Special Operations Executive

The Special Operations Executive were a group that were organised by the British during world war 2. During this period it was decided to form many organisations to counteract the Nazi hold on Europe. But the SOE never really fit in the 'family', they were sometimes called Churchill’s Secret Army or the Ministry of ungentlemanly Warfare.  Although they were often looked down on as the undisciplined forces, there is no doubt that the operatives were brave and successful in many ways. 

After the fall of France, Churchill wanted to take action and stated he wanted “to set Europe ablaze"

The group's  mission was to infiltrate, encourage, and facilitate espionage behind enemy lines. The SOE directly employed or controlled just over 13000, but it is estimated that over a million were involved world wide.

Over quarter of the operatives were females and others were foreign nationals that wanted to be sent back into Europe to fight for their home lands. Training was conducted in a number of different areas from Dorset to West Scotland, all specialising in different areas. Endurance, adaptability and fitness were assessed in some of the harshest conditions and many trainees did not make the grade and were sent home.

In March 1938 the Foreign office created Department EH (a propaganda organisation), then the SIS (MI6) formed D Section (sabotage and initiatives to weaken the enemy), which was soon followed by the War Office’s Guerrilla Warfare unit otherwise known as MI|(R)

In June 1940 Churchill combined Section D and MI R. The organisation developed and evolved over the war years with a number of different organisational heads and a number of different initiatives. The main body of the organisation consisted of approximately 15 people. About half of those were from the armed forces; the others consisted of industrial experts, lawyers and various other members of the public. The SOE operatives were controlled by sections, organised by country and by strategy. Other departments consisted of Agent Training, development or acquisition of equipment, research and verification of missions.

At the end of the war Lord Selborne advocated keeping the SOE running for strategic purposes. However it was decided that it should be disbanded on the 15 January 1946. Most of the employees resorted back to pre-war work, however approximately 280 personnel were absorbed into the Special Operations branch, which was later combined into the general body of M16.