Gabriel Adler: Wireless Operator SOE Italian Section

Gabriel Adler

Adler was born in Hungary on 15 September 1919 and was recruited by SOE on 21 September 1942. After infiltrating the Cagliari area of Sardinia, Italy by submarine he was captured soon after reaching the shore. The Italian Military Intelligence Service (Survizio per le Informazioni e la Sicurezza) attempted to playback his wireless to London but the incorrect codes were sent, and London was aware it was an attempted wireless deception.

In May 1943 Adler was transferred to the Regina Coeli Prison in Rome that was taken over by the German SD (Sicherheitsdienst) following the Italian surrender. After being interrogated by the SD he gave away no important information and convinced his interrogators he was a British officer named John Armstrong.  After the war it was discovered that a ‘John Armstrong’ was in a prison at Lake Bracciano approximately 35 miles from Rome and after the liberation of Rome by Allied forces in June 1944 an investigation attempted to find out what happened to Gabriel Adler aka John Armstrong.

After extensive enquiries it was discovered that on 3 June 1944 Adler was one of 80 prisoners selected by the SD to be transferred to a prison in northern Italy ahead of the Allied advance.  The group of prisoners had been assembled in the courtyard at Regina Prison with their hands tied behind their backs. They were put into the backs of lorries and told they were being taken to the SD headquarters at the Via Tasso in Rome, now the home of the Museum of Liberation, and then onto Florence. At 0:30 hrs on 4 June a second group of prisoners were assembled in a similar manner as the first group and put into the back of lorries.

It was later claimed a few of the prisoners believed they were going to be killed and after leaving the compound attempted to escape and though shots were fired a few managed to get away. Another report states the first batch of prisoners also attempted to escape after their convoy of lorries were attacked by Allied aircraft but there was no mention of Adler. According to a priest at the Santo Spirito Hospital in Rome a large number of bodies arrived, and one was listed as an unknown English Soldier, but Investigators concluded Adler was not among the bodies because he was known to be wearing a battle dress over which was a pair of Skiing trousers and a wind jacket and none of the bodies were wearing such clothing.

When the Allies reached Rome the Regina Coeli Prison was empty and a witness said even after the last German lorry was leaving the remaining prisoners were being released. There is a plethora of confusing and contradicting information and the investigating team concluded Adler was most probably dead and was eventually listed presumed dead with no known grave.

Alan Malcher.

SOE Circuit Organiser Alfred Wilkinson

Alfred Wilkinson. Circuit organiser serving with the French Section SOE

Alfred Wilkinson had duel nationality British/French and was born in Paris and left his wife and young child in France to join the British Army.

Wilkinson parachuted into France on 5 April 1944 to organise the Historian circuit in the Orléans area where his wife and young child were still living, and SOE documents described it as “an area where German repressive measures had effectively checked all previous attempts to develop a resistance network. After receiving arms and other war materials by parachute Wilkinson and his Historian circuit prepared for large scale sabotage for D-day and by 6 June (D-day) the railway lines and telecommunication targets his circuit had been ordered to sabotage had been destroyed and added to the major disruption of the German military caused by other circuits.

It is known Wilkinson was captured towards the end of June at Olivet a commune in the Loiret department in north-central France and for the first fortnight was kept at the Eugéne Prison in Orléans. He was then taken to Frésnes Prison outside Paris where he was described by other SOE prisoners as looking well and Wilkinson was among a large batch of SOE agents and resistance fighters taken from Frésnes to Buchenwald concentration camp to be used as slave labour.

On 24 August Allied aircraft bombed the Gustloff armament factory outside the camp where many prisoners were forced to work. Several bombs hit the SS barracks killing 8 and injuring 300 SS soldiers and many prisoners. It was later said that in retaliation for the air raid the camp commandant Obersturmbannfuhrer Herman Pister ordered the execution of all British and French ‘terrorists.’

Seven prisoners were executed on 14 September and on 5 October more prisoners including Alfred Wilkinson were executed and according to a post-war investigation before being hung the men stood rigidly to attention whilst shouting ‘long live France. Long live England.’

Notorious Hermann Pister. Image taken after being arrested by American forces.

After the war Pister was convicted of war crimes and sentenced to death but died of a heart attack before being hung.

