Saturday, September 19, 2009


We last pondered the delicate balancing act between liberty and security and allowed that our military, law enforcement and intelligence communities need to work smarter, more efficiently and avail themselves of all our available assets. Those assets include all the high tech gadgets that we have marveled at in our science fiction movies and TV shows to include unmanned drones, laser range-finders, handheld global positioning systems that display the precise coordinates of any target, rifles and pistols that shoot around corners, video cameras the size of a pin head, robotic explosive sensors and even a James Bond type of high-energy tactical laser and many, many more. Well, we know that this once science fiction is now our reality. The big question is who invents this stuff?

The United States government spends billions (with a capital B) of dollars annually in research and design and that number is likely equaled by our British Friends and certainly the Russians, Japanese and the Chinese. Relatively speaking the rest of the world muddles toward their own technological epiphanies rather slowly and by mostly borrowing (stealing) or buying from those rarified, enlightened R&D sectors.

When I ponder spy tech, its attendant gadgetry and all it entails I often think of Ian Flemings’ iconic James Bond Quartermaster, Major Boothroyd (Q), of Her Majesty’s Secret Service (HMSS MI6). Q was the equally iconic Welsh actor Desmond Llewelyn who first played that role in the 1965 movie, Thunderball. It always appeared that Q was exclusively inventing and perfecting sinister gadgets for Ian Fleming’s James Bond character who invariably used these gadgets for his seemingly routine, miraculous escapes… I have recognized at least two as OSS inventions.

In World War II the United States’ Office of Strategic Services (OSS) under the leadership of General William Donovan and Colonel G. Edward Buxton collected and analyzed strategic information and conducted special intelligence operations not assigned to other US agencies. Bottom line: the OSS reported directly to the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) and was charged with the primary wartime intelligence and espionage effort though other agencies like the FBI had equally important responsibilities notwithstanding Hoover’s paranoid adversarial perspective of the OSS). The OSS sphere of influence, however, was in the major and critical theatres to include Europe and Asia. They were our intelligence and espionage nuts and bolts folks and almost sixty five years after the end of WWII we are just learning the true extent of their efforts.

Donovan correctly realized from his exploits during and following WWI that critical to any victory in WWII would be the earnest application of science & technology and a dynamic organization – areas where the United States excelled. Turns out that we had our own Q and his name was Dr. Stanley Platt Lovell a New Englander who worked his way through Cornell University and by his tenacity and genius built the Lovell Chemical Company of Watertown, Massachusetts. While Lovell held over seventy patents he was a humble man who often characterized himself as a “sauce pan chemist”. He proved to be well beyond that personal estimation. In modern terminology he always thought outside the box, saw that other elusive dimension and most importantly was able to build a consensus for his ideas.

A consummate judge of character, ability and an ultimate delegator - OSS Director Donovan approached Lovell and asked him to head the OSS Research and Development branch and be the OSS liaison with the scientific community in both government and private industry. Lovell was initially skeptical about any role he might be able to play but Donovan was able to cajole and inspire him to accept.

Author, former bureau chief of U.S. News & World Report in Berlin and 60 Minutes producer John Marks relates in his
Search for the Manchurian Candidate: CIA and Mind Control about that moment.

“General Donovan minced no words in laying out what he expected of Lovell: "I need every subtle device and every underhanded trick to use against the Germans and Japanese—by our own people—but especially by the underground resistance programs in all the occupied countries. You'll have to invent them all, Lovell,because you're going to be my man."

“Like most of his generation, he (Lovell) was an outspoken patriot. He wrote in his diary shortly after Pearl Harbor: "As James Hilton said, 'Once at war, to reason is treason.' My job is clear—to do all that is in me to help America." Because of the opportunities afforded him in life Lovell perceived the OSS assignment as an ultimate expression of patriotism and a further chance to “pay back” his country.

