Special Operations Executive (SOE) was a British World War II
organisation. It was officially formed on 22 July 1940 under Minister
of Economic Warfare Hugh Dalton, from the amalgamation of three
existing secret organisations. Its purpose was to conduct espionage,
sabotage and reconnaissance in occupied Europe (and later, also in
occupied Southeast Asia) against the Axis powers, and to aid local
One of the organisations from which SOE was created was also involved
in the formation of the Auxiliary Units, a top secret "stay-behind"
resistance organisation which would have been activated in the event
of a German invasion of Britain.
Few people were aware of SOE's existence. Those who were part of it or
liaised with it sometimes referred to as "the Baker Street
Irregulars", after the location of its London headquarters. It was
also known as "Churchill's Secret Army" or the "Ministry of
Ungentlemanly Warfare". Its various branches, and sometimes the
organisation as a whole, were concealed for security purposes behind
names such as the "Joint Technical Board" or the "Inter-Service
Research Bureau", or fictitious branches of the Air Ministry,
Admiralty or War Office.
SOE operated in all countries or former countries occupied by or
attacked by the Axis forces, except where demarcation lines were
agreed with Britain's principal Allies (the
Soviet Union and the
United States). It also made use of neutral territory on occasion, or
made plans and preparations in case neutral countries were attacked by
the Axis. The organisation directly employed or controlled just over
13,000 people, about 3,200 of whom were women.
After the war, the organisation was officially dissolved on 15 January
1946. A memorial to SOE's agents was unveiled on the Albert Embankment
Lambeth Palace in London in October 2009.
1.4.2 Subsidiary branches
2.1 Baker Street
2.2 Production and trials
2.3 Training and operations
4.2 British Broadcasting Corporation
4.3 Other methods
6.1.2 161 Squadron operations
6.1.3 138 Squadron and other
Special Duties units operations
6.1.4 Locating and homing equipment
7.4 The Netherlands
7.16 West Africa
7.17 Southeast Asia
9 Wartime commentaries on SOE
10 Later analysis and commentaries
11 In popular culture
12 See also
13.2.1 Official publications/academic histories
13.2.2 First-hand accounts by those who served with SOE
13.2.3 Biographies/popular books by authors without personal SOE
14 External links
The organisation was formed from the merger of three existing secret
departments, which had been formed shortly before the outbreak of the
Second World War. Immediately after Germany annexed
Anschluss) in March 1938, the
Foreign Office created a propaganda
organisation known as
Department EH (after Electra House, its
headquarters), run by Canadian newspaper magnate Sir Campbell Stuart.
Later that month, the
Secret Intelligence Service
Secret Intelligence Service (SIS, also known as
MI6) formed a section known as Section D, under Major Lawrence Grand
RE, to investigate the use of sabotage, propaganda and other irregular
means to weaken an enemy. In the autumn of the same year, the War
Office expanded an existing research department known as GS (R) and
appointed Major J. C. Holland RE as its head to conduct research into
guerrilla warfare. GS (R) was renamed MI(R) in early 1939.
These three departments worked with few resources until the outbreak
of war. There was much overlap between their activities. Section D and
EH duplicated much of each other's work. On the other hand, the heads
of Section D and MI(R) knew each other and shared information. They
agreed a rough division of their activities; MI(R) researched
irregular operations which could be undertaken by regular uniformed
troops, while Section D dealt with truly undercover work.
During the early months of the war, Section D was based first at St
Ermin's Hotel in Westminster and then the Metropole Hotel near
Trafalgar Square. The Section attempted unsuccessfully to sabotage
deliveries of vital strategic materials to Germany from neutral
countries by mining the Iron Gate on the River Danube. MI(R)
meanwhile produced pamphlets and technical handbooks for guerrilla
leaders. MI(R) was also involved in the formation of the Independent
Companies, autonomous units intended to carry out sabotage and
guerrilla operations behind enemy lines in the Norwegian Campaign, and
the Auxiliary Units, stay-behind commando units based around the Home
Guard which would act in the event of an Axis invasion of Britain, as
seemed possible in the early years of the war.
On 13 June 1940, at the instigation of newly appointed Prime Minister
Winston Churchill, Lord Hankey (who held the Cabinet post of
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster) persuaded Section D and MI(R)
that their operations should be coordinated. On 1 July, a Cabinet
level meeting arranged the formation of a single sabotage
organisation. On 16 July, Hugh Dalton, the Minister of Economic
Warfare, was appointed to take political responsibility for the new
organisation. As Dalton was leaving Churchill's study after being
given his new task, Churchill is supposed to have said "And now set
Europe ablaze." The new organisation was formally created on
22 July. Dalton used the
Irish Republican Army
Irish Republican Army (IRA) during the Irish
war of Independence as a model for the organisation.
Sir Frank Nelson was nominated by SIS to be director of the new
organisation, and a senior civil servant, Gladwyn Jebb,
transferred from the
Foreign Office to it, with the title of Chief
Campbell Stuart left the organisation, and the
flamboyant Major Grand was returned to the regular army. At his own
request, Major Holland also left to take up a regular appointment in
the Royal Engineers. (Both Grand and Holland eventually attained the
rank of Major-general.). However, Holland's former deputy at
MI(R), Brigadier Colin Gubbins, returned from command of the Auxiliary
Units to be Director of Operations of SOE.
One department of MI(R), MI R(C), which was involved in the
development of weapons for irregular warfare, was not formally
integrated into SOE but became an independent body codenamed MD1.
Directed by Major (later Lieutenant Colonel) Millis Jefferis, it
was located at The Firs in Whitchurch and nicknamed "Churchill's
Toyshop" from the Prime Minister's close interest in it and his
The director of SOE was usually referred to by the initials "CD".
Nelson, the first director to be appointed, was a former head of a
trading firm in India, a back bench Conservative Member of Parliament
and Consul in Basel, Switzerland, where he had also been engaged in
undercover intelligence work.
Dalton was replaced as
Minister of Economic Warfare by Lord Selborne
in February 1942. Selborne in turn retired Nelson, who had suffered
ill health as a result of his hard work, and appointed Sir Charles
Hambro, head of Hambros Bank, to replace him. He also transferred Jebb
back to the Foreign Office.
Hambro had been a close friend of Churchill before the war and had won
Military Cross in the First World War. He retained several other
interests, for example remaining chairman of Hambros and a director of
the Great Western Railway. Some of his subordinates and associates
expressed reservations that these interests distracted him from his
duties as director. Selborne and Hambro nevertheless
cooperated closely until August 1943, when they fell out over the
question of whether SOE should remain a separate body or co-ordinate
its operations with those of the
British Army in several theatres of
war. Hambro felt that any loss of autonomy would cause a number of
problems for SOE in the future. At the same time, Hambro was found to
have failed to pass on vital information to Selborne. He was dismissed
as director, and became head of a raw materials purchasing commission
in Washington, D.C., which was involved in the exchange of nuclear
Major General Colin McVean Gubbins, director of SOE from August 1943
As part of the subsequent closer ties between the Imperial General
Staff and SOE (although SOE had no representation on the Chiefs of
Staff Committee), Hambro's replacement as director from September 1943
was Gubbins, now a Major-general. Gubbins had wide experience of
commando and clandestine operations and had played a major part in
MI(R)'s and SOE's early operations. He also put into practice many of
the lessons he learned from the IRA during the Irish War of
The organisation of SOE continually evolved and changed during the
war. Initially, it consisted of three broad departments: SO1, which
dealt with propaganda; SO2 (Operations); and SO3 (Research). SO3 was
quickly overloaded with paperwork and was merged into SO2. In
August 1941, following quarrels between the Ministry of Economic
Warfare and the Ministry of Information over their relative
responsibilities, SO1 was removed from SOE and became an independent
organisation, the Political Warfare Executive.
Thereafter, a single, broad "Operations" department controlled the
Sections operating into enemy and sometimes neutral territory, and the
selection and training of agents. Sections, usually referred to by
code letters or groups of letters, were assigned to a single country.
Some enemy-occupied countries had two or more sections assigned to
deal with politically disparate resistance movements. (France had no
less than six). For security purposes, each section had its own
headquarters and training establishments. This strict
compartmentalisation was so effective that in mid-1942 five
governments in exile jointly suggested that a single sabotage
organisation be created, and were startled to learn that SOE had been
in existence for two years.
Four departments and some smaller groups were controlled by the
director of scientific research, Professor Dudley Maurice Newitt, and
were concerned with the development or acquisition and production of
special equipment. A few other sections were involved with
finance, security, economic research and administration, although SOE
had no central registry or filing system. When Gubbins was appointed
director, he formalised some of the administrative practices which had
grown in an ad hoc fashion and appointed an establishment officer to
oversee the manpower and other requirements of the various
The main controlling body of SOE was its council, consisting of around
fifteen heads of departments or sections. About half of the council
were from the armed forces (although some were specialists who were
only commissioned after the outbreak of war), the rest were various
civil servants, lawyers, or business or industrial experts. Most of
the members of the council, and the senior officers and functionaries
of SOE generally, were recruited by word of mouth among public school
Oxbridge graduates, although this did not notably
affect SOE's political complexion.
Several subsidiary SOE headquarters and stations were set up to manage
operations which were too distant for London to control directly.
SOE's operations in the Middle East and
Balkans were controlled from a
headquarters in Cairo, which was notorious for poor security,
infighting and conflicts with other agencies. It finally became
known in April 1944 as
Special Operations (Mediterranean), or SO(M).
Shortly after the Allied landings in North Africa, a station codenamed
"Massingham" was established near
Algiers in late 1942, which operated
into Southern France. Following the Allied invasion of Italy,
personnel from "Massingham" established forward stations in Brindisi
and near Naples. A subsidiary headquarters initially known as
"Force 133" was later set up in
Bari in Southern Italy, under the
Cairo headquarters, to control operations in the Balkans and
An SOE station, which was first called the
India Mission, and was
subsequently known as GS I(k) was set up in
India late in 1940. It
subsequently moved to Ceylon so as to be closer to the headquarters of
South East Asia Command
South East Asia Command and became known as Force 136. A
Singapore Mission was set up at the same time as the
India Mission but
was unable to overcome official opposition to its attempts to form
resistance movements in Malaya before the Japanese overran Singapore.
Force 136 took over its surviving staff and operations.
New York City also had a branch office, formally titled British
Security Coordination, and headed by the Canadian businessman Sir
William Stephenson. This office, located at Room 3603, 630 Fifth
Avenue, Rockefeller Center, coordinated the work of SOE, SIS and MI5
with the American FBI and Office of Strategic Services.
As with its leadership and organisation, the aims and objectives of
SOE changed throughout the war, although they revolved around
sabotaging and subverting the Axis war machines through indirect
methods. SOE occasionally carried out operations with direct military
objectives, such as Operation Harling, originally designed to cut one
of the Axis supply lines to their troops fighting in North Africa.
