Thanks again to our guest blogger, Carina Evans. Carina’s grandfather was an SOE agent, so she has long had an interest in the work of SOE and Operation Jedburgh.
The story of the Special Forces in the Second World War remains largely untold – even though information about them began to be declassified in the 1980s.
After working for the SOE behind enemy lines in Yugoslavia, my Grandpa Bob was trained as a Jedburgh. Operation Jedburgh saw Allied personnel dropped into occupied France, where they worked with local resistance forces to sabotage the Nazi occupation. They had to be prepared to survive battles with German troops and Gestapo manhunts for weeks and months while awaiting the arrival of Allied ground forces.
‘Jeds’ as they were more commonly known, were Officer led and selected from the British (Special Operations Executive), Canadian, American (Office of Strategic Services), and Free French (Bureau Central de Renseignments et d’Action) armies.
They were dropped, mostly in uniform, in teams of three, often deep behind German lines. There, in preparation for D-Day, they supported the French Resistance in guerrilla attacks, supply-route disruption, and the harassment and obstruction of German reinforcements.
They were there to inspire overt activity as opposed to clandestine sabotage, hence the wearing of uniform.
Operation Jedburgh represented the first real cooperation in Europe between SOE and the US led Special Operations branch of OSS.
By this period in the war (summer 1944), SOE had insufficient resources to mount large operations on its own, only having access to 23 Halifax aircraft for dropping agents and stores which was barely sufficient to maintain SOE’s existing networks. OSS was able to augment this force with B-24 Liberator aircraft, equipment, supplies and manpower.
Teams & Training
Jedburgh teams were known by codenames. My Grandpa, Major Bob Wade was known as Florentin. He was dropped with his great friend Major Arthur Pilkington whose code name was Merderic. Their mission name was thus simply known as ‘Merderic-Florentin’.
Teams normally consisted of three men: a commander, an executive officer, and a non-commissioned radio operator.
One of the officers would be British or American while the other would originate from the country to which the team deployed. The radio operator could be of any nationality.
There were approximately 300 ‘Jeds’ in all who underwent paramilitary training at commando bases in Scotland. Later, they would move to Milton Hall near Peterborough for intensive courses in unarmed combat and sabotage techniques.
In addition to their personal weapons, which included M1 carbines and a colt automatic pistol, the teams were dropped with the Type B Mark 11 radio or ‘Jed set’. This was critical for communicating with Special Force Headquarters in London.
They were also issued pieces of silk with five hundred phrases to use in radio traffic and one-time pads (an encryption technique that cannot be cracked) to encode their messages.
Jeds were also equipped with a variety of personal equipment such as medical supplies, ration packs, sleeping bags, field glasses and detailed maps of their operational areas, all printed on silk like their radio ciphers.