Gubbins - SOE & D-Day - Daily Record

Discussion in 'SOE & OSS' started by Jedburgh22, Jun 8, 2014.

  1. Jedburgh22

    Jedburgh22 Very Senior Member

    D-Day remembered: The Scot whose forces set Europe ablaze and helped ensure success of landings

    AS head of the Special Operations Executive, Brigadier Sir Colin Gubbins sent troops behind enemy lines to lead French Resistance targeting SS troops ahead of invasion.

    Scots Brigadier Sir Colin Gubbins, inset right, helped ensure the D-Day landings were a success
    THEY were told by Churchill to “set Europe ablaze” and given the task of stopping German army reinforcements reaching Normandy in time to threaten the success of D-Day.
    And Britain’s covert sabotage outfit, the Special Operations Executive, did just that – led by Scots Brigadier Sir Colin Gubbins.
    The journey from Toulouse should have taken the elite 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich a couple of days.
    Instead, thanks to the relentless guerrilla attacks by the French Resistance – trained, supplied and led by SOE – it would be 15 gruelling days before the weary SS troops finally reached Normandy.
    By then it was too late to change the course of the battle that sealed the fate of Hitler’s Third Reich, the Allies having gained a firm foothold in northern France.
    SOE’s crucial role in securing the success of the D-Day landings 70 years ago was the crowning achievement of an organisation born out of desperation in 1940 and which, just 18 months before, was in turmoil, threatened with disbandment.
    And the man who turned it all around was from the Western Isles.
    Born in 1896, Gubbins was raised in the family’s ancestral home of Killiemore House on Mull, with his elder brother Hugh.
    “Mull offered my brother and me everything that healthy and active young boys could possibly wish for, a physical paradise,” he later wrote.
    “From my years on Mull too came a very special attachment and faith in all things Scottish and particularly Highlanders being superior to anything the rest of the world could show.”

    British troops head ashore during the D-Day landings
    After the freedom and wide open spaces of the Highlands, he found his boarding school in Yorkshire unbearably suffocating.
    “English boarding schools were somewhat dull and daunting places – four or five hundred boys herded together and not allowed out of school grounds. I felt all the time that I was in prison,” he said.
    Encouraged to follow a forces career by his stern father – a diplomat – he began officer training at the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich in 1913.
    His training was interrupted by the outbreak of World War I and he was given an emergency commission in the Royal Artillery, seeing action at Ypres and the Somme, earning the Military Cross.
    “When one of his guns and its detachment were blown up by a heavy shell,” read the award citation, “he organised a rescue party and personally helped to dig out the wounded while shells were falling all around.”
    Promoted to captain, Gubbins was twice wounded, first by a bullet in the neck and then in a gas attack at Arras, though it was a severe bout of trench fever that finally brought his war to an end in April 1918.
    In the 30s, he joined Military Intelligence. He developed his ideas on irregular warfare, having witnessed first-hand how effective small bands of insurgents could be in wearing down conventional forces during his service in Ireland in the early 20s.
    So when in late 1940 Churchill was looking for a leader for his new sabotage and subversion unit – the Special Operations Executive – Gubbins was an obvious choice.
    But SOE had powerful enemies, not least the head of MI6, Sir Stewart Menzies. Ever since SOE’s formation, the two agencies had been locked in a bitter power struggle and in December 1943 there came just the opportunity Menzies had been waiting for to kill off the upstart rival.
    The Germans called it “the England Game”. Since mid-1942, Nazi intelligence service the Abwehr had been controlling SOE’s network in the Netherlands, capturing most of the agents parachuted into the country and forcing them to transmit false intelligence back to London.

    A train derailed by S.O.E. in France

    The scale of the disaster was only discovered when two captured Dutch agents escaped from a Nazi prison and made it to Switzerland, where they informed the British that their network in Holland had been infiltrated.
    Gubbins had only just been appointed director of the SOE, replacing the merchant banker Charles Hambro. Now he had to fight for SOE’s very survival, as critics lobbied Churchill to have the agency absorbed into MI6.
    “SOE’s future independence looked seriously threatened but its enemies had underestimated the Prime Minister’s confidence in Gubbins,” said Peter Wilkinson, a colleague of Gubbins.
    Gubbins worked tirelessly over the next six months, greatly intensifying SOE activities, particularly in France, in preparation for Operation Overlord – the Allied invasion.
    But during this hectic period, he was struck by a shattering personal blow when, in February 1944, his son Michael was killed in action serving with SOE in Italy.
    Yet with D-Day close, Gubbins had little time to grieve. The SOE were needed as never before and scores of agents were dropped into France to co-ordinate a massive campaign of sabotage with the Resistance. To these young men and women, he was sending into harm’s way, the Scot felt a paternal responsibility.
    “Gubbins made a point of seeing organisers, both before they set out and on their return from the field,” revealed Wilkinson.
    On D-Day, the years of hard work finally came to fruition, as SOE-backed Resistance cells throughout France sprang into action, delaying the movement of German reinforcements to the Normandy beachheads.
    But with the Allies firmly established on the continent, the SOE were seen as an irrelevance by the top brass and they were sidelined during the final months of the war.

