Chapter I
"The Worst Slap In the Face ..."

Early on the evening of 22 December 1941, a man carrying a locked briefcase emerged from the large neoclassical building at 25th and "E" streets in Northwest Washington. Buttoning his overcoat against the winter chill, he passed quickly between the fading Ionic columns and headed for the shelter of a waiting car.

Had the messenger glanced westward,he might still have enjoyed a dim view of the Lincoln Memorial, otherwise, the neighborhood was uninviting. The building itself had until recently been occupied by the National Institute of Health. Now it was a down-at-the-heels companion to a seedy skating rink, some dilapidated warehouses, and a can-strewn vacant lot.

Little of this made an impression on the man with the briefcase. He was on his way to the White House with a personal memorandum for the President of the United States.

Author of the single page document was Colonel William J. Donovan. For the past four months, Donovan had spent a good deal of time at 25th and "E" -- headquarters of the recently established Office of the Coordinator of Information which he headed. The nondescript location was a perfect "cover" for America's first attempt at a civilian strategic intelligence organization.


Donovan's message, classified Top Secret, had been written with a politician's inbred instinct for timing. The first major face-to-face meetings between British and American military planners were just getting underway. This conference would decide the initial course of Allied strategy in the war against the Axis. Donovan--whose appointment as civilian coordinator of "all information and data which may bear upon our national security" had been greeted with blatant hostility by the Army, Navy, and J. Edgar Hoover--wanted his views represented.

The Coordinator of Information was undeterred by such opposition. At fifty-eight, William Donovan had seen his share of physical and political scrapping. He was a short,muscular man, fifteen pounds heavier than when he had quarterbacked the Columbia varsity against Yale, but not a whit less aggressive. Behind his emotive eyes and Cayneyesque brows lay a mind which "could see an acorn and visualize an oak." And he had guts.

In 1917, Dwight Eisenhower had been involved in training duties. No shot had ever been fired in his direction. Omar Bradley spent the Great War in Arizona and Illinois. Lucien Truscott served in Arkansas. But William J. Donovan had seen plenty of Germans, and, judging from his three wounds, more than one had seen him. As commander of the 165th Infantry--formerly the "Fighting 69th New York"--Donovan won the Medal of Honor and six other personal decorations from three governments. He came home to practice law with the descriptive and unshakeable nickname "Wild Bill", as well as a collection of ribbons second only to Douglas MacArthur.


A life-long Republican, Donovan vigorously supported Herbert Hoover in 1928, and, for a time, seemed to be a "shoo-in" for Attorney General.* He had run unsuccessfully for the New York governorship in 1932, a bad time to be a Republican candidate for any elective office. Later, as a private citizen, Donovan travelled to a number of the world's trouble spots. During the 30's, he turned up to watch Mussolini dismember Ethiopia and saw Hitler's Condor Legion smash Spanish towns. More recently, he had undertaken two major quasi-official missions abroad for his former law school classmate, Franklin Roosevelt.

Known personally by nearly every member of the Cabinet-and familiar to millions of Americans as "Roosevelt's mystery man"--Donovan established direct contact with important leaders in Britain and the Balkans.

Most important of these was First Sea Lord Winston Churchill whose influence allowed Donovan access to the inner workings of British intelligence. It was Donovan's appointment as COI in July, 1941, which enabled Churchill to begin passing super secret ULTRA signals intercepts to the United States Government.2

Thus, by the time the position of Coordinator of Information was established, Donovan had made a considerable impression on his fellow New Yorker at the White House.3 Roosevelt, who admired and trusted him, once remarked to Navy Secretary Frank Knox that:

Frankly, I should like to have him (Donovan) in the Cabinet, not only for his own ability but also in a sense to repair the very great injustice done him by Hoover.4

* Donovan's appointment was blocked by party archconservatives who wanted no part of the Irish Catholic community represented in "their" starting line-up.