Yolande Beekman (nee Unternahrer) SOE Wireless Operator: French Section

Yolande Beekman

Yolande Unternahrer was born in Paris to a Swiss family in 1911 and moved to London as a child.

After the declaration of war in 1939 she enlisted into the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAFFs) where she trained as a wireless operator. Due to her language skills, she spoke fluent English, French, German and Italian, Yolande came to the attention of the Special Operations Executive and whilst attending the wireless and security school to become a wireless trained agent that required skills not found in other branches of the military she met a trainee wireless operator named Jaap Beekman who was serving with the Dutch Section of SOE. Shortly after they married, on the night of 17/18 September 1943 Yolande Beekman parachuted into France to join the Musician circuit in Saint-Quentin in the department of Aisne as their wireless operator.  

It is known Yolande Beekman was in regular contact with London and arranged the delivery of over 20 parachute drops of weapons, ammunition, and explosives before breaking wireless security procedures: it was later said Beekman transmitted from the same location, on the same frequency and on the same three days of the week and was eventually located by German direction finders. Beekman along with her circuit organiser Gustave Biéler were arrested at the Café Moulin, Saint-Quentin on 13 January 1944.

At Gestapo Headquarters in Saint-Quentin both were tortured but refused to provide useful information. Beekman was then taken to Gestapo Headquarters at Avenue Foch in Paris and was later sent to Frésnes Prison near Paris and shared a cell with a nurse called Hedwig Muller who had been arrested by the Gestapo and after the war said Beekman seldom left her cell because her legs were weak and her leg injuries are thought to have been caused through torture.

At Frésnes there were three other SOE agents: Madeleine Damerment, a courier with Bricklayer circuit; Elaine Plewman who worked as a courier with Monk circuit and Noor Inayat Khan a wireless operator assigned to the ill-fated Prosper/Physician circuit.

Elaine Plewman, Yolande Beekman, Madeleine Damerment, Noor Inayat Khan

At 01:30 hrs on the morning of 10 September 1944 the women were handcuffed and taken to a railway station and eventually arrived at Dachau Concentration Camp. On 13 September Obersturmbannfuhrer Fredrich Wilhelm Ruppert executed the three women and after the war a member of the Gestapo named Christian Ott gave the following statement to American investigators:

“The four prisoners had come from the barrack in the camp where they had spent the night, into the yard where the shooting was to be done… The death sentence was announced to them…. The German speaking English woman {Beekman} had told her companions of the death sentence. All four had grown very pale and wept… Beekman {he called her the major!} asked whether they could protest against the sentence. The Kommandant declared that no protest could be made against the sentence. The major (Beekman) had then asked to see a priest. The camp Kommandant refused on the grounds that there was no priest in the camp.

The four prisoners now had to kneel with their heads towards a small mound of earth and were killed by two SS, one after another shot through the back of the neck. During the shooting the two English women held hands and the two French women likewise. For three of the prisoners the first shot caused death, but the German speaking English woman (Beekman) a second shot had to be fired as she still showed signs of life after the first shot.

After the shooting of these prisoners the Lagerkommandant said to the SS men that he took a personal interest in the jewellery of the women and that this should be taken to his office.”

It was also later stated the four women had been badly beaten before their executions.

SS Officer Wilhelm Ruppert. Image taken after being arrested by American forces.

After the war SS Officer Wilhelm Ruppert who was in charge of executions at Dachau was convicted of war crimes and executed by hanging.

Jean Moulin: French Resistance

On 14 February 1943 General de Gaulle awarded Jean Moulin the Cross of Liberation during a private ceremony at De Gaulle’s home in Hampstead London.

Three months later, after returning to France by parachute, Jean Moulin was captured and tortured for three weeks by SD chief Klaus Barbie (Butcher of Lyon). Moulin attempted to commit suicide by cutting his throat but after being found collapsed in his cell was given medical treatment and survived.
As a result of the injuries suffered during torture Jean Moulin died on 8 July 1943 whilst being transported by train to Germany.

Alan Malcher

Pierre Le Chêne Political Warfare Executive (PWE) in France

Pierre Le Chêne. PWE wireless operator

In 1941, dates vary according to sources, three PWE agents arrived in France and among them was Henri Le Chêne (aka Victor) who was later joined by Marie Thérése (aka Adele) to work as his courier and also help run their underground newspaper and his brother Pierre, who was a wireless operator, arrived by parachute near Loches to provide a wireless link to London for his brother who was running a circuit called Plane and to assist Edward Zeff (SOE) the wireless operator working for a circuit called Spruce.

