Special Operations Executive (SOE) files

Special Operations Executive (SOE) files

(KV 6/9-38)

This transfer includes Security Service files relating to investigations into SOE personnel, circuits and organisation. The files concentrate on areas where the Service was asked by SOE to undertake investigations when there were doubts about the reliability of particular agents, or the security of circuits. The records either relate to countries and general SOE operations in them - for instance, Belgium, KV 6/9-10, or Holland, KV 6/34-35 - and circuits (e.g. the BISHOP organisation, KV 6/18-19) or relate to particular agents.

There is also a policy file (KV 4/201), which details the process of setting up the Security Service procedures under Major Geoffrey Wethered of Branch B1B to interrogate returning SOE agents under suspicion. The file reveals that the Service was concerned in 1943 that SOE and SIS networks in occupied Europe were being penetrated by the Germans and used to infiltrate German agents into Britain. One such example of this, not detected by the procedures put in place documented on this file, was that of Hendrikus Knoppers (see KV 6/37-38).

This release also includes one reconstituted personal (not list) file, KV 2/1175, concerning the investigations into SOE agent Roger Bardet, whose unconvincing tale of escape from German custody aroused suspicions that he might have been turned. The file includes copies of Bardet's interrogation, and that of another returned SOE agent, Bleicher.

Holland

(KV 6/33-35)

SOE's work in Holland was the most seriously compromised of all their operations, with circuits thoroughly penetrated by the Germans, captured radio sets played back successfully and skilfully to SOE in London with false information, and scores of SOE agents parachuted directly into German hands. The sorry tale is fully described in M R D Foot's official history SOE in the Low Countries, and the story of SOE's slow realisation that its Dutch operations were hopelessly penetrated in Leo Marks' Between Silk and Cyanide.

KV 6/34 relates to Security Service interrogations of two agents, code-named SPROUT and CHIVE, who had managed to escape from Holland and were interrogated on their return to the UK, and to general SOE security in Holland. SPROUT was Pieter Dourlein, a secret army agent dropped into Holland in March 1943 and arrested on landing. Dourlein escaped in August 1943 and returned to Britain. He subsequently wrote about his experiences in the book Inside North Pole. CHIVE was Johan Ubbink, a radio operator parachuted in to Holland in November 1942, who escaped and returned with Dourlein. There is a summary of their case at folio 77a.

KV 6/35 continues the story, and includes a letter of protest from Ubbink at his arrest in May 1944 (which was done to protect Operation OVERLORD) and correspondence relating to the agents' appeals for assistance to the Dutch government in exile. The file includes suspicions voiced by Major Wethered that CHIVE may have been a double agent, and copies of reports of the two agents' interrogations. Both KV 6/34 and KV 6/35 are indexed.

Belgium

(KV 6/9-10)

SOE operations in Belgium were far more secure than those in neighbouring Holland, but still some returning agents were interviewed by the Security Service because of time they had spent in contact with or in the hands of the German authorities. These files include the cases of PANDARUS (Louis Angelo Livio, in Belgium between November 1942 and July 1943 and March to September 1944, during which time he was arrested and escaped), and others. There are also reports on suspicions about the security of various circuits, as well as general reports on SOE and resistance cases in Belgium referred to the Service for investigation.

France

(KV 6/12-19, KV 6/27)

These files relate to various investigations into the security of SOE operations in France, compromised agents, suspected leaks of information from the Fighting Free French headquarters in London, the Free French COMBAT organisation (an armed resistance group whose chief, Henri Frenay, was interrogated in London in 1943) and the SOE BISHOP, SATIRIST, DELEGATE and BUTLER circuits.

KV 6/27 is a reconstituted file concerning investigations into the security of the SATIRIST, BUTLER and DELEGATE circuits, instituted immediately after D-Day, and taking less than a month. The file summarises the extent of Security Service knowledge of the state of the SOE circuits in France and speculates on how many circuits, assumed by SOE to be secure, might in fact be blown. The report into the circuits is at folio 6a.

Denmark

(KV 6/11)

This single file contains reports on two suspect cases concerning operations NOAH and JORGEN RANTZAU in Denmark in 1943-1944.

William Knight, aka Barry Winton

(KV 6/20-23)

Knight was a film actor (stage name Barry Winton, small parts in, e.g. Lost Horizon (Frank Capra, 1937)) who became an SOE agent and was arrested while in France by the Germans, whose security came into doubt upon his return to Britain. His case was refereed to the Security Service, and these four files cover its investigations into Knight from July 1943 to 1947. He was accused of having betrayed French patriots who operated a safe house for allied servicemen to the Germans.

KV 6/21 includes details of the intensive surveillance carried out on Knight after his return to the United Kingdom, including observations of his many visits to clubs in the company of various women. At folio 109b is a handwritten letter from Knight to a personal friend, Mrs Miriam Saunders, written at the time he was being trained by SOE, complaining amongst other things that his flat had been broken into by the police, and items stolen.

There is a good summary of the case, written by Major Wethered in October 1943 in KV 6/23 folio 211a, which is very critical of SOE's role in Knight's recruitment and treatment on return to the United Kingdom, and a further report on problems of SOE internal security on the same file at folio 213. The file includes photographs of Knight and his false French identity papers.

Jean Pierre Moulins, aka REX

(KV 6/24)

Moulins, who worked for SOE in France under the codename REX, had been involved before the Second World War with the supply of arms from Russia to Spain during the Civil War. He was accordingly suspected of being a Soviet agent. Nevertheless, his heroic defiance of the German invaders led to him being sent by de Gaulle as his delegate to occupied France (having previously been trained by SOE), where in May 1943 he established the National Resistance Council. He was subsequently arrested and murdered by Klaus Barbie. This file dates from 1943, and contains a summary of events relating to REX, along with correspondence concerning his case.

