”The Jedburghs”

After further digging, I came up with this book review, which has a few funny and tantalizing details mentioned about Capt. Douglas Bazata, who had been a Jedburgh – one of a group of three-man teams parachuted behind enemy lines in Nazi occupied France in WWII, and the man chosen by ‘Wild Bill’ Donovan to assassinate Gen. George S. Patton to shut him up.

”The Jedburghs”
Tom Miller – December 05, 2005

The Jedburghs: France, 1944, and the Secret Untold History of the First Special Forces, by Lt. Col. Will Irwin (Ret.). New York: Public Affairs, 2005. $26.95, 352 pp. ISBN 1-58648-307-2

In July, 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt appointed William S. Donovan as Director of the newly-created Office of Coordinator of Information. Following Pearl Harbor and the American entry into World War II, the office was renamed the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and charged with the “conduct of both secret intelligence and special operations.” One of the missions of the OSS—in tandem with other Allies—was “to organize, arm, and train groups of French resistance guerrillas” in German-occupied France. To accomplish this mission, the U.S. and Britain planned to parachute three-man teams into France to hook up with the resistance. These original special forces teams were codenamed Jedburghs.

The Jedburghs were chosen in a rigorous selection process that included physical and psychological assessments and put through six-to-eight months of training in the U.S. and England. Following formal training, the recruits were organized into teams. Each team included one American or British officer, one French officer, and one enlisted radio operator of any nationality.

In planning for the Normandy invasion, General Eisenhower envisioned a crucial role for the Jedburghs. Ike hoped to slow the German reinforcement in Normandy in order to give Allied troops time to establish a beachhead. In all, twenty-five Jedburgh teams jumped behind enemy lines to lead the French resistance in sabotaging railroads and telephone lines, ambushing enemy columns, and attacking supply depots. Despite some false starts and losses—nineteen died in France—the Jedburghs succeeded in delaying the “movement of several German divisions to Normandy.” With France liberated and their work finished, the Jedburghs returned to England in late 1944. Some were transferred to the Pacific Theater while others went to work elsewhere in Europe.

While the OSS—and the Jedburghs—were disbanded after the war, they “laid the foundation for the special forces of the future.” In fact, when the U.S. Army Special Forces was established in 1952, the first group activated was commanded by a former Jedburgh.

Colonel Irwin, a former Green Beret, tells the often-overlooked story of the Jedburghs in this solid and colorful account. Drawing on original research in archives, unit histories, and scores of interviews with survivors, Irwin writes compellingly about the stealthy missions deep behind enemy lines and the men who were the “first diplomat-soldiers.” As readers learn, they were a special group that included a future CIA Director (William Colby), a distinguished columnist (Stewart Alsop), Members of Parliament, and assorted soldiers, diplomats, and scholars.

Like their descendants—Green Berets, SEALs, etc.—the men were chosen for their intelligence, adventurous spirit, self-confidence, and independence. That independence often led to a certain irreverence that rankled the more bureaucratic regular Army—one of Irwin’s prime exhibits being Jedburgh Capt. Douglas Bazata, “a modern-day swashbuckler,” who had the unfortunate habit of addressing field-grade officers as “Sugar.” Such intimate portraits are scattered throughout The Jedburghs and is one of its many charms.

Irwin clearly admires his subjects, but he takes care to be even handed in his assessment of their contribution. While the Jedburghs and their French resistance colleagues played a vital role in the success of Operation Overlord and other missions, the author notes that “they simply did their part to help win the war.” And, along the way, paved the way for future generations of quiet—or not so quiet—professionals. One gets the feeling that the unpretentious Capt. Bazata would have been quite at home riding into battle on the back of a burro in Afghanistan in 2001.”