The Secret Army: SOE wanted control of underground Norwegian army

Discussion in 'Scandinavia' started by Stormbird, Oct 21, 2010.

  1. Stormbird

    Stormbird Restless

    This is a translation of a piece I found in the October issue of the Norwegian magazine F.

    It was written by Associate Professor Arnfinn Moland, who is the Manager of the Norwegian Resistance museum.
    I have scanned and included the only picture in the original, and also added some pics of my own choice. The subtitle of the thread is totally my own idea.
    As large chunks of texts don’t seem to go down too well on this forum ;), I will divide it into 3 or 4 instalments.

    Part 1

    MILORG was to “go slow and lie low” and be prepared for action in the liberation of Norway. SOE trained guerrilla warfare as well as sabotage, writes Arnfinn Moland, Associate Professor.

    The relationship between MILORG and SOE during WW II may be divided into three phases. The first may be named the phase of non-collaboration. For the average resistance fighter, this mutual attitude lasted for the entire year of 1941 and most of 1942. On leadership level ambitions were higher and for a while, from late 1941, there was a period of co-existence and cooperation. However for the last two years there was full cooperation on all levels.

    MILORG grew slowly in the first few years after the shock of the German assault had subsided. The organisation was founded, inspired and led by Norwegians in Norway. The aim was to build an army in the most gentle way possible, “to go slow and lie low”. The task was to prepare for action at the liberation. When SOE was established in July 1940, it came quickly to lead the British attempts to limit the advantage Germany could get of Norway. The Scandinavian Section, led by Charles Hambro, recruited Norwegian refugees who later became Norwegian agents in Norwegian Independent Company 1 (Linge Company) and the Shetland force. They had certainly not left Norway to “go slow and lie low”.

    The SOE document “Norwegan policy” from December 1940 is a good illustration of the emphasis Great Britain put on Norway. The country should become “a thorn in the German side”. SOE ultimately aimed for the whole population to rebel against the Nazis. This could only be achieved with a separate SOE organisation in every district. SOE was not happy with security in MILORG. Certainly the leadership as well as the ranks of MILORG were amateurs. They had to learn “the hard lesson of security in the bitter school of experience”. This was a process that SOE themselves had to go through; SOE were regarded as amateurs by the regular British war machine.

    SOE was Churchill’s project, based on his ideas on offensive strategy. The “long term programme” of the organisation aimed for building a secret army, trained in guerrilla warfare and sabotage, to assist with an allied invasion. But to present quick results to the Ministry of Economic Warfare, a “short term programme” was more suitable. Here were included raids like “Claymore” in Lofoten in March 1941. This was from British side assessed as a major success, but reactions in Norway were characterised by the heavy German reprisals.
    (Translator’s note: Op Claymore is often called “The Lofoten Raid”. It was the first Lofoten raid, later in the war to be followed by several others.)

    Op Claymore, pic added by translator

    Reprisals, pic added by translator
  2. Stormbird

    Stormbird Restless

    Part 2

    SOE leadership was however encouraged by the success and issued a new document, “Scandinavian Policy” in April 1941. The document emphasised their wish to conduct business in their own manner and to speed up the process liberating Norway. The will of the Norwegians to fight the German occupants regardless of reprisals, was undoubtedly overestimated.

    Why were the Norwegians so tied up by possible consequences? The Norwegian resistance leaders felt the responsibility heavily. Norway had lived in peace for 126 years and wasn’t mentally prepared for war. SOE on the other hand stressed the need for a more active policy – sabotage, training, weapon drills – and was keen to get MILORG under British command. In an attempt to avoid further arguments and misunderstandings the Norwegian Exile Cabinet in November 1941 officially recognised MILORG. SOE was quick to respond with the memorandum “Anglo-Norwegian Collaboration regarding the Military Organisation in Norway”. It was addressed to Defence Minister Oscar Torp and expressed SOE’s wish to cooperate with the Norwegian Government and other Norwegian authorities. The basis should be the mutual confidence and harmonic cooperation of British and Norwegian resistance leaders in England. Even if any mutual confidence at that time didn’t exist, Torp took advantage of this chance to solve the problem. The situation had worsened after Martin Linge was killed in the Maloy raid (Op Archery, translator’s comment) in December 1941. It was a hard blow for the young Norwegian SOE men to lose their highly respected leader.

    Måløy 2.jpg


    Photos from the Maloy raid, added by translator.
  3. Stormbird

    Stormbird Restless

    At top level a series of actions were quickly taken. SOE established a separate “Norwegian Section”. Col J S Wilson was to command it. Norwegian politicians in exile Hambro and Torp agreed to form the Anglo-Norwegian Collaboration Committee (ANCC), an organisation which became very important. Forsvarets Overkommando FO (Norwegian Supreme Command) was established. In February 1942 ANCC held its first meeting with representatives from SOE and FO.
    In spite of these organisational improvements, the problems continued. The obvious reason was that agents in the field stayed on the non-collaboration line.

    In April 1942 SOE finalised its report on the important issue of the roles allocated to SOE and Milorg for the liberation of Norway – the main matter of discussion at this time. The will to cooperate was emphasised. It was however seen as necessary to maintain separate SOE cells, avoiding any Milorg contact, in the districts of Norway. The key wording in the document is “certain lines of parallel action” . “When the proper time for amalgation comes” the lines would come together.

