.
Truman Library Truman Papers: Psychological Strategy Board Files.
Department of the Army Office of the Adjutant General, Establishment of Psychological Warfare School, 22
October 1952, Document 2326.1952.004, U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School Archives,
Fayetteville, NC.
Paddock, Special Warfare, 91.
U.S. Department of the Army. General Staff, G-3. Special Forces Operations, 1951.
advocate on the Department of Army Special Staff.78 Pace himself constantly wrote of the
successes of psychological warfare in the Army Department semiannual reports, usually focusing
on the Leaflet and Loudspeaker Divisions’ exploits in Korea.79 The Leaflet and Loudspeaker
Divisions used air-dropped and manually distributed pamphlets as well as loudspeakers mounted
on trucks to lower North Korean morale.
McClure saw the connection between unconventional warfare and psychological warfare
in the OSS and considered it the optimal arrangement. Since unconventional warfare typically
occurred far behind enemy lines, the use of psychological warfare was essential in influencing
the minds of the indigenous population. When he became Chief, Psychological Warfare
Division, he successfully asked that responsibility for unconventional warfare be placed in his
office.80 He therefore had the authority to form an unconventional warfare group within the
Army, and promptly used it. McClure gathered up several Army officers who had participated in
unconventional warfare actions during World War II, including Bank and Volckmann, and set
them to work to formulate the basis for an unconventional warfare capability within the Army.81
The product of their research was the study “Special Forces Ranger Units,” which was sent to
Army Field Forces and quickly accepted.82 None of the men had ever been Rangers, though two,
Lieutenant Colonels Melvin Russell Blair and Marvin Waters, served with “Merrill’s
Marauders,” a regiment that fought Japanese forces in Burma during World War II. The group
relied primarily on Lieutenant Colonel Volckmann’s counterguerrilla manual called FM 31-20,
“Operations Against Guerrilla Forces,” published in February 1951.
Paddock, Special Warfare, 92.
United States Department of Defense, Semiannual report of the Secretary of Defense and the semiannual reports
of the Secretary of the Army, Secretary of the Navy, Secretary of the Air Force (Washington, DC: Government
Printing Office, 1951), 92-94.
Paddock, Special Warfare, 119.
Ibid., 119-120.
Bank, Green Berets, 154.
This field manual was based on Volckmann’s experiences in the Philippines and captured
Nazi documents detailing Soviet guerrilla operations in Nazi-controlled areas.83 There were
probably influences from Mao Zedong’s writings about his campaigns in China as well, since the
Army researched his methods as early as 1950.84 FM 31-20 centered on the concepts of guerrilla
warfare as a political and economic strategy, destroying the “will to win” of a government, and
sustained low-intensity combat actions over a long period of time to exhaust a stronger foe either
unprepared for such tactics or unable to deal with them.85 FM 31-20 emphasized the power of a
sustained guerrilla campaign, using widespread attacks on supplies and operations with troops
trained to operate in the enemy’s environment to capitalize on the inability of an enemy to
protect all important targets at all times. The manual also stated explicitly that guerrilla warfare
would not aim primarily to destroy conventional forces, but to weaken them. At the last stage
conventional forces would be used to occupy territory and destroy the enemy’s ability to resist.86
Both guerrilla and counter guerrilla forces required very high morale and support of the
population through which they moved. Volckmann used the concept of “nets” to describe the
nebulous areas in which Special Forces personnel would operate.87 A “net” referred to groups of
indigenous persons organized to support “Special Warfare” operations. The “intelligence net”
supplied knowledge about events occurring in an area, using both information from the
counterinsurgent sources and from the populace. A “security net” protected the counterinsurgent
force, relying on the same sources, although more the latter. A “supply net” gathered and
distributed supplies within an area in question. Other nets served other needs, but each required
the help of the populace to function properly. After the “nets” were operating, guerrilla forces led
Mitrovich, Kremlin, 134.
Robert Payne, Mao Tsê-tung, Ruler of Red China, (New York: Government Printing Office, 1950).
