SOE Histories and Overviews


This page lists many of the most popular general histories, as well as the official SOE histories and academic works. I've included links to Amazon or relevant sellers as pointers to new and secondhand copies.
Recommended titles are indicated by a rosette rosette icon


image of book Cruel Victory by Paddy Ashdown

The Cruel Victory: The French Resistance, D-Day and the Battle for the Vercors 1944 by Paddy Ashdown (William Collins, March 2015). Paperback edition of Ashdown's account of resistance in the Vercors. Mostly refers to Francis Cammaerts and the work of SOE's Jockey circuit, with cursory treatment of Eucalyptus and other missions.

book cover for Operation Jupiter

Operation Jupiter: SOE's Secret War in Norway by Dorothy Baden‐Powell (Robert Hale, 1982). Account of operations in Norway, drawing on author's recollections of working for SOE's Scandinavian Section. Despite the title, Operation Jupiter – the plan to invade Norway in 1942 – is only touched on.

book cover for Forgotten Voices of the Secret WarRecommended book rosette

Forgotten Voices of the Secret War: An Inside History of Special Operations in the Second World War by Roderick Bailey (Ebury Press, 2008). Compilation of interviews with SOE agents taken from the Imperial War Museum's sound archive.

image of book Target ItalyRecommended book rosette

Target Italy: The Secret War Against Mussolini 1940‐1943 by Roderick Bailey (Faber, May 2014). Excellent official history of SOE's often disastrous and tragic early ventures into Italy, and its pivotal role in negotiating the Armistice.

book cover for The Wildest ProvinceRecommended book rosette

The Wildest Province: SOE in the Land of the Eagle by Roderick Bailey (Jonathan Cape, 2008). History of SOE in Albania.

Book cover for Operation Jedburgh

Operation Jedburgh: D‐Day and America's First Shadow War by Colin Beavan (Penguin, 2007). First published by Viking in 2006.

Book cover for SOE Recollections and Reflections

Special Operations Executive: Recollections and Reflections, 1940‐45 by J.G. Beevor (The Bodley Head, 1981). Beevor's experiences in Lisbon make for the most interesting reading, but the rest of the book – devoted to short regional/section histories and SOE's relations with other government departments and the OSS – is balanced and well written.

Book cover for Operation Freston

Operation Freston: The British Military Mission to Poland, 1944 by Jeffrey Bines (Jeffrey Bines, 1999).

Book cover for SOE's Ultimate Deception

SOE's Ultimate Deception: Operation Periwig by Frederick Boyce (Sutton, 2005).

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The Dungeon Democracy by Christopher Burney (Heinemann, 1945). Written within two months of his return from Buchenwald, this is a short, vivid and arresting description of the camp and its horrors.

image of book The Ariadne Objective by Wes Davis

The Ariadne Objective: Patrick Leigh Fermor and the Underground War to Rescue Crete from the Nazis by Wes Davis (Bantam Press, May 2014). Popular, readable retelling of the Kreipe operation, competing with Rick Stroud's very similar and more recent Kidnap in Crete (see below).

Book cover for Inside SOE

Inside SOE: The Story of Special Operations in Western Europe 1940-45 by E.H. Cookridge (Barker, 1966). Published the same year as M.R.D. Foot's official history SOE in France, Inside SOE was a more commercial alternative, surveying SOE operations across all Europe. A shorter American edition, Set Europe Ablaze, was released in 1967 by Thomas Crowell and by Pan in 1969.

Book cover for SOE AgentRecommended book rosette

SOE Agent: Churchill's Secret Warriors by Terry Crowdy (Osprey, 2008). Gives a general introduction to SOE's organisation, agents' training, deployment, communications and covers some of the more well‐known sabotage operations.

Book cover for SOE in the Far East

SOE in the Far East by Charles Cruickshank (OUP, 1983). Underwhelming official history, lacking in many respects.

Book cover for Special Operations Executive in Scandinavia

SOE in Scandinavia by Charles Cruickshank (OUP, 1986). Official history.