    [​IMG]Sir Colin after the war with wife Tulla, left, and their friend Gerd Cottell
    In September 1945, the government decided there was no role for a sabotage outfit and on New Year’s Day 1946, they were disbanded. Gubbins retired from the Army and became a successful textiles firm manager.
    But he was determined to keep the memory of SOE alive, attending ceremonies commemorating famous operations and helping found the Special Forces Club, which brought together veterans of the various Allied irregular units.
    As during his childhood, it was in Scotland where he was happiest, and he and his Norwegian wife Tulla decided to retire to Harris.
    On February 11, 1976, five days after suffering a heart attack, he died peacefully in his sleep at Stornoway hospital aged 79.
    At a memorial service held three months later, attended by SOE veterans and representatives from numerous European governments, his friend Peter Wilkinson paid tribute to the Scot who did so much to liberate Europe from Nazi tyranny:
    “His name is honoured officially in many lands. For in the dark hours it was his duty to fan the spark and keep alive the flame of freedom. It was his exertions that gave hope to thousands of patriots in occupied countries all over the world. These men and women are unlikely to forget him.”
  2. zahonado

    zahonado Well-Known Member

    Was he not in Burma at that time then?
  3. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    Unfortunately viewed as an amateur organisation by the likes of Sir Claude Dansey. Some attributed dirty work in the collapse of the Prosper network and the death of hundreds of resistants and leading SOE agents in the field...all in the name of reported anticipated intrigue and deception.

    The tragic account of the failure to nurture an SOE base in Holland,the loss of Dutch agents and the unneccessary loss of Bomber Command crews involved in the special operations into Holland.The Nordpole deception only terminated by the bravery and escape of two Dutch agents who found it hard intially to convince SOE leadership that it had been duped.

    While the path of the Das Reich Division was delayed by resistant action,the SS with their usual irrational retribution took a toll on civilians on their march from their Montauban divisional base.The account of their journey shows the probing and diversions,dashing to hot spots of resistance and acting as fire fighters.The civilians at Oradour,Tulle and countinous other villages and hamlets on their path to Normandy paid heavily for resistance.For the resistance groups,looking back on the level of engagement expected in guerrilla tactics,portable anti tank weapons would have made the difference against the armour of the Das Reich in this case and engagements which led to pitched battles in the locations such Savoy.The use of these weapons would have posed a problem for the German columns in their route to Normandy.

    Interesting to note,civilian protection from the occupying authorities, any Vichy Government protests to the German military authorites on excesses came to nought..

    CDG has recorded that the French resistance organisations at best,represented two military divisions but from a morale aspect the impact was much the higher and gave the French the hope that freedom would come and it would come from active resistance and not from collaboration.Even so,it has been said that the percentage of the French polulation engaged in active resistance was as low as 5%.

    The event of D Day saw 3 years of preparation come to fruition.These formations behind the lines played their part in disrupting the German military forces in areas so vital for the Allies overall plan.
  4. Jedburgh22

    Jedburgh22 Very Senior Member

    Resistance can be divided into two main categories active and passive - there were many more passive resistants than active.

    In France the resistance made a real contribution in sealing the Spanish Border, in rail and water-way sabotage, and also in forming the forces which pinned down German garrisons and harried the German withdrawal, Indeed mainly resistance forces led to the surrender of the Elster column. The resistance formed the basis of the reconstituted French armies that saw action in late 44 and 1945.
  5. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    I would agree that as regards the south west,the German occupation collapsed as the Elster element soon gave up the ghost and were fearful of French retribution as they made their way up to Beaugency on the Loire where they surrendered to US forces.The other point is that French irregulars blew the bridges at locations where the Germans would use to get reinforcements north of the Loire and into Brittany.

    The formation of the FFI became increasinly spontaneous from the ranks of the resistants, as the Germans were pushed east at the same time carrying out their speciality of rape and murder.Some of these former resistants, after donning the FFI armbands, were on hand to be there and witness the French divisions getting into Bertesgarden before the US units.

    Not forgetting the SOE contribution to the liberation of the south west, attached to and leading the various French reseaux.When Bordeaux was liberated, CDG quickly arrived on the scene,his stance was to declare to the SOE contingent,"your place is not here"and as such it meant that British present was immediately ended.
  6. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    I see that an authorised biography of Gubbins is in the offing:

    SOE's Mastermind: The Authorised Biography of Major General Sir Colin Gubbins KCMG, DSO, MC
    Hardcover – 30 Jul 2016 by Brian Lett (Author)

    For those with even a passing interest in the Second World War, the name Colin Gubbins is synonymous with the Special Operations Executive (SOE). This is not surprising as from its creation in late 1940 at Prime Minister Winston Churchill's command 'to set Europe ablaze', Gubbins was the driving force behind SOE. Over the next four years as, first, Operations and Training Director (codename M) and, from 1943, its Commander (CD) he masterminded every aspect of its worldwide covert operations. Remarkably this is the first full biography of the man whose contribution to victory ranks in the premier league. The Author's research and access to family archives reveal the experiences in The Great War and later in Russia, Ireland, Poland and as Head of British Resistance that made Gubbins such a pivotal and influential wartime figure. The result is a fascinating biography that reveals as much about SOE's extraordinary activities as it does about the man who inspired and commanded them.

    [SIZE=1.23em]About the Author[/SIZE]
    Brian Lett is a QC whose interest in the history of special operations stems from his father's involvement with SOE and the SAS. He is the author of "SAS in Tuscany" and "Ian Fleming and Operation Postmaster," both published by Pen and Sword Books. He had homes in Somerset and Kew.

    Anybody read the two titles mentioned above?
  7. Jedburgh22

    Jedburgh22 Very Senior Member

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