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The Secret War
Against Hitler

by Gary Kamiya
with original illustrations
by Jeffrey Smith
designed by Norma Tennis
produced by Karen Croft

Simon & S ch uster

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Simon & Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas
To my parents, who taught me
New York, NY 10020 to respect courage and hate war.
Copyright © 2010 by The Talbot Players, LLC

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this And to Kate, for everything.
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Designed by Norma Tennis

Manufactured in the United States of America

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Kamiya, Gary.
Shadow knights: the secret war against Hitler / by Gary Kamiya
; with original illustrations by Jeffrey Smith ; designed by Norma
­Tennis; produced by Karen Croft.—1st Simon & Schuster hardcover ed.
p. cm.
1. World War, 1939-1945—Secret service. 2. World War,
1939-1945—Secret service—Great Britain. 3. World War,
1939-1945—Military intelligence. 4. World War, 1939-1945—Commando
operations. 5. Great Britain. Special Operations Executive—Biography.
6. Intelligence officers—Biography. 7. Spies—Biography. I. Title.
D810.S7K26 2010
940.54 8641—dc22

ISBN 978-1-4391-0904-5

Art and photo credits can be found on page 167.

it is not the rock , which does not know whether a king or a
beggar, a holy man, or a wicked person stands upon it. It is not the
angels, who have no heart to feel with and for another; they feel the
praise of God, they praise God. It is man who has been given a heart.
. . .We should first try to become human. To become an angel is
not very difficult; to be material is very easy; but to live in the world,
in all the difficulties and struggles of the world, and to be human at
the same time, is very difficult. If we become that then we become the
miniature of God on earth.

—Hazrat Inayat Khan,

“Character-Building” (From Sufi Teachings, vol. 8,
The Sufi Message of Hazrat Inayat Khan)
Shadow Knights

T hey were making small talk now,

but the Gestapo man’s gun was still
pointed at Harry Ree’s midsection.
The British secret agent would have to
make his move soon. More Germans were
Ree was still strangling the German,
but now his enemy hit him over the head
with the butt of the gun. Ree saw stars, but
found the strength to lunge at him, forc-
ing him to drop the pistol. Ree knocked
on their way. him to the floor and tried to stomp on his
“How about a drink?” Ree said. The head with his heel, but the man spun away
Gestapo man nodded, following Ree’s and rose to his feet. They started punching
movements with his pistol. Ree found a each other, staggering out of the kitchen
bottle of Armagnac in the cupboard and and down the cellar steps.
poured out two drinks. When his captor Suddenly the Gestapo man rushed at Ree
stretched out his hand for the tumbler, and got a headlock on him. Ree couldn’t
Ree saw his opportunity and smashed the escape. The man squeezed Ree’s neck harder
­bottle as hard as he could on the man’s and harder. He began to feel faint.
head. When Ree had parachuted into France
The German must have had a skull of stone. seven months earlier, his wife, Hetty, was
He jumped up from his chair, ­hissing, “Ah, so about to give birth to their second child.
that’s your game.” Soon after he landed, hiding in a farm-
Ree gripped him house, Ree listened as a BBC announcer ran
Harry Ree by the throat. The through a long list of cryptic announce-
gouged man pushed his
pistol into Ree’s
ments, coded messages sent by his friends
in London. Straining his ears, he heard the
the Gestapo ribs and pulled faint voice say, “Clèmentine ressemble à sa
man’s eyes. the trigger. Ree
heard the shot, but
grand-mère”—“Clementine resembles her
grandmother.” It meant nothing to anyone
But they he felt no impact. in the world except Ree. But it told him that
wouldn’t More shots; six
in all. “Is he shoot-
his wife had given birth to a baby girl.
Now, as the Gestapo man strangled
come out. ing blanks?” he him, that memory jolted Ree. “Look here,
wondered. old man,” he told himself, “if you’re ever