“Lovell quickly turned to some of the leading lights in the academic and private sectors. A special group—called Division 19—within James Conant's National Defense Research Committee was set up to produce "miscellaneous weapons" for OSS and British intelligence. Lovell's strategy, he later wrote, was "to stimulate the Peck's Bad Boy beneath the surface of every American scientist and to say to him, 'Throw all your normal law-abiding concepts out the window. Here's a chance to raise merry hell.”
For all you literary neophytes Peck’s Bad Boy (Henry Peck) was the fictional star of books and newspaper stories authored by George W. Peck in the late 1800’s. Seems that this mischievous lad loved to play mean and devious pranks on others and for no other reason than the sheer pleasure of creating mayhem. Good metaphor – that’s what the OSS did. Lovell was so good at his job of inventing so much lethal weaponry and diabolical gadgets that he earned the nickname “Professor Moriarty”. Donovan had made that initial observation much to Lovell’s chagrin.

So much for a gentlemanly approach to warfare. This was a no holds barred conflict where victory by any means was the rule of law and where all sides used whatever resources at their disposal. Historian and Rutgers professor John Whiteclay Chambers II in the preface to his historical study for the National Park Service, Office of Strategic Services (OSS) Training in World War II noted that,

"The OSS developed scores of gadgets, secret devices, weapons, and munitions. They ranged from flexible swim fins and self-contained underwater breathing devices to buttons, shoes, and pipes with secret compartments, and a variety of lethal inventions including single-shot, cigarettes and fountain pens as well as flashless pistols and machine guns. Among the special munitions, one innovation was a batter nicknamed “Aunt Jemima” that came packed in Chinese flour sacks to deceive the Japanese. It could be harmlessly baked in an oven, but with a fuse attached, it became a powerful explosive that OSS saboteurs could blow up a radio tower, railroad line, or even a bridge with it.”
And so it went and by the end of the war in 1945 the OSS had produced — in less than three years after its creation, “more than twenty-five special weapons and dozens of sabotage devices, along with scores of other gadgets, including concealments, radios, and escape and evasion tools.” Those items included the ludicrous (cat guided bombs) to the myriad practical devices that helped the Allies win the war.

I am proud to say that our Family in the person of Colonel G. Edward Buxton, Jr. of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and my grandfather was involved in that effort. Buxton was Director Bill Donovan’s second in command and acting OSS Director in Donovan’s absence (a regular happening). One of Buxton’s good Friends was that same Stanley Lovell who commented on one of their early meetings and their relationship in his revealing 1963 OSS memoir, Of Spies and Stratagems. The full text of Lovell’s book can be found at (won’t hyperlink).

“Colonel Buxton was "Wild Bill's" Deputy Director and strong right arm. Their commands in World War I had been side by side. Together they had helped found the American Legion. Ned Buxton was never Bill Donovan's alter ego; rather he was his indispensable balance wheel. Because he recognized this to be so, Colonel Buxton was the first man Colonel Donovan recruited. He was the only man in O.S.S. who could make the Director reverse a decision when it was poorly thought out or woefully premature, reverse it and have the Director thank him for asking that it be done.

None of us stood in awe of Ned Buxton, as many did of the legendary Wild Bill, but all of us loved him. His orders to me were similar to David Bruce's advice. "You decide what needs to be done. See me if you want to check on it, but don't bother Colonel Donovan until it's accomplished. You're experienced enough to know how to operate."
With the victory won and the nation in recovery Stanley Lovell, General Wild Bill Donovan and many more OSS alumni attended Colonel Buxton’s funeral that cold March day in 1949 in Providence, Rhode Island. We thank Lovell for his Friendship and contributions to freedom and liberty.

Donovan was right. We had our own Professor Moriarty all along in Stan Lovell.

Sic transit gloria secretorum.


Ned Buxton

1 comment:

Marc Maderazzo said...

Mr Buxton

Thank you for an engaging tribute to Stanley Lovell, Colonel Donovan's "Professor Moriarty". He was entirely deserving of your sobriquet, "The Gadget Boffin" of the OSS.

Lovell is a secondary character in a novel I'm working on, which is set in part in 1942 at "2430", the compound, adjacent to the present-day Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., where Colonel Donovan established the first permanent home for the OSS. I read "Of Spies and Stratagems" as part of my background material, and found Lovell such a stout and endearing personality that I could not resist writing him in.

The instant I saw your name at the head of your blog, I guessed that Colonel Buxton of the OSS might have been your grandfather or great-uncle. You must be very proud.

Thanks again for an excellent read.