SOE F Section timeline
The SOE F Section timeline lists the significant events in the history of Section F of the Special Operations Executive. The Special Operations Executive (SOE) was a clandestine organization of the United Kingdom during World War II. The purpose of SOE was to conduct espionage, sabotage, and reconnaissance in countries occupied by the Axis powers. SOE agents allied themselves with resistance groups and supplied them with weapons and equipment parachuted in from England. Section F was responsible for many of SOE's activities in France which was occupied by Nazi Germany.
SOE F Section sent about 470 agents to France from 1941 to 1944, of whom about 40 were women. The Valencay SOE Memorial lists 91 men and 13 women agents who were killed, executed, or died in concentration camps during the war. SOE agents in France were organized into networks which usually consisted of an organiser (the leader), a courier, and a wireless operator.
- 19 June
- British Prime Minister Winston Churchill wrote a memorandum proposing to create an organization "to coordinate all action by way of subversion and sabotage against the enemy overseas. The army of Nazi Germany was in the process of occupying many countries of Europe, including France which would initially be divided into the Occupied Zone and the unoccupied or "Free Zone." (Vichy France)
- 22 July
- Vera Atkins joined SOE and was appointed the intelligence officer for Section F. Romanian born, she became "the most powerful personality in SOE."
- 5 May
- 13 June
- The first airdrop of weapons to the French Resistance took place, arranged by Georges Bégue and Pierre de Vomécourt. Two CLE Canisters were parachuted onto the estate of Philippe de Vomécourt near Limoges. The Vomécourt brothers created the first two SOE networks (or reseau) in France, named Autogiro and Ventriloquist.
- 23 August
- American Virginia Hall departed England for Vichy France as a SOE agent. Her cover was as a correspondent for The New York Post. The United States was not yet at war with Germany and Americans could travel to and from France. Hall was the first female SOE agent to live and work in France for an extended period of time.
- 4 September
- The first clandestine landing of a Westland Lysander airplane in support of SOE took place on a farm field in Indre Department. The Lysander transported agents and reports back and forth from England to France and vice versa. Sixty-three Lysander flights would land in France during the war, transporting 102 agents into France and evacuating 129. Some agents arrived or departed by Lockheed Hudson airplane. Most arrived by parachute.
- 6/7 September
- 19/20 September
- SOE agent Francis Basin arrived in France by clandestine boat and set up operations in Cannes on the French Riviera. He came into contact with an organization called Carte headed by an artist named André Girard who claimed to have organized a large group of resisters to German control. Basin's reports on Carte gave SOE hope that it could be used as the spearhead of a large resistance movement to the Germans.
- 20 October
- 24 October
- As part of the "mousetrap," Georges Bégué was arrested in Marseilles and in an unrelated action, a routine document check, Michael Trotabas was arrested in Chateauroux. The arrests left Virginia Hall in Lyon as nearly the only SOE agent remaining at large in Vichy France and with no wireless operators.
- 17 November
- In Paris Nazi spy catcher Sergeant Hugo Bleicher led German police in arresting members of a Franco-Polish resistance group, Interallié. Among those arrested was Mathilde Carré, nicknamed "the Cat." In exchange for money and freedom, Carré agreed to work for Bleicher and helped him arrest additional members of the group. Interallié was destroyed.
- 26 December
- His wireless operator having been arrested, Pierre de Vomécourt had no means of communicating with SOE headquarters in London. In Paris he was introduced to Mathilde Carré who, unknown to him, had become a double agent, working for the Germans. She told him she had access to a wireless. The wireless was controlled by the Germans and they began transmitting, receiving, and reading Vomécourt's messages.
- 9/10 January
- Peter Churchill landed by submarine at Miramar on the French Riviera, to evaluate the Carte network. Carte's leader, André Girard, claimed that his organization could, with SOE help, undertake sabotage and guerilla warfare and eventually field an army of 300,000 men to resist German control of France. Assistance to Carte became F Section's top priority in 1942.