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Shadow Knights Shadow Knights
the German fell to the floor, Ree on the bridge. He would have to swim. He “God,” he thought. “They weren’t
tried to remember all the dirty felt himself getting wet under his coat and blanks!”
tricks he had learned during his put his hand underneath to see how wet. Ree did not know it then, but he had
training, but all that came to When he pulled it out, his hand was slip- been hit with all six bullets.
him was the scene in King Lear pery with blood. A lot of blood. He stepped into the dark river.
in which Gloucester is blinded.
He gouged at one of the man’s
eyes, but it wouldn’t come out.
He tried to bite off his nose,
but it was too tough. Then Ree
shoved his forefinger into the
German’s mouth, between his
teeth and his cheek, and pulled
up hard. The man squealed in
pain and sent Ree flying over
his head.
Both men staggered to their
feet. Ree knew he must finish
him off. If the other Gestapo

men arrived, he would be as
good as dead. He rushed at the
man again and smashed his hortly before midnight on October humans. During the six-month-long sub-
If he did n’t keep head against the wall, harder 18, 1942, four young Norwegian men arctic winter, it is a frozen, forbidding
f i g h t i n g, t hou g ht
this time. The German slid
down, his face turned to the
hurled themselves out of the belly
of a British Halifax bomber and dropped
wasteland—2,500 square miles of ice and
snow-covered rocks, glaciers, fjords, nar-
Ree, he’d never wall. Ree stepped back to do it through the night sky toward a landscape row valleys and jagged mountains, all of
again, but the man whispered, so vast, white and endless it looked like it entirely above the tree line. Its sudden,
see his ba by girl “Get out...go to hell...” a desert of snow. The commando team— deadly blizzards, the worst in Europe, are
ba ck home. Ree stumbled down the front code-named “Grouse”—had been charged legendary. It is a place where nature’s knife
stairs to his bicycle, but he was with carrying out one of the most crucial edge can be unsheathed in an instant.
too unsteady to mount it. He missions of World War II. To survive, they The four young Norwegians were on a
going to see your daughter, you’ve got to headed for the back garden. He knew that would have to overcome not just an army daunting assignment. They had to make
get out of this one.” He swung his arms if he ever needed to escape in a hurry, the of Germans, but the most desolate place in their way across this unforgiving terrain
back, the way he had been trained in back way would take him to the next vil- Europe.
Scotland, and smashed the man below the lage without crossing the road. He climbed An enormous, bar-
navel. Grunting in pain, the man released over a muddy ditch and over a bank and ren expanse in the
him. But they both immediately returned pushed into a bramble patch. Stuck in the Telemark region of
to the fight, a surreal battle of brief, vio- brambles, Ree slumped to the ground and southern Norway,
lent pummeling interrupted by moments began to pass out. He was just conscious the Hardangervidda
in which the exhausted enemies stood enough to realize that the jackbooted SS is too harsh a place
panting, staring at each other across the men would catch him if he stayed there. He for most plants and
room before they rushed at each other pulled himself out of the thicket and began animals, let alone
again. to walk across a field.
The slow-motion struggle went on and Darkness was falling, and it had begun The desolation of
the Ha rd an gerv idda
on. Finally Ree fought past the man’s fists to rain hard. Ree was approaching a swol-
and bashed his head against the wall. As len river. It would be too dangerous to cross

12 13
Shadow Knights
carrying 650 pounds of supplies, find a experience dealing with the Norwegian
landing strip, guide in two gliders filled wilderness. But perhaps even more impor-
with British commandos, and secretly lead tant, each of them possessed the intangible
them to a heavily guarded plant built on qualities that turn a group of individuals
the edge of a precipitous gorge just outside into an unbreakable team: resiliency, a
the wild plateau. Once at the site, they had sense of humor and an indomitable spirit.
to kill or neutralize the guards, blow up The Grouse team’s leader, 24-year-old
the plant’s machinery and somehow make Jens Poulsson, was a tall, powerfully built
their escape, avoiding the thousands of man whose trademark was his ever-­present
German troops who would be searching pipe. Poulsson had spent much of his life
for them. Through it all, they would have camping on the Hardangervidda and was
to survive everything an expert hunter and
the Hardangervidda crack outdoorsman.
could throw at them. The Norwegians’ Like all but one of the
It amounted, they
knew, to a suicide top-secret mission: quartet, he had grown
up in Rjukan, the clos-
mission. Stop Hitler from est town to the plant,

