SOE’s operations around Europe were almost entirely dependent on the RAF (and later the USAAF), requiring the use of their aircraft to get agents in and out of occupied Europe and to get supplies to the agents and resistance movements. This is the RAF’s official report on their work for SOE, and thus provides one part of the overall history of the organisation.
The book suffers from two problems that are directly related to its origins. The first is that as an official report readability wasn’t one of its original author’s intentions. This is especially true in the first section, which is largely dominated by the various memos and directives on the issue of how many aircraft could be allocated to SOE and how they would be controlled (with many reading like a power grab on the part of Bomber Command). The second is that for most of the book we only get the first part of the story – the insertion of agents or the dropping of supplies – and don’t learn much about what was being achieved on the ground. Part three goes some way to rectifying this, providing a country by country overview of what was actually achieved, although these are quite broad brush accounts, discussing the type of operations rather than individual ones.
Part two is the most interesting, looking in detail at the type of work being carried out by the RAF and the problems that had to be overcome. This is a topic that most histories of SOE tend to brush over, but it is clear that many quite serious problems had to be overcome before agents or supplies could be dropped. We thus get sections on the problems of navigation, the types of aircraft used, the supply containers (including the thought that went into ways to make them easy to hide) or landing operations (the main surprise here is how few aircraft were actually lost on these apparently very dangerous missions into occupied Europe).
Part three’s main value is that it makes it clear how different the level and types of resistance was in different countries, ranging from the full scale partisan wars of the Balkans to the more familiar clandestine operations of the French Resistance. It also makes it clear that one of the main purposes of SOE was to prepare for the eventual Allied invasions of the various countries, rather than the day-to-day activities of the Resistance.
Overall this is a valuable work for anyone interested in SOE, providing a detailed examination of the work that went into the difficult task of supporting SOE’s operations, and this more than makes up for the lack of readability in some sections.
Part I - The Charter and Directives Given to the SOE by the Chiefs of Staff and Allocations of Aircraft on Special Duties
1 - The Pioneer Phase, 1940 to November 1942
2 - The Beginning of the Offensive, November 1942 to June 1944
3 - Climax in Europe, June 1944 to May 1945
Part II - Assistance Given by the RAF to the SOE: Problems and Procedure of Special Duty Operations
4 - The Scope of the Problem
5 - Squadrons Engaged on Special Duties Work (U.K. and Mediterranean Bases)
6 - Types of Aircraft Involved
7 - Foreign Air Crews
8 - Containers and Packages
9 - Technical Problems Confronting the RAF
10 - Reception Committees
11 - SOE and RAF Procedures, U.K. and Mediterranean
12 - Landing Operations
13 - Failures and Losses
14 - SOE Assisting Air Force Escapees
15 - Assistance Given by the RAF to SOE Other Than Special Duties Operations
Part III - Resistance in Europe
16 - The Outline Story
17 - Western Europe, Supplied by UK-based Aircraft
18 - Central Europe, Supplied by Aircraft Based in the UK and Mediterranean
19 - Southern Europe, Supplied by Mediterranean-based Aircraft
20 - The Satellite Nation
21 - The Conclusion
Author: Official History
Year: 2016 edition