‘Bridgehead Revisited’: Three Months in 1943

Casablanca Conference

“I have nothing but documents here, but to understand history you have to overcome the documents. By themselves, documents will never be enough.” (Vladimir Naumov, from Jonathan Brett’s Inside the Stalin Archives, p 232)

“Historians make imperfect judgements about incomplete evidence, and some of what they write about (above all, human intentions) may have been intrinsically uncertain at the time.” (Noel Malcolm, in Times Literary Supplement)

“Even this is hard to explain to overseas colleagues who find it still difficult to understand why the British do not want to make public the part they played, as shown in Foot’s SOE in France, in the achievements of those years. They wish to have available histories, as complete and official as possible, to be compiled with all blemishes and failures as well as successes – to show the essential links which SOE provided between the Resistance and the outside forces of liberation.” (Douglas Dodds-Parker, in Setting Europe Ablaze)

Contents:

Introduction

1. January: Decisions at Casablanca

2. February: Churchill’s Faux Pas

3. March: SOE Receives its Directive

4. Arms Shipments to France

5. Interim Conclusions

Introduction:

As a continuation of my investigation into the PROSPER disaster, in this report I use primarily SOE records and War Cabinet and XX Committee minutes, and secondarily contemporary diaries and letters, as well as biographies and memoirs, to try to establish how high-level military strategy in the first quarter of 1943 became converted into low-level deception activity. I shall follow up with an account of the events of the second quarter next month.

The key research questions seem to me to be:

* When did SOE start to become an agency for deception as well as sabotage?

* Who authorized this change of policy?

* Why did SOE engage in activities that suggested a 1943 invasion was imminent?

* Were the officers employed in carrying out the strategy aware of the deception plan?

* Why did the perpetrators believe that the Germans would be deceived by Déricourt, such an obvious plant?

This report is largely a chronicle. I have withheld my comments of analysis and interpretation except for reasons of improving the narrative flow, and in the hope of aiding the intelligibility of the train of events. I shall undertake a deeper analysis in a couple of months or so.

The story so far:

(for a full description of the events in late 1942, see All Quiet on the Second Front?)

As the Chiefs of Staff started to think about offensive operations against the Axis powers in Europe, the agencies of deception were refreshed. John Bevan replaced Oliver Stanley as head of the London Controlling Section, and soon afterwards created the TWIST Committee to develop and execute deception plans to assist Operation OVERTHROW. MI5, largely responsible for the XX Committee, which was not judged ready for large deception exercises, casually condoned the creation of the rival unit. MI6 was in fact the impetus behind this new initiative, wanting to use its own ‘double agents’ to spread confusion. Under this scheme, Henri Déricourt was recruited and trained for the role of enabling landing-areas for SOE flights from Britain into France.

The Status of SOE:

In its two years of existence, SOE had enjoyed a chequered history. Its first minister responsible, the controversial and ebullient Hugh Dalton, had caused ripples because of his strident left-wing plans for ‘revolution’ in Europe, but had been replaced by the calmer and pragmatic Lord Selborne in February 1942. The chief of SOE, Frank Nelson, was burned out through overwork, and was replaced in May 1942 by Charles Hambro, whose geniality covered up for the fact that he was still very occupied with managing Great Western Railways.

Charles Hambro

SOE had enemies on all sides. It was resented by MI6, since its noisy exploits drew Nazi attention and interfered with intelligence-gathering. The Foreign Office objected to its political initiatives, especially when they involved de Gaulle and his Free French aspirations. The governments-in-exile frequently were disturbed by its interference in their respective countries. The Army was suspicious of its pseudo-military exploits not always under the control of proper discipline. RAF and Bomber Command saw its demands for air support as a drain on scarce resources needed elsewhere. MI5 disparaged its lax approach to security. The Chiefs of Staff never really understood what it was up to. But Prime Minister Churchill was a constant champion, and defended it from the attacks.

Moreover, the management structure of SOE was frequently inadequate, even dysfunctional. Hambro was not a full-time leader. He appointed Colin Gubbins as Director of Operations, but not all the country sections came under Gubbins’ control. Gubbins was nevertheless overworked, and brought in supposedly ‘able’ officers from outside (e.g. Brook, Dodds-Parker, Grierson, Wilkinson, Mockler-Ferryman, Stawell, Templer) but they all took time to find their feet, and perhaps never really understood what was going on. Many country sections resented being guided by military men who did not understand what they were doing (and perhaps some of those section heads lacked a full grasp of what their missions involved.) SOE in Cairo was an outlier, reporting to local Army headquarters, not SOE in London. While Gubbins had experience of sabotage, he was reportedly much more interested in the building of patriot forces to aid the eventual re-entry into North West Europe. The three biographies of Gubbins that have been written all present him as something of a hero. He was indeed a brave and intelligent officer, and an inspirational leader, but the security disasters took place under his watch, and he was not alive enough to the perils of subterfuge, the exposures that were caused by carelessness, and the misuse of intelligence. He failed to develop a flexible and nuanced strategy for dealing with resistance forces that encompassed both the shifts in military policy and the realities on the ground, where the characteristics of each country (distance, terrain, politics, culture) were markedly different.

1. January: Decisions at Casablanca

The end of 1942 had seen the London Controlling Section issue a Deception Policy Statement for the winter. It was issued on December 27 by John Bevan’s deputy, Ronald Wingate, as Bevan was in the USA, and consisted of a rather woolly policy, reflecting a still fuzzy declaration of intent from the Chiefs of Staff. Stating that the Axis ‘probably appreciates that we cannot attempt a large scale invasion of France and the Low Countries till the summer of 1943’, it stressed a short-term exaggeration of Allied strength in the United Kingdom, and for preparations for an assault on the Continent, as if an attempt could be made in the spring. It also set out an objective of forcing the Axis to withdraw land and air forces from the Russian front, indicating the pressure felt from Stalin at the time. But it was a dog’s breakfast of a deception policy: how the Axis would be misled by such a feint is not explained.

In any case, the initiative was overtaken by other happenings. The dominant event in January 1943 was the CASABLANCA Conference, held from January 14th to the 24th. Of the ‘Big Three’, only Roosevelt and Churchill attended: Stalin declined on the grounds that he had to stay in Russia to deal with the Battle of Stalingrad. Yet he always avoided travelling by airplane, leaving the Soviet Union only once during the war (to attend the Teheran Conference), and he may well have feared a palace coup if he were absent from Moscow for too long. The objectives of the Conference were to set military priorities for the rest of the war, and to discuss several diplomatic issues – presumably the type of clarity in objectives that the LCS was thirsting for.

Alan Brooke, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, and his team were well-prepared to impress upon their American counterparts the correctness of the Mediterranean focus, the preference for invading Sicily rather than Sardinia, and the necessity of delaying any re-entry into North-West Europe until 1944. Brooke won most of his arguments, assisted by the diplomacy of his predecessor, Sir John Dill. Yet the final communiqués, simplified around the themes of the Mediterranean assault, the continuation of saturation bombing, and President Roosevelt’s bolt-from-the-blue declaration about ‘unconditional surrender’ masked some internal arguments that continued to fester.

The prime irritation was Churchill’s continued pleas for engagements that would satisfy Stalin, even though Brooke and his counterpart General George Marshall, the US Chief of Staff, argued for a tougher line on the Soviet leader, urging that he not be placated out of political necessity, a judgment that would later be shown to be deeply ironic. Thus Churchill raised the spectres of ROUNDUP (the original plan for a full assault on Northern France that would morph into OVERLORD) and SLEDGEHAMMER (a limited invasion), even though, given that it had been decided by then that any entry to the continent would have to be fully committed and irreversible, the two operations should have been merged into one. At the back of the planners’ minds was the notion that it made sense to maintain a hope for a decisive entry into France if the Germans showed signs of weakness or deteriorating morale. Such phrases turn up regularly in War Cabinet minutes, but the signs are never quantified, and they could be interpreted merely as a gesture towards Churchill.

The issue of how broadly the decision that the ‘re-entry’ could not occur until 1944 was communicated, and when it was seriously internalized, is vitally important. The first sentence of Roger Hesketh’s Fortitude, written in 1945, runs: ‘The decision to invade France in 1944 was taken at the Casablanca Conference in January 1943’, but the initial statements from the Chiefs of Staff did not echo such a resolute message, which was to some an inconvenient truth. At this stage, deliberate waffle and evasion seemed to be the order of the day. When Soviet Ambassador Maisky spoke to Eden at the end of the month, Eden, having read the cables from Churchill (who had travelled on to Turkey) could not shed light on any firm decision about the Second Front. Alan Brooke, in his diary entry for January 22, clearly believed that his Mediterranean strategy (and thus a deferral for NW France) had been accepted, but soon understood that the nay-sayers started working as soon as the meetings broke up.

Thus some rather equivocal resolutions were made that belied the decision to defer the assault until 1944: ‘plans for entry into continental Europe in 1943 and 1944 should be drawn up’; ‘first requirement for amphibious operations in 1943 from UK will be to appoint a British Chief of Staff, and Combined Planning Staff ‘ ; ‘amphibious operations from UK in 1943 will consist of a) raids b) operations to seize bridgehead c) return to continent to take advantage of German disintegration’. August 1 was set for (b), in the Cotentin peninsula. What would happen if the bridgehead failed, and the forces were pushed back into the sea, was not discussed. On January 29, the Chiefs of Staff instructed Bevan to prepare ‘strategic deception plans’ in light of the newly made decisions, a directive that would cause the head of the London Controlling Section to withdraw his December 6 policy statement.

