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Close Report a review At Kobo, we try to ensure that published reviews do not contain rude or profane language, spoilers, or any of our reviewer's personal information. Would you like us to take another look at this review? 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 clothing.

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. 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.

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.

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 , a variety of US pistols, and a large quantity of the Spanish Llama. 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.

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. Langley, the first commandant of Station XII at Aston [81] 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 coal-fired boilers. Other, more subtle sabotage methods included lubricants laced with grinding materials, intended for introduction into vehicle oil systems, railway wagon axle boxes , etc.

On the other hand, some sabotage methods were extremely simple but effective, such as using sledgehammers to crack cast-iron mountings for machinery. 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. SOE also revived some medieval devices, such as the caltrop , which could be used to burst the tyres of vehicles or injure foot soldiers [86] 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. 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.


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Some of these were weapons such as the 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. Before SOE's research and development procedures were formalised in , 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 ground. 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 equipment. It was engaged in disputes with the RAF from its early days. In January , 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, [90] although Portal's objections were later overcome and Savanna was mounted, unsuccessfully.

In , the flight was expanded to become No. In February , they were joined by No. The airfield at Tempsford became the RAF's most secret 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. Once the agent was in place and had selected a number of potential fields, 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.

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.

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. 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.

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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. Before it was first used on 13 January , Squadron had to send two Lysander aircraft in what they termed "a double" if larger parties needed to be picked up.

It flew a variety of bomber-type aircraft, often modified with extra fuel tanks and flame-suppressing exhaust shrouds: 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. Stores were usually parachuted in cylindrical containers. 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. 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. 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 , the Admiralty created a Deputy Director of Operations Irregular , to superintend all such private navies.

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. In France, most agents were directed by two London-based country sections.

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Most native French agents served in RF. Two smaller sections also existed: During the latter part of another section known as AMF was established in Algiers , to operate into Southern France. They served in a variety of functions including arms and sabotage instructors, couriers, circuit organisers, liaison officers and radio operators. 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. To support the Allied invasion of France on D Day in June 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 men were eventually dropped, together with 6, tons of military stores 4, tons had been dropped during the years before D-Day.

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. SOE assisted the Polish government in exile with training facilities and logistical support for its 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 III. Sue Ryder chose the title Baroness Ryder of Warsaw in honour of these operations. 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 international network.

Maciej Kalenkiewicz was parachuted into occupied Poland , only to be killed by the Soviets. 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 Polish citizens. The rebellion was defeated with a loss of , casualties mostly German executions of Polish civilians after the nearby Red Army refused military assistance to the Polish Home Army. RAF Special Duties Flights were refused landing rights at Soviet-held airfields near Warsaw, even when requiring emergency landings after battle damage.

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. 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-Nazi resistance movement within Germany.

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.

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.

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SOE set up new elaborate networks, which continued to operate until the Netherlands were liberated at the end of the war. From September to April , 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 the last two Dutch Jedburgh teams became operational. 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.

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 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. 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, [] when Mussolini 's government collapsed and Allied forces already occupied Sicily.

He met with no response.

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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. 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 Communist formations Brigate Garibaldi.

This organisation had the codename "Force ". This later became "Force " , reserving 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 Brindisi Air base, along the lines of those created at Saffron Walden.

In the aftermath of the German invasion in , the Kingdom of Yugoslavia fragmented. 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 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 controversy". SOE facilitated his return, with some radio sets. Before the Allied governments could agree terms, Hungary was placed under German military occupation and Veress was forced to flee the country. Two missions subsequently dropped "blind" i. 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 , 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: On 25 November , Myers's party blew up one of the spans of the railway viaduct at Gorgopotamos , supported by 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 A lesser known, but important function of the SOE in Greece was to inform the 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.

Eventually, the British Army occupied Athens and 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. Several resistance groups and Allied stay-behind parties operated in Crete after the Germans occupied the island in the Battle of Crete.

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.

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Albania had been under Italian influence since , and was occupied by the Italian Army in In , a small liaison party entered Albania from northwestern Greece. As the latter had collaborated with the Italian occupiers, Hoxha gained Allied support. They were ignored, but Albania was never a major factor in the effort against the Germans. Their initial raid in was Operation Archery , the best known raid was probably the Norwegian heavy water sabotage.

Communication lines with London were gradually improved so that by , 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, operations from and onwards. In October 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 Germans. For example, SOE was able to obtain several shiploads of vital ball-bearings which had been interned in Swedish ports.

In an SOE delegation was parachuted into Romania to instigate resistance against the Nazi occupation at "any cost" Operation Autonomous. Abyssinia was the scene of some of SOE's earliest and most successful efforts. This force named 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.

On 14 January , 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 ruthlessness. 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" —45 , which was ultimately aimed at protecting the economic and political status of Hong Kong. In late , 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. In view of the Russian menace, the situation in Italy, Central Europe and the Balkans and the smouldering volcanoes in the Middle East, I think it would be madness to allow SOE to be stifled at this juncture. 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 , 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' notice. SOE was dissolved officially on 15 January 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.

Some of these had served as agents in the field, but MI6 was most interested in SOE's training and research staff. 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. 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.

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. That we had no other means of striking back at the enemy Futile to argue that we were a democracy and Hitler a tyrant. 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 descendants.

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