SOE operations in France.

Goatman

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Book Reviewer
I read @overopensights 's excellent review of The Phony Victory, which I commend to the House - and this phrase made me think:

SOE operations in France.

Mr Hitchens claims that this extended operation was mostly a waste of time and money and just a propaganda exercise where French and British brave men and women, of which over a hundred parachuted to their brutal ends in France and Germany and were never heard of again, and that we pulled ‘romance’ out of the operation by romanticizing glamorous women and even making films about them. I would argue that it kept the Germans on their toes in France and used up no end of German troops and Gestapo agents, and was a good precursor for gaining intelligence in the run-up to D Day.


Two excellent sources for anybody looking to unpack Hitchens contention ( ' SOE WAS A WASTE OF RESOURCES AND LIVES ' ) :

MRD Foot's minutely observed
SOE: The Special Operations Executive, 1940-46

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and Ian Ousby's immensely readable
Occupation

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On the strength of the Arrse review I'll take a look at Peter Hitchens' book - but I don't expect to have any prejudices overturned.

In contrast both the above will give any reader a much more nuanced picture of France in particular post the Fall in 1940.
 
I'd have said that just Pearl Witherington ("Marie","Pauline") :

"The force she commanded ultimately killed 1,000 German soldiers while suffering few casualties, and disrupted a key railway line connecting the south of France with Normandy more than 800 times. She would ultimately preside over the surrender of 18,000 German troops."

and Nancy Wake ("Helene", "Andree" "The White Mouse")

"Wake became instrumental in recruiting more members and making the maquis groups into a formidable force, roughly 7,500 strong. She was also involved in attacks on bridges, railway lines, and German convoys. She participated in a raid that destroyed the Gestapo headquarters in Montluçon, during which 38 Germans were killed. "

justifies the program. Let alone the other things that were achieved.
 
We of course have the advantage of hindsight and not having to consider any option, as they did when the barbarians were at the gate.
 
The first title is in my bookcase queuing up to be read, it may just have jumped the queue.

I did make a valiant attempt at this one.
soe-the-scientific-secrets.jpg


On the face of it you'd think it was interesting, full of cufflinks with laser beams and the like. . . . . . . . . . . alas no.
It was so dry & boring to read I gave up about 1/3 of the way through.
 

Goatman

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Book Reviewer
The reality is that the barbarians were already inside the gates in France.

Back in the super hip 1970s, the BBC dramatised Sartre's 'Roads to Freedom'.

It portrayed very well the bewilderment and frustration of the French Army, ordered by a weak and factionalised French Government to surrender. Most were shipped to PoW cages in the Reich, hostages to the good behaviour ( and continued collaboration) of Petain and his admirers.

The BBC, despite frequent requests from various admirers has no plans to either release it on DVD or re-run the programme. Link here: Channel Light Vessel: Why has the BBC buried 'The Roads to Freedom'?




Source 1

Although no precise estimates exist, the number of French soldiers captured during the Battle of France between May and June 1940 is generally recognised around 1.8 million, equivalent to around 10 percent of the total adult male population of France at the time. After a brief period of captivity in France, most of the prisoners were deported to Germany. In Germany, prisoners were incarcerated in Stalag or Oflag prison camps, according to rank, but the vast majority were soon transferred to work details (Kommandos) working in German agriculture or industry. Colonial prisoners, however, remained in camps in France with poor living conditions as a result of Nazi racial ideologies.

The absence of a large proportion of the male population of France also had important consequences on the position of women in occupied France and charity fundraising on behalf of the prisoners played an important role in French daily life until late in the occupation. Limited repatriation of certain classes of POWs did occur from 1940 and the Vichy French government was keen to encourage the return of prisoners, even launching the unpopular relève system in order to exchange prisoners of war for French labourers going to work in Germany. Nevertheless, many prisoners remained in German captivity until the defeat of Germany in 1945. Prisoners who returned to France, either by repatriation or through escaping, generally found themselves stigmatised by the French civilian population and received little official recognition.



The Wehrmacht and their SS counterparts, together with the well-honed security apparat of the Gestapo and RHSA held down a country of 25 million people with around a 100,000 troops.

Source 2
The Wehrmacht maintained a varying number of divisions in France. 100,000 Germans were in the whole of the German-zone in France in December 1941.[10] When the bulk of the Wehrmacht was fighting on the eastern front, German units were rotated to France to rest and refit. The number of troops increased when the threat of Allied invasion began looming large, with the Dieppe raid marking its real beginning. The actions of British Commandosagainst German troops brought Hitler to condemn them as irregular warfare. In his Commando Order he denied them lawful combatant status, and ordered them to be handed over to the SS security service when captured and liable to be summarily executed. As the war went on, garrisoning the Atlantic Wall and suppressing the resistance became heavier and heavier duties.

