Terence A. Coyne: An Office of Strategic Services’ Art Looting Investigation Unit Monuments Man

Today’s post, written by  Dr. Greg Bradsher, is the next installment in an ongoing series of posts on real-life Monuments Men.

The movie, The Monuments Men, has focused great attention on the Monuments Men (and women) and their work during and after World War II.  Of course the movie cannot tell the story of the over 300 individuals involved in Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFA&A) work, so it focuses on three: George Stout, James Rorimer, and Rose Valland, played by George Clooney, Matt Damon, and Cate Blanchett respectively.  Beginning in December 2013, Dr. Greg Bradsher and Dr. Sylvia Naylor thought it would be illustrative to discuss some of the lesser known individuals, and thus started a series of blog posts. This blog post on Terence A. Coyne is the fifteenth in this series.

Many of the Monuments Men were educated at Ivy League schools.  Terence A. Coyne was not one of them.  In fact, he never attended college.  And while many of his Monuments Men colleagues had been college professors, museum directors, and professional architects, Coyne’s background was basically that of clerical work before becoming a member of the Office of Strategic Services’ Art Looting Investigation Unit (ALIU).

Coyne was born in Bridgeport, Ohio on August 4, 1910 and graduated in 1927 from Central Catholic High School in Wheeling, West Virginia.  During the following years he would take night school classes in mathematics, public speaking, and French, as well as correspondence courses in accounting and business English.  After a short stint working as an unskilled sheet metal worker in Ohio, he was employed as a payroll clerk and supervisor in the Civil Works Administration of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration at St. Clairsville, Ohio, from December 1933 to August 1935.  He then was a supervisor for payrolls and timekeeping for the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in Athens Ohio, from August 1935 to February 1938, and then as a chief timekeeper for the WPA in Akron, Ohio from February 1938 to July 1939. From July 1939 to November 1942 he was employed as a railway mail clerk with the U.S. Railway Mail Service, working out of Pittsburgh.  He married Margaret Brennan on May 20, 1942.

Coyne enlisted in the Navy on October 16, 1942 as yeoman second class and was ordered to duty on November 22.  After graduating from the Foreign Service School of the Office of Naval Intelligence, Washington, D.C., he was sent to North Africa on March 3, 1943, and served there as yeoman to the Officer in Charge of the Joint Army-Navy Intelligence Collection Agency (JICA), North Africa.  From October 1943 to September 1944, he served as yeoman to the Officer in Charge, Naval Intelligence Unit, U.S. Eight Fleet, and was promoted to Yeoman First Class January 8, 1944.  Until July 1944 he was stationed in Algiers and then moved with headquarters to Naples.  His duties there included supervision of a group of first-class and second-class yeomen, and supervision of all intelligence reports, correspondence, and other typed and mimeographed material. He also made translations as required of French and Italian documents.

He returned to the United States October 6, following attacks of malaria, and after temporary duty at the US Naval Hospital Great Lakes, Illinois, was transferred to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) X-2 Branch (counterintelligence) on March 17, 1945.  It appears Lt. James S. Plaut, USNR, desired Coyne’s services and arranged for the transfer.  Plaut and Coyne must have met when both were engaged in naval intelligence activities in North Africa.

During the last two weeks of March, Coyne took the Basic OSS School, completing it March 31, and then was assigned as an administrative assistant to Plaut, the chief of the Orion Project (the code name for the Art Looting Investigation Unit), in Europe.   The ALIU/Orion Project was set up on November 24, 1944, with the stated purpose: “It will be the mission of this project to collect and disseminate such information bearing on the looting, confiscation and transfer by the enemy of art properties in Europe, on individuals or organizations involved in such operations and transactions as will be of direct aid to the United States agencies empowered to effect restitution of such properties and prosecution of war criminals.”

