Catalogue description Records of Special Operations Executive

Details of HS
Reference: HS
Title: Records of Special Operations Executive

The records of the Special Operations Executive (SOE), which functioned during the Second World War to promote sabotage and subversion and assist resistance groups in enemy occupied territory.

Files relating to operations in the Far East are in HS 1, Scandinavia in HS 2, Africa and the Middle East in HS 3, Eastern Europe in HS 4, the Balkans in HS 5, and Western Europe, including Ireland and the Channel Islands in HS 6.

Histories and war diaries are in HS 7 and headquarters records in HS 8.

Personnel Files are in HS 9.

Special Operations Executive: Station 15b Exhibition: Photographs are in HS 10

A number of nominal indexes of SOE records were made during its lifetime by registry and other staff, and these were kept and added to by the SOE Adviser after 1946. The indexes include references to SOE records which have not survived:

  • The general nominal and subject file index is in HS 11;
  • The index of honours and awards is in HS 12;
  • The index for France is in HS 13;
  • The index for Belgium is in HS 14;
  • The index for Italian, Greek and Middle Eastern agent particulars is in HS 15;
  • The index for Playfair code and wireless operators is in HS 16;
  • The index for Scandinavia is in HS 17;
  • The index for Iberia is in HS 18;
  • The index for staff income tax details is in HS 19;
  • The miscellaneous index, which includes details of First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY) records of service is in HS 20.

Date: 1936-1992
Related material:

A small number of War Office files dealing with SOE's organisation, financing and policies, and including weekly progress reports, can be found in WO 193

Separated material:

Very few records of SOE are known to have survived to this day, following destruction of files in Singapore before the Japanese occupation of Singapore in 1942 and in Egypt before the German advance on Cairo, and subsequent weeding and a fire at SOE headquarters in 1945.

Held by: The National Archives, Kew
Legal status: Public Record(s)
Language: English

Foreign and Commonwealth Office, SOE Adviser, 1968-2002

Foreign Office, SOE Adviser, 1946-1968

Foreign Office, Special Operations Executive, 1945-1946

Ministry of Economic Warfare, Special Operations Executive, 1940-1945

Physical description: 10 series
Access conditions: Open unless otherwise stated
Immediate source of acquisition:

from 1993 Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Unpublished finding aids:

For an unpublished history of the Special Operations Executive, see CAB 102/649-652.

Administrative / biographical background:

In 1938 three separate organisations were formed as part of the UK's preparations for the expected war in Europe. These were: Section D (the Sabotage Branch of MI 6); MI R (a research branch of the War Office) and Electra House (a semi-secret propaganda section of the Foreign Office). In 1940, Prime Minister Churchill authorised the amalgamation of these three bodies to form the Special Operations Executive (SOE). SOE's role was to promote sabotage and subversion in enemy occupied territory and to establish a nucleus of trained men and women tasked with assisting indigenous resistance groups.

SOE was run by a Chief Executive Officer who was responsible to the Ministry of Economic Warfare. It was initially divided into three branches reflecting its origins: SO 1 (propaganda); SO 2 (active operations - this branch was subsequently split into groups dealing with geographical areas of operation) and SO 3 (planning). SOE's relations with various other departments (principally MI 6, the War Office, the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Information) invited confusion and disputes as to its priorities.

In August 1941, after a dispute with the Ministry of Information and the Foreign Office, the bulk of SO 1 was transferred to the newly created Political Warfare Executive, under the control of the Foreign Office, where it was amalgamated with parts of the Foreign Publicity Department of the Ministry of Information and the European Section of the BBC. This left SOE as a purely planning and operations organisation which is how it remained until it was disbanded after the end of the Second World War, in 1946. During this time, the principal focus of SOE's operations was on occupied Europe, but it also operated with varying degrees of intensity in North Africa, the Middle East, South Asia and the Far East.

The Ministry of Economic Warfare was wound up in May 1945, and its functions including responsibility for SOE passed to the Economic Warfare Department of the Foreign Office.

The post of SOE Adviser was established in the Foreign Office after the war to handle general enquiries about the work and staff of SOE, and continued in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office after 1968.

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