A recent book by James Stejskal, No Moon as Witness, describes the training and the missions of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during World War II. The book is a compact and concise history of the intelligence and special operations conducted by these two secret organizations.
The UK Special Operations Executive was the action arm of British intelligence and was established in the early days of World War II. It’s foundations were laid in earlier organizations established in 1938 and later when forward thinking British leaders began thinking about how to conduct unconventional warfare in light of German militaristic aggression in Europe. In July 1940 the Special Operations Executive was formed with the merger of Secret Intelligence Service’s Section ‘D’ (D was for Destruction), Military Intelligence (Research) or MI(R), and the Department of Propaganda in Enemy Countries (also known as ‘Department EH’ for Electra House).
The U.S. Office of Strategic Services was formed up in 1941. The OSS would serve as an intelligence as well as an ‘action’ organization. As World War II came onto the scene the United States had little capability for gathering intelligence or conducting unconventional warfare. In July 1941 President Roosevelt established the Coordinator of Information (COI). In June 1942 the COI became the Office of Strategic Services. Some of the OSS’s first deployments took place in early 1942 where operatives collected intelligence and prepared the way for Operation Torch – the landings in North Africa in the later part of 1942.
Like many books about special operations during World War II – this book starts out with the origins of the SOE and OSS. The author then describes the assessment, selection, and training of operatives. There is a short chapter on some of the techniques and weapons used by the SOE and OSS. The final part of the book describes some of the key operations conducted by the two organizations. The chapter on operations included those activities of the SOE and OSS from the beginning to the end of the war – in the many theaters that the organizations were present. Some of the operations that are detailed will be familiar to the reader while others are less well known.
There are a lot of books published about the SOE and OSS – many of them very thorough and excellent reads. No Moon as Witness follows the pattern of previous books on this topic – but a shorter version. However, the book is well organized and also an excellent read. It examines the close history of the SOE and OSS – and how they worked together . . . or not. In addition, the “Tools of the Trade” chapter includes images and sketches that often do not appear in other books. The timeline, glossary, and index are added features that enhance the book. Some books that I read end up going to the ‘annual used book fair’; this one is a keeper and has found a home on my reference book shelf.
The author of No Moon as Witness, James Stejskal, is a former US Army Special Forces Chief Warrant Officer 4. After completing his service with Special Forces he served as a case officer for the Central Intelligence Agency in Africa, Europe, and the Far East. He is now a book author.
No Moon as Witness, published by Casemate Publishers (Philadelphia & Oxford) in 2021 is available at Amazon.com.