- 26/27 February
- Pierre de Vomécourt and Mathilde Carré departed France by Royal Navy motor torpedo boat to return to England. De Vomécourt had realized she was a German agent and persuaded her to go to England with him. She gained the approval of her German handlers for the trip, because she would learn much about SOE and report to them upon her return to France. Instead, Carré was imprisoned in England for the remainder of the war.
- 25 April
- Pierre de Vomécourt was arrested by Hugo Bleicher in Paris. He had been parachuted back into France on 1 April. Vomécourt persuaded the Germans to treat him and his followers as prisoners of war, rather than spies, and he spent the rest of the war imprisoned in Colditz Castle. His arrest, and the destruction of his Autogiro network, left SOE without any working networks in France, although Virginia Hall remained active in Lyon.
- 1/2 July
- English painter Brian Stonehouse, a wireless operator, parachuted into occupied France near the city of Tours, Indre-et-Loire, in the Loire Valley. Stonehouse was captured in October 1942 along with courier Blanche Charlet, and spent the rest of the war in German prisons, including Natzweiler-Struthof concentration camp. Charlet later escaped and was evacuated to England.
- 15 July
- Eleven SOE agents, including Michael Trotobas and Georges Bégué, escaped from a French prison in the Dordogne region. They made their way to Lyon where Virginia Hall helped them cross the border into Spain and return to England.
- 29/30 July
- SOE F Section's second on command, Nicolas Bodington, landed on the French Riviera via clandestine boat. Landed with him was Carte's second-in-command, Henri Frager and courier Yvonne Rudellat. Bodington's task was to assess the viability of Carte as a resistance organization and the assistance needed from SOE. Ruddelat would become involved with the Prosper network as a courier and saboteur.
- Claude de Baissac parachuted with Harry Peulevé near Nimes. Dropped from too low an altitude, Peulevé broke his leg. Despite a sprained ankle, de Baissac continued with his mission to set up the Scientist Network and to conduct espionage at Bordeaux. After a partial recovery, Puelevé, still limping, walked across the Pyrenees to Spain and returned to England in November.
- 27/28 August
- 12 September
- 17/18 September
- 24/25 September
- Andrée Borrel and Lise de Baissac arrived by parachute at night at a field near Mer, Loir-et-Cher. They were the first SOE female agents to be parachuted into France. Borrell went to Paris to become a key figure in the Prosper network. De Baissac went to Poitiers where, working mostly by herself, she supported several agents and networks.
- 1/2 October
- Francis Suttill arrived by parachute near Vendôme and proceeded to Paris to establish the Prosper (also called Physician) network. Suttill was highly regarded by SOE. Prosper was to replace the now defunct Autogiro network as the most important SOE network in northern France. Andrée Borrel was Suttill's courier and his wireless operator was Gilbert Norman.
- Poor security doomed the Carte network. Traveling by train to Paris, André Marsac's briefcase was stolen by a German agent. The briefcase contained the names and personal information about more than 200 Carte supporters. The Germans continued to observe Carte, but did not take immediate action to arrest those on the list.
- 3/4 November
- George Starr and Odette Sansom arrived clandestinely by boat at night near Cannes, Alpes-Maritimes, on the Mediterranean coast of France. The return voyage carried John Starr out of France following his first mission, taking with him reports collected by Peter Churchill. George Starr would establish a network in southwestern France and Sansom would become Churchill's courier.
- 8 November
- Allied forces invaded French colonies in North Africa and in consequence the Germans and Italians invaded and occupied Vichy France. The German occupation made life for SOE agents in Vichy France much more dangerous. Virginia Hall fled Lyon, walking across the Pyrenees to neutral Spain, although she had an artificial foot. She was known by the Germans as "the limping lady."
- 13 November
- Phillipe de Vomécourt was arrested by French police near Limoges and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
- 7/12 December
- Claude de Baissac organized the Scientist network in Bordeaux with the all-important priority of gathering intelligence and carrying out sabotage against the submarine base there. De Baissac's planned sabotage was thwarted when British commandos simultaneously (without coordination within the British government) carried out Operation Frankton against the submarine base. Frankton was only partially successful, German security increased afterwards and sabotage by de Baissac became infeasible.
