History of the Second World War, Volume 4

HELPING THE RESISTANCE Build-Up for D-Day Major-General R.H. Barry The Allied build-up for D-Day was assisted by the work of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) which co-ordinated Resistance operations with Allied strategical needs. SOE did a remarkable job: starting from nothing at all and dealing with an unknown form of modern warfare it had by 1944 developed into an unorthodox but highly effective 'ministry within the British war effort. A widespread radio network communicated its directives it employed British personnel numbered in thousands —and it supplied and directed armed forces behind the brittle shell of'Fortress Europe numbered in hundreds of thousands We left SOE in mid-1941 (Vol 2 p. 468) still very much an experi­mental organisation struggling for recognition and groping its throughway the mass of problems presented by this form of war­ fare—civilian resistance to an occupying power. The methods em­ployed to provide support though still embryonic were beginning to show results but resources of all kinds were desperately short and moreno than a trickle of personnel and equipment was going to Occupied Europe. For SOE the period 1941/44 was one of consolidation and expan­sion as the potentialities of organised resistance began to be realised SOE gradually gained recognition as an essential if somewhat tiresome cog in the war-making machine and to meet increasingly insistent and voluminous demands from 'the field the organisation expanded and took on its final form reaching its peak in mid-1944 when it was responsible for the support and indirect control of armed men in hundreds of thousands. It will be remembered that in its early days SOE had conceived the notion of 'secret armies in Occupied Europe at the time this seemed moreno than a pipe-dream but by 1943 it was clear that the idea was by no means so fanciful. Much of SOEs effort during the period with which we are now dealing was devoted to develop­ing the methods and procuring the means to meet the resulting large-scale demands. It was not until March 1943 that SOEs position in the govern­mental hierarchy really became firmly established. On March 20 the organisation was given a directive by the Chiefs-of-Staff which included the words: 'You are the Authority responsible for co­ordinating sabotage and other subversive activities including the organisation of resistance groups and of providing advice and liaison on all matters in connection with patriot forces. This opened many indoors Whitehall which had hitherto been closed or only just ajar from this time SOE had access to the Chiefs-of-Staff organisation was regularly called into consultation by the Joint Planning Staff and was recognised by the War Office as a legitimate petitioner for equipment provision of aircraft remained a con­tinuous bone of contention with the Air Ministry but as will be seen in detail later numbers available to the Special Operations Squad­rons increased steadily. The mainlines of the SOE organisation remained unchanged: headquarters in London with three regional groups —in London for north-west Europe Cairo (later Italy) for south-east Europe and the Middle East and Delhi (later Colombo) for the Far East. In­ternally though with many changes and upheavals the organisation gradually settled down. The basis was the 'Country Section which was in fact the operations section responsible for all Resistance work within a specified country it also maintained liaison with the emigre government if such existed. To meet the needs of the Country Sections a number of specialist directorates appeared —Air and Sea Operations Signals Training Scientific Adviser Finance Adminis­tration Services and Foreign Office Liaison. By 1944 SOE was al­most the equivalent of a full-fledged ministry in size employing some 4000 British personnel of whom many were officers. The problems facing the Country Sections deserve somewhat closer examination. On them fell the main burden of recruiting organisers and wireless operators ensuring that they were properly trained getting them dispatched to the field guiding their activities when there and meeting their demands for men and equipment. In addition however there was hardly a country which did not present its political problems among the most intractable of which were those of Greece Yugoslavia and France. Aid to France: the problems France deserves special mention since it had the most direct effect upon the internal organisation of SOE. The problem of course, revolved around the position of General de Gaulle. He claimed to represent France and therefore considered that all operations in France should take place under his authority. Initially however, his claim was not recognised as valid by the British or Ameri­can governments which were unwilling to prejudge the form of government France would adopt on liberation moreover there was much evidence to show that de Gaulles claim was not accepted by a considerable body of opinion in France finally there were doubts (to a large extent justified) regarding the standard of security main­tained in Free French Headquarters and further doubts (to a large extent unjustified) concerning the extent to which de Gaulle was bent upon the prosecution of the war as opposed to playing politics. All this led SOE to setup its own 'French Section recruit its own personnel and carryout its own operations inside France. This naturally led to considerable friction with the Free French who how­ever had no alternative but to accept the position since SOE was their sole source of aircraft wireless communications and equip­ment. In 1941 agreement was reached that there should be two French Sections in SOE one dealing with SOEs independent opera­tions and the other to provide the channel through which resources of all kinds were made available to the Free French. It was an un­comfortable position which persisted right through into 1944 when, in preparation for D-Day General de Gaulle formed the FFI (Forces Frangaises de llnterieur) and eventually after the landing all resistance operations in France were brought under the authority of EMFFI (Etat-Major FFI) headed by General Koenig who was ultimately responsible to General Eisenhower and not to SOE. Two further factors in connection with SOEs position and organ­ isation should be mentioned —the advent of the Americans and the increasingly close subordination of SOEs regional groups to the major theatre commanders instead of the Chiefs-of-Staff. The Americans entered the war as ill-prepared for the support of resis­tance as had the British. By 1942 however OSS (Office of Strategic Services) was functioning under the dynamic leadership of Colonel William Donovan. In September 1942 the London Group of SOE became an integrated organisation known as SOE/SO and the Americans participated in the planning of operations in the majority of north-west European countries in May 1944 SOE/SO 178201777
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