SPECIAL OPERATIONS EXECUTIVE, 1940-1946:
SUBVERSION AND SABOTAGE DURING WORLD WAR II
Series One: SOE Operations in Western Europe
Part 4: Holland, 1940-1949
(Public Record Office Class HS 6/723-774)
"For Messrs Blunt, Bingham and Successors Ltd you are trying to make business in Netherlands without our assistance STOP We think this rather unfair in view of our long and successful co-operation as your sole agent STOP But never mind whenever you will come to pay a visit to the Continent you may be assured that you will be received with the same care and result as all those who you sent us before STOP So long" Hans Giskes 1st April 1944 (HS 6/736)
Since VE Day, the concept of resistance movements and secret government organisations has fascinated all aspects of the media, from simple fictional accounts to glamorous film noir characters. The release of files documenting the machinations of the Special Operations Executive means that, for the first time, scholars are able to see beyond the romantic; witnessing the first-hand accounts of those who risked their lives in order to stop the relentless march of fascism. These files offer the realities of setting up, organising and posting agents into occupied territories, making for some of the most interesting and exciting material that has emerged from archives relating to the Second World War.
Subjects for study range from the interaction between allied forces, the impact of guerrilla warfare in occupied territories, the extent of German penetration and the planning, politics and organisation associated with action behind enemy lines. Series One, SOE operations in Western Europe, covers activities in France, Germany, Holland and Italy, while Series Two concentrates on the Balkans.
Initially founded in March 1939, it wasnt until mid-1940 that the SOE received a more formal, if loose, seal of approval from Whitehall. Moving from their small offices on 2 Caxton Street, London, to their new headquarters in Baker Street, the formation of SOE gave existing secret organisations, such as the SIS (Secret Intelligence Service), a means of physically carrying out campaigns that had predominantly remained on paper. Famously ordered by Winston Churchill to set Europe ablaze, the SOE became responsible for supporting and stimulating resistance behind enemy lines. Under the initial leadership of the influential socialist politician, Sir Hugh Dalton, the organisation largely overcame its shaky start to form an essential part in operations aimed at helping to halt Hitlers increasing grip on Europe.
Unlike its sister services who quietly gathered intelligence behind enemy lines, SOEs task was to cause as much disruption as possible and it quickly gained a reputation as an obscure and unique organisation. As SOE grew, agents were hired from a diverse range of backgrounds and nationalities; by 1944, approximately 5,000 agents were involved in operations behind enemy lines, with a back-up support of nearly 10,000 staff at home.
Part Four of this microfilm project documents SOE operations in occupied Holland, including material relating to the penetration of their Dutch circuits by the Germans. As the files reveal, this disaster not only left SOE high command defending its position to Whitehall, it also led to the tragic deaths of numerous agents and Dutch civilians.
The Germans began planting informants in Dutch resistance circuits as early as 1941 but it wasnt until the arrest of intelligence agent Herbert Lauwers in 1942 that their strategy brought success. Lauwers was captured carrying a list of ciphered texts and back messages that detailed bogus intelligence fed into the circuits by the Germans. They were deciphered on the spot, instantly exposing Lauwers as an agent. Unfortunately, London ignored the false security checks sent by Lauwers in subsequent transmissions. For the next 18 months the Germans, led by Abwehr major Hans Giskes, triumphed in a radio war labelled by the Nazis as Englandspiel the English game. Giskes presided over the arrest of more than 50 SOE agents dropped into Holland leading to the full infiltration of N Section, SOEs Dutch Division.
N Section was steered by various leaders throughout the war, including Blunt, Bingham and Dobson. Relations with their Dutch contemporaries, such as Major J Somer (Dutch Intelligence Bureau) and M R de Bruyne (subversion operations) are documented throughout the files, most notably in HS 6/723. It reports that "under no circumstances would he (Colonel Somers) consider instructing his agents to work on any but strictly SIS lines, and that SOE activities would certainly jeopardise the safety of his men."
The material also looks at N Sections communications with SIS, Whitehall, the Dutch authorities, the RAF and the Dutch Resistance. Several files reflect SOEs opinion that the Dutch Government was slow to react to German occupation. The Dutch military element, keen to form a proper home front, conflicted with the Governments sensitivity on the welfare of the Dutch civil population in German hands; this crucial difference of opinion would lead to a definite lack of policy in the early years of occupation.
HS 6/724 reports top level planning and activities and stresses the objective of
N Section: "The purpose of SOE was to build up a disciplined force in Holland. We did not seek purposeless explosions, in fact they were the last thing we wanted, except to any special reason. Our hope would be to build up the forces as quietly as possible to function when the balloon went up."
SOEs subsequent Plan for Holland, listed and referred to throughout the files, outlines the use of Dutch resistance groups, guerrilla warfare and sabotage on communication networks. Clear warnings on its implementation are evident; the plan should not prejudice D-Day and attacks should not take place if the result was likely to do more damage to the Dutch population than to the German war effort.