building an atom
But the four Nor- and his family still
wegians did not know lived there. Being
what only a few Al-
lied commanders did:
bomb. hometown boys gave
Poulsson and his fel-
that their mission was low commandos some
to stop Adolf Hitler from building an atom crucial advantages, but if the Germans
bomb. discovered their real identities, their loved
If you were allowed to pick any four ones would likely be sent to a concentra-
people in the world to send into the tion camp or executed.
Hardangervidda on a sabotage mission, Poulsson’s escape to Britain after
you could not have chosen better than these the German army overran Norway had
four men drifting down through the frigid required an epic odyssey. While most
air. First, there was the simple fact that Norwegians who wanted to fight the
they were Norwegians. No other country in Germans remained in Norway and joined
the world could have produced men so well the Milorg, the national resistance move-
suited to surviving the Hardangervidda in ment, others headed for Britain, where they
winter. There is a had heard they could get special training
reason that tiny and join an all-Norwegian company. Most
Most SOE Norway, with made their way via small boats that sailed
agents a population of
five million, has
between the Norwegian coast and the
Shetland Islands north of Scotland, a flo-
parachuted won more med- tilla so reliable it came to be known as the
into enemy als at the Winter
Olympics than
“Shetland bus.” But because Poulsson had
crossed the border to neutral Sweden, from
territory by any other nation. which no flights to Britain were available
the light of The four men
were supremely
at that time, he was forced to circle almost
the entire globe to make it to a destina-
the full moon. fit, expert skiers, tion only 400 miles away from where he
with a lifetime’s started. He traveled overland through

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Shadow Knights Shadow Knights
Hardangervidda was their trump card. The Hardangervidda. They knew they could
Germans, unaccustomed to its near-Arctic not outfight the infinite power of nature,
conditions, were so terrified of the high, what one of them called the “trolls of
frozen wasteland they refused to spend the Norway.” They had to yield to it, roll with
night in it. Even when pursuing their foes, its punches, burrow into its huge, indiffer-
they turned back after half a day to ensure ent heart.
they would be able to make it out in day- The Hardangervidda could save them, if
light. But the Norwegians understood the it did not kill them first.

Jens Poulsson, Knut Ha ugla nd,

Clau s Helberg, Ar ne Kjelstrup
humor. And, like his
Finland, the Soviet Union, Turkey, Syria, compatriots, he backed down from noth-
Lebanon, Palestine and Egypt, took a ship ing. Shot in the hip while fighting the
to India, another to South Africa, and Germans (a pair of wirecutters partially
finally a transatlantic ship to Trinidad. deflected the bullet), he and another man
From there, he flew to Canada. On the last escaped from a Nazi-controlled hospital,

