Chef de Codage
- Between Silk and Cyanide: The Story of SOE’s Code War by Leo Marks
HarperCollins, 614 pp, £19.99, November 1998, ISBN 0 00 255944 7
In 1940, Winston Churchill gave the fledgling Special Operations Executive its sabotage and resistance mission: Set Europe Ablaze – an encroachment on its turf not to the liking of the espionage establishment, which used its more powerful ministerial presence in the wartime Cabinet to work against SOE whenever it could. Born thus under sufferance, occupying a lowly level in the Signals hierarchy, run by an establishment-respectful general and composed of independent units – one for each occupied country except France, which had two, one for de Gaulle’s Free French and another for those loyal to Giraud – each recruiting and running its own partisans, SOE was an intelligence professional’s bad dream.
Vol. 21 No. 16 · 19 August 1999
Brian Rotman (LRB, 15 July) is wrong when he writes that because of the SOE’s disastrous mistake in what the Germans (and the Dutch) called the ‘Englandspiel’, ‘there was no Dutch resistance at work when Northern Europe was liberated.’ There certainly was and it was the better for having no contact with the Dutch agencies in England. The cost of SOE’s ‘mistake’ was, however, quite high. Of 44 men dropped into Holland, 42 were immediately arrested and then sent to camps. All of them were murdered before the war was over, though the Germans had promised them their lives. Two men escaped to Switzerland. The Germans succeeded in leaking the rumour that they were German agents and they had a tough and lengthy struggle to get themselves believed and sent back to England, where they put the record straight.