Special Operations Executive

From Academic Kids

The Special Operations Executive (SOE), often called "the Baker Street Irregulars" after Sherlock Holmes's fictional group of spies, was a World War II organisation initiated by Winston Churchill and Hugh Dalton in July 1940 as a mechanism for conducting warfare by means other than direct military engagement. Originally designated as 'Section D' of MI6, the mission of the SOE was to encourage and facilitate espionage and sabotage behind enemy lines and to serve as a focal point for the formation of a vestigial resistance movement in Britain itself (the Auxiliary Units) in the possible event of an Axis invasion. Known also as Churchill's Secret Army and charged by him to "set Europe ablaze" (A mission also given to Churchill's other brainchild, the Commandos), the existence of the SOE was not made available to the public at large until many years after the cessation of hostilities.

Head of the SOE from September 1943 was Colonel Colin Gubbins. The head of the French section (south) of the SOE was Maurice Buckmaster. Vera Atkins (1908-2000), assistant to Buckmaster, was the soul of the SOE, so much so that many thought she actually ran the organisation.

The headquarters of SOE were at 64 Baker Street. Another important London base was Aston House, where weapons and tactics research was conducted.

Under the cover name ISRB (Inter Services Research Bureau) SOE set up an Establishment where development of equipment for use in the Secret war could be undertaken. Called Station IX this was situated at the Frythe - a former hotel, outside Welwyn. Here ISRB developed Radios, Weapons, explosive devices, and "booby - traps" for use by Agents and clandestine raiding forces. Among products produced at Station IX were a miniature folding motorbike (the Welbike) - for use by parachutists, a silenced pistol (the Welrod) and several miniature submersible craft (the Welman and Sleeping Beauty). 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 despatched to Australia to the Allied Intelligence Bureau (SRD), for tropical testing.Welfreighter (http://www.welfreighter.info)

SOE's operations in France were directed by two London-based country sections. The "F" Section, under British control, was kept non-political, while the "RF" Section was linked to General de Gaulle's Free French operations. As well, there were two smaller sections: "EU/P" Section, which dealt with the Polish community in France and the "DF" Section which was responsible for escape routes and coordination. During the latter part of 1942 another section known as 'AMF' was established in Algiers.

The principal training centre of the SOE was at Wanborough Manor, Guildford. The SOE included a number of women, its F Section (France) alone placed 39 female agents in to the field, of these 13 did not return. The Valençay SOE Memorial was unveiled at Valençay in the Indre departement of France on May 6, 1991, marking the fiftieth anniversary of the despatch of F Section's first agent to France. The memorial's "Roll of Honour" lists the names of the 91 men and 13 women members of the SOE who gave their lives for France's freedom.

The SOE were highly dependent upon the security of coded transmissions, and Leo Marks, an SOE cryptographer, was responsible for the development of better codes to replace the insecure poem codes.

SOE were particularly active in the following countries: France, Norway, Italy, the Netherlands, Yugoslavia, Algeria, Greece, Poland, Czechoslovakia. Through cooperation with the Special Operations Executive and the British intelligence service, a group of Jewish volunteers from Palestine were sent on missions to several countries in Nazi-occupied Europe from 1943 to 1945.

In March of 1941 a group performing commando raids in Norway, Norwegian Independent Company 1 (NOR.I.C.1) was organized under leadership of Captain Martin Linge. Their initial raids in 1941 was Operation Archery), their best know raids were probably the Norwegian heavy water sabotage. Communication lines with London were gradually improved, so that in 1945, 64 radio operators were spread throughout Norway.

On May 5, 1941, Georges Bégué (1911-1993) became the first SOE agent dropped in France who then setup radio communications and met the next drop of agents. Between Bégué's first drop and August 1944, more than four hundred F Section agents were sent into occupied France to serve in a variety of functions such as arms and sabotage instructors, couriers, circuit organisers, liaison officers, and radio operators.

SOE was dissolved officially in 1946, and much of its sphere of influence reverted to the Secret Intelligence Service, SIS, better known as MI6.

See SOE F Section timeline for a list of significant events in the history of F Section. See also SOE F Section networks for details of the individual networks operated by F Section.

SOE was known in public by its cover name, the Inter-Services Research Bureau (ISRB).



Amongst SOE's agents can be numbered:

Numbered stations

SOE operated several "stations" located in country houses and elsewhere. These were given numbers, such as:

  • Station VI - Bride Hall, the weapons acquisition section.
  • Station IX - The Frythe estate near Welwyn Garden City, which began as a wireless research unit (Special Signals), then became a weapons development & production centre, then a research and development station. Now a factory belonging to Smithkline Beecham. [1] (http://www.timelapse.dk/Welrod/uk/SoeStationIX.htm)
  • Station X - Bletchley Park, a radio station, now more famous for its subsequent use as a code breaking centre. The radio station moved to Aston House when code breaking activities took over.
  • Station XI - Aston House near Stevenage, a research and development station.
  • Station XII - also at Aston House, the radio station that started at Bletchley Park.
  • Station XIV - Briggens, near Roydon, Essex, contained the forgery section.
  • Station XV - Thatched Barn - on the Barnet bypass at Borehamwood, Hertfordshire - camouflage section, for development of booby traps.
  • Station XVA - Kensington, London - prototypes.
  • Station XVB - A training centre for agents and Demonstration Room for briefing officials, at the Natural History Museum in London. [2] (http://www.nhm.ac.uk/darwincentre/live/presentations/181103PaulClark.html)
  • Station XVC - photographic and make-up section.
  • Station 53a - Grendon Hall in Grendon Underwood, near Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire - cryptology centre. Now a prison.
  • Station 53b or c - Poundon, Buckinghamshire, near Bicester. - radio listening and transmission station.

Others, whose code numbers are unknown, included:

  • Gaynes Hall near St Neots in Cambridgeshire - Norwegian section.
  • Poundon Hall - near Aylesbury - decryption.
  • The Firs - Whitchurch, near Aylesbury - explosives testing.
  • Arisaig, Inverness-shire - finishing school [3] (http://www.btinternet.com/~m.a.christie/facts.htm)
  • Henley-on-Themes - quartermaster
  • Bellasis, at Box Hill, outside Dorking
  • Brickendonbury Manor - sabotage

See also:

Bibliography and filmography


External links

fr:Special Operations Executive nl:Special Operations Executive no:Special Operations Executive nn:Special Operations Executive pl:Special Operations Executive


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