leg he sailed to Britain on a regular convoy. commandeered a machine gun and took on
Clearly, he was not a man to be daunted by an entire German column, killing several
obstacles. of the enemy before they were forced to oor Inayat Khan had been in Paris Madeleine. They ordered their sophisticated
The second member of the team, Knut flee. He had accompanied Jens Poulsson on only ten days when her secret wireless-detection teams, which could pin
Haugland, was an equally strong-willed his long, globe-circling escape to Britain. world fell apart. down the exact location of a covert trans-
character. Haugland, who had been a radio There was to have been a fifth member Noor had flown into a disaster. The mission in 20 minutes, to begin searching
operator on a cargo ship, had joined the of the Grouse team—a muscular outdoors- ­British-organized resistance circuit she for her radio.
Norwegian army and fought against the man with a philosophical bent named had been sent to join, code-named Pros- Ten days in, and Noor was living on
Germans at Narvik in the far north. He Knut Haukelid. Haukelid had to with- per, had been smashed by the Nazis im- borrowed time—and not a lot of it. In 1943
was an unflappable man and a superb radio draw after he accidentally shot himself mediately after she landed in the French the average life expectancy of an under-
operator—a skill that would prove essential in the foot while training for the raid in countryside. Her cover ground wireless oper-
in the days ahead. Scotland. But his role in the saga was far had been blown. The ator in Europe was six
The next member of the team, Claus from over. circuit’s leaders had just weeks.
Helberg, was a devil-may-care risk-taker The four young Norwegians were fac- been seized. Many other The secret British or-
and the best skier in the group. Helberg’s ing almost impossible odds. But they had members of the un- ganization that had sent
desk had been next to Poulsson’s at school, two things in their favor. First, they were derground were being her knew that her situa-
which gave the team leader a front-row back on their own soil, fighting to free hauled in. tion was dire. Her com-
seat from which to observe Helberg’s tal- their country, knowing that most of their The Germans had an manding officer, Colonel
ent for first getting himself into trouble, countrymen would risk their own lives accurate description of Maurice Buckmaster, of-
and then somehow wriggling out of it. to help them. That knowledge would be a Noor’s appearance. They fered to bring her home.
Like a mischievous tomcat, Helberg always giant hand that would lift them up when knew she had been sent Anyone meeting Noor
seemed to get away. strength and will were failing. into France to work as a in her former life would
Finally, there was Arne Kjelstrup. And these extraordinarily brave men wireless radio operator have assumed that she
A plumber from Oslo, he was short but had something else on their side: nature for Prosper. They even would jump at the
brawny, with an irrepressible sense of itself. The extreme harshness of life on the knew her code name: Noor Inayat Khan chance to flee.

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Shadow Knights
Noor Inayat Khan was perhaps the most operator in Paris, the sole link between
unlikely secret agent ever sent into the field. London and the most important resistance
She was an ethereal figure, a butterfly who network in France. It was a war; she was a
had somehow fluttered into the iron jaws soldier. He agreed to let her stay.
of the Third Reich. A gentle, otherworldly Noor began searching for other safe
soul, she played the harp and had written a houses. She had grown up in Suresnes,
children’s book before the war. Her beloved a northern Parisian suburb just a short
father, who had died when she was still a walk from the Bois de Boulogne. By coin-
young girl, was an eminent Sufi mystic who cidence, she found an apartment in the
had raised her to believe in a transcendental building closest to the bridge that crosses
philosophy of cosmic harmony and divine the Seine to Suresnes, an elegant modern
truth. The person she was closest to was her white apartment block on the Boulevard
mother, a deeply spiritual American woman Richard-Wallace.
who had become increasingly frail after the The ethereal child-woman had ended up
death of her husband. only a few hundred yards from the place
Short and slight, with a high, soft voice, where she once played. But in this game,
Noor was a dreamy young woman, still to lose was to die.

haunted by the terrors of her childhood. An
old family friend, who once watched the he gentle Indian princess, the indomi-
young Noor freeze with terror while cross- table Norwegian commandos and the
ing a busy street, believed that “fear was intellectual British schoolteacher all had
always in her nature.” During her training one thing in common: They were agents of
to become a secret agent, Noor flinched at the Special Operations Executive. SOE was
the sound of gunfire. Many of the people a secret British organization, formed in
charged with her performance believed she desperation by Winston Churchill in 1940,
was completely unsuitable for the job. that grim year when Britain stood alone
But there was something immovable in against Hitler. Its mission was to foment
Noor, a mysterious force that was not obvi- sabotage and subversion behind enemy
ous to the casual observer, maybe not even lines. Churchill called it “the ministry of
to herself. Whatever it was, it would not al- ungentlemanly warfare.” The Nazis called
low her to back down. its agents “terrorists” or “gangsters” or
Noor radioed Buckmaster back. She did “bandits.” SOE agents worked with resis-
not want to fail her comrades. She planned tance movements in Axis-occupied coun-
to help rebuild the tries, providing them with the training,
shattered Pros- communications and arms they needed to
Noor was a per circuit. She strike back at their oppressors.
butterfly who wanted to stay. Scorned by the British military estab-
Buck master lishment, SOE started out as an amateurish
had somehow knew that if he al- group led by upper-class old boys with no
fluttered into lowed Noor to stay training in clandestine war. But by D-Day, it
in Paris, she would had grown into a professional paramilitary
the iron jaws almost certainly organization that employed 10,000 men
of the Third be caught, tor- and 3,000 women, about half of them in the
tured and killed. field, and operated in almost every country
Reich. But Noor was now touched by the war. Its agents assassinated
his only wireless Nazi officials in occupied Europe, hijacked

