Operation Sunrise

The declassification of documents relating to World War II has brought forth a rich harvest of works concerning the secret war, especially the breaking of the German codes. Operation Sunrise, however, is the result not of the harvesters, but of the gleaners, and is less a book than an extended, moderately interesting footnote in military-diplomatic history. Operation Sunrise led to the secret surrender of German troops in Italy five days before they capitulated in the rest of Europe. It was an episode as convoluted as possible, it benefited only a few, and it served mostly to exacerbate existing East-West tensions. That two historians would think there was sufficient material for a book in Operation Sunrise is unpardonable; that men such as Field Marshal Alexander and Allen Dulles could have thought that Operation Sunrise would be productive is equally unpardonable, but under the circumstances, it was understandable.

When William Donovan founded the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), he was riding high on his success in selling an ingenious idea. He and his equally upper-class colleagues would employ frequently daring and often unscrupulous techniques to gather intelligence, undermine enemy morale, and wreak havoc behind enemy lines. The OSS created a legend (abetted by Alan Ladd movies) but in fact accomplished little. On the other hand, their mundane colleagues, the cryptographers and the mathematicians, played a crucial role in winning the secret war. By early 1945, Allen Dulles, Donovan’s friend and OSS colleague stationed in Bern, Switzerland, was acutely aware that the war in Europe was nearly over and that the OSS had only a limited opportunity to achieve a significant place in history. He stood ready to take any chance or believe any story that might lead to a measure of lasting fame.

Early in 1945, the Italian Front was stalemated. Although it may have been clear that the Allies would eventually win the war, the German Army had not therefore become less formidable. Field Marshal Alexander in his headquarters at Caserta was frustrated by the stiff German resistance and by the shifting of men and matériel to other fronts, especially for the support of the Normandy invasion. Clearly an early surrender would save some German, American, and Italian lives, preserve Italian property, help...

(The entire section is 953 words.)