Churchill also requested the creation of a paper for Stalin that would express firm intentions rather than vague promises. A wording of sorts was thus compiled, reading as follows:

We shall also concentrate in the United Kingdom the maximum American land and air forces that shipping will permit. These, combined with the British forces in the United Kingdom, will be held in constant readiness to re-enter the Continent of Europe as soon as this operation offers reasonable prospect of success.

Stalin, ploughing forces against the Germans with no regard for loss of life, would surely have found this strategy far too timid and cautious. In any case, the Joint Intelligence Committee took issue with the statement, which underwent several revisions before being transmitted to Stalin in February. Impatient for news, Stalin sent on January 30 a telegram to Roosevelt and Churchill seeking elucidation on Second Front policy.

According to Robert Marshall, Churchill, despite being embarrassed by Roosevelt’s sudden call for ‘unconditional surrender’, then made a blunder of his own, stating to the Press on January 19 that an invasion of Europe would occur within nine months. To support his claim, in All The King’s Men Robert Marshall quotes words from Charles Wighton’s Pin-Stripe Saboteur. Yet that memoir, written by Jacques Weil (number 2 in the JUGGLER network of F section) under a nom de plume, includes no such passage. The work is moreover confusing and unreliable, since it merges the characters of Worms, the network leader, and Weil into one agent known as ROBIN. If such a statement had been made, the Press and Churchill’s opposition in the House of Commons would surely not have let him forget it. Maybe this was an item of oral testimony that Marshall picked up. Yet E. H. Cookridge echoes (or is the source of) this story in his Inside SOE (p 209), where he writes, of the Prime Minister in January: “The Prime Minister spoke of an invasion of Europe within nine months.”

As far as the implications for SOE were concerned, Brooke did have a message for the group, hinting at concealed mistakes in the past, and perhaps suggesting a shake-up:

Plans must envisage making the maximum use of S.O.E. activities and that these activities must be closely coordinated with the military operations proposed. This has not always been done in the past.  

The irregularities in SOE to which Brooke was referring were not revealed. Nor was it made explicit how and when this message was communicated to the Minister responsible for SOE, Lord Selborne, to the SOE Chief, Charles Hambro or (as I suspect may have happened by now) Hambro’s successor and perhaps co-leader, Colin Gubbins. (Frank Rymills, one of SOE’s pilots, states in his memoir that Gubbins was already SOE chief in November 1942, an assertion of fact that is tantalizingly reinforced by Gubbins’ own War Record file at the National Archives.) Nevertheless, new directives were issued to SOE on January 22 which Buckmaster, the head of F Section, in his in-house history written in 1945 (HS 7/121), translated into the following objectives:

a) the sabotage of the German war effort by every means available;

b) the full support of the CARTE organisation as long as its potentialities continued to justify such support.

This was a strange interpretation, since the first objective was dangerously unqualified, and the focus on the discredited CARTE organisation was simply erratic and irresponsible. By this time, SOE management realized that the claims made about the potential of CARTE had been grossly exaggerated, and they suspected that it had been penetrated by the Germans, as indeed it had. For Buckmaster to focus on CARTE indicates either that he was entirely in the dark, or that he was being deliberately obtuse, perhaps to switch attention away from the PROSPER network, the reputation of which was much stronger at the time.

The role of Gubbins in this scenario is critical, as he would seem to be the officer at the nexus of the three nodes of operation: 1) the involvement of SOE personnel in Bevan’s deception plans; 2) the management of SOE as a sabotage organization; and 3) the close liaison with the Chiefs of Staff to ensure co-ordination with military strategy. Thus his movements and decisions are of vital importance.

Irrespective of his precise appointment in September 1942, Gubbins may well have been present at the Casablanca confabulations. In November, the SOE station known as MASSINGHAM had been established in Algiers, and Gubbins had flown out to sort out some of its problems on January 21, specifically to investigate SOE’s involvement in the assassination of Admiral Darlan. (According to Peter Wilkinson, in Gubbins & SOE, Gubbins spent six weeks in the area, yet the SOE War Diary at HS 7/286 has Gubbins attending a meeting on February 12 at the War Office to discuss overlap of responsibilities. His exact movements at this time have not been determined.) In his biography of Gubbins, SOE’s Mastermind, Brian Lett states that, around this time, Gubbins became the official SOE representative to the Chiefs of Staff, so it would have been entirely natural for him to be briefed by his close friend Brooke when he arrived. Moreover, Wilkinson writes that Gubbins had frequently attended Chiefs of Staff meeting on Nelson’s behalf, at the time when Brooke’s predecessor, Sir John Dill, was in the chair.

Thus it would appear that Gubbins, who (according to Rymills) had been given Déricourt’s curriculum vitae in November, was perfectly happy, while he was in Africa, to delegate key decisions on F Section to the Regional Controller for Western Europe, Robin Brook, and to the F section chief, Maurice Buckmaster, and allow Déricourt to perform whatever task had been set him. By then, Déricourt had been trained on procedures for handling Lysander and Hudson flights, and another pilot, Hugh Verity, who had become very friendly with the Frenchman, allowed him to take a flight in a Lysander in early January. Déricourt had in fact been prepared to be dropped into France at the end of December, but the bad weather caused a postponement for another month. In Buckmaster’s report on ‘drops and outcomes’ for this period, Déricourt is clearly identifiable as ‘One Lysander specialist’.

Lysander and Pilots

An explanation of aviation schedules is now probably appropriate. The Lysander was a small plane, with room for a single pilot only (thus no navigator), and space for three passengers (four at a squeeze). With an extra fuel-tank, it could achieve only about 500 miles on a round-trip. It had to fly at night, to avoid German attacks. It might seem counter-intuitive, but flights in the summer had to be curtailed because of the length of daylight hours, which put particular pressure on longer journeys (such as to Poland or Czechoslovakia, where Whitley bombers had to be used.) Moreover, the Lysander could carry out a mission only during the full-moon period, as the pilot needed to follow landmarks on the ground (rivers, roads, towns) to navigate: spending too many seconds looking at a map could be very dangerous. The pilot would look for flares in letter formation to confirm that the meeting-party was present and correct. Thus there was a window of only a week or so (Hugh Verity stretches it to a fortnight) each month when flights could be attempted. And heavy clouds were an obstacle that could not be overcome: an unpremeditated storm could cause havoc.

The next moon-period was on January 22, 1943, and Déricourt, now with the codename GILBERT, was flown over to France accompanied by Jean Worms, the leader of the JUGGLER circuit. Déricourt had an alias of Maurice Fabre, a name that he would soon drop, since his identity was well-known in Paris. Worms parachuted first, to be welcomed by a reception committee laid on by Francis Suttill (PROSPER), who had been in France for just under four months, and his courier, Andrée Borrel (DENISE). Rymills, their pilot that night, wrote: “Déricourt was dropped ‘blind’, that is without a reception committee and landed in a large field north of Orleans near Pithiviers.”

Most of Déricourt’s movements in January are probably not so significant: he made his way to Paris to seek out his mistress Julienne Asner, who was not at home; he caught a train to Reims, to visit his mother. The next day he returned to Paris to find Julienne at home, and then departed for Marseilles to pick up his wife. Then, soon after their return to Paris, probably at the end of January, Déricourt renewed his contact with the Sicherheitsdienst officer Karl Boemelburg.

Back in MI5, which had a mission to protect the realm against dubious entries and re-entries to the country, matters were moving slowly but steadily. Earlier in the month, in recognition of possible security exposures, Geoffrey Wethered had been appointed operational security liaison officer with SOE. By the end of the month, Wethered’s investigations had led to the discovery that Déricourt, with a questionable history, was reportedly working for SOE. As evidence of its vetting procedures, Guy Liddell had also noted, on January 13, that the W Board had decided to run Walenti (Garby-Czerniawski, another refugee from Nazi-controlled France) as double-agent BRUTUS, but not yet for deception purposes, confirming the still cautious and tentative policy with DAs.

The XX Committee, however, appeared to have been left out in the cold. In December, John Masterman, the chairman, had voiced his concerns about not receiving guidance from the LCS Controller, John Bevan, about his deception plans. Masterman nevertheless undermined his argument by again expressing the notion that deception was not the prime objective of DAs managed by his Committee – the meetings of which Bevan incidentally no longer attended, even though he was still a member. (Bevan sent his newly-appointed deputy, Major Wingate, in his place.) Four meetings of the XX Committee were held in January, but Bevan and his deception plans never received a mention. The only relevant reference appears to come on January 14, when Major Combe of MI11 says that the Inter-Service Security Board (LCS’s predecessor) has a deception order of battle which would shortly be handed over to the Controller! Masterman’s passivity is noteworthy.

Yet Bevan’s behaviour was already drawing other adverse reaction. ‘TAR’ Robertson, of B1A, as a member of Bevan’s TWIST committee, was moved to approach Guy Liddell to express his concerns about the Controller’s attitude towards deception. On January 23, Liddell wrote in his diary:

TAR is a little worried about the attitude of the Controller of Deception, who seems anxious to give directions in detail about the channels through which his information is to be passed. I said that I thought it was up to the Controller to state the nature of the information and the time when he wishes it to reach the enemy. He is entitled to know the grade of the agent who was to pass this information in order that he could assess the extent to which the information was likely to be believed. The rest of the business seemed to be a matter for us.

This seems a highly ingenuous observation by Liddell. He knew about Bevan’s rival TWIST committee, and he had downplayed the role that the XX Committee, and its DAs, could play in deception, as part of his tactic for boosting Bevan’s schemes. As he reflected on the exchange, Liddell may have missed the point – that Bevan was using MI6/SOE DAs as his medium, and Robertson was explicitly criticizing how Bevan treated them at TWIST gatherings.

