The Special Operations Executive was formally established (on Churchill’s orders) July 16th 1940. It was initially created from Section D (part of the Secret Intelligence Service which dealt in sabotage); EH (a semi-secret Foreign Office propaganda department) and an obscure part of the War Office known as MI(R). Hugh Dalton, first political head of the organisation was ordered to ‘set Europe ablaze’ with acts of sabotage and subversion to create mayhem and disruption to the enemy forces.
Teething problems were soon apparent in that the SOE clashed with the existing powers of the Security Service (MI5) and more noticeably the Special Intelligence Service (MI6 aka ‘Z’) which valued a level of anonymity and secrecy now dramatically threatened.
The SOE established its HQ in Baker Street and developed Special Training Schools outside London (often in such grand houses that the phrase ‘Stately ‘Omes of England’ became a new meaning for the acronym). Would-be operatives were coached in fieldwork, map-reading, weaponry, surveillance techniques, wireless operation, morse code, parachuting, survival, forgery, printing, assassination and numerous other skills.
Initially, the SOE was organized into three parts:
- SO1 (propaganda)
- SO2 (Operations)
- SO3 (Planning)
SO3 soon became absorbed into SO1 and by August 1941 it was rechristened the PWE (Political Warfare Executive) under the control of the Foreign Office. Find out more about the SOE by following the links on our Links page.