By using these documents, scholars will be able to research the primary issues, political and military repercussions and wider implications caused by the breakdown of SOEs Holland circuit. Controversially, the alleged non-disclosure by SIS to SOE that their Holland circuits had been turned can be studied using HS 6/748. Correspondence showing concern from other allied authorities, such as the RAF, can also be found.
Files HS 6/750-769 document SOEs missions and operations in Holland, the majority of which were ill fated. Tragically, most captive agents were executed but the escape of two agents from Haaren prison in late 1943, eventually confirmed that for nearly two years Germany had indeed taken on the role as SOEs single agent. The two agents, code named CHIVE and SPROUT, reached London
(via Spain and Switzerland) in early 1944. Files HS 6/735-742 look at their interrogations and suggested interpretations of their escape. SOEs handling of the situation is reported in full; they question the plausibility of the couples return to Britain due to discrepancies in their statements. Were they sent by the Germans to act as double agents or were they just innocent dupes?
"It is fair to assume that the Germans might reckon on SOE writing off their organisation in Holland (and) trying to start a new one. What person better qualified to do this than someone who had been in Haaren and knew German Contra-Espionage methods. It seems as though they had a good chance of success." (HS 6/735)
Files HS 6/749 and HS 6/773 cover the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) enquiry into the Holland situation. Academics will be able to research the findings of the Committee, its effects and ramifications on the role of SOE towards the end of the war. The report into the NORDPOL affair between
1943-1944, listing agents, arrests and reports on Abwehr activity can be found in HS 6/743-744.
Post-Englandspiel, the material suggests a definite increase in the presence and influence of rival British secret service organisations (such as SIS) in SOE missions. As allied action in France escalated, SOE were still pressing forward with operations to Holland, although this time security and protection of agents was at the forefront as HS 6/727 illustrates:
"Very energetic steps have been taken to test this security and a few operations have been laid on with this specific purpose. A number of experimental sorties have been carried out in which agents have been blind-dropped to investigate the above."
Undoubtedly, the failure of operations in Holland put a strain on Londons relations with the Dutch governing authorities. At the centre of this, the possibility of German penetration within the Dutch Resistance caused SOE high command to question their use in further operations. Relations with one of
the four major resistance groups, the RVV (Council of Resistance) and the movements of its dubious leader, KING KONG, (HS 6/728) gains
in-depth scrutiny in the documents:
"According to all reports, the RVV is still the most suitable and efficient organisation for our purposes, in spite of doubts as to enemy penetration of this organisation, which I consider cannot be entirely ignored." (HS 6/727)
Communications on all fronts were put to the test in September 1944. The success of Montgomerys plan to reach Berlin by bringing troops across the Rhine at Arnhem, relied heavily on co-operation between the allies. Also known as Operation MARKET GARDEN, SOEs direct involvement can be found in Operations EDWARD, CLARENCE, CLAUDE and DANIEL (HS 6/732-733, 759 and 774). As historians are well aware, the advance was not a success and these files will help to answer questions such as: What caused the breakdown in communication? To what extent was the Dutch Resistance really involved in Arnhem?
For those studying post-war plans for Holland, HS 6/731 documents the
call for help by the Dutch Government in the reconstruction of the Dutch
Contra-Espionage Service (under General Einthoven). Outlining the use of existing men in the short-term, it also gives a long-term policy for the employment of new agents.
In contrast, SOE also concentrated on anti-sabotage and anti-espionage in Holland after the retreat of the allies. There are indications that Dutch resistance workers could pass as Germans in ferreting out "undesirable elements who might be hiding among the masses". As the file reflects "There is not one people in Europe which has a better knowledge of underground warfare than the Dutch, further most of them speak German and many are of race akin."
Concerns over the rising of pro-nazi regimes are also reported, as well as the possibility of forming Dutch squads from the ranks of resistance fighters "to operate inside Germany in exactly the same way as the Germans operated against them." Backed by allied intelligence, it was thought that such an undertaking would calm certain sections of the Dutch populous still seeking answers to the horrors experienced by occupation.
Part Four will enable scholars to study:
SOEs relationship with the Dutch authorities, SIS, SAS, the RAF and Whitehall
Dutch Resistance organisations
The suspicion of KING KONG and suspension of circuits 1944
The intended sabotage of communication networks
Counter-intelligence and Contra-espionage
The feasibility of operations
The Joint Intelligence Committee enquiry and the NORDPOL affair
SOE covert activities in liberated areas
The future of SOE in Holland
Activities of the Abwehr and interrogation of Giskes and Huntermann
SOEs involvement at Arnhem (Operation MARKET GARDEN)
Collection of evidence and final telegrams by turned agents
Interrogation of agents
Due to the sensitive nature of the material, several files are retained by the department under Section 3(4). However, the documents offered in Part Four invite academics to study SOE at its lowest point. Did SOE have any success in Holland? What really caused the penetration of their Dutch circuits? Why were agents security checks ignored? Did lack of communication with the Dutch Resistance add to the failure of Arnhem?