The destination for history

French SOE hero Robert Maloubier


In the summer of 1940 Churchill created the SOE on the edges of the Intelligence Service with the mission ‘to set Europe ablaze’. For obscure reasons, the official account of its activities was forbidden from being translated into French for fifty years after the war. And, due to either chance or hostile reception, none of the accounts published in England by its agents have so far been translated into French. However, the SOE was a key driver of resistance to German occupation.

From the start of the war until liberation it was the SOE that supplied the secret services of France Libre, training its agents, ensuring its parachute drops, supplying it with radio sets, directing its radio links and providing arms to the Résistance. What is more – and it is well that de Gaulle did not admit this as he held that all French nationals reaching British soil must be available to Free France – Section F of SOE, under the authority of Colonel Buckmaster, created in France its own underground networks. These were often supervised by French men and women who had reached London with a determination to ‘bash the Boche’ and who, like young Robert ‘Bob’ Maloubier, were totally unaware of the tensions between the masters of the game.

After just six months of SOE training Maloubier was parachuted into France during the night of 15–16 August 1943 so that he could lend his talents in sabotage and act as an instructor for the SOE network known as ‘Salesman’, which was active in Upper Normandy between Rouen and Le Havre under the authority of the journalist Philippe Liewer, alias Staunton. Maloubier arrived at a crucial time. The Allied landing on the Continent was planned for the following year, but the English believed that the arrest of General Delestraint, then that of Jean Moulin and the secret staff in the southern zone, which had occurred in June, had reduced the military potential of the Résistance by some 80 per cent. The militarisation of the Résistance was becoming urgent and the harassing of the enemy’s machine of war imperative.

Three weeks after being parachuted into France he was involved in the most spectacular operation accomplished by the Salesman circuit – the destruction of a small warship being repaired in the Ateliers et Chantiers Navals de Normandie (Naval Shipyard of Normandy), for which he supplied the explosives. The following month, in the space of three weeks, he had two more feats under his belt: paralysing the factory of Française des Métaux in Deville, which was producing parts for fighter aircraft landing gear, and putting the power station transformer in Dieppedalle, which supplied the whole Rouen region, out of action for six months. The breath-taking ups and downs of such exploits are astonishing, but life expectancy was short for saboteurs. Arrested and seriously wounded by the Germans in December, he escapes. You don’t become a daredevil without having an exceptional dose of quickness of mind, and audacity in the face of danger and the indomitable energy to survive it.

Maloubier is cared for by the SOE and recuperates. He is parachuted into France for a second time on the day after D-Day in June 1944 as a reinforcement for the Limousin Maquis and is involved in the actions of the ‘préfet des Maquis’, George Guingouin. As a result, he is able to record the activities of this unorthodox communist Maquisard chief and to evoke the atrocious reprisals inflicted by the Germans in Tulle and Oradour.

A French survivor of SOE, of which he remains one of the defining characters, Bob Maloubier unfolds the saga of the Résistance in his autobiography, available in English for the first time. It reads like a great adventure where courage is commonplace, where the actors jostle and the facts are circumvented.

By Jean-Louis Crémieux-Brilbac, extracted from SOE Hero: Bob Maloubier and the French Resistance

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