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Shadow Knights Shadow Knights
ships in Africa, cut telephone lines in lover. Another was an American newspa- sent to France were told that their chances But SOE’s eccentricity was also its
Madagascar, sabotaged factories in France, perwoman who roved around France, unde- of survival were about 50-50. Those were strength. From top to bottom, its ranks
kidnapped a German general in Crete, terred by a wooden foot she called Cuthbert. appalling odds, though better than those were filled with ornery, strong-willed
used canoes to blow up Japanese ships in What they all had in common was a deter- faced by crews in the Royal Air Force’s men and women, contrarians who dis-
Singapore and traded black-market money mination to fight the Axis in their own way. Bomber Command, who statistically stood liked taking orders. It was appropriate that
in China. But their primary mission was Instead of making a separate peace, they no chance of surviving their assigned 30 SOE’s London headquarters at 64 Baker
to help men and women living under occu- made, in a sense, a separate war. missions. In fact, “only” about one in four Street—behind a door innocuously labeled
pation fight the Nazis. Their war was a war of improvisation. agents sent to France did not return. But “Inter-Services Research Bureau”—was
Some SOE agents were transported It involved diplomacy as much as it did to focus merely on a stone’s throw from
into action by dynamite. It was their odds of sur- the fictional home
light plane, some fought under the viving is to ignore of Sherlock Holmes,
by boat. A hand- constant shadow of the fact that agents another legendary
ful were landed by torture and death. also knew that if amateur who used
submarines or sim- And it was a war caught, they would guile and unortho-
ply walked in. But they fought alone. probably be tortured dox methods to de-
the majority of SOE All soldiers in before they were feat wrongdoers. The
agents parachuted war possess cour- killed. The thought dean of SOE histori-
in by the light age, but SOE agents of being beaten, ans, M. R. D. Foot,
of the full moon. needed a special burned or held un- noted that “SOE was
The enduring image sort. Soldiers in derwater to simu- full of people with

SOE Headquarters,
of SOE is of a lone regular units are late drowning was personalities like
man or woman surrounded by their so terrifying that sledge-hammers.”
drifting down un- comrades. Most some agents, once Military historian
der a canopy of of them do not in the field, sim- 64 Baker Street, London Max Hastings wrote,
moonlit silk into risk their lives for ply froze up and re- “[I]t is striking to
enemy territory. flag and principle: fused to take any risks at all. One agent is note that there was absolutely no common
SOE agents came They stand up to said to have died of fright. denominator between the men and women
from all nationali- bullets because Clandestine warfare is as old as the of SOE beyond their courage...Each was en-
ties and walks of life. they don’t want Trojan Horse, and the British had been tirely an individual, often whimsical and
They were ­royalty, to let their bud- practicing it in one form or another since elusive.” One agent said, “We were all in-
soldiers, prostitutes, dies down. Neither the 15th century. But nothing quite like dividualists... We didn’t want a stupid colo-
crooks, journalists, Winston Churchill SOE agents nor the SOE had existed before, and there has nel ordering us to advance into a screen of
bartenders, racing- wa s fa scin ated resistance fighters never been anything like it since. Because bullets when we didn’t agree with the or-
car drivers, criminals, they worked with had it had to invent itself, there was more der—we weren’t the Light Brigade.” George
shopgirls, play­boys by guer rilla wa r. such support. They could than a whiff of classic British upper-class Millar, whose bestselling account of his
and businessmen. No sometimes open up to a amateurism about SOE. It was initially dangerous months with the French under-
fewer than 50 of the few trusted comrades, run by a handful of men who knew each ground, Maquis, is one of the finest ac-
agents SOE sent into France were women— but only with extreme care: Many of SOE’s other from elite public schools, such as counts of an agent’s life in the field, wrote,
an unprecedented development that was most effective agents never slept in the Oxford and Cambridge and the London “Britain is strong because of her cranks...
deemed too controversial to reveal until same house for more than a few nights in gentlemen’s clubs where Britain’s ruling In times of war, and especially in odd
after the war. Some agents were battle- a row. Even their own families rarely knew class congregated. Some of these old boys organizations like the one in which I found
hardened vets who had killed men in com- what they were doing or where they were. were clearly in over their head, and their see the importance of the great
bat, others were pacifists. One agent, who Except on the very rare occasions when ineptitude sometimes had appalling conse- body of Britishers who occupy themselves
later became movie star Douglas Fairbanks they wore uniforms, SOE agents were not quences. Of SOE’s leadership, the Times of seriously with crazy things.”
Jr.’s butler, was a flamboyant gay man who protected by the Geneva Convention. If London later commented that “a few could These mavericks—the Baker Street
lived in Paris for a time with a German caught, they were usually executed. Agents only charitably be described as nutcases.” Irregulars, as they sometimes called