Department of the Army, FM 31-20: Operations Against Guerrilla Forces, February 1951.
and trained by American operators would act to achieve an objective. Because these nets were
the lifeblood of a guerilla operation, the goal of the counterguerrilla was to separate the populace
from guerrilla forces.
FM 31-20 would provide the doctrinal basis for the Special Forces. In 1951, however, the
manual was simply the counterguerrilla doctrine for the United States. Army Field Forces under
pressure from Secretary of the Army Frank Pace and Major General Bolte, however, had agreed
on the Special Forces concept, and made them distinct from any Ranger units already in
existence.88 Though General McClure had gathered together the men and knowledge necessary
to create an unconventional warfare unit, he had neither a home base for them to train or a place
for them in the Army’s administrative structure. Fortuitously In 1951 Ranger companies were
deactivated in the Korean theater and were not planned to be placed in the European theater
where Army forces were building up in the new NATO structure.89 The commanders in chief for
both areas decided that the Rangers were of little use in any action behind enemy lines due
differences in language and ethnic barriers.90 Using this lack of capability McClure and Bank
argued that the Special Forces could train a large guerrilla army behind Soviet lines for use
against the Soviet rear during a possible conflict.91
This idea fit into a new strategy of subversive action to combat a Soviet invasion of
Western Europe. In April 1951, the Office of Policy Coordination (OPC) in the CIA, with
support from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, formulated a subversive operations plan against the Soviet
Union that became known as “retardation.”92 It specified the means by which CIA “black”
Bank, Green Berets, 155.
Ibid, 157.
Department of State, Douglas Keane and Michael Warner, eds., “Paper Prepared in the Office of Policy
Coordination of the Central Intelligence Agency,” Foreign Relations of the United States, 1950-1955: The
Intelligence Community 1950-1955, Document 61 (Washington DC: Government Printing Press, 2007), 121.
propaganda, economic warfare, and unconventional operations including guerrilla warfare would
be organized for use by the Army during wartime. In a supposed conflict with the Soviet Union,
Western Europe would be overrun and atomic weapons would be used by both sides.93 The paper
argued that Soviet subversive activities would rise to an unparalleled level to destabilize
European countries as completely as possible immediately before invasion.94 CIA- and Armytrained refugees from Eastern European states as soldiers under the Lodge Bill of 1950 would
provide the majority of guerrilla troops, who would infiltrate Soviet-controlled territory to
engage in guerrilla operations. 95 The Lodge Bill of 1950 allowed for the enlistment of up to
2500 noncitizens in the Army for five years, for which they would receive permanent residency.
Subversive operations were to be employed in both peace and war, though the differences in
operations between the two would be in degree rather than kind. Propaganda, economic warfare,
and every possible subversive activity including guerrilla warfare would be used in peace as soon
as possible. In war, all missions would serve to retard the Soviet advance.96 The paper detailed
subversive operations during phases of the conflict as well as specific directions for forces
operating in particular geographic regions including the Far East, the Middle East, Western
Europe, and Eastern Europe.97
McClure and his allies in the Army were particularly excited by the “retardation” plan,
which placed psychological and guerrilla warfare at a high priority.98 As much as the
“retardation” plan allowed McClure to successfully acquire the Ranger slots that had become
open when commander of the 8th Army in Korea, General Walton H. Walker, disbanded his
Ibid, 123.
Ibid., 124.
Ibid., 125.
Ibid., 126-130.
State Dept., Keane and Warner, “Memorandum From Robert P. Joyce of the Policy Planning
Staff to the Deputy Under Secretary of State (Matthews),” Foreign Relations, Document 142, 388.
Ranger battalions, it also doomed Special Forces to its eventual fate. If and when the idea of
retardation was discarded, so would the purpose of military participation in what was considered
to be a CIA function. The Special Forces would then be an elite organization without a mission.