They also carried out some high-profile operations aimed mainly at the
morale both of the Axis and occupied nations, such as Operation
Anthropoid, the assassination in Prague of Reinhard Heydrich. In
general also, SOE's objectives were to foment mutual hatred between
the population of Axis-occupied countries and the occupiers, and to
force the Axis to expend manpower and resources on maintaining their
control of subjugated populations.
Dalton's early enthusiasm for fomenting widespread strikes, civil
disobedience and nuisance sabotage in Axis-occupied areas had to
be curbed. Thereafter, there were two main aims, often mutually
incompatible; sabotage of the Axis war effort, and the creation of
secret armies which would rise up to assist the liberation of their
countries when Allied troops arrived or were about to do so. It was
recognised that acts of sabotage would bring about reprisals and
increased Axis security measures which would hamper the creation of
underground armies. As the tide of war turned in the Allies' favour,
these underground armies became more important.
At the government level, SOE's relationships with the Foreign Office
were often difficult. On several occasions, various governments in
exile protested at operations taking place without their knowledge or
approval, provoking Axis reprisals against civilian populations, or
complained about SOE's support for movements opposed to the exiled
governments. SOE's activities also threatened relationships with
neutral countries. SOE nevertheless generally adhered to the rule, "No
Foreign Office approval."
Early attempts at bureaucratic control of Jefferis's MIR(c) by the
Ministry of Supply were eventually foiled by Churchill's
intervention. Thereafter, they co-operated, though at arm's
length, with Dudley Newitt's various supply and development
departments. The Treasury were accomodating from the start and
were often prepared to turn a blind eye to some of SOE's questionable
With other military headquarters and commands, SOE cooperated fairly
Combined Operations Headquarters
Combined Operations Headquarters during the middle years of
the war, usually on technical matters as SOE's equipment was readily
adopted by commandos and other raiders. This support was lost when
Vice Admiral Louis Mountbatten left Combined Operations, though by
this time SOE had its own transport and had no need to rely on
Combined Operations for resources. On the other hand, the Admiralty
objected to SOE developing its own underwater vessels, and the
duplication of effort this involved. The Royal Air Force, and in
RAF Bomber Command
RAF Bomber Command under "Bomber" Harris were usually
reluctant to allocate aircraft to SOE.
Towards the end of the war, as Allied forces began to liberate
territories occupied by the Axis and in which SOE had established
resistance forces, SOE also liaised with and to some extent came under
the control of the Allied theatre commands. Relationships with Supreme
Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force in north-west Europe (whose
commander was General Dwight D. Eisenhower) and South East Asia
Command (whose commander was Admiral Louis Mountbatten, already well
known to SOE) were generally excellent.  However, there were
difficulties with the Commanders in Chief in the Mediterranean, partly
because of the complaints over impropriety at SOE's
during 1941 and partly because both the supreme command in the
Mediterranean and SOE's establishments were split in 1942 and 1943,
leading to divisions of responsibility and authority.
There was tension between SOE and SIS, which the Foreign Office
controlled. Where SIS preferred placid conditions in which it could
gather intelligence and work through influential persons or
authorities, SOE was intended to create unrest and turbulence, and
often backed anti-establishment organisations, such as the Communists,
in several countries. At one stage, SIS actively hindered SOE's
attempts to infiltrate agents into enemy-occupied France.
Even before the United States joined the war, the head of the newly
formed Office of the Coordinator of Information (COI), William J.
Donovan, had received technical information from SOE and had arranged
for some members of his organisation to undergo training at a camp run
by SOE in
Oshawa in Canada. In early 1942, Donovan's organisation
became the Office of Strategic Services. SOE and OSS worked out
respective areas of operation: OSS's exclusive sphere included China
(including Manchuria), Korea and Australia, the Atlantic islands and
Finland. SOE retained India, the Middle East and East Africa, and the
Balkans. While the two services both worked in Western Europe, it was
expected that SOE would be the leading partner.
In the middle years of the war, the relations between SOE and OSS were
not often smooth. They established a joint headquarters in
the officers of the two organisations working there refused to share
information with each other. In the Balkans, and Yugoslavia
especially, SOE and OSS several times worked at cross-purposes,
reflecting their governments' differing (and changing) attitudes to
the Partisans and Chetniks. However, in 1944 SOE and OSS successfully
pooled their personnel and resources to mount Operation Jedburgh,
providing large scale support to the French Resistance following the
SOE had some nominal contact with the Soviet NKVD, but this was
limited to a single liaison officer at each other's headquarters.
Main article: List of SOE establishments
SOE memorial plaque in the cloister of Beaulieu Abbey, Hampshire,
unveiled by Major General Gubbins in April 1969.
After working from temporary offices in Central London, the
headquarters of SOE was moved on 31 October 1940 into 64 Baker Street
(hence the nickname "the Baker Street Irregulars"). Ultimately, SOE
occupied much of the western side of Baker Street. "Baker Street"
became the euphemistic way of referring to SOE. The precise nature of
the buildings remained concealed; it had no entry in the telephone
directories, and correspondence to external bodies bore service
addresses; MO1 (SP) (a
War Office branch), NID(Q) (Admiralty), AI10
(Air Ministry), or other fictitious bodies or civilian companies.
SOE maintained a large number of training, research and development or
administrative centres. It was a joke that "SOE" stood for "Stately
'omes of England", after the large number of country houses and
estates it requisitioned and used.
Production and trials
The establishments connected with experimentation and production of
equipment were mainly concentrated in and around
were designated by roman numbers. The main weapons and devices
research establishments were The Firs, the home of
MD1 near Aylesbury
in Buckinghamshire (although this was not formally part of SOE), and
Station IX at The Frythe, a country house (and former private hotel)
Welwyn Garden City
Welwyn Garden City where, under the cover name of ISRB (Inter
Services Research Bureau), SOE developed radios, weapons, explosive
devices and booby traps.
Section D originally had a research station at Bletchley Park, which
also held the Government Code and
Cipher School, until in November
1940 it was decided that it was unwise to conduct codebreaking and
explosives experiments on the same site. The establishment
moved to Aston House near
Hertfordshire and was renamed
Station XII. It originally conducted research and development but from
1941 it became a production, storage and distribution centre for
devices already developed.
Station XV, at the
Thatched Barn near Borehamwood, was devoted to
camouflage, which usually meant equipping agents with authentic local
clothing and personal effects. Various sub-stations in London were
also involved in this task. Station XV and other camouflage
sections also devised methods of hiding weapons, explosives or radios
in innocuous-seeming items.
In addition to local dress and personal effects, agents also needed
identity papers, ration cards, currency and so on. Station XIV, at
Briggens House near Roydon in Essex, was originally the home of STS38,
a training facility for Polish saboteurs, ) who set up their own
forgery section. As the work expanded, it became the central forgery
department for SOE and the Poles eventually moved out on 1 April 1942.
The technicians at Station XIV included a number of ex-convicts.
Training and operations
The training establishments, and properties used by country sections,
were designated by Arabic numbers and were widely distributed. The
initial training centres of the SOE were at country houses such as
Wanborough Manor, Guildford. Agents destined to serve in the field
underwent commando training at
Arisaig in Scotland, where they were
taught armed and unarmed combat skills by
William E. Fairbairn and
Eric A. Sykes, former Inspectors in the Shanghai Municipal Police.
Those who passed this course received parachute training by STS 51 and
51a situated near Altrincham, Cheshire with the assistance of No.1
Parachute Training School RAF,[page needed] at
(which later became Manchester Airport). They then attended courses in
Tradecraft at Group B schools around Beaulieu in
Hampshire. Finally, depending on their intended role, they
received specialist training in skills such as demolition techniques
Morse code telegraphy at various country houses in England.
Cairo branch established a commando and parachute training
school numbered STS 102 at Ramat David near Haifa. This school trained
agents who joined SOE from among the armed forces stationed in the
Middle East, and also members of the
Special Air Service
Special Air Service and Greek
A commando training centre similar to
Arisaig and run by Fairbairn
was later set up at Oshawa, for Canadian members of SOE and members of
the newly created American organisation, the Office of Strategic
See also: List of SOE agents
A variety of people from all classes and pre-war occupations served
SOE in the field. The backgrounds of agents in F Section, for example,
ranged from the daughter of an Indian Sufi sect leader (Noor Inayat
Khan) to working class, with some even reputedly from the criminal
In most cases, the primary quality required of an agent was a deep
knowledge of the country in which he or she was to operate, and
especially its language, if the agent was to pass as a native of the
Dual nationality was often a prized attribute. This was
particularly so of France. In other cases, especially in the Balkans,
a lesser degree of fluency was required as the resistance groups
concerned were already in open rebellion and a clandestine existence
was unnecessary. A flair for diplomacy combined with a taste for rough
soldiering was more necessary. Some regular army officers proved adept
as envoys, although others (such as the former diplomat Fitzroy
Maclean or the classicist Christopher Woodhouse) were commissioned
only during wartime.
Several of SOE's agents were from the Jewish Parachutists of Mandate
Palestine, many of whom were already Émigrés from
Nazi or other
oppressive or anti-semitic regimes in Europe. Thirty-two of them
served as agents in the field, seven of whom were captured and
Exiled or escaped members of the armed forces of some occupied
countries were obvious sources of agents. This was particularly true
Norway and the Netherlands. In other cases (such as Frenchmen owing
Charles de Gaulle
Charles de Gaulle and especially the Poles), the agents'
first loyalty was to their leaders or governments in exile, and they
treated SOE only as a means to an end. This could occasionally lead to
mistrust and strained relations in Britain.
The organisation was prepared to ignore almost any contemporary social
convention in its fight against the Axis. It employed known
homosexuals, people with criminal records (some of whom taught
skills such as picking locks) or bad conduct records in the armed
forces, Communists and anti-British nationalists. Some of these might
have been considered a security risk, but no known case exists of an
SOE agent wholeheartedly going over to the enemy. The case of Henri
Déricourt is an example in which the conduct of agents was
questionable, but it was impossible to establish whether they were
acting under secret orders from SOE or MI6.
SOE was also far ahead of contemporary attitudes in its use of women
in armed combat. Although women were first considered only as couriers
in the field or as wireless operators or administrative staff in
Britain, those sent into the field were trained to use weapons and in
unarmed combat. Most were commissioned into either the First Aid
Nursing Yeomanry (FANY) or the Women's Auxiliary Air Force. Some
(such as Pearl Witherington) became the organisers of resistance
networks. Others such as
Odette Hallowes or
Violette Szabo were
decorated for bravery, posthumously in Szabo's case. Of SOE's 55
female agents, thirteen were killed in action or died in Nazi
B MK II receiver and transmitter (also known as the B2 radio set)
Most of the resistance networks which SOE formed or liaised with were
controlled by radio directly from Britain or one of SOE's subsidiary
headquarters. All resistance circuits contained at least one wireless
operator, and all drops or landings were arranged by radio, except for
some early exploratory missions sent "blind" into enemy-occupied
At first, SOE's radio traffic went through the SIS-controlled radio
station at Bletchley Park. From 1 June 1942 SOE used its own
transmitting and receiving stations at
Grendon Underwood and Poundon
nearby, as the location and topography were suitable. Teleprinters
linked the radio stations with SOE's HQ in Baker Street. Operators
Balkans worked to radio stations in Cairo.
