SPECIAL OPERATIONS EXECUTIVE, 1940-1946
Series 1, Special Operations in Western Europe
Part 1: France: The Jedburgh Teams and Operation Overlord, 1944-1945,
Part 2: France: Political and Planning Files, Circuits and Missions, 1940-1947
Part 3: Germany, 1936-1945
Part 4: Holland, 1940-1949
Part 5: Italy, 1941-1948
Publisher's Note - Part 4
“For Messrs Blunt, Bingham and Successors Ltd… you are trying to make business in Netherlands without our assistance. We think this rather unfair in view of our long and successful co-operation as your sole agent. But never mind whenever you will come to pay a visit to the Continent you may be assured that you will be received with the same care and result as all those who you sent us before. So long.”
Hans Giskes, 1st April 1944 (HS 6/736)
Part 4 of this microfilm project documents SOE operations in occupied Holland, including material relating to the penetration of their Dutch circuits by the Germans. As the files reveal, this disaster not only left SOE high command defending its position to Whitehall, it also led to the tragic deaths of numerous agents and Dutch civilians.
The Germans began planting informants in Dutch resistance circuits as early as 1941, but it wasn’t until the arrest of intelligence agent Herbert Lauwers in 1942 that their strategy brought success. Lauwers was captured carrying a list of ciphered texts and back messages that detailed bogus intelligence fed into the circuits by the Germans. They were deciphered on the spot, instantly exposing Lauwers as an agent. Unfortunately, London ignored the false security checks sent by Lauwers in subsequent transmissions. For the next 18 months the Germans, led by Abwehr Major Hans Giskes, triumphed in a radio war labelled by the Nazis as the ‘Englandspiel’ – the English game. Giskes presided over the arrest of more than 50 SOE agents dropped into Holland leading to the full infiltration of N Section, SOE’s Dutch Division.
N Section was steered by various leaders throughout the war, including Blunt, Bingham and Dobson. Relations with their Dutch contemporaries, individuals such as Major J Somer (Dutch Intelligence Bureau) and M R de Bruyne (subversion operations) are documented throughout the files, most notably in HS 6/723. It reports that “under no circumstances would he (Colonel Somers) consider instructing his agents to work on any but strictly SIS lines, and that SOE activities would certainly jeopardise the safety of his men.”
The material also looks at N Section’s communications with SIS, Whitehall, the Dutch authorities, the RAF and the Dutch Resistance. Several files reflect SOE’s opinion that the Dutch Government was slow to react to German occupation. The Dutch military element, keen to form a proper home front, conflicted with the Government’s sensitivity on the welfare of the Dutch civil population in German hands; this crucial difference of opinion would lead to a definite lack of policy in the early years of occupation.
HS 6/724 reports top level planning and activities and stresses the objective of
N Section: “The purpose of SOE was to build up a disciplined force in Holland. We did not seek purposeless explosions, in fact they were the last thing we wanted, except to any special reason. Our hope would be to build up the forces as quietly as possible to function when the balloon went up.”
SOE’s subsequent ‘Plan for Holland’, listed and referred to throughout the files, outlines the use of Dutch resistance groups, guerrilla warfare and sabotage on communication networks. Clear warnings on its implementation are evident; the plan should not prejudice D-Day and attacks should not take place if the result was likely to do more damage to the Dutch population than to the German war effort.
By using these documents, scholars will be able to research the primary issues, political and military repercussions and wider implications caused by the breakdown of SOE’s Holland circuits. Controversially, the alleged non-disclosure by SIS to SOE that their Holland circuits had been turned can be studied using HS 6/748. Correspondence showing concern from other Allied authorities, such as the RAF, can also be found.
Files HS 6/750-769 document SOE’s missions and operations in Holland, the majority of which were ill fated. Tragically, most captive agents were executed but the escape of two agents from Haaren prison in late 1943, eventually confirmed that for nearly two years Germany had indeed taken on the role as SOE’s ‘single agent’. The two agents, code named CHIVE and SPROUT, reached London (via Spain and Switzerland) in early 1944. Files HS 6/735-742 look at their interrogations and suggested interpretations of their escape. SOE’s handling of the situation is reported in full; they question the plausibility of the couple’s return to Britain due to discrepancies in their statements. Were they sent by the Germans to act as double agents or were they just innocent dupes?
“It is fair to assume that the Germans might reckon on SOE writing off their organisation in Holland (and) trying to start a new one. What person better qualified to do this than someone who had been in Haaren and knew German Contra-Espionage methods. It seems as though they had a good chance of success.”
