Book Chapter

SOE and the neutrals



Wylie N (2006) SOE and the neutrals. In: Seaman M (ed.) Special Operations Executive: A new instrument of war. Studies in intelligence series. Oxford: Routledge, pp. 157-78.

Amongst the burgeoning corpus of literature on the Special Operations Executive, only rarely does one find explicit mention of the exploits of its stations based in neutral Europe. Writing SOE’s ‘in-house’ history in 1948, William Mackenzie saw fit to confine his comments to SOE’s neutral work with an outline of its exploits in the Balkans and Scandinavia before the spring of 1941. Subsequent historians, even those with privileged access to the SOE archive, have unwittingly followed Mackenzie’s lead. Memoir literature is equally silent on this aspect of SOE’s war. Only a handful of SOE staff who worked in or out of neutral countries committed their recollections to print. Most, one suspects, shared the view of one long-serving ‘neutral’ station officer who felt that, in comparison with the dramatic exploits of his colleagues in occupied Europe, his station was ‘a small and second rate lot [who] were mainly a channel of communication, rather than action lads’. The ‘no bangs’ policy that governed SOE’s ‘neutral’ work for most of the war has had the effect of all but eliminating the neutrals from SOE’s history. Fortunately, the recent release of the SOE archive has allowed historians to see what SOE was up to in these countries. While the picture that emerges is necessarily far from complete, we can, with the aid of oral testimonies, begin to piece together some of the outlines of this neglected area of the SOE story. Given the number and diversity of neutral states in Europe – a dozen at the moment of SOE’s birth in July 1940 – it is clearly impossible to do justice to the range of SOE activities in these countries. Instead, this chapter will examine how SOE policy towards the neutrals evolved over the war, and investigate some of the particular characteristics of this aspect of SOE’s war.

Title of seriesStudies in intelligence series
Publication date31/12/2006
Publication date online01/12/2005
Place of publicationOxford

People (1)


Professor Neville Wylie

Professor Neville Wylie

Deputy Principal