SOE was highly dependent upon the security of radio transmissions,
involving three factors: the physical qualities and capabilities of
the radio sets, the security of the transmission procedures and the
provision of proper ciphers.
SOE's first radios were supplied by SIS. They were large, clumsy and
required large amounts of power. SOE acquired a few, much more
suitable, sets from the Poles in exile, but eventually designed and
manufactured their own, such as the Paraset, under the direction of
Lieutenant Colonel F. W. Nicholls R. Sigs who had served with Gubbins
between the wars. The A Mk III, with its batteries and
accessories, weighed only 9 pounds (4.1 kg), and could fit into a
small attache case, although the B Mk II, otherwise known as the B2,
which weighed 32 pounds (15 kg), was required to work over ranges
greater than about 500 miles (800 km).
Operating procedures were insecure at first. Operators were forced to
transmit verbose messages on fixed frequencies and at fixed times and
intervals. This allowed German direction finding teams time to
triangulate their positions. After several operators were captured or
killed, procedures were made more flexible and secure. The SOE
wireless operators were also known as "The Pianists".
As with their first radio sets, SOE's first ciphers were inherited
from SIS. Leo Marks, SOE's chief cryptographer, was responsible for
the development of better codes to replace the insecure poem codes.
Eventually, SOE settled on single use ciphers, printed on silk. Unlike
paper, which would be given away by rustling, silk would not be
detected by a casual search if it was concealed in the lining of
British Broadcasting Corporation
The BBC also played its part in communications with agents or groups
in the field. During the war, it broadcast to almost all Axis-occupied
countries, and was avidly listened to, even at risk of arrest. The BBC
included various "personal messages" in its broadcasts, which could
include lines of poetry or apparently nonsensical items. They could be
used to announce the safe arrival of an agent or message in London for
example, or could be instructions to carry out operations on a given
date. These were used for example to mobilise the resistance
groups in the hours before Operation Overlord.
In the field, agents could sometimes make use of the postal services,
though these were slow, not always reliable and letters were almost
certain to be opened and read by the Axis security services. In
training, agents were taught to use a variety of easily available
substances to make invisible ink, though most of these could be
detected by a cursory examination, or to hide coded messages in
apparently innocent letters. The telephone services were even more
certain to be intercepted and listened to by the enemy, and could be
used only with great care.
The most secure method of communication in the field was by courier.
In the earlier part of the war, most women sent as agents in the field
were employed as couriers, on the assumption that they would be less
likely to be suspected of illicit activities.
Although SOE used some suppressed assassination weapons such as the De
Lisle carbine and the
Welrod (specifically developed for SOE at
Station IX), it took the view that weapons issued to resisters should
not require extensive training in their use, or need careful
maintenance. The crude and cheap
Sten was a favourite. For issue to
large forces such as the Yugoslav Partisans, SOE used captured German
or Italian weapons. These were available in large quantities after the
Tunisian and Sicilian campaigns and the surrender of Italy, and the
partisans could acquire ammunition for these weapons (and the Sten)
from enemy sources.
SOE also adhered to the principle that resistance fighters would be
handicapped rather than helped by heavy equipment such as mortars or
anti-tank guns. These were awkward to transport, almost impossible to
conceal and required skilled and highly trained operators. Later in
the war however, when resistance groups staged open rebellions against
enemy occupation, some heavy weapons were dispatched, for example to
the Maquis du Vercors. Weapons such as the British Army's standard
Bren light machine gun
Bren light machine gun were also supplied in such cases.
Most SOE agents received training on captured enemy weapons before
being sent into enemy-occupied territory. Ordinary SOE agents were
also armed with handguns acquired abroad, such as, from 1941, a
variety of US pistols, and a large quantity of the Spanish Llama .38
ACP in 1944. Such was SOE's demand for weapons, a consignment of 8,000
Ballester–Molina .45 calibre weapons was purchased from Argentina,
apparently with the mediation of the US.
SOE agents were issued with the
Fairbairn–Sykes fighting knife
Fairbairn–Sykes fighting knife also
issued to Commandos. For specialised operations or use in extreme
circumstances, SOE issued small fighting knives which could be
concealed in the heel of a hard leather shoe or behind a coat
lapel. Given the likely fate of agents captured by the Gestapo,
SOE also disguised suicide pills as coat buttons.
Audience in demolition class, Milton Hall, circa 1944
SOE developed a wide range of explosive devices for sabotage, such as
limpet mines, shaped charges and time fuses, which were also widely
used by commando units. Most of these devices were designed and
produced at The Firs. The Time Pencil, invented by Commander
A.J.G. Langley, the first commandant of Station XII at Aston was
used to give a saboteur time to escape after setting a charge and was
far simpler to carry and use than lighted fuses or electrical
detonators. It relied on crushing an internal vial of acid which then
corroded a retaining wire, which sometimes made it inaccurate in cold
or hot conditions. Later the L-Delay, which instead allowed a lead
retaining wire to "creep" until it broke and was less affected by the
temperature, was introduced.
SOE pioneered the use of plastic explosive. (The term "plastique"
comes from plastic explosive packaged by SOE and originally destined
for France but taken to the United States instead.) Plastic explosive
could be shaped and cut to perform almost any demolition task. It was
also inert and required a powerful detonator to cause it to explode,
and was therefore safe to transport and store. It was used in
everything from car bombs, to exploding rats designed to destroy
Other, more subtle sabotage methods included lubricants laced with
grinding materials, intended for introduction into vehicle oil
systems, railway wagon axle boxes, etc., incendiaries disguised as
innocuous objects, explosive material concealed in coal piles to
destroy locomotives, and land mines disguised as cow or elephant dung.
On the other hand, some sabotage methods were extremely simple but
effective, such as using sledgehammers to crack cast-iron mountings
Station IX developed several miniature submersible craft. The Welman
submarine and Sleeping Beauty were offensive weapons, intended to
place explosive charges on or adjacent to enemy vessels at anchor. The
Welman was used once or twice in action, but without success. The
Welfreighter was intended to deliver stores to beaches or inlets, but
it too was unsuccessful.
A sea trials unit was set up in
West Wales at Goodwick, by Fishguard
(station IXa) where these craft were tested. In late 1944 craft were
dispatched to Australia to the
Allied Intelligence Bureau (SRD), for
SOE also revived some medieval devices, such as the caltrop, which
could be used to burst the tyres of vehicles or injure foot
soldiers and crossbows powered by multiple rubber bands to shoot
incendiary bolts. There were two types, known as "Big Joe" and "Li'l
Joe" respectively. They had tubular alloy skeleton stocks and were
designed to be collapsible for ease of concealment.
An important section of SOE was the Operation Research and Trials
Section, which was formally established in August 1943. The section
had the responsibility both for issuing formal requirements and
specifications to the relevant development and production sections,
and for testing prototypes of the devices produced under field
conditions. Over the period from 1 November 1943 to 1 November
1944, the section tested 78 devices. Some of these were weapons such
Sleeve gun or fuses or adhesion devices to be used in sabotage,
others were utility objects such as waterproof containers for stores
to be dropped by parachute, or night glasses (lightweight binoculars
with plastic lenses). Of the devices tested, 47% were accepted for use
with little or no modification, 31% were accepted only after
considerable modification and the remaining 22% were rejected.
Before SOE's research and development procedures were formalised in
1943, a variety of more or less useful devices were developed. Some of
the more imaginative devices invented by SOE included exploding pens
with enough explosive power to blast a hole in the bearer's body, or
guns concealed in tobacco pipes, though there is no record of any of
these being used in action.
Station IX developed a miniature folding
motorbike (the Welbike) for use by parachutists, though this was noisy
and conspicuous, used scarce petrol and was of little use on rough
The continent of Europe was largely closed to normal travel. Although
it was possible in some cases to cross frontiers from neutral
countries such as Spain or Sweden, it was slow and there were problems
over violating these countries' neutrality. SOE had to rely largely on
its own air or sea transport for movement of people, arms and
SOE never had its own private air force, but had to rely on the RAF
for its planes. It was engaged in disputes with the
RAF from its early
days. In January 1941, an intended ambush (Operation Savanna) against
the aircrew of a German "pathfinder" air group near
Vannes in Brittany
was thwarted when Air Vice Marshal Charles Portal, the Chief of the
Air Staff, objected on moral grounds to parachuting what he regarded
as assassins, although Portal's objections were later overcome and
Savanna was mounted, unsuccessfully. From 1942, when Air Marshal
Arthur Harris ("Bomber Harris") became the Commander-in-Chief of RAF
Bomber Command, he consistently resisted the diversion of the most
capable types of bombers to SOE purposes.
SOE's first aircraft were two Armstrong Whitworth Whitleys belonging
to 419 Flight RAF, which was formed in September 1940. In 1941, the
flight was expanded to become No. 138 Squadron RAF. In February 1942,
they were joined by No. 161 Squadron RAF. 161 Squadron flew agent
insertions and pick-ups, while 138 Squadron delivered arms and stores
by parachute. "C" flight from No. 138 Squadron later became No. 1368
Flight of the Polish Air Force, which joined No. 624 Squadon flying
Halifaxes in the Mediterranean. By the later stages of the war
United States Army Air Forces
United States Army Air Forces squadrons were operating Douglas
C-47 Skytrains in the Mediterranean, although by this time their
operations had passed from SOE proper to the "Balkan Air Terminal
Service", and three
Special Duties squadrons operating in the Far
Nos. 161 and 138 Squadrons were based at
RAF Tempsford in Bedfordshire
though No. 161 Squadron often moved forward to
RAF Tangmere, close to
the coast, to shorten their flights. The airfield at Tempsford became
the RAF's most secret base.
RAF Tempsford was designed to look
like an ordinary working farm. The SOE used Tangmere Cottage, opposite
the main entrance to the base. SOE agents were lodged in a local hotel
before being ferried to farm buildings, the "
Gibraltar Farm" within
the airfield's perimeter track. After final briefings and checks at
the farm, the agents were issued firearms in the barn, and then
boarded a waiting aircraft.
The squadrons' first task was to take agents to France who could
select suitable fields for their aircraft. Most of these agents were
French expatriates, some of whom had been pilots in the French Armée
de l'Air. Once the agent was in place and had selected a number of
potential fields, 161 Squadron delivered SOE agents, wireless
equipment and operators and weapons, and flew French political
leaders, resistance leaders or their family members, and downed allied
airmen to Britain. Between them, the two squadrons transported 101
agents to, and recovered 128 agents, diplomats and airmen from
occupied France.[page needed]
161 Squadron operations
Westland Lysander Mk III (SD), the type used for special missions into
occupied France during World War II.
161 Squadron's principal aircraft was the Westland Lysander. It
handled very well at low speed and could use landing grounds only 400
yards (370 m) long. It had an effective range of 700 miles
(1,100 km), and could carry one to three passengers in the rear
cockpit and stores in a pannier underneath the fuselage. It was flown
by a single pilot, who also had to navigate, so missions had to be
flown on clear nights with a full or near full moon. Bad weather often
thwarted missions, German night fighters were also a hazard, and
pilots could never know when landing whether they would be greeted by
the resistance or the Gestapo.
