Review: SOE: An outline history of the Special Operations Executive 1940-46, by M.R.D. Foot

Few people knew as much about the highly-secretive SOE – whose task, according to Churchill, was to ‘set Europe ablaze’ – as M.R.D. Foot. This short book is an introduction to the work of the estimated 15,000 SOE operatives, many of them female, who fought a secret war against Germany, Italy and Japan across three continents. In his attempt to be both comprehensive and brief, Foot clearly struggles. Most sections of the book, especially the final chapters detailing SOE operations across the various war zones, feel too brief. He complains about how much remains secret (the book was published in 1984), how much was destroyed and how much information was never committed to paper. Years after this book appeared, there were new revelations, some spectacular ones too, including the secret plan to kill Adolf Hitler. One wonders what other secrets lay hidden in the archives, or which were buried with the men and women who carried those secrets to their graves.