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Shadow Knights Shadow Knights
themselves—could irritate more conven- interview, “Have you any personal ob- But for all the virtuoso moves, there When French agent Pierre de Vomécourt
tional types in Whitehall (the colloquial jection to committing murder?” SOE were also mind-boggling blunders. One ordered a cognac in a station café, the bar-
term for the British government, taken agents had to be prepared to, and did, kill agent, completely forgetting all his train- man told him, “It’s our day without.” De
from the street where many ministries their enemies. They dealt mercilessly not ing and his cover story, checked into a Vomécourt had no idea what he meant
were located) and the military, but they just with traitors but with people who hotel under his own name. (Luckily, he was and repeated his order. When the barman
had the right—or wrong—stuff to get the might possibly be traitors. One SOE agent able to retrieve the fatal reception slip in irritably repeated, “It’s our day without,”
job done. working in France time.) One of SOE’s best agents, Benjamin de Vomécourt realized he had blundered
SOE waged war shot a middle-aged Cowburn, once left the plans for a train and quickly slipped aboard a train. Tipped
without rules, and woman in the back demolition job chalked on a classroom off, the Germans stopped the train, but he
its romantic, quix- of the head because blackboard. The mission, and Cowburn’s had wisely gotten off at the stop before.
otic, sometimes her husband had neck, were saved only by an alert school- He had almost been killed because he was
zany elements are informed on them mistress with an eraser. not familiar with a new French law that
an undeniable part and her own secu- Being undercover may at times have allowed cafés to serve alcohol only on
of its fascination. rity was suspect. felt like being in a play, but it was a play alternate days.
In China, a shady She probably posed that never ended, and one in which to flub But the greatest danger was betrayal.
businessman and no threat, but the a line was fatal. The wrong kind of suit, Informers were everywhere, and even
wit (who immor- agent and his com- an inappropriate hairstyle, an English well-intentioned people could crack under
talized himself in rades couldn’t take cigarette stub or London Tube
doggerel as “Garru- that chance. Pearl ticket in one’s pocket,
lous, old, impulsive, Witherington, the a cover story that was
vague, obese / Only only female agent too easy to check out,
by luck not ‘known to command a cir- not knowing where
to the Police’”) ran Pearl Witherington: cuit in France, your fake mother was

