Nazi-Occupied France and the Special Operations Executive (SOE) in WW2: A Four-Part Course with Dr. Nigel Perrin

Nazi-Occupied France and the Special Operations Executive (SOE) in WW2: A Four-Part Course with Dr. Nigel Perrin


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Hundreds of Special Operations Executive (SOE) agents fought an underground war to liberate France from Nazi occupation. This course charts the challenges they faced and assesses SOE's aims and achievements in France.

The SOE was a British secret service unlike any other. A shadowy organization created in the darkest days of World War II, it sent hundreds of undercover agents into Nazi-occupied countries to ‘set Europe ablaze’ and destroy the enemy’s war machine from within. From humble beginnings, SOE’s operations in France constructed more than a hundred networks and trained tens of thousands of underground fighters, carrying out sabotage and guerrilla warfare. These ‘terrorists’ became the targets of brutal repression by the Gestapo, and the great acts of courage and heroism shown by SOE agents would become legendary. But SOE’s unorthodox approaches and questionable judgments also resulted in some catastrophic failures and enduring controversies.

Since the end of the war, SOE’s work in France has been subject to intense scrutiny and sensationalist reporting, creating distortions and misunderstandings of all kinds. In tracing the history of this fascinating secret service, this four-part course will seek to address some of the myths surrounding the SOE’s activities in France and assess its place in the history of wartime special operations.

 

Lecture 1 First Steps into France

This first seminar will introduce what SOE was (and was not), describe its recruitment and training procedures, and survey the key personnel responsible for planning and undertaking French operations. It will also discuss the unique challenges faced by SOE’s first agents in occupied and unoccupied France and its early forays.

Lecture 2 SOE and the Resistance

SOE’s job was to arm, train, and encourage the French resistance. But this apparently simple brief was soon complicated by the growth of rival groups, internal disagreements, and conflicting objectives. This seminar will explore the growth of SOE’s French sections and examine its relationship with both ‘internal’ resistance and Charles de Gaulle’s ‘Free French’ forces.

Lecture 3 An Army of Amateurs?

While the exploits of some of SOE’s agents in France became the stuff of legend, the organization attracted criticism for its recruitment of eccentrics and dashing adventurers. Surveying some of its major networks and personalities through 1943 and 1944, this seminar will assess SOE’s successes and its failures, and examine its contribution to the Liberation of France.

Lecture 4 SOE in France: Reality and Representation

SOE’s extraordinary exploits in France have seduced novelists, biographers and historians alike. This final seminar will trace the disclosure of SOE's activities to the public, the creation of conspiracies and myths that shaped its media image, and SOE in the public imagination today.

Nigel has long been fascinated by the history of France during the Occupation, particularly in relation to the work of British secret services, a subject he began studying in 2003. 'Spirit of Resistance', his biography of secret agent Harry Peulevé, was published in 2008. Having completed his MA in Modern History at the University of Kent in Paris in 2015, he has now begun a doctorate on a spatial history of Paris under Occupation.

 

How does it work?

This is a four-part series held weekly and hosted on Zoom. Please check the schedule for the specific dates and times for each lecture.

Is there a reading list in advance?

Though the course is open to participants with no background in French history, there are suggested readings for further investigation. You will receive this soon after course registration.

How long are the lectures?

Each lecture is 90 minutes long with time for Q&A.

How much is the course?

The course is $140 for four lectures.

Is a recording available?

In general, our courses are not recorded. However, if you need to miss a lecture please let us know in advance and we can arrange for a recording for that session on an individual basis.

This course is not suitable for children under age 16

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

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