Robert Byerly the widely unknown American who served with Britain’s SOE

The American Virginia Hall and her wartime service with SOE is well known but Robert Byerly is less well documented and is sometimes wrongly described as a Canadian.

When Germany invaded France in April 1940 Robert Byerly who has been noted for being pro-British was living in Paris and because he was a citizen of a neutral country was allowed to leave France and made his way to England and in 1941 enlisted into the Canadian Army and trained as a signaller. The date he was recruited by SOE and passed selection varies according to sources, but it is known he arrived in France by parachute on 8 February 1944 near Poitiers to work as the wireless operator for SURVEYOR circuit. His infiltration was arranged by PHONO circuit but unknown to London the circuit had been infiltrated and Byerley along with two other agents were dropped to waiting German soldiers.

Under German supervision Byerly was forced to use his wireless to contact London and within the body of the message inserted a ‘bluff check’ and left out the ‘true check’ to warn London he was sending under duress. As was standard practice London maintained contact with Byerly to create the illusion he was of use to the Germans and hope he would not be executed, but his transmissions suddenly stopped, and was not heard again. After the war it was discovered that sometime during the summer of 1944 Robert Byerly was transported to Gross-Rosen concentration camp where he was executed a few days later.   

Alan Malcher.

Author: Alan Malcher

Military historian and defence commentator

One thought on “Robert Byerly the widely unknown American who served with Britain’s SOE”

  1. US records show Robert Byerly as an American-born Canadian. He actually had dual citizenship.

    My uncle Peter Klein who was an American of Swiss extraction, with German ancestors, joined the RAF as he thought the US took to much time to join the war, was not successful in that role as he was shot down over Dunkirk, was captured and interned as a POW in Dinan from where he escaped in an unconventional way. made his way back to Britain via Spain and Portugal. Back in Britain the powers that be realized he spoke perfect Hochdeutsch and knew Germany inside out as, the only one in the family not having gone to college, he had worked all of his adult life in Germany as a machinery salesman. The powers that be then assigned him to MI5 where he served under Lt. Col. Tommy ‘Tar’ Robertson . He helped identify German agents -he knew the smallest pronunciation defect they had, except for those born in Britain. He took part in the interrogation of Rudolf Hess and told me so much about it much later that I was able easily to debunk the fabrications of revisionists Pat Buchanan and Peter Padfield who claim that Hess was carrying a peace plan by Hitler whereby German would have ceased war against the western allies who would have let Hitler destroy the Soviet Union. The two revisionnist historians claim MI6 destroyed the plan. Padfield evoked a document that did exist but which I identified as having been written two years later by Hess’ former deputy chief of intelligence, Kurt Jahnke, assistant at the time to Franz Pfeffer von Salomon. The text is verbatim that published by the British semi-apologist of Hitler to that found in the papers of SD Amt IV chief Brigadenfürer Walter Schellenberg and commented by him to his British interrogators under RAF HC Harrrison. While after having rejoined the US Army, my uncle stayed with TAR on loan to the British, at the request of Major-Gen Kenneth Strong, Ike’s British chief of intelligence. My uncle however did not take part in the Schellenberg interrogation. My uncle Peter who had been Swiss then American was identified in MOD papers as …German.

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