Introduction: Special Operations Executive (02:16)
Eight operatives of the SOE moved through snowbound woods in Nazi-occupied Norway on Feb. 27, 1943. Their mission was to sabotage a plant that produced heavy water.
SOE Origins (04:11)
Britain stood alone against the Axis powers in mid-1940, but Prime Minister Winston Churchill was determined to strike back. The SOE was created to encourage revolt and sabotage resources in Nazi-occupied countries.
SOE Training (03:31)
Agents were expected to be fluent in the languages of the counties in which they operated and be familiar with local ways. They went behind enemy lines without backup. Before deployment, they received training in unarmed combat, demolitions, and other skills.
Resistance Networks (02:08)
The main job of the agents was to establish and coordinate networks. The circuit organizer usually had the support of a radio operator and courier. The BBC Overseas Service broadcasted to every country under Axis occupation.
Home Army and Heydrich Assassination (02:41)
Eastern Europe was difficult to support because of its distance from Britain. Poland’s resistance movement was crushed in August 1944. SOE operatives fared better in Czechoslovakia in 1942, mortally wounding Reinhard Heydrich.
Danish Resistance and Sabotage (03:44)
SOE operatives planted charges that disrupted heavy water production at Norway’s Norsk Hydro plant. The sinking of a ferry carrying heavy water back to Germany later that year effectively ended Adolf Hitler’s dream of an atomic bomb.
Germans arrested an agent in 1941, seizing cipher messages that allowed the Gestapo to break codes and infiltrate the SOE. The Nazi counter-intelligence operation resulted in the capture and death of dozens of Allied agents.
French Sabotage Operations (05:21)
France was divided following the country’s defeat in 1940. The north and west were occupied by the Germans, while Vichy France had a degree of autonomy under the leadership of Philippe Petain. SOE operatives sabotaged strategic targets in the country.
Odette Samson (02:51)
Samson was typical of SOE agents operating in France. She worked as courier for agent Peter Churchill until her capture in 1943. She survived torture and captivity at Ravensbruck concentration camp.
Rescuing Prisoners at Amiens (01:51)
SOE support of the French resistance became more important as preparations for the invasion of Normandy got underway. Many leaders were at Amiens Prison; Mosquito bombers breached the prison’s walls on Feb. 18, 1944.
SOE and Normandy Invasion (03:29)
SOE resistance networks were called to arms on June 5, 1944. A carefully planned campaign of sabotage along routes leading into Normandy began. SOE operatives significantly slowed enemy support from the Das Reich Panzer Division.
SOE in the Middle East (02:22)
The SOE set up headquarters in Cairo in 1941; the agency was involved in the liberation of Italian-occupied Abyssinia. Two resistance groups formed following the German occupation of Yugoslavia under the leadership of Draza Mihailovich and Josip Tito.
Greek Operations (05:14)
In September 1942, Eddie Myers led teams of SOE operatives tasked with cutting the railway line that ran through Greece to the Port of Piraeus. The railway was one of the main supply lines to Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps.
Operation Jaywick (02:05)
The SOE was active in the Far East where jungle conditions and the inability to blend in complicated operations. Ivan Lyon led a team of saboteurs that sank Japanese ships at Singapore Harbor; he died attempting a similar mission the following year.
SOE in Malaya and Burma (02:14)
Freddie Spencer Chapman established a resistance network in Japanese-occupied Malaya. It consisted of indigenous Chinese who were eager to avenge atrocities. The SOE enlisted the help of northern tribesman for operations in Burma.
Credits: Gladiators of World War II: SOE (00:57)
Credits: Gladiators of World War II: SOE
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