Robert Benoist

(KV 6/26)

Benoist, whose SOE personnel file was released earlier this year, came under suspicion because of a string of seemingly improbable escapes he made from German custody, and he was interrogated at length on his return to the United Kingdom. A celebrated motor racing driver before the Second World War, Benoist had served as a fighter pilot in the First World War. Despite doubts about his escapes, he was returned for a third mission in 1944, which ended with his arrest, and subsequent execution in Buchenwald.

This reconstituted file deals with Security Service investigations into Benoist from the time of his arrival in Britain in August 1943, including investigations into suspicions that he was working for the Germans (discounted, and probably attributable to his brother, Maurice).

John Starr, aka Bob Starr or Start

(KV 6/29)

Starr, a poster artist living in Paris on the outbreak of the Second World War, was prevented from joining the Royal Air Force because his father was American, and it was not until 1940 that he was able to join the Army. After being transferred to SOE, he was parachuted into France in August 1942 for a brief uneventful mission.

Starr returned in the spring of 1943 to work with the PROSPER circuit around Dijon and St Etienne, and was duly arrested in July when the penetrated circuit was swept up by the Germans. Having been shot while attempting to escape in Dijon, he was eventually transferred to Paris. A subsequent escape attempt during an air raid in the company of Noor Kahn also failed. He was transferred to Sachsenhausen, then Mauthausen where, posing as a French soldier, he was eventually handed over to the Red Cross and was interned in Switzerland until the end of the war.

It was Starr's conduct while in captivity in Paris that led to suspicions about his trustworthiness, for he seemed to be on good terms with his captors and enjoyed a fair amount of liberty. Other agents who saw Starr while being held at Avenue Foche in Paris drew the conclusion that he had defected to the German side. The suspicions against him have never been proved, as there was counter-evidence in the form of various escape attempts and consistent explanations from Starr during his post-war interrogations.

This file concerns the Security Service investigations into Starr, and includes case summaries (e.g. at folio 42a for March 1945), witness statements and interrogation reports (including for example those of the French maid employed to clean the room at Avenue Foche where allied agents were interrogated, at folio 43a, and Starr's own statement at folio 48a). These reports include evidence provided by agents who had seen Starr in Paris and survived captivity (including Peter Churchill and Odette Hallowes). There are reports on Starr's activities while held at Sachsenhausen and elsewhere. The file concludes that, while Starr's behaviour was at the very least suspicious, there were no grounds for launching a criminal prosecution.

Kurt Konig

(KV 6/33)

Because of the absence of reliable local support, SOE was unable to launch many operations into Germany during the War, but one successful agent was Kurt Konig.

An anti-Nazi Sudeten German, Konig deserted from the German army in 1942 and came to Britain, where in the course of his interrogation he supplied much useful military information. The Security Service investigated his suitability after SOE decided to take him on to run missions into Germany, and this file deals with that investigation. He went on to undertake several missions, gathering information and, on one occasion, sabotaging the railway line between Cologne and Koblenz. He was finally captured in January 1944, and executed in February 1945.

This reconstituted file deals with Security Service investigations into Konig. It emerges clearly from the file that the Service did not trust him and believed he should be interned, while SOE believed him and was instrumental in overcoming these objections and sending him on missions into Germany. A note by the Director of B in June 1943 indicates why SOE was able to win in this case - 'I am reluctant to take up this particular case with C as it may lead to recriminations between SIS and SOE for which we should be held responsible. There is already so much mistrust and ill-feeling between those two departments…' - the Service did not want to further encourage these recriminations. The file covers the period from 1942, when Konig arrived in Spain, to 1945 when his execution is reported. There are reports of Konig's activities for SOE, including from his interrogations (e.g. at folios 30b and 44a), and warnings of the dangers to SIS controls abroad should Konig be sent on a second mission. Konig's SOE personal file is a present closed but will be open later this year.

Hendrikus Knoppers

(KV 6/37-38)

Knoppers was a Dutchman who before the War had served as a wireless mechanic in the Dutch air force. In 1943 he was extracted from Holland by land through Spain using the 'Vic' escape line, the purpose being that he would bring papers with him. He claimed to have left the papers, which never turned up, with one of the Vic couriers, and this and his contact with the suspect Ridderhof, aka van Vliet (see KV 2/1170), resulted in Knoppers being subjected to prolonged questioning by SOE and then the Security Service. This never uncovered the fact that he was a double agent sent by the senior German officers involved in playing captured Dutch SOE agents back to London, or that he was introduced and passed through the Vic line by Ridderhof, the man responsible for penetrating allied escape lines.

The British investigators concluded that Knoppers had been an innocent dupe of the Germans. However, it was true that he had been sent on an impulse by the Germans and had no real means of communicating any intelligence back. He was trained to go back into Holland as an SOE agent, but his mission was never sent, and he was handed over to the Dutch armed forces, where he became head of the wireless intelligence section.

The files, both of which are reconstituted, concern investigations into Knoppers' case after his arrival in the United Kingdom. KV 6/37 includes copies of the original interrogation reports, and details the Security Service's suspicions that Knoppers' account of events was inconsistent with that provided by another SOE agent, BROADBEAN. KV 6/38 continues the story, with further interrogation reports and correspondence between the Security Service and SOE about the case.