Other members of the Orion Project came from various places in the fine arts community: Plaut (director of the Institute of Modern Art), who became an officer with the Office of Naval Intelligence in 1942.  Theodore Rousseau-on staff at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., was named the ALIU operations officer. S. Lane Faison, Jr., professor of fine arts at Williams College, joined the unit in April 1945.  Detached from the U.S. Army to serve with the ALIU were two other professionals: Charles H. Sawyer, director of the Worcester Art Museum, and John Phillips, curator of the Mabel Brady Garvan Collections.  Sawyer served as the ALIU liaison officer in Washington; Phillips ran the London office.

Sawyer wrote Plaut on April 2, Coyne had “taken his first plunge, now begins the second, and will join us for a brief period after a final week at home which I know would be in accordance with your wishes. Under this program he should be in your hands by mid-May.”  The following day the X-2 Training Officer wrote Coyne that he was scheduled to take the X-2 Indoctrination Course from April 2 to April 14; code instruction from April 16 to April 18, and would be authorized vacation from April 19 thru April 29.  He was also informed the target date for his departure would be May 10.

While undergoing indoctrination, Coyne took daily French language training, and possibly German.  Sawyer, then heading the Washington, D.C. office of the Orion Project recommended that Coyne be authorized to take German lessons (twenty lessons of one hour each) in the Berlitz School at the expense of Orion Project.  Sawyer indicated that Coyne was fluent in French and Italian and that it would be most helpful in connection with his work in the Orion Project if he had at least a working knowledge of German.

In mid-April Sawyer wrote Plaut that the administrative assistant of the Washington Orion Project office, Elizabeth Lambie, had health problems and that he had successfully obtained permission for Coyne to be retained an extra thirty days to help her.  On April 19 the X-2 Branch Training Officer wrote Coyne that his indoctrination on the Orion project would be from April 30 until his departure, which was changed to June 10.  Towards the end of the month Lambie wrote Plaut “Your pal Coyne is certainly a find-and his being here has practically saved my life.” She wrote that she just had been burned out. “With Coyne here to take on some of the typing and carding that I have been doing ad nauseam,” she added, “we can keep up with things and perhaps even get a little ahead.”

On May 15, Lambie, wrote Sarah (Sally) J. Sillcocks, her counterpart in London, that Faison was on leave preparatory to his departure for London and that Coyne would be going on leave the following week.  She observed:

They are both very nice guys and I think you will find working with them very easy. Faison is a most entertaining gent-the kind who, I should imagine, always can find enjoyment out of what he’s doing regardless of what it is-a thoroughly genial piece of work. Coyne never ceases to amaze me because I can’t get used to the idea of anybody in a sailor suit being any more capable or intelligent than Pop-eye, and this one is a great deal of both!

Sawyer wrote Plaut on May 19 that their first and immediate problem was the replacement for Coyne.  He added, “C. has been of the greatest possible assistance to us as he will be to John [Phillips] & Co. We aim to see that his service record shows the high evaluation his work and ability deserve.”  Lambie wrote Plaut also on May 19, that “Your fine man Coyne has gone on leave and we will soon be losing him, which will great affect our situation here. It has been working out very well, with him to take over a lot of the clerical work and some carding, but we don’t have any bright prospect of a replacement and the picture from my viewpoint is rather discouraging.”

James R. Murphy, Chief of the X-2 Branch on May 29 wrote that OSS Naval Command, recommending Coyne for promotion to the rate of Chief Yeoman.  He wrote that Coyne “has shown a marked ability and aptitude in his present assignment, and has received the highest recommendation from the Chief of the project, who believes that he has exception qualifications for his work, which entails a high degree of technical skill and ability to analyze and coordinate intelligence material. It is also believed that a high rank would be of material assistance to Yeoman Coyne in the fulfillment of his duties abroad.”  Coyne was promoted on July 16.

Faison left for London on May 30.  He added that he expected by the time Sawyer received the letter Coyne would be on his way to London.  He added that he planned to push Coyne right out to the field to work with them if Norman Pearson, Chief of the London X-2 Branch, was agreeable.