In August 1950 McClure began to search for a home for psychological and
unconventional warfare in the Army. McClure prepared a Tables of Organization and Equipment
(TO&E) for the projected center, and Colonel Bank prepared one for the planned special warfare
units.99 Due a high demand on manpower and budgetary restraints, Army Field Forces
recommended keeping manpower levels as low as possible.100 All of the former Ranger spaces
were requested. Both McClure and Bank briefed Army Field Forces on the proposed center, and
countered reservations from the CIA concerning the formation of a subversive operations force
within the Army by planning cooperation with the CIA in covert operations.101 Mutual suspicion
from both sides, however, continued far beyond 1951. It did not help that McClure requested
CIA confidential intelligence information for use in the “retardation” strategy, which the CIA
was reluctant to share in the interests of protecting its sources.102
By September 1951 McClure received approval from Army Field Forces for a base,
though it took some time for Fort Bragg to be chosen. The Infantry Center at Fort Benning and
the Third Army, which controlled Bragg, resisted a diversion of resources for an organization
that did not directly support their activities.103 Neither saw the value of Special Forces,
something devoted not to military but subversive operations, especially in a time of strained
resources for the Korean War and the buildup of Army forces in Europe for NATO, which began
in 1950. General McClure was able to address these concerns in a meeting with the head of the
Bank, Green Berets, 158-160.
Ibid., 165.
Paddock, Special Warfare, 129.
Ibid., 131.
Paddock, Special Warfare, 137.
Third Army, General John Hodge, and on 29 May 1952 Fort Bragg became the home of the
Psychological Warfare School and the new Special Forces. On the 25 September 1953, only a
year later, 10th Special Forces Group, the first unconventional warfare unit from the new school,
received its orders to move to Germany, as a part of the retardation plan.104 Half of its personnel
were left behind to form 77th Special Forces Group, which would continue to train for the time
being and deploy at a later date.
With the activation of Special Forces, FM 31-20 and the “retardation” concept gained an
operational force. The Tenth Special Forces Group led by Colonel Bank was trained for guerrilla
warfare in Eastern Europe and the prospective use of Lodge Bill troops.105 It took until 1953,
however, for the troop strength of the 10th Group to pass 1500 men.
The Tenth Group was well placed to take advantage of the military provisions in the
“retardation” plan put forth by the Office of Policy Coordination in the CIA with the support of
the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Initially, however, there was confusion regarding the separation of
Special Forces from the Psychological Warfare Division. At the Psychological Warfare School at
Bragg, Special Forces learned and were expected to be a part of psychological warfare.106 This
conformed to the belief at the national level that the two went together as they did in the CIA.
The problem in the Army was that Special Forces was seen as a subordinate part of the
Psychological Warfare Division, rather than its own independent unit with its own capabilities
and missions. Of course, Colonel Bank and General McClure argued to the contrary, but the fact
Movement Orders to Germany, Document 2211.1953.001, U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center
and School Archives, Fayetteville, NC.
Paddock, Special Warfare, 145-146.
Paddock, Special Warfare, 147.
was that administratively and conceptually the Psychological Warfare Division and Special
Forces were linked.107 The two operated together as part of the “retardation” plan against the
Soviet Union. It was therefore an almost insurmountable issue.
A more important problem for Special Forces appeared, however. The “retardation”
concept, the basis upon which Special Forces had support in the NSC, was falling into
disfavor.108 By the middle of 1952, the State Department grew to have grave misgivings about
the whole concept. Robert P. Joyce, head of the Policy Planning Staff, sent a letter to the
Undersecretary of State questioning the ability of the CIA to operate a massive subversive
guerrilla force in Soviet territory using current available resources, much less those needed in
war.109 As early as 1951 Frank Wisner, head of the Directorate of Plans for the CIA and thus in
charge of subversive operations, questioned supplying large active unconventional forces.110
Little in the way of supplying these forces had been accomplished in the intermittent period.
Joyce pointed out the inability to hide numerous guerrilla bases along the Iron Curtain. The
visible nature of the preparations for these guerrilla camps would undermine the covert character
of guerrilla operations in the first place.111
By August 1, 1952 the Psychological Warfare Board, the head of psychological
operations for the NSC, had also decided that insufficient effort had been put into psychological
warfare.112 “Retardation” as a way of combating Soviet power did not work with current
State Dept., Keane and Warner, “Memorandum From Robert J. Hooker of the Policy Planning Staff to the
Director of the Policy Planning Staff (Nitze),” Foreign Relations, Document 59, 111.