For over seven months Pierre Le Chêne (aka Grégoire) was constantly on the move to avoid his transmissions being pinpointed by direction finders when sometime in November 1942 two wireless operators were arrested and after being the only wireless operator in the area, he became first on the German wanted list.

It is believed Pierre Le Chêne broke the cardinal rule of never transmitting for more than twenty-minutes, his location was found by direction finders and was captured on 0n 9 December 1942 whilst still sending messages to London.

Pierre Le Chêne was the first agent to be tortured for information by the infamous Klaus Barbie the head of the SD in Lyon who became known as the Butcher of Lyon because of his brutal reputation of personally torturing adults and children in the SD cells he called the ‘Gestapo Kitchen’. During Barbie’s trial after the war several witnesses said it was not uncommon for prisoners to be tortured for nine days and the age of these witnesses at the time of their torture were between 13 to 93.

After Pierre Le Chêne had been arrested and tortured at Hôtel Terminus in Lyon which had been taken over by the SD as their regional headquarters other agents and members of the resistance Le Chêne knew were not added to the SD wanted list and the only plausible explanation is Barbie failed to break him.

Pierre Le Chêne was later transported to Mauthausen Concentration camp in Upper Austria and by the time the camp was liberated by American troops on 6 May 1945 was suffering from typhoid, malnutrition and was close to death.

Luftwaffe tunic worn by Le Chêne.

Pierre Le Chêne was quickly dressed in whatever clothes were found which happened to be a Luftwaffe desert tunic with the bottom of the left sleeve shredded after its original owner suffered a life threatening injury and was then flown to England. After receiving extensive medical treatment Pierre Le Chêne survived.

Medals awarded to Pierre Le Chêne

Private Ian Ray (Australian Army)

19 year old Private Ian Ray

19-year-old Ian Ray from Melbourne Australia, was serving with the 2nd/31st Infantry Battalion, Australian Army when he was wounded in the left arm during the Battle of Morotai.

After receiving medial treatment at a field hospital, on 18 September 1945 the aircraft used for his evacuation failed to arrive in Australia and a subsequent investigation failed to locate the crash site.

In 1967 the wreckage of an aircraft was found in a remote valley in Papua New Guinea (formally Dutch New Guinea or Netherlands New Guinea) but after several failed attempts the crash site was not reached until 2005.

This fountain pen given to Ian Ray by his father in 1944 which he used to write letters home was found among his personal belongings.

The remains of Private Ian Ray were later buried at Port Moresby (Bomana) War Cemetery, Papua New Guinea.

(Photograph credit: Australian War Memorial)

Alan Malcher.

Alexander Vass: SOE Hungarian Section wireless operator

Alexander Vass was born in Limburg, Germany, he spoke fluent Hungarian and was a child when his family moved to Canada and became naturalised Canadians.

 In early 1943 Vass enlisted into the Royal Canadian Medical Corp and several months later he came to the attention of SOE’s Hungarian Section who were looking for agents who could speak fluent Hungarian and after passing selection and training in England he went on to pass the wireless and security course at Thames House in Oxfordshire.

Vass and three other agents boarded a converted Halifax bomber of 148 Special Duty Squadron RAF to be dropped by parachute north of Lake Balaton in western Hungary and after the aircraft failed to return it was assumed all had been killed.

Several months after the war it was discovered the Halifax had been intercepted by German night fighters and Luftwaffe documents stated the aircraft exploded after hitting the ground and all the crew were killed.  After three SOE agents were liberated from a German prisoner of war camp Alexander Vass was not among them and the three surviving agents later described what happened.

They were not aware the aircraft had been lost because the agents had been dropped before its interception. One agent named Broughay said they had been dropped at the wrong location and landed in a forest and he found himself about 30 feet up a tree and there was no way of concealing their presence. After splitting up into two groups he and Vass avoided enemy forces for over 24 hours but were eventually captured, stripped searched and interrogated. They were then taken down a hill where the other two agents were in custody and were told they would be shot. The three agents were then taken to a Secret Police Headquarters were the interrogation continued and the following morning were put into the back of a lorry and were greatly relieved after finding themselves at a German Prisoner of War Camp controlled by the Luftwaffe.