- 29/30 December
- 2 January
- The Carte network was riven by internal controversy and finally split into factions headed by André Girard and Henri Frager. Peter Churchill, who was the liaison of Carte with SOE, favored Frager.
- 22 January
- Henri Dericourt, a pilot, parachuted into France and went to Paris to work as the air movements officer for the Prosper and other networks. Based in Paris, Dericourt organized Lysander landings at clandestine air fields. Prior to World War II, Dericourt was friends with SOE Deputy Director Nicolas Bodington who became SOE's Deputy Director and Karl Boemelburg who became the German Sicherheitsdienst (the SD, the SS security service) director in Paris.
- 23/24 March
- 25 March
- 16 April
- One day after Peter Churchill returned to France, he and his courier, Odette Sansom, were arrested by Hugo Bleicher in Saint-Jorioz near Annecy. Bleicher learned their location from arrested Carte members André Marsac and Roger Bardet. The Carte network in which SOE had invested so much hope was destroyed. The Prosper network of Francis Suttill became SOE's principal effort to foster resistance to the German occupation. Prosper was based in Paris. Churchill and Sansom would both survive the war in concentration camps.
- 18 April
- With contacts from the ruins of the Interallié, Autogiro and Carte networks, Prosper had grown rapidly and its writ now extended "from the Ardennes to the Atlantic." However, in a first sign of worry, Prosper leader Francis Suttill sent a report to SOE saying that he distrusted former Carte official Henri Frager, now associated with Prosper.
- 22 April
- The destruction of the Prosper network began with the arrest by the German SD of sisters Germaine and Madeleine Tambour in Paris. Both had been associated with Carte and also with Prosper. Francis Suttill attempted unsuccessfully to bribe the Germans for their release. Both were later executed. The sisters' apartment was a safe house and a letter box to pass along messages for SOE agents. A few days before the arrest, Benjamin Cowburn had commented to Suttill that too many people were going in and out of the apartment.
- 20/21 May
- Francis Suttill returned to France after a week of consultations with SOE in London. He informed SOE that he believed the Germans had infiltrated the Prosper network because of the large number of arrests taking place. His mood was described as "jaded," a "show of nerves," and antagonistic about what he considered the failings of SOE headquarters.
- 15/16 June
- Noor Inayat Khan, Diana Rowden, and Cecily Lefort arrived by air at a location north-east of Angers, Maine-et-Loire, in the Loire Valley, where they were met by Henri Dericourt. Inayat Khan would work with the Prosper network in Paris. Jack Agazarian left on the return flight to England. Agazarian had been accused by Suttill of being careless.
- 19/20 June
- Canadian SOE agents Frank Pickersgill and John Kenneth Macalister had parachuted into France a few days earlier. They were met by Yvonne Rudelatt and Pierra Culioli, who were to drive them to Paris, but the two Canadians were taken into custody by the Germans in Dhuizon. After a car chase Rudelatt and Culioli were wounded and captured.
- 23 June
- In London temporarily, Jack Agazarian told SOE that Suttill believed the security of Henri Dericourt's air movements operation was poor. This was apparently the first of many reports by SOE agents expressing concern about Dericourt. Some called him a "traitor" although it was unclear to SOE in London whether that charge pertained to Dericourt (code named "Gilbert") or Suttill's wireless operator, Gilbert Norman.
- 7 July
- A wireless message ostensibly from Gilbert Norman in Paris confirmed that Suttill had been arrested. However, the message did not contain a security check inserted into all messages by operators to confirm their identity and that they were not broadcasting under duress. Rather than question the provenance of the message, SOE commander Buckmaster replied, "You have forgotten your security check. Be more careful." The message had in fact been sent to SOE by the Germans.
- Buckmaster's mistake permitted the Germans to play "funkspiel" (radio games) with Norman's wireless, receiving messages from SOE and sending false messages to SOE, a game they would play for the next few months with great success.
- 18 July
- John Starr was wounded and captured by German Sicherheitsdienst (SD) in Dijon. He was tortured before being moved to Paris to SD headquarters at 84 Avenue Foch.