2. February: Churchill’s Faux Pas

As instructed, John Bevan quickly presented his new Deception Policy for 1943, on February 2. He introduced it by declaring that it was based ‘on the SYMBOL [i.e. Casablanca] decisions’. Yet the reader might quickly conclude that Bevan had not received the major email concerning the 1944 decision, but was processing the diluted and vague directive given above, since his very arch comments on the North Western European Front ran as follows:

            Germany probably assumes that we cannot attempt a large-scale invasion of France and the Low Countries till the summer of 1943. Nevertheless she remains apprehensive, but owing to her heavy commitments elsewhere she must set upon that assumption.

Since the prime achievement of Brooke at Casablanca had been to convince the Americans that France could not be invaded until 1944, the idea that the ‘apprehensive’ Germans might not consider the invasion likely until the summer of 1943 might suggest a poor interpretation of intelligence. Yet Bevan persisted with the December assumptions: his deception plan was based around the notion that indications of enough strength to invade in July 1943 were practical, and would be adequate to convince the Germans that they should maintain considerable forces in Western Europe. He continued with the recommendations to support the ‘Object’ for the containment of enemy forces in western Europe (and I list these in full since it will be instructive to compare them with what the XX Committee later records):

            (i) Exaggerate Allied strength in the U.K., both in men and material, including the rate of the build-up of BOLERO.

            (ii) Carry out suitable dispositions of our forces to simulate invasion preparations.

            (iii) Initiate intensive invasion training.

            (iv) Accelerate our physical preparations (both real and by means of decoys and dummies) for a return to the Continent.

            (v) Indicate to the enemy that every available man and all possible resources are being mobilized for an attack across the Channel in conjunction with an assault on the south coast of France.

This design had problems. If Brooke approved it in principle (since he knew it had to be a feint), he must have had serious concerns as to how the Germans would be deceived, given the paucity of US and British troops available on mainland UK, and the lack of landing-craft. If Churchill approved it (since he still had aspirations of launching an attack on France in 1943), it would unnecessarily have alerted the German to a real operation. Moreover, the statement contained an existential paradox that colours all the proceedings of this period: if one of the goals was to keep German forces in Western Europe to help the Soviets, why would a re-entry to the Continent in 1943 ever be considered? Ignoring this dichotomy, Bevan added that the threat should be extended ‘over as wide an area as possible’, but his uncertainty was echoed in his comment on Timing:

            We should in the first instance indicate that the invasion will take place in July. This date will have to be postponed when the time comes and our activities will be continued until the end of September.

How the Germans would be taken in by this scheme is not explained. The problem was that Bevan could not devise a sturdy deception plan if he did not know what the real operational plan was. Nevertheless, according to Michael Howard, citing CAB 121/105, the Chiefs of Staff approved the plan on February 9. [The so-called ‘Minutes’ in the CAB 80 series rarely record decisions taken. As M. R. D. Foot described such a policy: ‘an admirable measure from the point of view of security, maddening though it is for historians’. In fact, decisions taken by the Chiefs of Staff are kept separate from the submitted papers and reports, and many can be found in the CAB 79/27 series.]

Churchill & Maisky

And then, the day after he returned from his Mediterranean journey, on February 8, Churchill had a meeting with Ivan Maisky, the Soviet Ambassador, at which he made a major gaffe. It is not always safe to rely on Maisky’s record of such meetings, since he tended to embellish them to suit his political cause, and his standing with Stalin, but the kernel of this encounter is probably true. Churchill, probably the worse for wear from drink, lamented to Maisky the fact that the Americans would not be able to supply the divisions required for the Channel assault later that year. As David Reynolds and Vladimir Pechatnov state: 

. . . the ambassador had captured the essence of the PM’s original draft message to Stalin – which the Americans had tried to conceal. As with most of Maisky’s important cables, copies of his report – sent on the evening of 9 February – were distributed to all Politburo members. After reading it, the Soviet leadership would have had little confidence in the ‘information’ on Allied strategy for 1943 that Churchill provided later that day in the sanitized telegram.

The official telegram to Stalin (massaged by the JIC after the Casablanca offering) included the following text:

            We are also pushing operations to the limit of our resources for a cross-Channel operation in August, in which both British and US units would participate. Here again, shipping and assault-landing craft will be limiting factors. If the operation is delayed by the weather or other reasons, it will be prepared with stronger forces for September. The timing of the attack must, of course, be dependent upon the condition of German defensive possibilities across the Channel at the time.

It is almost beyond belief to think that the Joint Intelligence Committee and the Chiefs of Staff approved such a mendacious and weaselly communication. Stalin’s response was surprisingly temperate – and he did not deign to make invidious comparisons between the horrors of Russian winters and troublesome summer storms in the English Channel.

Alan Brooke

Brooke did not seem unduly alarmed about the mixed messages: maybe he had not read the detailed directives. He customarily spent most of the time he had free in fishing, shooting fowl (grouse, partridges and pheasants, depending upon the season), watching birds, and performing carpentry.  He recorded most Chiefs of Staff meetings in February as ‘dull’. Churchill was sick with pneumonia for the rest of the month, and Roosevelt had also fallen ill. But the Allied capacity for self-deception more than enemy deception was crystallized in two almost simultaneous messages – one from Roosevelt to Stalin, and the second recorded by Brooke in his diary. On February 22, Roosevelt wrote to Stalin as follows:

            I understand the importance of a military effort on the Continent of Europe at the earliest practicable date in order to reduce Axis resistance to your heroic army, and you may be sure that the American war effort will be projected on to the Continent of Europe at as an early a date subsequent to success in North Africa as transportation facilities can be provided by our maximum effort.

On February 25, Brooke posted:

            Am very worried by way in which Americans are failing to live up to our Casablanca agreements. They are entirely breaking down over promises of American divisions to arrive in this country.

This was a dismal situation that could not last. How could the American and British leaders carry on a proper plan to deceive the enemy over their operations if they had no coherent understanding of what they were embarking on themselves, and felt that they had to deceive their other Ally?

The ambiguous information from Casablanca trickled down through informal channels, as well. On February 8, Guy Liddell recorded what one McDermott told him about the conference. If this note represents the highlights, however, it does not suggest a comprehensive account:

            McDermott tells me that at the Casablanca Conference it was decided (1) that convoys should have more escort since as a rule only ships outside the convoy got caught;(2) that bombing of U-Boat bases, factories, oil installations, aircraft factories and Berlin should take priority; (3) details about plan HUSKEY [sic]. [The source was presumably Geoffrey McDermott, sometime Foreign Office Adviser to MI6.]

This was clearly not enough to guide any new activities with DAs. If Liddell had been told more, he discreetly left it out of his diary. It would take a while for the implications of the decisions taken to be made available for the Security Service.

Meanwhile, the XX Committee had started to try to re-energize its own activities, although at first without any apparent further guidance. Plan MINCEMEAT (the planting of papers on a corpse for the Spaniards/Germans to find) was discussed on February 4, and it was resolved that ‘Major Wingate should put the plan before Colonel Bevan in order to obtain approval from the D’s of P [the Directors of Plans]’. And then, on February 25, the minutes refer to a revealing correspondence with Bevan. Wingate introduced it by saying that:

            Although the general deception policy had not yet been approved by the combined Chiefs of Staff, authority had been obtained to begin the implementation of such policy in anticipation that approval would be obtained.

This was an extraordinary statement, in more than one way. There was surely no fresh policy emanating from the LCS since the February 2 document, so why would the indication be given that it was not yet approved? Was Bevan himself the ‘authority? Given the audience, timing and specificity, this was a very significant event. The text of the policy statement went on as follows:

            (i) We are to threaten the Germans and Italians on all possible fronts.

            (ii) We are to exaggerate our strength and ability to undertake major operations in all possible theatres but, in particular, in France and the Balkans.

            (iii) We are to threaten Norway, both in the Spring and, possibly, again in the Autumn and we are, where possible, to indicate that an attack will be launched from Iceland as well as from this country.

            (iv) We are to exaggerate the rate of build-up of Bolero.

            (v) We are to indicate to the enemy that every available man and every available resource are being mobilized for an attack across the channel, the actual objective to cover as wide an area as possible.

            (vi) We are to attempt to bring the German Air Force into battle.

            (vii) We are to attempt to contain U-Boats in the North Atlantic (it was suggested that this could be best achieved by the building up of Bolero.)

            (viii) The Mediterranean policy was entirely in the hands of Colonel Dudley Clarke but the probability was that its objective would be to contain troops in southern France and the Balkans.

            (ix) No indication is to be given that the Allied nations are considering any threat to neutral countries.

This directive excited the committee, who focused first on the need to exaggerate the number of troops in the country (BOLERO). But the text is quite remarkable. It contains passages from Bevan’s paper of early February (e.g. ‘every man and every available resource’), but it is clearly a re-packaging and much bolder expansion of Bevan’s original ideas. Moreover, it is a clear statement of deception without any indication of the operation that it is designed to conceal. The implicit message is: ‘we do not have enough resources to launch a major assault to the continent in 1943 but must convince the enemy otherwise’. It would be hard to interpret the instructions as indicating that the prospect of a 1943 re-entry was solid. Thus it seems unlikely that Churchill authorized it, as he at this stage was still optimistic that such an attack could become a reality – unless he himself was helping to design a major deception operation to aid the Russians. Who could possibly have engineered this, and given it the mask of ‘authority’, if the policy itself had not been approved? Either Howard was wrong about the previous approval, or this statement was considered different enough to require a separate process of sign-off. (This important anomaly can be explained by Wingate’s reference to the ‘combined Chiefs of Staff’, namely the inclusion of the USA body. This was resolved only after the passing of several weeks – as I explain below.)

