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Carpetbaggers: Air Arm of the OSS in Europe

As the missions included drops near Berlin and other deep penetration targets, the Liberators were judged too slow and vulnerable. JE Project missions were assigned to the newly introduced smaller, faster, twin-engine Douglas A-26 Invader. Modified Invaders were stripped of all nonessential equipment. The Joe, wearing an American parachute fitted with a British quick release harness, was ordered to lie down during the flight on a hinged plywood floor in a special compartment constructed in the bomb bay. When the aircraft neared its drop site, the Joe hooked up his static line and assumed a crouching position. Upon reaching the drop site, the release lever located in the cockpit was pulled, the wood floor dropped open, and the Joe was released bomb-drop fashion (reportedly something none of them liked).

From Norway to Yugoslavia, Carpetbaggers did everything asked of them, earning numerous individual decorations for valor, helping lay the foundation for future special operations air operations, and amply earning overall the Distinguished Unit Citation.

Communications between the agent on the ground and a Mosquito fighter-bomber flying above at 30,000 to 40,000 feet was made possible through the Joan-Eleanor voice/recorder radio system developed by radio technicians Lt. Cmdr. Stephen Simpson, RCA’s Dewitt R. Goddard, and radio pioneer Alfred J. Gross. The name reportedly was the combination of the first names of Goddard’s wife and Simpson’s girlfriend. The agent was equipped with the Joan voice radio that had a range of about 20 miles. According to a prearranged schedule, the agent would broadcast his messages. Modified de Havilland Mosquitoes equipped with Eleanor recorder sets were judged ideal for the dangerous duty of flying alone over German airspace for the necessary extended time required for communication.

Carbetbagger A-26C invader queen of spades

Carpetbagger A-26 Invader “Queen of Spades” a Harrington in 1945, used for Red Stocking missions. National Archives photo

The first mission was launched on the night of March 16-17, 1945, and ended tragically, with the low-flying A-26 crashing, killing all aboard. Fortunately, it was the only such mission to do so. Most of the Joan-Eleanor Project missions were conducted from a forward base near Dijon, France, and the inserted agents were able to provide invaluable intelligence.

One mission that wound up having a seriocomic aspect occurred late in the war and involved Project Doctor, composed of two Belgian OSS agents inserted into the Kufstein region of Austria to organize Belgian workers for intelligence purposes and observe military traffic in the area.

The pair successfully parachuted on March 23, 1945, landing in 5 feet of snow. Two days later they reported that they had been rescued by three Wehrmacht deserters seeking to create a local resistance group. On March 22, the three soldiers had spread a large Austrian flag on top of a nearby mountain, hoping to catch the eye of Allied flyers and receive assistance for their movement. The Doctor team’s arrival the following night astonished the deserters who were impressed with the speed of the Allies’ response. The team did nothing to discourage their belief. Together with the deserters and the addition of another two-man OSS team, Doctor created a network of agents that sent to headquarters 66 messages containing valuable information, including the locations of a jet base near Munich, a trainload of gasoline, and an oil depot near Halle.

When the 492nd Bombardment Group was disbanded in July 1945, it had conducted – second only to Britain’s Special Operations Executive’s air arm – the widest range, both in distance and tasks, of aerial missions imaginable. From Norway to Yugoslavia, Carpetbaggers did everything asked of them, earning numerous individual decorations for valor, helping lay the foundation for future special operations air operations, and amply earning overall the Distinguished Unit Citation.

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DWIGHT JON ZIMMERMAN is a bestselling and award-winning author, radio host, and president of the...