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The Fateful Years – Memoirs, 1931‐1945 by Hugh Dalton (Frederick Muller, 1957). Dalton devoted one chapter to the creation of SOE during his time as Minister of Economic Warfare, in which he recounts Churchill's famous order to ‘Set Europe ablaze’.

Book cover for Sabotage and Subversion

Sabotage and Subversion: The SOE and OSS at War by Ian Dear (History Press, 2010). First published by Weidenfeld in 1996.

Book cover for But For These Men

But For These Men by John D. Drummond (W.H. Allen, 1962). Account of the Norwegian heavy water raid.

Book cover for The Price of Patriotism

The Price of Patriotism by John Earle (Book Guild, 2005). Investigation into SOE and SIS missions to Slovenia.

Book cover for The SOE on Enemy Soil

The SOE on Enemy Soil: Churchill's Elite Force by R.A. Fallick (McCleery and Sons Publishing, 2003).

Book cover for SOE: An Outline HistoryRecommended book rosette

SOE: An Outline History of the Special Operations Executive by M.R.D. Foot (Pimlico, 1999). First published by Greenwood Press/BBC Books in 1984.

Book cover for SOE in FranceRecommended book rosette

SOE in France: An Account of the Work of the British Special Operations Executive in France by M.R.D. Foot (WHP, 2004). This is the revised edition of the original government history first published in 1966 (and amended in 1968). It remains an unrivalled reference work on the subject.

Book cover for SOE in the Low Countries

SOE in the Low Countries by M.R.D. Foot (St Ermin's Press, 2001). Official history.

Book cover for The German Penetration of SOE

The German Penetration of SOE: France, 1941‐44 by Jean Overton Fuller (William Kimber, 1975).

Book cover for Assault in Norway

Assault in Norway: Sabotaging the Nazi Nuclear Program by Thomas Gallagher (Lyons Press, 2002). First published in 1975.

Book cover for The Tangled Web

The Tangled Web Philippe Ganier-Raymond (Pantheon Books, 1968).

Book cover for Poland SOE and the Allies

Poland, SOE And The Allies by Jozef Garlinski (Allen & Unwin, 1969). Authoritative history, written long before the release of SOE's files. Includes details of flights and supply drops (additional statistics are given in the original Polish edition, Politycy i zolnierze, published by Polska Fundacja Kulturalna in 1968). Foreword by Colin Gubbins.

Book cover for The Secret History of PWE

The Secret History of PWE: The Political Warfare Executive 1939‐1945 by David Garnett (St Ermin's Press, 2002). Official history of SOE's propaganda offshoot, written by a former PWE man. As with Mackenzie's Secret History of SOE (see below in this section), this title is long out of print.

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Now It Can Be Told by James Gleeson and Tom Waldron (Elek, 1952). Adaptations of seven scripts written for a BBC radio series broadcast in 1950, recounting daring Commando raids and resistance stories. Typical fodder from that time and very dated. Its only relevance to SOE is a chapter on Dick Mallaby and his mission to Italy, and a short foreword by Colin Gubbins.

Book cover for Undercover

Undercover: The Men and Women of the SOE by Patrick Howarth (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2000). A survey of agents and personnel written by a former SOE officer, covering their activities in Poland, Yugoslavia, Albania, Greece, France and the Far East. First published by Routledge & Kegan Paul in 1980.

Book cover for Undercover

We Die Alone by Patrick Howarth (Canongate Books, 2010). The story of Operation Martin, a disastrous sabotage mission sent to Norway in 1943, and lone survivor Jan Baalsrud's famously heroic journey to Sweden. First published by Macmillan in 1962.

Book cover for The JedburghsRecommended book rosette

The Jedburghs: The Secret History of the Allied Special Forces, France, 1944 by Will Irwin (Public Affairs, 2006). History of the three‐man teams dropped across France, Belgium and Holland from June 1944 to support the Allied invasion.

image of book SOE in France During WW II by Peter Jacobs

Setting France Ablaze: The SOE in France During WW II by Peter Jacobs (Pen and Sword, September 2015).

