The creation of SOE in July 1940 was a desperate and hopeful expedient born out of the critical situation Britain faced following the collapse of France. It was given ambitious tasks with extremely limited resources, and its wartime performance fell short of expectations. But its performance cannot be judged in isolation from the wider context of Britain’s war effort, and much the same conclusion might be reached about the performance of the regular services. Without the support of American and Soviet forces, those of Britain and her Empire could never alone have fulfilled the promises made by Churchill to cleanse the world of Hitler and Nazism. Criticisms of SOE’s achievements, where these measure its performance against the claims made for it in 1940, turn out, on closer inspection, to involve criticisms of a wide range of assumptions, institutions, and performances going well beyond SOE itself. Neither Bomber Command nor SIS, for example, were sympathetic to SOE, and there are prima facie cases to be made for their occasional deliberate obstruction of SOE activities. On the other hand, not all of SOE’s complaints about shortage of aircraft were justified, as in some cases a lack of operational officers and cipher staff were more important factors, while in the last analysis SOE could move no faster than the Europeans themselves.


Operational Officer Ambitious Task Collective Attack Soviet Force Dirty Trick 
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© David Stafford 1983

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  • David Stafford

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