Some notable units and formations stationed in France during the occupation:

from the same source:


Although the majority of the French population did not take part in active resistance, many resisted passively through acts such as listening to the banned BBC's Radio Londres, or giving collateral or material aid to Resistance members. Others assisted in the escape of downed US or British airmen who eventually found their way back to Britain, often through Spain.

By the eve of the liberation, numerous factions of nationalists, anarchists, communists, socialists and others, counting between 100,000 and up to 400,000 combatants, were actively fighting the occupation forces. Supported by the Special Operations Executive and the Office of Strategic Services that air-dropped weapons and supplies, as well as infiltrating agents like Nancy Wake who provided tactical advice and specialist skills like radio operation and demolition, they systematically sabotaged railway lines, destroyed bridges, cut German supply lines, and provided general intelligence to the allied forces. German anti-partisan operations claimed around 13,000-16,000 French victims, including 4,000 to 5,000 innocent civilians.[11]

At the end of the war, some 580,000 French had died (40,000 of these by the western Allied forces during the bombardments of the first 48 hours of operation Overlord). Military deaths were 92,000 in 1939-40. Some 58,000 were killed in action from 1940 to 1945 fighting in the Free French forces. Some 40,000 malgré-nous ("against our will"), citizens of re-annexed Alsace-Lorraine drafted into the Wehrmacht, became casualties. Civilian casualties amounted to around 150,000 (60,000 by aerial bombing, 60,000 in the resistance, and 30,000 murdered by German occupation forces). Prisoners of war and deportee totals were around 1.9 million. Of this, around 240,000 died in captivity. An estimated 40,000 were prisoners of war, 100,000 racial deportees, 60,000 political prisoners and 40,000 died as slave labourers.[12]
 
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Goatman

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Book Reviewer
Hitchens, like his brother, has made a good living as a Contrarian.

In my view he is typical of people who saw themselves as Anti Establishment rebels in the Swinging Sixties. Tearing down long cherished beliefs but with only Nihilism to offer in return. Typical comment ' We are sh1t, let's face it.'

Alan Clark's 'Lions led by Donkeys' is another example, also increasingly debunked by serious historians such as the late Richard Holmes and John Terraine....

( 58 British Generals were killed on the Western Front. Excellent film by Holmes here )

We DIDN'T win the war! PETER HITCHENS writes a provocative book challenging all we think about WW2 | Daily Mail Online

It's the Mail, so if you read to the end of Hitchen's extended plug for his own book WITHOUT having your blood pressure raised by a millimetere ,they have failed.

This bit got me:

British troops would not be in contact with the main body of the principal enemy again for four whole years – in a six-year war. Our role on land, between 1940 and 1944 in colonial or sideshow wars on the fringes of the conflict and even after D-Day, was as an increasingly junior partner to the USA and the USSR.

bad luck The Chindits, Fourteenth Army, the 8th Army in Greece,Tobruk, Alamein and the D-Day Dodgers who fought from Anzio to the Gothic line.

As I said, a deliberately provocative book.
 
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ches

LE
Everything Hitchens has bumped his gums about in this article is cobblers. He's just mouthing the air for a social media audience. Its certainly not genuine historical research.
 

Tiger-Monkey2

War Hero
If you really want a full history try:

Foot M.R.D. (2004): SOE In France; An Account of the Work of the Special Operations Executive in France 1940 -1944.

The is about as close to an official history as you will get. All 526 pages of it.

He also wrote SOE in the Low Countries.
 

Bubbles_Barker

LE
Book Reviewer
If you really want a full history try:

Foot M.R.D. (2004): SOE In France; An Account of the Work of the Special Operations Executive in France 1940 -1944.

The is about as close to an official history as you will get. All 526 pages of it.

He also wrote SOE in the Low Countries.
I thought MRD Foot wrote that book as the Official History? I even gave a copy away on Arrse a year or two ago!

Anyway - Hitchens is an attention seeking ********, I’d like to see him in Fresnes jail and see how he likes it.
 
Everything Hitchens has bumped his gums about in this article is cobblers. He's just mouthing the air for a social media audience. Its certainly not genuine historical research.

There's an awful trend of TV personalities being asked to write history books. The publishers expect that the combination of name (Dimbleby and the Battle of the Atlantic; Paxman and WW1) will shift books and they are likely correct but the research often seems to amount to the author reading the standard works on the subject and re-hashing the story. Paxman famously didn't know the circumstances of the death of Kitchener, for example. Even worse, the attention on 'celebrity' historians must make it harder for genuine experts to get published.
Hitchens and co seem to forget that presenting an alternative to received wisdom requires a great depth of knowledge. In the way that the Impressionists were very capable 'conventional' artists before they changed their approach to painting. It really grinds my gears this one.
 
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Some good stuff on this thread, and as far as Hitchens goes: allegedly he's a journalist and author of bizarre pop history using iffy sources for pink elephants. And allegedly disregarding serious respected research while relying on a handful of eccentric pseudo-academics. Some authors are just interested in selling books and have precious little time or regard for academic rigour. They usually wait for the genuine articles with the T Shirts and expertise to die off, before they spout guff they can get away with - relatively unchallenged.