State Dept., Keane and Warner, “Memorandum From Robert P. Joyce of the Policy Planning
Staff to the Under Secretary of State (Bruce),” Foreign Relations, Document 111, 271.
Ibid., 272.
State Dept., Keane and Warner, “Report by the Psychological Strategy Board,” Foreign Relations, Document
125, 305.
resources.113 The Psychological Warfare Board also argued that the military and nationalistic
tone of some psychological operations had a deleterious effect on the success of psychological
warfare in general. In spite of budget constraints, the Psychological Warfare Board advocated a
further increase in funds for psychological operations behind the Iron Curtain to combat the
strengthening Soviet control over its satellite countries.114 On 2 September 1952 the NSC
reported to President Truman that intelligence about the Soviet sphere was insignificant.115 There
was almost no information on the Soviet military or Soviet politics. By December 1952, Robert
Joyce represented most when he referred to the “retardation” plan as “wishful thinking”
sustained primarily by General McClure and his associates in the Department of the Army.116
There was simply not enough information on Soviet activities behind the Iron Curtain to ensure
the success of a long term unconventional war in hostile territory.
Without “retardation,” Special Forces lost enough of its mission to jeopardize its
existence as a separate organization of the Army. It had trained and been deployed under the
assumption that hostilities would require the formation of guerrilla forces to delay and harass the
Red Army’s invasion of Western Europe. McClure and Bank had argued that this differentiated
them from Rangers and justified the investment in training elite Special Forces soldiers. The
Army disbanded the Ranger battalions due to their limited ability to operate behind enemy lines
in countries with foreign cultures and languages. Without “retardation,” therefore, the Special
Forces soldier became a super-Ranger, just as Colonel Bank had feared in 1951.117 Ironically,
this helped differentiate Special Forces from the Psychological Warfare Division. But Special
Ibid., 308.
State Dept., Keane and Warner, “Report From the National Security Council to President Truman,” Foreign
Relations, Document 128, 327.
State Dept., Keane and Warner, “Memorandum From Robert P. Joyce of the Policy Planning Staff to the Deputy
Under Secretary of State (Matthews),” Foreign Relations, Document 142, 387-388.
Bank, Green Berets, 154.
Forces had no organizational ancestry within the Army to fall back on when its purpose was in
question. The Psychological Warfare Division, on the other hand, could rely on the acceptance of
its functions within the Army at large, a position won in World War II and Korea through the
persistence of McClure.118
In 1953 the death of Stalin offered the last chance for the “retardation” plan to prove its
effectiveness. Its advocates argued that Stalin’s death would lead to instability behind the Iron
Curtain that unconventional forces could take advantage of. When that instability failed to
seriously threaten Soviet power, however, the NSC in 1953 reappraised future mission of
psychological warfare.119 The debate was not solved during the final days of the Truman
Administration, and President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s discussions over the future military
budget delayed a decision from the NSC until September 1953.120
President Eisenhower viewed national security policy as a part of American policy in
general, and thus subject to domestic and budgetary concerns.121 This was contrary to the
position adopted in the Truman administration that national security policy drove general
American policy as a separate entity. This position led the Truman administration to devote the
majority of the federal budget to defense during the Korean War without considering the
economic and domestic consequences. By 1952, the United States was facing economic
overstrain in the attempt to build a Cold War military to fight the worldwide Communist
threat.122 Eisenhower felt the United States had to be more selective in deciding where exactly to
Paddock, Special Warfare, 149.
Mitrovich, Kremlin, 95.
Ibid., 134-136.
Saki Dockrill, Eisenhower’s New Look National Security Policy, 1953-1961 (New York: St. Martin’s Press,
1996), 25.
Dockrill, New Look, 15.
best combat Communist expansion.123 Funding a massive guerilla war across the Iron Curtain
was not selective.
