Left: Leo Marks (24 September 1920 to 15 January 2001) the head of SOE’s codes and cyphers based at Michael House Baker Street, London. Right: his adversary in the Netherlands Abwehr (German Military Intelligence) Lieutenant Colonel Herman Giskes who was responsible for the wireless deception resulting in many SOE agents from the Dutch Section and members of the resistance being captured and executed. People who new Marks said his brain was wired differently and could workout complex problems and it was Marks who discovered the Abwehr wireless deception alternatively called the ‘wireless game’ and ‘Englandspiel’ (England Game). (Photos IWM)
Hugo Bleicher was a sergeant with the Abwehr stationed in France. Despite his rank Bleicher was responsible for crushing resistance throughout France and due to his ruthless approach and high success rate was supported by senior officers in the Abwehr. SOE agents and members of the resistance who were tracked down and arrested by Bleicher were handed to the Gestapo and were tortured for information, eventually executed or sent to concentration camps.
Bleicher used the cover names Colonel Henri, Jean Verbeck and Jean Castel. After the war Bleicher insisted he was not aware the prisoners he handed to the Gestapo would be tortured and executed but Colonel Maurice Buckmaster who was the Commanding Officer of SOE’s French Section rejected this claim and accused him of being an arrogant upstart and a war criminal. Hugo Bleicher also gave evidence against former members of the Abwehr and until his death in 1982 Bleicher ran a tobacconist in Tettnang, Germany. (Photo IWM)
During her second mission to France Violette Szabo was captured after a fire fight with troops from 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich after being stopped at a roadblock outside Salon-la-Tour during which she expended eight magazines from her Sten submachine gun. Due to confusion the story of her firefight has been revised several times. According to the citation for the GC she was surrounded in a house and fired from windows during which she killed and injured several German soldiers.
After her capture she was interrogated at Gestapo (SD) headquarters at Avenue Foch in Paris and later transported to Ravensbrûck concentration camp. On 5 February 1945, at the age of 23, Violette Szabo, who had been sentenced to death, was shot through the back of the neck.
In 1946 her daughter Tanya was taken to Buckingham Palace by her grandparents to receive her mother’s posthumous GC (George Cross) from the King.
Citation for the GC
St. James Palace, SW1. 17 December 1946
The King has graciously pleased to award the George Cross to:-
Violette, Madame SZABO (deceased), Women’s Transport Service (First Aid Nursing Yeomanry)
Madame Szabo volunteered to undertake a particularly dangerous mission in France. She was parachuted into France in April 1944 and undertook the task with enthusiasm. In her execution of the delicate researches entailed she showed great presence of mind and astuteness. She was twice arrested by the German security authorities, but each time managed to get away.
Eventually, however, with other members of her group, she was surrounded by the Gestapo in a house in the south-west of France.
Resistance appeared hopeless but Madame Szabo, seizing a Sten-gun and as much ammunition she could carry, barricaded herself in part of the house and, exchanging shot for shot with the enemy, killed or wounded several of them. By constant movement, she avoided being cornered and fought until she dropped exhausted. She was arrested and had to undergo solitary confinement. She was then continuously and atrociously tortured but never by word or deed gave away any of her acquaintances or told the enemy anything of any value. She was ultimately executed. Madame Szabo gave a magnificent example of courage and steadfastness.
On 10 June 1944 the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and other Resistance Networks were told to find suitable large and remote fields for mass daylight parachute drops of weapons and other stores.
The first daylight drop of weapons and stores was called Operation Zebra on 25 June 1944 when 180 B-17 bombers of the USAAF with fighter escorts dropped 2,160 containers to SOE and members of the Resistance at Ain, Jura, Haute Vienna and Vercose and due to its success a larger drop by Allied aircraft called Operation cadillac took place on 14 July 1944.
Operation Cadillac consisted of 349 bombers (mostly B17’s) with 534 Allied fighter escorts during which 3,791 containers loaded with 417 tons of weapons were dropped at seven locations. (Photos Musee de la Résistance)
Phyllis ‘Pippa’ Latour MBE, Legion of Honour (France), 1939-45 Star, French and German Star, Croix de Guerre (France).
South African born Latour moved to England to join the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) but due to be able to speak fluent French and having spent time in the country she later came to the attention of the French Section of the Special Operations Executive (SOE).
After volunteering for hazardous missions and passing selection she completed the technically challenging training at the Wireless and Security School at Fawley Court, Buckinghamshire.
