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

SOE wireless operator Suzanne Mertzien (sometimes spelt Mertisen).

Suzanne_Mertzizen

On the night of 6 April 1944 Mertizen was dropped by parachute with two other female agents (Marie-Louise Cloarec and Pierrette Louin). After landing in a field in the Limoges region of France the three women made their way to Paris.

On the night of 25 April, the women were arrested after being denounced by a collaborator and interrogated by the SD (Gestapo). In August the women were transported to Ravensbrûck concentration camp where they were shot, and their bodies incinerated sometime in 1945. Mertizen was posthumously awarded the Military Cross, Medal of the Resistance and the Chevalier of the Legion d’honour. Her name will be found on the Tempsford Memorial in Bedfordshire near former RAF Tempsford (138 Special Duty Squadron) which was responsible for parachute operation in occupied Europe. (I’m still researching the other women).

Special Operations Executive (SOE) agent Odette Churchill (nee Sansom)

sansom2

SOE agent Odette Sansom (she married Peter Churchill after the war) was a single mother with three young children in England when she was arrested by the Abwehr and eventually handed to the Gestapo. During their attempt to force her talk Sansom was repeatedly burnt on the back with a red-hot poker and each time she fainted from the pain was revived with buckets of cold water being thrown over her so the torture could continue. When burning failed to break her all her toenails were pulled out but Sansom still refused to give the Gestapo information about her wireless operator who was in hiding and after the war Sansom reluctantly admitted to a journalist she was willing to die rather than answer their questions. Sansom then survived the ill-treatment and horrors of Ravensbrûck Concentration camp and after the war was awarded the GC which she always insisted was not awarded to her personally but represented all those alive and dead, known and unknown who fought for the liberation of France.

Odette

Operation Josephine: Sabotage of Pessac Power Station in France June 1941

One of the transformers destroyed during the attack (German Federal Archives)

In late May 1941 the Special Operations Executive (SOE) received a request to sabotage the power station in Passaic near Bordeaux but due to other operations they had no agents available and asked the Polish Section (EU/P) which came under the jurisdiction of the Polish Government in Exile in London whether they would be take the mission and after agreeing six Polish volunteers boarded an RAF aircraft of 138 Special Duty Squadron at RAF Tempsford to parachute into France.

Shortly after entering French air space the aircraft suffered an electrical fault which caused their container loaded with weapons and explosives to be jettisoned over the Loir and were forced to abandon the mission and return to England. Unbeknown to the aircrew the electrical fault was serious and caused the aircraft to crash land at Tempsford and catch fire: all the crew were either killed or injured and the six Polish agents suffered serious burns.

SOE HQ then asked RF Section (the Free French equivalent to SOE under General de Gaulle) whether they were willing to attack the power station and after de Gaulle agreed, on the night of 11-12 May 1941 three agents from RF Section, J Forman, Raymond Cobard and André Vernier (aka Jacques Leblanc) successfully infiltrated France by parachute.

After hiding their weapons and explosives the team reconnoitred the power station: there was a high-tension cable very close to the top of a 9-foot wall they needed to climb over and it appeared there was a large number of German and Italian soldiers protecting the power station. They also failed to obtain the bicycles which they intended to use for the getaway so decided to postpone the attack.

Before leaving England Forman was given the Paris address of an RF agent named Joêl Letac who remained in France after a failed mission called Operation Savanna and after meeting Forman Letac rallied that team and encouraged them to continue the mission and the following day travelled with them to the power station. After the old lorry they obtained broke down they continued the remainder of the journey on stolen bicycles and recovered the equipment they had buried around 100 yards from the power station.

On the night of 7-8 June 1941 during pitched darkness due to the blackout Forman climbed the perimeter wall and crawled under the high-tension cable which was dangerously close. After ensuring he could not be seen by the guards Forman entered the compound and opened a side door, the rest of the team entered the grounds of the power station and then sprinted across open ground to the main building.

In less than thirty minutes the team placed magnetic incendiary devices on eight large electricity transformers and then made their getaway on the stolen bicycles. It has been said the explosions were so violent flames rose high into the air and illuminated the entire area as searchlights started probing the sky for bombers.

Six of the transformers were destroyed and this seriously disrupted the the Bordeaux submarine base, numerous factories used to supply the German army were forced to stop production for several weeks.The electricity grid from another region was diverted but the overload caused more damage and all electric trains in south wester France had to be replaced with steam locomotives, and all the transformer oil in France had to be used during the repairs.

Some writers claim the team was picked up by an RAF Lysander of 161 Special Duty Squadron, but this was not the case. The team arrived in France with one million francs (said to be about £1,400 in 1941 and roughly £71,000 in 2021) and the money was unaccountable! Instead of requesting an extraction they remained in France for a further two months and according to historian MRD Foot “They left behind them broken glass and broken hearts” before making for neutral Spain and arriving back in England. Before crossing the frontier Cabard was captured but later escaped and returned to England.

Helena Marusarowna and Polish Resistance during WW2

Helena Marusarowna was born in 1918 and between 1936 and 1939 she was famous in Poland as a skier after winning nine Polish championships.

After Germany invaded Poland on 1 September 1939, she joined the Polish Resistance and began taking messages to other members of the resistance network and guiding people through mountain passes.

In March 1940 she was caught by the Slovak Police and handed to the Gestapo and whilst being tortured refused to provide information about other members of the resistance. It has been said the Gestapo found in her possession a letter from Stefania Hanausknowy who was known to be a member of the resistance and this possibly sealed her fate.

On 12 September 1941 Helena Marusarzowna was condemned to death by the Gestapo and shot near Tarn. Another version states she was shot on 23 July 1943 in Krukowski Forest with five other female members of the resistance and among them were Stefania Hanausknowy and Jania Bednarka.

Norwegian Resistance during WW2: Anne-Sofie Ostvedt

Anne-Sofie Ostvedt (soure common)

Anne-Sofie Østvedt, (later married Strømnæs), (2 January 1920 to 16 November 2009) was second in command of a Norwegian Resistance group called XU. Like many throughout occupied Europe during WW2 who later joined the resistance she started resisting by publishing underground newspapers and in December 1941 she was recruited by XU. Despite being only in her early 20’s she was vital to XU’s underground movement and became their second in command.  In 1942 the Gestapo was attempting to track her down, but her identity was not known by other members of the movement and she was only known as ‘Aslak’ which I understand is a male name in Norway. According to several accounts, after the war many members of the group who she gave orders to were surprised at her young age and the fact she was female.