Military historian Brenner (We Were One: Shoulder to Shoulder with the Marines Who Took Fallujah) brings a cinematic style and considerable expertise to this engrossing tale of a behind-enemy-lines mission during the last year of WWII. Conducted by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS, the predecessor to the modern CIA), the plan was to cut "a carotid artery of the Third Reich," the infamous Brenner Pass through the mountains between Austria and Italy, leaving the German army in Southern Italy isolated. Arguably one of the war's most dangerous operations, it was led two OSS operatives who never met: Stephen Hall, a combat engineer trained in demolitions, who conceived and sold the plan (and himself) to the newly formed OSS; and Howard Chappell, a Fort Benning paratroop trainer recruited by the OSS to train the team of "shadow soldiers" who would infiltrate Nazi Germany under Hall's command. Unfortunately, the main theater of operations had shifted to France by the summer of 1944, and the team was shorted critical logistical support. With thorough research and new interviews, O'Donnell provides an insightful look into the internal struggles of the burgeoning OSS as well as a real-life espionage adventure of bravery, ingenuity and sacrifice.
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O'Donnell writes of the sabotage team that was dropped into German-occupied Italy in 1944 with the mission of disrupting transport for the retreating Wehrmacht. Things didn't go smoothly, but the help of various partisan groups allowed the team, though reduced by death and capture, to operate for several weeks and to coordinate effectively sabotage and ambush attacks. This exciting narrative of war at the personal level will be a good supplement to subject collections.
Edwin B. Burgess
The story of two teams of OSS commandos dropped behind enemy lines to cut off Nazi transportation routes through the rugged Italian Alps. Military historian O'Donnell (We Were One, 2006, etc.) once again presents multiple perspectives from various sides of the battle lines, making use of diaries, letters, radio transmissions and reports, as well as hundreds of hours of interviews he conducted with participants. Among the significant actors were a pair of murderous Gestapo officers, a charismatic Italian partisan, a mysterious Swiss-born countess working as a French spy and a colorful OSS recruit whose resume included stints as a cook, a maitre d', a soldier for Franco and a deserter from the French Foreign Legion. Most significant of all were newly minted OSS agents Capt. Stephen Hall and Capt. Howard Chappell, young, tough soldiers who had nothing to prove to anyone but themselves. In 1943, Hall wrote a letter to the OSS outlining a plan to parachute into the Italian Alps with enough supplies and explosives to be a one-man wrecking crew. His target: the high-mountain Brenner Pass rails and roads linking Austria with Italy, the Nazi war machine's lifeblood for supplies. Sent with a small team to make contact with Italian partisan fighters, Hall began his commando operations under the noses of German troops scouring the land in search of saboteurs. Chappell's team set out to link with Hall's, even as Hall began a solo move on Brenner Pass after the Nazis tightened their noose around the partisans. The endgame to this cat-and-mouse hinged on who got to whom first. O'Donnell clearly enjoys narrating war's gristle along with its meat; small successes and failures ground the story in thereality of sabotage, reconnaissance, capture and escape, torture and murder. Along the way, the participants' motivations, allegiances, thoughts and actions come alive in vigorous, exciting prose. A taut real-life thriller.