As the Reich began to collapse at the end of World War II, a group of Jewish agents parachuted into Austria to attempt to accelerate the implosion.
These were no “inglourious basterds” whose stories O’Donnell (The Brenner Assignment: The Untold Story of World War II’s Most Daring Spy Mission, 2008, etc.) tells, no avengers focused on sanguinary retribution. Rigorously trained by the newly established Office for Strategic Services—whose background the author sketches here—these agents had several objectives: determine to what extent the Germans were plotting a “last stand” in the Alps, investigate the status of the production of jet aircraft in the area and gather intelligence about the railroads and bridges. O’Donnell, who conducted myriad interviews with the survivors of the mission and read official reports of the action, advocates for the awarding of the Congressional Medal of Honor to one of the principal players, Frederick Mayer, an intrepid scout who learned and accomplished much before the SS captured and tortured him. The author confesses some frustration with his project. There were several groups of Jewish-refugees-turned-OSS-agents, but space requirements forced him to focus on Operation Greenup, which began with a nocturnal parachute drop on a glacier near Innsbruck and comprised some heroics of deception, endurance and hasty improvisation. In long appendixes, the author reproduces the official mission reports of the other groups. O’Donnell is no artful stylist, and he makes use of a battalion of military-prose clichés—“ragtag outfit”; “out-of-the-box thinkers”; “ran a tight ship and ruled with an iron fist.” But the agents’ courage, skill, persistence, modesty and devotion soar beyond the confines of the author’s conventional diction.
An important story, thoroughly though inelegantly told.