But Donovan was not a member of the Cabinet. Nor was he a participant in the ARCADIA discussions. he had begun the job of fashioning his intelligence organization with determination and zeal. Now, he was proposing a step which seemed necessary for a nation at war: creation of an instrument for clandestine military action against the enemy.

Specifically, Donovan's memorandum recommended:

1. That as an essential part of any strategic plan there be recognized the need of sewing the dragon's teeth in those territories from which we must withdraw and in which the enemy will place his army; for example the Azores and North Africa. That the aid of native chiefs be obtained, the loyalty of the local inhabitants cultivated; Fifth columnists organized and placed, demolition material cached; and guerilla bands of bold and daring men organized and installed.

2. That there be organized now, in the United States, a guerilla corps, independent and separate form the Army and Navy, and imbued with a maximum spirit of the offensive. This force should, of course, be created along disciplined military lines, analagous to the British Commando principle . . .5

For a nation two weeks into a major war, Donovan's ideas probably made some strategic sense. Practically, however, the proposed "guerilla corps" was on shaky ground. In the first place, the entire tone smacked of "combat fever." With American forces in no shape to fight anything but a world-wide delaying action, the memorandum sought to further dilute U.S. arms by organizing and equipping a highly specialized unit which would take only top-quality men.

The commando concept also contravened Donovan's personal notions about how secret intelligence operations should be conducted by proposing creation of an instrument to conduct partisan operations before the groundwork could possibly be laid overseas.


Finally, "strictly from a bureaucratic point of view, the memo was fatally flawed in calling for a guerilla corps independent of the Army and Navy. For Donovan to think, even with FDR's endorsement, that such an organization could be brought to pass in the face of the military's obvious objections, was,charitably, an act of lunacy."6

Across the Potomac, the December wind whistled around the new Arlington Navy Annex building. Most of the complex--which resembled a large straight comb from the air--was dark. But in Room 2004, office of the Major General Commandant of the Marine Corps, light still seeped around the hastily installed blackout curtains. Thomas Holcomb was working late.

Balding and bespectacled, Holcomb had just begun his fifth year at the helm of the Corps. He was an energetic, practical man, well respected both within military circles and on Capital Hill. "As one of Lejeune's bright young captains of 1916, "Tommy" Holcomb had won the friendship of then Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin Roosevelt. In later years, President Roosevelt would frequently open a remark to Holcomb with the phrase, 'we Marines.'"7

That night Holcomb--who, like Donovan, was not directly involved in ARCADIA--was absorbed in the reports from his dwindling defense force on Wake Island. Soon he would face a very different sort of challenge; one which would require all of his store of presidential goodwill to repel. For Donovan's memorandum had proposed that his commandos be separate from the Army and Navy, and Holcomb's Marines fit that requirement to a "tee."

Meanwhile, at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the President and Knox were chatting amiably with a distinguished house guest. Cigar smoke


eddied around the frosty windowpanes and the sound of carollers floated from beyond the national Christmas tree. The visitor was Prime Minister Churchill himself, and the topic: grand strategy.

Churchill had arrived earlier the same day after crossing the Atlantic aboard HMS Duke of York. During the voyage he had spent considerable time drafting his personal views on joint U.S.-British action against Germany and Japan. Now, he was listening attentively to Roosevelt's revelation of the Donovan proposal.

There can be little doubt that the Prime Minister approved of the commando concept, if not in the creation of the specific instrument for its implementation. Furthermore, he too was focusing on the Azores and North Africa. Part of his written notes for the strategic discussions read, "we ought to try hard to win over French North Africa, and now is the moment to use every inducement and form of pressure at our disposal upon the Government of Vichy . . ."8 Yet, despite his strong desire to orient maximum power toward the Mediterranean, Churchill tentatively agreed to consider postponing immediate action there in favor of Knox's ideas concerning "a highly dubious action calling for commando raids on Japanese-held islands which would be launched form bases in California."9

As the brandy snifters clinked, the commando question seemed to be only a matter of administrative and organizational wrinkle smoothing. Knox controlled the naval establishment, and Roosevelt was the Commander in Chief. Unknown to Holcomb was the fact that his outfit was being considered as the source of manpower, but not necessarily command. For the Major General Commandant, it was to be a Christmas present only slightly more desirable than a case of institutional hemorrhoids.