    During 1942 the so-called “parallel actions” led to several serious episodes. Leaders of Milorg were close to giving up. New meetings at top level were performed and resulted in a new document issued by SOE on 21st September and signed by Wilson himself. It was nothing less than a new programme: “SOE long term policy in Norway”. SOE at last abandoned its independent course, admitted the mistakes made on both sides, including “the lines of parallel action”. A dramatic revision was necessary.

    SOE as well as FO now issued directives to ensure optimum cooperation at all levels. Initiatives, planning, training of agents and instructors, transport and logistic support should all be handled by SOE in cooperation with FO. Milorg would get the manpower. Resistance policy should be the responsibility of ANCC. Milorg leaders should take care of everyday problems in Norway.

    It is fair to say that the non-collaboration period in the field and cooperation problems at top level were over by the beginning of 1943 and resulted in full cooperation at all levels. The contact Oslo- London was improved. A better understanding between SL (the Central Leadership of Milorg) FO and SOE of their respective roles followed.

    An important factor in this ongoing process was Milorg’s independent decision about the future of the organisation. SL in January 1943 gave an unconditioned answer to FO in London: Milorg wanted weapons. The existence of the whole organisation depended upon this. This acceptance of the realities of war and the character of military resistance facilitated Milorg’s adjustment to British activity and appreciation of SOEs new policy on cooperation in the field.

    Pic added by translator

    During this period sabotage actions initiated by SOE were intensified.and Milorg was graually more involved. Linge agents were air dropped close to targets and performed operations, often supported by Milorg.

    Air drop reception.jpg
    Pic added by translator

    There were three main types of targets: Ships, railways and war essential industry.
    From 1944 on, the combined British-Norwegian resistance had to adjust to the matrix of the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied European Forces. Certain targets were cleared to attack, and numerous actions were performed. In the meantime Milorg grew in strength as well as in numbers. Provisions, equipment, instructors and training were made available by SOE and FO in London. This was a huge undertaking, especially when considering climate and topography of Norway. The last year of the war saw an enormous rise in air drops. At the same time Milorg gradually gathered strength.

    Manus og Houlder.jpg
    Wiliam Houlder and Max Manus (pic from original)

    The main objective for SOE and Milorg as the end of the war approached, was preventing destruction of infrastructure in case German forces were going to withdraw while fighting, like it had happened in the northernmost county Finnmark in the autumn of 1944. Milorg established a few bases of especially chosen men, well hid in the terrain, at readiness in case support would be needed. Leaders and instructors were Linge-men from the SOE. In the spring 1945 Milorg was able to assemble 40 000 men, fairly well equipped and disciplined. This was a result of cooperation with SOE, which, in return had at its disposal the cream of Norwegian youth.

    It’s time for conclusions. My main thesis is that while Milorg and SOE shared the same objectives, both organisations set out with a lack of realism that made for problems. Milorg was to be an unarmed secret army, basically rather unusual. SOE on the other hand should also create a secret army. In the first place this necessitated not attracting any German attention - exactly as Milorg. Nonetheless SOE wanted to combine this with offensive actions which would lead to the absolute opposite - a lot of German attention - which was precisely what Milorg wanted to avoid. This collision of interests is the main cause of the calamities during the first 2-3 years of the war. As it were, both organisations moderated and adjusted their policies to meet the realities: Milorg adjusted to the realities of war and SOE to realities of Norway; Mentality, topography as well as climate.

    Let me conclude by emphasising the high degree of success. I wish to cite from the British historian William MacKenzie’s book “The Secret History of SOE”, written in 1948 but not published until 2000: If one could only refer to France and the Balkans there would have been painted a depressing picture of resistance and SOE influence in the political area. Norway, which he calls “the most favourable example of them all” contributes to his conclusion that the work of SOE was after all worthwhile. “The Norwegian blend of free initiative and social solidarity rested on old factors with which SOE had nothing to do, and SOE can claim credit only for not mishandling it.

    Pic added by translator

    Abbreviations list, added by translator:
    ANCC: Anglo-Norwegian Collaboration Committee
    FO: Forvarets Overkommando (Norwegian Supreme Command)
    Linge: Nickname for the Norwegian Independent Company No 1
    Milorg: The military organisation of the Norwegian resistance movement; Home Front
    SL:Sentralledelsen (Central Leadership of Milorg)
    SOE: Special Operations Executive
  4. Bernard O'Connor

    Bernard O'Connor Junior Member

    Might your research have revealed the training Norwegian saboteurs received at Brickendonbury, SOE's industrial sabotage training school near Hertford?
  5. PsyWar.Org

    PsyWar.Org Archive monkey

    Bernard, Brickendonbury was SOE's STS 17. This file at the National Archives might be of interest to you if you haven't seen it already:

    - HS 8/370, Industrial sabotage training (STS 17), 1943 Jan 01 - 1944 Dec 31

    Not sure what it will contain, may be just administrative, perhaps syllabuses, might contain a list of agents sent to the school, etc.

  6. red ling

    red ling Member

    Have you read the book Undercover by Patrick Howarth?
  7. Jedburgh22

    Jedburgh22 Very Senior Member

    SOE was certainly not Churchill's child if anyone was it's father I would nominate Neville Chamberlain - SOE had Churchill as a kindly 'Godfather' later in the war

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