The Special Operations Executive was to set Europe ablaze and resist the Nazis by supporting resistance movements in occupied Europe and providing guerilla warfare .
The rudimentary section D was soon supplanted by SOE ordered by Winston Churchill. MI(R) or D gave lttile thought to helping civilians fight the Nazis. There was also much interdepartmental rivalry.
The SOE started in 1940 was headquartered in London with branches in Cairo and Delhi with a link to the US. Under Dr Dalton ,the SOE initially set its sights too high and because Dalton was not part of the War cabinet, he was not given greater access to Churchill. This was an intially a hit and miss operation which soon set more realistic targets.
Other key concepts and facts about this heroic group are as follows:
- How to communicate with resistance movements. Radio could be intercepted.
- Communication with Polish and Czech movements were on a small scale.
- What Churchill ordered was unprecedented and there was no blueprint to study.
- Convincing the military hierarchy that they were worth supporting.
- News travelled slow-
- Sabotage difficult to verify
- The military often regarded SOE as "distraction" from needed fighting.
- The SOE faced three major problems in Europe as outlined below.
- Getting agents on the ground in occupied Europe that were properly trained.
- Parachute drops by Whitley and Wellington bombers were hazardous as the planes were easy targets.
- The perfect plane was found,the Lysander, difficult to see.
- Mid 41-agents were beginning to land with all manner of problems
- Reception committees were very much at risk breaking curfew.
- The special danger of informants was ever present.
- With experience came sophistication.
- "Special people" picked up by the Lysander had to be debriefed in London.
- Clandestine radio communications a special "suitcase wireless set was devised.
- Qualified radio operators and those with skills in Explosives were trained and dropped into occupied Europe.Fitting in with backgrounds and cover stories were devised in case of capture. The slightest mistake carried the most sever of punishments.
- SOE operatives provided allied intelligence and became part of WWII heroic tradition.
- On the subject of heroes, note these names: Captain Henry Rees, Violette Szabo, Pearl Witherington and Wing- Commander Yeo Thomas.Captain Harry ReesViolette SzaboWing Commader Yeo-ThomasNoor Inayat KhanPearl WitheringtonThe Lysander I hope to do bio portraits on some if not all of these names.
The Special Operations Executive was ordered by Winston
Churchill to "set Europe ablaze". The Special Operations Executive's (SOE)
main task was to link up with resistance movements
- primarily the French
Resistance - to undermine the Germans in the countries they had
In 1940, after the fall of
France, Britain had a rudimentary approach to assisting civilian resistance
movements in Europe. Section D existed as part of the Secret Service. Its task
was to support subversive movements in occupied countries. MI (R) also existed.
It was part of the War Office and its job was to support irregular operations
conducted by personnel in uniform. However, little thought had been given to
helping those civilians who not only wanted to fight back at the Germans, but
also wanted to help out the British. Both Section D and MI (R) proved relatively
ineffective in supporting the resistance
movements in western Europe - too much inter-departmental rivalry was an
issue. Therefore, a new start was required, an organisation that was free from
rivalry and that had a fresh outlook on how to support the resistance movements
of Europe. This led to the creation of the Special Operations Executive in July 1940. Its
headquarters was in London and it had regional headquarters in Cairo and Delhi.
A link with America was also formed.
SOE was placed under Dr Dalton who
headed the Ministry of Economic Warfare. Dalton was not a member of the War
Cabinet which would have given him greater access to Churchill and initially,
due to its lack of experience, SOE set its sights too high. One SOE plan, sent
to the Chiefs-of-Staff, requested equipment for Europe's resistance movements
that would have taken six months alone to transport by air.
Dalton and SOE
soon set themselves more realistic targets. The most obvious one was how to
communicate with the resistance
movements of Europe. Any form of radio communication was open to
interception. There was communication with Polish and Czech
movements but only on a small scale. Probably, the biggest problem SOE
experienced, was that there was no blue print to study. What Churchill
had ordered had never been done before - there was no rule book to go by. Dalton
and SOE had to make up the rules from the beginning. One further disadvantage
SOE had was convincing those in the military hierarchy that what they planned to
do was worth supporting. Acts of sabotage were difficult to verify - especially
their success. Communication was invariably slow - so good news took time to
arrive. There were many in the military who saw the SOE as a distraction from
the 'proper' fighting that had to be done.
SOE faced three major
problems in Europe:
1) Confirming that worthwhile
resistance movements existed
2) How to maintain contact
with these movements once contact had been made
3) How to
help these movements actually fight against the Germans
The only way that SOE
could overcome these three problems was to get agents on the ground in occupied
Europe. This provided SOE with its next problem - suitable candidates to be SOE
agents. Once trained, the most common way of getting agents to mainland Europe
was by plane. Parachute drops could be made by Whitley and Wellington bombers.
However, these were obvious targets from the ground. SOE needed a smaller plane
that was difficult to see but tough enough to land on crude runways. In the Lysander it got the
By mid-1941, SOE agents were beginning to land in
Europe. All manner of problems were experienced - contacting the 'reception
committee', informing them that a drop was going to take place, poor weather at
the last minute which might stop a flight etc. The so-called reception
committees were very much at risk. By simply being out at night they were
breaking curfew regulations imposed by the Germans and informants were a danger
that put everybody at risk.
The work of the SOE became more
sophisticated as they became more experienced. The ability of the Lysander to land,
allowed SOE to pick-up 'special people' who needed to be de-briefed in
One of the most vital SOE tools was clandestine radio communications.
A special wireless set weighing less than 40 lbs was developed. It looked like
an ordinary suitcase. The plan was for every SOE organiser to take to occupied
Europe a qualified radio operator. Every SOE operative was trained in
parachuting, unarmed combat and self-defence. Those who had particular skills in
explosives, trained to perfect these skills. The same was true with wireless
operators. SOE schools were set up under the greatest of secrecy to train
potential SOE operators. The final part of training for any SOE person was his
or her so-called 'cover story'. Each SOE operative had to fit in with his/her
background. The slightest mistake would have been punished in the most severe
manner. Therefore, no 'Frenchman' would wear shoes made in Great Britain or
smoke British made cigarettes.
Some SOE operatives not only provided Allied
intelligence with vital information, they also became part of World War
Two history - the likes of Captain Henry
Witherington and Wing-
Commander Yeo Thomas.
Thursday, April 9, 2009
Each of the photos is captioned within the photo. You can enlarge them to read these.