Masterman himself is not of much help. In his coverage of the period in The Double-Cross System, he never refers to the Casablanca Conference, and summarises deception for 1943 in the following words: “The basic idea of the deception policy during 1943 up to the beginning of the winter was to ‘contain the maximum enemy forces in western Europe and the Mediterranean area and thus discourage their transfer to the Russian front’”, not an idea that appears in the minutes of the February 25 meeting, an event that Masterman overlooks in his book, but more suggestive of the March directive (see below). It does, however, constitute a profound retrospective echo to the major theme of deception policy at that time, although the emphasis has subtly changed from ‘forcing the Germans to transfer troops from the Russian front’ (Bevan) to ‘discouraging transfer to the Russian front’.

Masterman incidentally also inserts the correct (but in the circumstances somewhat sophistical) observation that:

            The cover or deception plan cannot be devised until the real plan is communicated at least in outline to those in control of deception, and then in turn the cover plan has to be accepted and approved.

Very true. Yet the XX Committee was working in the dark: it had to guess what the real plan was, and it was encouraged to initiate its own activities before the cover plan had been approved. It was all very irregular.

Lionel Hale

What is noteworthy, however, is that the facts of the feint were now known by all fourteen attendees of the XX Committee – and surely by the members of the TWIST Committee, including Lionel Hale of SOE. Hale had been appointed head of the Press Propaganda section at SOE in July 1942. (One might question why SOE, which was a very clandestine organisation, and worked under cover as the Inter-Services Research Bureau, even had a Press Propaganda section. It certainly engaged in ‘black’ wireless propaganda, but which print media it was able to exploit, and how, is a topic for another time.) The critical question then becomes: at what level was this information disseminated within SOE? Why would Hale have been indoctrinated into the deception campaign, but not Buckmaster?

A few commentators have used these events to suggest that some of the exploits in France were simply early manifestations of later policy. For example, Marnham, West, and Cruickshank have suggested that aspects of the COCKADE deception plan were executed early in 1943. That is, however, strictly a misrepresentation. There were common facets in the half-baked initiatives that Bevan distributed in February, and in the official COCKADE plans that were not drafted until late April and approved in June, as I shall explain next month, but the deception plan had in the interim changed. For instance, Marnham writes: “The deception plans laid by the LCS in February were now given the name COCKADE.” That cannot be strictly true. The February plan had to be revised, and the new conception was not approved until the end of March. COCKADE was based on different assumptions.

Thus granting the COCKADE moniker to any maverick initiatives in February, with their paucity of specific detail, and their obvious lack of authorization, incorrectly suggests that they had a (premature) seal of approval. And their timing suggests that they may have been prompted by some other trigger. Last but not least of all, SOE was not viewed by the Chiefs of Staff as a medium for deception at this time: it was a sabotage organization. The War Cabinet’s recognition that resistance groups might be employed as agents of deception was not formally recorded until July 18, although of course the idea may well have come from Bevan and his SOE/MI6 sponsors.

One has to consider the role of Maurice Buckmaster, the head of F Section, and how much he knew. He added a very controversial comment about these early 1943 initiatives in his in-house history. One cannot rely on this production very closely: it was written just after the end of the war, when the objective was clearly to show the activities of F Section in the best light. It contains several untruths, of which Buckmaster’s narrative about PROSPER is probably the most egregious. He claimed that PROSPER (Suttill, then known as PHYSICIAN) had been active in the spring and summer of 1942, and added that ’PHYSICIAN proved a real menace to the enemy – so much so that his elimination and the dispersal of his groups became Gestapo Task No.1.’ Yet Suttill did not land in France for the first time until October 1942. Buckmaster’s clumsy observation was presumably to suggest that Suttill’s problems had started way before the misadventures of Déricourt.

Thus one has to take Buckmaster’s assertions about what F Section knew at the time with a grain of salt. After describing a clash between CARTE (André Girard, the eponymous leader of the circuit) and LOUBA (Henri Frager), and then reporting success with sabotage, but also the treachery of Grandclément (an agent ‘turned’ by the Nazis, and later shot by the Resistance), Buckmaster wrote:

            It is important to realize that the seeds of the brilliant success of French resistance in June 1944 were sown in late 1942 – early 1943. Had we been able to increase the scale of delivery of arms and explosives, we could have set the machine in motion earlier if, on the military side, preparations had been completed earlier. In early 1943 we were, of course, working completely in the dark as to the eventual date of the return to the Continent, and. consequently, we chafed against delays and difficulties which turned out in the end not to have vitally affected the issue, because the invasion could not have been staged earlier than it was.

Note the evasive form of Buckmaster’s statement: does ‘we’ signify SOE in general, senior SOE officers, F Section officers, or the whole of F Section? And why ‘of course’ – as if being kept unilluminated was standard operating procedure? ‘Working completely in the dark’: if true (and one must question it), that was not a good atmosphere for carrying out subversion exercises that were well co-ordinated with military strategy. Yet it suggests that at some stage after those ‘early’ days in 1943, SOE had been enlightened as to the D-Day date, and its policies should therefore have been revised to reflect the new reality (see below, for March). If, as everyone else appeared to understand, the purpose of the current deception policy was to divert German forces from the Russian front, why would the Allies want to consider a re-entry to France in 1943?

Indeed, other evidence suggests that SOE’s senior management clearly understood what was going on. Peter Wilkinson (who, after all, worked there with Gubbins, supervising the Polish, German, Austrian and Czech sections) wrote in Gubbins & SOE:

            It was no secret in Baker Street that the British planners had tacitly accepted a long ago as October, 1942, that there was no prospect of undertaking a major cross-Channel invasion in 1943. Consequently SOE’s French sections were counting on at least twelve months in which to lay their plans.

This is quite extraordinary, and as an assessment of pre-Casablanca thinking, very premature, and thus rather untrustworthy. (I note that the same Peter Wilkinson, in Foreign Fields, wrote on page 127 that ‘In the autumn of 1942 our plans were based on the assumption that an invasion of the Continent would take place during the summer of 1943.’ So much for reliable memoirs.) Yet, if a colleague controlling another set of sections knew that fact, but the head of the French section was in ignorance, it points to some serious dysfunction. Moreover, ‘it was known in Baker Street’. How could Buckmaster not have learned about the delay, especially if a brother-officer had been aware of the French section’s plans?

Yet elsewhere, Wilkinson wrote, in apparent confirmation of the above chaos:

            When the Chiefs of Staff’s directives were received by CD, security demanded that their distribution should be severely restricted and their contents bowdlerized. No particular importance seems to have been attached to ensuring that these directives were brought to the notice of country section heads with the force of an imperative.

We have to recall, however, that Wilkinson’s account of the years 1943-1944 was guided by David Stafford’s book on European Resistance and by the assistance of the ‘SOE adviser’ in the Foreign Office, as the author admits he had no direct access to SOE files for this period. This is unstable ground. Wilkinson’s ‘authorized’ biography of Gubbins has only two entries for Buckmaster, and none for Suttill, Bodington or Déricourt, which is simply shocking.

It is evident that, by mid-1945, Buckmaster had been apprised of the reality of earlier invasion plans for 1944. Given the destruction of his major network, with concomitant loss of life, was he not entitled to have felt grossly betrayed if that were so? Maybe he was told to smother his despair. Moreover, his assessment of the situation is not sharp. It consists of an illogical and twisted betrayal of how subversion was supposed to be co-ordinated with, and subordinate to, military plans, and reflects confusion over the perennial problem of how scattered guerilla operatives were going to be converted into effective paramilitary units. A machine of sorts was nevertheless already in motion, and not restrained.

I shall resume the matter of Buckmaster’s equivocation later, and simply cite here what Buckmaster stated when provoked in 1958 by Dame Irene Ward’s motion tabled in the House of Commons, following the publication of the books by Jean Overton Fuller and Elizabeth Nicholas that laid bare some of the problems in F Section. Referring to Churchill’s supposed slogan of ‘Set Europe Ablaze’, Buckmaster wrote:

            But it was obvious that the conflagration must be controlled; it must be kept dormant until it could be supported and play its full part in the military operation of a return to the Continent.

Henri Déricourt was inactive in February – at least as far as flights and parachutists were concerned. But the process of arming French civilians began apace that month, although the authorised historian misrepresents the facts. After his statement that the Chiefs of Staff had approved Bevan’s plans on February 9, Howard wrote: “Then there was a long pause. No serious measures of deception could be undertaken until operations themselves had been determined, and about these operations nobody, with the exception of the Prime Minister, was enthusiastic.” (This is a bizarre presentation of events, given that Churchill was the outlier, and Howard’s logic misrepresents the relationship between operations and deception.) Yet in some areas there was no ‘long pause’. In anticipation somewhat of the coming disaster, but as a way of capturing the contemporaneous dynamics of the situation, I quote a passage from William Mackenzie’s ‘Secret History of SOE’:

            About February 1943 Antelme put de Baissac in touch with Grandclément, who claimed to have at Bordeaux 3,000 men organized by OCM. This association appeared to bear very rapid fruit. By the middle of 1943 the ‘Scientist’ circuit claimed to be able to mobilise 17,000 men, and it received 121 air supply operations between November 1942 and August 1943 – including inter alia 7,500 Stens, 300 Brens and 1,500 rifles. This was a big affair – too big in any case to survive intact until a D-Day so far distant as June 1944. The disaster came in September 1943 when Grandclément was arrested in Paris and was effectively ‘turned’ by the Gestapo: on grounds of conscience, so he claimed, because the real enemy was Communism and it could be fought effectively only with German aid. Whether sincere or not, the theory was disastrously convenient to the whole German scheme of political warfare: and its immediate consequence was the betrayal by Grandclément of the whole circuit and the loss of its rich store of arms.

