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This fascinating new collection of essays on Britain’s Special Operations Executive (SOE) explores the ‘non-military’ aspects of British special operations in the Second World War.
It details how SOE was established in the summer of 1940 to ‘set Europe ablaze’, as Churchill memorably put it. This was a task it was meant to achieve by detonating popular resistance against Axis rule, and nurturing ‘secret armies’, which might be capable of providing military and other forms of assistance for British forces when they were once again able to return to the offensive and conduct land operations in Europe.
The importance of the collection, however, goes beyond merely illuminating aspects of SOE’s work which have largely been overlooked in previous scholarship. More significantly, by situating SOE within the context of Britain’s broader political needs, the essays demonstrate the extent to which SOE came to epitomise and embody the range of skills that are found in today’s secret service organisations. SOE showed itself capable of operating on a global scale and developing the necessary expertise, equipment and personnel to conduct activities across the whole spectrum of what we have come to know as ‘covert operations’. By bringing SOE’s activities into sharper focus and exposing the scale of its involvement in Britain’s wartime external relations, the essays echo current thinking on the place of the so-called ‘secret world’ in international politics.
1. Introduction: Politics and Strategy in the Clandestine War — new perspectives in the study of S.O.E. Neville Wylie 2. ‘Of Historical Interest Only’: The origins and vicissitudes of the SOE Archive Duncan Stuart 3. A glass half full — Some thoughts on the evolution of the study of the Special Operations Executive Mark Seaman 4. The ‘Massingham’ Mission and the Secret ‘Special relationship’: Cooperation and rivalry between the Anglo-American clandestine services in French North Africa, November 1942 — May 1943 T. C. Wales 5. Communist in SOE: Explaining James Klugmann’s recruitment and retention Roderick Bailey 6. ‘Kipling and all that’: American perceptions of SOE and British imperial intrigue in the Balkans, 1943-1945 Matthew Jones 7. Ungentlemanly warriors or unreliable diplomats? Special Operations Executive and ‘irregular political activities Neville Wylie 8. A succession of crises: SOE in the Middle East, 1940-1945 Saul Kelly 9. ‘Toughs and Thugs’: The Mazzini Society and Political Warfare against Italian POWs in India, 1941-1943 Kent Fedorowich 10. ‘Against the Grain’: Special Operations Executive in Spain, 1941-1945 David Messenger 11. Special Operations Executive’s Foreign Currency Transactions Christopher J. Murphy Index