Special Operations Executive

A Type A Mk III Suitcase Radio used by Special Operations Executive; Suitcase radios were used extensively by Special Operations Executive (SOE) to arrange supply drops and the movement of personnel. Messages were normally transmitted in Morse code having first been enciphered. Early models were heavy and bulky but this example, designed in 1943 by Major John Brown, was smaller and lighter than any previous models. It had the same transmission range of about 800 kilometres (500 miles) as the Type B Mark II, but was almost nine kilograms lighter.

A Type A Mk III Suitcase Radio used by Special Operations Executive

equipment

Suitcase radios were used extensively by Special Operations Executive (SOE) to arrange supply drops and the movement of personnel. Messages were normally transmitted in Morse code having first been enciphered. Early models were heavy and bulky but this example, designed in 1943 by Major John Brown, was smaller and lighter than any previous models. It had the same transmission range of about 800 kilometres (500 miles) as the Type B Mark II, but was almost nine kilograms lighter.

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Special Operations Executive (SOE) was a secret British Second World War organisation created in July 1940.

Following the fall of France, Prime Minister Winston Churchill tasked Hugh Dalton with forming SOE with the instruction to 'set Europe...

Special Operations Executive (SOE) was a secret British Second World War organisation created in July 1940.

Following the fall of France, Prime Minister Winston Churchill tasked Hugh Dalton with forming SOE with the instruction to 'set Europe ablaze', by helping local resistance movements and conducting espionage and sabotage in enemy-held territories.

Colonel Colin Gubbins, SOE's first head of training and operations, organised in-depth training for recruits in unarmed combat, firearms, sabotage and wireless techniques. Research and development stations were set up near Welwyn in Hertfordshire, where scientists and technicians worked on specialist weapons, sabotage equipment and camouflage materials.

Agents operated in countries under the occupation of Nazi Germany, including France, Belgium, Greece, Albania, Yugoslavia and Italy. They also operated in the Far East as Force 136. Agents were generally dropped by parachute, although some were transported by submarine. SOE also had a Naval Section, which used small boats to put agents ashore.

Secure and well-organised radio communications between SOE headquarters and agents in the field were crucial, as living and operating secretly behind enemy lines was extremely hazardous. If discovered, agents risked arrest, torture and execution. Of the 470 F section agents sent into France, 118 failed to return.

Successful operations include the destruction of the Norsk Hydro Plant in Norway in 1943, which was manufacturing heavy water for the Nazis’ atomic bomb programme. By 1945, SOE was a major organisation with agent networks extending across Occupied Europe and the Far East, and had over 13,000 men and women in its ranks.

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  • Noor Inayat Khan

    photographs

    Noor Inayat Khan; Noor Inayat Khan (code name Madeleine) was the first female wireless operator sent by Special Operations Executive (SOE) into France, arriving in Paris in June 1943. Her job became increasingly dangerous when one of the major SOE networks was betrayed, but she rejected suggestions that she return to England. Inayat Khan was arrested in October and imprisoned in Germany after resisting interrogation. She was transferred to Dachau concentration camp, where she was killed in September 1944. She was awarded a posthumous George Cross.
  • Xhelal Staravecke

    photographs

    Xhelal Staravecke; Xhelal Staravecke shaking hands with Major Billy McLean at Shtylla in August 1943, during the first SOE mission to Albania. In 1943, SOE sent a four-man mission, led by Major Billy McLean, into Albania to train and arm the Albanian resistance. The aim was to divert German resources away from the Eastern Front and hasten Italy’s collapse. SOE agents fought alongside communist partisans led by Enver Hoxha. The SOE mission was made more difficult as competing groups were already looking to gain power after the war and were often reluctant to work together.
  • Camouflage jump suit

    uniforms and insignia

    Camouflage jump suit; Camouflage jump suit worn by agents dropped by SOE. SOE agents who were parachuted into occupied territory were issued with a helmet and a set of camouflage protective overalls. They were buried upon landing along with the parachute and the agent wore civilian clothing underneath to blend in. It has two front zips running the entire length of the garment enabling the wearer to step out and discard the suit with maximum speed. It also has a large pouch behind for holding a small parcel or suitcase.
  • Two members of the 'Jude' Jedburgh Team

    photographs

    Two members of the 'Jude' Jedburgh Team; A Jedburgh Team was a unit typically consisting of three men: two officers and a wireless operator. They were dropped on or shortly after D-Day to assist the Resistance. In France, 93 teams were used. Each party normally brought arms for 100 men. Sergeant A E Holdham (pictured right), Captain Bill Evans and Lieutenant Jean Lavine were parachuted into France on 14 August 1944. They formed the 'Jude' Jedburgh Team, which was based in the town of Colmar near Strasbourg.
  • Sten gun, 9mm Mk 2 with suppressor

    weapons and ammunition

    Sten gun, 9mm Mk 2 with suppressor; The Sten submachine-gun was modified in SOE workshops at Welwyn to include a silencer. This meant it could be used in clandestine operations without attracting too much attention. Another advantage of the silencer was that it removed the muzzle flash, which was important when an SOE agent was operating at night. It was a robust and simple weapon which was cheap to produce, but it was also liable to go off by accident when jolted.
  • SOE Bodkin or nail dagger

    weapons and ammunition

    SOE Bodkin or nail dagger; SOE developed special weapons for silent killing and assassination and before going into action, agents were given in-depth unarmed combat and firearms training. This dagger, known as a bodkin dagger or 'nail', was intended to be worn strapped to the user's arm or leg in a special sheath. Other knives carried by agents include thumb knives, which were gripped with the thumb and forefinger and were small enough to be concealed in the agent’s clothing.
  • Resistance member

    photographs

    Resistance member; Resistance member setting an explosive charge on a railway line in France, 1943. SOE agents worked with Resistance members to damage and destroy bridges and railway lines, in order to cause maximum disruption to the occupying forces. SOE Explosives Section developed the use of plastic explosive in sabotage operations as it was safer and more powerful than many other explosive materials. If it was not available, dynamite, gelignite could also be used, but these were less safe to handle.
  • Suicide phial (cyanide) container

    equipment

    Suicide phial (cyanide) container; SOE agents risked interrogation and torture if arrested. Some chose to commit suicide rather than risk revealing information that might compromise their mission. SOE produced several variations on the 'suicide pill' or 'L' tablet. Some contained cyanide which if sucked was said to cause almost instant death. Other tablets available to agents included the 'B' tablet, which staved off tiredness and the 'K' tablet, which was a morphia-based sleeping draught designed to be used on the enemy.
  • A limpet mine concealed in a petrol can

    weapons and ammunition

    A limpet mine concealed in a petrol can; The limpet mine consisted of six magnets fastened around about two kilograms of explosive, which could be attached to the side of a ship or other metal target. Camouflage played an important role when explosives had to be concealed during transit or stored. SOE Camouflage Section developed numerous methods of concealing sabotage equipment, often disguising mines or explosives in everyday objects that would not arouse suspicion.