Innovative and Deadly


Britain’s clandestine operators helped set Europe ablaze with a fascinating arsenal of firearms and blades used for self-defence and assassination. John Ash profiles the SOE’s eclectic weapons, many of which would be at home in James Bond’s ‘Q’ Branch

With Britain’s ejection from France in 1940, its survival was at stake. It would take years to reverse the Allied position. Yet, in the interim, the country was far from toothless. British and Commonwealth forces fought on overseas and raiding forces kept German garrisons dancing, but the incredible networks of resistance spread across occupied Europe had a part to play too.

In July 1940 the Special Operations Executive, or SOE, was established, directed – in the words of Winston Churchill – to “set Europe ablaze”. Appropriately stimulated, the organisation sourced and developed a varied arsenal of weapons, explosives and tools for sabotage and espionage. It was dangerous work; around 850 SOE operatives were killed, but by war’s end SOE’s activities had grown myriad resistant groups and, through Force 136, it had extended to the Far East.

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