When mentioned in the same company as Terraine or Professor MRD Foot (the official historian of the Special Operations Executive) - Hitchens is the bloater, rightly and widely getting short shrift from ethical military historians, on this site and further afield. Basically, "Oxygen Thief- Do Not Respond".
 

Goatman

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Book Reviewer

Cold_Collation

LE
Book Reviewer
Even worse, the attention on 'celebrity' historians must make it harder for genuine experts to get published.

It's across all fields. A few years ago, I got a call from a stringer from The Guardian asking me to recommend a celebrity to write a piece about something fairly specialist about which I have a good level of knowledge.

I asked the (rather aggressive, comfortable shoe-wearing) commissioning editor why it had to be a celebrity.

There were/are several reasons, among them: with rare exceptions a celebrity is unlikely to have the specialist knowledge to be able to write with authority, nor to write without (if one takes the Clarksons of the world as an example) putting a self-aggrandising slant on things; and that 'celebrities' would typically already be earning good money by being celebrities, thus denying a specialist journalist of the opportunity to earn a living.

...that hardly runs with The Guardian's professed intent to be about egalitarianism. In short, unless you're already known, you won't have the opportunity to be known. So, what's in it for a specialist to recommend someone and do him/herself out of income in an industry where it's already hard enough to earn living?

Utter nonsense but it won't get any better.
 
To answer Hitchens, Frederick Forsyth wrote a book called The Fist of God, set during Gulf War I. Forgive me but I haven't read the book for about twenty years, but if I recall correctly there is a passage where the hero is having a philosophical discussion with a Kuwaiti businessman on the reason for resistance to the Iraqi occupation forces.

It's like rape. If a woman is raped she might be beaten or even killed. If she fights back she will certainly be beaten, or even killed. When you look in the mirror what will you see?
The face of a warrior.

Resistance, regardless of its effectiveness in Hitchen's mind, gives a country something to unite behind. It creates a national myth. We saved ourselves.

The desirability of such a mindset if debatable, but it is the mindset that it creates that is arguably the most important part of resistance.

Is it worth the cost in lives? Well the SOE agents weren't stupid. They were all volunteers and knew the risks, so some of them must have thought that although the material impact of their work might be limited, the moral and morale effect must have been worth it.
 

Cold_Collation

LE
Book Reviewer
Equally, there's plenty of written history which describes the levels to which SOE operations were absolutely compromised in some locations. Brave people who were sent into Occupied Europe tried to warn London of their capture, only to be continually bollocked in the radio responses for having included their agreed warnings in messages 'by accident'.

Imagine the hell of trying, with the Abwehr or Gestapo looking over your shoulder, to do your duty and being let down by idiocy on this side of the Channel. The utter despair and feeling of abandonment.

There were some very brave people. There were others who let them down very, very badly.
 

Goatman

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Book Reviewer
MRD Foot's book pulls no punches on that score. He flatly says that from 1942 onward the Abwehr ran the Dutch resistance as a double game - der Englandspiel; , having infiltrated practically every effective group early on.

Englandspiel - Wikipedia

The majority of SOE agents who parachuted into Holland were received on the ground by German troops.
 
Equally, there's plenty of written history which describes the levels to which SOE operations were absolutely compromised in some locations. Brave people who were sent into Occupied Europe tried to warn London of their capture, only to be continually bollocked in the radio responses for having included their agreed warnings in messages 'by accident'.

Imagine the hell of trying, with the Abwehr or Gestapo looking over your shoulder, to do your duty and being let down by idiocy on this side of the Channel. The utter despair and feeling of abandonment.

There were some very brave people. There were others who let them down very, very badly.

I read in Callum MacDonald's excellent book about the assassination of Heydrich that resistance was useful because , among other things, it provoked the Germans to excesses which turned many Czechs, French, Dutch, etc from people who just wanted to get on with their lives, albeit under German rule, to people who were very antagonistic towards the Germans. In France, that transformation took place relatively quickly and while it's very hard to weigh progress against the cost in lives, the lives were not wasted (albeit their loss was a tragedy). Even when the Germans were winding in resistance networks, they were able to do so only because of the deployment to France, etc of resources that could better have been employed elsewhere.
 

Cold_Collation

LE
Book Reviewer
I read in Callum MacDonald's excellent book about the assassination of Heydrich that resistance was useful because , among other things, it provoked the Germans to excesses which turned many Czechs, French, Dutch, etc from people who just wanted to get on with their lives, albeit under German rule, to people who were very antagonistic towards the Germans. In France, that transformation took place relatively quickly and while it's very hard to weigh progress against the cost in lives, the lives were not wasted (albeit their loss was a tragedy). Even when the Germans were winding in resistance networks, they were able to do so only because of the deployment to France, etc of resources that could better have been employed elsewhere.

I can see the point. Nevertheless, there was a level of incompetence/negligence which was astounding, unforgivable and sustained.
 

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