Mackenzie focuses attention on Grandclément rather than the larger disaster of PROSPER, but the facts are clear. The French Resistance was preparing for an imminent invasion, and it started before Bevan’s plan had been approved by the Combined Chiefs of Staff. What needs to be established is whether anyone in SOE really thought that this mobilization exercise was a prelude to invasion, or, if not, why they continued to execute a project that was both unauthorized and inherently catastrophic. While it was true that proper deception could not take place until operations were determined, some activities seemed to be going ahead that were in contravention of what was the intended scheme. 

3. March: SOE Receives its Directive

March started off in disarray. It is difficult to detect a strategic pattern in the actions and pronouncements of the primary agents. The Chiefs of Staff appeared to be focused on the situation in Yugoslavia, and judged that SOE needed to be provided with six Halifax bombers to help supply Mihailović. They also approved an extraordinary request to release 1,800 Sten guns and 700,000 rounds of ammunition to SOE ‘for SOE’s own activities’ – which were left unspecified. At the same time, Churchill expressed concern at the potential delays in executing HUSKY, and confided to his chief staff officer, Hastings ‘Pug’ Ismay, that SLEDGEHAMMER (in 1943) and BOLERO might have to suffer instead. This may have prompted Brooke to suggest that the appointment of a Chief of Staff for Cross-Channel Operations could be deferred. Yet he was overruled, and on March 9, the Chiefs decided they needed to appoint such a Supreme Commander.

The mission for COSSAC (Chief of Staff to the Supreme Allied Commander – the latter not yet having been appointed) was, however, couched in the old language of carrying out ‘raids’ and forming ‘beachheads’, ‘bridgeheads’ and ‘lodgements’ in Northwest France, with a goal set for essaying one such venture in the Cotentin peninsula on August 1, 1943. (The problem with beachheads was that, as at Anzio, they tended to stay on the beach for too long.) The text continued: ‘and to exploit success if German morale and resources permit, then prepare for a full-scale assault in spring of 1944’. De Gaulle was also restive, provoked by the deportation of French workers to the Reich to demand immediate delivery of arms and food to the ‘French army’.

Alan Brooke consequently met with Jean Moulin and General Delestraint, head of de Gaulle’s ‘army’, who were informed of a possible bridgehead that autumn. We owe it to Patrick Marnham, who uses valuable French sources, for an account of their exchanges. Delestraint made an impassioned case for sending equipment to the ‘50,000 paratroopers on the ground’, apparently constituted from the ‘thousands of fugitives from the French police’ who had fled to the hills after the German deportation order. Marnham describes a second encounter on March 10 as follows:

            They were told that although the Allies did not intend to carry out landings in France before the end of the year, there remained ‘the possibility of establishing a bridgehead on French soil before the autumn of 1943’. Both ‘Vidal’(Delestraint) and ‘Rex’ (Moulin) took that rather vague suggestion seriously, but in doing so they were thoroughly misled.

This was somewhat cowardly behaviour from Brooke, trying to get the Frenchmen off his back. He knew by then that the strategy was to draw more German forces into France during 1943, so why would he raise hopes that a ‘bridgehead’ might not only take place, but might lead to greater things?

Yet it was Hambro himself who tried to apply a restraining hand. As Olivier Wieworka notes in his The Resistance in Western Europe, 1940-1945, Hambro wrote to Brooke on March 16, warning of the danger of uncontrolled uprisings and ‘the danger of premature outbreaks in France owing to the repressive measures taken by the Germans in connection with the relève [the program to repatriate French POWs in exchange for workers who volunteer to go to the Reich]’ adding:  “We are doing our best to persuade the Fighting French to damp down these movements as far as possible.” Many in the French Resistance had been encouraged by the invasion of North Africa to believe that France would soon be next, and the communists were applying pressure in their strategy of continuous aggression. Brooke also records a meeting with Hambro on the last day of the month, where Hambro complained to him about the degree to which the Foreign Office was interfering in SOE’s activities. The nature of the ‘interference’, and the way in which Brooke (who notoriously refused to get involved with the politicians) might intercede in such matters, is not stated. It probably did not concern de Gaulle, since both SOE and the Foreign Office had a heightened distaste for the antics of the Free French leader.

A dose of more official cold water was soon poured on capacious plans for ‘re-entry’ to Europe in 1943. At a meeting of the Chiefs of Staff on March 5, BOLERO had been pushed down the list of priorities, behind HUSKY, assistance to Turkey, and the planned re-capture of Burma. At this stage the group realized that any 1943 cross-Channel operation would have to rely entirely on British resources, and thus would massively increase the risks. On March 11, Churchill wrote to Stalin:

            With regard to the attack across the Channel, it is the earnest wish of the President and myself that our troops should be in the general battle in Europe which you are fighting with such astounding prowess. But in order to sustain the operations in North Africa, the Pacific, and India, and to carry supplies to Russia, the import programme into the United Kingdom has been cut to the bone and we have eaten, and are eating into, reserves. However, in case the enemy should weaken sufficiently we are preparing to strike earlier than August, and plans are kept alive from week to week. If he does not weaken, a premature attack with inferior and insufficient forces would merely lead to a bloody repulse.

            Bridgehead Revisited, one might say. A touch more realistic, but still a very deceitful and equivocal message about German strength and its possible deterioration, the aggregation of US and British forces, and the chances of a ‘strike’ in the summer. Not Churchill’s finest hour.

Frederick Morgan

All this rather chaotic set of events must have prompted the Chiefs of Staff to take a firm re-assessment of the situation. On March 13, the name of Lt.-Col. Frederick Morgan was approved as COSSAC, and Morgan immediately tried to bring some structure to operations. On March 20, a fresh directive for SOE was issued by the Chiefs, and at the end of the month, the special sub-committee on patriot forces (which had been established as far back as December 4, 1942, but for some reason had been dilatory in completing its work) reported its findings, attempting to bring organization to the nature and capabilities of the resistance forces.

While Morgan’s memorandum added some much needed realism by pointing out how more complex the issue of landing vast amounts of troops in France was than engaging in land battles, it is the new instructions to SOE that are of more importance here. The text, from CAB 80/68, also available in the SOE War Diaries, is included as an Appendix in David Stafford’s Britain and European Resistance 1940-1945, and is significant for several reasons:

i) It for the first time regularised the definitions of ‘Resistance Groups’ and ‘Patriot Forces’, the former consisting of ‘secret armies’ and ‘sabotage groups’ working behind enemy lines, and the latter ‘any forces which may be embodied in areas liberated by our armies’.

ii) It reinforced the need for subversive activity to be tightly woven with strategy and operational plans.

iii) It reminded SOE of its need to liaise closely with the PWE (the Political Warfare Executive) and SIS in the realm of intelligence gathering.

iv) It stressed the necessary focus on sabotage, and the curtailment of any activities that did not support the January 19 and 23 strategy papers.

v) It pointed out that guerrilla activities should be aimed at diverting German pressure from Russia, and hindering the consolidation of German forces on the Eastern Front during April, May and June.

vi) As far as France was concerned, it stated that ‘with the ultimate object of invading north-west Europe, it has been decided to assemble the strongest possible forces (subject to certain prior commitments to other theatres) in the United Kingdom to be held in constant readiness to re-enter the Continent as soon as German resistance has weakened to the required extent’.

vi) It hinted at arming resistance groups by advising that ‘you should direct a special effort towards supplying the resistance groups in France with the means of enabling them to play an active part when they are required to do so in support of Allied strategy.’

vii) France was given a priority lower than that of The Italian Islands, Corsica and Crete and The Balkans, but above the rest of Europe.

I find this a confused and confusing paper. (It was signed by Portal of the RAF, Pound of the Royal Navy, and Brooke’s deputy, Nye, Brooke being sick with influenza at the time: one wonders whether Brooke would have allowed such waffle to be drafted.) In what way is it a mess? It emphasizes strategy papers dating from January, when plans for a full assault in 1943 had already been overtaken by events, requiring the cut-back in BOLERO. It thus dangerously dissembles about the level of commitment currently being made to the assembly of forces in the United Kingdom. Its acceptance of the policy that pockets of resistance groups engaged in occasional sabotage, yet individually tied to their domiciles, could be quickly be reorganized into military forces contradicts what experts were concluding elsewhere. It surely does not explain how SOE could confidently make assessments about the diversion of German forces from the Eastern Front, or why ‘guerrilla activities’ would in themselves provoke a massive transfer of such. It fails to show enough imagination to consider how the morale of guerrillas might be affected if they knew that their activities were designed to attract more Nazi attention as opposed to accelerating the arrival of Allied forces. It leaves a highly ambiguous directive about arming resistance groups in France in preparation for a military role in the event of the re-entry while also lowering France’s priority in the larger scheme of things. It reflects some serious self-delusion in transferring the notion of the role of ‘resistance’ from native French citizens to the avowedly stronger forces of the German army. Yet the overwhelming conclusion is that no instructions are given to the effect that SOE should be involved with deceptive operations in parallel with subversive activity.  As a matter of protocol, SOE was invited to ‘prepare an appreciation’ on how well it could deliver against these rather muddled objectives.

Incidentally, I believe that Robert Marshall seriously misrepresents this document, and its effect on SOE. He writes (on page 126 of All The King’s Men) that the paper

              . . .went on to say that SOE should concentrate its efforts to support the Allied strategy for the war, which as to defeat Germany in 1943  . . .   At Baker Street they began to roll up their sleeves and spit on their hands. The directive came as the clearest signal yet that 1943 would at last be the year of the return to Europe.