“There was nothing

a black-market cur- turned down her born, unfamiliarity with
rency operation that knighthood when some petty detail of
netted 77 million
pounds for SOE.
civil about what I did.” she learned she had
been given the civil
life under occupation—
any of these slip-ups
One agent put itch- instead of the mili- could result in arrest
ing powder in German troops’ underwear. tary version, saying, “There was nothing and t­orture.
Another arranged for French prostitutes to civil about what I did.”
give German pilots heroin to damage their In a crisis, agents had to be prepared
eyesight. Yet another wrote that SOE re- to act with incredible audacity. A wireless
quired him to variously play the parts of operator code-named “Felix” once got off Paris after
“journalist, commercial traveler, politician, a train in Toulouse carrying his transmit- the Germ an
brigand, gigolo and, finally, smuggler.” To ter in its suitcase. As he approached the
which could be added “party animal”: One barrier, he observed two French policemen
operative was landed in Denmark wearing checking papers. Behind them stood two SOE agents
a tuxedo over which a bottle of brandy had SS men, who were checking everyone with had to know
been emptied, so he would look and smell luggage. Felix knew he was doomed if he
like a harmless late-night reveler. tried to pass, so he held his suitcase over
ever y
But for all of its hijinks, SOE was none- his head and called out authoritatively in deta il of
theless an instrument of war, and its German, “Get me a car at once, I have a life under
agents faced the same deadly risks and captured set.” A German driver took him occupation.
had to be prepared to use the same bru- away in a car. Felix ordered the driver
tal tactics as other soldiers. One agent was to pull up in a side street, shot him and
shocked to be asked at his preliminary escaped.

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Shadow Knights Shadow Knights
pressure. George Starr, organizer of the SOE operatives also played a little-
Calais Wheelwright circuit in Gascony, said, known role in some of the war’s most cru-
IT BELGIUM “Building a network is like making a lad- cial operations. It was an SOE agent, for
N. F BELGI RATIO der. You fix one rung. You stand on it. You example, who radioed London that the
English Channel
CE &
jump on it. If it holds, you build the next pride of the German navy, the Bismarck,
LUXEMBOURG one. It takes time. The people who wanted was trying to break out from its hiding
Cherbourg Le Havre RR to do it in five minutes got caught. I was place in Norway into the North Sea. That

Rouen E
bloody lucky.” intelligence led Britain to dispatch a task


SOE made more than its share of force that sank the mighty battleship, in


­disastrous mistakes. Wily German counter­ one of the epic naval battles of the war.

OCCUPIED ZONE intelligence offi- And when D-Day


cers outwitted SOE came and the hour


Blois again and again, finally tolled for the
River resulting in the resistance to rise up,
deaths of dozens of SOE answered the
COASTAL agents. Some have call. SOE’s existence
(”ATLANTIC WALL”) even charged that would be ­justified
ENTRY PROHIBITED Oradour-sur-Glane Baker Street deliber- if it had never done
ITALIAN- ately sacrificed some anything except
OCCUPIED ITALY of its own agents train and arm the
FREE ZONE as part of an Allied thousands of French
Rhône River

Bordeaux (aka Vichy France; (Max. extent

Garo occupied after Sept. 1943)
deception scheme. maquis­ards whose
ne Nov. 1942) (See sidebar.) guerrilla attacks

Nice But for all its in south and cen-
Bay of Biscay
Toulouse Montpellier faults, SOE played tral France delayed
a vital role in the the German Pan-­
Allied victory. By zer divisions racing
strengthening resis- toward Normandy,
Mediterranean Sea tance movements, and who two months
it forced Axis lead- later cleared the
ers to commit pre- path for American
cious divisions to
A triumphant troops driving north

Führer poses in front

rear-guard duties after the Dragoon
and entire theaters landing in the south
they could other-
of the Eiffel Tower. of France.
Germany divided conquered France into seven zones. wise have ignored.
Its constant pin-
But perhaps SOE’s
most enduring leg-
French refugees were prohibited from returning to the prick of attacks demoralized enemy troops acy exists not in the pages of military his-
“forbidden zone ,” and no civilians except locals were and distracted Axis leadership: At one
point during the war, Hitler—his fear of
tory but in the secret history of human
courage. Like the ring bearer Frodo and
allowed into the coastal “Atlantic Wall” area. The British assassination attempts heightened his companions in The Lord of the Rings—

Germans occupied Vichy France after the Allies landed

after the successful SOE murder of Reichs­ a book that J. R. R. Tolkien began writing
protektor Reinhard Heydrich—spent at as the Third Reich dragged the world into
least half an hour a day poring over Ger- its bloody nightmare—they chose to walk
in North Africa in November 1942. man military intelligence reports of SOE straight into Mordor. This book tells the
activities. true story of three of their missions.

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