- 22/23 July
- Nicolas Bodington and Jack Agazarian landed in France on a Lockheed Hudson airplane to investigate the fate of the Prosper network. SOE in London was aware that Suttill had been arrested but believed that his wireless operator Gilbert Norman was still at liberty. In reality, Norman was imprisoned and the Germans were using his radio to mislead the SOE.
- 30 July
- In Paris, Bodington and Agazarian contacted Gilbert Norman to arrange a meeting. The Germans in control of Norman's radio told Bodington to meet Norman at an apartment near the Gare Saint-Lazare. However, instead of Bodington, Agazarian went to the apartment and was arrested by the Germans. Why Bodington did not go to the apartment rather than Agazarian has been disputed. Bodington's friend and double agent Henri Dericourt may have warned Bodington not to go to the rendezvous. Agazarian was later executed.
- 2 August
- 17/18 August
- 15 September
- 18 September
- 13 October
- Noor Inayat Khan, the last remaining SOE wireless operator in the Paris area, was arrested. She apparently was betrayed by another woman to the Germans for money. The Germans also found her codes and security checks and used her wireless to mislead SOE, resulting in the arrest of more SOE agents and recovery of arms. Inayat Khan was imprisoned at 84 Avenue Foch, the SD (German counter-intelligence) headquarters in Paris.
- 30 October
- 18 November
- 19 November
- 25 November
- 26 November
- Noor Inyat Khan and Leon Faye were sent to Germany after refusing to take an oath not to try to escape again. John Starr took the oath.
- 27 November
- Michael Trotobas was killed in a gunfight with German soldiers in Lille.
- 3 January
- 27/28 February
- SOE agents Madeleine Damerment, France Antelme and Lionel Lee arrived by parachute into a field near Chartres, Eure-et-Loir and were immediately arrested by waiting Gestapo. The Germans knew of their arrival due to the wireless machines they had captured during the destruction of the Prosper network. These three were among the 19 SOE agents captured on their arrival in France and executed. French helpers of the Prosper network who were deported to Germany totaled at least 167.
- 2-3 March
- Eileen Nearne landed near Les Lagneys, Indre.
- Maurice Southgate was arrested.
- April 5
- April 29
- May 13
- May 24
- 1st Lt. Lee G. Johnson was captured by the Gestapo in Paris, France. He remained there until September, 1944. From there he was transferred to Stalag Luft I, Barth, Germany. He remained there until its April 1945 liberation.
- Eileen Nearne arrested.
- July 2
- July 6
- Diana Rowden, Vera Leigh, Sonya Olschanezky, and Andrée Borrel were shipped to the Natzweiler-Struthof, Bas-Rhin, concentration camp in the Vosges Mountains of Alsace (France) where they were injected with phenol and disposed of in the crematorium. Their arrival at the camp was witnessed by Brian Stonehouse.
- 8 August
- Harry Peulevé, Maurice Southgate, Eliseé Allard, Denis Barrett, Robert Benoist, Jean Bouguennec, Pierre Culioli, Angehand Defendini, Julien Detal, Henri Frager, Emile-Henri Garry, Frank Pickersgill, Pierre Geelen, Marcel Leccia, John Macalister, James Mayer, Pierre Mulsant, Charles Rechenmann, Roméo Sabourin, Arthur Steele and George Wilkinson were sent to Neue Bremm transit camp at Saarbrücken.
- 16 August
- Harry Peulevé, Maurice Southgate, Eliseé Allard, Denis Barrett, Robert Benoist, Jean Bouguennec, Pierre Culioli, Angehand Defendini, Julien Detal, Henri Frager, Emile-Henri Garry, Frank Pickersgill, Pierre Geelen, Marcel Leccia, John Macalister, James Mayer, Pierre Mulsant, Charles Rechenmann, Roméo Sabourin, Arthur Steele and George Wilkinson arrived at Buchenwald concentration camp.
- 17 August
- 25 August
- 27 August
- 6 September 6
- 13 September
- 14 September
- 5 October
- February 5
- February 17
- John Starr was sent to Mauthausen concentration camp.
- 29 March
- May 4
- Peter Churchill was liberated in Austria by American troops.
- May 7
- Nazi Germany surrendered to the Allies.
- 15 January
- SOE was officially dissolved.
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