On the night of 1 May 1944 she parachuted into Normandy to join the Scientist circuit as their wireless operator and was constantly on the move to avoid being tracked down by German wireless direction-finders during which she sent over 135 messages to London to support the French Resistance whilst posing as a teenager whose family had moved away from the industrial areas to avoid Allied air raids.
After the war she married an Engineer with the surname Doyle and she never discussed her war service with her family until her children found an article about her on the internet in 2000. She now lives in Auckland, New Zealand and at the time of writing (November 2021) she has just turned 100 years old and is thought to be the only surviving member of SOE’s French Section.
Some historians claim most of the resistance in the Netherlands was nonviolent, but this was not the case. The British Special Operations Executive (SOE) had a Dutch Section which supported resistance and it was widely acknowledged gender was an important tool for both passive and aggressive resistance to German occupation.
Hannie Schaft with SOE supplied Sten Gun
It was often easier for women to talk their way through German checkpoints whilst transporting weapons, underground newspapers and carrying messages; there are accounts of young women walking hand-in-hand with Jewish children whilst escorting them to safe houses whilst appearing as an older sister walking with a sibling, and there are several accounts of female members of the resistance seducing German soldiers to obtain intelligence before luring them to remote areas and killing them. After the war Truus Oversteegan said she compared the Nazi regime as “cancerous tumours in society that had to be cut out like a surgeon… For Hannie, Freddie and me there was no other solution than to resist, fighting fire with fire… That is the cruelty of war.
It was in Haarlem, a city outside Amsterdam in northwest Netherlands, where the three teenagers: Truss Oversteegan, her sister Freddie and Jannetje Johanna ‘Hannie’ Schaft killed collaborators and German soldiers. The Oversteegane sisters started their resistance activities by distributing anti-German flyers and newspapers before becoming skilled assassins. The three women shot dead Dutch collaborators who were giving the names of Jewish families to the German authorities and they were killed in the street during daylight to act as a deterrent. They also flirted with collaborators and German soldiers and took them to woods and shot them, and the thrree were also involved in street shootings from bicycles so they could get away quickly.
The Oversteegan sisters after the war
The Oversteegan sisters survived the war, married and had families but Hannie Schaft who had distinctive red hair was captured and executed on 7 April 1945. It is known at one point she dyed her hair black and assumed the name Johanna Elderkamp but by this time she was too well known by the Gestapo.
Micheline Dumon (code names Lily and Michou) served with the Belgium Resistance and worked on the Comet Escape Line and her surname often appears misspelt as ‘Dumont’.
As a member of Comet, she helped allied aircrews shot down over Belgium and France evade capture and was credited for assisting 250 aircrew by guiding them through Belgium and France to neutral Spain, and is noted for being one of the most experienced and longest serving member of the escape line.
In August 1942 her father who also worked on the Comet Line was arrested by the Gestapo and deported to a concentration camp where he later died.
In 1944 the line was infiltrated by a double agent named Jacques Desoubrie a Belgium working for the Gestapo infiltrating resistance groups in Belgium and France and after finding herself on the Gestpo wanted list was forced to escape to England where she spent the remainder of the war training MI9 agents.
After the war Micheline Dumon said, “I knew a lot of people and I moved around a lot. I never stayed in one place, and so I was always alone. Also, I was lucky.”
Andree (code name Nadine), Micheline Dumon’s sister, was in charge of safehouses where aircrews were hidden until they could be moved down the line and she also prepared false identification cards and connected escapers with escorts to take them from Belgium to neutral Spain by bicycle, train and on foot. After a narrow escape from the Gestapo, she went underground and lived in a safehouse for several weeks and obtained false identity papers which said she was 15-years-old and accoding to several airmen she looked about 12 or 13 and dressed accordingly. She also spoke English and interacted with allied airmen who rarely spoke French.
In June 1943 the Comet Line was close to collapse after many arrests by the Abwehr and Gestapo and Andree Dumon took on a leadership position which she described as “A sort of odd-job woman: looking after safehouses, escorting aircrews, recruiting new agents, collecting food coupons and repairing escape routes after waves of arrests.”
By January 1944 it was too dangerous for her to remain in Brussels so she moved to Paris and then to Bayonne in southwestern France to work with Elvire de Geer who was the leader of that end of the line during which she escorted two groups of 10 allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain, and in March 1944 she was one of three Comet Line leaders who attended a meeting in Madrid with senior MI9 officers to plan their activities for D-day.
After the meeting she went to Paris and shortly after arriving was arrested by the French police and spent two nights in jail. From the time she was in police custody she behaved like a young girl and the way she was dressed supported the deception and instead of being handed to the Gestapo the police commandant released her becuase she was a child. After this close escape she found a new safehouse and continued her resistance work until France and Belgium were liberated.