President Roosevelt formally answered Donovan's memorandum the following day. In noncommital language he indicated that the proposed commando service had some merit and that he would see to it that the idea was fully considered.10 The question of where the notional organization should be placed within the defense structure was not addressed; however,k there were a number of circumstances which pointed straight toward the Marine Corps.

"Throughout the decade of the Thirties, the Marines experimented with the concept of raider-type forces,generally as elements of larger exercises. The continuing interest in such units was demonstrated by the formation of Provisional Rubber Boat Companies from Companies "A", "E", and "I" of the Seventh marines during Fleet Exercise 7 in February, 1941."11 The Tentative Landing Manual of 1935 had also discussed raiding operations, albeit in limited detail. But these factors were undoubtedly secondary to more personal ones.

James Roosevelt, the President's son, was fresh from a six-month stint as Donovan's military aide at COI. A Marine Reserve Captain, "Jimmie" Roosevelt had connections which placed his hands squarely in a position to stir the commando pot. More importantly, in the person of gaunt, just-jawed Major Evans F.Carlson, the Marine Corps possessed a guerilla warfare zealot with unique practical experience.

Son of a New England Congregationalist minister, Carlson was an enigmatic figure who had served seven years as an Army officer before enlisting as a Marine private in April 1922. His first choices of duty had been: "the Legation Guard at Peking, or a chance at Officer's School, in the order mentioned."12


Carlson's Marine career was a succession of virtuoso performances--save only for a flat note when he was bounced from flight training for aeronautic inaptitude. He won the Navy Cross in Nicaragua and later served as Executive Officer of the Marine Guard at Roosevelt's Warm Springs, Georgia, retreat. There, he too became personally acquainted with FDR and won the admiration, confidence, and trust of his son. James Roosevelt's decision to become a Marine officer stemmed in great measure from his association with then-Captain Carlson.

Evans Carlson was "an Old China Hand par excellence. In 1937, he pulled off a feat which impressed Edgar Snow, Joseph Stilwell, and just about everybody else who knew anything about China."13

Departing from Shanghai in mid-November, Carlson travelled by rickshaw, boat, railway, and horseback to reach the Yenan Province headquarters of Mao Tse-tung's Eighth Route Army. The first foreigner to join the elusive Chinese Communist military, Carlson remained with Mao and his lieutenants for several months. Not only did he participate in patrols and observe the fighting against Japanese troops, he also built a profound respect for the Eighth Route Army's leadership. Back in Shanghai, Carlson wrote a detailed and glowing report.14 By the time his tour ended in November 1938, he had already begun a book about his experiences.

In China, Carlson had been far from the bureaucratic arm of Navy Department officialdom. Once in the United States however, his enthusiasm for closer ties with Chinese other than Chiang Kai-shek came under careful scrutiny. Pressured to restrain his praise and submit any manuscript for official review prior to publication, he resigned


in a fit of righteous indignation. As of 30April 1939, Carlson's Marine service temporarily ended. His contacts with both Roosevelts did not.15

Carlson lectured, attended some University classes, and returned to China during the next two years. But as war loomed closer, he heeded various urgings to return to the Marine Corps. In May 1941, his book* published and largely ignored, Carlson was back in harness, but no longer as a Regular.

As the gray days of 1941 dwindled toward an equally bleak-appearing New Year, Major General Holcomb found himself arrayed against a powerful coalition of military romantics bent on utilizing his outfit as a convenient niche for the derring-do "guerilla corps." Moreover, the prospect loomed that he would get the irrascible Donovan as well, neatly gift wrapped as an instant Brigadier in the Marine Reserve.16

The commando idea appeared to be riding a Hegelian wave. Churchill liked it; Roosevelt concurred in principle and was interested. Knox was actively involved. The popular press was full of praise for British commando exploits. James Roosevelt attached a clipping from the San Diego Union to a six-page personal plan calling for "development within the Marine Corps of a unit for purposes similar to the British Commandos and the Chinese Guerillas."17 This scheme proposed that rather than piddling with Japanese bases, the Marines should go right after the enemy home islands!