By the second week of June Rousseau established Orion Project detention center at Alt Aussee, Austria, in conjunction with the Judge Advocate, Third U.S. Army.  Alt Aussee was in close proximity to the salt mine where the greatest concentration of Nazi plunder from Western Europe was concealed.  By June 9 the Special Counter Intelligence Detachment of the 12th Army Group turned Heinrich Hoffmann, Hitler’s official photographer, over to Rousseau and the ALIU had commenced operations at Alt Aussee.  On June 13 Plaut sent a cable to Phillips in London that the “Orion Center” had been established at Alt Aussee and that Walter Andreas Hofer (Director of the Goering Collection and Goering’s chief purchasing agent), Bruno Lohse (Deputy Chief of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg [ERR], the Nazi looting organization in France under Alfred Rosenberg), and Hoffmann were then being interrogated.  He asked that Coyne be rushed to Alt Aussee.

In the meantime, Coyne left for London on June 10.  Sawyer on June 22 wrote Coyne’s wife in Wheeling, West Virginia: “By now you have no doubt received word of Terence’s safe arrival on the other side. He stayed for a very brief time in London and then went on to Paris. We think it probable that he has now joined Mr. Plaut in Germany where they seem to be having a very interesting time.”  He informed her that they enjoyed having him with them and were very sorry to see him go and informed her that he would relay news they had from or about him and if she ever needed to get in touch with her husband quickly not to hesitating contacting him.

Coyne joined the unit at Alt Aussee on June 22 and became Plaut’s assistant.  Faison left London on July 13 to join Plaut, Rousseau, and Coyne at Alt Aussee.

Soon after the ALIU began operations, Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives (MFA&A) officers and others brought leading participants in Nazi art looting operations, suspects, and informants to the ALIU for interrogation.  The operating plan called for interrogations and the production of interrogation reports.  Detailed Interrogation Reports (DIRs) were to be produced about specific individuals interrogated and Consolidated Interrogation Reports (CIRs) on specific topics.  As for the CIRs, Plaut, Rousseau, and Faison divided their work so that each would report upon one of the most important looting programs. Rousseau was responsible for the investigation of the Goering Collection. Faison was responsible for investigating the activities of the planners of the projected Fuhermuseum at Linz, Austria. Plaut was responsible investigating the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg.

Coyne was a key part of the process.  He organized the records, compiled reports, translated documents, and, performed actual field duties, ranging from help with the interrogations to assisting in the administration of the detention center.

During mid-August Coyne’s baby died and his wife was ill.  Upon receiving this news, on August 16 Sawyer wrote Plaut about the sad news he had received.  “It is such tough luck and I know how upset Terry will be” Sawyer wrote. He asked Plaut if there were any chance of getting Coyne compassionate leave.  Plaut had returned to London on August 18, bringing finished reports with him and left for Washington D.C. on August 21.  So it was possible that Plaut may not have seen Sawyer’s letter, but Sawyer also had sent cables to London and Alt Aussee about the Coyne situation.  In any event, either Plaut, or Rousseau at Alt Aussee arranged for Coyne to return to the States on temporary duty.

Rousseau cabled the X-2 Branch, London, on August 23, Coyne was leaving the next day for London en route to Washington.  He added, “Imperative stenographic assistance be rushed to Alt Aussee within next week to relieve critical situation.”   Alice Whitney, who joined the Orion Project in London as a secretary on July 6, departed London on temporary duty at Alt Aussee on September 6, to help out in Coyne’s absence.  In the meantime, Coyne departed from London on September 1.

