The Special Operations Executive (SOE)
from 1940 to 1946
The Transportation of SOE agents into and
out of Europe
Once the SOE agents finished their training, they were placed on a holding
status until transportation to Europe could be arranged. Agents traveled
to Europe in mainly one of two possible ways. Some agents traveled
by boat or submarine. Other agents traveled by aeroplane.
I. By Boat across the English Channel
SOE use of aircraft in the early part of the war
was nearly impossible due to a variety of reasons. For example, RAF
Bomber Command was given top priority for the use of most available aircraft.
Very few planes were available for SOE use. What few planes
were available needed to be shared with the SIS. Remember the SOE
and the SIS were constantly battling each other over resources throughout
Without the use of aircraft to place agents in Europe, the SOE had to
turn to other methods. The most feasible method was by boat. While
the first SOE agents worked their way through the new SOE training schools,
the SOE administration worked hard trying to arrange boat transportation
for these first agents. Once the first agents were ready, some early
attempts were made to cross the channel by boat. Most of these early
attempts were made with failure. For example, on one early cross
channel crossing, the transport boat ran into several German patrol boats
and had to turn around before dropping off its agents in France. Other
attempts made with similar fates. Frank Nelson, the head of the SOE,
sought for a better way.
Eventually, the SOE used boats to successfully drop off and pick up agents
in Spain. The SOE also began to use British submarines as transport
vehicles for some of the SOE agents, but the submarines always involved
an increased element of danger and better ways were continually being sought.
As the war progressed, and the Americans entered the conflict, more
and more aircraft became available to the SOE and SIS. One of the
types of aircraft used most by the SOE was the Lysander.
II. By Aeroplane: The Lysander
The Lysander was just an
average plane, even by the standards of early World War II. The plane
was not especially fast nor could it be armed with lots of weapons. As
one can see from the pictures shown below, the Lysander airplane resembles
a modern-day Cessena aircraft used by a large number of civilian pilots.
The slow features of the plane meant that the plane did not need lots
of runway space to land and takeoff. It could land on a small runway and takeoff again without
many problems. The plane
could slip into and out of Europe quickly and fairly quietly. It was
an ideal plane for the SOE and SIS to use when placing and returning agents
in Europe. The lack of firepower and carrying capability made the
plane unsuitable for bombing work. Therefore Bomber Command was more
willing to release the Lysanders for use by the SOE and SIS. The SOE
took advantage of this fact and used the planes whenever possible.
As World War II progressed, SOE and SIS
were given use of a wider range of aircraft including some Lockheed Hudsons
and American Douglas Dakota airplanes. These other aircraft offered
superior flying advantages over the Lysander, such as a better platform for
parachute jumping, but it was the Lysander which most SOE agents would still
remember after the war.
The Lysander Aircraft
The Lysander in flight
A close up view of the Lysander in color