In the 30th of September “Review of Basic National Security Policy” subversive action
against the Soviet Union was still planned.124 But a second policy discussion, expressed in NSC
162/2 on 30 October 1953, argued that Soviet control over its satellites could only be broken
voluntarily or through war, not through the actions of the United States.125 This argument was in
total contradiction to the peacetime aims of a policy of “retardation,” which sought to destabilize
the Soviet Union through American efforts. NSC 162/2 expressed President Eisenhower’s
conviction that the defense budget was both unsustainable at its current level and unable to
provide for the current American policy of trying to fight the Soviet Union worldwide.126 The
Psychological Strategy Board’s call for more funds for both covert intelligence and larger
psychological operations did not fit into the new trend of cost-cutting. There was no place for
Army Special Forces in the new policy except as replacements for the already eliminated Ranger
units, which was unacceptable to the highest Army officers, including Chief of Staff General J.
Lawton Collins.127
The lack of support for Special Forces pervaded the Army. By 1953 the policy of using
Ranger-trained soldiers began to take its toll on Colonel Bank’s and Volckmann’s vision of an
Army counterguerrilla operation. Because there was no training in the Army for counterguerrilla
operations prior to the establishment of the Psychological Warfare School at Fort Bragg, the best
Ibid., 2-3.
Executive Secretary, NSC 162/2: Basic National Security Policy, Documents of the National Security Council
(Washington: University Publications of America, 1980), text-fiche, 1062, Reel III.
Ibid., 3.
Ibid., 15-16.
Bank, Green Berets, 173.
possible soldiers for the job were often considered to be former Rangers.128 While this meant that
a Special Forces soldier had proven his ability to operate behind enemy lines, it did not prove his
ability to wage unconventional war with indigenous troops. The Operations Research Office
(ORO) at Johns Hopkins University, often contracted for external evaluation of Army practices,
performed a study in 1953, just before the 10th Special Forces Group went to Germany. Special
Forces troops were found to be quite effective at Ranger operations such as sabotage, but
somewhat unskilled in interacting with indigenous forces in unconventional operations.129 Some
Special Forces personnel in interviews indicated a distinct preference for Ranger operations;
others were indifferent to the type of mission assigned. Many of the men interviewed were more
concerned with receiving the increased pay commensurate with parachute training than
participating in guerrilla operations.130
Thus even by 1953, when the first Special Forces Group was activated and deployed,
Bank and Volckmann made concessions to the general Army view of special operations in the
soldiers targeted for recruitment. Many Special Forces officers accepted the notion that their
troops would be used more for Ranger-type operations than for the purpose they were designed
and trained.131 It did not help that Special Forces personnel would often leave the unit soon after
receiving training that made them eligible for additional pay, thus taking advantage of the status
of the Psychological Warfare Center as a service school rather than remaining as part of Special
Forces units. In the short term, these problems could have been worked out through continued
training in Europe and the eventual acceptance of Special Forces in the Army as unconventional
Department of the Army, Selection Process for Special Forces Volunteers 25 Apr 1952. 25 April 1952,
Document 2211.1952.001, U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School Archives, Fayetteville,
Chase, Chevy, Md., A Critique of the US Army Special Forces Tests and Field Exercises, (Operations Research
Office, Johns Hopkins University, 1954), 2-3.
Ibid., 20-21.
Ibid., 2.
warfare developed an official lineage. In only four years after their founding, Special Forces was
strong enough to become the senior organization at Fort Bragg over the older and more accepted
Psychological Divisions.132 The continued presence in, and training for, Special Forces would
supersede any Ranger training that soldiers would have had.133 In the long term, however, the
shift in the bureaucratic debates that allowed for the establishment of a Special Forces Group
would end any chance of Ranger operations and training being separated from the Special Forces
any time soon.
In response to Eisenhower’s New Look policy of massive retaliation against the Soviet
Union using nuclear weapons and a technologically advanced strategic reserve, the Army began
quickly phasing out non-nuclear units like Special Forces. In September 1953, nineteen Special
Forces Operational Detachments were deactivated.134 Only two, 10th Special Forces Group in
Europe and 77th Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg, soon to be sent to East Asia, remained. In
10th Special Forces, 122 officers and 731 enlisted men remained. The Group’s Headquarters and
Headquarters Company were deactivated. In 77th Special Forces, 168 officers and 1237 soldiers
remained. In total, 2257 men were left in Special Forces out of 3500, about the same number of
Rangers slots that existed at the time of its disbandment during the Korean War.135 FM 31-20 55,
the field manual through which Special Forces doctrine was disseminated, placed Special Forces
on a tactical rather than strategic level under a theater commander.136 This limited the
independence of Special Forces, since Special Forces Groups would have to operate perhaps
Department of the Army Office of the Adjutant General, Establishment of Psychological Warfare School, 22
October 1952, Document 2326.1952.004, U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School Archives,
Fayetteville, NC.