Book cover for No Small Achievement

No Small Achievement: Special Operations Executive and the Danish Resistance 1940‐1945 by Knud J.V. Jespersen (University Press of Southern Denmark, 2004).

Book cover for A Quiet Courage

A Quiet Courage: Women Agents in the French Resistance by Liane Jones (Bantam, 1990). Concentrates on the stories of F Section's Didi Nearne, Andrée Borrel, Noor Inayat Khan and Odette Hallowes.

Book cover for Behind Enemy Lines

Behind Enemy Lines by Rebecca Lawther (Pen and Sword, 2010).

image of book Abducting a General: The Kreipe Operation and SOE in Crete by Patrick Leigh FermorRecommended book rosette

Abducting a General: The Kreipe Operation and SOE in Crete by Patrick Leigh Fermor (John Murray, October 2014). Leigh Fermor's counter to William Stanley Moss's Ill Met by Moonlight is a shorter, maturer account of the kidnap of General Kreipe, accompanied by excerpts from nine of his contemporary SOE reports, and a walking guide to the route. Foreword by Roderick Bailey.

image of book Ian Fleming and SOE's Operation POSTMASTER by Brian Lett

Ian Fleming and SOE's Operation POSTMASTER: The Top Secret Story Behind 007 by Brian Lett (Pen and Sword, September 2012). An account of SOE's capture of an Italian ship off the coast of West Africa is heavy on operational detail. The alleged links to 007 are more speculative and irrelevant than the title suggests.

Book cover for The Small Scale Raiding Force

The Small Scale Raiding Force by Brian Lett (Pen and Sword, October 2013).

Book cover for The Assassination of Reinhard Heydrich

The Assassination of Reinhard Heydrich by Callum Macdonald (Birlinn, 2007). An account of the origins, execution and consequences of the ‘Anthropoid’ mission. The appendices include a summary of Czech parachute missions.

Book cover for The Secret History of SOERecommended book rosette

The Secret History of SOE: Special Operations Executive, 1940‐1945 by William Mackenzie (St Ermin's Press, 2000). WJM Mackenzie's "in‐house" official history of SOE, completed in 1948. Arguably the single most important reference work on SOE in Europe, and a strong influence on Foot's SOE in France (see above). Long out of print, however (a copy of the original typed manuscript is available at the National Archives at Kew).

Book cover Canadians Behind Enemy Lines

Canadians Behind Enemy Lines, 1939‐1945 by Roy MacLaren (University of British Columbia Press, 2004). First published in 1981.

image of book Unearthing Churchill's Secret Army: The Official List of SOE Casualties and Their Stories by Martin Mace and John Grehan

Unearthing Churchill's Secret Army: The Official List of SOE Casualties and Their Stories by Martin Mace and John Grehan (Pen and Sword, July 2012). A pretty unremarkable A‐Z of fallen agents with noticeable errors.

Book cover for All The King's Men

All the King's Men: The Truth Behind SOE's Greatest Wartime Disaster by Robert Marshall (Collins, 1988). A follow‐up to a BBC Timewatch programme first broadcast in 1986, Marshall's book endorses a conspiracy theory that MI6's assistant chief Claude Dansey brought down SOE's biggest network in France in 1943.

Behind the Lines: The Oral History of Special Operations in World War II by Russell Miller ( Martin Secker & Warburg, 2002). Similar format to Forgotten Voices of the Secret War, with some non‐SOE sources.

Book cover for Security and Special Operations

Security and Special Operations: SOE and MI5 During the Second World War by Christopher J. Murphy (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006). Scholarly work that details the work of SOE's Security Section, its liaison with MI5 and MI6; its handling of the ‘Englandspiel’ disaster and of double‐agent Henri Déricourt.

Book cover for A Spur called Courage

A Spur Called Courage: SOE Heroes in Italy by Alan Ogden (Bene Factum, 2011).

Book cover for Sons of Odysseus

Sons of Odysseus: SOE Heroes in Greece by Alan Ogden (Bene Factum, 2012).

image of book Tigers Burning Bright: SOE Heroes in the Far East

Tigers Burning Bright: SOE Heroes in the Far East (Paperback) by Alan Ogden (Bene Factum, May 2013).