On August 29, the Orion London Desk sent to the Chief X-2 Branch, OSS Mission to Great Britain a progress report for the month of August. The report noted that Faison and Coyne

have been at the ORION Detention Center at Alt Aussee where they have completed Detailed Interrogations of Robert Scholz, chief of the pictorial art section for the E.R.R.; Gustav Rochlitz, art dealer implicated in exchanges of looted art property; Gunther Schiedlausky, E.R.R. official; Bruno Lohse, leading E.R.R. personality; Karl Kress, on photographic staff of E.R.R.; as well as Consolidated Interrogation Report on the ‘Activity of the E.R.R. in France.

During the second week in September Coyne was ready to return to the ALIU, to complete his assignment, which was described in a transportation request, as “assisting a group of U.S. Navy officers in the interrogation of high German officials at a special OSS center.”  John D. Wilson noted on the request “He is important to the X-2 Art Project and returned to the U.S. only because of a medical emergency.”  On September 14 travel orders were issued to Coyne and he was soon on his way back to Europe.  Sawyer wrote John Phillips on that day that “Terry will bring you up-to-date on most of the news from this quarter.”  Coyne returned to London on September 17.

There was no need for Coyne to return to Alt Aussee as the Orion Project was wrapping up its operations there.  The Orion Project detention center, Alt Aussee was closed the last week of September by Faison, who returned to London on October 8. Rousseau returned to London October 2, from Austria via Munich, Nuremberg, and Paris.  Plaut arrived in London on October 9, having completed his Washington discussions on the future of the Orion Project.

Soon after Coyne returned to London, the OSS was abolished. The ALIU was placed under the X-2 Branch of the newly established Strategic Services Unit (SSU) of the War Department.

The ALIU would continue its investigations and complete their reports.  It produced a Final Report, three Consolidated Interrogation Reports (Activity of the Einsatzstab Rosenberg in France, The Goering Collection, and, Linz: Hitler’s Museum and Library), and twelve Detailed Interrogation Reports (DIRs) (Heinrich Hoffman, July 1945; Ernst Buchner, July 1945; Robert Scholz, August 1945; Gustav Rochlitz, August 1945; Gunther Schiedlausky, August 1945; Bruno Lohse, August 1945; Gisela Limberger, September 1945; Walter Andreas Hofer, September 1945;  Karl Kress, August 1945; Walter Bornheim, September 1945; Herman Voss, September 1945; and, Karl Haberstock, May 1946). All of these are now available on Fold3.

The ALIU progress report, dated October 31, noted the unit intended to produce DIRs on Kajetan Muehlmann, Rose Bauer, Maria Dietrich, and Hildebrandt Gurlitt. They were never produced as DIRs.

Despite not accomplishing as much as intended, the ALIU work at Alt Aussee clarified the nature of the looting process and identified the whereabouts of countless masterpieces. Its work also contributed to the Nuremberg trials. The ALIU recommended that certain individuals be tried as war criminals. Karl Haberstock’s information was so damaging to the Nazi leaders that the Americans decided to send him to Nuremberg to testify at the war crimes trials. There he became a key witness with respect to art plundering.

From London on November 8 Plaut wrote that all the CIRs and DIRs should be completed, mimeographed, and distributed by December 15 at the latest. He observed that as things then stood, Faison, Coyne, and Alice Whitney would be in London continuously from November 15 to December 15 or thereabouts, with Whitney leaving around December 10 and Coyne, Faison and himself returning to the United States sometime around the first of the year.  He added that if Faison decided to stay a while longer in liaison capacity (would probably have to be back to Williams College by March 1), Coyne might want to stay with him, and that he would certainly approve them staying to work with U.S. Group Control Council and the Museum, Fine Arts and Archives unit of the U.S. Forces European Theater.

