Member Review

Secret Agent

Pub Date:

Review by

John P, Reviewer

Last updated on 04 Aug 2017

I Recommend This Book


Military necessity is the mother of invention and the Special Operations Executive (SOE), dedicated to intelligence gathering, sabotage, subversion and the creation and support of armed resistance movements in German- (and later Japanese) occupied countries, was brought into being by Churchill in July 1940, when there seemed little way of carrying the war to Germany, after the Fall of France, other than by bombing, which was notoriously imprecise.

However, just as debate rages regarding the efficacy of the strategic bombing offensive, historians dispute whether the resources applied to SOE might have made a greater contribution to ultimate victory if applied to more conventional warfare. There is even a case for saying that by assisting communists, in places such as Malaya, SOE actually damaged British interests in the longer term. Either way, the role of SOE is a subject that merits attention from anyone interested in the Second World War and its aftermath, or simply interested in spying.

Since the death, in 2012, of M.R.D. Foot, himself an intelligence officer and SOE’s official historian, David Stafford has become the greatest expert on the organization. Foot’s ‘SOE. An Outline History of the Special Operations Executive 1940-1946’, with an introduction by Stafford, still represents the best introduction to the subject but ‘Secret Agent. The True Story of the Special Operations Executive’, a new edition of the book which Stafford originally published in 2000, to accompany the BBC2 series of the same title, offers a very readable overview, which not only shows a complete mastery of the literature but incorporates extensive quotations from many of those actively involved in SOE activities.

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