Bank, Green Berets, 172.
Department of the Army Office of the Adjutant General, Inactivation of SF Units, 16 September 1953, Document
2231.1953.001, U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School Archives, Fayetteville, NC.
Bank, Green Berets, 158.
Tomas K. Adams, US Special Operations Forces in Action: the Challenge of Unconventional Warfare (Portland:
Frank Cass Publishers, 1998), 46.
hundreds of miles behind enemy lines to destabilize hostile forces that may have little to do with
a specific American division.
By 1956, 77th Special Forces Group was reorganized into a strategic reserve.137 As a
strategic reserve, it would take six months to a year for 77th Special Forces Group to become
ready for combat operations, which precluded its mission of being able to support the Army
immediately after a declaration of war. All of its units except for the Headquarters and
Headquarters Company, one Quartermaster Detachment, and one team were placed at reduced
strength. The total remaining troop strength was 119 officers and 850 men, a 32% drop in
personnel from 1953. With such low numbers, Special Forces units could not operate behind
enemy lines until they were reinforced. This limited their ability to create an effective guerrilla
army. Many of the potential guerrilla soldiers would have already been mobilized into the enemy
army, and enemy security would have been on high alert by the time Special Forces arrived in
hostile territory.138 Thus, the removal of the larger of the two remaining Special Forces Groups
to a strategic reserve indicated the end of Army participation in the “retardation” plan, just as
NSC 162/2 had recommended.
By 1956 training had also moved much closer to that of a more combat oriented force
like the Rangers rather than a force to train indigenous soldiers in guerrilla war.139 Troops were
still expected to do so, but increasingly the units’ training hours were devoted to atomic warfare,
operations in harsh terrain and at night, first aid, the use of weapons, and other Ranger-type
activities. In the training directives, leading guerrillas -- the time spent learning how to turn
Reorganization of Units, 77th Special Forces Group 14 December 1956, Document 2231.1956.001, U.S. Army
John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School Archives, Fayetteville, NC.
Bank, Green Berets, 188.
Headquarters 10th Special Forces Group Airborne, 10th SFG (A) Training Memorandum (Europe) Number 7, 30
October 1956, Document 2211.1956.003, U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School Archives,
Fayetteville, NC.
indigenous forces into effective combatants -- was last in every case.140 Guerrilla forces were to
be used, but more in a peripheral role as support for Special Forces missions rather than as the
central purpose of Special Forces actions. In the entire training memorandum, guerrilla forces
were mentioned only three times in quick succession, and as combat forces rather than as
auxiliary security and communications personnel for the “nets” into which all indigenous persons
would be organized.141
By the end of 1956 the emasculation of the Special Forces was largely complete. Tenth
Special Forces Group was attached to the Third Army in Europe without any headquarters or
headquarters company. The Army moved 77th Special Forces Group into the strategic reserve.
General McClure was no longer head of the Psychological Warfare Center, and at any rate he no
longer championed the Special Forces due to its increasing independence from the Psychological
Division.142 Colonels Volckmann and Bank were also no longer directly involved in Special
Forces. While the Psychological Warfare School remained a service school, it now operated
much like the Ranger School at Fort Benning: as a place where soldiers could learn a specialty,
but not one where they would be prepared to serve in separate Army units.
The establishment of Army Special Forces in 1952 depended on the assumption in
national security policy that massive subversive action using guerrilla forces was essential to
successfully combat a Soviet invasion in Europe. Without that assumption, the conventional
American military forces had little reason to support an unconventional warfare capability in
peacetime, especially with the tight budgets after the Korean War. Special Forces were viewed as
Paddock, Special Warfare, 155.
super-Rangers, an elite unit in an army that disliked elite units and one that seemed peripheral to
the larger Army’s mission. Without serious support in the officer corps, Special Forces was
woefully vulnerable, and fell accordingly.