On November 26, 1945, Lt. N. H. Proctor, USNR, Executive Officer, of the SSU Mission to Great Britain, wrote the Commander of the U.S. Twelfth Fleet recommending Coyne for the award of the Commendation Ribbon for meritorious achievement with the following citation:

Chief Yeoman Coyne, while attached to this command, distinguished himself through participation in the apprehension and interrogation of sixteen (16) notorious German officials involved in the looting of priceless cultural properties from France, Holland, Belgium and Poland. In the capacity of Assistant to the Officer in Charge of a special interrogation center in Austria from 22 June through 27 August 1945, he demonstrated extraordinary initiative and perseverance in the capture and analysis of enemy documents vital to the prosecution of the war criminals Herman Goering and Alfred Rosenberg, and in the assumption of responsibility for the security of enemy personnel interned in this center….

Proctor wrote the recommendation was based upon the following facts: played an important part in the interrogation of sixteen notorious German officials and was chiefly responsible for the preparation of twenty important interrogation reports issued by the unit to which he is attached on the subject of German art looting in Europe in the war years. “These reports are proving of vital significance in the prosecution of the leading war criminals and in the recovery and restitution of many thousand priceless works of art confiscated by the enemy.”  He added that Coyne participated directly in the apprehension and transfer to the special OSS interrogation center in Austria of three prominent German officials then awaiting trial as war criminals.

From London Proctor sent a cable message to Plaut, SSU, War Department, on February 13, 1946, that he was extremely distressed that Coyne was turned down with no reason given. “Perhaps local board too combat minded” he observed and suggested a recommendation be submitted to Board of Decorations to the Navy Department with a strong accompanying letter.

Meanwhile, Coyne left Europe in December 1945 (he sailed home) and had his separation interview on February 7, 1946.  On February 15 the SSU Personnel Branch wrote the Commanding Officer of the SSU Naval Command that Lt. Cmdr. Theodore Rousseau and Coyne were surplus and requested that they be transferred out of SSU or discharged – whichever was applicable and that were hereby transferred to Naval Command for disposition.

During the second week of March Lt. Cmdr. James S. Plaut, Director of Orion Project, X-2 Branch, SSU wrote the SSU Citations Board that the Army Commendation Ribbon be awarded to Coyne for meritorious service in connection with military operations against an enemy of the United States from May 1945 to the present:

As a member of a highly trained group of specialists charged with a secret counter-espionage mission in Europe, he assisted materially in the successful completion of this project. Stationed with the project in England, Austria, and Germany, he assisted with distinction in the interrogation of enemy personnel, the analysis of captured enemy documents, and the final preparation of four comprehensive reports and fifteen individual reports on interrogated enemy personnel issued by his unit.

He was charged with the general administration of a special interrogation center in Austria established by his unit, and succeeded in directing the general administration of this center with security and efficiency, thus making possible the successful interrogations carried on by the investigators at this center.

James R. Murphy, Chief, X-2 Branch, SSU, approved the recommendation on March 12 and Citations Officer did so on April 4.

By that time, Coyne had left the X-2 Branch.  During March there was an effort to find a permanent position for Coyne with the SSU.  This effort was unsuccessful.  However, it appears that he was paid on a monthly basis as a civilian with the X-2 Branch until his services were terminated in June 1946.

Coyne would go on to other Government employment, including the Internal Revenue Service. He died on June 6, 2001.

This blog references records from the following:

  • Terence Coyne’s Personnel File (NAID 2170299), Personnel Files, 1941-1945, Entry 224, Record Group 226
  • File: Washington X-2, OP-16, Cables-Personnel-Personal, Director’s Office and Field Station Files, Entry 190, RG 226
  • File: Washington X-2, OP-16, Progress Reports, Director’s Office and Field Station Files, Entry 190, RG 226
  • File: Washington X-2, OP-16, Inter-Orion Correspondence, Director’s Office and Field Station Files, Entry 190, RG 226

One thought on “Terence A. Coyne: An Office of Strategic Services’ Art Looting Investigation Unit Monuments Man

  1. very distant relative but in contact with immediate family members and was amazed at what Terry accomplished. We always thought him a superspy but a really nice gentleman. Loved his wife, Toots and had a lunch with her in Wheeling a couple of years ago with the Brennans

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