SOE vs SIS

    Origins

    This was a battle launched by the very existence of SOE. Leo Marks in Between Silk and Cyanide documents much of it, but there is also a fair amount in RV Jones Most Secret War. And it is a story that both recount in different ways that indicates the depth of the problem.

    The story of Thomas Sneum, the Norwegian agent is by now well-known. When Jones published his memoir in 1978 the full extent of the SIS side of his tale was either being actively suppressed or Jones was unaware of it. Thus his tale completely omits how Sneum was sent back by SIS as their agent without telling SOE. Jones recounts how he received the results of Sneum's investigation of German radar and then jumps to Sneum's incarceration in Brixton gaol - the result of his second escape back to England, after which SOE belatedly found out he'd been an SIS agent.

    Twenty years later, Marx's account is more complete and points to the SIS-SOE rivalry, which almost cost Sneum his life and certainly the lives of agents in Denmark. When I first read Marx's account I couldn't square it with Jones', particularly because Jones was in a unique position on both sides of the fence to know the whole story. Indeed, Marx has been accused of exaggeration and storytelling in his memoir but I hardly think he needed to. Either this is a cautionary tale of how different recollections collide or Jones chose discretion over completeness. Further investigation is needed.

    Other Sources

    Marks Obituary

    Dan Van der Vat, famous WW2 historian, wrote Marks' obituary for the Guardian. In it he said:

    Marks did not take over the bookshop on his father's death. Strongly built, yet notably soft-voiced, he was proud of his wartime exploits, though he kept the real secrets secret. But I remember his vivid description, at the Anglo-Dutch conference on Holland At War, in London in 1969, of his double struggle to frustrate the German "England spiel" in Holland, and to persuade SOE to change its ways.

    He challenged the version of the story included by the historian MRD Foot in his book on SOE. Publication of Marks's memoirs, Between Silk And Cyanide, in 1998, had been blocked by Whitehall for more than 10 years.

    Frank Laughter and Intrepid

    "Big Bill" as William Stephenson was known, wrote A Man Called Intrepid which effectively blew the whistle on the Ultra secret. This is where I, like many, learnt of the existence of SOE. Stephenson was Canadian and Laughter believes that Winterbotham's following book was designed to discredit his account. Winterbotham was certainly no cryptologist and RV Jones takes pains to discredit him on several points, the most famous being the claim that Churchill let Coventry be attacked to protect intelligence sources. Promoted as being the account of Ultra, it's flaws betray a definite attempt to minimise Intrepid's achievements. No surprise, because Intrepid was liaising with the Americans on SIS' behalf as well as SOE and the precursor to the CIA, OSS.

    Last updated: 2016-05-14

    Back to Random