Read an Excerpt
OSS Commando: Final Option
By Charles Sasser
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2007 Charles Sasser
All right reserved.
Shortly after midnight on 2 June 1944, a fleet of landing craft attached to Operation Hog's Breath, a mini-rehearsal involving the U.S. 29th Infantry Division, approached Slapton Sands, on England's southern coast. The unspoiled beach fronting a shallow lagoon backed by bluffs resembled Omaha Beach, one of America's designated landing sites when Allies invaded France. A flotilla of four LSTs (landing ships, tank) plowed along in wake of the main force. This convoy transported engineers along with chemical and quartermaster troops scheduled to offload after the "landing" in an orderly fashion with their trucks, amphibious tracks, jeeps and heavy engineering equipment.
The protected waters inside Lyme Bay lay as flat and smooth as cream rising to the surface of a pail of milk. The night was so dark, however, that U.S. Army Captain James Cantrell, riding the forward deck above the massive steel landing ramp of LST-505, could see neither the boat ahead nor the one aft. In full battle gear, including helmet, pack and rifle, he listened to the muted, deep-throated growl of maritime engines giving distinctive voice to the night.
The OSS agent had been implanted more than a month ago with S&S (Service and Support) Company, 2d Battalion, 29th Division, following his last work in Rome. OSS Station Chief "Henry" in London had briefed him prior tothe assignment.
"We're listening to Rommel's communications traffic," he said. Breaking the Enigma Code had been a coup. "Rommel and Rundstedt are questioning whether Pas de Calais in the south may be a diversion while the real landing takes place elsewhere. They're expressing a lot of interest in the Twenty-ninth Division and what it's doing. It's almost as though they're using that division as a barometer to gauge the progress and intent of the invasion. We have to wonder if somebody in the Twenty-ninth might be leaking information to somebody he shouldn't be talking to."
"Ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put," James said.
"What?" "Winston Churchill. Too bad he's not an American."
Being a wise guy was part of his nature. Gramps, short in stature, shorter than James, had said small men--no matter how capable--overcompensated, often with their mouths. Grams warned both of them that one day their bulldog mouths were going to overload their hummingbird asses.
Gramps sometimes said a bulldog mouth was about the only thing a man had left. Times had been desperate on the farm in Oklahoma during the years of the Great Depression. Many of the Okies packed their sorry belongings into old Ford trucks, abandoned their dust-bowl acres to either the bankers or nature, and headed west to California, in the land of milk and honey. James was about 10 years old when his family contemplated giving up and joining the migration. Before they set out, however, Grams's and Gramps's only daughter--James's mother--and James's father died after a team of mules bolted and crashed their farm wagon into a stand of blackjack oak. After that, Grams and Gramps decided they were too old for another move by themselves. They stayed on at the farm, eking out a hardscrabble living for themselves and their orphaned grandson.
"Four men in the Twenty-ninth Division are connected directly to Overlord planning," Henry resumed in that minister-preaching-at-a-funeral voice of his. "If one of the four is leaking, we've got to know which one.
"Wild Bill seems to have a pocketful of faith in you, boy, after Sicily, Salerno and Rome--so you either come through with answers or Colonel Branson will have your scrawny little Okie butt on the first Higgins boat team to hit the sands of Normandy."
James had been an undercover SI (Secret Intelligence) agent to the 29th, where he joined a bunch of other new guys to meet the battalion CO, Lieutenant Colonel Branson.
"You new men have been assigned to me," Colonel Branson said by why of greeting. "The division has been in the ETO for eighteen months and we are ready for combat. You new meat will be ready too. This battalion will be in the leading waves in the invasion of Europe. You men will be part of a great force to end the war. Two out of three of you are not going home. Good luck."
More than one and a half million GIs were crowded into Britain, an area not much larger than the state of Virginia. Some had been in invasion training for years. A sign erected by an American evangelist outside Dartmouth asked the question Where will you spend eternity?, in answer to which some wiseacre had scrawled across the bottom: In England. GIs kept waiting and they kept telling each other it wouldn't be long now; it couldn't be much longer. Nervous eyes shifted toward the Channel.
James made a point of getting acquainted with the four officers who were coordinating 29th Division Normandy operations, Operation Overlord, with General Eisenhower's SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force). He had worked himself into their confidences, wined and dined them, loosened their tongues, and all they wanted to talk about so far was "back home" and their wives or kids or girlfriends. He was going to puke into his blood pudding if he had to listen to one more dissertation about little Johnny taking his first step or of how Suzie Malt Shop put Lana Turner to shame.
He doubted likewise he was going to come up with anything knocking around in the middle of the night with Operation Hog's Breath and landing rehearsals. But since he was assigned to Colonel Branson, on paper at least, there was no way he could have begged off. Bored, he took a deep breath and fished out a four-pack of C-rat Lucky Strikes, tapped one out and stuck it between his lips. Light discipline had been imposed, so he couldn't fire it up yet. But he had it ready for when ash-and-trash offloaded on the beach following the "invasion."
Excerpted from OSS Commando: Final Option by Charles Sasser Copyright © 2007 by Charles Sasser. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.