SOE Training, Transport and Equipment

This brief list includes works on SOE's training centres, its techniques and gadgets, and the work of the secret air and sea services used to transport agents in and out of Occupied countries. I've included links to Amazon or relevant sellers as pointers to new and secondhand copies.
Recommended titles are indicated by a rosetterosette icon


Book cover for The Secret Agent's Handbook

Secret Agent's Handbook: The Top Secret Manual of Wartime Weapons, Gadgets, Disguises and Devices by Roderick Bailey (Max Press, 2010). A reproduction of SOE's illustrated equipment catalogue from 1944, listing everything from tyrebursters to incendiary briefcases.

Book cover for Sabotage! by Leslie Bell

Sabotage! The Story of Lt.Col. J Elder Wills by Leslie Bell (T Werner Laurie, 1957). Life of J Elder Wills, a film director who became head of SOE's camouflage section, employing many of the tricks of his former trade to produce novel gadgets and disguises.

Book cover for SOE: The Scientific Secrets

SOE: The Scientific Secrets by Frederick Boyce and Douglas Everett (History Press, 2004).

Book cover for The Secret Agent's Pocket Manual

The Secret Agent's Pocket Manual: 1939-1945 by Stephen Bull (ed.) (Conway, 2013). Reprint of a collection of manuals and guides on self defence, propaganda, disguise and sabotage, including The Partisan Leader's Handbook by Colin Gubbins and excerpts from William Fairbairn's All‐in Fighting. First published in 2009.

Book cover for Agents by Moonlight

Agents by Moonlight: The Secret History of RAF Tempsford during World War II by Freddie Clark (Tempus, 1999). Account of the work of the RAF's 138 and 161 Special Duty squadrons, which flew clandestine missions to drop agents and supplies over Occupied Europe. Clark was one of 138 Squadron's pilots.

Book cover for Beaulieu

Beaulieu: The Finishing School for Secret Agents by Cyril Cunningham (Leo Cooper, 2005). First published in 1994.

Book cover for All In Fighting

All‐in Fighting by W.E. Fairbairn (Naval and Military Press, 2008). This reissue of Fairbairn's guide to unarmed combat describes many of the techniques covered in SOE agents' training. First published in 1942 by Faber and Faber.

Book cover for Shooting to Live

Shooting to Live by W.E. Fairbairn and E.A. Sykes (Paladin Press, 2008). Not an SOE manual as such, but an introduction to the advanced pistol shooting techniques developed by Fairbairn and Sykes and taught to SOE agents. First published in 1942 by Oliver and Boyd.

Book cover for Wings of Night

Wings of Night: Secret Missions of Group Captain Pickard by Alexander Hamilton (Kimber, 1977). A pretty mundane, run-of-the-mill military biography. Pickard went on become CO of 161 Squadron in 1942, flying agents in and out of France by Lysander and Hudson. He was killed in 1944 during a low‐level raid to liberate French resisters from Amiens prison.

Book cover for Inside Camp X

Inside Camp X by Lynn‐Philip Hodgson (Blake Books, 2002). A history of Special Training School 103, which trained SOE agents in Canada. See also Camp X by David Stafford.

Book cover for The Shetland Bus

The Shetland Bus: A WWII Epic of Escape, Survival, and Adventure by David Howarth (Lyons Press, 2008). First published by Thomas Nelson and Sons in 1951.

Book cover for Clandestine Warfare by James Ladd and Keith Melton

Clandestine Warfare: Weapons and equipment of the SOE and OSS by James Ladd and Keith Melton (Blandford Press, 1988).

Book cover for Secret WarfareRecommended book rosette

Secret Warfare: The Arms and Techniques of the Resistance by Pierre Lorain (tr. David Kahn) (Orbis, 1984). Gives detailed descriptions and illustrations of SOE wireless sets, codes and small arms. First published in France in 1972 under the title of Armement Clandestin: SOE 1941‐1944.

