Secret War: The Story of SOE – Britain’s Wartime Sabotage Organisation

By Nigel West

Nigel West’s focus is on intelligence usually, and this is a highly intelligent examination of Britain’s ‘sabotage ops’: he looks at the Special Operations Executive with open eyes to reveal breath-taking political naivety, ruthless manipulation and operational incompetence throughout. That said, the derring-do is there too: while West is quite provocative in casting aspersions as to the veracity of the Cabinet Office’s official histories … he also details the exploits of paramilitary units dropped behind enemy lines, immediately after the invasion, which probably saved the SOE’s reputation. Despite the heroism of individual agents, all of whom suffered appallingly for patriotic purposes and to further the SOE’s dubious stated aims, we get a sense of despair and a feeling of inevitability: the tragedy might be, the SOE was perhaps not so special after all.

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