The document says nothing about defeating Germany in 1943, nor does it make any suggestion about a ‘return to Europe’, apart from a very explicit statement about the planned offensive action in Italy that year, in support of which SOE is instructed to provide sabotage in Corsica, and assist revolt against Italy’s fascist government. The directive implicitly ordains that SOE should be focused on sabotage and guerrilla warfare ‘rather than on preparations for future secret army uprisings’, as David Stafford sagely points out. The atmosphere at Baker Street described by Marshall is totally antithetical to that presented by Wilkinson.

Douglas Dodds-Parker

Douglas Dodds-Parker, who was responsible for flight operations at Tempsford and Tangmere until Grierson took over in the summer of 1942, was rather dismissive of such directives, writing in Setting Europe Ablaze (p 54):

            The nature of clandestine survival and supply in face of ruthless Nazi/Fascist/Communist repression was little understood by those in high authority, and only just discovered by those charged with putting the directives into practice who had to cope with the non-existence of adequate lightweight transmitters, of essential false papers, of aircraft in competition with demands from Bomber Command.

On the matter of whom exactly he had in mind, when referring to ‘those in high authority’, the Chiefs of Staff, or his own bosses in SOE, Nelson, Hambro and Gubbins, Dodds-Parker is, perhaps diplomatically, silent.

On March 6, Hambro had announced the retirement of the rather anonymous Mr. Hanbury Williams, and promoted Gubbins to be his senior deputy, declaring that Gubbins ‘in my absence will be the Acting Head of S.O.E.’, and thus intimating that Hambro himself would become even less involved in the day-to-day business of SOE. It was clearly now up to Gubbins to interpret the latest directives. At the end of the month he appointed Colonel Eric Mockler-Ferryman as head of North-Western Europe, thus introducing an additional layer of management between himself, Brook, and the country sections. (Mockler-Ferryman had been an Army intelligence officer in North Africa, and had taken the blame for an intelligence failure that was not his fault.) One would expect Gubbins to have discussed the new instructions with his subordinates, and work out the implications for the country sections. Yet what is extraordinary is the fact that Buckmaster’s in-house history declines to mention the vitally important March paper at all, suggesting, perhaps, that he was not informed of it. (Of course, he might have decided that it was politically astute to overlook it completely, but he then might have appeared very foolish if indeed some other agency or person revealed that he had known about it.)

Thus F Section proceeded with business as usual, pursuing the January objectives that the March paper had ambiguously just re-endorsed. Buckmaster’s comments for March included this text:

            Our achievement was the sending of three men and forty containers, of which ten were delivered into enemy hands because of faulty dropping. We reported at the end of March that unless during April and May we succeeded in sending stores and money in large quantities in the field as well as up-to-date directives in writing, we risked seeing the whole fabric crumble and waste away.

Buckmaster hinted at the perennial problem of maintaining the morale of the resistance groups, and concluded this section as follows:

            At 28th March, 1943, it could be said in general terms that only the lack of stores on the ground prevented our being able to carry out orders for action over a great part of France.

            These were not the words of someone who had been told that the re-entry to France would not occur until 1944, that the emphasis was on sabotage, and that France was now a lower priority than Italy and the Balkans. Yet his opinion was echoed by his colleague Bickham Sweet-Escott, who wrote of this period:

            The emphasis was now far more on helping existing guerrilla bands and building up secret armies in the countries to be liberated than on mere sabotage and the isolated clandestine operations such as Rubble [the extraction of ball-bearings from Sweden to the UK] or the purloining of ocean liners.

Is this confirmation that lower-level officers in SOE were not being told the correct story?

Buckmaster’s history was distributed, during the period of August to October 1945, to Brook (D/R, head of Low Countries and France), Major I. K. Mackenzie (Brook’s successor, not Professor William, the historian), Colonel Keswick (AD/H, head of the Mediterranean group), DCD (Gubbins), VC/D (Sporborg), AD (Colonel of the Far East group), and AD/2, his deputy. It had already been approved by Brigadier Mockler-Ferryman (AD/E – director of the London group, aka North West Europe), Col. Saunders (AD/M) and Colonel Dumbrell (M/T, probably i/c Training). Brook and Mackenzie judged it accurate: no responses were recorded from the others.  Perhaps that is not surprising. At some stage, Buckmaster must have been told about the March directive, but had been encouraged to keep quiet about it. Yet the fact that so many high-ups in SOE would let the fallacious history pass without any mention of the critical events of March 1943 is very revealing. They were either clueless, or inattentive. If they thought that the History would eventually damage the service’s reputation, they should simply have terminated it. But they did nothing.

Colonel Bevan, having been criticised by Robertson in February, had meanwhile been subject to another assault, this time by Lieutenant-Commander Ewen Montagu of Naval Intelligence, who sat on both the TWIST and the XX Committees. Thaddeus Holt, in The Deceivers, drawing upon the Naval deception file at ADM 223/794, reports that Montagu wrote a very poisonous attack on Bevan on March 1, in which he referred not only to Bevan’s personal defects in not understanding the subject, and engaging in unauthorized schemes, but also to the intellectual deficiencies of the members of LCS. Foot claimed (in his Introduction to Mackenzie’s Secret History of SOE) that Bevan did not judge SOE secure enough to ‘take part in his exceedingly secret work’, with Operation STARKEY being the only exception, but the representation of SOE on his TWIST committee would belie that. Montagu would later point to increasing friction between the XX Committee and Bevan over lack of communication, although he admitted that matters improved over time.

Ewen Montagu

Montagu’s attack may have triggered another action: according to Montagu himself, Bevan was not indoctrinated fully into the essence of ‘secret sources’ (the ISOS decrypts of ULTRA) until this month – an event which would have given him a radical new insight into the methods by which DAs were managed and verified. Holt’s stance is thus to defend Bevan, and downgrade Montagu as someone who overvalued his own abilities, and was probably jealous of Bevan, but the evidence would suggest that Montagu’s argument had some merit. In any case, his judgments were ignored.

The XX Committee discussed deception plans seriously in March, with Montagu providing constructive ideas, making requests through Wingate for Bevan to act upon. On March 4, the group covered the topic of the creation of artificial wireless traffic. The following week, a report from the Combined Planners, dealing ‘in great detail with suggestions for the deception plan based on the principle of containing enemy troops in western Europe’ was read out by Colonel Mountain of GHQ Home Forces. The Committee members were thus well indoctrinated into dummy invasion plans. Rather oddly, the meeting resolved that Bevan be apprised of Mountain’s notes on Exercise SPARTAN, as if Bevan would normally not have been in the loop, and Masterman was authorized to write a letter to Bevan requesting W/T cover. (SPARTAN was a GHQ exercise held that month in southern England to test the ability of troops to break out of a beachhead, and turned out poorly for several Canadian commanders. The XX Committee planned to use the DA known as BALLOON to pass on controlled information about SPARTAN to the Nazis.)

In any event, Masterman’s letter to Bevan was duly composed and sent, but a handwritten inscription states that no answer had been received by March 25. At the March 18 meeting, Colonel Petavel represented the LCS, and a productive discussion ensued that resulted in more recommendations for dummy wireless traffic. Wingate assured the group, at the March 25 meeting, that Bevan would reply to Masterman’s letter ‘within the next few days’. Operation MINCEMEAT (Montagu’s project) was discussed, but further progress on dummy traffic seemed to be stalled, as matters concerning W/T cover were out of the Committee’s hands. The XX Committee was thinking industriously about how it might aid deception, but was not actually contributing much.

We owe it to Guy Liddell to learn more about some SOE personnel activities at this time. On March 29, he recorded a conversation he had had with John Senter of SOE Security, who wanted to recruit Cyril Harvey for a new counter-espionage section that SOE was setting up. Liddell also had a meeting that day with Mockler-Ferryman (whom he describes merely as ‘late D.M.I. in Africa’, as if he were not aware of his recent important posting in SOE), and he was rather dismissive of Mockler-Ferryman’s understanding of counter-espionage. Gubbins apparently had a high regard for Mockler-Ferryman, whose main mission, very poignantly, was to control the guerrilla effort in Western Europe and to co-ordinate SOE activities with bombing strategies, but maybe the extra level of management helped to distance Gubbins from the misadventures that had already started.

Whoever was driving Henri Déricourt’s agenda was unswayed by any of this, and continued with the project, which had, of course, been germinating since well before Casablanca. Déricourt arranged his first operation for March 17/18, code-named TRAINER. It was a double operation, involving two flights from 161 Squadron at Tempsford, using Lysanders piloted by Peter Vaughan-Fowler and Frank Rymills. The flights were carried out apparently without incident apart from a temporary uncontrolled ignition of the engine of Vaughan-Fowler’s plane after landing – an incident that Vaughan-Fowler attributed to Déricourt’s failure to arrange a smooth landing-area. As Foot records: “Claude de Baissac, Antelme, Flower and a wireless operator left for England, and Goldsmith, Lejuene (Delphin), Dowlen and Mrs Agazarian arrived.” Marshall provides more details.

Marshall describes Déricourt’s meetings with Suttill and his network earlier in March, but also draws attention to the fact that the Frenchman had another meeting with Boemelburg shortly after the operation:

            Within days of the March operation, there was another meeting with Boemelburg – a kind of re-appraisal, with a view to formalizing the situation. At that meeting Déricourt provided Boemelburg with a detailed description of everyone who had travelled in on the Lysanders. Boemelburg asked him if he knew anything about PROSPER, to which Déricourt replied that he had heard it had something to do with the invasion.

The source for Marshall’s comments was a June 1983 interview with Horst Kopkow, head of the SD’s counter-intelligence and counter-sabotage unit in Berlin, to whom Boemelburg reported.

