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SOE: An Outline History of the Special Operations Executive 1940 - 1946 [Paperback]

M R D Foot
2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

3 Jun 1999

SOE, the Special Operations Executive, was a small, tough British secret service, a dirty tricks department, set up in July 1940. Recruited from remarkably diverse callings, the men and women who were members of this most secret agency in the Second World War lived in great and constant danger. Their job was to support and stimulate resistance behind enemy lines; their credentials fortitude, courage, immense patience and a devotion to freedom.

The activity of the SOE was world-wide. Abyssinian tribesmen, French farmers, exiled Russian grandees, coolies, smugglers, printers, policemen, telephonists, tycoons, prostitutes, rubber workers, railwaymen, peasants from the Pyranees to the Balkans, even the regent of Siam - all had a part to play as saboteurs, informers, partisans or secret agents.

In this engrossing and illuminating study, the eminent Second World War historian, M.R.D. Foot, sheds light on the heroism of individual SOE agents across the world and provides us with the definitive account of the Executive's crucial wartime work.

With an introduction by David Stafford.

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SOE: An Outline History of the Special Operations Executive 1940 - 1946 + A Life In Secrets: Vera Atkins and the Lost Agents of SOE + The Heroines of SOE: F Section: Britain's Secret Women in France
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Product details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Pimlico; New Ed edition (3 Jun 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0712665854
  • ISBN-13: 978-0712665858
  • Product Dimensions: 13.6 x 21.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 316,608 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

SOE The Special Operations Executive 1940- 1946 reads just as well now as it did when it was first published by the BBC in 1984 to coincide with a television series--not least because its author, M.R.D Foot, was appointed the official historian to the SOE just after World War Two and has had access to its entire archive. The SOE was hastily cobbled together in 1940 to wage subversive campaigns behind enemy lines, and by and large it made up the rules as it went along. It recruited where and when it could. As might be expected, the senior ranks generally came from the echelons of the public schools, the City, the business world and the armed services; but its agents were a bizarre mix of eccentrics and mavericks from all over the world--including North American newspaper editors, South American businessmen, Spanish smugglers, Abyssinian tribesmen, Norwegian mountaineers, schoolchildren, Dutch printers, Greek outlaws, Slovene peasants, Malayan rubber workers, Siamese noblemen, Naga hillmen, Polish and Czech railway guards and Chinese tycoons. All in all, however, SOE's total strength never totalled more than 10,000 men and 3,200 women. Often the training was crude and the operations were ill-thought out and as a result many failed. But that only serves to make those that succeeded against such long odds all the more impressive. Occasionally, such as its attack on the Norsk Hydro plant at Rjukan, SOE's operations were critical to the outcome of the war, but for the most part its successes owed more to the longevity of attrition rather than any immediate outcome.

The SOE spent much time engaged in diversionary activity. It was said that each day Hitler spent at least half an hour considering Abwehr reports on SOE activities and that he was never entirely sure of their place in the overall framework of Allied plans. But perhaps the greatest success of the SOE was the way it managed to foster a mentality of resistance in all areas of Nazi occupation. Populations that might otherwise have settled for an easy life were galvanised into a permanent state of mini-rebellion, thereby ensuring that the occupying forces could never relax for a moment. Foot is the ideal guide to walk you through this outfit of which much has been spoken but little is known, sorting out the fact from the fiction but he still finding ample room for storytelling. Your perspective on World War Two will never be quite the same again after reading this. -- John Crace

Book Description

'A fit testament to the bravery, selflessness and sacrifice of a magnificent group of people.' Sunday Telegraph

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

2.8 out of 5 stars
2.8 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Summary from a master of the subject 8 Jan 2009
MRD Foot is acknowledged as one of the leading authorities on the subject, and this work effectively summarises his efforts on SOE in different areas - as well as giving a clear picture of its origins, objectives and methods. A relatively easy read, enjoyable, and with many well chosen examples and comments on the task and problems of the organisation.

Probably the biggest problem facing the author was to pack much information into a single volume - so if you want to pick on one aspect or country it would be worth consulting one of his other works. I understand that his 'SOE in France' is a classic, though I have not read this one as yet.

Recommended for anybody interested in clandestine operations, or World War II - also a good choice for the general reader who wants an all round picture of SOE in a single work.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
A bit dated now but ensure you have the latest edition which has included the revelation of Enigma.For a start read to the history of SOE it gives a good overall view of the politics behind its inception and its operations. I found the countries it influenced a bit light as there was no mention of West Africa. I was concerned that the author took the view that to write about the fate of agents in enemy hands was tantamount to 'Pornography' and personally feel that this recording of history, supported by evidence, is essential to honour their sacrifice.
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13 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars When secrets become history 10 April 2004
By A Customer
Simetimes there are certain things that cannot be written in history books. Either politics or security reasons does not allow the aknowledjment of people and organizations. This book offers to reader the opportunity to learn about and understand the significant role of SOE in WWII, not only for Britain but also for other countries that faced Nazism. It is history about WHO HOW and WHEN secretelly helped fighting the Axis forces world-wide. Especially for me it was also a confirmation of what I had Heard from people that lived the WW II in Greece, about participation of British in the efforts of my country to fight German occupation (1941-1944).
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2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Unreliable 10 Feb 2013
I challenge anyone to read the section concerning the activities of Noor Inayat Khan and infer from that that she was subsequently awarded the George Cross. If the rest of the book is as poorly written as this part then it's not worth the paper it's written on.
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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  1 review
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Condensed version of a classic 9 July 2013
By AJ - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
M.R.D. Foot is the expert in this particular field and this book condenses much of his other books on SOE into an interesting and informative book that covers a lot of ground. As someone who was part of the secret war of WW2, Foot has the experience and the skill to point out the little things that really mattered. As a soldier and historian Dr Foot ranks very highly, and we lost a great talent when he passed away.
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