Volume 65, No. 1 (March 2021)

Review Essay: Evaluating Resistance Operations in Western Europe during World War II

By J. R. Seeger

The principal books discussed in this review essay are:

The Resistance in Western Europe, 1940–1945 by Olivier Wieviorka, translated from French by Jane Marie Todd (Columbia University Press, 2019) and
Hidden Armies of the Second World War: World War II Resistance Movements
Patrick G. Zander (Praeger, 2017).

Contemporary Special Forces and intelligence communities in the United States and the United Kingdom trace their heritage to the rapid expansion of intelligence and special operations units during World War II. During the war, these units focused on deciphering codes, collecting vital tactical and strategic intelligence, deceiving the Axis powers, and managing resistance operations inside occupied Europe and SE Asia. Due to the sensitive nature of these operations and the continuity of many of the same operations into the Cold War, historians have had considerable difficulty in gaining access to primary source material on strategic and local campaigns in the European, China-Burma-India, and Pacific theaters of operations.

Following the collapse of the USSR in 1991, more documents on US and UK support to resistance operations were declassified, and now, 75 years after the war, even more documents have been declassified. Historians have leapt at the opportunity for archival research on some of the greatest secrets of World War II and the early Cold War. As more archival material became available, historians continued to debate the value of intelligence and special operations in the European theater of operations (ETO) with the recent publication of well-researched histories on the “war in the shadows.”