The procedure once a Lysander reached a its destination in France was
described by Squadon Leader Hugh Verity. Once the aircraft reached the
airfield the agent on the ground would signal the aircraft by flashing
a prearranged code letter in Morse. The aircraft would respond by
blinking back the appropriate code response letter. The agent and his
men would then mark the field by lighting the three landing lights,
which were flashlights attached to poles. The "A" lamp was at the base
of the landing ground. 150 metres beyond it and into the wind was the
"B" light, and 50 metres to the right of "B" was the "C" light. The
three lights formed an inverted "L", with the "B" and "C" lights
upwind from "A". With the code passed the pilot would land the
aircraft. He then would taxi back to the "A" lamp, where the
passengers would clamber down the fixed ladder to the ground, often
while the pilot was making a slow U-turn. Before leaving the last
passenger would hand off the luggage and then take aboard the outgoing
luggage before climbing down the ladder as well. Then the outgoing
passengers would climb aboard and the aircraft would take off. The
whole exchange might take as little as 3 minutes.
Lockheed Hudson had a range 200 miles (320 km) greater and
could carry more passengers (ten or more), but required landing strips
twice as long as those needed for the Lysander. It carried a
navigator, to ease the load on the pilot, and could also be fitted
with navigational equipment such as the "Rebecca" homing receiver. The
Hudson's use with 161 Squadron was developed by Charles Pickard and
Hugh Verity. Pickard determined that the Hudson's stall speed was
actually some 20 mph slower than its manual stated. Before it was
first used on 13 January 1943, 161 Squadron had to send two Lysander
aircraft in what they termed "a double" if larger parties needed to be
138 Squadron and other
Special Duties units operations
No. 138 Squadron's primary mission was the delivery of equipment, and
occasionally agents, by parachute. It flew a variety of bomber-type
aircraft, often modified with extra fuel tanks and flame-suppressing
exhaust shrouds: the
Armstrong Whitworth Whitley
Armstrong Whitworth Whitley until November 1942,
Handley Page Halifax
Handley Page Halifax and later the Short Stirling. The Stirling
could carry a very large load, but the aircraft with the longest range
was the Halifax, which when based in Italy could reach drop zones as
far away as eastern Poland. Later in the war, some
Duties units used the very long-range Consolidated B-24 Liberator.
Stores were usually parachuted in cylindrical containers. The "C" type
was 69 inches (180 cm) long, and when fully loaded could weigh up
to 224 pounds (102 kg). The "H" type was the same size overall
but could be broken down into five smaller sections. This made it
easier to carry and conceal but it could not be loaded with longer
loads such as rifles. Some inert stores such as boots and blankets
were "free-dropped" i.e. simply thrown out of the aircraft bundled
together without a parachute, often to the hazard of any receiving
committee on the ground.
Locating and homing equipment
Some devices used by SOE were designed specifically to guide aircraft
to landing strips and dropping zones. Such sites could be marked by an
agent on the ground with bonfires or bicycle lamps, but this required
good visibility, as the pilot or navigator of a plane had not only to
spot the ground signals, but also to navigate by visible landmarks to
correct dead reckoning. Many landings or drops were thwarted by bad
weather. To overcome these problems, SOE and Allied airborne forces
used the Rebecca/Eureka transponding radar, which enabled a Hudson or
larger aircraft to home in on a point on the ground even in thick
weather. It was however difficult for agents or resistance fighters to
carry or conceal the ground-based "Eureka" equipment.
SOE also developed the S-Phone, which allowed a pilot or radio
operator aboard an aircraft to communicate by voice with the
"reception committee". Sound quality was good enough for voices to be
recognisable, so that a mission could be aborted in case of any doubts
of an agent's identity.
SOE also experienced difficulties with the Royal Navy, who were
usually unwilling to allow SOE to use its submarines or motor torpedo
boats to deliver agents or equipment. Submarines were regarded as too
valuable to risk within range of enemy coastal defences. They could
also carry only small numbers of agents, in great discomfort, and
could disembark stores only in small dinghies or canoes, which made it
difficult to land large quantities of equipment. SOE nevertheless used
them in the
Indian Ocean where the distances made it impracticable to
use any smaller craft.
The vessels used by SOE during the early part of the war were
clandestine craft such as fishing boats or caiques. They could pass
muster as innocent local craft and carry large quantities of stores.
They also had the advantage of being largely outside Admiralty
control. However, SOE's first small craft organisation, which was set
up in the Helford estuary, suffered from obstruction from SIS, which
had a similar private navy nearby. Eventually, in spring 1943, the
Admiralty created a Deputy Director of Operations (Irregular), to
superintend all such private navies. This officer turned out to be the
former commander of SIS's craft in the Helford estuary, but his
successor in charge of SIS's Helford base cooperated much better with
SOE's flotilla. Even so, while SIS and SOE (and MI9) landed and
embarked several dozen agents, refugees and allied aircrew, it was
impossible to transport large quantities of arms and equipment inland
from beaches in heaviy patrolled coastal areas, until France was
After the German occupation of Norway, many Norwegian merchant seamen
and fishermen made their way to Britain. SOE recruited several to
maintain communications to Norway, using fishing boats from a base in
the Shetland Islands. The service became so reliable that it became
known as the Shetland Bus. One of its boats and crews launched a
daring but unsuccessful attack ("Operation Title") against the German
battleship Tirpitz. A similar organisation ran missions to occupied
Denmark (and neutral Sweden) from the East Coast of Britain.
The "Shetland Bus" was unable to operate only during the very long
hours of daylight in the arctic summer, because of the risk that the
slow fishing boats would be attacked by patrolling German aircraft.
Late in the war, the unit acquired three fast Submarine chasers for
such missions. About the same time, SOE also acquired MTBs and Motor
Gun Boats for the Helford flotilla.
SOE also ran feluccas from
Algiers into southern France and Corsica,
and some caiques in the Aegean.
See also: List of
Special Operations Executive operations in World War
SOE F Section timeline and SOE F Section networks
Maquisards (Resistance fighters) in the Haute-Savoie département in
August 1944. Third and fourth from the left are two SOE officers
In France, most agents were directed by two London-based country
sections. F Section was under SOE control, while RF Section was linked
to Charles de Gaulle's
Free French Government in exile. Most native
French agents served in RF. Two smaller sections also existed: EU/P
Section, which dealt with the Polish community in France, and the DF
Section which was responsible for establishing escape routes. During
the latter part of 1942 another section known as AMF was established
in Algiers, to operate into Southern France.
On 5 May 1941
Georges Bégué (1911–1993) became the first SOE agent
dropped into German occupied France. Between Bégué's first drop in
May 1941 and August 1944, more than four hundred F Section agents were
sent into occupied France, with
Andrée Borrel (1919–1944) being the
first woman dropped into France on 24 September 1942. They served in a
variety of functions including arms and sabotage instructors,
couriers, circuit organisers, liaison officers and radio operators. RF
sent about the same number; AMF sent 600 (although not all of these
belonged to SOE). EU/P and DF sent a few dozen agents each.
Some networks were compromised, with the loss of many agents. In
particular agents continued to be sent to the "Prosper" network for
some time after it had been controlled by Germans. The head of F
Maurice Buckmaster was blamed by many for the loss, and
overwork may have played a part.
To support the Allied invasion of France on
D Day in June 1944
three-man parties were dropped into various parts of France as part of
Operation Jedburgh, to co-ordinate widespread overt (as opposed to
clandestine) acts of resistance. A total of 100 men were eventually
dropped, together with 6,000 tons of military stores (4,000 tons had
been dropped during the years before D-Day). At the same time,
all the various sections operating in France (except EU/P) were
nominally placed under a London-based HQ titled État-major des Forces
Françaises de l'Intérieur (EMFFI).
It was to take many weeks for a full assessment of the contributions
of the Jedburgh teams to the Allied landings in Normandy, but when it
came it vindicated Gubbins’ belief that careful planned sabotage
could cripple a modern army. General Eisenhower’s staff at the
Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force said that the
Jedburghs had "succeeded in imposing more or less serious delays on
all the division moved to Normandy". This had prevented Hitler
from striking back in the crucial opening hours of Operation Overlord.
Eisenhower’s staff singled out the work of
Tommy Macpherson and his
two comrades-in-arms for particular praise. The most “outstanding
example was the delay to the 2nd SS Panzer Division”, they said, and
added a very personal endorsement, agreeing that the work carried out
under Gubbins’ leadership played a “very considerable part in our
complete and final victory”.
Memorial to Polish Members of the
Special Operations Executive,
1942-1944, at Audley End House
SOE did not need to instigate Polish resistance, because unlike the
Vichy French the Poles overwhelmingly refused to collaborate with the
Nazis. Early in the war the Poles established the Polish Home Army,
led by a clandestine resistance government known as the Polish Secret
State. Nevertheless, many members of SOE were Polish and the SOE and
the Polish resistance cooperated extensively.
SOE assisted the
Polish government in exile
Polish government in exile with training facilities
and logistical support for its 605 special forces operatives known as
the Cichociemni, or "The Dark and Silent". Members of the unit, which
was based in Audley End House, Essex, were rigorously trained before
being parachuted into occupied Poland. Because of the distance
involved in air travel to Poland, customised aircraft with extra fuel
capacity were used in Polish operations such as Operation Wildhorn
Sue Ryder chose the title
Baroness Ryder of Warsaw
Baroness Ryder of Warsaw in honour of
Secret Intelligence Service
Secret Intelligence Service member
Krystyna Skarbek (nom de guerre
Christine Granville) was a founder member of SOE and helped establish
a cell of Polish spies in Central Europe. She ran several operations
in Poland, Egypt,
Hungary (with Andrzej Kowerski) and France, often
using the staunchly anti-
Nazi Polish expatriate community as a secure
Non-official cover agents
Elzbieta Zawacka and
Jan Nowak-Jezioranski perfected the
Gibraltar courier route out of
Maciej Kalenkiewicz was parachuted into occupied
Poland, only to be killed by the Soviets. A Polish agent was integral
to SOE's Operation Foxley, the plan to assassinate Hitler.
Thanks to co-operation between SOE and the Polish Home Army, the Poles
were able to deliver the first Allied intelligence on the
London in June 1942.