* Twin Stars Over China, (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1940.)


In preliminary discussions with Secretary Knox, Holcomb attempted to side-step formation of a special unit by pointing out that the Marines had already sent observers to view commando training in England and by emphasizing that small raiding forces had participated in Fleet maneuvers.18 If this ploy was designed to short-circuit the Donovan appointment, it failed. Instead Holcomb received a letter from Admiral King, Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Fleet,* asking for substantive details and noting that "the President is much interested in the development and use of the equivalent of British 'commandos'."19

Just to ensure that the Commandant had gotten his meaning "loud and clear," King dispatched a second reminder the very next day which read:

Will you please have your people follow-up and follow through--on the equipment and ammunition (for training) of "Commando" troops--with first priority for units on the West Coast (Pacific Fleet).20

While mulling over just what "commando" troops Admiral King had in mind, Holcomb received an information copy of yet another message. This one emanated from U.S. Naval Headquarters in London and was addressed to Cominch. It proposed that "a troop of 7 officers and 100 enlisted men, U.S. Marine Corps, be assigned to temporary duty with the British Commandos for training at the Commando Special Training Center and that this troop participate with the British Commandos in combined operations against enemy shores."21

* Abbreviated Cominch. [or COMINCH or CominCh...]


This suggestion set alarm bells clanging within Marine Corps Headquarters. General Holcomb immediately drafted a response directly to King. In it he pointed out that Marines of both the "Destroyer Transport Battalion"* and the Parachute Battalion were already receiving such training. He further argued that no further separate units should be organized while the Corps remained below its authorized strength. As a counter-proposal, the Major General Commandant offered to send a "small group of officers and non-commissioned officer to England."22

At this point, Holcomb was probably beginning to feel like the falcon in Yeats' "Second Coming."** Outgunned and badgered on the flanks, the Major General called for reinforcements. On Monday, 14 January, he set the stage for a personal counterattack.

Classified letters left Marine headquarters that day addressed to Major General Holland M. Smith, USMC, at Quantico and Major General Charles F.B. Price, USMC, in San Diego--these being the senior Marine officers in the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets respectively.

The two letters were identical and began:

1. Suggestion has been made that Colonel William J. Donovan be appointed to the Marine Corps Reserve and promoted immediately to the rank of Brigadier General for the purpose of taking charge of the Command Project.

* Properly designated First Separate Battalion, Amphibious Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet.
** Turning and turning in the widening gyre
     The falcon cannot hear the falconer
     Things fall apart; the center cannot hold
     Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, . . 
                  William Butler Yeats
                  "The Second Coming"


Holcomb went on to briefly outline Donovan's achievements and requested both addressees to provide "a frank expression of opinion . . . as to the advisability of accepting this suggestion."23

Major General Smith reacted with predictable hostility. Obviously the entire question raised "Howling Mad's" hackles. Never one to mince words, Smith responded:

The appointment of Colonel Donovan to brigadier general could be compared to that of Lord Mountbatten in Great Britain--both are "royal" and have easy access to their own immediate superiors. The appointment would be considered by many senior officers of the Corps as political, unfair, and a publicity stunt. It is the unanimous opinion of the staff of this headquarters that command raids by the British have been of little strategical value. We have not reached the stage where our men are so highly trained and restless for action that they must be employed in commando raids.

I recommend against the appointment.24

Not only was the Donovan appointment opposed on the grounds that "the Marine Corps should not have to go outside its ranks to secure leaders," but the whole "commando" idea was viewed as tainted bait. Clearly something larger than an usurping Brigadier was uppermost in both men's minds.

