SOE In France - Book review by John A. Bross

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Recent Books: Resistance


The combination of certain sections of your two organizations, first established as Special Force Headquarters under the joint command of Brigadier Mockler-Ferryman and Colonel Haskell (USA), was the means by which these resistance forces were so ably organized, supplied and directed.
Both books note the merger of appropriate elements of SOE and OSS for the purpose of supporting French resistance. Neither book appears to recognize, however, that this involved some considerable self-abnegation on the part of the Americans. If the British assumed and deserved credit for initial ievelopment and leadership in what was to become a joint enterprise, the Americans also deserve credit for loyally supporting and abiding by this arrangement, in spite of considerable incitement to occasional mutiny and their widespread dissatisfaction with what they came generally to regard as a British yoke. They had to remind themselves that a joint effort by an integrated headquarters was necessary to insure against the chaos and catastrophe which would have resulted from underground activity in Europe conducted independently by OSS and SOE.
If the Americans were often inadequate in senior positions of responsibility in the joint headquarters, the British, as often, were unresponsive, devious, or parochial. Brigadier Mockler-Ferryman, a professional soldier and head of the London Group of SOE, a man of perfect integrity and unusual charm and competence, treated his American colleagues and subordinates with unfailing courtesy and total cooperation. So did his immediate staff. At the country section level, however, the attitude towards Americans was impatient and not friendly, despite the demonstrable contribution of individual Americans such, for example, as Major William Grell, USMCR, who rendered invaluable service in connection with the briefing and dispatch of large numbers of agents. Moreover, it was clearly British policy to restrict American access to and influence over French and Scandinavian resistance groups to as little as possible.
SOE in France, the official book, characterizes the American contribution to the joint effort as follows:
In practice . . . fusion meant that American officers were introduced into many sections of SOE; their intelligence, enthusiasm, and originality made up for their lack of equipment, training, or experience. They kept what remained an essentially British organization lively; but on strictly French subjects-as opposed to French North African ones-their influence on policy was small till the summer of 1944. Dual control and equal responsibility were the principles; but in practice the British kept in the lead. The United States air forces made a decisive contribution in 1944 to SOE's effort in France, but none before . . . [pages 31-32].


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Posted: May 08, 2007 08:11 AM
Last Updated: Aug 05, 2011 12:47 PM