Witold Pilecki of the Polish Home Army
designed a joint operation with SOE to liberate Auschwitz, but the
British rejected it as infeasible. Joint Anglo-Polish operations
provided London with vital intelligence on the V-2 rocket, German
troops movements on the Eastern Front, and the Soviet repressions of
Special Duties Flights' were sent to Poland to assist the Warsaw
uprising against the Nazis. The rebellion was defeated with a loss of
200,000 casualties (mostly German executions of Polish civilians)
after the nearby
Red Army refused military assistance to the Polish
Special Duties Flights were refused landing rights at
Soviet-held airfields near Warsaw, even when requiring emergency
landings after battle damage. These flights were also attacked by
Soviet fighters, despite the USSR's officially Allied
Due to the dangers and lack of friendly population few operations were
conducted in Germany itself. The German and Austrian section of SOE
was run by Lieutenant Colonel Ronald Thornley for most of the war, and
was mainly involved with black propaganda and administrative sabotage
in collaboration with the German section of the Political Warfare
Executive. After D-Day, the section was re-organised and enlarged with
Gerald Templer heading the Directorate, with Thornley as
Several major operations were planned, including Operation Foxley, a
plan to assassinate Hitler, and Operation Periwig, an ingenious plan
to simulate the existence of a large-scale anti-
movement within Germany. Foxley was never carried out but Periwig went
ahead despite restrictions placed on it by SIS and SHAEF. Several
German prisoners of war were trained as agents, briefed to make
contact with the anti-
Nazi resistance and to conduct sabotage. They
were then parachuted into Germany in the hope that they would either
hand themselves in to the
Gestapo or be captured by them, and reveal
their supposed mission. Fake coded wireless transmissions were
broadcast to Germany and various pieces of agent paraphernalia such as
code books and wireless receivers were allowed to fall into the hands
of the German authorities.
Section N of SOE ran operations in the Netherlands. They committed
some of SOE's worst blunders in security, which allowed the Germans to
capture many agents and much sabotage material, in what the Germans
called the 'Englandspiel'. SOE apparently ignored the absence of
security checks in radio transmissions, and other warnings from their
chief cryptographer, Leo Marks, that the Germans were running the
supposed resistance networks. A total of 50 agents were caught and
brought to Camp Haaren in the South of the Netherlands.
Five captured men managed to escape from the camp. Two of them, Pieter
Dourlein and Ben Ubbink, escaped on 29 August 1943 and found their way
to Switzerland. There, the
Netherlands Embassy sent messages over
their controlled sets to England that SOE
Netherlands was compromised.
SOE set up new elaborate networks, which continued to operate until
Netherlands were liberated at the end of the war.
From September 1944 to April 1945, eight Jedburgh teams were also
active in the Netherlands. The first team, code named "Dudley" was
parachuted into the east of the
Netherlands one week before Operation
Market Garden. The next four teams were attached to the Airborne
forces that carried out Market Garden. After the failure of Market
Garden, one Jedburgh team trained (former) resistance men in the
liberated South of the Netherlands. In April 1945 the last two Dutch
Jedburgh teams became operational. One team code named "Gambling", was
a combined Jedburgh/
Special Air Service
Special Air Service (SAS) group that was dropped
into the centre of the
Netherlands to assist the Allied advance. The
last team was parachuted into the Northern
Netherlands as part of SAS
operation "Amherst". Despite the fact that operating in the flat
and densely populated
Netherlands was very difficult for the
Jedburghs, the teams were quite successful.
Section T established some effective networks in Belgium, in part
orchestrated by fashion designer Hardy Amies, who rose to the rank of
lieutenant colonel. Amies adapted names of fashion accessories for use
as code words, while managing some of the most murderous and ruthless
agents in the field. In the aftermath of the Battle of Normandy,
British armoured forces liberated the country in less than a week,
giving the resistance little time to stage an uprising. They did
assist British forces to bypass German rearguards, and this allowed
the Allies to capture the vital docks at
Antwerp intact (although a
protracted and bloody
Battle of the Scheldt
Battle of the Scheldt was later fought to clear
the Scheldt estuary before the Allies could use the port).
After Brussels was liberated, Amies outraged his superiors by setting
up a Vogue photo-shoot in Belgium. In 1946, he was Knighted in
Belgium for his service with SOE, being a Named Officier de l'Ordre de
As both an enemy country, and supposedly a monolithic fascist state
with no organised opposition which SOE could use, SOE made little
effort in Italy before mid-1943, when Mussolini's government
collapsed and Allied forces already occupied
Sicily.[page needed] In April 1941, in a mission codenamed
"Yak", Peter Fleming attempted to recruit agents from among the many
thousands of Italian prisoners of war captured in the Western Desert
Campaign. He met with no response.[page needed] Attempts to
search among Italian immigrants in the United States, Britain and
Canada for agents to be sent to Italy had similarly poor results.
During the first three years of war, the most important "episode" of
the collaboration between SOE and Italian anti-fascism was a project
of an anti-fascist uprising in Sardinia, which the SOE supported at
some stage but did not receive approval from the Foreign Office.
In the aftermath of the Italian collapse, SOE (in Italy renamed No. 1
Special Force) helped build a large resistance organisation in the
cities of Northern Italy, and in the Alps. Italian partisans
harassed German forces in Italy throughout the autumn and winter of
1944, and in the
Spring 1945 offensive in Italy
Spring 1945 offensive in Italy they captured Genoa
and other cities unaided by Allied forces. SOE helped the Italian
Resistance send British missions to the partisan formations and
supply war material to the bands of patriots, a supply made without
political prejudices, and which also helped the
Late in 1943, SOE established a base at
Bari in Southern Italy, from
which they operated their networks and agents in the Balkans. This
organisation had the codename "Force 133". This later became "Force
266", reserving 133 for operations run from
Cairo rather than the heel
of Italy. Flights from
Brindisi were run to the
Balkans and Poland,
particularly once control had been wrested from SOE's Cairo
headquarters and was exercised directly by Gubbins. SOE established a
new packing station for the parachute containers close to
base, along the lines of those created at Saffron Walden. This was ME
54, a factory employing hundreds, the American (OSS) side of which was
known as "Paradise Camp".[page needed]
See also: Yugoslavia and the Allies
In the aftermath of the German invasion in 1941, the Kingdom of
Yugoslavia fragmented. Croatia, had a substantial pro-Axis movement,
the Ustaše. In
Croatia as well as the remainder of Yugoslavia, two
resistance movements formed; the royalist
Chetniks under Draža
Mihailović, and the
Communist Partisans under Josip Broz Tito.
Mihailović was the first to attempt to contact the Allies, and SOE
despatched a party on 20 September 1941 under Major "Marko" Hudson.
Hudson also encountered Tito's forces. Through the royalist government
in exile, SOE at first supported the Chetniks. Eventually, however,
due to reports that the
Chetniks were less effective and even
collaborating with German and Italian forces on occasion, British
support was redirected to the Partisans, even before the Tehran
Conference in 1943.
Although relations were often touchy throughout the war, it can be
argued that SOE's unstinting support was a factor in Yugoslavia's
maintaining a neutral stance during the Cold War. However, accounts
vary dramatically between all historical works on the "Chetnik
SOE was unable to establish links or contacts in
Hungary before the
Miklós Horthy aligned itself with the Axis Powers. Distance
and lack of such contacts prevented any effort being made by SOE until
the Hungarians themselves dispatched a diplomat (László Veress) in a
clandestine attempt to contact the Western Allies. SOE facilitated his
return, with some radio sets. Before the Allied governments could
Hungary was placed under German military occupation and
Veress was forced to flee the country.
Two missions subsequently dropped "blind" i.e. without prior
arrangement for a reception party, failed. So too did an attempt by
Basil Davidson to incite a partisan movement in Hungary, after he made
his way there from northeastern Yugoslavia.
Greece was overrun by the Axis after a desperate defence lasting
several months. In the aftermath, SIS and another intelligence
organisation, SIME, discouraged attempts at sabotage or resistance as
this might imperil relations with Turkey, although SOE maintained
contacts with resistance groups in Crete. When an agent, "Odysseus", a
former tobacco-smuggler, attempted to contact potential resistance
groups in Greece, he reported that no group was prepared to co-operate
with the monarchist government in exile in Cairo.
In late 1942, at the army's instigation, SOE mounted its first
operation, codenamed Operation Harling, into Greece in an attempt to
disrupt the railway which was being used to move materials to the
German Panzer Army Africa. A party under Colonel (later Brigadier)
Eddie Myers, assisted by Christopher Woodhouse, was parachuted into
Greece and discovered two guerrilla groups operating in the mountains:
Communist ELAS and the republican EDES. On 25 November 1942,
Myers's party blew up one of the spans of the railway viaduct at
Gorgopotamos, supported by 150 Greek partisans from these two
organisations who engaged Italians guarding the viaduct. This cut the
railway linking Thessaloniki with
Athens and Piraeus.
Relations between the resistance groups and the British soured. When
the British needed once again to disrupt the railway across Greece as
part of the deception operations preceding Operation Husky, the Allied
invasion of Sicily, the resistance groups refused to take part,
rightly fearing German reprisals against civilians. Instead, a six-man
commando party from the British and New Zealand armies, led by New
Zealander Lieutenant Colonel Cecil Edward Barnes a civil
engineer, carried out the destruction of the
Asopos viaduct on 21
June 1943. Two attempts by
Mike Cumberlege to make the Corinth
Canal unnavigable ended in failure.
EDES received most aid from SOE, but ELAS secured many weapons when
Italy collapsed and Italian military forces in Greece dissolved. ELAS
and EDES fought a vicious civil war in 1943 until SOE brokered an
uneasy armistice (the
A lesser known, but important function of the SOE in Greece was to
Cairo headquarters of the movement of the German military
aircraft that were serviced and repaired at the two former Greek
military aircraft facilities in and around Athens.
British Army occupied
Piraeus in the
aftermath of the German withdrawal, and fought a street-by-street
battle to drive ELAS from these cities and impose an interim
government under Archbishop Damaskinos. SOE's last act was to evacuate
several hundred disarmed EDES fighters to Corfu, preventing their
massacre by ELAS.
Several resistance groups and Allied stay-behind parties operated in
Crete after the Germans occupied the island in the Battle of Crete.
SOE's operations involved figures such as Patrick Leigh Fermor, John
Lewis, Harry Rudolph Fox Burr, Tom Dunbabin, Sandy Rendel, John
Xan Fielding and Bill Stanley Moss. Some of the most famous
moments included the abduction of General
Heinrich Kreipe led by Leigh
Fermor and Moss – subsequently portrayed in the film Ill Met by
Moonlight, and the sabotage of Damasta led by Moss.
Albania had been under Italian influence since 1923, and was occupied
Italian Army in 1939. In 1943, a small liaison party entered
Albania from northwestern Greece. SOE agents who entered
or later included Julian Amery, Anthony Quayle,
David Smiley and Neil
"Billy" McLean. They discovered another internecine war between the
Communist partisans under Enver Hoxha, and the republican Balli
Kombëtar. As the latter had collaborated with the Italian occupiers,
Hoxha gained Allied support.
SOE's envoy to Albania, Brigadier Edmund "Trotsky" Davies, was
captured by the Germans early in 1944. Some SOE officers warned that
Hoxha's aim was primacy after the war, rather than fighting Germans.
They were ignored, but
Albania was never a major factor in the effort
against the Germans.
The car in which
Reinhard Heydrich was assassinated
SOE sent many missions into the Czech areas of the so-called
Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, and later into Slovakia. The most
famous mission was Operation Anthropoid, the assassination of
Reinhard Heydrich in Prague. From 1942 to 1943
the Czechoslovaks had their own
Special Training School (STS) at
Chicheley Hall in Buckinghamshire. In 1944, SOE sent men to support
the Slovak National uprising.