Throughout the previous twenty years the Marine Corps had painstakingly built, a vehicle--the large amphibious operation--which its leaders considered the surest path to institutional survival. Now it seemed that an Irish lawyer who had the President's ear might run that concept into shoal water. General Smith noted that "all Amphibious Force Marines are considered commandoes" and that there were already enough "by-products" in the still building 1st Marine Division.

Prince's reply, on the other hand, began on the note of benign heresy. After prudently disclaiming any "personal observation and


contact," Price stated, "the undersigned is inclined to judge that Colonel Donovan is well qualified by natural bent and experience for the assignment contemplated and probably more so than any General Officer of the Marine Corps at present available to such assignment." (Holcomb was doubtless "in orbit" at this point.)

Then, however, the reservations began. These revolved principally about the more mundane question of where the "commandos" should be recruited. "If the personnel to conduct this new activity," Prince wrote, "can be recruited almost entirely from new resources it would be the judgment of the undersigned that the entire spirit and plan of employment of the Commando Groups is directly in line with the aggressiveness and traditions of the Marine Corps. . . ."

In short, General Price had nothing against either Donovan or his commandos so long as the structure of the 'real" Marine Corps was not adversely affected. Otherwise, he opined, the grave personnel problems already faced by the Corps (particularly in NCO's) would be aggravated beyond reason if it became necessary to launch a new regimental-size unit.25

Prince followed up his official response with a second "personal" written the same day. In it he expressed further grave misgivings at the prospect of taking on any additional tasks while the Marine Corps was engaged in fleshing-out its newly authorized structure. Of even greater private importance to Price was the danger that "this sort of thing will develop into a tail which will eventually wag the dog."26

Holcomb used these replies to buttress his arguments with Admiral King and Secretary Knox. But for several weeks the situation regarding Donovan's appointment remained clouded. Conjecture and


correspondence regarding "U.S. Marine Commandos" continued.

The first bright spot appeared on the same day Smith and Price were drafting their rejoinders. In a Secret letter to the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Stark, King recommended disapproval of the London proposal and adoption of the plan outlined by Holcomb in his 10 January letter.King went on to specifically state, "It is further recommended that the participation in action operations of the U.S. Marine Corps group sent for Commando training not be approved."27

Admiral King was a long-time friend of both Holcomb and the Marine Corps. Yet, his disapproval of the plan which would have eventually resulted in Marines serving under the British Combined Operations staff, was hardly a major victory for the Commandant. three days later, his mood as dingy as the remnants of the previous week's snow fall, Holcomb wrote a personal letter to his trusted confidant Samuel Meek, of Time Incorporated in New York. The tone of this extraordinary piece of correspondence vividly illustrates the stakes Holcomb perceived to be involved:*

The Donovan affair is still uppermost in mind. I am terrified that I may be forced to take this man. I feet it would be the worst slap in the face the Marine Corps ever was given because it involves bringing an outsider into the Marine Corps as a leader in our own specialty that is, amphibious operations. Because commando work is simply one form of amphibious operation. It will be bitterly resented by our personnel both officer and enlisted, and I am afraid that it may serve to materially reduce my usefulness in this office. . . ."28

* Obviously, Holcomb and Meek had discussed this matter before. How many such conversations of what was essentially a highly volatile proposition with national security implications occurred cannot be determined. What is plain, however, is that politics in 1942 was no more respectful of "classification" than it is today.


The fact that the United States Government was involved in some sort of "commando" project could not indefinitely escape notice by the press. On the same day Holcomb wrote Meek of his concerns, Newsweek told its readers, "Official are seeking a name* for American units corresponding to the British commandos, eventually to be used in continental raids from England."29

This sort of publicity probably strengthened General Holcomb's hand. From the outset, both King and Stark had been interested in the organization of a force which might prove a useful adjunct to naval operations. The recurring theme of "British" and Donovan's largely European orientation began giving pause for reflection. Could this have an impact on Navy plans and resources for the Pacific?

Whatever the cause, by late January, subtle changes began to appear in the Admirals' correspondence. The term "commando" was replaced by the more generalized and nonspecific "commando-type", usually hyphenated and always italicized as if to show there was nothing magical in the appellation after all.

