Neil Selby SOE Yugoslavia

Neil Selby

SOE operations in Yugoslavia supported Tito’s Communist Partisans at the expense of the royalist Chetniks. On 5 February 1943 a team of four SOE operatives (Operation Disclaimer) were handed to the Germans by local people shortly after they landed and the next team which arrived several days later were denounced and it was difficult to discover who could be trusted or their political loyalties.

Selby had served with 11 Commando before joining SOE and arrived in Yugoslavia with another SOE agent, twenty-six-year-old John Rochester who was of Yugoslav extraction whose family name was Yovanovic.

Dressed as peasants they attempted to contact the partisans but were captured by pro-German forces and handed to the German authorities. There is much contradictory evidence surrounding the fate of Selby and Rochester. It cannot be confirmed Selby was shot whilst attempting to escape and there is no reliable information concerning the fate of Rochester and both were originally listed missing presumed dead.  

Alan Malcher.

Stephen Resz (Reiss, Rice) SOE ‘A’ Force

Stephen Rice

Stephen Reiss was a Jew born in Banska Bystrica, Slovakia and was serving with the Palmach in Mandatory Palestine when he was recruited by SOE in 1943 and served under the name Stephen Rice. In December 1943 Rice along with other Jewish agents from Palestine (now Israel) serving with SOE ‘A’ Force were sent to contact the partisans and assist them in overthrowing the pro-German government in Slovakia and detach the country from the Axis powers.

Over 2,000 Jews fought during the uprising and around 500 were killed but the partisans made considerable gains and on 28 August 1943 the Germans decided to occupy Slovakia and eliminate the resistance.

During a major German offensive on 27 October 1944, German forces occupied Banska Bystrica. Rice with other agents and around 40 Jewish Partisans escaped and built a camp in the mountains but were captured after a few days and the Germans shot most of the Jews including Rice. His remains were recovered in 1952 and reburied in the Mount Herzl Military Cemetery in Jerusalem.

Alan Malcher

SOE agent Edward Coppin

Edward Coppin

28-year-old Edward Coppin who was known as ‘Ted’, served with the DONKEYMAN circuit and was responsible for organising resistance in the port of Marseille and over time built up a successful sabotage team consisting of railway workers. Apart from derailing trains, in 1942 he was responsible for diverting trains destined for Germany by switching the points and sending them to the Spanish border.

Coppin was arrested at his safehouse on 23 April 1943 but because he used several cover names there continues to be much confusion regarding his fate and a post-war investigation into missing agents failed to identify what happened to Coppin after his arrest.

It is believed Coppin was tortured for information but refused to talk which is evident by the fact no members of his group were arrested but there is scant evidence to support the claim he was executed at Ravensbrûck concentration camp in September 1943, consequently, the fate of ‘Ted’ Coppin is unknown, and Coppin has no known grave.

Alan Malcher

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.

Roland Alexandre SOE

Roland Alexandre was born in France but educated in England and worked as an aircraft fitter at General Aircraft Ltd at Feltham Middlesex and joined SOE on 23 December 1943 and used the cover name Roland Esnault. He was sent to France to build clandestine circuits in the Nantes and Anger area after the original circuits had been destroyed by the Gestapo and his new network of circuits were to concentrate on sabotaging railways.

On the night of 8 February 1944, he was dropped by parachute with wireless operator, an American called Robert Byerly, and two other agents named Francis Deniset and Jacques Ledoux, onto remote farmland near Poitiers to a reception committee made-up of members from the PHONE circuit but London was unaware PHONE had been infiltrated by the SD and the agents were dropped to German troops.

Typical of the confusion surrounding the fate of missing agents there are several conflicting reports regarding his fate. Alexandre was last seen alive on 11 September 1944 and witnesses said he had been greatly illtreated which often meant he was tortured for information, and it is believed he was executed at Gross-Rosen concentration camp. The fate of the other agents is also surrounded by conflicting information and requires further research.  

Alan Malcher

SOE X Section (Germany)

Otto Pichl and Ernst Hoffman were Sudeten Germans, but their nationalities are also listed as Czechoslovakian? After passing selection and training they were assigned to X Section, the country section responsible for Germany and arrived in eastern Germany by parachute on the night of 8- 9 May 1944.

The only clue to their missions is Hoffman’s cover story of being a Luftwaffe ground crew and after arriving in Germany they were not heard of again.
After the war it was discovered that Ernst Hoffman was captured by the Gestapo and shot and before being captured Otto Pichl swallowed his ‘L’ pill (Cyanide capsule), and a note was found by his body saying “I have Jacksch’s mission {?}. Long live freedom” and was buried by the Germans without being identified. Both men are listed on the Brookwood Memorial in England.

William ‘Willie’ McKnight DFC & Bar

William McKnight

22-year-old Canadian fighter pilot Flying Officer William ‘Willie’ McKnight DFC &Bar fought during the Battle of France and the Battle of Britain and served as the wingman for Douglas Bader. On 12 January 1941 he was shot down over the English Channel whilst serving with No.242 Squadron and has no known grave. (Colour from original IWM B&W image by Dan Steel)


Alan Malcher

SOE wireless operator Adolphe Rabinovitch

Anaue

Adolphe Rabinovitch was a Russian-Egyptian Jew who served with the French Foreign Legion during the Battle of France. After being captured he escaped and made his way to England where he was recruited by SOE. On his second mission to France he was captured, interrogated and sent to Gross-Rosa concentration camp where he was executed sometime in 1944 at the age of 25.

Alan Malcher

Lepa Radic Yugoslav Partisan, Order of the People’s Hero

radic

Radic was born to a Bosnian Serb family on 29 December 1925. In February 1943 she was captured during a firefight against the 7th SS Volunteer Mountain Division Prince Eugen and was tortured for several days but refused to provide the names of other partisans and was sentence to death by hanging.

After the noose was placed around her neck a German officer said he would spare her life for the names of members of her group and Radic loudly replied “I am not a traitor to my people. Those whom you are asking about will reveal themselves when they have succeeded in wiping out all the evildoers to the last man.” Lepa Radic was 17 years old when she was publicly executed on 11 February 1943.

Alan Malcher

HMS Fidelity Royal Navy Special Service Vessel

Fideliy collarge JPG

HMS Fidelity (D57) was formerly the French merchant ship La Rhin.  In 1941 Fidelity was used by SOE (Special Operations Executive) to transport agents and equipment to southern France and during these clandestine missions flew the flags of neutral Spain and Portugal.

Madeline Baynard was the ship’s first officer but  to protect her identity  she served with the WRNS under the name of Madeline Barclay.

In late 1941 HMS Fidelity was refitted to serve as a commando carrier and on 30 December 1942 was sunk by a German U-boat. Although most survived the  attack the U-boat captain followed the Loconia order which forbid allied survivors being rescued and 369 died in the water: 273 members of her crew, 52 Marines serving with T Coy  40 Commando and 44 seamen who had been rescued after their ship had been sunk during a previous engagement.

Alan Malcher.