SOE Agent Profiles

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Marcel Defence

Recruited: April 1941

Role: Wireless Operator (F Section)

Circuits: SCIENTIST, SATIRIST

Codenames: Dede, Weaver

Fate: Captured, deported to Germany, executed

image of SOE agent Marcel Defence

Marcel Eusèbe Defence was born on 4 November 1920 in London, and grew up in Glasgow. The son of a French father and a Belgian mother, he attended a local boys' school and finished his education at a French college in Epernay. Moving to England, he took up an apprenticeship with the Austin Motor Company but decided to join the Territorials in April 1939. After the outbreak of war he went on to serve with the Royal Army Service Corps in France, during which he suffered a serious injury in a motor cycle accident, losing a knee cap. In May 1942 he joined the Intelligence Corps, and in September was recruited by SOE's French (or F) Section.

His training reports were mixed, describing a serious and meticulous character who followed instructions to the letter but lacked any originality or talent for leadership. "Can only copy, but does it exactly" one report remarked, while another thought him impetuous and snobbish; some students apparently thought him dull, "a swot and a mark grubber". His less than perfect French and his knee problem also counted against him, as did his habit of talking in English in his sleep, but his quiet, unobtrusive nature and security‐mindedness suggested that he might still make a good wireless operator, a type of agent F Section was desperately short of. After completing his training he was quickly briefed and parachuted to the SCIENTIST circuit on 13/14 May 1943.

The organiser of SCIENTIST, Claude de Baissac, was rapidly extending his influence along the Atlantic seaboard of France but had also begun a sub‐network in Paris under Marc O'Neill (a Frenchman, despite his Irish surname), and in early August Defence was sent to work for him. This was an especially dangerous assignment, since the Francis Suttill's huge PROSPER network had collapsed in Paris two months earlier, and some of O'Neill's contacts had been connected with both organisations.

In September one of de Baissac's contacts, André Grandclément, travelled to meet O'Neill but was arrested just a few hours before their rendezvous. The Gestapo persuaded Grandclément to work against the Resistance, and Defence was forced to flee back to Bordeaux. Later that week Grandclément met Defence and Roger Landes to declare his intentions, and although Landes pointed a gun to his head, he let the traitor walk away unscathed. Grandclément's subsequent collaboration with the Germans rapidly led to the demise of SCIENTIST, and de Baissac and his agents had little choice but to return to England. After an unsuccesful attempt to enter Spain, Defence eventually crossed the Channel and arrived back in London in January 1944.

In March he volunteered for a second mission, to establish the SATIRIST network, north of Paris. Parachuting with SATIRIST's organiser Octave Simon, they had expected to be met by a reception committee arranged by Francis Garel's BUTLER network, but instead they were dropped straight to a team of waiting Gestapo agents. They were victims of a 'radio game': Garel and his wireless operator had been captured six months earlier, and the Germans had cleverly used their codes and wireless sets to keep in contact with London, fooling SOE into sending more agents and supplies.

After being held at the Gestapo prison at Place des Etats‐Unis in Paris, Defence is presumed to have been deported to Rawicz prison in Poland. According to a statement made by SS officer Horst Kopkow in 1947, Himmler personally ordered the execution of all F Section prisoners held at Rawicz, and either ten or thirteen SOE agents are likely to have been transferred to Gross‐Rosen in June and July 1944, where they were shot. A point was made of not registering their names at the camp, making it impossible to know their identities. However, during the trial of the executioners a witness and former prisoner named Fritz Deubel recognised Defence from a photograph, and it was therefore assumed that Defence had been among them.

Marcel Defence was mentioned in despatches in 1945. His name appears on the SOE French Section memorial at Valençay in France, and the SOE memorial at Gross Rosen.

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