Book cover for Free French Secret Agents

The Free French Secret Agents by Pascal Le Pautremat (Histoires et Collections, 2013).

Book cover for Thailand's Secret War

Thailand's Secret War: OSS, SOE and the Free Thai Underground During World War II by Bruce Reynolds (Cambridge University Press, 2010).

image of book Secret Flotillas Volume 1

Secret Flotillas: Clandestine Sea Operations to Brittany 1940‐44 (Volume I) (Paperback) by Sir Brooks Richards (Pen and Sword, November 2012). Both this and Volume II below are reprints of the revised official histories published in 2004. They're very useful reference works on SOE, SIS and special forces sea operations, with helpful appendices.

Book cover for Kill The Fuhrer

Kill the Fuhrer: Section X and Operation Foxley by Denis Rigden (History Press, 2009). First published in 1999.

Book cover for War Resistance and Intelligence

War Resistance and Intelligence: Collected Essays in Honour of M.R.D. Foot by Dr K.G. Robertson (ed.) (Pen and Sword, 1999).

Book cover for F Section

F Section Special Operations Executive: Buckmaster Networks by Marcel Ruby (Pen and Sword, 1988). Sometimes inaccurate history of F Section, with some interesting passages given by agents.

Book cover for SOE: A New Instrument of War

Special Operations Executive: A New Instrument of War (Studies in Intelligence) by Mark Seaman (ed.) (Routledge, 2005). Seventeen papers on a variety of SOE topics. Contributors include M.R.D. Foot, David Stafford, Mark Seaman, Christopher Woods and Sir Brooks Richards.

Book cover for Britain and European Resistance

Britain and European Resistance, 1940‐45: A Survey of the Special Operations Executive, with Documents by David Stafford (Macmillan, 1980). An overview of SOE's operations, and its relations with Whitehall and the Chiefs of Staff. Written before the release of the SOE archives (the documents mentioned in the title are Cabinet Office papers).

image of book Mission Accomplished: SOE and Italy 1943-1945 by David Stafford

Mission Accomplished: SOE and Italy 1943‐1945 (Paperback) by David Stafford (Vintage, March 2012). Starting with the Allied invasion of Italy and the formation of SOE's No.1 Special Force, this official history is lighter in weight and style than most (see also the prequel spanning 1940‐43, Target Italy, by Roderick Bailey). The hardback edition was published by Bodley Head in March 2011.

Book cover for Secret Agent: The True Story

Secret Agent: The True Story of the Special Operations Executive by David Stafford (BBC Books, 2000). Introduction to SOE published to coincide with the four‐part BBC TV series broadcast in 2000.

image of book Kidnap in Crete by Rick Stroud

Kidnap in Crete: The True Story of the Abduction of a Nazi General by Rick Stroud (Bloomsbury, September 2014). Quick-paced history of Cretan resistance and the kidnap of General Kreipe. Comparable to Wes Davis' The Ariadne Objective.

image of book SOE and the Resistance: As Told in Times Obituaries

SOE and the Resistance: As Told in Times Obituaries by Michael Tillotson (ed.) (Continuum, November 2011). Nearly a hundred obituaries, accompanied by the editor's commentaries; both vary in quality and accuracy. The book also includes some non‐SOE entries.

Book cover for Secret War: The Story of SOE

Secret War: The Story of SOE, Britain's Wartime Sabotage Organisation by Nigel West (Hodder and Stoughton, 1992).

image of book The Politics and Strategy of Clandestine War by Neville Wylie

The Politics and Strategy of Clandestine War: Special Operations Executive, 1940‐1946 (Paperback) by Neville Wylie (ed.) (Routledge, December 2012). A compilation of essays first published in the journal Intelligence and National Security. Includes contributions by Roderick Bailey, Mark Seaman, Duncan Stuart, Saul Kelly and Christoper Murphy.

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©2009-16 Nigel Perrin