In March 1941 a group performing commando raids in Norway, Norwegian
Independent Company 1 (NOR.I.C.1) was organised under leadership of
Captain Martin Linge. Their initial raid in 1941 was Operation
Archery, the best known raid was probably the Norwegian heavy water
sabotage. Communication lines with London were gradually improved so
that by 1945, 64 radio operators were spread throughout Norway.
Most of the actions by the
Danish resistance were railway sabotage to
hinder German troop and material movements from and to Norway;
however, sabotage on a much larger scale also occurred, especially by
BOPA. In all the
Danish resistance conducted 1,000 operations from
1942 and onwards.
In October 1943 the
Danish resistance also saved nearly all of the
Danish Jews from certain death in German concentration camps. This was
a massive overnight operation and is to this day recognised among Jews
as one of the most significant displays of public defiance against the
Danish resistance assisted SOE in its activities in neutral
Sweden. For example, SOE was able to obtain several shiploads of vital
ball-bearings which had been interned in Swedish ports. The Danes also
pioneered several secure communications methods; for example, a burst
transmitter/receiver which transcribed
Morse code onto a paper tape
faster than a human operator could handle.
In 1943 an SOE delegation was parachuted into
Romania to instigate
resistance against the
Nazi occupation at "any cost" (Operation
Autonomous). The delegation, including Colonel Gardyne de Chastelain,
Captain Silviu Meţianu and Ivor Porter, was captured by the Romanian
Gendarmerie and held until the night of
King Michael's Coup
King Michael's Coup on 23
Abyssinia was the scene of some of SOE's earliest and most successful
efforts. SOE organised a force of Ethiopian irregulars under Orde
Charles Wingate in support of the exiled Emperor Haile Selassie. This
Gideon Force by Wingate) caused heavy casualties to the
Italian occupation forces, and contributed to the successful British
campaign there. Wingate was to use his experience to create the
Chindits in Burma.
The neutral Spanish island of Fernando Po was the scene of Operation
Postmaster, one of SOE's most successful exploits. The large Italian
merchant vessel Duchessa d'Aosta and the German tug Likomba had taken
refuge in the harbour of Santa Isabel. On 14 January 1942, while the
ships' officers were attending a party ashore thrown by an SOE agent,
commandos and SOE personnel led by
Gus March-Phillipps boarded the two
vessels, cut the anchor cables and towed them out to sea, where they
later rendezvoused with
Royal Navy ships. Several neutral authorities
and observers were impressed by the British display of
Main article: Force 136
War in the Far East exhibit in the
Imperial War Museum
Imperial War Museum London. Among
the collection are a Japanese Good Luck Flag, operational map
(numbered 11), photographs of
Force 136 personnel and guerillas in
Burma (15), a katana that was surrendered to a SOE officer in Gwangar,
Malaya in September 1945 (7), and rubber soles designed by SOE to be
worn under agents boots' to disguise footprints when landing on
beaches (bottom left).
As early as 1940, SOE was preparing plans for operations in Southeast
Asia. As in Europe, after initial Allied military disasters, SOE built
up indigenous resistance organisations and guerrilla armies in enemy
(Japanese) occupied territory. SOE also launched "Operation Remorse"
(1944–45), which was ultimately aimed at protecting the economic and
political status of Hong Kong.
Force 136 engaged in
covert trading of goods and currencies in China. Its agents proved
remarkably successful, raising £77m through their activities, which
were used to provide assistance for Allied prisoners of war and, more
controversially, to buy influence locally to facilitate a smooth
return to pre-war conditions.
In late 1944, as it became clear that the war would soon be over, Lord
Selborne advocated keeping SOE or a similar body in being, and that it
would report to the Ministry of Defence. Anthony Eden, the
Foreign Secretary, insisted that his ministry, already responsible for
the SIS, should control SOE or its successors. The Joint
Intelligence Committee, which had a broad co-ordinating role over
Britain's intelligence services and operations, took the view that SOE
was a more effective organisation than the SIS but that it was unwise
to split the responsibility for espionage and more direct action
between separate ministries, or to perform special operations outside
the ultimate control of the Chiefs of Staff. The debate continued
for several months until on 22 May 1945, Selborne wrote:
In view of the Russian menace, the situation in Italy, Central Europe
Balkans and the smouldering volcanoes in the Middle East, I
think it would be madness to allow SOE to be stifled at this juncture.
In handing it over to the Foreign Office, I cannot help feeling that
to ask Sir Orme Sergent [shortly to become Permanent Under-Secretary
of State for Foreign Affairs] to supervise SOE is like inviting an
abbess to supervise a brothel! But SOE is no base instrument, it is a
highly specialized weapon which will be required by HMG whenever we
are threatened and whenever it is necessary to contact the common
people of foreign lands.
Churchill took no immediate decision, and after he lost the general
election on 5 July 1945, the matter was dealt with by the Labour Prime
Minister, Clement Attlee. Selborne told Attlee that SOE still
possessed a worldwide network of clandestine radio networks and
sympathisers. Attlee replied that he had no wish to own a British
Comintern, and closed Selborne's network down at 48 hours'
SOE was dissolved officially on 15 January 1946. Some of its senior
staff moved easily into financial services in the City of London,
although some of them had not lost their undercover mentality and did
little for the City's name. Most of SOE's other personnel
reverted to their peacetime occupations or regular service in the
armed forces, but 280 of them were taken into the "
Branch" of MI6. Some of these had served as agents in the field, but
MI6 was most interested in SOE's training and research staff. Sir
Stewart Menzies, the head of MI6 (who was generally known simply as
"C") soon decided that a separate
Special Operations branch was
unsound, and merged it into the general body of MI6.
Gubbins, the last director, was not given further employment by the
Army, but he later founded the
Special Forces Club for former members
of SOE and similar organisations.
Wartime commentaries on SOE
Although the wartime British government considered the activities of
the SOE to be lawful, the German invaders, as in
World War I
World War I and the
War of 1870, argued that those engaging in resistance (local
resistance fighters and the agents of foreign governments who
supported them) were “bandits” and “terrorists”, maintaining
Francs-tireurs (and said agents) were engaging in an illegal
form of warfare, and, as such, had no legal rights. A view
expressed by Fritz Sauckel, the General Plenipotentiary for Labour
Deployment, making him the man in charge of bringing workers to the
factories in Germany for forced labour, who demanded the flight of
young French men to the countryside be stopped and called the maquis
“terrorists”, “bandits” and “criminals” for their
opposition to lawful authority.
Later analysis and commentaries
The mode of warfare encouraged and promoted by SOE is considered by
several modern commentators to have established the modern model that
many alleged terrorist organisations emulate.
Two opposed views were quoted by
Tony Geraghty in The Irish War: The
Hidden Conflict Between the IRA and British Intelligence. M. R. D.
Foot, who wrote several official histories of SOE wrote:
The Irish [thanks to the example set by Collins and followed by the
SOE] can thus claim that their resistance provide the originating
impulse for resistance to tyrannies worse than any they had to endure
themselves. And the Irish resistance as Collins led it, showed the
rest of the world a way to fight wars the only sane way they can be
fought in the age of the Nuclear bomb.
However the British military historian
John Keegan wrote:
We must recognise that our response to the scourge of terrorism is
compromised by what we did through SOE. The justification ...
That we had no other means of striking back at the enemy ... is
exactly the argument used by the Red Brigades, the Baader-Meinhoff
gang, the PFLP, the IRA and every other half-articulate terrorist
organization on Earth. Futile to argue that we were a democracy and
Hitler a tyrant. Means besmirch ends. SOE besmirched Britain.
Another, later view, on the moral contribution of SOE, was expressed
by Max Hastings:
Yet the moral contribution of secret war, which would have been
impossible without the sponsorship of SOE and OSS, was beyond price.
It made possible the resurrection of self-respect in occupied
societies which would otherwise have been forced to look back on the
successive chapters of their experience of the conflict through a dark
prism; military humiliation, followed by enforced collaboration with
the enemy, followed by belated deliverance at the hands of foreign
armies. As it was, and entirely thanks to Resistance, all European
nations could cherish their cadres of heroes and martyrs, enabling the
mass of their citizens who did nothing, or who served the enemy, to be
painted over in the grand canvas cherished in the perception of their
In popular culture
Special Operations Executive in popular culture
Since the end of the war, the SOE has appeared in many films, comics,
books, and television.
British military history of World War II
Bureau Central de Renseignements et d'Action
Special Activities Division
Jewish Parachutists of Mandate Palestine
John Dolphin CBE
Resistance during World War II
Special Allied Airborne
^ Foot 2000, p. 62.
^ a b "
Violette Szabo & SOE".
^ Wilkinson & Astley 2010, pp. 33-34.
^ Foot 2000, p. 12.
^ Foot 2000, p. 293.
^ Atkin 2015, pp. Chapters 2-4.
^ Long, Christopher. "'Pat Line' – An Escape & Evasion Line in
France in World War II". Christopher Long. Retrieved 2017-08-23.
^ Foot 2000, pp. 15-16.
^ Foot 1999, p. 17.
^ Milton 2016, p. 88.
^ Morris, Nigel (17 February 2011). "The
Special Operations Executive
1940–1946". BBC. Retrieved 2017-08-23.
^ a b c "article by Matthew Carr Author The Infernal Machine: A
History of Terrorism". Thefirstpost.co.uk. Retrieved 1 June
^ a b Geraghty 2000, p. 347.
Hugh Dalton letter to Lord Halifax 2 July 1940; quoted in M. R. D.
Foot, SOE in France, p. 8
^ a b Wilkinson & Astley 2010, p. 76.
^ a b c d Foot 2000, p. 22.
^ a b Boyce & Everett 2003, p. 9.
^ Milton 2016, pp. 80-87, 163-167.
^ MacRae, Stuart (2011). "Winston Churchill's Toyshop: The Inside
Story of Military Intelligence". Amberley.
^ Milton 2016, p. 89.
^ Foot 2000, p. 31.
^ Hastings 2015, p. 264.
^ Milton 2016, pp. 170-171.
^ Foot 2000, p. 32.
^ Foot 2000, pp. 24-25.
^ Milton 2016, p. 91.
^ Foot 2000, p. 152.
^ Boyce & Everett 2003, pp. 23-45.
^ Wilkinson & Astley 2010, p. 141.
^ Foot 2000, pp. 30-35.
^ Foot 2000, pp. 47, 148-156.
^ a b Foot 2000, pp. 40-41.
^ Stafford 2011, pp. 45-51.
^ Hastings 2015, pp. 260, 267.
^ Hastings 2015, p. 260.
^ Wilkinson & Astley 2010, p. 80.
^ Foot 2000, pp. 35-36.
^ Milton 2016, pp. 38,80,83.
^ Boyce & Everett 2003, pp. 233,238.
^ Foot 2000, p. 26.
^ Foot 2000, p. 243.