The anomaly of the suspended deception plan which Bevan dangled so enticingly over the XX Committee in late February can be explained by the fact that the Chiefs of Staff had to gain approval for the plan from their American counterparts. (The sequence of events can be inspected in the COCKADE archive, at WO 106/4223.) For some extraordinary reason, their feedback was not received until March 28, and they made a number of important proposals for changing the text, including a preference for not understating the perceived strength of the Wehrmacht, and a request to have the following important statement inserted: ‘No equipment or supplies required for actual operations will be diverted for this purpose’ –  the news that Brooke must have received via other sources, and recorded in his diary entry for February 25, and which Churchill was referring to in his encounter with Maisky. It is obvious that Churchill and Brooke had received early feedback from Washington about the inability of the Americans to commit to the BOLERO plans, but they had probably not shared this intelligence until the formal response from the US Chiefs of Staff arrived. (If Roosevelt and Churchill had discussed the topic on their scrambled telephone, it is possible that the Germans had also learned of it, as the Deutsches Reichspost was intercepting and deciphering their telephone communications at this time. That would add an eerie dimension to the whole deception story for COCKADE. See David Kahn’s The Codebreakers for more.)

After explaining the reasons for their recommended changes, the US Chiefs concluded their assessment with the words, which very crisply abandoned any notions of threatened assaults in North West France, whether bridgeheads, lodgements or raids:

            U.S. Chiefs of Staff do not think threat of attacks on Northern Front in conjunction with attacks on Southern France a practical deception. To threaten Southern France is, in their view, what matters. Alterations do not appear to be important and we recommend acceptance to avoid further delay.

London did not argue with Washington, and Bevan’s revised draft was made official in the War Cabinet minutes. Thus the attempt to suggest possible attacks on North Western Europe in 1943 was unceremoniously quashed by American plain speaking. The message was blunt: ‘Any such feints will be a waste of effort.’

John Bevan then had the last word for this month. He had left for Algiers on March 11, returning only on the 27th, so he had to conduct a quick analysis. On March 31, he submitted a memorandum to the Chiefs of Staff in which, after explaining the disagreements with the US Chiefs, he pointed out that ‘the possibility of carrying out a real operation against Northern France appears to have receded’, because of the BOLERO situation and the shortage of landing-craft that would be available. He thus recommended the removal of references to ‘across the Channel’, to be replaced by vaguer words of ‘against Western France’, implying that assaults in the South might still be possible. He apparently goaded the Chiefs into swift action, as will be described in next month’s bulletin. His behaviour needed to very precise since, having pre-empted the clarification of policy by announcing prematurely to the XX Committee that new deception plans had been authorized, he now attempted to gain confirmation from the Chiefs of Staff that real operations in Northern France in 1943 were off the cards. But would he inform the XX Committee of this change? And would SOE receive the new message?

4: Arms Shipments to France

As an intermission between the two quarters, I step back to record what is known about arms shipments to the French resistance during these first six months of 1943. The sources are varied, consisting of:

1) The Air Ministry’s report on its contributions to the activities of SOE (which was compiled before the loss of so many SOE papers in the post-war Baker Street fire);

2) Appendix C in Foot’s SOE in France, based on the RAF source and the in-house SOE history (HS 7/1);

3) French records, represented in different aspects by Foot and by Robert Marshall in All The King’s Men;

4) Informal statements by German army veterans; and

5) Occasional contributions in personal memoirs of participants.

The context for these arms drops goes back to May 21, 1941, when Gubbins laid out what he saw as the minimum required to equip the Secret Armies. Mackenzie presented Gubbins’ calculations for Poland, Czechoslovakia and France in the following table:

                                                Poland             Czech              France             Total

                                                (84 Bns)          (100 Bns)        (70 Bns)

Light machine guns                5,124               6,100               4,270               15,500

Sub-machine guns                  13,112             16,800             11,760             42,000

Pistols                                      43,680             52,000             36,400             132,000

Wireless sets                           1,260               1,500               980                  3,770

Containers                               10,5000           12,500             7.875               30,875

Aircraft sorties                        2,625               3,125               1,968               7,718

Mackenzie adds the following commentary, describing Gubbins’ figures as something of a ‘pipe-dream’:

            Brigadier Gubbins did not forget that there were all sorts of incalculable factors – it would be a remarkable piece of organisation (for example) if the equipment reached the Resistance with less than 25-30 per cent wastage from enemy action; abortive aircraft sorties must be allowed for: and so forth. But most of these imponderables tended to increase rather than reduce his figures: and no one could say that his scale of equipment was too high for guerrillas whose target was to be the German army, even in its decline, or that rebellions would have been worth staging with smaller forces.

Major problems were implicit in this project. The proposals resulted in a very long and controversial analysis, which essentially determined that the requested number of sorties would make intolerable demands upon bomber services, with little potential benefit if the secret armies were not going to be activated until the allied forces had arrived, and air superiority had been gained. (Both Poland and Czechoslovakia were soon largely removed from the equation.) Yet what did not appear to be discussed was how the weaponry would be kept concealed, and maintained properly. No date for re-entry to mainland Europe had been set at this time, of course, but D-Day was in fact three years out – an extraordinary period of time to keep stores of munitions secreted from the Nazis, and a potential ‘army’ in permanent readiness.

Gubbins constantly noted how concerned he was over the ability of the Secret Armies he nurtured to be ready when the professional forces arrived, and that sense of urgency often undermined what should have been a more careful policy towards the provision of arms. SOE appeared too often to be responding to ‘demands’ rather than executing its own strategy. And the separate goals of sabotage and creating secret armies constantly came into conflict. As Bickham Sweet-Escott (who in the spring of 1943 came to run the RF section alongside Buckmaster’s F Section) wrote in Baker Street Irregular (p 109):

             . . . the more we concentrated on spectacular action, the less likely we were to build up a nation-wide organization against D-Day. For the more spectacular the action, the greater the risk that the people in the field would be caught, and if they were caught there would be no secret army when the allies eventually landed. The two dilemmas faced us in all our work throughout occupied Europe.

What is perplexing is why the repeated pleas for more aircraft suddenly gained a more positive response at the end of 1942. The RAF History, citing a note of February 8, 1943, runs as follows:

            In September/October of 1942 when S.O.E.’s demands for air transport operations increased considerably, he, the Director of Plans [Group Captain Grierson, who had joined SOE in April 1942], had pointed out to the Air Ministry that S.O.E. would require more and more aircraft, and the increase in the establishment of No.138 Squadron and the use of No. 161 Squadron were to some extent the result of his verbal [sic! not ‘oral’] representations.

            Nevertheless, however capable Grierson was, and no matter how strong his relationships with the RAF top brass, and irrespective of his powers of persuasion, it is difficult to understand why the RAF would succumb to his earnest implorations at a time when SOE senior management had, according to other accounts, just learned that the re-entry into NW France would not occur for another eighteen months. Moreover, Grierson was known not to be the sharpest knife in the drawer. In his memoir Foreign Fields the SOE officer Peter Wilkinson wrote that he and Charles Villiers were ‘both a good deal quicker witted than Grierson who, unlike Dick Barry, had not had the advantage of an expensive education and spoke no foreign languages.’

I refer readers to the very useful Appendix 12 of John Grehan’s RAF and the SOE (described as ‘an official history’, although it does not appear to be authorized as such) for a comprehensive account of such operations. As interesting background material for understanding the tasks involved, I simply reproduce here a description of the loads that were dropped by the Whitley bombers, categorized as containers, packages and personnel:

            The containers were long cylindrical metal holders with a parachute stored in one end. Two types of loads were known to Bomber Command, the standard load and the special load. In the standard load, usually dropped to the F.F.I. [Forces Françaises de L’Intérieure] elements, were small arms, ammunition, hand grenades and other useful accoutrements whilst the special loads were made up of particular types of explosives and perhaps tools specifically collected for a particular set of sabotage against a known target. These containers were stored in the bomb bays of the aircraft in the same manner as a bomb. The packages were steel framed boxes more or less 2 1/2’ square and weighing an average of 100-140 lbs. A small number of these could be placed inside the fuselage and manhandled out of the dispatching hole in the fuselage floor by one of the aircrew known as the despatcher. Their contents were similar to those in the containers and they had parachutes and static lines which operated in just the same manner as for parachutists.

Whitleys were phased out in 1942, and replaced by Halifax bombers during 1943. M. R. D. Foot also has a useful chapter on this subject in Communications, from his outline history of SOE.

The RAF records are highly informative, since they provide detailed figures for total delivery by country, by year (although records before 1943 were patchy), and thus comparisons can be made about priorities – and what was operationally possible, because of distances. The first major item of data is the Tonnage Delivered 1941-1945.  France had a total of 8,455 tons, over three times as much as that as delivered to the rest of Europe (essentially Belgium, Holland, Norway and Denmark). Cross-referencing of the Appendices in the RAF book leads to the fact that a total of 6,720 containers was shipped in 1943, of which 5,299 (about 80%) went to France.

The figures quoted in the official SOE history confirm the overall total of tonnage delivered from the UK (11,141½), but would seem to overstate vastly the number of sorties attempted. The account also presents some apparently high figures for the arms and explosives delivered to France over the whole war, citing: stens 90,776; H.E. 548,506 lbs.; and brens 10,411. Marshall’s figures (below) state that 16,500 kg. (i.e. about 36,000 lb.) of high explosives was delivered in the first six months of 1943. Extrapolating from the ratio of containers sent in the remainder of 1943, and especially 1944 (when the USAAF stepped in to help the RAF), the numbers are however not unreasonable. In the second half of 1943, containers to France increased by 250% over the first six months, and the numbers for 1944 were almost ten times as much as for 1943.

