The special operations executive in Norway 1940-1945: Policy and operations in the strategic and political context
Between 1940 and 1945, the Special Operations Executive (SOE) carried out sabotage and organised resistance across occupied Europe. There have, however, only been a small number of scholarly studies of SOE’s activities, and no specific examination of its involvement in occupied Norway. This thesis, therefore, is the first multi-archival, international, and academic analysis of its policy and operations in this country and the influences that shaped them. The proposition is that it was the changing contribution of both SOE and Norway within the wider strategic context in Europe that was the predominant factor behind its plans for this theatre, and other factors, although material, were of secondary importance. These included SOE’s relationship with the Norwegian government-in-exile and the resistant movements that emerged in response to the occupation, especially Milorg, which set out to form an underground army within the country. As well as collaboration with the other clandestine organisations and regular armed forces that had a military involvement in Norway. Through an examination of these contextual influences this work argues that between 1940 and 1945, in step with its original strategic role, SOE’s policy for Norway consisted of a short-term objective, which through activities such as sabotage was to help undermine German fighting strength, and a long-term objective of forming a secret army. These aims could not, however, be achieved or implemented without the co-operation of the Norwegian military authorities and Milorg, who provided most of the manpower, and the assistance of the other military agencies that often operated alongside SOE. From the beginning, therefore, SOE deliberately set out to work with all these parties, but always on the basis that any joint activity was undertaken in accordance with British and Allied interests. This meant that SOE’s operations in Norway were ultimately the result of a blend of influences. It was, however, this country’s subordinate and peripheral position in relation to the main thrust of Allied strategy in Europe that was the crucial factor. The constructive relationship that the organisation eventually had with the Norwegian authorities and Milorg was also important because it meant that SOE both received the support it required and managed to ensure Allied control over special operations in this theatre. It was, therefore, a relationship that was beneficial and rather than undermining SOE’s plans, it underpinned them and guaranteed they remained in step with strategic and military requirements.
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