Ritchie Boy Secrets: How a Force of Immigrants and Refugees Helped Win World War II

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In June 1942, the U.S. Army began recruiting immigrants, the children of immigrants, refugees, and others with language skills and knowledge of enemy lands and cultures for a special military intelligence group being trained in the mountains of northern Maryland and sent into Europe and the Pacific. Ultimately, 15,000 men and some women received this specialized training and went on to make vital contributions to victory in World War II. This is their story, which Beverley Driver Eddy tells thoroughly and colorfully, drawing heavily on interviews with surviving Ritchie Boys.

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In June 1942, the U.S. Army began recruiting immigrants, the children of immigrants, refugees, and others with language skills and knowledge of enemy lands and cultures for a special military intelligence group being trained in the mountains of northern Maryland and sent into Europe and the Pacific. Ultimately, 15,000 men and some women received this specialized training and went on to make vital contributions to victory in World War II. This is their story, which Beverley Driver Eddy tells thoroughly and colorfully, drawing heavily on interviews with surviving Ritchie Boys.

The army recruited not just those fluent in German, French, Italian, and Polish (approximately a fifth were Jewish refugees from Europe), but also Arabic, Japanese, Dutch, Greek, Norwegian, Russian, Turkish, and other languages—as well as some 200 Native Americans and 200 WACs. They were trained in photo interpretation, terrain analysis, POW interrogation, counterintelligence, espionage, signal intelligence (including pigeons), mapmaking, intelligence gathering, and close combat.

Many landed in France on D-Day. Many more fanned out across Europe and around the world completing their missions, often in cooperation with the OSS and Counterintelligence Corps, sometimes on the front lines, often behind the lines. The Ritchie Boys’ intelligence proved vital during the liberation of Paris and the Battle of the Bulge. They helped craft the print and radio propaganda that wore down German homefront morale. If caught, they could have been executed as spies. After the war they translated and interrogated at the Nuremberg trials. One participated in using war criminal Klaus Barbie as an anti-communist agent. Meanwhile, Ritchie Boys in the Pacific Theater of Operations collected intelligence in Burma and China, directed bombing raids in New Guinea and the Philippines, and fought on Okinawa and Iwo Jima.

This is a different kind of World War II story, and Eddy tells it with conviction, supported by years of research and interviews.