^ Wilkinson & Astley 2010, p. 98.
^ Boyce & Everett 2003, pp. 129-158.
^ Wilkinson & Astley 2010, pp. 141-145, 191-195.
^ Wilkinson & Astley 2010, pp. 90-91.
^ Wilkinson & Astley 2010, pp. 138-141.
^ Foot 2000, p. 87.
^ a b Wilkinson & Astley 2010, p. 95.
^ Wallace & Melton 2010, p. 7.
^ Hastings 2015, p. 292.
^ a b Boyce & Everett 2003, p. 13.
^ Boyce & Everett 2003, p. 15.
^ Turner 2011, p. 40-42.
^ Boyce & Everett 2003, p. 14.
^ Turner 2011, p. 22.
^ Boyce & Everett 2003, p. 96.
^ Boyce & Everett 2003, p. 97.
^ Boyce & Everett 2003, p. 299-300.
^ Turner 2017.
^ Boyce & Everett, pp. 97-98.
^ MacKay 2005.
^ Bailey (2008), p.43
^ Bailey (2008), pp.61-64
^ Foot 2000, p. 65.
^ Foot 2000, p. 169.
^ Foot 2000, pp. 57, 71.
^ Foot 2000, pp. 60-62.
^ Foot 1999, pp. 109-110.
^ Foot 1999, p. 108.
^ Wilkinson & Astley 2010, pp. 29, 115.
^ Foot 2000, pp. 109-110.
^ Foot 1999, pp. 108-111.
^ Foot 1999, p. 106.
^ Foot 1999, pp. 99, 142-143.
^ Foot 1999, p. 160.
^ Foot 2000, p. 78.
^ Foot 2000, p. 77.
^ Seaman 2006, p. 27.
^ Foot 2000, p. 73.
^ Milton 2016, p. 80.
^ Turner 2011, p. 17-19.
^ Norton-Taylor, Richard (28 October 1999). "How exploding rats went
down a bomb and helped British boffins win the Second World War".
London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2017-08-23.
^ Foot 2000, pp. 82-83.
^ Boyce & Everett 2003, pp. 147-153.
^ "Welfreighter". Welfreighter.info. Retrieved 2017-08-23.
^ Boyce & Everett 2003, pp. 53-54.
^ Boyce & Everett 2003, pp. 159-165.
^ Boyce & Everett 2003, pp. 166-167.
^ Boyce & Everett 2003, p. 110.
^ Wilkinson & Astley 2010, p. 84.
^ Foot 2000, p. 94.
^ Foot 2000, p. 95.
^ Foot 2000, p. 102.
^ Foot, p. 95-96.
^ Orchard, Adrian. "Group Captain Percy Charles "Pick" Pickard DSO**,
DFC 1915 - 1944" (PDF). Retrieved February 2006. Check date
values in: access-date= (help)
^ a b Coxon, David (19 May 2016). "Brave Percy was the Wartime Pick of
RAF Bunch". Bognar Regis Observer. Retrieved 1 August 2017.
^ "161 Squadron History". Royal Air Force. Retrieved 11 August
^ Gunston 1995.
^ The Tempsford Memorial Trust
^ Orchard, Adrian Group Captain Percy Charles “Pick” Pickard
DSO**, DFC 1915 - 1944 February 2006
^ Verity 1978, pp. 17-18.
^ Foot 2000, pp. 95, 101-103.
^ Foot 2000, pp. 95-96.
^ Foot 2000, pp. 103-104.
^ Foot, p. 92-93.
^ Foot, p. 86-87.
^ Foot, p. 90-91.
^ Foot 2000, p. 214.
^ "The British Prosper Spy Network: Destroyed to Protect
^ Foot 2000, p. 44.
^ Foot 2000, pp. 222-223.
^ a b Milton 2016, p. 293.
^ "Grojanowski Report" (PDF). Yad Vashem. Retrieved 2017-08-24.
^ Orpen 1984.
^ Hooiveld 2016, p. 199.
^ Hooiveld 2016, p. 228.
^ Edwin Amies biography Archived 31 October 2014 at the Wayback
Machine., GLBT&Q website
^ Day, Peter (29 April 2003). "How secret agent Hardy Amies stayed in
Vogue during the war". London (UK): The Telegraph. Retrieved
^ Berrettini, Mireno (2008). "Set Europe Ablaze! Lo
Executive e l'Italia 1940-1943". Italia Contemporanea. Italy. 252-253:
^ Berrettini 2010.
^ Crowdy 2008.
^ Berrettini, Mireno (2010). ""To set Italy Ablaze!" Special
Operations Executive e i reclutamenti di agenti tra Enemy Aliens e
Prisoners of War italiani (Regno Unito, Stati Uniti e Canada)".
Altreitalie. Italy. 40: 5–25.
^ Berrettini, Mireno (1955). "Diplomazia clandestina: Emilio Lussu ed
Inghilterra nei documenti dello
Special Operations Executive, saggio
introdutivo a E. LUSSU, Diplomazia clandestina". Firenze. Italy:
^ M. Berrettini,
Special Operations Executive,
Antifascismo italiano e Resistenza partigiana
^ Berrettini, Mireno (2007). "Le missioni dello
Executive e la Resistenza italiana". QF Quaderni di Farestoria. Italy.
^ Berrettini, Mireno (2009). "La
Special Force britannica e la
"questione" comunista nella Resistenza italiana". Studi e ricerche di
storia. Italy. 71: 37–62.
^ Warren 1947.
^ Ball 2010, p. 104.
^ Field, Gordon-Creed & Creed 2012.
^ Foot 2000, p. 236.
^ "Secret War Exhibition, Imperial War Museum, London,".
^ "Autonomous Operations & Codenames of WWII". codenames.info.
^ Milton 2016, pp. 128-145.
^ Berg, Sanchia (28 August 2008). "Churchill's top secret agency". BBC
Radio 4 - Today. Retrieved 2017-08-24.
^ Wilkinson & Astley 2010, pp. 221-223.
^ Hastings 2015, p. 537.
^ Wilkinson & Astley 2010, p. 232.
^ Foot 2000, p. 245.
^ a b Foot 2000, p. 246.
^ a b Berg, Sanchia (13 December 2008). "Churchill's secret army lived
on". BBC Radio 4 - Today. Retrieved 2017-08-24.
^ Wilkinson & Astley 2010, pp. 238-240.
^ Crowdy 2007, p. 26.
^ Ousby 2000, pp. 264-5.
^ Geraghty 2000, p. 346.
^ Hastings 2015, p. 557.
Official publications/academic histories
Allan, Stuart (2007).
Commando Country. National Museums of Scotland.
Commando and SOE training in the Highlands of Scotland. It
describes the origins of the irregular warfare training at Inverailort
House under MI(R) then the move of SOE training to the nearby Arisaig
and Morar area.
Bailey, Roderick (2014). Target Italy: The Secret War against
Mussolini, 1940–1943. Faber & Faber.
Detailed account of operations from beginning of hostilities to fall
of Mussolini. Sister volume to David Stafford's Mission Accomplished
Berrettini, Mireno (2010). La Gran Bretagna e l'Antifascismo italiano.
Diplomazia clandestina, Intelligence, Operazioni Speciali
(1940–1943). Italy: Le Lettere. ISBN 978-8860873729.
Boyce, Frederic; Everett, Douglas (2003). SOE: The Scientific Secrets.
Sutton Publishing. ISBN 0-7509-4005-0.
SOE had its own laboratories and workshops inventing and developing
new weapons, explosives and sabotage techniques.
Crowdy, Terry (2008). SOE Agent: Churchill's secret warriors. Oxford
(UK): Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-1846032769.
Cruikshank, Charles (1983). SOE in the Far East. Oxford University
Press. ISBN 0-19-215873-2.
Official history commissioned 1980, companion to Foot, SOE, with
access to papers (though researched 20 years later than Foot's book,
when many participants had died, see Preface).
Cruikshank, Charles (1986). SOE in Scandinavia. Oxford University
Press. ISBN 0-19-215883-X.
Foot, M. R. D. (1999). The
Special Operations Executive 1940–1946.
Pimlico. ISBN 0-7126-6585-4.
Contains an overview of SOE and its methods. Foot won the Croix de
Guerre as a SAS operative in Brittany, later becoming Professor of
Modern History at Manchester University and an official historian of
the SOE, with multiple books on the topic.
Foot, M. R. D. (2000). SOE in France. Frank Cass.
(orig. 1966, Government Official Histories, published by Frank Cass,
revised edition 2000, further edition 2004). Written with access to F
Section files, (according to Ian Dear, see below) later revised
MacKay, Francis (2005). Overture to Overlord - The Preparations of
D-Day: North West Europe (
Special Operations World War Two). Barnsley,
UK: Pen and Sword. ISBN 978-0850528923.
Hooiveld, Jelle (2016). Dutch Courage:
Special Forces in the
Netherlands 1944–45. Stroud: Amberley Publishing.
Mackenzie, William (2000). The Secret History of SOE: Special
Operations Executive 1940–1945. BPR Publications.
Written at the end of WW2 for the British Government's own use without
any intention of publication—in effect a confidential "official
Orpen, Neil D. (1984). Airlift to Warsaw: The Rising of 1944. Norman,
OK (US): University of Oklahoma. ISBN 978-0806119137.
Rigden, Denis (2001). SOE Syllabus: Lessons in Ungentlemanly Warfare
World War II. Secret History Files, National Archives.
Authentic training manuals used to prepare agents covering the
clandestine skills of disguise, surveillance, burglary, interrogation,
close combat, and assassination. Also published as How to be a Spy.
Stafford, David (2011). Mission Accomplished: SOE and Italy 1943–45.
The Bodley Head. ISBN 978-1-84792-065-2.
Stafford, David (2000). Secret Agent: the true story of the Special
Operations Executive. BBC Worldwide Ltd.
Professor David Stafford has written several books on resistance and
the secret war, and contributed the foreword for M. R. D. Foot's book.
Steinacher, Gerald (2002). "Passive Grumbling, rather than Resisting:
Special Operations Executive (SOE) in
International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence. 15:
First results of a research on the newly released Austrian SOE files
of the Public Record Office Kew
Turner, Des (2011). SOE's Secret Weapons Centre: Station 12. Stroud,
UK: The History Press. ISBN 978-0752459448.
Valentine, Ian (2006). Station 43:
Audley End House
Audley End House and SOE's Polish
Section. Sutton Publishing. ISBN 0-7509-4255-X.
Walker, Jonathan (2008). Poland Alone: Britain, SOE and the Collapse
of the Polish Resistance, 1944. The History Press.
Wallace, Robert; Melton, H. Keith (2010). Spycraft: inside the CIA's
top secret Spy Lab. London: Bantam. ISBN 978-0553820072.
Warren, Harris G. (1947).
Special Operations: AAF Aid To European
Resistance Movements, 1943-1945 (U.S. Air Force Historical Study No.
121). US Army Air Force.
Wilkinson, Peter; Astley, Joan Bright (2010). Gubbins and SOE.
Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military. ISBN 978-1-84884-421-6.