As Alfred H. Paddock argued in U.S. Army Special Warfare: Its Origins, the beginning of
special warfare in the United States can be found in the myriad unconventional warfare units that
fought in World War II, but the beginning of Special Forces could only be loosely tied to the
Jedburgh missions of the Operational Groups of the OSS.143 Those units created a cadre of men
in the Army who had substantial experience in unconventional warfare. As the officers and
soldiers of formations like the Operational Groups adjusted to the postwar world, they saw a
need for the skills they had developed in the jungles of Southeast Asia and the fields and
mountains of Eastern Europe. Until the funding crisis that gripped the Army since 1945,
however, that need could not be addressed.
It took the Korean War and the resurgence of interest and funds in the Army to provide
an opportunity for Special Warfare. Even so, only a small minority of officers were in any way
convinced of the need for the military to participate in what had become by then a civilian
pursuit located at the CIA: subversive operations. The CIA, having inherited much of the OSS,
was civilian and even though many military personnel participated in OSS operations, many
considered its functions not to be military. Few officers had any desire to challenge that
interpretation. The ones who did, usually military officers who had served in the OSS, lacked the
influence to survive the Army. Accordingly, any plan for a permanent unconventional military
organization was either denied or allowed to fade away.
The fortuitous connection between an already established branch of the military and the
advocates of deep-penetration behind enemy lines saved the idea of unconventional military
Paddock, Special Warfare, 2.
operations. While the Rangers had by this point in the history of the Army become a mainstay of
action behind enemy lines, they were focused purely on conventional military operations,
designed to facilitate the movements of regular forces close to their mission objectives. Rangers
could not operate very far beyond the forward positions of Army units. The idea of Special
Forces was to create a massive guerrilla army in the rear of an enemy that could fight cripple its
ability to fight effectively. This objective required months of preparation rather than days or
weeks. To an uninformed officer, however, the Rangers and Special Forces resembled one
another. It did not help that the Special Forces were originally sold as super-Rangers. The
Rangers were deactivated when they were deemed no longer useful. When Eisenhower’s
national security reappraisal in 1953 abandoned the concept of “retardation,” Special Forces
were nearly liquidated as well.
After 1956, however, national security policy began to rediscover insurgency.
Counterinsurgency warfare, up to this point a part of psychological warfare, became an
acceptable if uncommon topic among Army officers and the bureaucrats surrounding the
National Security Council.144 It was in that atmosphere that Army Special Forces began to take
the shape it would assume in the Vietnam conflict. It was also in that atmosphere that the
transition of the Psychological Warfare School to the Special Warfare Center occurred. Thus
even when Army Special Forces began to evolve into the form it would eventually take, it still
did so at the direction of national security policymakers.
In the case of Army Special Forces, there was a definite tendency to focus more on its
eventual deployment in 1956 to Southeast Asia than on its beginnings in 1952. There is logic in
this decision. Focusing on the individuals who founded Army Special Forces starts their story in
Mitrovich, Kremlin, 158.
1945. If one were to focus on the Army Special Forces and their visible impact on military
affairs alone, then the best place to begin is during the crisis in Southeast Asia.
The problem with the 1956 starting point is its ignorance of why Special Forces was
treated in a certain fashion for so long. In 1956 Special Forces seemed more like two dying
Ranger units than a viable, active function in the Army. Their actions in Southeast Asia for the
next ten years take on a different light when viewed from 1945 rather than 1956. The battles
between the CIA and military unconventional operations seem more of a long-standing
bureaucratic turf battle than a rivalry that began in the jungles of Southeast Asia. Without
understanding the debates surrounding the formation of a special warfare capability in the United
States, it is difficult to understand why Special Forces was used in the way that it was, as well as
why it developed in the way that it did; the Special Forces that went into Southeast Asia were the
an evolution of the soldiers that trained to “retard” Soviet power in 1952.
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