During an allied air raid sometime in December 1944 a bomb hit the camp and Alexander Vass was killed.

Alan Malcher

Lieutenants Philippe and Joseph Rousseau who served with Canadian Airborne Forces during WW2.


Two brothers, Lieutenant’s Philippe Rousseau (left) and Joseph. Photograph taken at a transit camp near Down Ampney, England on 13 February 1944 and both served with the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion.
Philippe was killed in action on 7 June 1944 in France and Joseph was killed on 20 September 1944 also in France. Both are buried next to each other at the Commonwealth War Grave Cemetery at Ranville, Calvados France. (Colour by Piece of Cake)

Alan Malcher

White Eagle Resistance Group in Poland during World War Two.

After Germany occupied Poland on 1 September 1939 underground movements began their protracted war of resistance against the occupying forces and their administration.  Resistance was often symbolised by culturally coded signs and symbols in the form of graffiti, shrines and other public displays like Kotwica (anchor) which carried ethnic and religious meaning while other symbols like the image of a turtle had the practical purpose of organising work go slows and resistance also promoted Polish culture and nationalism against the occupying forces of the Third Reich.

Resistance was also symbolised by the creation of small shrines where Nazi executions and other atrocities had taken place.

The White Eagle Resistance movement, a symbol of the Polish nation, had a large following and one of their early acts of aggressive resistance was the attack on a German police station in German occupied Bochnia, a town on the river Raba in southern Poland. Two of the members who took part in the attack, Jaroslav Zrzyszowski and Fryderyk Piatkowski were arrested by German forces and publicly hanged from lampposts.

Otto Wachter SS

Four days later a German reprisal for the attack, said to have been managed by Major Albrecht and supervised by Governor Otto Wachter, resulted in 50 men thought to have no connections with the resistance being picked at random and forced to walk along Casimir Street to Uzbornia Hill whilst Jews were forced to dig a ditch to be used as a mass grave.  

After reaching the site of the execution the men were shot by a twelve-man German firing squad after which each man was shot again through the head by a German officer to ensure they were dead.  Kazyzhowski and Piatkowski were then cut down from the lampposts where their bodies had been on public display as a deterrent for four days and thrown into the mass grave before Jews were forced to bury the dead.

After the war Otto Wachter escaped from the allies with the assistance of pro-Nazi, Bishop Alois Hudal and died in 1949 from a kidney related illness.

Alan Malcher

SOE Wireless Operator/Courier Odette Wilen (nee Star)

Photograph: Odette Wilen and her fiancée Marcel Leccia

Wilen had a French mother and Czech father, and they became British citizens in 1931 after which her father joined the RAF. In June 1940 she married Dennis Wilen a Czech pilot serving with the RAF who was killed in a flying accident two years later. In April 1943 Odette was serving with the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY) when she was recruited as an SOE conducting officer and in February 1944 she requested to be trained as an agent and later successfully passed selection and the advanced training course.

After completing wireless and security training she was posted to SOE’s F (French) Section and on the night of 11-12 April 1944 was dropped by parachute onto remote farmland near Auvergne, southwest France to join the Stationary clandestine circuit as their wireless operator. After operational difficulties she began working as a courier for the Labourer circuit where she met Marcel Leccia who was also an SOE agent, and they eventually became engaged.

Several months later Marcel Leccia and two other members of his circuit were betrayed to the Gestapo and after being tortured for 52 hours Leccia was transported to Buchenwald concentration camp where he was hung.

Marcel Leccia’s sister, Mimi, rushed to the house being used by Wilen and told her Marcel had been arrested, the Gestapo knew her identity and Mimi moved her to a secure property minutes before the Gestapo and German troops surrounded the blown safe house.

After joining an escape line several guides took her across the Pyrenees to the safety of neutral Spain and she returned to England in August 1944. One of her guides was a Spaniard named Santiago who she married after the war and several years later they moved to Argentina and raised two children.

On 9 August 2005 the British Ambassador to Argentina presented Wilen with the parachute wings she should have received 63 years previously.

Her husband died in 1997 and Odette Wilen died in 2015 at the age of 96.

Alan Malcher