Partial biography of Colin Gubbins, and the politics at the head of
SOE and its relations to the Cabinet
First-hand accounts by those who served with SOE
Bailey, Roderick (2008). Forgotten Voices of the Secret War. Ebury
Press. ISBN 978-0-09-191851-4.
anthology of quotes and short accounts by members of SOE and
Baden-Powell, Dorothy (2004). They Also Serve: an SOE Agent in the
WRNS. Robert Hale Ltd. ISBN 978-0-7090-7715-2.
Chapman, Freddie Spencer (1949). The Jungle is Neutral. Chatto and
Chapman set up first jungle warfare school and operated in Malaya
behind Japanese lines. Key figure in SOE in Far East.
Davidson, Basil (1980).
Special Operations Europe: Scenes from the
Nazi War. Victor Gollancz. ISBN 0-575-02820-3.
Davidson, Basil (1946). Partisan Picture. Bedford Books.
Davidson's activities in Yugoslavia, 1943–44
Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor. The 11th Day. Archangel Films, 2006.
Firsthand documentary account of the kidnapping of Major General
Heinrich Kreipe, the German army commander on Crete.
Howarth, Patrick (1980). Undercover. Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Covers the stories of a number of operatives, many known personally by
Howarth, who was one of SOE's founding members responsible for several
years for organising agent training in UK. Contains a seven-page
bibliography of histories and memoirs.
Howarth, David Armine (1950). The Shetland Bus. Thomas Nelson and Sons
Account of the Norwegian vessels which kept Britain in touch with the
Hue, André; Southby-Tailyour, Ewen (2005). The Next Moon: the
remarkable true story of a British agent behind the lines in wartime
France. Penguin. ISBN 0-14-101580-2.
First hand story of agent dropped into Brittany to organise resistance
activities before and after D-Day.
MacLean, Fitzroy (1991). Eastern Approaches. Penguin.
Author witnessed SOE's campaign with Yugoslav partisans as Churchill's
representative to Tito.
Marks, Leo (1998). Between Silk and Cyanide: A Codemaker's Story
1941–1945. Harper Collins. ISBN 0-00-255944-7.
Marks was the Head of Codes at SOE. He gives an introduction to codes,
their practical use in the field, and his struggle to improve
encryption methods. Accounts of agents including Noor Inayat Khan,
Violette Szabo, and a great deal of information on his friend F. F. E.
Yeo-Thomas are included.
Moss, William Stanley (1950). Ill Met by Moonlight. Harrap.
Firsthand account of Moss and Patrick Leigh Fermor's kidnapping of
Major General Heinrich Kreipe, the German army commander on Crete.
Later turned into a film of the same title.
Ousby, Ian (2000), The Ordeal of France, 1940–1944, New York: Cooper
Square Press, ISBN 978-0815410430 .
Rootham, Jasper (1946). Miss-Fire. Chatto & Windus.
Account of the SOE's mission to Yugoslavia in support of Draža
Mihailović and the Chetniks.
Smiley, David (1984). Albanian Assignment. Sphere Books Ltd.
Account of SOE's missions to Albania.
Sweet-Escott, Bickham (1965). Baker Street Irregular. London: Methuen
& Co. Ltd.
Verity, Hugh We Landed by Moonlight Shepperton, Surrey: Ian Allan
Wake, Nancy (1986). The White Mouse: the autobiography of the woman
Gestapo called The White Mouse. Macmillan.
Account of a female SOE field agent's experiences in the F Section.
Walters, Anne-Marie (2009). Moondrop to Gascony. Wiltshire: Moho
Books. ISBN 978-0-9557208-1-9.
Account of the author's activities as courier with F Section's
Wilkinson, Peter; Foot, M. R. D (2002). Foreign Fields: The Story of
an SOE Operative. I.B.Tauris. ISBN 978-1860647796.
Account of one of SOE's headquarters staff officers of his experiences
Pearl Witherington (2015). Code Name Pauline: Memoirs of a
World War II
World War II
Special Agent. Chicago (US): Chicago Review Press.
Account of a courier who helped divide the F-Section's Stationer
network after Maurice Southgate's arrest one month prior to
became the organiser of the Marie-Wrestler network. Introductions,
Biographies/popular books by authors without personal SOE
Atkin, Malcolm (2015). Fighting
Nazi Occupation: British Resistance
1939–1945. Barnsley: Pen and Sword.
Ball, Simon (2010). The Bitter Sea: The Brutal
World War II
World War II Fight for
the Mediterranean. New York (US): Harper Press.
Gives tangential account of SOE's operations in the Mediterranean and
its quarrels with other intelligence agencies
Binney, Marcus (2003). The Women Who Lived For Danger. Harper Collins.
Christie, Maurice A. (2004). Mission Scapula SOE in the Far East.
London (UK). ISBN 0-9547010-0-3.
A true story about an ordinary soldier (Arthur Christie) seconded into
MI5 and sent on a mission to Singapore just before it fell. With
Freddy Spencer-Chapman. Written by Arthur Christie's son Maurice A.
Christie: "The wartime memories of Arthur Christie, written in the
first person by his son Maurice A. Christie. Arthur Christie credited
as author on cover."
Crowdy, Terry (2007), French Resistance Fighter France's Secret Army,
London: Osprey, ISBN 0-307-40515-X .
Dear, Ian (1996).
Sabotage and Subversion. Arms and Armour.
General chapters on origins, recruitment and training, and then
describes in detail thirteen operations in Europe and around the
world, some involving the OSS.
Escott, Beryl (1991). A Quiet Courage: the story of SOE's women agents
in France. Patrick Stevens Ltd. ISBN 978-1-85260-289-5.
Franks, Normal (1976). Double Mission: Fighter Pilot and SOE Agent,
Manfred Czernin. London (UK): William Kimber.
Fuller, Jean Overton. The Starr Affair.
Tells the story of John Renshaw Starr.
Field, Roger; Gordon-Creed, Geoffrey; Creed, N. (2012). Rogue Male:
Sabotage and Seduction Behind German Lines with Geoffrey Gordon-Creed,
DSO, MC. London (UK): Coronet. ISBN 978-1444706352.
Gunston, Bill (1995). Classic
World War II
World War II Aircraft Cutaways. Oxford
(UK): Osprey Publishing. ASIN B01MY268FU.
Helm, Sarah (2005). A Life in Secrets: the story of
Vera Atkins and
the lost agents of SOE. London (UK): Little, Brown and Co.
Hodgson, Lynn-Philip (2002). Inside Camp X (3rd ed.). Port Perry,
Ont.: Blake Books Distribution Ltd. ISBN 978-0968706251.
Jones, Liane (1990). Mission Improbable: salute to the Royal Air Force
Special Operations Executive in wartime France. Bantam Press.
Le Chene, Evelyn (1974). Watch for Me by Moonlight. London:
Based on "snipets from the past" written down by Robert Burdett
(formerly Robert Boiteux), edited by Evelyn Le Chene, the wife of
Pierre Le Chene, Burdett's wartime radio operator.
Marshall, Bruce (2000). The White Rabbit. Cassell Military Paperbacks.
Famous biography of Wing Commander Yeo-Thomas who made secret trips to
France to meet senior Resistance figures. Story of capture, torture
and escape, written as told by "Tommy" to Marshall (who was himself on
the HQ staff of RF section).
McNab, Duncan (2011). Mission 101. Pan Macmillan (Australia).
Reissued by The History Press, 2012.
Mears, Ray (2003). The Real Heroes of Telemark: the true story of the
secret mission to stop Hitler's atomic bomb. Hodder & Stoughton.
In association with a three part BBC TV series, Ray Mears followed the
route taken in 1943 along with some present day members of the Royal
Marines and the Norwegian Army.
Milton, Giles (2016). The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare. John
Murray. ISBN 978-1-444-79895-1.
Minney, R.J. (1956). Carve Her Name with Pride. London (UK):
Tells the story of
Violette Szabo (a film of the same name was based
on the book).
Palmer, Mike. S.O.E. CD1 - The Life and Times of Sir Frank Nelson (1st
ed.). Palmridge Publishing.
Perrin, Nigel (2008). Spirit of Resistance: The Life of SOE Agent
Harry Peulevé DSO MC. Pen and Sword.
Biography of the F Section agent Harry Peulevé, who undertook two
missions in France and was one of the few to escape Buchenwald
Saward, Joe (2006). The Grand Prix Saboteurs. Morienval Press.
Orchard, Adrian Group Captain Percy Charles “Pick” Pickard DSO**,
DFC 1915 - 1944 February 2006
Seaman, Mark (1997). Bravest of the Brave: true story of Wing
Commander Tommy Yeo-Thomas – SOE Secret Agent Codename, the White
Rabbit. Michael O'Mara Books. ISBN 978-1-85479-650-9.
Seaman, Mark (2006).
Special Operations Executive: a new instrument of
war. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-38455-9.
Stevenson, William (2006). Spymistress: the Life of Vera Atkins, the
Greatest Female Secret Agent of World War II. Arcade Publishing.
Biography of Vera Atkins, of whom
James Bond creator
Ian Fleming said,
"In the real world of spies,
Vera Atkins was the boss."
Tickell, Jerrard (1949). Odette: the story of a British agent. London:
Chapman & Hall.
tells the story of Odette Sansom-Hallowes
Geraghty, Tony (2000). The Irish War. Harper Collins.
Hastings, Max (2015). The Secret War: Spies, Codes and Guerillas
1939–45. London: William Collins. ISBN 978-0-00-750374-2.
Horn, Bernd (2016). A Most Ungentlemanly Way of War. Toronto: Dundurn.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to
Special Operations Executive.
Special Operations Executive (Official Document – British
Foreign & Commonwealth Office Website)
Special Operations Executive Agents in France at Nigel
Leo Marks and the SOE
Dudley Maurice Newitt. Director of Scientific Research. SOE.
Imperial War Museum
Imperial War Museum (London) IWM Secret War exhibition.
Imperial War Museum
Imperial War Museum Collections Online IWM Collections Irregular
Warfare, for many written materials, photos, audio files on SOE.
Special Operations Executive in the Far East.
Target near Glasnacardoch Lodge STS22a
Violette Szabo Museum
Canadian Secret Agents in the Second World War
Operation BRADDOCK – A joint SOE/PWE plan to air-drop concealable
explosive devices across Europe
Roll of honour, awards and images.
SOE sites around of Milton Keynes
The 11th Day Documentary film about the Resistance, on the island of
Crete, during the Second World War including SOE efforts and Sir
Patrick Leigh Fermor
World War II
World War II – Episode 2,
Special Operations Executive
Interview with secret agent Francis Cammaerts in the Leicester Mercury
"Para-Military Training in Scotland During World War 2". Land, Sea
& Islands Centre. 2001. An account of SOE training around
SOE: An Amateur Outfit?
Secret Army Exhibition at Beaulieu
"Notes on S.O.E., 1941 TO 1943", written by a member of the Belgian
Section, Major G.T.R. Thompson, in 1963
ISNI: 0000 0001 2295 1497