Of more direct importance, three Atlantic Fleet high speed attack transports were ordered to weigh anchor and proceed to San Diego. These were precisely the same ships which would be required for the sort of amphibious raiding implied in the commando idea.

Commandant Holcomb heaved a sigh of relief and fell smoothly into step. On 24 January he received a copy of Cominch despatch 231940

* This item aroused great reader interest. For the next several issues, Newsweek's "letters" column carried recommendations for names. One of these was "Rangers."


which directed Admiral Nimitz, then flying his flag in USS Pennsylvania, to:

Develop organization and training of Marines and Naval Units of "Commando-type" for use in connection with expeditions of raid character for demolition and other destruction of shore installations in enemy held islands and bases. Employment of some small units embarked in submarines appears practicable by use of rubber boats.

Nimitz in turn passed the problem on to Brigadier General Clayton Vogel of the Joint Training Force, noting "it appears that four such units may be organized within an infantry battalion without appreciably altering present organization. . . .30

To support Vogel and Nimitz, the War Plans Section of Headquarters Marine Corps drafted a message to the Commander of the Atlantic Fleet for Admiral King's signature. This highlighted the paucity of specialized personnel on the West Coast and directed transfer of infantry, machine gun, and mortar troops from the First Separate Battalion to San Diego. These would form the nucleus of the Pacific Fleet "commando-type" unit. On 5 February King signed this message and also approved trimming the proposed 107 Marines for training in Scotland to "two officers and twenty enlisted men." The subject of future employment was pointedly omitted.31

The pattern of events was now unmistakably plain. The President and Secretary Knox wanted commandos. Prime Minister Churchill had endorsed raids on the Japanese. Donovan seemed to be primarily oriented toward Europe. Very well, the Marine Corps would indeed establish command-type organizations, but their primary area of employment would be in the Pacific -- the Navy's ballpark.


There was another major reason for getting the whole panoply of problems associated with the original proposal put swiftly in order. On 23 January, the U.S. Service Chiefs had conducted their first full scale meeting with the British Chiefs of Staff. But while the urbane Englishmen spoke with a concerted voice, the Americans still tended to view problems from their individual service perspectives. Clearly such would not do, and general Marshall finally decided that the U.S. Chiefs would have to get together beforehand and resolve differences in private. This led to the formation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and resulted in a decreased ability for the Navy to promulgate independent positions. Since Donovan considered his commando force as merely an adjunct to intelligence operations, it is reasonable to infer that Admiral King wanted to head-off any discussions of the proposal in an arena where he might be outvoted by his contemporaries.32

Holcomb was far too shrewd to expect that unless he made some concrete alternative available to both King and Knox, chances remained high that he would get both commandos and Donovan. He said as much in a lengthy "Dear Barney" letter to Vogel on 10 February. This filled in some of the blanks in the Donovan case and indicated that the matter was not yet put to rest. In fact, Holcomb noted that "it turned up again today, but indications are that it has again quieted down." The Commandant went on:

I fear, however, that the idea is too strongly imbedded to remain dormant very long unless we move promptly to broaden our amphibious training in such a way as to head off any outside interference.

After giving some of the reasons for opposing Donovan personally (most of which have already been covered by a synthesis


of previously cited letters and memoranda) the newly promoted Lieutenant General of Marines went on:

. . . we must act and act quickly. We must prepare ourselves particularly for one of our most important missions,viz: the execution of amphibious raids.33

The following day, Holcomb sent a similar letter to Smith. In it he directed that "the highest priority" be given to getting the recently emasculated 1st Separate Battalion back up to strength. Smith was also told to plan for the possibility of forming a regimental-size unit for similar purposes.

In closing, the Commandant finally placed the semantical issue squarely in the open: "Incidentally," he wrote, "I don't like the term 'Commando;' we are looking for a better term--one more fitting for the Marines. Have any suggestions?"34 To underline the confidential nature and urgency of these matters, both letters were hand-carried by commissioned officer couriers.