Book cover for Flight Most Secret

Flight Most Secret: Air Missions for SOE and SIS by Gibb McCall (Kimber, 1981).

Book cover for Winston Churchill's Toyshop

Winston Churchill's Toyshop by Stuart Macrae (Amberley, 2011). The story of Millis Jefferis and his experimental department known as MD1, which produced specialised arms and explosive devices used by SOE. First published by Roundwood Press in 1971.

Book cover for Churchill's School for Saboteurs: Station 17

Churchill's School for Saboteurs: Station 17 by Bernard O'Connor (Amberley, 2014).

Book cover for Clandestine Parachute Pick Up Operations

Clandestine Parachute Pick Up Operations by Jean‐Louis Perquin (Histoire & Collections, 2012).

Book cover for The Clandestine Radio Operators

The Clandestine Radio Operators by Jean‐Louis Perquin (Histoire & Collections, April 2011).

Book cover for Secret FlotillasRecommended book rosette

Secret Flotillas Volume 1 and Volume 2 by Brooks Richards (Routledge, 2004). Revised official history of naval operations that transported SOE's agents and supplies across Europe and North Africa. First published by HMSO in 1996 (cheaper softback reprints of Volume 1 and Volume 2 have since been published by Pen & Sword).

Book cover for SOE Syllabus

How to Be a Spy: The World War II SOE Training Manual by Denis Rigden (ed.) (Dundrun Group, 2004). Course notes reproduced from the original syllabus used at SOE's Special Training School 103 - better known as 'Camp X' - in Canada, instructing on all types of agent fieldcraft. First published by PRO Books in 2001.

Book cover for Camp X

Camp X by David Stafford (Lester and Orpen Dennys, 1986). The story of SOE's training school in Ontario, which trained Canadian and US agents from 1941. See also Inside Camp X by Lynn‐Philip Hodgson.

Book cover for Fairbairn-Sykes Commando Dagger

Fairbairn-Sykes Commando Dagger by Leroy Thompson (Osprey, 2011). History of the iconic FS dagger used by SOE and special forces.

Book cover for Moon Squadron

Moon Squadron by Jerrard Tickell (Alan Wingate, 1956).

Book cover for Station 12

Station 12: Aston House – SOE's Secret Centre by Des Turner (History Press, 2006).

Book cover for Station 43

Station 43: Audley End House and SOE's Polish Section by Ian Valentine (History Press, 2006). History of Audley End House near Saffron Walden in Essex, used as a Special Training School from 1942 for several hundred Polish agents.

Book cover for We Landed by MoonlightRecommended book rosette

We Landed by Moonlight: Secret RAF Landings in France 1940‐1944 by Hugh Verity (Crecy Publishing, 1998). First published by Ian Allan in 1978. Still the most readable and reliable first‐hand account of the work of the Special Duties squadrons, which secretly ferried hundred of agents in and out of France.

Book cover for Wanborough Manor

Wanborough Manor – School for Secret Agents by Patrick Yarnold (Hopfield Publications, 2009). A slim wartime history of the SOE training school with a useful listing of the French Section agents who passed through it.

image of book The British Spy Manual: The Authentic Special Operations Executive (SOE) Guide for WWII

The British Spy Manual: The Authentic Special Operations Executive (SOE) Guide for WWII (Aurum Press, October 2014). A sort of repackaged Secret Agent's Handbook in colour, presenting SOE's equipment catalogues featuring the now infamous exploding rats and other Bondish gadgets. The introductory text is uninspired, but it's a nicely presented picture book.

image of book SOE Manual: How to be an Agent in Occupied Europe

SOE Manual: How to be an Agent in Occupied Europe (William Collins, November 2014). This is another reproduction work, with selections from SOE's training syllabus covering sabotage, parachute operations, interrogation, fieldcraft etc. For those wanting an unabridged reprint of the course notes, see How to be a Spy.

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©2009-16 Nigel Perrin