Leigh ‘Paddy’ Fermor served with the Irish Guards but due to his knowledge of modern Greek history he soon came to the attention of the Greek Section of the Special Operations Executive (SOE). He fought in Crete and mainland Greece during the German occupation and infiltrated Crete three times once by parachute to organise the Cretan Resistance whilst disguised as a shepherd and lived in the mountains for two years.
Fermor with SOE officer William Stanley ‘Bill’ Moss as his second in command and a small group of Cretan Resisters received orders to capture the German commander of Crete General Muller but before the start of the operation Muller was unexpectedly replaced by General Kreipe and after informing SOE they were instructed to capture Kreipe.
General Kreipe was a career officer who served at the Battle of Verdun during the Great War and during the Second World War participated in the Battle of France, the Siege of Lenigrad and after a short period working in Germany he returned to the Eastern Front. On 1 March 1944 he was appointed Commander of 22nd Air Landing Infantry Division stationed in Crete and replaced General Muller as the senior officer on the Island.
On the night of 26 April 1944 General Kreipe was driven by staff car from his headquarters in Archanes without an escort to his well-guarded Villa ‘Ariadni’ approximatley 5 km from Heraklion. Fermor and Moss dressed as German Military Police Officers waited some distance from his residence for his car to arrive.
After being flagged down by the two SOE officers the car stopped at what appeared to be a routine security check. As Moss asked the driver for his identity papers Fermor opened Keipe’s door, jumped in and threatened him with his pistol. Moss then shot the driver, got into the driving seat and quicklt drove away.
They successfully drove through 23 German checkoints before abandoning the car and with assistance from members of the resistance disappeared into the mountains. It was not long before the alarm was sounded, and the small team was being pursued across Crete by large numbers of German troops supported by a spotter aircraft, but the Crete resistance was familiar with the mountains and various caves where they could hide and eventually guided them undetected to the pickup point on the south coast where they were taken by boat to Egypt.
After completing her training and being accepted as an agent by the French Section of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) on the night of 5/6 April 1944 Lilian Rolfe was dropped by parachute onto remote farmland near Orléans in north-central France to be the wireless operator for the Historian network supporting the Maquis (French Resistance). Apart from reporting German troop movements, arranging and organising arms and supplies to be dropped by parachute she also worked alongside the Maquis and is known to have been involved in a firefight in the town of Olivet south of Orleans.
Shortly after D-day her circuit leader, George Wilkinson, was captured by German troops and Rolfe continued sending messages to London to support the Maquis but was later captured by the Gestapo whilst transmitting from a safe house in Nargis. Although she was repeatedly tortured for information her wireless was not ‘played back’ to London by a German operator which means she refused to reveal her codes and in August 1944 Rolfe was deported to Ravensbrück Concentration camp in northern Germany. During an investigation after the war it was discovered Rolfe was so ill she was unable to walk (later reports state this was due to leg injuries sustained during torture) and on 5 February 1945, 30-year-old Lilian Rolfe was executed and her body disposed of in the camp crematorium.
Johnny Ramensky spent most of his life in and out of jail.
Several agents who served with the Special Operations Executive who graduated from the Beulieu finishing school mentioned a larger than life Glaswegian career criminal called Johnny Ramensky who was also known as ‘Gentle Johnny’ because every time he was arrested he was polite to the police and owned up to his crimes. Ramensky had a Polish Father and Scottish mother and was released from prison after agreeing to train students to become safecrackers and cat-burglars and after disappearing from Beulieu it was rumoured he was back in prison after being caught breaking into a safe.
Due to his criminal skills still being in demand he was released from prison again in 1943 and enlisted into the Fusiliers, but throughout the remainder of the war he served with 30 Commando and was later awarded the Military Medal. Apart from cracking safes and sabotage operations behind enemy lines it was widely said Ramensky found time to loot the Germans and find ways to transport various valuables back to Scotland and even gave an expensive ‘stolen’ present to the governor of a prison where he previously served time for burglary and during a short time in hospital a senior police officer who arrested him several times over many years sent a letter addressed to ‘Gentle Johnny’ wishing him a speedy recovery.
Ramensky started his long criminal career shortly after leaving school and spent 40-years of his life in and out of various prisons and after the war returned to crime. Sometime in 1972 Ramensky was sentence to one-year in prison after being caught on the roof of a shop and whilst in prison ‘Gentle Johnny’ suffered a stroke and died at Perth Royal Infirmary on 4 November 1972.