Now that he was convinced that strategy had reached its limits and tactics were required, Holcomb took another calculated step. On 16 February, he redesignated the 1st Separate Battalion to 1st Marine Raider Battalion. Similarly, the newly activated 2nd Separate Battalion became the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion. This took care of the name "commando" once and for all.*

Then the Commandant played one of his personal "hole" cards. The 2nd Raider Battalion was to be commanded by Evans Carlson. His executive officer--none other than Jimmie Roosevelt. Since this was

* How the name "Raider" was arrived at is unclear. Smith recommended that the units be called "Shock Battalions."


The Commando Proponents--Evans Carlson and James Roosevelt shortly before the Makin Island Raid
The Commando Proponents--Evans Carlson and James Roosevelt shortly before the Makin Island Raid

the unit most likely to be utilized in any initial test of the concept, Holcomb's choice of leadership neatly placed the two most visible Marine Corps proponents in a position to "fish or cut bait."

Gradually the crisis atmosphere at Marine headquarters subsided. Knox's advocacy of the Donovan appointment apparently moderated and the Navy was left to develop plans for employing the new Raider battalions. Interest in the project did not disappear however, since the "very high authority" was still discussing the matter with his opposite number in Britain.

On 4 March 1942, Churchill sent his Most Secret personal message #37 to Roosevelt. This discussed a wide range of strategic matters, including the nagging problem of launching offensive operations in North Africa--then known as Operation GYMNAST--while the situation in the Pacific remained critical. With this in mind, the Prime Minister wrote:

Permit me to refer to the theme I opened to you when we were together. Japan is spreading itself over a very large number of vulnerable points or trying to link them together by air and sea protection. The enemy are becoming ever more widely spread and we know this is causing anxiety in Tokyo. Nothing can be done on a large scale except by long preparation of the technical and tactical apparatus. When you told me about your intention to form commando forces on a large scale on the California shore I felt that you had the key. Once several good outfits are prepared, any one can attack a Japanese-held base or island and beat the life out of the garrison, all their islands will become hostages to fortune. Even this year, 1942, some severe examples might be made causing perturbation and drawing further upon Japanese resources to strengthen other points.35

This suggestion reignited the smoldering embers of controversy. Admiral King discussed the matter with Holcomb to ensure that the spirit of the President's desires were being carried out. This caused some


discomfiture for the Commandant, who reported in a personal letter to Brigadier General Fegan, "I thought the 'D' case was all settled but have just learned that another memo has gone to the Big Boss in the matter. he is still trying to get the job that we thought we had headed off. Is there anything that you can do?"36

This second "scare" was short-lived. Donovan never became a Marine of any rank. Carlson, on the other hand, nearly joined OSS and Holcomb's son, Franklin, was already indirectly working for the man his father so stoutly resisted.*

It would be a fundamental error to view the "Donovan Affair" as more than one facet of COI's effort to establish a single viable strategic intelligence organization. Contrary to Holcomb's comments, there is no available documentary evidence that Donovan personally sought either a Marine commission or direct command of his proposed "guerilla corps." Thus, the philosophical issues raised by his projected appointment were much less acutely felt outside the Department of the Navy.

In hindsight, the Commandant's "strong and utter disapproval" and the initial notion that the commandos should be separate from the Army and Navy probably made the idea untenable from the outset. Activation of the highly visible "Raiders" firmly barred the door.

Early 1942 was a time in which a variety of plans and programs were discussed, evaluated, and either implemented or discarded. With the formation of the JCS, Donovan realized that his organization could not function without substantial assets which could only be made

* Details of Carlson's and Holcomb's part in the story of OSS in subsequent chapters of this paper.


available through that forum. Consequently, he merely shifted his requests. As early as 2 March, he wrote to General Marshall asking for 2000 grades and ratings for the purpose of "building up an organization of military personnel for subversive activities in various countries."37

This task was already underway and Marines would play a small but interesting role in clandestine operations throughout the world. This paper tells some of their story.


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