Small Wars Journal

OSS Influence on Early US Special Forces: the Forgotten Ones

Mon, 05/17/2021 - 12:37pm

OSS Influence on Early US Special Forces: the Forgotten Ones

By Jelle Hooiveld


In 2018, The USASOC History Office published an article stating that a ‘grossly disproportionate share of the pioneering influence’ was incorrectly attributed to veterans of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) who joined early Special Forces[1]. After comparing personnel lists, USASOC History Office concluded that only 14 members of the OSS actually served in Special Forces and that their contribution was not as great as has been described over the years. David Maxwell, who criticized this study, also noted that the list failed to include Robert McDowell, who served with the OSS in Yugoslavia. In 2019, Jelle Hooiveld published an article in Small Wars Journal about the legendary OSS, Special Forces and CIA Officer Lucien Conein, whose contribution to the build-up of early Special Forces wasn’t mentioned either[2]. Now, yet another name has come up: Jack Sands Jr., who served as a lieutenant colonel in the OSS and became a senior adviser to the staff of the 10th Special Forces Group in the mid-fifties[3].


Oliver Jackson Sands Jr. was born on 9 October, 1905. He was educated at Princeton University and Harvard University and initially served with the Field Artillery (U.S. Army Reserve). Sands later became Assistant Deputy Director of the OSS and attained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. After the abolishment of the OSS, Sands joined the Central Intelligence Group (CIG) but also remained active as a reserve officer. During the early 1950s, Sands served as Chief, Operations Coordination Branch and Executive Officer of the Psychological Staff Division of the CIA. In the mid-fifties, Sands was transferred to the Western European theatre. By now, Sands was also a full Army Reserve colonel. Between 1956 and 1959, while working for the CIA, he served as a so called ‘Military Staff Agent’ and was appointed Director, J-2 Division of the Headquarters of Support Operations Task Force Europe (SOTFE). HQ SOTFE was organized under the direction of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as a joint task force. It was composed of Army and CIA personnel for the conduct of Unconventional Warfare throughout the area of responsibility of the Commander in Chief in Europe[4].


During this period, Sands also acted as a senior adviser to the Commanding Officer, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) on all CIA matters pertaining to Operations, Intelligence and Support. According to his owns statements, Sands also held ‘numerous formal and informal conferences’ with officers of the 10th SFG on subjects of tradecraft and tactics and techniques developed or practiced by the CIA that were of interest to Special Forces. In addition, Sands reviewed and advised the 10th SFG in regard to the training programs of its personnel. Furthermore, Sands acted as a liaison between the CIA and 10th SFG regarding mutual areas of interest on the development of new techniques and new equipment. In acknowledgement of his contributions, Colonel Sands was made an honorary member of the 10th SFG[5]. Throughout his life, Sands remained proud of his OSS roots. During an eighties reunion, Sands referred to his former OSS colleagues as the ‘greatest collection of people […] in the history of the world’. Summing up: this article has shown that at least three OSS veterans who significantly impacted and influenced early Special Forces, weren’t included in USASOC History Office’s study. Who else is missing?



[1] Sacquety, T.J., (2018). The OSS influence on Special Forces. Veritas, Journal of Army Special Operations History, volume 14, No. 2, p. 23.

[2] Hooiveld, J.J.H. (2019). Lucien Conein, Legendary OSS, Special Forces and CIA Officer - Forgotten by the USASOC History Office? Small Wars Journal, 22 July 2019.

[3] This article is mainly based on unpublished documents provided to the author by the son of Jack Sands Jr.

[4] Support Operations Task Force Europe was redesignated Special Operations Task Force Europe. SOTFE transformed into Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR) on November 1, 1985.

[5] This claim is based on information provided by the son of Jack Sands Jr. to the author.



About the Author(s)

Jelle Hooiveld is a PhD Candidate of Military History at Leiden University (The Netherlands), a Security & Intelligence Lecturer/Adviser, and the author of two books about Dutch Jedburgh teams.