Setting France Ablaze (Kindle)
The SOE in France During WWII
During the summer of 1940, as Britain was fighting alone for its survival, the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, instructed the newly formed and clandestine Special Operations Executive to “set Europe ablaze.” From that moment on the S.O.E. took its own war to Nazi-occupied Europe by conducting a mix of espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance missions, with its F Section dedicated to aiding the liberation of France. The risks and dangers of being associated with the S.O.E were obvious, and the consequences of being caught could only be imagined by those who volunteered. Yet the volunteers still came, from all walks of life, and each a specialist in their own field.
Amongst those recruited were Gus March-Phillipps, who led the Small Scale Raiding Force, Peter Churchill, who survived by convincing his captors he was related to the British Prime Minister, Tommy Yeo-Thomas, known to the Gestapo as the White Rabbit, and the legendary Newton 'Twins' who waged their own private war against the Nazis simply to get personal revenge. As F Section grew in numbers, it turned to recruiting women and from its ranks came some of the bravest to have operated in occupied Europe. These included women such as Odette Sansom, Vera Leigh, Noor Inayat Khan, Violette Szabo and Nancy Wake. Then, as the Allies invaded Europe in 1944, the S.O.E. inserted small elite teams, known as Jedburghs, deep behind enemy lines to link up with the French resistance and to coordinate more widespread and overt acts of sabotage to prevent the German reinforcement of Normandy.
Peter Jacobs describes the extraordinary contribution to the Allied war effort made by the S.O.E. in France and tells the gripping story of the men and women who so bravely operated behind enemy lines, many of whom were betrayed and did not live to tell the tale. It pays tribute to the extreme courage and bravery of the individuals who did exactly what Churchill asked of them; they set France ablaze.
There is also some excellent material on the German side of the picture, in particular looking at some of their most successful counter-espionage agents, and the methods they used to trap SOE agents. The complex issue of possible double agents is examined with an open mind, and the author is willing to admit when the evidence is too confusing to come to a clear conclusion.History of War
Overall this is a useful examination of SOE’s operations in France, and a tribute to the courage of so many of the agents who attempted to carry out Churchill’s instructions to ‘set Europe ablaze’
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This excellent history recounts an epic story, one which deserves to be continually remembered.The Bulletin of the Military Historical Society No.264
As reviewed inLincolnshire Life Magazine
A very readable account of the SOE and what went on during the war, from the early days of setting up the operation, based in a headquarters building in Bake Street in London.Military Modelling Online
Some of the stories and some of the agents of SOE(Special Operations Executive)have become well known through various books and films. This book is filled with the stories of agents being inserted into France from the early stages following the German invasion.
The picture painted in the book is certainly one of danger and while there were failures there were also many successes. The story of SOE in WW2 is a fascinating one. The numbers involved are quite striking, and that even when they were successfully extracted, they would be willing to go back and try again. The matter-of-fact way that regular Lysander and Hudson flights were able to get in and out safely, on a regular basis, is amazing in itself. Equally, the numbers of German troops tied up with closing down resistance circuits and the operations of the SOE was significant, all drawing resources away from the front lines. The idea of having to live your life constantly looking out for traps and just about everyone around you hardly bears thinking about, but volunteers were found and they achieved a vital role during the war. A very interesting, and thought provoking account of SOE operatives, and also a way of remembering the many who never came home.