The Jedburghs were a joint undercover operation of the British Special Operations Executive, the French Intelligence and Operations Bureau, the OSS, and operatives of the Belgian and Dutch military. Jedburgh teams of operatives were parachuted into France before and during Operation Overlord, to sabotage specific targets, and to lead teams of resistance fighters behind the German lines. Overall command of the teams was the responsibility of the Free French Army once they were on French soil. Getting them there was largely the responsibility of the OSS using Army Air Force aircraft, and their training was accomplished at SOE/OSS facilities in the UK.
It is a myth that the Jedburghs were named for the town of Jedburgh in the Scottish Borders, a haven for border raiders during the middle ages. The name was drawn at random from a British Ministry of Defense security codebook. The operation was under the responsibility of the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe, Dwight Eisenhower. Eventually Jedburgh teams operated on the European continent and in Southeast Asia, where they were under the authority of Lord Mountbatten, and bitterly opposed by Douglas MacArthur, who refused to allow their deployment in the Philippines, considering them to be an abridgement of his authority.
The Jedburghs were typically deployed as three man teams, led by either a British or American officer, supported by an officer of the nation in which the team was to be deployed, and a radio operator. The radio operator could be of any nationality, selected based on linguistic ability and overall training. The teams were tasked with leading resistance forces in open actions against the German army, and were inserted into Europe wearing the uniform of the nation from whence they came. Unlike other agents of the OSS dropped into Europe, they carried true identification and their military tags, and if captured should have been treated as prisoners of war rather than spies.
Jedburghs were trained in special operations and paramilitary operations in Scotland, then in martial arts at Milton Hall in England, where the surrounding grounds and woods were used to create conditions similar to what they would encounter on the continent. Sabotage, demolition, and close quarters combat were all part of their training. From Milton Hall teams were selected and missions assigned based on the demands of the Special Operations Executive in London, and the OSS support mission. Once ready for deployment, the teams were flown to their drop zone by OSS controlled US Army Air Force aircraft.
In 1942 Adolf Hitler issued his Commando Order, which stipulated that Allied commandos – which included all parachute troops – were to be shot immediately upon capture, superseding a previous order which stipulated that parachute troops be taken by the Gestapo. Both orders were in contravention of the Geneva Convention. Several SOE and OSS operatives were taken prisoner and executed under the Commando Order, despite being in uniform and carrying proper identification, including Jedburghs. German officers who executed captured OSS and SOE personnel were identified as war criminals and tried for their crimes following the war.
In the Pacific, most of the Jedburgh teams were of French composition, and operated in French Indochina, though they were supported by OSS operatives. Thus the first Americans fighting in what would become Vietnam were there in 1944, fighting alongside guerrillas opposing the occupying Japanese troops. About sixty Jedburgh teams operated in Indochina and in Burma, a theatre commanded by Lord Mountbatten. OSS leader William Donovan lobbied for the deployment of Jedburghs in the Philippines both before and during the American invasion in 1944, but an imperious MacArthur was wary of an encroachment on his authority and refused.