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Special Operations Executive

The Special Operations Executive (SOE) was a World War II organisation initiated by Winston Churchill in July of 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", 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, London. Another important London base was Aston House, where weapons and tactics research was conducted. 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, 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 between 1943-1945.

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.

Table of contents
1 Agents
2 See also
3 Bibliography and filmography
4 Miscellany/trivia
5 External links


Amongst SOE's agents can be numbered:

See also

Bibliography and filmography


External links