Files HS 6/749 and HS 6/773 cover the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) enquiry into the Holland situation. Academics will be able to research the findings of the Committee, its effects and ramifications on the role of SOE towards the end of the war. The report into the NORDPOL affair between 1943 and 1944, listing agents, arrests and reports on Abwehr activity can be found in HS 6/743-744.
Post-Englandspiel, the material suggests a definite increase in the presence and influence of ‘rival’ British secret service organisations (such as SIS) in SOE missions. As allied action in France escalated, SOE were still pressing forward with operations to Holland, although this time security and protection of agents was at the forefront as HS 6/727 illustrates:
“Very energetic steps have been taken to test this security and a few operations have been laid on with this specific purpose. A number of experimental sorties have been carried out in which agents have been blind-dropped to investigate the above.”
Undoubtedly, the failure of operations in Holland put a strain on London’s relations with the Dutch governing authorities. At the centre of this, the possibility of German penetration within the Dutch Resistance caused SOE high command to question their use in further operations. Relations with one of the four major resistance groups, the RVV (‘Council of Resistance’) and the movements of its dubious ‘leader’, ‘KING KONG’, (HS 6/728) gains in-depth scrutiny in the documents:
“According to all reports, the RVV is still the most suitable and efficient organisation for our purposes, in spite of doubts as to enemy penetration of this organisation, which I consider cannot be entirely ignored.” (HS 6/727)
The LO (‘Central Government Organisations for Help to People in Hiding’), the KP (‘Central Government Fighting Group’), and the OD (‘Order of Service’) with its sub-group, the GDN (‘Dutch Secret Service’), were the other prominent resistance groups in Holland. The NSV (‘National Steunfonds’) was an umbrella financial organisation which received money from the government-in-exile and conducted covert fundraising to finance KP and LO operations. Some groups within the Dutch Resistance, for instance the Eindhoven and Nijmegen Undergrounds, were established locally by individual Dutchmen, and did not have any links to the main four organisations decribed above.
Communications on all fronts were put to the test in September 1944. The success of Montgomery's plan to reach Berlin by bringing troops across the Rhine at Arnhem, relied heavily on co-operation between the Allies. Also known as Operation MARKET GARDEN, SOE's direct involvement can be found in Operations EDWARD, CLARENCE, CLAUDE and DANIEL (HS 6/732-733, 759 and 774). As historians are well aware, the advance was not a success and these files will help to answer questions such as: What caused the breakdown in communications? To what extent was the Dutch Resistance really involved in Arnhem? What was the role of the Jedburgh teams CLAUDE and EDWARD? Why were aerial photographs showing German armoured reinforcements of the Arnhem area ignored? If the British had heeded word from their agents in Arnhem, they would have been alerted to the presence of two enemy panzer divisions.
For those studying post-war plans for Holland, HS 6/731 describes the
call for help by the Dutch Government in the reconstruction of the Dutch
Contre-Espionage Service (under General Einthoven). Outlining the use of existing men in the short-term, it also gives a long-term policy for the employment of new agents.
In contrast, SOE also concentrated on anti-sabotage and anti-espionage in Holland after the retreat of the Allies. There are indications that Dutch resistance workers could pass as Germans in ferreting out “undesirable elements who might be hiding among the masses.” As the file reflects “There is not one people in Europe which has a better knowledge of underground warfare than the Dutch, further most of them speak German and many are of race akin.”
Concerns over the rising of pro-nazi regimes are also reported, as well as the possibility of forming Dutch ‘squads’ from the ranks of resistance fighters “to operate inside Germany in exactly the same way as the Germans operated against them.” Backed by Allied intelligence, it was thought that such an undertaking would calm certain sections of the Dutch populous still seeking answers to the horrors experienced during the occupation.
Part 4 will enable scholars to study:
- SOE’s relationship with the Dutch authorities, SIS, SAS, the RAF and Whitehall
- Dutch Resistance organisations
- The suspicion of ‘KING KONG’ and suspension of Dutch circuits in 1944
- The intended sabotage of communication networks
- Counter-intelligence and Contre-espionage
- The Joint Intelligence Committee enquiry and the NORDPOL affair
- SOE covert activities in liberated areas
- The future of SOE in Holland and the feasibility of operations
- Activities of the Abwehr and interrogation of Giskes and Huntermann
- SOE’s involvement at Arnhem (Operation MARKET GARDEN)
- Collection of evidence and final telegrams by turned agents
- Interrogation of agents
These documents, brought together in Part 4 of this microfilm project, invite academics to study SOE at its lowest point. Did SOE have any successes in Holland? What really caused the penetration of their Dutch circuits? Why were agents’ security checks ignored? Did lack of trust and the absence of communication with the Dutch Resistance add to the failure of Arnhem?