Data before 1943 are very sketchy, but the RAF reports indicate that a total of 201 containers was dropped over France in the whole of 1942. For the first half of 1943 (the period under review), the figures for France were as follows:

January-March: 79 Sorties, of which 22 were successful. 20 tons were delivered, comprising 170 containers and 57 packages.

April-June: 342 sorties, of which 165 were successful. 148 tons were delivered, comprising 1,361 containers and 236 packages.

(The numbers increased markedly in the third quarter of 1943 before dropping back to second quarter quantities in the fourth quarter.)

What is noteworthy about these figures is the rapid increase in attempts to supply secret armies in the second quarter of the year, but also an increasingly high failure rate, which might suggest that the shipments were lost, damaged irretrievably, or even picked up by enemy forces.  Foot described the process as follows:

            What proportion of these stores were warlike it is no longer possible to say exactly; but the percentage was undoubtedly high, well over 80 and probably over 90. Equally it is impossible to say what proportion of them fell straight into enemy hands, or were captured before effective use could be made of them; though again, one thing is sure – the proportion was much lower. RF section for one worked on the ‘completely arbitrary and empirical’ percentage calculation that ten per cent of any month’s load would soon be in enemy hands, that ten per cent would be lost, one way or another, in transit, and that twenty per cent would be immediately absorbed in current resistance activities; leaving sixty per cent of what had been sent available for subsequent operations.

Foot echoes the RAF figures, although he lists only successful sorties (22 and 165, respectively), thus distorting for his masters (or for posterity) the effectiveness of the overall project. Yet, if we inspect Buckmaster’s figures (representing F Section, of course, and not the Free French responsibilities), we read that, in March 1943, the section had a ‘programme’ for sending out as many as 1000 containers, a goal that had to be drastically revised. For April, however, Buckmaster claimed that sabotage attacks ‘increased by leaps and bounds’, and that the section was able to send ‘as many as 183 containers’ – more than the total amount for all of France for the first quarter. May and June were also ‘record months’, although he does not provide details. Foot noted: “Several different sets of figures have been drawn up: all conflict.”

A dampening but equivocal observation also appears in the official SOE History at HS 7/1:

            The second major problem was the maintenance of the security of the Resistance organisation against penetration by the enemy. In some countries [sic!] such as in Holland penetration was so cleverly done that it passed unnoticed and men and supplies were sent straight into the hands of the enemy. Admittedly serious mistakes were made, mistakes which could have been avoided if more care had been taken but taking matters as a whole considering the large numbers of people employed in various capacities in Resistance movements and the general characteristic of Continental peoples to be insecure, it is surprising how much was achieved and how little success the enemy had.

This is the nearest SOE got to a mea culpa, but it is still an evasive and incomplete admission.

Robert Marshall’s statistics tend to endorse the trends described by Buckmaster, although he indicates a far more dramatic increase in April ‘of more than two thousand per cent’. In a footnote, Marshall describes how ‘the catalogue of materiel [sic: ’matériel’] dropped by SOE’s French Section to all the French networks was compiled from the archives of the Ministère de la Guerre at the Château de Vincennes in Paris’, giving a reference of 13P68: Materiel sur parachute et deportation). Foot quotes the same source, giving the totals for the period, for both RF and F sections of SOE. In Marshall’s table the containers are broken down by their contents:

                                  January    February  March    April     May    June

Stens                           87                    64        32        644     1006   2353

Incendiaries                 35                 74        –           1044    1877   10,790

Pistols                          24                   63        34        421       716      877   

Grenades                     36                  98        163      2508     4489     5537

High-Explosives (kg.) 88               253      162      1806    3872    10,252

Marshall adds that the PROSPER network received over 20 containers of arms in April ‘by far the lion’s share of material sent to France’. Yet this statement does not tally with either the RAF report, or with Buckmaster’s claims, either in simple numbers, or in relative significance. According to Marshall’s rough comparisons, it would suggest that only one container was dispatched in March, for instance, when Buckmaster reported that forty were sent, of which ten fell into enemy hands. (The explosives for the unsuccessful assassination attempt on Hitler in July 1944 came from SOE stocks.) It perhaps reflects a failure to understand how much material could be packed in a single container, but, overall, simply proves that a lot of these reports are inherently unreliable.

Patrick Marnham’s observations are also a trifle puzzling. In War In The Shadows (p 120), he states that ‘In France as a whole the delivery of arms to the Resistance was heavily reduced in the first part of 1943’ (presumably he means the first three months, but it is not obvious that this was a true or significant trend, as it is doubtful that substantially larger volumes had been shipped in 1942 before bad weather intervened in the winter). Next, quoting an article by Wieworka, he makes the imprecise claim that ‘throughout the month of June arms deliveries to PROSPER continued at a growing pace’, but adds that PROSPER ‘was the only exception to the general decline in deliveries’. That was surely not so, however one looks at the data provided, and the RAF records show that the July-September quarter was twice as productive as the previous quarter. Mackenzie also reported that ‘up to June 1943 the whole Suttill circuit had received 254 containers of stores, and in ten days in June it beat all records by receiving 190 more containers.

It is difficult to place any reliable structure around these datapoints. For example, if one plots a probable growth curve in containers sent to all of France from January to June, based on RAF figures for total containers, and the data from Marshall’s table, one could project a sequence of:

January – 90; February – 70; March – 10; April – 200; May – 550; June – 811. That might tally with Buckmaster’s claim of 183 containers for F Section in April, but not with his citation of 40 for F Section in March, nor with Marshall’s assertion that the PROSPER network, with 20 containers, received ‘the lion’s share’ of all that went to France in April.  In addition to that, Foot’s breakdown of the French data indicates that the Free French overall received about 52% of all supplies against F Section’s 48%, and Mackenzie claims that the PROSPER network alone jumped to 190 containers in ten days in June! It is all a mess.

What is undeniable that a considerable uptick in arms shipments occurred in the second quarter of 1943. In SOE in France, Foot reports (p 209), quoting a ‘Foreign Office file’ from 1945, as follows:

            Von Rundstedt recorded 1943 as ‘a serious turning point in the interior situation in France . . . the organized supply of arms from England to France became greater every month’, and his headquarters was given ‘an impressive picture of the increasing danger to the German troops in the territories of the West . . . Not only the murders and acts of sabotage against members of the Wehrmacht, against Wehrmacht installations, railways and supply lines were on the increase, but in certain districts organized raids of gangs in uniform and civilian clothes on transports and military units multiplied’.

SOE was clearly executing its sabotage mission very capably, but were the recipients of its supplies performing their destructive acts, and readying their weaponry, because they believed that an invasion was imminent?

Jacques Weil evidently thought so. In Pin-Stripe Saboteur he wrote (p 166):

            Preparations for the “Second Front in 1943” – which all the Resistance organizations in Northern France were certain would take place some time during the summer or autumn – were well advanced by the middle of May. The barns and the cowsheds of Northern and eastern France were indeed bursting with the guns and ammunition, the explosives and the other supplies dropped in steadily growing quantities by the increasing number of R.A.F. aircraft allocated for liaison with the Resistance.

I notice a paradox in these accounts. As I shall explain in next month’s segment, in the late spring of 1943 SOE officers made fervent appeals to the Chiefs of Staff that aircraft support was inadequate to maintain the enthusiasm and sense of purpose of the French resistance, who were hungry for arms and supplies. Yet Mackenzie’s observations lucidly point out how the increase in shipments that were made in the first six months of the year constituted a major risk, as the volumes were ‘too big to survive intact until a D-Day so far distant as June 1944’. In that contradiction lies the unresolved dilemma of SOE’s muddled policy.

5. Interim Conclusions:

I detect two histories here. First is the ‘authorized’ history, carefully managed by the SOE Adviser to the Foreign Office, which lays out how well SOE was overall led, how it operated in accordance with the requirements of the Chiefs of Staff, and how it contributed greatly to military success. Yes, mistakes were made, but such were inevitable under the conditions, and damage was well-managed.

And then there is the subterranean history, where policy was fragmented, or incompletely thought through, where maverick activities carried on without proper authorization or supervision, and needless sacrifices were made. Not enough attention was paid to security, and senior officers did not trust their subordinates with the facts, with the result that the latter became scapegoats for gross failures of judgment and unnecessary loss of life. The increase in shipping weaponry to mostly phantom ‘secret armies’ in France occurred just at the time when the Chiefs of Staff wanted to rein in the premature arming of forces that would not be useful for more than a year. Using outdated guidance, SOE was able to convince the RAF to supply extra flights to its French networks, many of which had been infiltrated by the Germans. Bevan’s London Controlling Section jumped the gun over deception plans. The Americans essentially headed off a half-baked British plan to have it both ways, but their delays in so doing meant that COSSAC was given inappropriate instructions, an incorrect new directive was issued to SOE, and news of the revisions was not properly disseminated. That SIS was behind the project to use Déricourt as a channel for disinformation to the Sicherheitsdienst is clear. Who convinced the RAF to increase the allocation of bombers to deliver on rapidly expanding container shipments is still a mystery.

(New Commonplace entries are available here.)

1 Comment

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One Response to ‘Bridgehead Revisited’: Three Months in 1943

  1. Not really my bag this, but whilst you are saying that Churchill was an SOE enthusiast, I’m reading in this excerpt from Shadow Knights that he got so fed up with them he considered dissolution. But equally he did apparently save them. The near final straw according to this version of events was Churchill was minded to think SOE tilted too much towards the Soviets. Specifically there were fears around what was happening in Greece. The Foreign Office wanted a change. Anyway this is the excerpt. https://www.google.co.uk/books/edition/Shadow_Knights/xx6uckNnUc4C?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=%22charles+hambro%22&pg=PA102&printsec=frontcover

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