unclaimed - across the fence

Top Secret

 The Studies and Observations Group was a top-secret unconventional warfare task force created on January 24, 1964 by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It is the largest known US Special Forces unit created since WWII. SOG would eventually consist primarily of personnel from the United States Army, Navy Seals, Air Force, the Central Intelligence Agency and elements of the United States Marine Corps Force Reconnaissance units who had been training infiltrators for the CIA since the early 1960’s.

SOG was in fact controlled by the Special Assistant for Counterinsurgency and Special Activities (SACSA) and his staff at the Pentagon. This arrangement was necessary since SOG needed some listing in the MACV table of organization and the fact that MACV's commander, General William Westmoreland, had no authority to conduct operations outside territorial South Vietnam. This command arrangement through SACSA also allowed tight control up to the presidential level of the scope and scale of the organization's operations. The mission of the organization was "to execute an intensified program of harassment, diversion, political pressure, capture of prisoners, physical destruction, acquisition of intelligence, generation of propaganda, and diversion of resources, against the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.”


Unclaimed - The Oath Experience



Originally called Special Operations Group or, more communally by those who knew of its existence, as SOG, the group's name was later changed to Studies and Observations Group. SOG teams operated from was three classified forward operating bases (FOB) while conducting clandestine reconnaissance missions in both North and South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. These missions included the capture of enemy prisoners, rescue of downed pilots, retrieval of prisoners of war and psychological warfare operations.

The unit participated in most of the significant campaigns of the Vietnam War, including the Gulf of Tonkin incident which precipitated American involvement, Operation Steel Tiger, Operation Tiger Hound, the Tet Offensive, Operation Commando Hunt, the Cambodian Campaign, Operation Lam Son 719, and the Easter Offensive. Cross border or ‘Over The Fence’ operations were invariably code-named in the interests of secrecy, with missions into Laos being known as "SHINING BRASS" and later, after 1968, as "PRAIRIE FIRE." Missions into Cambodia were also given code names and were initially known as "DANIEL BOONE" and later in the war as "SALEM HOUSE."

SOG’s first commander Colonel Clyde Russell had difficulty in creating an organization with which to fulfill his mission since, at the time, United States Special Forces were unprepared either doctrinally or organizationally to carry it out. At this point the mission of the Special Forces was the conduct of guerrilla operations behind enemy lines in the event of an invasion by conventional forces, not in the conduct of agent, maritime, or psychological operations. Russell expected to take over a fully functional organization and assumed that the CIA, which would maintain a representative on SOG's staff and contribute personnel to the organization, would see the military through any teething troubles. His expectations and assumptions were incorrect. The contribution of the South Vietnamese came in the form of SOG's counterpart organization which finally ending with the Strategic Technical Directorate (STD).


Unclaimed - The Oath Experience



After a slow and shaky start, the unit got its operations underway. Originally, these consisted of a continuation of the CIA's agent infiltrations. Teams of South Vietnamese volunteers were parachuted into the north, but the majority were captured soon after their insertions. Maritime operations against the coast of North Vietnam picked up after the delivery of Norwegian-built "Nasty" Class torpedo boats to the unit, but these operations also fell short of expectations. The unit was formally disbanded and replaced by the Strategic Technical Directorate Assistance Team 158 on 1 May 1972.


The U.S. military kept tight security over knowledge of the unit's operations and existence until the early 1980s. Although there had been some small leaks by the media during the conflict, they were usually erroneous and easily dismissed. More specific was the release of documents dealing with the early days of the operation in the Pentagon Papers and by the testimony of ex-SOG personnel during congressional investigations into the bombing campaigns in Laos and Cambodia in the early 1970s. Historians interested in the unit's activities had to wait until the early 1990s, when MACSOG's Annexes to the annual MACV Command Histories and a Pentagon documentation study of the organization were declassified for the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs' hearings on the Vietnam War POW/MIA issue.

Images provided courtesy of the Archival Research Catalogue, National Archives, USA

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