chapter  1
15 Pages

‘A new instrument of war’: the origins of the Special Operations Executive: Mark Seaman


An examination of the origins of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) has, understandably, been a feature of most published sources on the organization. Official historians have charted the course of Whitehall meetings and exchanges of memoranda while the memoirs of participants have helped provide a lively picture of events and personalities.1 But in most of these accounts, the events of the last year of peace and the first year of war have only one conclusion: SOE. This chapter will not seek to describe the various clandestine operations that preceded the formation of SOE but will endeavour to chronicle the friendships and rivalries of this period and suggest that the path to Baker Street was far from immutable. Furthermore, it is hoped that a detailed examination of the origins of SOE will offer a helpful insight into the beginning of that organization’s subsequent, troubled relations with Whitehall, the armed forces and the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS).